Philadelphia By Night
Who told the young men of today it was acceptable to omit the vest from their suits?
nee Frank William Underwood, b. 1898, d. 1922
To this day, I keep rather extensive journals, which I still by and large prefer to draft with a fountain pen, though some years I yield to the draw of an old typewriter with its satisfying manual clacking and graceful lines. For much of what I recount here, I have had recourse to my old journals – please forgive any youthful foolishness reflected therein.
• 1933: “Faith!” I cry, starting from sleep with the setting sun. It is the same dream I have been having for the past eighteen months. Faith, my wife, waving farewell from our rented brownstone, a gay smile on her face; her right hand fondly tousling our boy’s hair. Adam, just two years old and already seeming to embody the best of us both.
The moment melts into my wife weeping at the table, Adam crying in confusion, tugging at her dress. My wife becoming gaunt and worn. My wife beating back the advances of the landlord. My wife and son cast into the street, the winter wind making a mockery of their once-fine clothing.
My wife stands still now, under a naked bulb, growing thinner and grayer as the apartment behind her flashes and changes, always smaller and uglier, always more degrading, always dirtier. Finally, she lies in bed, a hacking cough wracking her body and bringing up blood. Then she is gone, and I wake up crying her name, shamed forever for having failed her.
Adam’s death was far worse, and though he survived her by a year to live to 11, it would have been a mercy had he never been born. Thankfully, even my dreams cannot yet bear to face that horror.
[That, you see? Embarrassingly maudlin. I assure you, I no longer have such dreams, and have to reference photographs to remember what my wife looked like.]
• 1950: I had a remarkable moment – I realized this entire week I have been almost… happy. I haven’t felt the blind rage towards Dr. Kildall for stealing my life and decades of my unlife in servitude – I’ve merely been enjoying my freedom. The Prince continues in power in good health and I now take autonomy for granted! My fencing comes along splendidly – little did I know my seven-year-old self had it right in selecting piracy for my vocation. What a splendid swashbuckling pirate I’d have made, cutting through enemies a dozen to the thrust. The post-war optimism persists, and perhaps it is that I am caught up in these days. The young men are so happy and hopeful, they take next to no care for themselves, and feeding among the students (always easy given the wanton ways of lads free from their mothers for the first time) has become mere child’s play. I risk overindulgence.
I stumbled across another Kindred the other night, feeding quite savagely in the bushes of Washington Square. The moment of recognition was quite horrible – I was momentarily paralyzed by fear and the associations with Kildall, expecting to be taken back “under his wing” any moment. But through the fear, I sensed the other was slightly my inferior even as he snarled in empty defiance and took to his heels. Have I become something to reckon with? Am I superior to… anyone? I felt quite puffed up with myself the rest of the night.
And yet, I dare not venture far from campus. Even in the glow I walk in these days, the thought of unfamiliar streets gives me a chill and I imagine the eyes of the Invictus watching from every corner, waiting to wreak some horrid vengeance on me for turning my back on one of their own.
[Again! Ridiculous. I promise you, I do not so abuse ellipses today.]
• 2009: I am as ready as I will ever be for this move; the jostling for control over my modest herd of Wall Street kine is as good as can be expected in this economy and I expect to collect a fair amount of money and markers both. My one indulgence in negotiating the transfer had been to purchase a new auto to drive to Philadelphia in style, but now I find out that it will not arrive until I’ve already left. Dignified transportation will have to wait a little longer.
On balance, however, I feel the results of the last decade plus have met my every expectation. I have successfully carved out a small but lucrative niche for myself, and have remained unaligned, uncontrolled, and reasonably unchallenged throughout.
If I am being honest with my self-evaluation, I also know this is as far as I will rise in NYC. The Invictus will tolerate me, but with their long memories will never accept me in the city nor allow my encroachment into one of their powerbases to grow. My fear of being subjugated has also reached its limit – the freedom of being unaligned is bought at the cost of foregone opportunity. And to whom might I reasonably belong but the Invictus, which will never have me in NYC?
No, clearly the timing is right. New freedoms in a new city. Create new opportunities. Explore cautiously a commitment to a covenant. But ye gods, I loathe the prospect of finding a new tailor.
How old are you?
I was 24 at Embrace, today I am 87.
What was unique about your childhood?
I was an only child, which was modestly rare among my peers. My father managed a small haberdashery. My parents had Aspirations for me, and worked diligently to beat out a rebellious streak, which manifested in my young self as a desire to grow up to become a pirate, a robber, a master cat-burglar. Instead, they kept me in school through the eighth grade and steered me into banking. It was a decade before Sutton’s famous “because that’s where the money is” line became common currency, but spending my days around the cash appealed to me for the same reason – I always imagined it would someday be mine.
What kind of person were you?
As a mortal, I stole a candy bar when I was five. I swindled a snuffbox with ivory inlay from a schoolmate who’d brought it to school from his father’s collection because it depicted the butterfly from the Kama Sutra. The head clerk once accidentally gave me an extra hundred dollars in replenishing my drawer (two week’s wages), which I secreted into my shoe and carefully spent in small sums over the next six months. The head clerk was later dismissed. The schoolmate was beaten by his father. The candybar appears to have been a victimless crime. Do these acts make me any worse than my fellow man? Had you fairly sounded the depths of your soul by age 24?
What was your first brush with the supernatural?
The Masquerade was respected in those days. I had no idea such things existed outside Bram Stoker’s fevered imagination until one night when I left the bank late, saw the glint of a lost dollar in an alley, hastened to make it my own, and found Dr. Gary Kildall draining my life away, and giving me in its stead misery, slavery, and a vile hopeless passion for (what I couldn’t stop thinking of for decades as) the blood of my fellow man.
How did the Embrace change you?
I had a wife. I had a child; a young boy growing into manhood. I had to watch them fall into disgrace, poverty, and undignified early deaths once I was gone. I was a rising star at the bank and could have looked forward to someday earning perhaps even $100 a week. After the Embrace, I was little better than a slave in chains. I subscribed to the conventional morality of the day, dressed well, worked diligently, and trusted in First Union to look after my interests. One thing I will say about the Embrace – it opened my eyes to possibilities I never dreamt existed before, and made quite clear that no one but me would be looking after my interests.
Who was your sire, and how did he treat you?
Dr. Kildall thought I cut a trim figure and would, I imagine him thinking, flatter his drapes as a servant in his house. After breaking me of my mortal habits and convincing me of the futility of attempting any continuation of contacts with my previous life, I was slowly trained despite my despair and near-constant longing for true death. I was his servant, his lackey, his butler, and finally his aide, but always subservient to his will alone. I was little distinguished from a slave until WWII, the chaos of which also brought a new Prince of NYC, an opportunity to surreptitiously perform for the Prince a small service, and my freedom wrested from Kildall as a boon in return.
Were you presented to Kindred society?
The prior Prince accepted me as Kildall’s property, a fellow-member of the Invictus himself. The new Prince gave me independence, but I feared that thread was so slender, I lurked in the shadows of NYU as a perpetual student, training and watching for decades rather than acting. I regret that lost time now; but who is to say it wasn’t the right decision then? So sickened was I by Kildall’s behavior and the Invictus that I’ve remained unaligned to this day, though that became increasingly difficult as I assumed a more prominent role in NYC, and may be impossible to maintain in Philadelphia.
How did you meet the others in your coterie?
Ignatio introduced Olivetti to the coterie to provide assistance in rescuing Minny Dee. Olivetti was new to Philadelphia and recently presented to the Prince. Whatever the Prince’s motives in making use of him, Olivetti is certainly eager to begin assembling his own power base and reputation in his new home.
Where is your haven?
Here in Philadelphia, I am established on Rittenhouse Row. Proximity to UPenn is convenient for building a herd among the student body; a model I employed at NYU. The upscale local nightlife suits as well, both in my personal preferences for entertainment as well as rendering my preferred mode of dress less out of place.
Do you retain connections to your mortal life?
My connection to my mortal life passed with my wife and boy. My parents turned their back on even the memory of me when I “abandoned” my family. Everyone who meant anything to me in my mortal life is dead. Today my mortal connections are purely for feeding or business.
What are your habitual feeding grounds?
When I was newly undead and nearly senseless with grief and confusion, I fed where my sire told me to feed. After I gained my freedom, I became the lurking horror at NYU, feeding on the student body while studying fencing and living as a perpetual student. Only in the last fifteen years have I come into my own, feeding principally on financiers and other Wall Street denizens.
What motivates you?
Whether or not my soul was hopelessly tainted by greed and avarice before my Embrace, I grew ever-increasingly conscious of the power than money brings and the security the accompanies it. After my experiences with my sire, I’d sooner die (ha! irony!) than be placed in a position where I am again enslaved. If many of my fellow Kindred tend to look down on money and deprecate its role in their lives, then I see it as an opportunity to bend the kine to my will – and sooner or later, every Kindred needs the kine for something.