Authors: Richard Kadrey
To all the writing teachers who told me to quit.
I'm still not listening.
Thanks to my agent, Ginger Clark, and my editor, David Pomerico. Thanks also to Pamela Spengler-ÂJaffe, Jennifer Brehl, Rebecca Lucash, Kelly O'Connor, Caroline Perny, Shawn Nicholls, Dana Trombley, Jessie Edwards, and the rest of the team at Harper Voyager. Thanks also to Jonathan Lyons, Sarah Perillo, and Holly Frederick. Big thanks to Martha and Lorenzo in L.A. and Diana Gill in New York. As always, thanks to Nicola for everything else.
“I had noticed that both in the very poor and very rich extremes of society the mad were often allowed to mingle freely.”
Ham on Rye
“This isn't America, Jack. This is L.A.”
wrists so I don't have to break his neck.
He falls to his knees, but I don't think it's the pain, though I make sure there's plenty of that. It's the sound. The crack of bonesx as they shatter. A sound that lets you know they're never going to heal quite right and you're going to spend the rest of eternity drinking your ambrosia slushies with two hands.
I'm surprised to see an angel down here right now, considering all the cleanup going on in Heaven after the recent unpleasantness. Still, there are sore losers and bad winners in every bunch. I don't know which one this guy is, but I caught him spray-Âpainting
on the front of Maximum Overdrive, the video store where I live. I might have let him off easy if all he wanted to do was kill me. I'm used to that by now. But this fucker was ruining my windows. Do these winged pricks think I'm made of money? I'm about broke, and here's this high-Âand-Âmighty halo polisher setting me up for a trip to the hardware store to buy paint remover. I give his wrists an extra twist for that. He gulps in air and makes a gagging sound like he might throw up. I take a Âcouple of steps back and look around. No one on the street. It's just after New Year's, the floods have receded, and Âpeople are just beginning to drift back into L.A.
“What exactly is your problem?” I ask the angel. “Why come down here and fuck with me?”
He rests his crippled hands on his thighs and shifts around on his knees until he's facing me.
“You had no right. You killed him.”
“I didn't kill God and you know it. He's Uptown right now putting out new lace doilies in Heaven.”
What really happened is a long story. Truth is, I did fuck over Chaya, a weasely fragment of God who, if he'd lived, would have ruined the universe. But I also left one good God part, Mr. Muninn, fat and happy and back in Heaven. But that's the problem with angels. They're absolutists. I clipped a tiny bit off their boss and now I'm the bad guy. Once angels get an idea in their head, there's no arguing with them.
Like cops and Âpeople who listen to reggae.
The angel narrows his eyes at me.
“Yes, a part of the father yet remains. But you didn't have the right to kill
of him, Abomination.”
Damn. This old song.
“See, when you start calling me names, it really undercuts your argument. You're not mad because I got rid of Chaya. You're mad because you know
should have done it, but you didn't. And what happened was a mangy nephilim had to step up and do the deed for you.”
The angel staggers to his feet and sticks his hands out in front of him, pressing his mangled wrists together.
“You must pay for what you've done, unclean thing.”
“Go home, angel. My store is a mess, and looking at the big picture, I'm more afraid of Netflix than I am of you.”
To my surprise, the crippled creep is able to manifest his Gladius, an angelic sword of fire. He has to hold it with both hands, but he can move it around by swinging his shoulders back and forth. Maybe this guy is more trouble than I gave him credit for. A badass will try to break your bones, but someone crazy, who knows what they'll do? Mostly, though, I'm glad the neighbors aren't around so I have to explain the gimp with the lightsaber in my driveway.
The angel comes at me hard and fast, all
ready to send me to asshole Heaven. In his present condition, he's still quick, but far off his game. I sidestep the Gladius and punch him in the throat. He falls. The Gladius turns the pavement molten where it touches. As the angel goes down, I snap up a knee and break his nose. He falls over backward and the Gladius goes out.
I walk around behind him and push him upright. His eyes have rolled back in his head. He's completely out. I take out a flask full of Aqua Regia, everyone's favorite drink in Hell, and pour some down his throat. The angel gasps and his eyes snap open. He looks up at me and sputters.
“You're trying to poison me.”
“You were unconscious. If I wanted you dead, I could have drilled a hole in your skull and tea-Âbagged your brain. Now shut up and go home.”
The angel crawls away and lurches to his feet. He's covered in blood and booze and his hands are sticking out at funny angles, like he just fell out of a Picasso. He takes a breath and hauls himself upright, trying for a last little bit of dignity. I walk away.
“This isn't over,” he yells.
I open the door to Max Overdrive.
“Yeah it is. See? I'm going inside. Bye.”
I close the door and wait a second. When I open it again, the angel is gone. But he left blood and mucus all over the front steps. Something else to clean up.
Inside, Kasabian is behind the counter. He looks at me as I come in.
“What was that? I heard shouting.”
I wave it away with my hand.
“Nothing. Some idiot rented
and wanted his money back.”
Kasabian shakes his head.
“Fuck him. We're not paying for some schmuck's bad taste.”
“That's pretty much what I said.”
“Did you say it with your knees? You've got blood on them.”
I look down. He's right. I'm hard on clothes.
“I'm going upstairs to change.”
Here's the thing. Most angels aren't like the idiot outside. They're annoying, but a necessary evil, like black holes or vegans. Most angels are gray-Âsuit-Âyes-Âsir-Âno-Âsir-Âfill-Âit-Âout-Âin-Âtriplicate company men. Someone you wouldn't remember if they shot themselves out of a cannon dressed like Glinda, the good witch. A few angels, not many, go rogue and have to be put down like dogs. No tears shed for them. Still, as annoying as angels are, they keep air in the tires and gas in the tank so the universe can go on dumbly spinning. The only angels anyone is happy to see take a powder are Death and the Devil, one of whom is currently asleep in the storage room at Max Overdrive.
But I'll get to that later.
So, the angels are fucking off and God's away on business. What do the mice do when the cat's not looking? They drink. And if they're smart they do it at Bamboo House of Dolls. Candy and me, we're mice with PhDs. I'll meet up with her at the bar.
Chihiro, I mean. Not Candy. I have to remember that.
. Candy is dead. So to speak. Dead enough that the feds and the cops aren't looking for her, and that's all that counts. Now she's Chihiro, with a different face and name and, well, everything. Everything we can think of. I just hope it's enough. I'm sure we've missed a few things. I hope not so many that anyone is going to notice. I might have to kill them.
I change and go back downstairs, my na'at, knife, and Colt under my coat.
“I'm going to Bamboo House. Want to get a drink?”
Kasabian shakes his head, carefully putting discs in clear plastic cases with the tips of his mechanical fingers.
“Nah. I'm waiting for Maria. She's coming by with a new delivery.”
He looks up and shakes his head.
“Don't know. She said it's a western.”
“Fingers crossed it brings some goddamn customers into this tomb.”
“Patience, grasshopper. This new deal with Maria is our stairway to Heaven.”
“It better be. There won't be room for you, me, and Candy in a refrigerator box if this place closes.”
“Chihiro,” he says.
“Later, Mr. Wizard,” he says.
Outside, I wonder if I can scrape
off the windows with the black blade instead of spending money on paint remover.
A week ago I saved the whole goddamn universe from extinction and now I can't afford the hardware store. I need to have a serious talk with my life coach.
Malediction, the number one cigarette Downtown, and walk the few blocks to Bamboo House of Dolls, the best punk tiki bar in L.A. ÂPeople are hanging around outside, talking and smoking. I get a few “Happy New Years” on the way in. I give the crowd a nod, not in the mood for chitchat.
Carlos, the owner of the place, is behind the bar in a Hawaiian shirt covered in snowmen and wreaths. The little plastic hula girls by the liquor bottles on the wall still wear doll-Âsize Santa hats. There's a lot of this going on in L.A. I feel it a little myself. Hanging on to the last few shreds of holiday spirit after a flood-Âsoaked, apocalyptic Christmas.
What did I get under the tree? A fugitive girlfriend. An LAPD beatdown. A last dirty trick from Mason Faim. And one more thing: I lost the Room of Thirteen Doors. It's not gone, but I can't use it anymore to move through shadows. Now I'm just like all these other slobs. I have to walk or drive everywhere. That's not such a bad thing considering L.A. is still half ghost town, but what happens when it fills up again? I don't deal well with things like traffic and other Âpeople.
Inside Bamboo House, I head straight for the bar. Martin Denny is on the jukebox playing “Exotic Night,” a kind of gamelan and piano version of “Greensleeves,” like we're on some mutant holly jolly tropical island.
“Same to you, man.”
I look around the place. It's a nice crowd. A mix of civilians, Lurkers, and even a few brave tourists.
“What do you think? How long do you figure you can get away with the Father Christmas thing?”
Carlos adjusts a piece of holly on a coconut carved like a monkey's head.
“As long as I want. My bar. My rules. Maybe I'll do it all year-Âround. Crank up the a/c. Rent customers scarves and gloves. It'll be the holidays twenty-Âfour/seven.”
“I think you shouldn't put so much acid in your eggnog.”
He raises his eyebrows and points at me.
“That could be the house drink. âEl Santo Loco.' ”
“You and Kasabian, always looking for new business plans.”
“That reminds me. You get anything good over the holidays?”
“Maria is supposed to be coming by today with something. A western.”
“Cool. I'll stop by.”
I'm not sure I want visitors. Not with the strange guy asleep in the storage room.
“Don't worry about it. If it's any good, I'll burn you a copy and bring it by.”
says Carlos and clears away some empty glasses. He slides a shot of Aqua Regia across the bar to me.
“Can I have some black coffee instead?”
He looks at me, surprised.
“A New Year's resolution?”
He goes to the pot and pours me some coffee. Brings it back to the bar.
I say, “I don't know. Just after all the shit that went down at Christmas, I thought I'd start off the new year with a clear head.”
“So, you're a teetotaler now?”
I reach in my pocket and pull out the flask. Carlos nods approvingly.
“Thank you, Papa Noel. For a minute I thought we'd lost you to the angels.”
“Not much chance of that.”
Carlos leans over and looks past me.
“I believe you're being summoned.”
I turn and spot Julie Sola at a table in the back corner of the place. I guess she's sort of my boss now at the PI firm she started when she quit the Golden Vigil. I nod to her and look back at Carlos.
“You don't mind us using your place for an office?”
“It's fine with me, but when I turn the place into Christmas all year-round, you'll have to pay for your mittens just like anybody else.”
“Always a new business plan. Talk to you later.”
I take my coffee and head over to where Julie is sitting. There are papers scattered on the table. Photocopies of newspaper articles and printouts of what look like police reports and hospital records. How the hell did she get those? She used to be a U.S. marshal and it looks like she's still got some of those connections.
She smiles and moves some of the papers out of my way so I can set down my cup.
“Afternoon,” she says. “How are you today?”
“I just went three rounds with an angel Ebenezer Scrooge. Do you know any cheap ways to get spray paint off glass?”
“No. Those cost money.”
She glances at the coffee in front of me like she's wondering how much of it is whiskey.
“I thought you could do magic,” she says. “Can't you just wave a wand and make it disappear?”
“First off, only hillbillies and Harry Potter use wands anymore. Second, I mostly know Hellion magic. Melting faces and killing things. If I try hoodoo at home I'm afraid I'll just blow out the windows.”
“You really can't afford paint remover?”
I sip my coffee.
“We have a little money, just not enough to blow on luxuries like cleaning products and food.”
“You know, you could have asked me for an advance on your salary.”
Â“People do that?”
“Normal Âpeople, all the time. I'll write you a check right now. Will five hundred dollars do?”
“It would do great, but you know I'm legally dead, right? I don't have a bank account, a passport, or a library card.”
Julie puts down her pen. I can tell she's rethinking the wisdom of offering me a job.
“Fine, man of mystery. I'll bring you some cash tomorrow.”
“Appreciate it. I was one day from hanging around with one of those signs. You know, âWill Save the World for Food.' ”
“Panhandling is illegal. I saved you from a life of crime.”
“Yeah. I wouldn't want to get a bad reputation or anything.”
Here I am again, scrambling for pocket change. Getting screwed out of half a million dollars by the Golden Vigil has left me a little touchy about money. I'm lucky Julie offered me a job. I owe her a lot, more than CandyâÂChihiroâÂand I can ever repay.