Sirens howl off in the distance, but this street is both dark and quiet. The buildings are all new facades, towering above the pedestrians, dwarfing both them and all their concerns; you are but petty compared with us they say. They even cut off all sunlight from the street; although if you stare upwards there is still a thin strip of sky visible (and the buildings can give you vertigo then, as they seem to converge, closing in on you), but the street is forever in shadow. Forever on the edge of darkness. And so I slip from a doorway in the shadow that wasn't there before I opened it, and isn't there again as I step away from it.
A man starts, side-stepping nervously, not sure if he just missed me in the stygian gloom or if I somehow appeared there like magic. He's wearing polished shoes, a pin-striped suit; he's almost a caricature of himself, and he'd see it if he bothered to look in a mirror with the critical eyes he's employed for. Then he's around me and beyond me, heading for the end of the street and the comparative safety of the City. I allow myself a tiny smile, rearrange my jacket minutely, and look around.
The buildings are all new facades, but they're built onto older cores, the central sections of many of these buildings were built over a hundred years ago and then reinforced and built up. Deeper still, there are still shadows of buildings that stood here earlier, building burned in a great conflagration that spread through the night, cinders and bright sparks lofting into the air and being spread on the wind, driving the luckless residents along before them to the banks of the river and testing their faith that water cannot burn. It seems fitting then, that when I locate the familiar chemical scent of Aloysius's soul, he's in the building that was first to burn.
The woman on the security desk is severe, though hidden beneath her clipboards of permitted visitors and temporary passes I can sense a trashy magazine, something that tracks celebrity behaviour and invents it when the celebrities are trying to behave themselves. She looks at me, and for a moment I let her see who I truly am. Then this mortal form reasserts itself, leaving behind just a whiff of brimstone in the air, and she wrinkles her nose.
"You must be here for Mr. Bouiren," she says. "I'm sure you know the way."
Her nose wrinkles again as her brain tries to work out what she's just said and why she's just said it, but I'm moving to the banks of elevators, all of which descend to the ground floor as I approach. One is empty, and I take it; the others are filled with puzzled people who are starting now to argue about who pushed the wrong button and took them all to the wrong floor. As my doors whisk shut their voices vanish, but the maigre feast-taste of their souls lingers on my tongue.
Aloysisus, not Mr. Bouiren if you were wondering, has a corner office on the eigthteenth floor, looking out over a collection of smaller buildings. The river is somewhere in his view if you hunt for it, which I know he never does. He glares at me when I walk in.
"The door is for keeping people out," he says. "And I know it was locked. So who are you and why do you have a key to my office?"
"Think of me as a headhunter, Aloysius," I say, sitting down uninvited in his upholstered visitors chair. Smoke begins to rise from it, tiny twisting curlicues that hang in the air like heat haze. "I have a job offer for you. Something I think you'll be dying to hear."