Authors: Richard Kadrey
To JLK, who should have
been around a little longer
Thanks to my agent, Ginger Clark, and my editor, Diana Gill. Thanks also to Pamela Spengler-Jaffee, Caroline Perny, Will Hinton, Shawn Nicholls, Dana Trombley, Emma Coode, and the rest of the team at HarperVoyager. Thanks also to Dave Barbor, Sarah LaPolla, and Holly Frederick. Big thanks to Martha and Lorenzo in L.A. And thanks to Suzanne Stefanac, Pat Murphy, Paul Goat Allen, and Lustmord for the sound track to Hell. As always, thanks to Nicola for everything else.
It is evident that we are hurrying onward to some exciting knowledge—some never to be imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction.
OUND IN A
You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.
I’M IN A window seat at Donut Universe eating heart-crippling lumps of deep-fried dough with the Devil. Ex-Devil technically, but then technically we’re both ex-Devils. He was Lucifer before I was. Now he’s Samael and I’m back to just plain Stark.
I take a bite of an apple fritter.
“How’s your donut?”
Samael eyes his glazed old-fashioned suspiciously, like maybe it’s haunted.
“Charming. Did I invent these? They taste like something designed to destroy mortals from the inside out.”
Candy says, “Nope. We came up with them all on our own.”
“How wonderfully suicidal you people are. Donuts must be the very essence of free will.”
As for the Devil job, I stuck another poor son of a bitch with that. Mr. Muninn. Some days I feel bad about it. Some days I don’t. Today the sun is out, I’m eating donuts with my girl and another ex-Devil, and it’s all pretty goddamn heartwarming.
Samael says, “That blond woman buying coffee. She sold me her soul for a 1956 Les Paul Goldtop. I don’t think she ever learned to play it. The man behind must be a pious bore. He’s virtually free of sin sign.”
The Devil can see people’s sins. They’re like streaks of black tar on skin. Since I quit the damnation biz, I can’t see sin sign, but as an angel, Samael can still pull that rabbit out of the hat. I don’t miss doing that trick.
I say, “This is why I don’t take you to Bamboo House. I don’t want you taking an inventory of my friends.”
“Sorry. It’s a hard habit to break.”
Candy is sitting next to Samael, trying not to let on how thrilled she is to meet the original Devil. I haven’t seen her this excited since we met a furry, six-foot-tall Pikachu at the Lollipop Dolls store in Beverly Hills.
She has her pink laptop on the table, open to Wikipedia. She’s updating the Sandman Slim page. And by “updating,” I mean taking out all the dumbest rumors about me.
“Does it say anything about me being Lucifer?”
“Sort of. It says you were always Lucifer and that Sandman Slim doesn’t exist. He’s just one of the Devil’s fronts.”
“You might want to take that out,” says Samael. “You don’t want any demon hunters or aspiring crusaders taking potshots at you.”
“Yeah. Delete it all.”
Candy types something over the Devil stuff.
“Is there a picture of me?”
“A drawing. It’s pretty dumb. Kind of like a police composite sketch in a movie.”
“Delete it, please.”
“You got it, Chief,” she says, channeling Jimmy Olsen.
A police sketch. I’m not surprised. They’ve known who I am for a while now. So why aren’t there fifty patrol cars outside? Why isn’t there a SWAT team waiting for me at the Chateau Marmont? I’m not lucky enough that they’d lose my paperwork and all the surveillance photos. That means somebody doesn’t want me taken in, which means I have a secret benefactor. I don’t think Blackburn would do it, even if I did save his wife’s soul. The head of the Sub Rosa is too political to be sentimental. That means it’s someone I don’t know about. I don’t like that. Secret friends can turn into full frontal enemies without you even knowing about it.
“I was down in Hell yesterday. Father—Mr. Muninn—sends his regards.”
I smile at the image. Mr. Muninn is God. A piece of him anyway. A while back, when God finally admitted he didn’t know how to run the universe, he had a nervous breakdown. He broke into five smaller Gods. The good news is that the God brothers don’t like each other very much. The bad news is that the God brothers don’t like each other very much. It’s not doing creation any good being run by a B team that can’t stand the sight of each other.
“He looks a little funny in his Lucifer armor, doesn’t he? Like a beach ball in a tin can. He doesn’t have what you’d call a classic warrior’s physique.”
Samael pushes away his donut with his fingertips.
“Are you going to eat that?” says Candy.
“It’s yours,” he says.
Smiling, she wraps the donut in a napkin and drops it into her bag. Samael looks puzzled before he realizes she’s going to keep it as a souvenir.
“Did Mr. Muninn fix up the armor any?” I ask.
Samael gives me a look.
“Of course not. The damage is part of the mystique. I notice that you added more than a few burns and scrapes in a very short time.”
“Then you should thank me. I mystiqued it even more.”
Candy says, “He was cute playing Iron Man and it was fun pretending I was fucking Tony Stark, but the armor froze my boobs at night, so I’m kind of glad it’s gone.”
“No, we wouldn’t want one of the few intact holy remnants of the War in Heaven inconveniencing . . . your boobs,” Samael says.
Candy smiles at him.
“Would you like me to update your Wikipedia page?”
“I have a page? I don’t like that. Please remove it.”
“I can’t. But don’t worry about it. It’s mostly old Bible stories and folktales. There isn’t anything about your nice suits.”
“By the way, thanks for all the swell help when I was Downtown,” I say. “It took me three months to find your stupid clues in the library and escape.”
“I told you to read books. If you’d been more curious, you would have found your way out sooner. You’re always complaining that I don’t do enough for you.”
“You do plenty, but even when you help, I end up with more scars.”
“Then you should thank me,” says Samael. “I mystiqued you even more.”
“You have no idea how hard it is not to put everything you boys say on Stark’s page.”
Before Samael can explain to Candy all the reasons she shouldn’t call him a boy, a guy walks up and stands next to our table. He’s wearing a loose, expensive-looking black jacket. A dark red silk shirt open at the neck. An alligator belt with a gold buckle. He looks like a rep from a talent agency that could have handled Traci Lords in her jailbait prime.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, Mr. Stark, but can I speak to you in private?”
“Do my friends look like cops? If you can’t talk in front of them, you can’t talk to me.”
The guy holds up his hands defensively.
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone. My name is—”
“Declan,” I say.
His eyebrows furrow.
“Yes. Declan Garrett. How did you know?”
“It’s just a trick I can do.”
He looks skeptical, then his inner hustler takes over and he keeps talking.
“I just thought that you and the gentleman might be doing some business and I didn’t want to get in the way.”
“Yes, you did,” says Samael. “That’s exactly what you wanted. To stop a business deal.”
“I see. Because he’s in a suit and I’m not, we can’t just be a couple of friends eating donuts,” I say.
Samael looks at me.
“Are we friends, Jimmy?”
“Pipe down, Hugo Boss.”
I look back at Declan.
“You just hurt my feelings.”
“He’s very sensitive,” says Candy. “He might cry.”
“I might cry.”
Declan steps closer to the table. A salesman trying to establish intimacy with the mark.
“Would a million dollars soothe your wounded soul?”
“Do you really think a man like this can be bought with money?”
“Hell,” I say. “For a million dollars you can call me Suzy Quatro.”
“You’re breaking my heart, Jimmy.”
“Eat a jelly roll.” Then to Declan, “So what do I have to do for all the tea in China?”
He opens his hands like a preacher invoking the Holy Spirit or asking for a handout.
“Give me something more precious than gold—”
“I think he means me,” says Candy.
“—but that you have no use for.”
Candy does a mock frown.
“Now he’s hurt
“Does this thing have a name?” I ask.
Declan speaks quietly. Suddenly serious.
“Come now, Mr. Stark. We both know what I’m talking about.”
“No. We don’t.”
“He means the Qomrama Om Ya.”
“Is that right?”
Declan’s lips curl in a sly smile.
“He’s a smart man.”
“Yeah, he is. Ask nice and he’ll guess your weight. What makes you think I have it?”
“Because you were seen using it. On the child ghost.”
The Qomrama is a weapon designed by old gods, the Angra Om Ya, to kill other gods. Namely ours. Turns out that the universe really belongs to the Angra and our God foxed them out of it. Now they’re pissed and they want it back. The child ghost, Lamia, was a piece of one of the Angra that leaked through to this universe, and in a pretty blue dress and with a great big knife, she came close to destroying the world.
“You got me there. I guess I did have it.”
“Did?” says Declan.
“As in past tense. As in it went bye-bye, Charlie.”
Declan cocks his head. A coy move I’d call him on if I wasn’t sure it would cost me money.
“Come now. Who could take it from you, Mr. Stark?”
“A crazy rogue angel named Aelita.”
Declan doesn’t say anything for a minute, like he’s thinking things over.
“If it’s a question of payment, I can offer you more than money. A man like you must have a use for power objects. I can offer you the Spear of Destiny. The actual spear that pierced Christ’s side on the Cross.”
Samael rolls his eyes. He’s heard the line before. Candy smiles. She thinks she’s getting a new toy.
“No thanks. I already have one of those. Right between my Nunchucks of Fate and my Zip Gun of Doom.”
“I’m disappointed to hear that,” says Declan.
“How do you think I feel? I just lost a million dollars.”
“Not if you find it. If, for instance, you manage to reacquire it, I wouldn’t ask how.”
“How open-minded of you.”
Declan’s eyes flicker to Samael and back to me.
“Can I ask what kind of business you are discussing?”
“I was updating their Wikipedia pages,” says Candy. “Do you have one? I can do yours too.”
Declan gives her an indulgent smile.
“I’m afraid I’m not nearly as colorful as these gentlemen. But thank you for the kind offer.”
He reaches into an interior pocket in his jacket and pulls out a business card. He sets it on the table.
“I suppose there isn’t a lot more for us to talk about here in public. If you’re interested in getting serious, you can reach me here.”
“If I find anything interesting under the sofa cushions.”
“Exactly,” says Declan. He holds out his hand. I don’t shake it. After a minute he drops it to his side.
“Good-bye,” he says and walks away.
“Bye,” Candy calls. “It was strange meeting you.”
No one talks until Declan gets outside.
Samael says, “You realize that he didn’t believe a word you said. He thinks you still have the Qomrama and that you’re selling it to me.”
“How do you know that?”
Samael pushes Candy’s hands away from the laptop and closes the lid.
“Because the man I said was a pious bore? He’s about to shoot you.”
He pushes Candy down and ducks himself.
The guy fires just as I turn. The shot is close enough that I feel it breeze by my ear. It hits Candy’s laptop dead center. Her head pops up from under the table.
La Blue Girl,
Samael pulls her back down.
The guy pulls the trigger again, but I’m looking at him this time. I think he’s more used to shooting people in the back because the moment we make eye contact his hand shakes and his next shot goes through the window, cracking the safety glass. He pulls open the door and takes off across the parking lot. I’m not wasting time going for the door. I go out the window, broken glass flying across the windshields of parked cars.
Samael was right that it looks like things haven’t worked out for the shooter. He’s in a tan raincoat wrinkled enough that it looks like he sleeps in it. He’s an older guy. Midfifties. A bit of a gut hanging over the top of his jeans. But he runs like a fucking demon.
I chase him across Hollywood Boulevard and down La Brea. The shooter lane-splits between the gridlocked traffic, gracefully sliding across hoods and car roofs when they’re too close to squeeze between. I chase him as hard as I can, but I’m not gaining much ground and I can run damned fast. This tubby sad sack isn’t normal. He’s potioned up or there’s hoodoo on him. I could fry the shooter’s fat ass with a hex, but I learned my lesson after blowing up Rodeo Drive. Zipping through traffic at Mach 5 isn’t exactly low profile, but it’s better than launching hoodoo RPGs at the guy. I don’t need a beef with the Sub Rosa right now. So I suck it up and run faster.
He cuts to his right, running behind a gas station. I follow him but he clears a fence in one jump. I have to climb the damned thing. He’s gone when I hit the ground. I take off after him again.
At the corner of Sunset the shooter turns and sees me. His chest is heaving like his lungs are going to blow up like Macy’s Thanksgiving balloons. His eyes are twitching in their sockets like he’s maxed out on PCP. He’s definitely on a potion or two. I don’t think anyone has ever caught up with him before. He looks scared.
Then all of a sudden he’s calm. He smiles like a kid whose mom just tucked him in and kissed him good night.
I don’t know what he’s doing until he’s already doing it.
The bus’s engine growls. Without looking, he steps back off the curb, right in its path. It takes the bus another twenty feet to stop, but the shooter has flown forty feet. All around me people are screaming. Traffic in the intersection that was moving a second ago screeches to a halt.
I muscle my way through the crowd forming around him. He’s lying facedown. I kick him onto his back, get out my phone, and photograph him. People yell at me, taking me for a gore freak looking for something hot to put on his blog. There’s a tattoo on the side of his neck. I don’t recognize it. I shoot that too. One of his shoes came off and his wallet is lying a few feet away. I shove my way over and pick it up. More people are yelling. I guess I’ve blown my low profile. For all I know there’s a traffic camera shooting everything I’m doing.