They rode the subway north, which felt strange since it was their first time ever leaving the confines of Darkmoon Drive together. It was a quiet journey until they transferred to a semi-crowded train at Union Station. Milo and Charlie sat down, with Bear hopping up into Charlie’s lap, but Juno remained standing.
She was holding her ukeytar in her hands, her fingers hovering over the keys and the strings. She cleared her throat and began to play.
Now Playing Dreampop Playlist.
It was a slow song at first, and most of the people on the train didn’t even look up at her, but as the sound of the song grew, the walls of the train car shifted into clouds. They were all soaring through the sky. Birds flew past, and the clouds moved around them like soft fluffy pillows cradling each rider with care. Juno spun, singing and playing, and the clouds spun too in a gentle circle around them. Milo, Charlie, Bear and all the other passengers held their arms out, soaring like super heroes through the sky. Bear’s ears flapped freely in the breeze. The ocean lay far below them. And past it, there was a lush landscape filled with trees, rivers, rainbows and mountains. It was all so glorious.
Charlie looked over to see Bear flying beside him with his tongue lolling out in the wind. Then he looked to his other side to see Milo who was laughing and giddy. And for a brief moment, their eyes met and they laughed together and everything felt more right than it ever had before.
And then the song ended and everything went back to just as it was before. Like it was all a daydream. Juno bowed as everyone clapped and a few people placed money into her instrument case.
“Aren’t they freaked out that they just had a full on hallucination?” Charlie asked Milo as they watched the tips dropping into the case.
“To them, it was just a really good song,” said Milo. “They figure they just imagined all of it. Because to normal people, imagination is the best they can hope for.”
They left the station and headed down the street towards their destination. Charlie felt himself growing more nervous by the second. 606 Lexington Avenue was a tall brightly lit building with an awning over the sidewalk and a doorman dressed in a suit. The man opened the door for them without so much as a question, as if they were expected. Though he did give Bear a rather disapproving look. Inside, another man led them to the elevator, which was covered in mirrors and pushed the button for the penthouse for them. The doors slid closed.
“This place is too fancy,” said Milo. “I don’t trust it.”
“Honestly,” said Charlie, taking a deep breath, “Neither do I.”
“Just relax you two,” said Juno. “We just have to keep our cool. This is all a show. It’s just like my performances. It’s a lot of pomp and circumstance to distract us. Focus on why we’re here.”
Bear whined as if to say this was not entirely helpful.
The elevator reached the penthouse, and the doors slid open to reveal an enormous modern loft apartment. Everything was decorated in neutral whites, grays and blacks. A butler dressed in a black suit approached them and offered to take their coats. They obliged, though the butler practically had to wrestle Milo’s out of his hands. They were then led through the entry room and adjoining den where several well dressed men and women were chatting, laughing and drinking from crystalline glasses. Every single person was a sight to behold, like they had just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine. The butler led them swiftly through the room and into a large dining area. There, at the head of the table, was the man they had been invited to see.
“Ah! At last!” The man was older with graying hair and a gray goatee but even so, he was devilishly handsome. He moved around the table and approached them, extending a hand to shake theirs. “Walter Kemp, at your service. And whom do I have the pleasure of dining with this evening?”
“Charlie Cole,” said Charlie, shaking the man’s hand. It was a very tight, firm handshake. “This is Milo and Juno De La Cruz.” He shook their hands too. Juno smiled at the man but Milo gave him a viscous side eye. “Oh, and this is Bear.”
“Well hello there,” said Walter, leaning down to pet Bear softly on the head. “Oh yes, allow me to also introduce my colleague, Ms. Daiyu Chen.” They all looked up to see a Chinese woman, most likely in her mid-twenties, sitting at the far end of the table. She was dressed in a long sleeve black and purple sweater. Her face was aged and sharp like a blade. She had thin black hair, pale skin and a silver nose ring. She lifted a single index finger off the table to acknowledge them, then leaned back into her chair. “She’s a bit standoffish,” said Walter. “But please, take a seat. Our first course will be out in just a moment.”
They took seats around the table. Charlie begrudgingly sat next to the woman named Daiyu with Bear hopping into the seat next to him. Milo and Juno sat on the opposite side of the table. Within seconds, plates were brought out by several waiters and placed in front of them. The plates each presented a salad laid out in a line made of small cuts of lettuce, flower petals, thin green beans and several slivers of chicken. There was a blood-red sauce painted in an arc on the side of the plate.
“This looks beautiful,” said Juno, never one to lose her manners.
“It looks very green,” said Milo with a scowl on his face.
“Well most salads are,” said Walter with a chuckle. “Please, eat.”
The four of them took small bites at first but Charlie was happy to find that the salad tasted absolutely incredible. The mix of flavors danced across his tongue. Even Bear happily put his paws on the table and chowed down on the salad. The only one who didn’t even touch the salad was Daiyu, who kept her arms folded, staring down into the center of the table the entire time. When they had all finished their salad, the plates, including Daiyu’s full one, were whisked away and replaced with a mushroom soup topped with two long slender mushrooms reaching out of the soup like brown flowers, as well as light drizzles of a white and green sauce. This too was absolutely incredible to Charlie’s taste. Juno happily sipped the soup and gave it another compliment which made Walter smile. Milo licked at it like a cat licks milk from a bowl.
Finally, the main course arrived which was a steak cut into several smaller slices laid across a wine colored sauce and surrounded by sliced golden tomatoes. Charlie had never really understood everyone’s obsession with steak, but as he ate the meat in front of him, he finally got it. The meat melted on his tongue. Bear and Milo practically swallowed theirs whole and Daiyu finally took a bite. Just one single bite. She then gently patted her lips with her napkin and placed the napkin back on the table before returning to sitting completely still.
“So let’s just get into it,” said Walter, breaking the sound of clinking knives and forks. “You fine gentlemen, young lady and esteemed pooch,” he nodded at Bear, “Have found yourself in possession of something I want very much. A little apartment complex known as Darkmoon Drive.”
“That little apartment complex is our home,” cut in Milo.
“Oh I know. And I respect that. Trust me, I always go into these discussions fully aware that these aren’t just buildings made of bricks and mortar, but homes and memories. But I also know that this is a world of progress. A world of change. A world of growth. That street and the buildings on it are old and falling apart and realistically speaking, those of you who call it home will only be able to do so for so long. Sooner or later, everything, even old buildings, even homes end. I am merely offering to make the process of letting go easier on all of you.”
Walter Kemp stood from the table as Milo, Charlie and Juno eyed each other suspiciously. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You’re thinking I want to tear it down to build some big soulless chain store. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. My dreams for Darkmoon Drive are of a place that everyone can enjoy.” He held up his hands as if spelling out the words in the air. “The Darkmoon Library and Learning Center.” He smiled at each of them, letting the words sink in. “A place where families can come to read and learn and grow together. A place that can foster a community of hope for a better tomorrow. And not only will I pay for the construction, books, and staff. I’d like to also offer to move each and every occupant of the current Darkmoon Drive to a new home where they can continue their lives knowing that their old one was sacrificed for a better tomorrow.”
They all sat in silence. Charlie had to admit that the idea was a captivating one. A library would benefit everyone in the neighborhood. And it wasn’t like they’d be leaving everyone out to dry. They’d all be able to move on Walter Kemp’s dime. But these thoughts were only fleeting. Darkmoon Drive wasn’t just a building to be bought and sold. It was a magical creation of his grandfather’s design. Some of the tenants had their relics built into the very foundation itself. There was also the ever reaching roof and his garden to consider. And then there were the catacombs. What good was a library if it was built on top of a gateway to the dark underworld. No, though this offer was enticing, there was simply no way that Charlie could sell Darkmoon Drive. He looked up to notice Juno and Milo staring at him, as if waiting for a response.
“Mr. Kemp,” said Charlie. His voice came out hoarse and shaky, but as he spoke, he began to find his confidence. “Your offer is a fair and generous one.”
“That it is, my boy. That it is!” Said Walter, acting as if this were a done deal.
“But,” said Charlie, making everyone in the room freeze. “We are not, at this time, interested in selling Darkmoon Drive. You are right. As buildings go, it’s a bit rundown. But as a home … I think it’s doing just fine. Better than fine even.” Walter Kemp looked like the wind had been blown out of his sales. “I’m sorry Mr. Kemp. We appreciate you having us here tonight and all your hospitality. But the answer is no.”
Walter Kemp stood still for a long moment, then adjusted his tie and smiled. “In any case, I appreciate you all taking the time to meet with me. Now, Rondo will show you out,” he gestured to the butler who was standing in waiting for them. Before they could say anything more, Walter disappeared into a nearby room, followed closely by Daiyu who stood abruptly from the table and exited in his wake.
Charlie, Milo, Juno and Bear followed the butler back to the elevator. Charlie noticed that all the guests from before, every single one, were gone. They’d simply vanished. But there was no time to mention this as they were ushered onto the elevator and sent back to the ground floor.
“Thank you,” said Milo, looking at Charlie sincerely.
“I was never gonna sell it,” said Charle. “Still, it probably would have made a nice library.”
“Reading is gross,” said Milo.
“Stop,” said Juno, slapping him playfully. “I love reading.”
“Yeah, and it’s weird,” added Milo. “You’re just staring at dead trees for hours on end. Like, you could be using that time to dig through trash or yell at birds outside the window.”
“Clearly you have much more worthy hobbies than me,” said Juno, rolling her eyes.
“Clearly,” said Milo.
They left the building behind and headed back to the Subway once more.
* * *
Back upstairs, Walter Kemp sat at his desk, grinding his teeth and cracking his knuckles as he glared out of his window over the city of New York. Daiyu stood behind him, her hands clasped behind her back.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“Now, my dear,” said Walter, his voice no longer carrying the kind undertones it had while entertaining their guests. “You find them … and you kill them. And while the police are clearing up who owns what and what was left to whom, we swoop in and take Darkmoon Drive.” Walter turned to look at her, a darkness clouding his eyes. “We gave them a chance to do this peacefully. I even promised them a fancy library. As if we’d build something so preposterous on top of such a special site. And still they refused. Now, we do this the hard way.”
“Yes sir,” said Daiyu. She turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Ohh, things are getting exciting! Something tells me the next couple of chapters are going to be full of action. But what do I know? Oh right, I wrote them. Hahahaha!