Cover image for The stone war
Title:
The stone war
Author:
Robins, Madeleine.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : TOR, 1999.
Physical Description:
317 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780312854867
Format :
Book

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Status
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

John Tietjen loves New York City like life itself. But while hes out of town at a conference, confused reports come out of the city. Millions of refugees are streaming out, each bearing contradictory tales of fire, earthquake, explosions, collapse. Making his perilous way back, he gathers a few survivors and establishes a shelter. But the full nature of the catastrophe is still unclear.


Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In Robins's New York City, the homeless legally homestead vacant patches of land, armed guards check IDs at nearly every corner and Central Park is a no-man's land too dangerous to traverse. Yet John Tietjen still loves his city, and even enjoys walking its dangerous streets at night. While John is in Massachusetts overseeing an architectural project, something disastrous happens in New York. No one is exactly sure whatÄthe shocked refugees escaping the cataclysm give conflicting reports: of fire, of earthquakes, of bombings. John makes his way back to his home's shattered remains and, after meeting the highly capable and maternal Barbara McGrath, establishes a haven for survivors. At first John and the others expect outside help to come, but assistance never arrives, leaving the survivors to deal with monsters as well as with the everyday challenges of making it in a ruined city. Given John's alleged fascination with the city's rich blend of cultures, it seems odd that the narrative focuses almost exclusivelyÄand to its detrimentÄon a cast of middle-class, Caucasian characters. And although this imaginative, well-crafted tale boasts a gripping premise and many appealing elements (warm protagonists, fantastic beings, animated statuary, weird powers, strong descriptions), it never delivers quite enough magic or horror to fully satisfy. Still, there's much promiseÄand talentÄon display in Robins's first novel. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Stone War PART ONE 1 THE air was soft and warm; a light breeze belled out at the corners of the block and whisked bits of paper, dust, and cellophane from the trash cans. Down the block, framed against the late dazzle of the sunset, Stevie Prokop was waving to him: Come on, come on. Whatever the game was was less important than the getting there, being part of it. For a moment John just stood, poised to run, feeling the June warmth, the breeze, the sights and smells and sounds of the block run through him like fuel. Every building on the street--the low, dignified brownstones, the blockish granite apartment buildings, even the dark stone church on the corner--was familiar and loved. Each doorway was filled with possibilities. He felt like he was perched on a special moment. "Johnny, hey, John!" Stevie called again. John waved back, grinning. Another minute and he'd run after, join whatever the game was. Another minute. He breathed in deeply, feeling the air stir the inside of his nose and fill his lungs. It tasted of a thousand things: the dank, swampy smell of steam vents; the warm smell of sun on the black locust tree in front of his house; the perfume of the woman who'd just walked past; sun on brick and sun on asphalt; the river smell of the Hudson, and rain not far off. The air tasted like everything, forever. He was ten years old, and he didn't have the words to describe it. But for a moment, he knew, "It will always be just like this, and I will live forever, just like this." Down this street a woman laughed; a horn blared on Sixth Avenue; heels clattered in jazz syncopation; and kids were yelling to each other. The coiled spring loosed. John launched off up the street toward Seventh Avenue, where Stevie was waiting for him.     Tietjen woke slowly and easily from the dream, enjoying the wakening, savoring the lingering sense of joy and lightness that seemed to infuse his muscles. Eyes closed, he concentrated on the feeling of the sheet against his skin, the way his head sank into his old down pillow. What had he been dreaming? Something about being a kid again, on the street he'd grown up on. Four floors down someone on the street was praying. The wail of Arabic was one voice, joined by another, then a third. He lived on an open block, and two Muslim families had settled, one in a garden across the street, another in the doorway of a house three doors down from his. Tietjen had found them to be friendly enough, although he'd overheard hard words between them and members of the synagogue half a dozen doors down. For a few minutes he listened to the devotions with his eyes closed, trying to sink back into the dream. Useless. He would not get back to sleep that morning. Anyway, it was Saturday, the day he had the kids. The sun between the blinds made sparkling strips on the bed and wall, patterned by the shifting shadows of leaves from the tree outside his window. When he drew the blinds the light dazzled him for a moment. Scents from someone's cooking on the street filtered up, making him feel pleasantly hungry. He went off to shower and shave, thinking of breakfast. The water was cold again. He persuaded himself this was a blessing on a day that promised to be hot, and stepped into the tub to shower. It was an old cast-iron tub with claws for feet, and when he had first moved into the apartment he'd let his sons paint the claws, red and blue with gold trim and generous splashes of paint on the molding and linoleum. By the time he finished his shower the water was almost warm enough to shave in. As he shaved he made plans, improbable and impossible plans for the day ahead, plans made for the city he had grown up in, not the New York Chris and Davy lived in now. Tietjen combed his wet hair back from his face; the water made it look dark, almost black. For a moment he hardly recognized himself, looking for the ten-year-old from his dream. They shared the light brown eyes and the same lanky body. What they didn't share,Tietjen thought ruefully, was faith that everyone loved to poke around the city the way he did. His sons didn't, certainly. Okay. What then? As he dressed he made other plans, real plans. Which meant plans Irene couldn't disapprove of; he resisted the thought that anything he wanted to do, she would disapprove of. He made coffee and pried a couple of pastries out of their sticky bag. While he ate he pulled the day's Times up on the screen and tabbed briskly through the headlines before he saved the whole thing to be looked over more carefully later. He had almost sixteen gigabytes of unread Times es saved, all collected in the hope that tomorrow he'd have time to do more than scan. He'd keep saving Times files until his creaky old drive was glutted with them, then delete them all, mostly unread, in an irritable passion. It was nearly time to purge the Times, he thought. Then he remembered that there was an event that had caught his eye, something in the Times's MetroList that he'd thought might make a suitable Father's Day Out activity. Some time in the last three or four days, he thought, and called up the MetroList. It was in Wednesday's edition: a Transit Authority exhibition and film about the history of the subways, a fund-raiser of some sort. Maybe the boys would like that; he'd have liked it at their age. Bad housekeeping is rewarded, he thought, and smiled. There was no need to tidy up the apartment; Irene almost never let the boys come over to the West Side, which she thought was less secure than their block in the East Nineties. Tietjen was used to the status quo and rarely fought against it. He jotted down the information about the TA program and jammed it into a pocket, grabbed a windbreaker, and was almost out the door when he remembered, and turned back to grab the two remaining pastries, pour hot coffee in a paper cup, and take a juicebox from the refrigerator. Down three flights of stairs, not at a run but a gravity-induced canter, and out of the building. Maia, who slept in the six-foot-square basement garden in the front of his building, was awake, sitting by one of the trash cans and combing out her sparse hair with a broken comb. "Morning, John." Her voice was melodious. Maia was tall and rail thin; her hair was short and tight-curling gray; her face was ageless, so dark the brown was almost purplish; her smile was beautiful. "Maia. Brought you breakfast." He offered the pastries, coffee, and juicebox. She smiled as she took them. "Thanks, honey. Next one's my treat." She said it every morning. "Where you off to today?" "My Saturday with the boys." Maia's smile broadened. She rubbed absently at her cheek with one of the two remaining fingers on her left hand. She'd never told him how she lost them; there was something in her past she called My Accident, from which the amputation, and her homelessness, apparently dated. "What you going to do with those lambs?" she asked now. "I'm going to try to take them to Brooklyn." Tietjen shrugged as if it didn't matter if they got there or not. "Brooklyn's got itself some bad neighborhoods, John. You take care of those little lambs. And thanks for breakfast." His apartment was halfway down on a shady open block. East, toward Columbus, there was a white-brick public school, guarded even on weekends, lest the street families try to stake a claim to part of the heavily fenced yard. In the other direction, a synagogue, a funeral home, neat brownstones and small apartment buildings, and living trees guarded and tended by some of the street families. Even with the shade of the trees, sunlight danced in patches on the pavement. He nodded at a couple of the resident street people he knew, stopped to answer a question; somehow, without meaning to, he had become the block's liaison between the housed residents and the people who homesteaded on their stoops and in their gardens. At the end of the block the guards at the schoolyard glared at him blankly, as if they hadn't seen him walk past the yard every day for almost four years. He turned the corner onto Columbus, heading for the Seventy-ninth Street crosstown bus. The bus stop guard nodded curtly and raised an eyebrow, as though smiling would lessen his scarecrow effectiveness. As far as Tietjen could see, the sum of the guard's effectiveness was in the semiautomatic that hung loosely from his shoulder. Smiling wouldn't have hurt. Five or six other people were crowded inside the bus shelter, although the day was clear. Safety by association, Tietjen thought, and made a point of waiting outside the shelter.     The bus took him across Central Park and at Third he got off to walk uptown. In this part of town only the avenues and the big crosstown arteries--Seventy-ninth, Eighty-sixth, Ninety-sixth--were ungated. At each corner guards stood waiting to ID residents and visitors and ward away undesirables. What does that make me? Tietjen wondered. Three times as he went he was stopped and carded by blockcops. Each time he waited as they checked his ID, matched his fingerprints; stood and watched their faces, ruddy and young above the high stock collars of their uniforms. These uniforms were a reflective metallic gray, the color of storm skies over Manhattan, a color he had always thought was a reflection of Manhattan's body heat. On the guards, the color was cold and stern. There were too many uniforms in this city, Tietjen thought; it was hard to keep up when every private security force had its own insignia and dress code. Subway guards wore dull gray serge over full body armor. That must be hot as hell on a June day, Tietjen thought. Irene lived in one of a nest of brick towers that reached upward, away from a brick plaza from which the homeless were endlessly swept away. In Irene's building the security men recognized him at once and made only a cursory scan of his ID. Riding up to the fourteenth floor in the tiny elevator, Tietjen felt a familiar itch, the urge to run. He'd hated this building when he lived here. He hated that his sons were being raised here now, in four square anonymous rooms in this ugly brick tower clustered with the other towers in the development, pulling away from the people and buildings that surrounded them. Architect-speak, Irene called that. She was probably right. The elevator slowed, wobbled, and stopped. Before he rang the bell to Irene's apartment, Tietjen took one minute at the hall window, staring out at the mosaic of streets below. A little serenity returned. He pressed the bell. "Who is it?" "Come on, Reen. They called you from downstairs. It's John." He heard the rusty click of the peepscreen before she began to turn the bristle of locks on her door. When the door finally opened Irene stood there urging him into her apartment as if she were afraid that he had been followed. "Hello," she said suspiciously. They filed down the narrow hallwayto the living room, past the closed door of the boys' room. Irene sat on the edge of a chair, one trousered leg tucked under her, and looked at him with her odd, flat mixture of curiosity, apprehension, and hostility. "The boys are getting their shoes on," she said. "What are you going to do with them today?" He relaxed against the wall. "I thought I'd wait to see what they were thinking," he hedged, suspecting Irene would not like what he was planning. "I wish you didn't make it sound like I was going to boil them for soup," he added. "I never know what --" Irene began. Then Davy bounced into the room and wrapped his arms around his father's leg. Chris followed a moment after, two years older and trying for a little dignity; he hung back and waved a cool hand at his father. "Hey." "Hey." Tietjen swung Davy up for a hug, and his younger son wriggled like a puppy. Tietjen wished that Chris had not already reached the age where he was embarrassed to hug his father. "So, shall we go?" Irene followed them to the door, her expression uneasy. She vented her apprehension in small touches, tugging gently at Chris's collar, briskly reminding Tietjen not to let Davy get overtired. "He had a cold last week." Then she let them out. Behind them Tietjen heard the locks snapping into place, one after another. "Shall we go?" he asked again, and let Chris press the elevator button. Chris and Davy grew in the city untouched by it. On his days with them Tietjen tried to give them a little piece of it. Today the boys pranced around him in the lobby of Irene's building, full of stories, full of suggestions, ultimately wary of another of their father's weird ideas. They didn't like the Transit exhibit idea. "Slipskating," Chris demanded. "I'll tell you," Tietjen countered, man to men. "We try my idea and if you don't like it, we'll go slipskating. We've got time for both. Okay? Davy, okay?" They went through almost the same routine every Saturday. Tietjen knew his role, the boys theirs. "Okay." He took them west to catch a downtown Fifth Avenue bus, nodding at the armed bus guard (gray serge, body armor, patent leather hat pulled low over his eyes), smiling at the bus driver. The boys chattered one over the other about school, friends, games, uninterested in the changing ribbon of street, building and person that rippledin the windows. Tietjen watched, listening and answering as best he could. As they passed Sixty-fifth Street he said, not meaning it seriously, of course, "I wonder how the old Zoo is doing?" Chris broke off his story. "In Central Park? Mommy'd never let us." He spoke too fast, and his tone was too old, the sound of someone forestalling disaster. Tietjen hadn't meant to propose it seriously: you couldn't take a seven- and a five-year-old kid into Central Park. But the exasperated refusal in his son's voice hardened Tietjen's sentimental curiosity. All he wanted was for the boys not to dismiss the idea out of hand. "It's just a park, Chris. People used to play ball there and bike and sail--well, when I was a kid they still sailed miniature boats in the ponds. They used to do all those things. Davy, you remember Stuart Little, don't you?" They had read it together in the fall. "The boat race happened in Central Park." "You said it was just a story," Davy said. He tucked in his chin and watched his father cautiously. He couldn't stop. "Did you know there's a bronze statue of a sled dog in the park? And one of Alice and everyone in Wonderland, and--from the inside of the Park you can hardly see the tops of the buildings, you can pretend you're somewhere--" Confronted by two small, unblinking faces, "Look," he wanted to say. "I love this place. I give it to you." "My teacher says Central Park should have been torn up for subsidy housing a long time ago," Chris said. "Your teacher--" Tietjen began. "Mamma said we shoun't ever go in here. Mamma says people get killed here. All the time. With knives." Davy's eyes widened at the thought of knives. "I want to go slipskating." The knot of failure in Tietjen's gut tightened. "What about Brooklyn," he said. "I thought we had a deal." "I don' wanna, Daddy. People in Brooklyn got knives, too." What was he going to do, argue with a five-year-old about who in Brooklyn did or didn't carry a knife, an automatic, a shotgun? "You too, Chris?" Chris took refuge in superiority. "Really, Dad. I don't wanna go look at some old trains." He sounded like Irene. "Okay." Tietjen swallowed and sat back. "Okay. Slipskating. We can stay on this bus to Thirty-fourth Street." He settled into hisseat, looking out the window again. What if I dragged them to the exhibit or into the Park? he thought. It wouldn't make them love it. By the time the bus reached Thirty-fourth Street he had forgotten the idea and was listening to his sons with gentle, conquered affection. They went slipskating, ate lunch, saw a movie. The boys enjoyed themselves, and Tietjen enjoyed their pleasure. Still, he felt distant and unsatisfied. He had never learned the knack of compromise between what he wanted and they wanted. He loved everything about his sons, loved watching them unfold a little bit each week, a new layer of baby peeling back to reveal the sturdy enthusiasm and sweetness of boy; loved the peachy glow of their skin in the sunlight, the flinty blue of Davy's eyes, and Chris's gap-toothed smile. He looked at them and loved them, and couldn't say no or force the issue of teaching them what he loved about New York. Each Saturday Tietjen wound up feeling a little cowardly, afraid to see dimming light in his boys' eyes. They were back at Irene's by 5:30, the brassy light of afternoon lighting the upper stories of the red brick towers. As usual when he brought the boys back, Irene invited him in for coffee, and as usual he accepted, wondering if this would be the night when they broke the pattern and he left before a fight started. In the kitchen Tietjen and Irene chatted idly, about the boys mostly. School, friends, dentist appointments, affectionate minutiae. Where he had taken the boys that afternoon. Just as he thought he had handled the question, Davy padded into the room. Tietjen watched as Irene slowly twined her hand through Davy's thick dark hair, reached down a glass for him, and let the boy pour his own juice. Davy's face was a study in concentration; Irene's above him was soft, gentle. "Daddy was going to take us to the Park, too," Davy said when he had successfully filled the glass. "Can I get some for Chris?" Irene, reaching for another glass, fixed Tietjen with a familiar look. She waited until Davy had both glasses carefully balanced in his hands and had made a cautious way back down the hall again. Then she summoned a smile strung tight as wire. "Central Park? Jesus, John, you would not take my sons--not even you would take them in there. Especially not since the City withdrew the police from inside the walls." "I've never had any trouble there." Never mind that he hadn'twalked through Central Park in years; never mind that he'd never seriously thought of taking the boys there. "Irene, we didn't--" "You have no right to put my sons at risk--" "I didn't! Jesus Christ, Reen, I love them too! They're my sons too! Why the hell would I put them at risk for anything? What I did was say 'Hey, look, that's Central Park--'" "Trying to get them to--" "Trying to get them to do nothing. I can't get them to do anything, Reen. If I had suggested the Park, you've got them so conditioned they'd close down immediately." She smiled. "Good. They listen." "They listen? They've bought into your terror--it's no way to live." "There is nothing wrong with the way we live. It's you. I'm the one who'll have to tell the boys you were killed on one of your damned walks. You don't think there's any danger, but people are killed all the time all over this goddamned city." There was no point pretending that battle had not been joined. Tietjen felt sorry and defensive. Deeply, wearily familiar anger grew in him. "Irene, you have no idea where I go--" "Does it matter? One night you'll be killed somewhere. God, John, will you wake up? Out there--" She gestured with a fist toward the shrouded window. "People are living in a state of war." "That's just what you read," he threw back. "You hide up here in this place and everything you know, you learn from the tabloids. You have no idea about the people you share this city with." He was at the edge of the pit again, about to fall in again, the same way he always did. Tietjen made himself stop for a moment, breathing as if he had been running, reaching for logic and reason and words that would explain. The right words didn't come. Instead, "Irene, take a walk with me." Let the city explain it to her. Maybe this time it would work. Their eyes met and held. There was a long moment of intensity, and the air seemed to shimmer between them. Then Irene shook her head. "You're out of your mind." Tietjen was reluctant to let the moment go. "Really. Take a walk with me . I mean, really outside, away from the bus shelters and the cab stands. I can show you--" Irene pulled away from his outstretched hand, jarring her coffee cup, and busied herself nervously mopping up spilled coffee. "Come on, John, I don't want to--" "A short walk. You won't be gone more than an hour. You used to ask me where I went when I walked; I'll show you. You used to think my walks were romantic." Irene shook her head, disowning the memory. "I can't leave the boys." "Call a sitter," Tietjen said persuasively. "Let them go to the playroom--the attendant should still be on duty. Tell the guards downstairs you have to go out for a few minutes. What are you afraid of? The city can't reach in and grab them." That was the wrong thing to say; he knew it as the words left his mouth. The denial that might have been the beginning of acquiescence changed to a hard, flat no in her eyes. Furious at himself, nothing left to gain, still he went on. "Reen, there are two men in your lobby who monitor security cameras all over this building twenty-four hours a day. There are six locks on your door. There's a brace of guards by the door downstairs itching for the chance to use the guns they're carrying. You and Chris and Davy could live out your lives in this goddamned fortress and never know there was a world out there, with people in it--" "I don't need to know." She stood up. "I don't want to know about them. I know enough: there are people out there waiting to kill you if you give them a chance. That fucking world out there is killing people all the time. Out there--if you weren't here, if I could afford to, I'd take the boys and get so far away from New York--" She waved her hands disgustedly. "You keep your damned city; one of these days it'll catch up to you." "I'd like my sons to know something more about New York than armed schoolbuses and security patrols." The coffee in his cup was stone cold. "I'd like my sons to live long enough to make a choice about it," she countered. "I think maybe you'd better go, John." She turned her head to call down the hall: "Boys! Your father is leaving." Tietjen went past her into the living room to wait for his sons. Davy came first, running as usual; Tietjen caught him and swung him in a circle that put the lamps and table at risk. Davy gave him a quick, sloppy kiss. "I had a real good time, Daddy. I love you."Chris waited in the doorway until Davy was done, then ambled over, unconcerned, and unbent enough to give his father a shy kiss and a back-slapping hug. "Love you guys. I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?" Finally, aware that Irene was waiting with broadly repressed impatience, Tietjen stood and followed her and waited as she unlocked the locks. "Good night, Reen." She said nothing. The door closed behind him and as he walked down the hall he could hear the bolts slipping into place.   Tietjen left Irene's building without plan and began walking south, downtown, walking off his anger, walking into connection. The light was full of fading reflections, sunlight slanting orange through trees on Park Avenue; the air was warm and reedy with voices. He walked with his head up, recording buildings and people, feeling the anger and tension ease out of him as the first mile and then the second went by. Park Avenue--the square, residential blocks of unsurprising granite gave way to glass-faced corporate towers in the Fifties, and then the startling gilded pleasure of Grand Central below that. Tietjen walked through blockcops and peddlers, across to Fifth Avenue and past the offices and stores of Midtown, gradually toward Greenwich Village. He had grown up here before the tidy residential streets in the Village were sealed off by ornate iron fences and gates; now he did not try to chat with the guards who stood at parade rest behind them cradling rifles in their arms, or crane to admire the old brownstones. Instead, he skirted Washington Square, threading through the bazaars on MacDougal and across Houston, through SoHo and into Little Italy. Here the streets were the way he remembered them from his childhood: small buildings, people walking and talking freely, only an occasional policeman or brace of blockcops wandering through the crowds. Families together, mothers leaning out of windows into the soft, heavy June air to call their children in; a cluster of old men playing checkers and arguing sanguinely; kids no older than Chris teaching each other street moves: daring each other into tough poses, eyes lidded, high nervous giggling. Tietjen walked among them, comfortably unnoticed, observing. A smell of cooking made him veer down a side street seeking thesource. He found a street fair, hardly a block long; a few crafts booths, some rickety games, a sausage seller, a banner announcing the whole effort to be on the behalf of Our Lady of something or other. He bought two delicious greasy sausages from a wizened woman who wore an apron stippled with grease and charcoal, and they stood watching children playing tag between the legs of the passersby. He thought of Chris and Davy, wondering what they would make of the fair. "S'okay, huh? S'good?" the woman beside him prompted. "The sausage. You want another?" Tietjen licked the grease from his hand. "No more, but yes, it's very good." "Another hour, pfff!" She made a sweeping motion with one hand. "Gonna be all gone. A week I'm making them, and in a hour they gone. You got to put the right spices in, see. You got to grind it all very fine." Tietjen listened, captivated, while the old woman described the process in exotic detail, her face lit from below by the flame from the grill she tended. The seasoning, the grinding, stuffing the skins--"the right thinness, you got to get--" He loved this about walking in the city: it seemed he could talk with anyone, with strangers, get past all strangeness and fear. "Don't you worry, being out after dark out here?" he asked her, thinking of Irene. "Here? In this crowd? It's my home, I live here sixty-seven years. Besides." She pulled her apron slightly askew, revealing the handle of a small pistol in her skirt waistband. The sight diminished Tietjen's pleasure in the conversation; he felt saddened, diminished by the sight of it. The old woman smiled at him, smoothed her apron down and turned to serve another customer. He stood a while longer beside her, watching the children, trying to recapture the comfortable companionship the sight of the gun had interrupted. At last Tietjen turned back to the woman and they exchanged good-nights. He started walking south again, toward the dark and quiet of the financial district. He would be walking late tonight, he thought, and he was suddenly eager for the windy echoes to be found farther downtown.     Broadway was empty, an echoing fault in the face of the city. Tietjen walked from streetlamp to streetlamp, skirting the steel-grilled plazas and peddler's sheds that surrounded the buildings, savoring the feel of soft air, the taste of salt, the way sounds traveled here. He liked the lightless faces of buildings, their evidence of busy occupation uncluttered by its substance. To the west the old World Trade Center rose out of a granite and steel surround, ugly and graceless and compelling. There were security grilles around all but the municipal buildings, where armed city cops swept through periodically to oust the sleeping homeless. The grilles, some of them quite beautiful, made Tietjen think of the buildings and courtyards they encompassed as walled cities, medieval keeps. There was comfort in the huge buildings that loomed over the streets, glass towers and gilded domes, caryatids staring down into atria. Alone in the middle of the street he felt a kinship with the thousands who walked there by day: bankers, messengers, court clerks and lawyers, peddlers and street people. Tietjen found himself smiling at the air and the buildings. From time to time an armored police car cruised by, slowed to survey him, passed on. Weekends or at night, blockcops rarely stopped anyone passing the grilled buildings; people working late took their chances or hired guards. The street people who lived this far downtown kept to clannish packs, avoiding each other and the daytime workers. After dark a solitary walker like Tietjen was an anomaly; anomalies were best left untested. He walked on, heading toward Battery Park. Turning a corner suddenly, he startled a covey of old men huddled together in the shelter of a news kiosk, passing a bottle around. The men drew back, muttered resentfully, powerless to do more than glower at the intruder. Tietjen backed off apologetically. As he turned east, then south again, he considered making the trip to Staten Island. Years before, when he started his night walks, he would have taken the ferry across and back, reveling in the breeze and motion, the make-believe sea voyage. The old ferries had been retired for ten years, replaced by newer high-speed ferries, computerized, with plastic seats and air-conditioning and glass windows that kept the salt air out. No resonance, no history. "Mister?" The voice was ripe as a broken grape. It was one ofthe men from the kiosk. Tietjen looked up, nodded. "Change, mister? You got a couple bucks?" Tietjen nodded again and reached into his pocket. The drunk reeled closer, carrying a miasma with him, engulfing Tietjen. "Thanks." The man took two dollar pieces. "You know you shu'nt go scaren people like you done." "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." The old drunk insisted belligerently, his face shining red in the lamplight. "People get killt 'roun here. No'by ever tol' you that?" Tietjen thought of Irene. "Yeah, they've told me." The drunk stared a moment at Tietjen, sizing him up, trying blearily to read him: armed, not armed, carrying money? Who walked alone, strolling at this hour? "Fuggit, you fuggin' crazy." The drunk shook his head, shuffling back toward the darkness again. "We do' wan' no crazies 'n our neighborhood," he called back. Tietjen watched him go, feeling almost affectionate toward the old man. Then he continued on southward to the Customs House just above Battery Park. Tietjen stopped a moment; firelight from the B-Park shacktown nearby cast flickering shadows on the elaborate Beaux Art detailing--paired columns, allegorical friezes, and four marvelous statues at the street level, draped with glittering security grating. At the base of the statues a few dark shapes were settled in for the night, unmoving, but beyond, in Battery Park, the shacktown moved, settled and resettled in the darkness, fires flickering, voices sounding loudly then dropping off. B-Park was one of the worst shacktowns: the most murders, the most drugs. B-Park was what Central Park had been, a decade ago, and now it was a mystery he knew better than to explore. Instead, he began to trace the winding, archaic streets that were all that was left of New Amsterdam's cow paths. A little after midnight he turned north and west again. The air by the Hudson was cool, as fresh as it got anywhere in New York in June. Tietjen walked slowly, marking the sound of his own footfall, watching on his right for the small details of occupancy that occurred from time to time in the buildings near the water. To his left was the river, and the nest of parks and plush event spaces that had taken over the Lower West Side piers in fifteen years.Lit by light reflected from the Jersey shore, most of the piers were ostentatiously off-limits to all but the wealthy, surrounded by grilles, velvet ropes, and blank-faced security. Limousines glided up and rolled away; the hush of money just made the grimness of the warehouses and factories across the street more profound. A rustle, a padding noise warned him of another presence behind him on the dock. "Ey, man." Lilting menace, gang lowspeak: the consonants softened to mush. "Hey," Tietjen returned. He did not turn around. It was not the first time he had been noticed or stopped by the docks. He made himself still despite the silver whisper of metal and leather behind him. "What you doin' here, so late? Y'a cop? You some kinda Uptown?" "Just walking." A buzz of murmuring behind him, then a kid in piecemeal leathers, his face obscured by one of the old leather "samurai" helmets favored by some street gangs, slipped up beside him, indicating that Tietjen was to walk with him. "Seed you here before, man. Whyfor you come walkin here?" Tietjen smiled and spread his hands, but carefully, gently. "I like it. It's good here, you know?" The kid looked at him curiously, Asian eyes set in a Chicano face, glittering in the Jersey light. "You know?" he echoed. There was another whisper from behind them, a prodding. "Man, you got any money?" Tietjen nodded, tasting acid. "A little. You want it?" The kid watched him, the whispering stopped. "Fuck me ," the kid said, and turned to grin at his followers. "Do we want your money? Gotta pay the toll, man. Give here." Tietjen reached slowly into his pocket for the mugger's roll he kept on him--enough money to make the kids feel they'd made a score, not enough to make them wonder why the hell he was there in the first place and roll him for his watch, cards, everything else. The kid counted the money. "Okay," he said at last, deliberately, so that the rustling soldiers in the shadows could hear him. "You crazy motherfucker, man, you know? No Uptown come walkin' here, this Dogs' turf. What the fuck you doin'?" Before Tietjen couldanswer, the kid answered himself. "You like it here, right?" His tone was heavily satirical, touched with just a breath of understanding and faith. Tietjen nodded. "Alri', we make you the--what the word? The mascot. You bugfuck enough to come down here again, the Dogs know. Anyone fuck with you, we know. We take care'a you. Dog's blood, man." He held his right palm up to show a sloppily drawn star of scar tissue, looked over his shoulder and nodded to his soldiers. Then he smiled again. "Jus remember: bring the toll, man." There was a silver whisper behind them as the knife was sheathed. Tietjen mouthed his thanks, uncertain what to say. He and the Dogs' leader walked in silence for a while, looking out at the gravelly moonlit plain of the Hudson. Tietjen missed the moment when the kid slipped back into the shadows again, but gradually became aware that he was watching the changing light on the river alone. Looking around him as casually as he could, Tietjen called himself every stupid name he could think of. He'd got off again, still alive again. The lights of the Jersey shore glittered, their reflection in the Hudson glittered. Off the hook again. "Jesus," he breathed. At the same time, knowing better, "But I did it." He always came through, his luck was uncanny and always had been. In all his waking years he had never taken worse than a beating, never lost more than a hundred dollars. "Expensive fucking hobby," he told the night air at last. Jersey glittered without response. He looked at the watch the gang had let him keep: going on for two A.M., and he was on West Street above Christopher. For the first time all night his feet hurt. Time to head for home. He turned right, making for the subway at Sheridan Square. Dimly Tietjen remembered what this neighborhood had been like when he was growing up half a dozen blocks away: the bars and restaurants, a couple of theaters, cabarets, people on the streets all day and all night. Now it was--he searched for a word. Prim? The streets were empty, the houses and shops closed early. Even the homeless didn't seem to settle on Christopher Street anymore; what AIDS hadn't managed to do to the neighborhood, the "quality of life" campaigns of '02 and '05 had. The spirit of the neighborhood had been broken; everyone looked over their shoulders. Tietjenfound these blocks architecturally satisfying but depressing. Good brick, bad spirit. The Sheridan Square subway station was almost empty at this time of night: the attendant in the token booth was talking with the guard stationed inside the booth; another guard prowled up and down the thirty-foot stretch of platform directly opposite to the booth. Two tired-eyed women huddled together near the booth, watching Tietjen as he came down the stairs, clearly expecting the worst. He ran his fare card through the turnstile and walked through onto the platform, then started up toward the northern end of the track. "Hey, asshole!" Tietjen turned. The guard patted his automatic absently. "Where the hell you going? This is the guarded area, right here ." He pointed to the length of platform he was pacing. "Just stretching my legs," Tietjen said easily. The guard looked at him blankly, trying to figure it out. Finally he shrugged. "Look, asshole, you wanna walk up that way, be my guest. Some psycho comes out of the tunnel and knifes you, I ain't running my ass off to save some asshole wanted to stretch his legs." Tietjen nodded. "I'll be careful," he said. What else was he going to say? The guard shrugged again and turned away. Tietjen turned too and went up the platform, pacing slowly up and back, weaving around the stanchions. He was aware that the guard was watching him, and kept his moves simple and slow. Finally he stopped, leaned against a tiled wall, and listened. In the quiet, little noises bounced off the tile walls of the tunnel: a high-pitched "uh" from one of the women waiting near the entrance; a burst of laughter that leaked from the microphone of the token booth and echoed tinnily; the pat-pat sound of the platform guard's automatic slapping against his belt as he walked. The air was warm and moist and smelled like steel, and fire far away. Now and then the rails clicked or shuddered, but nothing appeared. Tietjen waited twenty minutes for the uptown local, and when it came he found it was a short train and he had to sprint back to get on board. "See, asshole," the guard yelled as the doors closed. Tietjen sat down; the car was empty except for a guard, hanging on to a handstrap, half asleep. All the way up to Seventy-second Street no one else got on their car. Tietjen sat at his end, reading the ads in Spanish and trying to make heads or tails of the Haitian andPolish and Arabic ones; the guard stood holding on to his handstrap, coming alert for a moment at each stop, then dropping back to his doze. At Seventy-second Street he had to step carefully over homeless sleeping on the island between Broadway and Amsterdam. Once he felt himself come down heavily on the hand of a sleeping woman, but she barely shrugged in her sleep. That didn't make him feel any better. He walked up Seventy-second street, doing the same delicate tap dance around the sleeping homeless who spilled out of doorways, and the wakeful ones who watched his passage. Two of the streetlamps were out on his block. Time to complain to the DPW again, he thought. And they'd come and put in the high-intensity halogens that kept everyone--homeless and apartment dwellers alike--awake at night, and then there would be a fight about getting the bulbs changed, and eventually he'd wear them down and get the low-glo bulbs used on closed streets, but the fight would be a pain in the ass. The lamp nearest his own door worked, and cast a white moonish glow on the brownstone stoop and the steel grille set over the upstairs door. The basement tenant had had a steel plate welded over her outside door and used the inside stairway to go in and out of her apartment. In the front garden he could make out Maia sleeping, curled under a blanket in the shadow of the stoop; the street light glinted off the silver of her hair. "Hi, honey, I'm home," he murmured. "About damned time," her voice, a sweet whisper, came back at him. "I waited up," she said. "I was just about to get worried about you." She pulled the blanket down from her face with one finger and peered up at him. "How're them boys?" Tietjen smiled. "They're just what you called 'em, Maia. Little lambs." She laughed in a whisper. "Those lambs kept you up till this hour? Or you just been walking out again?" "Taking the air." "Well, air is free, I guess. Must be, I get enough. You get some sleep now, John." Her finger curled around a corner of the blanket to pull it back over her face. Tietjen said, "You're an angel, Maia." She laughed again. "I know."     He didn't turn on the light when he entered the apartment, just pulled off his jacket and tossed it in the direction of the sofa, locked the door behind him by the light of the streetlamp through his window, undressed and brushed his teeth by Braille in the bathroom, and found his way to his bed. The sheets were cool against his back, and he closed his eyes and let himself sink heavily into the mattress. A scent like a thousand things, like the day just gone, clung to him: the dusty, metallic tang of the subway; the warm smell of sun on trees; the perfume of women passing by; sun on brick and sun on asphalt; the river smell of the Hudson, and rain not far off. Air that tasted like everything, forever. As he fell asleep he thought, It will always be just like this, and I will live forever, just like this. Copyright (c) 1999 by Madeleine E. Robins Excerpted from The Stone War by Madeleine E. Robins All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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