City of, p.1
City Of, p.1Nancy Holder
“We all got something to atone for.”
Angel took the paper. He read, “‘Tina. The Coffee Spot.’”
“Nice-looking girl,” Doyle supplied. “Needs help.”
Angel frowned slightly. “I don’t get it. How am I supposed to know what she —”
“You get involved, remember?” Doyle gestured. “Get into her life.”
“Why would a woman I’ve never even met talk to me?”
Doyle looked at him askance. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?” He paused. “No, I guess you really haven’t.”
“I’m not good with people.”
Doyle said, “Well, that’s the point of this little exercise, isn’t it? Get to know her. If you can help her, you’ll both be the better for it. You game?”
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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For Maryelizabeth Hart
With sincere thanks and appreciation to the cast and crew of Angel, especially Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Caroline Kallas, and of course, David Boreanaz; to Debbie Olshan at Fox; to my wonderful Pocket family: Lisa Clancy, Micol Ostow, and Liz Shiflett; to my agent and friend, Howard Morhaim, and his assistant, Lindsay Sagnette. As always, thanks to Chris. My gratitude to Stinne Lighthart and Karen Hackett; and to my baby-sitters: Ida Khabazian, Bekah and Julie Simpson, Julie Cross, and April and Lara Koljonen.
For Peace, Wherever
He May Find Her
“You have no idea what it’s like to have done the things I’ve done, and to care.”
In shadow, on a rooftop, Angel stood alone. He scanned the vast starfield below that was the city of Los Angeles. L.A.: a glittering matrix of hopes and dreams and wishes, some of which would soon be granted to the lucky few. Good things happened, and not only to good people. Fate herself performed random acts of kindness. Tonight careers would be made, people would fall in love forever, babies would be born.
Sometimes, God sent his angels.
But sometimes, unimaginable horrors dug themselves out of the underground and devoured the innocent. The monsters came, and they took you.
You could fight, or beg, or pray, and they took you anyway. You could be good, and honest, and self-sacrificing, shielding your loved ones and crying, “Take me instead of her!”
And so they did.
Standing atop the glittering skyscraper, Angel didn’t know why he had come back to Los Angeles. All he had known was that he had to get out of Sunnydale, the little town on a hellmouth also known to its original Spanish settlers as Boca del Infierno — the mouth of Hell.
And it had been the mouth of Hell for him, in more ways than one. Buffy had sent him to Hell herself, with a sword and with a kiss.
For her he would go to Hell forever. His need for the Slayer, the Chosen One of all her generation, had grown to the point where he wanted Buffy Anne Summers more than he wanted his soul. For one more night in her arms he was willing to be damned forever. Just to know her touch, feel her sigh . . .
What was a millennium of torture, compared to that precious single instant of paradise?
The glittering landscape twinkled back at him. He closed his eyes as memories washed through him. He had not expected to be so overtaken by the past in this city of tomorrow. His nights were dominated with vivid images of his long life; by day, his mind spun fever dreams.
He stood on the rooftop, staring down at the city. Someone else might think he was watching over the rush and swirl of humanity that was L.A.
Someone might think he was tireless, yet he was drained to the core. Seemingly in command, and yet at the mercy of forces not yet understood.
Angel wasn’t aware that on another rooftop, someone watched him. His name was Doyle, and what he saw was the strangest thing — to him — on this vast plain of existence: a vampire with a soul. As far as he knew, Angel was the only one of his demonic kind with his humanity restored to him.
In Doyle’s mind, that made Angel an intensely tragic figure.
Also, a hero.
But a victor.
A man with a burden.
And a purpose.
A man who, when he looked out over his new city, must surely muse about how he lived, how he died, and how on earth he kept on going.
How on earth, indeed, Doyle thought.
“I can walk like a man. But I’m not one.”
That’s what Angel had once told Buffy.
So what am I? Angel wondered. What am I now?
He watched the city.
He watched until dawn.
Another thousand memories.
Los Angeles. It’s a city like no others, Angel thought. And like all others.
In the dying sun, glass skyscrapers shone like 8 × 10 glossies, the kind the talent agencies sent out by the gross to casting agents all over the valley: attractive faces with shiny, happy smiles. Come on in; I’ve got the goods.
With a brief smile he found himself remembering Buffy’s terror when she and her two best friends, Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris, were forced to perform in the Sunnydale High School talent show. He had fought by her side as she reduced a gang of vampires to piles of dust without so much as a grunt. But when faced with a typical teenage-girl terror, she had been, well, a typical teenage girl.
Angel drove the streets in his convertible, trying to make Los Angeles familiar again. With the rest of the traffic he crawled down the ultra-luxe strip mall that was Rodeo Drive. To his right were the famous white statues of tourists taking pictures of each other; at the end of the lane sprawled the hotel in which Eddie Murphy’s character had stayed in Beverly Hills Cop.
The shoppers — the real ones — were pearlescent, truly beautiful to look at. Couples, moms, girlfriends prowling in packs, they were dressed in the height of fashion, in clothes that fit perfectly. For the most part, they looked unflappable. Relaxed, in calm control, nothing in their demeanor betraying the slightest bit of concern about anything in their lives.
Mere blocks away Beverly Hills sprawled, with its enormous, beautiful homes. Lucille Ball’s house was so big it had two street addresses. Some of the palatial residences had been in movies — the Greystoke mansion came to mind; some were actual movie sets — the “witch’s house” he occasionally passed.
These were the people for whom the Hollywood dream had become reality. It happened. And for some, wealth and fame were even better than they’d imagined they would be.
Against the smudged sky, people were going home. The wide boulevards of Beverly Hills swelled with Range Rovers, stretch limos, and tour buses. The traffic was ungodly. Angel had read that there were more Merc
Or when, like Angel, they figured they would live forever.
Mass trans was for bottom feeders. By car, sad and dirty Western Boulevard was not all that far from Beverly Hills. Any kid who had ever been in a high school play could hitch from the hellacious bus station to the nearest Avis, rent a Porsche, and try to bolt the famous baroque gates of the Paramount lot.
Driving south, he reached some of the sad, bad parts of town. Here there was poverty. Here dreams had died. In the twilight some weatherworn pages of The Hollywood Reporter snapped against a chain-link fence. Hip-hop made the windows of a two-story stucco house shake, rattle, and roll. Little kids played tag among the tumbleweeds and crushed Colt .45 cans. Billy D’s, they were called. But there weren’t many lying around: They could be turned in for money. There was a lot of recycling going down here. A lot of things turned in for a few coins: glass, newspapers, blood, and friends with outstanding warrants.
Angel supposed it was understandable. A few coins would buy something to eat: a taco, a can of cat food. Or something to drink: a Pepsi, a bottle of Thunderbird. Or an escape: a ticket to whatever was playing at the dollar theaters.
A ticket to whatever was available to shoot into your arm.
These were the Angelenos he supposed in some ways were most like him. Isolated. Wary. They figured that friends would leave you eventually; either because you didn’t measure up, or they died, or they got thrown in jail. If your friend didn’t hurt you, you would probably hurt your friend.
So it was best not to make any.
Best to stay guarded and protected and as safe as possible, because the world was a great, big, dangerous minefield.
Only in his case, he was the minefield.
Last week a family of ten living in a one-bedroom in Compton had lost their lives in a fire. They were from Guatemala, and six of them supported the others by working illegally, for half the legal minimum wage, in a Chinese restaurant.
Most people did not come to L.A. with hopes of making it big in the drug trade. They just wanted to make it, period.
But some did come for the easy, dirty score. Crips, Bloods, Hell’s Angels, the Asian tongs, the Japanese yakuza. Los Angeles was the Pacific Rim’s doorway to American crime: Give me your degenerate, your psychopathic, yearning to make millions.
Angel drove south to Culver City, where Sony had its movie lot. It was a huge dream factory. He’d overheard that across the street, Atlanta had been burned for Gone With the Wind. Actually, old sets from other films had gone up in flames.
Every once in a while there was a terrible accident on a set: Stuntmen got maimed for life, actors got killed. Like in Twilight Zone. Like in The Crow. But like plane crashes, those were the stories the media picked up. For the most part, stunt people came out of their “gags” with nothing more than bruises.
Immortal, like Angel.
As the darkness rose, Los Angeles began its waking dreams. The girls who mud-wrestled at the Tropicana dreamed of finding some rich guy who would forget their sleazy roots, or getting cast as an extra in a low-budget horror movie. It often happened, but, as far as Angel could tell, it didn’t make a lasting change in their lives.
The waiters and store clerks on Melrose, where funky street wear and great bookstores mingled with fetish shops and themed chain restaurants, dreamed of finding a manager, getting a speaking role, landing that all important S.A.G. card. It happened often enough to keep all the other waiters and store clerks gainfully underemployed, working for that big break.
The UCLA film-school students dreamed of being the next Cameron or Eszterhas. All it took was for that to happen once in a generation to keep the flame alive.
Where else could dreaming lift you from parking cars to directing Cruise in less time than it took to earn a college degree? It didn’t mean you were the best, or the most talented, or even the most persistent. It meant you had the best luck.
Los Angeles was a city more obsessed with luck than any other city in the world, including Las Vegas, Reno, and Atlantic City.
That was the thrill of it. There was no way to control luck. No way to court it. No way to avoid it.
That was why Los Angeles ground the unlucky up, ground them down, and wiped them out.
But it was also why Los Angeles could be a most generous oasis of good karma. Rub two nickels together — make a contact here, another there — and you might be set for life. Lots of money, intelligent friends, work you cared about — that could happen in Los Angeles, too.
It has a hundred faces, each different, each one beckoning, Angel thought, driving.
In the poor neighborhoods such as Watts, Little Saigon, and East L.A., he saw terrified boy hustlers with skin the color of cocoa butter; girls in magenta hair and whiteface, hiding the needle tracks thick as the stems of black roses when the cop cars prowled near.
In Hollywood proper, the police tried to keep the streets clear. But there you found bums of all stripes, drinking, staggering, begging. The homeless, giving the streets a bad name and hogging all the cardboard. The druggies, forgetting which clinic was open when and getting confused and trying to sneak inside the beautifully restored Roosevelt Hotel to use their toilets.
But cheek by jowl with the unlucky were the excited, energetic up-and-comers with cell phones and Palm Pilots, nicely dressed and dropping the right names: Steven, Leo, Angelina. People who knew the right people.
People who were the right people.
Such contradictions. Such texture and confusion.
People are drawn here. People, and other things. They come for all kinds of reasons. My reason? It started with a girl.
“A really, really pretty girl,” Angel slurred.
There was a glass in front of him; he was seated in Sector 1.8 on the blood alcohol hit parade; the serious drinkers surrounded him, totally ignoring him, throwing back whatever worked to the heartbeat of America: the edgy throb of young urban success. Artists from the downtown lofts; young professionals doing the networking thing; unemployed actors looking to drown their sorrows in each other’s arms. Or somewhere. For free, even.
The city, dreaming that 70-millimeter dream.
“No, I mean she was a hottie girl,” Angel ran on.
No one around him cared that he had loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in beautiful Sunnydale-on-the-hellmouth any more now than they had two minutes ago. Maybe because he didn’t tell them that Buffy Anne Summers had been her name, and that she had been the Chosen One — the one girl in all her generation summoned to fight the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness.
Maybe because he didn’t mention that he had nearly killed her twice; and that when he left her, he took one last, long look, but he had never said goodbye.
Nor was anyone impressed that he was one of a kind, even among his own kind: Angel was the only vampire in existence with a soul. You’d think that would be cause for a free round or two.
Of course, to be fair, no one in the bar knew he was a vampire. When he wasn’t in feeding mode — or really pissed off — he looked like your average tall, dark, and unusually pale Southern California guy. On occasion, people had been startled by how cold his pale skin was; which made sense, since he was technically dead.
For the rest of the vampire population, what they were was a demon inhabiting the shell of a corpse. The soul of the deceased was gone. Maybe fled to heaven. Who knew? Angel had only ever been to Hell. In his case, the demon inside him had to endure the presence of his soul, making Angel’s existence so much more complicated than the average bloodsucker’s.
And speaking of the joy, one other thing was for certain: Vampires could, and did, get drunk. Hell, Angel’s ex-hunting buddy Spike had set records when he was trying to get over his faithless
Burns healed fast, though. It was the other wounds — the ones that didn’t show — the ones inside — that took longer to mend.
Seemed like forever.
“She had . . . her hair was . . . you know, you kind of remind me of her,” Angel said unsteadily.
The large black man seated next to him made no comment. He just kept drinking.
“’Cause, you know, the hair. I mean, you both have hair.”
And drinking. A woman’s laugh drew Angel’s gaze back to the three guys shooting pool with two good-looking young women. There it was, the pang: One of them looked a little bit like Buffy. Of course, he saw Buffy everywhere. He could see her face on a blank wall the way some people saw the Virgin Mary in a tortilla.
The balls clacked as they played. One of the pool guys came over to the bar and squeezed in next to Angel. He had a fifty in his hand like it was a dollar. Beer breath and aftershave collided as he said to the bartender, “We’re gonna cash out.”
Angel grinned at him. “Girls are nice.”
The guy gave him a look of contempt, got his change, and split.
The group gathered up and moved past Angel, heading out the back exit. Angel swiveled slowly around on his stool, watching them. As soon as he was out of their line of vision, his entire demeanor shifted. His eyes went cold and purposeful, and his loopy expression became serious, focused. He was extremely alert.
Yeah, vampires could get drunk.
But Angel was stone cold sober.
He followed the jovial group outside, a man on a mission, to the parking lot behind the bar. The lot was fairly dark, and very deserted. The girl who had laughed — the one who looked like Buffy — was chattering excitedly to Mr. Fifty Bucks.
She said, “You guys really know the doorman, you can get us in the Lido?”
City Of by Nancy Holder / Mystery & Detective / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes