New Providence, Part 2 (of 3)
New Mersea is the heart of it all, but ‘course there’s a lot more to NP. I could talk about this city and its history all day, but I’ll try to keep it short. No promises, though. So, you cross the Middy on one of the four bridges and you’ll come right into Ashbury — drop the ‘u’ if you wanna sound like a local.
Ashbury is NP's biggest borough and a classic American melting pot. When the immigrants had been processed in Fort Stewart they were sent “across the Middy”, because it’s an American tradition to assume that the tired and poor who come here seeking their fortune are up to no good. One of those immigrants, an industrious Czech called Woiciech Castimir, didn’t fit the profile — funny how a lot of them didn’t — and starting out with nothing but the meager income of his mother’s laundry service, he built an industry around the production of washing soda, also known as soda ash. Two decades later, a town had grown around his business. To me, that’s a true American story, not all that other shit about making money. Castimir Industries still exists, but it’s across the Mariner in Norburne, now, and owned by fucking TriStar. Sooner or later, those heartless bastards get their hands on every dream in this city.
Ashbury is huge and has several enclaves. If you ask someone from New Mersea, the population of Little Odessa is made up of Soviet defectors, but the truth is the people there are from all over Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Slavic countries. There are as many gangs and subcultures there as there are blocks. Gopnik gangs tag the walls with Cyrillic letters though they often can’t read them properly, as several generations down the line they’ve been so successfully integrated into American culture that the are sensationally ignorant. It’s an unstable concoction that blows up every now and again, with gang violence spilling into the streets as a result.
If you want a good meal in a fancy Italian restaurant and then not get shot or stabbed on the way home, The Furnace is where you wanna go. Place gets a bad rap, but the fact is that the average citizen has little to fear over there. Not because the police are on top of things, but because the mob runs the place. They keep street-level crime in check and grease more than a few pockets, so the NPPD mostwise stay off their case. Rumor has it the Feds are onto the big bosses, but I’ve heard that one before. The last time a boss did go down, the redistribution of power took about a fortnight, and it was the bloodiest in Ashbury history.
And yeah, there’s a Chinatown. We couldn’t even come up with an original name for it. And to be fair, the place is not that original. Don’t get me wrong, I love it down there. It’s the most lively part of the city, any time of the day or week. It’s also fairly safe for unassuming visitors as the Flying Mongoose triad looks after it. They used to be a local gang but recently have been beefing up and expanding. Rumor has it they have been building ties with one of the major black societies on China’s mainland for decades and it’s finally paying off. Their main rivals are the Slab Tigers, a powerful gang with origins in the Cambodian civil war.
The different gang turfs border each other at Ashbury Centre, but since it’s a touristy place and a mix of all the local cultures, there’s a silent hands-off agreement between the big players. Place has shopping streets, movie theaters, nail salons, and whatever else it is regular people like. In the NPPD, it’s known as ‘easy street’, and two types of cops walk the beat there: those who get assigned as a reward and those who are so incompetent that they would be a liability anywhere else. Some veterans even deny the opportunity of ‘retiring to easy street’ for fear of being branded as soft.
The main attraction in Ashbury Centre is the De Witte Recreational Park & Zoo. The park hosts incessant festivals and fairs and it’s a hangout for the hacky-sack crowd, so even on weeknights there are vendors and a bunch of neat street performers — living statues, jugglers, fire artists — you name it. The Zoo is a relic of colonial times and home to scruffy and depressed animals from all over the world. Seems like every month there’s a big protest there, yet somehow the place is kept open. While it’s not unvisited, it’s not exactly the city’s biggest attraction. I think it’s the only damn place in this whole city that creeps me out. Feels like traveling back in time, and that’s never a good thing, despite what they say. The 'good old days' are mostly a result of poor recollection.
And in connection with the fairgrounds is Howe plaza, named after Hershel Howe, a reverend who headed up the local congregation back when the place was barely a one-horse town. Guy even has a statue there. ‘Course it turns out like every other hero, he was a bit of a bastard. Legend has it that he managed to secure peaceful trade with the native population during the meager years, but according to some letters that were dug out by a historian, it seems what he did was take the natives’ kids hostage and ransom them for food. And you know what, people marched the streets for that one too. Sitting mayor Chinara Oyekan promised that the statue would be taken down and the plaza renamed. All was well until people noticed that no such thing actually happened. There have been petitions and all manner of protests since, but the city remains quiet. It’s become one of those things. People find new and creative ways to deface Howe’s statue on a nearly weekly basis, and the beat cops mostly let it slide.
Out by the river mouth you’ll find the Wiyon Beach Boardwalk. It sounds fancy but it’s not that grand. It has a pier with the rides and all, but the beach isn’t much to brag about, though for a couple of months in summer it’s nice enough out there. But mostly it’s a hangout for roller-skate delinquents and pot-heads. There’s a skate-park and lots of arcades. It’s harmless enough, but not exactly family friendly a lot of the time, despite the best efforts of the NPPD’s finest bicycle cops. Hey, if you can’t catch the bad guys, at least you can look ridiculous trying.
Between Wiyon and the Plaza runs Dekker Street, named after civil rights icon Magdalena Dekker. The street is viewed with suspicion, distaste, or even hatred by citizens of narrow minds and more opinion than sense — which is a fair few more than you might hope — because it’s home to a thriving LGBT community. What’s my opinion? There’s no opinion to be had. I tell stories, and at the core of all stories are people. And for better or worse, we’re all people.
Not far down the coast there’s a collection of rocky reefs and islets only known as the Dutchman’s Rocks. On the biggest of them sits Clapham, a maximum security prison accessible only via a half-a-mile bridge that ends in a drawbridge controlled from a security post on the land side. The only way out of that place is to swim through the rocky reefs in treacherous undercurrents. No one has escaped — or so they say. Naturally, there are rumors of escapes that got covered up. All I can say is, if anyone ever got out of that place, it wasn’t a regular human. What do I mean by that? That’s another story. Maybe I’ll tell you some day, but you’ll have to buy me more than coffee.
Clapham is run by Margaret Hu, who’s managed to be a favorite mayoral candidate for several elections without ever entering the race. She’s certainly savvy with the politics, though, and secures a lot of funding for the prison through clever power plays. Hu’s chief of security, LeFleur, makes up for all of Hu’s social graces by being a stone-cold mercenary type. Can’t say I blame him because the Clapham regulars are some damn scary types — psychopaths, sadists, and narcissists are only the beginning. And the prisoners are pretty mean, too.
At the topmost part of the island and away from the main complex, the Crag sits precariously on the edge of a cliff that drops thirty yards into the raging ocean. It is home to those who are similarly balancing on the brink of human reason — and some who have plunged off and never resurfaced. Formally known as the Van der Ahe Asylum for the Criminally Insane, the facility is run by Dr. Rufus Spengler, a psychiatrist who lost his license in Austria but has been allowed to practice his unconventional methods here in the land of the free. And all joking aside, the Crag is the last place in NP you’d want to end up. Or as the Clapham inmates say it: If you’re not crazy when you enter the Crag…
Let’s turn our attention to a somewhat shinier place.
Inland from Ashbury is National Hill. Originally a community that grew up around the windmills that lined the ridge, it grew and merged with Ashbury and New Mersea with the rise of industry. Along the lower parts of the hills is the most whitebread burb you can imagine. It’s the Full House Brady Bunch out there, but with way more skeletons in the closet. I swear, those people care more about their Christmas ornaments and bake sales than about the wellbeing of their own children. Don’t go there unless you absolutely have to. I mean, you won’t get shot or robbed, but you run a real risk of coming back with a serious urge to tie friendship bracelets, gossip about soccer moms, and compete in spelling bees.
The further up you go the Hill, the bigger and more expensive the houses get. Most of the NP elite have a mansion up there. There’s also Silent Acres, a secretive halfway house for the famed and affluent. Well, it’s called a ‘holistic recuperation center’ or some such bullshit. But it’s rehab for rich people.
National Hill Industries
Even further into the hills lies the giant headquarters and R&D complex of National Hill Industries. CEO Norah Steel must have a card up her sleeve, or more like a full deck of ‘em, because National Hill is one of the few local corporations that has managed to stay away from TriStar’s grasp. I’ve met her, and that woman is hard as a rock. It would take more than an army of TriStar lawyers to faze her.
NHI is into futurism and on paper mostly deals in industrial robotics. But trust me, they have research departments working on truly weird shit. If half the rumors are true it’s a wonder they haven’t triggered the apocalypse yet, or at least wiped NP off the map. But they’re stone cold professionals, none of that TriStar public relations shit. Whatever they’re working on up there, it’s locked down tighter than a fork at Clapham.