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Authors: Richard Kadrey

Killing Pretty (25 page)

BOOK: Killing Pretty
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“You know you're going to die, right? I'm tight with the Augur, and Abbot takes care of important ­people.”

I go to his desk. His phone is lying on top. I throw it against the wall and it shatters into a thousand pieces.

“You're going to have to shout pretty loud for the Augur to hear you in here.”

“My men will be up here in a minute.”

“Maybe. But the ones without broken legs will take a while to get inside. In the meantime, we're going to talk.”

“About what?”

“The dead man. Well, two dead men. One you took away from Murphy Ranch and one you left to rot.”

“I never heard of Murphy Ranch.”

He picks up his cigar and sticks it in his mouth.

I go over to him and pull Vincent's knife from my pocket. Tamerlan freezes. I stick the tip of the knife into the glowing end of his cigar and push it through the full length of the stogie until it bumps into Tamerlan's teeth.

“You remember anything now? Or do I keep pushing?”

He lets go of the cigar. I shake the knife so the smoke falls on the floor. Tamerlan picks up the cigar and tosses it into an ashtray so it won't burn the pretty rug.

“What exactly is it you think I did?” he says.

“You and the White Light Legion—­which is where I'm guessing your pet poodles downstairs came from—­you did a ritual to corral and bind Death into a human body.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I've been thinking about that. Once you control Death, I figure that you were planning on making a fortune selling life-­extension policies to ­people who don't want to die.”

Tamerlan leans back in his chair again, a little more relaxed now that he knows I'm not just here to kill him. He shakes his head.

“That's cute, but it's not much of a business model. I'm a necromancer. Death is my bread and butter. Anyway, the life-­extension idea wouldn't work.”

“Why not?”

“It's too obvious. A bunch of rich jerks stick around too long and ­people start getting suspicious. And tampering with death itself? That's heavy baleful magic. We both know that if the Augur or his ­people find out, you can get put in a box in the ground for that kind of thing. It's not worth the risk.”

I watch his eyes as he talks, waiting for a change in his pupils. They dilate a little with tension, but that's it. He's not lying.

Time to shift gears.

“Are you Wormwood? Admit it. Wormwood is a front for your Dead Head business and any other shit you're into. It's a way to launder all your money so it can't be traced to you.”

He chuckles and shakes his head, briefly putting a hand over his face.

“Oh man, you don't know anything about anything, do you? I don't have to launder money because, whatever opinion you might happen to have about my business, I'm legit. I make plenty of money from spirit conjurations for a few select clients and from my franchises. That's it. It's not that I have anything against being crooked, it's just that I don't have to be.”

“But you know ­people who need money laundered.”

“That's neither here nor there. Sure, I work with Wormwood, but I'm not them.”

“What exactly is Wormwood, then? Do the White Lights launder their money? They have enough muscle they could run it.”

“Now you're just guessing.”

“Okay. Let's back up a little: What is Wormwood?”

Tamerlan sits back and squares his shoulders.

“Pal, if you needed to know about Wormwood, trust me, they'd make sure you did.”

“What if I broke your arms and legs and burned down your house if you don't tell me more?”

He laughs again.

“You're not going to do that. You're dumb, but not that dumb.”

“What makes you think that?”

“You want something. Killing me won't get it, but maybe I can be useful when you find it. But I can't be if I'm dead. Plus, the Augur wouldn't like it.”

I think for a minute.

Tamerlan takes a new cigar from a wooden humidor by his chair.

“Your problem is that you've got a Jesse James complex. You're an outlaw. That's how you think and that's how you think everybody else thinks. You don't think like a businessman. In business, the trick is maximizing profit and longevity. I go playing with baleful magic and talking out of school about Wormwood, I'm going against both of those principles.”

“Let's try something else. A business deal.”

“I'm listening.”

“Someone bound Death in a human body and he can't get out.”

“If you say so.”

“I want to hire you to do an exorcism. You can do those, right? I want you to pull Death out of the body of this Townsend guy so he can be himself again.”

Tamerlan shakes his head.

“This human body you're talking about, was this Townsend still in it when someone corked Death inside?”

“No. They killed Townsend and bound Death to the body.”

Tamerlan holds up his hands.

“Then you're shit out of luck. Exorcisms only work when a spirit takes hold of an inhabited body. Your body was empty when Death entered it. He's the animus now. The life force. You don't exorcize that.”

Fucking hell. I don't know enough about death magic to make any headway with this guy and he knows it. I should have studied up. This whole thing is like an anxiety dream where you show up without pants for a final exam in a class you never went to.

Then I get it.

“I know you're involved.”


“Because there's a brand on the body Death's inhabiting. It's a necromancer's mark.”

“Bullshit. You got a picture?”

I take out my phone and show him the photo.

Tamerlan bursts out laughing, hands me the phone.

“Oh my God, you're so much stupider than I thought. How do you remember to zip your fly, you fucking idiot?”

“You're saying that's not a Dead Head mark?”

“No, asshole. It's the logo for a talent agency.”

That's not the answer I was expecting.

“Come here,” he says.

We go to his desk. He touches the space bar on his laptop to wake it up, and types a URL into the browser. A second later, a page appears. It's for the Evermore Creatives Group. The logo, the exact shape of Death's brand, is at the top of the page with the agency's name. I stare at the page, trying to figure it out. Trying to find Tamerlan's angle. How he's tricking me.

I type in a few more URLs and they all come up on real pages that I recognize. I put the agency's name into a search engine. When I check the results, they take me back to the page Tamerlan showed me. Death's mark and Townsend's body's big secret is that he was probably some kind of small-­time actor.

I say, “What kind of talent agency brands its clients?”

“Why don't you go break into
fucking place and leave me alone?”

This is bad. Was I this wrong the whole time? Is he really just a Mr. Moneybags creep and not the secret boss of the White Lights? He won't tell me about Wormwood, so he could be lying. Or maybe there's something about Wormwood that scares him the way he scares his minions. I think I just wasted a lot of time and hoodoo on nothing. I haven't been this wrong about anything since I bought a Genesis album because I was drunk and I thought the lady with the fox head on the cover was kind of hot.

Tamerlan claps me on the shoulder and sits down behind the desk.

“Holy shit, thanks for coming tonight, Stark. With ­people not dying and business being off, I needed a good laugh.”

I look at him.

“Aren't you worried about what's going to happen to you when you die? You must have pissed off a lot of dead ­people in your time. Some of them will be waiting for you in Hell.”

“I'm not worried,” he says. “A little bird told me that some do-­gooder changed Hell all around. Made it nice for ­people. He even opened the door so souls can go to Heaven. The way I figure it, anyone who might have been waiting for my ass won't be there to give me grief. And who knows? I might like Hell with all the riffraff cleared out. I could set up business there. Cut deals with necromancers back here to get souls and information for them.”

He aims a finger at me.

“That's what I mean about you not thinking like a businessman. What you think of as death and damnation, I see as another capital opportunity.”

I'm having trouble taking in all the ways I've fucked up in the last few days. Am I missing something? Is Tamerlan dancing around me, hiding his White Light connections? If he is, I'm goddamn sure not going to find them right now. I need to get clear and think.

I go to his humidor and take one of his cigars, put it in my pocket. I could kill Tamerlan right now and no one would weep for the bastard. But I'm not going to do that, on the off chance that he really isn't involved in the case. Besides, I don't have to. ­People like Tamerlan, sharp guys who think they have all the angles covered, eventually end up playing fast and loose with the wrong ­people. All I have to do is sit back and wait and watch. He'll dig his own grave.

“Thanks for the cigar,” I say.

“Thanks for the good time tonight. I can't wait to tell the boys all about it.”

“You do that.”

I sidestep to the right and go back into the storm. Walk through a wall and back outside, leaving Tamerlan stuck in his doorless, windowless office. Fuck him and his mansion. Let his dog boys chisel him out.

I go back to the car and drive home. The only thing worse than having Tamerlan laugh in my face is knowing I'm going to have to tell Julie about it without making myself sound too stupid.

I toss his cigar out the window.


Julie is shouting. I've never heard her shout before. It isn't a pleasant sound, especially when the shouting is aimed at me.

“I talked to Tamerlan last night.”

“He just let you into his home in the middle of the night?”


“You mean you broke in.”

“Technically, I walked in.”

“But you weren't invited, so it's still breaking and entering.”

“He let me have one of his cigars, so he couldn't have been too mad.”

She's at her desk. She drops her head into her hands.

“Did he recognize you?”

“Our kind of ­people pretty much know who I am by now.”

kind? You mean ­people who break into other ­people's homes and threaten them?”

“No. I meant ­people who deal in hoodoo.”

She brings her head back up and looks at me.

“I can't begin to tell you how many ways I'm angry right now.”


“That's all you have to say?”

Candy crosses and uncrosses her legs nervously.

“What he means is this will never happen again. Isn't that right?”

She turns to me.

“Yes. What she said. Never again.”

Julie blows out a long stream of air.

“Do you think this is going to come back at us? I mean, should I be talking to a lawyer?”

I shake my head.

“I don't think Tamerlan wants everyone knowing how easy it was to get into his place. Plus, I kind of rearranged the architecture. He has that to take care of.”

Julie stares at me. I'm not explaining myself well.

“He laughed in my face. I don't think he's coming after you or anyone else 'cause he had too good a time with me. And he'll have a better time telling his friends what a fuckup I am. Your agency is safe.”

“You better hope so. I'm not losing everything I've worked for because you can't help playing cowboy.”

Candy says, “You have to admit, though, that he came back with some good information. We were still going page by page through old magic texts. How long would it have taken us to figure out the mark came from a talent agency?”

Julie purses her lips and looks away.

“That doesn't get him off the hook for anything.”

She turns back to me. I nod, trying to look sorrier than I feel, part of my indentured servitude.

“I understand. But shouldn't we follow up on this lead? The Evermore Creatives Group is right down on Wilshire.”

“What I should do is cut you loose right now, just to protect myself. You understand that, right?”

“If you want me gone, just say the word.”

“I didn't say I was going to, just that I should. You still know things about the magic world that we need.”

She sits back, thinking.

“Consider yourself on probation,” she says.

“That sounds fair,” says Candy.

I nod.


Julie says, “Remember that I went out on a limb for you two. All I'm asking is that you consider your actions in the future.”

She's right. She saved Candy. Okay, now I feel bad.

“I'll clear things with you in the future.”

“Thank you.”

“What are we going to do about Evermore Creatives?” says Candy.

“We do need to check it out. But I should do some research before we approach them directly. Find out who they are.”

“They peddle B actors and dancing girls to the movies,” I say. “What else do we need to know?”

“Thank you for that succinct description, but I prefer to go in with facts,” says Julie.

“Stark could keep an eye on the place while we go into the background. See who goes in and out,” says Candy.

“That's something we could do, or you could go with Stark. He keeps an eye on the agency and you keep an eye on him.”

“I'd really rather do computer stuff with you.”

“This is the way it has to be. Stark needs a babysitter and it's not going to be me.”

“Okay,” says Candy, and gives me a look I don't want to see again.

BOOK: Killing Pretty
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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