French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 17
New York City, 2010
When Dylan finally came to from the almost-endless dream, it took a while to understand where he was, what had happened. The only thing he knew for sure was that he’d been wrapped like a mummy — bandaged broken arm, skull fracture, chest wrapped for multiple broken ribs, and serious repair work to put his guts back where they belonged. He spent most of his time unconscious — if you could call that flashback-filled kaleidoscope unconsciousness. Smith oversaw his needs in intensive care until he was out of danger.
After a while he was still weak, but regenerating enough so he could be moved to a different room. It was … quaint. It looked so much like a, well, regular hospital room, with a TV hanging from the wall, locker for clothing, a comfortable adjustable bed, a rolling brown table, a white cabinet for staff use across the room and a bedstand next to his bed. There he lay, bored out of his head, wondering exactly when he was going to be let out.
“Dylan! I thought you promised you’d never visit this place again,” Jana Lyn, the center’s dietician, said as she entered the room with a covered tray. She was a small woman, with a head of graying black curls tied in a bun. She was dressed in a pair of pink Hello Kitty scrubs. The older woman had worked for the center when Dylan was a boy, over thirty years ago. She was one of the many humans aware of their existence, though Dylan didn’t know her story. Everyone working with the center had one, but they didn’t have to talk about it.
“Guess I lied.” He studied the plate of covered food suspiciously. “I don’t remember filling out a form for dinner.”
“That’s because Doc Smith did, said you needed to keep your strength up,” she said, hands on her hips. “He prepared it himself. Don’t ask, don’t tell, that’s the policy with him.” She waved a blue latex-gloved hand. “Smells ghoulish if you ask me. Prepared enough meals for my daddy growing up.”
Ghoulish? Well, that description made sense. Most of his food was ghoulish.
“Yeah. I’ll wait till you leave?” He noticed she smiled slightly and shook her head.
“I’m well-used to this place by now, Dylan. I even know where they get most of their stuff. I’m amazed how on the level a lot of this is. Well, hospitals normally just incinerate limbs, diseased organs, all that stuff. We find a different use for it. Think of it as recycling.” She turned to go. “Enjoy! I’ll have Jeffery pick up the tray later.”
Yeah, enjoy. He looked down, wishing it were a bowl of chili or nachos. At least real food smelled good. This stuff just stank like rotten meat. He lifted the lid and was instantly assailed by the stench of spice-covered flesh. It was seared white and spongy, and covered in gore. Though he did notice bits of sautéed basil and garlic.
“Tripe.” It could have been worse. It wasn’t completely cooked, just lightly seared with the herbs. It smelled rotten, but it made his mouth water. “Who does he think I am? Hannibal Lecter?” All he needed was a side of fava beans.
It didn’t take much to make him eat; he was still starved, so he downed the tripe faster than he would have liked and licked the plate clean. Part of it still disgusted him, and sometimes worried him. Truth be told, rotten things actually smelled good to him, if he didn’t keep focusing on what rot used to smell like — to keep a touchstone of humanity there. Be damned if I’m going to forget what real food smells like and think the best smell in the world’s a three-day old roadkill.
He was still hungry. How much had that thing taken out of him? Dylan stretched his legs and pushed the rolling table aside. He did feel stronger than before, and the pain was down. Liam’s blood had helped to restore the mystical forces running his body, so he healed normally again. He’d be on his feet in no time.
Suddenly exhausted, he let himself doze, until the door opened and a slender young man, with thin features and sharp pointed teeth entered. He was dressed in scrubs, so Dylan guessed he must be Jeffery.
“You’re new around here,” he said as the ghoul went to take the tray.
“Came in from LA.” Jeffery said. “This place is legendary. Real sweet to land a job here.”
“Yeah, real sweet.” Dylan agreed. He had heard there was a ghoul problem in LA; it didn’t surprise him some were emigrating to New York. The culls were bad in California, and ghouls were often the first victims of them.
“You have family here?”
“Moved in with my aunt. She’s very supportive of my condition,” he said. “Parents didn’t take too kindly to it. They came around, but it was pretty horrifying to them.”
“How’d you get it?” Dylan pushed himself up on his elbow so he could get a better look at the younger man. Jeffery was thin, but Dylan could see he was built solid, and moved as if he were disciplined.
“Iraq. Serious ghoul problems in the Middle East these days.”
Ghouls were drawn to conflict. His family’s first encounter with the supernatural had been ghouls. That was how his granddaddy became involved in hunting monsters with the Walker Militia, after World War I. Dylan’s father eventually joined the family tradition after he was infected by a Ma Cà Rồng in Vietnam.
It wasn’t unusual for young soldiers to become involved with the paranormal during war. Dylan felt sympathy for the kid. “Well, we’re a free city here; you should like it.”
“It’s expensive, but I’m at home,” Jeff said. He pushed open the door. “Dylan, isn’t it? Heard about you, too. You’re one of the spooks who took on the League here. That took balls.”
“Nah, it was luck. Now you better get back to work. But you can call me Dyl, most of my friends do.” If it wasn’t for his friends, he’d never have gotten through it, but it had taken balls, Jeffery had that right.
“Really? Thanks, Dyl.” The ghoul said his nickname with genuine respect — more respect than Dylan thought he deserved. After all, he was just another one of the monsters in town. They all pulled their own weight. Angelus, Bunny, Douglas, Doc Sacco and Jason did just as much as he did. Jason likely even more, since he still walked the beat every night.
As Jeffery left, another voice — emphatic, strong, and angry, touched also with concern — rose beyond the level he could ignore.
“Angelus, you’re thirty-nine years old, too old for this shit! Do you have any idea what this means? You listen to me, you need to get yourself a real job like your sister!” That was Susan Liberi, Angie’s mom; Dylan recognized her bellow. The sixty-year-old woman was no pushover, and had spent years just barely tolerating Angelus’s playing superhero, even if it was in his territory.
Christ, she’s pulling out all the fucking guns tonight mentioning Doctor Gina Liberi.
“Ma, I know what I’m doing. The last thing we need is gentrification driving us out! We fought that battle and won it once — back in the 80s — but they’re back for another try now, so it’s even more important I keep an eye on things. Harlem is bouncing back, our communities are organized, we’ve good schools, strong local business, unions, and we have a resources for organizing and community building that we can use to fight back against outside, white-the gentrifying business, realtors and politicians!”
Angelus was calm. He knew his business. Holding a vampire territory was serious-responsibility shit. “Think about the corner of 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard? The Men’s Walkers shoe store and Deli & Seafood building? We’ve turned that place into a indoor shopping center with a music store, two restaurants, a cultural center, a hand crafted toy store, a book store, three dress shops, and several specialty shops with families running them living on top, and we didn’t have to drive Men’s Walkers or the Deli out. Imagine what would have happened if we were gentrified.”
Angelus’s staunch defense and his investment into his territory’s businesses and schools had sent a message to particular human politicians, who recognized it was now off-limits and under the protection of the SoHo Council. Vampire money and politics were very much a concern to the human political world, even if most of the mortals didn’t know anything about it.
“Don’t you give me that! The residents of Harlem are a resilient people and can hold our own against other mortals; we can take care of ourselves if given the chance! Now, you need a life outside of being a vampire, Angelus! Baby, I know you love your people, living and metabolically challenged, but think about your future! Your father is still ill, and Uncle Leo and I are getting old! I can’t support you forever! And now this? You’ve got some serious responsibilities now!”
“Ma, I am a fucking vampire, I can’t just get a nine-to-five job you know! Besides, what I do is one!”
“Don’t you take that tone of voice with me, young man! You’ve got an education! Your father and I made sure you got yourself a Master’s so you could get a job, a real job! You can work nights, like your father and I did! And be something more than waiter at a cafe!” The woman’s voice raised above Angelus’s and Dylan cringed. “You’re capable of more, you need to settle down!”
“Ma, c’mon, I do more than wait tables. I help with the youth center.” Angelus voice was weaker this time. “If this is about what happened the other night. I was helping Felicia and Carmen. Finding this monster and stopping it is important. And… I can’t just stop being responsible, now with the powers I have.”
Dylan could almost hear Angelus say their favorite Spider-Man quote, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
“I know it’s important, Angie, but it nearly got you fucking killed” Her tone wavered. “Playing hero is always nearly getting you fucking killed!”
The voices subsided to more of a dull roar, enough for Dylan to tune them out, give them at least a pretense of privacy. Dylan smiled wryly to himself. Most mortals wouldn’t believe that conversation if they heard it; a mortal mother treating her vampire son just as if he was still the same as ever, with the same worry for how he was going to survive when she was gone.
And it wasn’t an idle worry. With all the changes in the wind — the bank disasters torpedoing the economy, the rich still getting richer while the poor tipped over the edge to sheer destitution — even the paranormal population was feeling the pinch. The League had ways of finding jobs for its members, but if you weren’t registered — and a lot of Dylan’s friends and charges weren’t — you hadn’t got a prayer. And there just weren’t that many jobs that a vampire or ghoul could get in the city without drawing the wrong sort of attention.
Enough of this. Kicking his legs over the edge of his bed, Dylan struggled to stand. His legs wobbled, and it took all of his will to keep them from collapsing. Stubbornly, he clung on to the rail, and held himself up, and forced himself to focus on the rippling aches running down his thighs. Not that the situation between Angelus and his mom was any of his business, but he was the one who had dragged the kid into the fight in the first place. Angelus might need a little moral support.
Tenacity won over weakness; Dylan forced himself to stand, and commanded his legs to move. If I can fight with my body broken in a dozen places, I can damn well walk across a room.
With slow shuffling steps, Dylan made his way around his bed. It was difficult to keep upright without something to hold on to, so he grabbed a metal IV stand and used it as a support to cross the floor to the doorway.
The conversation in the other room started up again, but Dylan didn’t quite follow it. Susan was discussing Gina’s graduate program in Albany, and her brother’s latest girlfriend.
At the door, he placed his hand on the frame, and looked up and down the white-walled corridor. The place hadn’t changed in thirty years. On the white walls were prints of impressionist paintings, colorful blue and green Monets and red and pink pastel Renoirs. The floors were covered with white, black, and grey-speckled linoleum. Each room along the hall had a light brown oak door. Some were open, others were closed for privacy.
Two rolling carts with computers sat against the wall; he spotted another cart with what looked like an EKG and other regular monitoring equipment. That wasn’t surprising, either; humans were often admitted to the hospital after unprovoked paranormal attacks. He was definitely in the regular patient wing.
Angelus was directly across the hall from him; Bunny must’ve done that on purpose so Angelus wouldn’t worry too much about him, and vice versa. Drawing in air, he filled his lungs; breathing was an exercise of control. It helped in facing emotional situations, and in keeping his temper in check. He needed control, with his hunger still on a dangerous edge.
It took several breaths to calm his hunger and to find peace in himself. When he was ready, the revenant released the stand and started his walk across the hall.
The pain in his ribs and side ached with each step, but he shoved it into the back of his mind. Reaching the other room, he leaned a hand on the doorframe and gently rapped on the wall with a knuckle.
Angelus’s head snapped up, his large brown eyes widened with concern. “Shit, bro, what the hell are you doing outta bed?”
“Just making sure you’re okay,” he said evenly, with a nod and glance to Susan. “Mrs. Liberi, I wanted to apologize. I had no intention of him getting as messed up as he did.”
“What would your mother say if she saw you out of bed like this?!” Susan snapped, standing up immediately. She stalked across the room and grabbed him by the arm.
“Ma, this ain’t his fault! Don’t you let him take the blame for all this, I made my choice both times, and you know it!” Angelus strained to stand, but his mother stilled him with a glare and a raised finger.
“Don’t you dare move, boy! I’ll be back in a moment. Bunny says another day of bed rest for you, or you might start to bleed out again! You’re not healed yet!”
Folding his arms, Angelus looked helplessly at Dylan. “You heard it, didn’t you?”
No point in denying it. “Yeah, every word.”
“I had no intention of getting you out of bed over this.” Susan told him as she wrapped an arm around him. She was a still-attractive woman, her complexion a deep heartwood-brown like that of her son, with short dark kinks interspersed with grey on top of her head, large expressive dark eyes, taller than Dylan, and round around the hips. She was strong, too — not physically, but with iron will and a mind to equal that will. When Angelus had been infected, she had worked to learn about the supernatural world, and what to expect from her son.
Eventually she got a doctorate in psychology, and became a full time paranormal counselor. From the day Angelus was infected with vampirism at five, to the day he died at eighteen and changed, she had always been there for him. She was Angelus’s cornerstone. She had also become a fixture in the SoHo hospital and a vital member of the SoHo rehabilitation staff. She ran parental therapy and group counseling.
Honestly, a part of Dylan — sometimes a pretty big part — envied Angelus. “Well, I got good ears, and you were a bit loud.”
“Since Gina married, I’m in a house full of men, what do you expect.” Her dark face broke into a smile. “I yell through the floor to my brother all the time, and he yells back. It’s better than the phone.”
“Well, I can’t say my family was quiet,” Dylan told her. He let himself lean into her. “I really am sorry. I didn’t want to get him hurt.”
“I know you didn’t.” She shook her head. “He’s headstrong and he’ll do things like this. As for the first time… Keith had targeted him as a boy and had no intention of letting him go as a man. It was… inevitable.”
There was an uncomfortable silence; he remembered how Keith’s enforcer had crippled Tony, her husband, and how he had refused any unnatural medical treatments.
They were halfway across the hall. Surprisingly, she spoke softly, her anger gone. “That… animal is dead, Gina is safe, and my boy is a hero. I’m not angry with you, Dylan. Tony, Jason, and my brother Leo taught him to stand up to things like that. As soon as little Carmen was hurt, I knew he’d be out there with you, taking whatever monster on that did it. That’s my Angie.”
“Yeah.” They both had owed Keith payback, but Angie had saved his sister; Dylan wished he could have done the same. The pain of moving was becoming more intrusive, so he let the memory sweep him back. Keith Blackwell had been responsible for killing Dylan’s sister and best friend and had started Dylan on the path of becoming undead. By coincidence, he was also the vampire responsible for making Angelus a half blood at five. Both of them had a score to settle, but that wasn’t going to be easy; the Blackwell family was powerful, and Keith himself had a position in the League.
But when he took Angelus’s teenage sister Gina hostage, both Dylan and Angelus set out to stop the bastard once and for all. The conflict ended with Keith’s death, and took both their mortal lives too. It had also won Dylan his territory in Upper Manhattan, Angelus his in East Harlem, and both of them the grudging respect and acceptance of the League of Vampiric Peoples. It was a victory for all non-vampiric paranormals everywhere, and with them as an example the League finally started allowing them lobby for membership.
It still hadn’t stopped the culls of the non-registered in time of emergencies, though. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Go ahead.” They had arrived in his room. Susan helped him to his bed and made him sit on the mattress.
“Aren’t you afraid? I mean, of all this?” Dylan’s watched her carefully, curious.
She laughed. “No, not at all. I know you are people like my son — Jason, Kae, Bunny, Doctor Sacco, Anna, Professor Frasier, good people out there. You’re not monsters, and the monsters really are no different than criminals with guns or bombs.” She tilted her head. “Why?”
“My mom was always afraid.”
“Of this world?”
“Yeah. She couldn’t understand it, and it scared her. But you’re lucky, Mrs. Liberi, because you know Angelus is helping people, he is a hero.” He leaned his good arm on his knees and wrapped his fingers around his sling. “I know you’re worried about him getting a job. It’s not easy out there. Job stuff… it took me how many years to get my own place up and running? And hell, if it wasn’t for Liam’s help, I’d never be able to afford the location anyway.”
“Angelus hasn’t even attempted to look for employment outside of your café because he knows the world is stacked against black people. He’s trying to help the people living in his community by using every resource he has for himself, but it’s time for him to focus on himself.” Susan said. “And I’m certain that’s why he’s working at your café. To him, it’s about making it fair for those of us who have been held back in the race in the first place and we have. He’s determined to do it all himself without handouts from elders. He’s too stubborn to see both Jason and Liam have the same problems the living do, which got all of us in this mess in the first place.”
Slavery, Jim Crow laws, racism, the battle for civil rights, improper housing, ghettos; people of color were still struggling to catch up with the white population. Living in the city, Dylan understood what Susan was talking about. Vampire and Demon Politics was just a reflection of the mortal world. The fight for skinchanger, Fae, ghoul, revenant and zombie rights fell neatly into similar racial/species-appearance boxes as well, and dictated who fit where in the class pecking order.
“I’m not sure if he has any idea what he wants to do.” And discussing it with Angelus might be overstepping his bounds.
“Don’t you run group in the basement?”
“Yup, he helps me part time as an assistant when he has time.” Dylan admitted. Truth was Angelus was a big help downstairs, and many of the kids looked up to him. “He even helps Douglas in his Career workshops if he comes down early.”
“If he wasn’t waiting tables he could.” Susan told him sharply. ” Or playing DJ at Ed Woods’, or playing the heavy for Filipe.”
Over the years, Angelus had done a number of jobs; he’d just never committed to anything.
“He does know how to spin tunes,” Dylan told her. He also knew it was something Angelus had enjoyed at the time, but that had been fifteen years ago. “As for Filipe, he’s not a bad guy. He does a bit of hacktivism, but his heart’s in the right place. He runs a very successful software company — a legit company. He’s a good contact.”
He knew Filipe dabbled in the black market, about as frequently as he did with black magic. Yet who was Dyl to judge? The hunter dealt with his own brand of black magic and dark things, and Dylan trusted his friend to keep his head above water and Angelus to recognize trouble when he saw it. “What’s wrong, Mrs. Liberi?”
Susan looked sternly and he sensed a flood coming his way. He swallowed, aware he was a part of the Angelus problem. “Jason dragged both you and Angelus down the road of revenge together. And Angelus needs something more in his life than danger. He also doesn’t need to be a waiter in a café, and you know it. He’s not a rambunctious 12 year old anymore. I want him to focus on something. He’s just as responsible as you are. He’s done fine work with our community, especially with the youth! Hire him as a full-time counselor. It will convince him to finish his doctorate.” She looked him in the eye and repeated herself. “He needs something more than danger in his life.”
She was right of course. Angelus was responsible, and Dylan needed to stop looking at him as a kid. Dylan swallowed. If his own head wasn’t so far up his own ass he would have seen it. He wondered what she wasn’t saying — because he could tell there was something else. “All right. You’re absolutely correct. He’d make a great full-time counselor. I’ll ask him about it the first chance I get.”
The woman’s face relaxed. “Just remember, you can’t do it all alone, Dylan. I remember Tina, Paula, John and you working at the store, watching my boy while I had to go to school and Tony worked. You kids were a team! Remember that?”
The topic change took him off guard. “Yeah, Angelus used to try to beg cupcakes from Anna. How could I forget? So Anna and I taught him how to use the big mixer in the kitchen. Fun times,” Dylan said. He had the feeling he was missing the point of her comment, but saw her smile at the industrial mixer memory. Angelus had showed her how to run it.
Dylan missed Anna’s old muffin shop in SoHo. He had been just a kid then. “Look, don’t be so hard on Angelus, he does mean well. He really is just looking out for all of you. You, Tony, Gina, Felicia, the entire neighborhood, you’re his life. It’s why he does it.”
“He does what he does because Angelus wants to change the world, ” Susan said knowingly. She stood up, and squeezed his hand. “You know, if I could convince him to go into legal criminal justice I’d be ecstatic. It was his dream when he was a boy, but now he has different principles.”
“Has his dad talked to him about it? Jason is out to break the system from the inside; he could help. And as Tina says, the easiest way to change the system is to work from inside it. Not all lawyers and politicians are crooks,” Dylan told her, lying back onto his bed. He carefully eased his legs up and around. He was wiped. “You’ll work it out.”
“Maybe. You rest up. Think about what I said about you needing a team, Dylan. And don’t get my kid and yourself nearly killed again, Dylan. You won’t get off easy next time.” She patted him on the leg and straightened. There was definitely something Mrs. Liberi wasn’t saying, but Dylan was too tired to poke further.
I need a team. That was a hard concept to accept. He only worked well with Louis because Louis worked the dayshift and he worked at night and for some strange reason, he thought like the elder. It was almost like they were family.
“So, you chewed Jason out too, didn’t you?” Dylan said as his eyes closed, and he found himself wanting to shut down. He heard the woman laugh.
“I surely did! He’s one hundred fifty-one years old and black man with principles! He’s supposed to be looking out for you kids. He needs to keep a better eye on you two. Neither of you had any business taking on that monster in the park without him. For God’s sake, he’s an enforcer, and the one who set the two of you up for those territories! He needs to make sure you’re safe, if he’s really doing it to take on the corruption in system!” He heard her turn and begin to walk towards the door. “Now you rest.”
Her words reminded him of what Anna said about the older Vampires; Jason often forgot about how fragile the younger ones were. That included other mystical creatures; almost all of them were stronger the older they got.
Mrs. Liberi closed the door behind her.
Just great. Now he was alone, and stuck worrying about what he needed to tell Angelus about the job, and some serious soul-searching for himself. Fun times. Facing the barghest again would be easier. The worst part about running the halfway house was telling the kids that it was time to grow up. When they didn’t want to admit they were ready.
It was Angelus’s time.