Undertow (The UnderCity Chronicles), page 1
By S. M. Stelmack
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The Undercity Chronicles
Copyright © 2013 by S. M. Stelmack
Editing by Alyssa Palmer
Cover Art by CrocoDesigns
Formatting by JT Formatting
All rights reserved. This e-book is licensed for enjoyment only. Where such permission is applicable, S. M. Stelmack grants the right to detach any DRM which may be applied to this work. This work is free to share. This work is entirely fictional. All references to actual people, places, events and entities is solely intended to create a fictional world, with no ulterior purpose beyond that. Any mistakes belong to the authors, and were unintentional and non-malicious.
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Table of Contents
A Note from Serge
Sample: Midnight Everlasting
Sample: Fox Hunt
About the Authors
For those who walk in the shadows.
(Authors Moira and Serge Stelmack)
A Note from Serge:
My father came from a criminal background, and several of my friends were once members of the police and intelligence community. Though my personal background has been pretty vanilla, I've had the opportunity to rub shoulders with real thieves, conmen, hackers, enforcers, detectives and spies. As such, I've always been aware of the secrets and subcultures that permeate our world, and just how bizarre and far-reaching they can be.
In the early 2000s, my knowledge of the underworld was further broadened when I volunteered to work with street people in my home city of Vancouver. They too had their own sub-cultures. Communities of addicts and sex workers and radical political activists, alliances of people with mental health issues, bands of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists and even street shamans. They fascinated me, though the mental instability of many I met didn't give me cause to want to join their world.
It was with this background that I read Jennifer Toth's 1993 book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City. Though I have no way of confirming the veracity of Ms. Toth's investigations into New York's underworld, much rung true. There were echoes in her book of the legends and rumors I'd heard since I was a child, stories known to those who walk the wrong side of the law or otherwise reject the rules and order imposed by mainstream culture. The more I read the more connections I made, and almost of its own accord a story revealed itself to me.
Many of the people in Undertow are strongly based on actual people I've known, including Detective Monroe, Reggie, Mr. and Mrs. Moore, Shamba, Tocat and even the vile Mr. King, and I have done my best to weave their stories and personalities into the canvas provided by Ms. Toth.
Undertow is, of course, a work of fiction. It carries no agenda or political message. But I have done my best to make it reflect the very real shadow world that touches all of our lives, a little glimpse into the dreams and horrors lurking right beneath our feet.
Lindsay desperately wanted to hold Jack’s hand. Her breath came fast and shallow, and her every muscle had stiffened into near rigor mortis. And still the elevator dropped beneath the city streets, down into the dark guts of New York, its metal lattice floor the only barrier between her and the shadowy depths below.
She wasn’t about to admit her fear of heights to Jack. Sure she had a crush on him, as bad as any fifteen-year-old could have, and would’ve considered herself the luckiest girl in the world to hold hands with him. Yet, she also knew he hung out with her because she could keep up with him. To confess her vulnerabilities now would make her no better than all the other girls, and she was determined that he would remember her as someone exceptional.
Sam Cole, Jack’s father, gave her a lopsided smile. “This crate’s on the slow side, but we’ll be there in a minute. That hardhat fit okay, Lindsay?”
She managed a nod, and the oversized yellow helmet slipped over her eyes.
The other side of his smile shot up. “Good. I’m glad Jack invited you. Another couple of weeks and we’d be finished down here. Not many people ever get to see the real underground.”
As if on cue, the elevator reached the bottom, making Lindsay’s already queasy stomach lurch.
“You okay?” Jack asked.
Great, she probably looked like the vomit she was trying to keep down. “Yeah. I’m—I’m a little nervous of heights.”
His golden eyes shone. “So I noticed.” He looked down. Her hand had his in a death grip.
Lindsay gasped and let go, her face burning. “Oh, jeez. Sorry. I didn’t even realize that I...sorry.”
She hurried off the elevator—and stepped into a fresh hell. The subway tunnel was dark and filthy and reeked of grime and oil, and she could feel claustrophobia begin to crush her. The halogen lighting created a pool of civilization in which the workers called to each other, and there were the strong noises of steel striking steel and generators throbbing out energy. Beyond that, in the world Jack was going to take her, there was only darkness and silence. Yet he and his father looked content, as if this dank scene was a veritable wonderland.
Jack had used that very word when he was talking her into coming. A wonderland. She described it the same way to her parents, and to her brother, fifteen years her senior, and his wife around the dining room table. Her niece, two going on irrational, wanted to go right away, and when Lindsay explained that wonderland didn’t mean Disneyland, she said it was okay, that Jack could lift her on his shoulders and take her to the playground there. Due to her gender, Seline adored Jack. Lindsay’s mother melted when Jack came over and ate through the fridge and pantry, and Lindsay had the distinct feeling that it was Jack’s charms had played a large part in her mother had giving her permission to go underground. Her father, being male, had only given the go-ahead once he knew Jack’s father was going to be nearby. Then her brother, male and bossy beyond belief, had called up Jack’s father to confirm the dos and don’ts. Gracie, her sis-in-law, had winced in sympathy. “You should see him with the babysitter. The poor girl is stiff with worry before we’ve even left, and then she’s got an evening of Seline. I always give her an extra ten as stress pay.”
Sometimes Lindsay envied the casual bachelor relationship between Jack and his father. Sam Cole was pretty laidback as far as parents went, and actively encouraged his son to explore the tunnels. He’d done the same thing in London when he was a boy, and was overjoyed that his only child shared his lifelong passion for places deep and dark.
“Be back within the hour, and no taking Lindsay off the track,” he said. “I don’t want to go searching for you again.”
Jack laughed, sharing an in-joke with his father. “We’ll be careful. Let’s go, Linds.”
He flicked on his helmet light and waited long enough for her to do the same before leading her down the tunnel,
Right now with him so real and solid beside her, Lindsay wasn't going to worry about the future. The immediate present was freaky enough. She could feel the darkness here. It had a kind of smothering thickness to it, so alien to anything on the surface.
“What’s this about sending out a search party for you?” she asked off-handedly, as if this was no different than walking the streets above.
“They did, but I made it back on my own and they got lost. In the end, I was part of the group that found them.”
That was Jack. Total master of his surroundings. Lindsay looked about, her light cutting a pale swath over wet concrete walls, iron rails, graffiti. “Sounds like you know these tunnels pretty well.”
“No, I’ve barely scratched the surface. One day I want to come back here and map the whole underground.”
He wanted to come back. Okay, not to see her. Still, there was no way he wouldn’t look her up. She squashed down her excitement. “How long do you think they’ll take to map?”
Jack gave a short laugh. “A lifetime.”
She stopped in her tracks. “You want to spend your life in tunnels? Don’t you think that would get old after a while?”
“Not for me. Come on, I want you to meet someone.”
“There’s this guy who lives down here. Name’s Tim.”
“Who the hell lives in a tunnel?”
“People with nowhere else to go, Linds,” he said quietly and, to her ears, reproachfully. “Used to be a lawyer or judge or something. When the transit authority kicked him out of the tunnels, I got him a copy of the keys so he could get back in.”
Lindsay wondered what the men in her family would say if they knew Jack was taking her to visit a bum. Or that he’d done something shady for that bum. Maybe she’d skip this part.
“Tim knows everything about the tunnels. My dad told me they’ve had people down here since the 50’s. Tim says there were people underground before that. Way before. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that goes on down here.”
Lindsay looked over her shoulder, uneasily noticing how far they were getting from the work crew, and bumped into Jack, who’d stopped immediately ahead of her.
Jack didn’t seem to notice, his gaze focused down the tunnel on some point beyond the beam of his helmet light.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“I thought I heard something up ahead. Like a yell or…something.”
Lindsay strained to hear anything. Nothing but the faint dripping of water. “One of the workers?”
“No,” he replied hesitantly. “They’d be wearing a light.” He started forward again. She couldn’t stop herself. She caught his arm.
“Shouldn’t we go tell your dad?”
Jack kept his eyes on the darkness. “It’s probably just Tim. He said he has nightmares sometimes. Sees things that aren’t there. Come on. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Then why had his usual confident pace slowed? Wordlessly, she followed on Jack’s heels down the tunnel for what seemed like a mile, each step taking them further into the gloom of the underworld until the lights behind them had almost faded to nothing. Cold crept over her, a vapor that twined about her limbs.
She was about to suggest again they return when Jack pivoted to face a small side passage that branched off the subway line. The opening didn’t reach Lindsay’s shoulders and was barely as wide as her body, and it was so obscured by pipes and cables that she never would have noticed it on her own.
“In here,” he said, and crouching, disappeared inside.
Fear rooted her feet to the ground. Something was wrong here. Very terribly wrong, and though she trusted Jack, her intuition screamed at her to run back to the safety of the surface, away from whatever lay beyond. But Jack was waiting for her, and she’d never abandon him even if she knew that disaster lay ahead. Especially then. She took a deep breath and followed.
She stayed right on his butt so she was beside him when the cramped passage emptied into a chamber the size of Lindsay’s bedroom.
It was the smell that hit her first. Warm, metallic. Blood. Jack’s hand clamped around hers, the beams from their helmets skittering about as they frantically scanned the room. Lindsay took in scattered newspapers and paperbacks, an overturned folding cot, pop bottles and a kerosene lantern.
Then Jack made a soft pained noise, and she turned so that her light ran alongside his. Blood was smeared along the wall by the entrance, left by hands that had clawed futilely at the concrete before being dragged off into the darkness.
“Oh my God,” Jack whispered. “They’re real.”
Eighteen years later
Lindsay sat alone in Captain Monroe’s small, drab office and tried not to be sick all over his desk, a mishap that might not have mattered much since it already looked as if raccoons had been set loose on it. The fluorescent lighting flickered, emitting that mosquito-like frequency as it prepared to burn out, though it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the death rattle coming from the computer hard drive. On the printer sat a delicately balanced styrofoam cup of cold coffee, perched there like a bad deodorizer. She might’ve opened the window with its view over the slate gray waters of the Hudson River, except he doubted that would be appreciated given the freezing temperatures that had gripped the East coast during the past week.
Deep down she knew it wasn’t her environment that was making her nauseous. It was why she had to be there. Her eyes drifted, as they did every time she visited, to the maps plastered on the walls. Faded from long years of use, they were, except for the one of the New York subway, all byzantine in their complexity. They depicted tunnels and sewers, air ducts and water mains, forgotten train lines and long-sealed garbage pits. There were maps of cable, gas and steam lines, each representing vast labyrinths buried deep beneath the streets, systems that joined and overlapped, multiplying their complexity.
If that were not enough, many of them were incomplete, inaccurate or both, rendering navigation in some sections of the city’s bowels virtually impossible. She’d learned as much from several private investigators, all of whom had turned down her case.
After an eternity, Captain Monroe entered, steaming cup of coffee in hand, and sat across from her without a word of greeting. She bit back the urge to tell him about the precarious position of the abandoned cup. She wasn’t here to regulate his coffee consumption.
“Thank you for seeing me, Captain,” she said as evenly as she could. “Again.”
He grunted, and began shuffling through the papers on his desk, clearly searching for something. “You here for an update?” His dismissive tone made it clear he wanted her out the door as quickly as possible.
She tried to keep the frustration out of her voice. “Yes. I’d like to know why nobody is searching for her.”
Monroe examined a sheet, frowned, tossed it back and kept rooting around. Lindsay itched to jump in and make square corners and open spaces on his desk.
“Ms. Sterling, do you know how many miles of tunnels there are beneath New York?”
“No. I don’t.”
Monroe squinted at another scrap of paper. “Neither do I, or anybody else. They run for hundreds of miles, and go down as deep as twelve stories. What I do know is how many men I have to patrol those tunnels, and that number is exactly thirty.”
There was a stapled sheaf of papers suspended over the edge of the desk, and the way the Captain was bulldozing around it was going to slide off. “Nevertheless, it’s your duty to search for missing persons.”
He pinned her with a look no d
Clearly being nice wasn’t going to work. “Then, why aren’t you doing anything?”
“Ms. Sterling, how many times do I need to repeat myself before you get it? The people down there are not like the people up here. Most of them are drug addicts. Many have extreme psychological problems. Unless we get some kind of solid lead on this investigation, I’m not sending my men down in a blind search. It’s too dangerous.”
“But you’re the police!”
The captain’s face reddened in anger. “Last year we had an officer knifed to death down there. Another one was beaten so badly he’ll never walk again, and do you know what he was beaten with? His own nightstick. And that’s in subway and maintenance tunnels we regularly patrol, not in the lower levels. We’d need an army to conduct a thorough search, and—surprise, surprise—we don’t have one. I explained this to your niece before she went down. She decided she knew better.”
Lindsay sucked in her breath to snap back, and then slowly released it. If she was going to find Seline, she needed his cooperation, no matter how unwilling he might be to give it. She rescued the slipping report and set it safely on his desk. He peered at it, then snatched it up.
“Well, at least you found something that you were looking for,” she commented with emphasis. “Look, I understand my niece was no great friend of the NYPD. I understand she was conducting her research despite your warnings, and despite my warnings, to be frank. I understand that you’re undermanned and don’t want to place your men in danger. But Captain, I can’t just forget about her. There must be something we can do.”
Monroe stared coldly across at her. She held it. “Ms. Sterling, I really don’t think I can help you…” he began, but his eyes darted to a battered old Rolodex tucked against his computer. She pressed for the advantage.
“Please, Captain,” she pleaded, “if you can think of anybody who could find her, anyone at all, I need to know.”