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Authors: Richard Kadrey

Killing Pretty (6 page)

BOOK: Killing Pretty
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I take the knife away and he sidles past, not turning his back on me until he's on the sidewalk, running down the street and across Hollywood Boulevard. I listen for the sound of squealing brakes in case he does the polite thing and scampers in front of a semi. But the sound is all just normal traffic. It's disappointing.

When I come around to the front of the store, Candy is standing there. She's looking off in the direction of Moore's sudden exit.

“What was that all about?” she says.

“A man tried to sell me some magic beans.”

“Was there a giant with treasure at the top of a beanstalk?”

“No. Just old movie stars and dead gangsters.”

“You know the most interesting ­people.”

“You're more interesting than any of those bums.”

“Aw. I'm better than a bum. You say the sweetest things.”

She leans over and kisses me on the cheek, uses her thumb to wipe off the lipstick.

“Listen,” I say. “I have to go see Vidocq and Allegra. Do me a favor and babysit our guest until I get back?”

She nods. Sighs.

“Sure. It's not like I have anything better to do tonight.”

“Thanks.”

She looks at me.

“You know, I know what you're doing.”

“About what, in particular?”

“You're trying to keep me out of sight, trying to keep me at arm's length at Brigitte's. This is still about what happened when I was in jail, isn't it?”

Candy is quick when it comes to ­people. It's one of the things I like about her. I give her a slow nod.

“Some. You said I was using you. I didn't like that. I still don't. Later, when you said you didn't remember, I always wondered if that was true.”

“The poison Mason gave me made me crazy and paranoid.”

“See, Mason said the drug was like liquor. It loosened ­people up so they said things they wouldn't normally say. Truths they were afraid of.”

“Mason was a monster and a liar.”

“Not about everything. That's why he was so good at it.”

She crosses her arms.

“So, you believe him more than me? Why don't you just shut up and listen when I say I'm fine. I'm here 'cause I want to be.”

I shrug.

“Okay. Maybe I'm pushing things a little harder than I should. But another woman I cared about got killed because of me. I'm not letting anything like that ever happen again.”

She pats me on the arm.

“You need to calm down, drink some tea, and hug a teddy bear.”

“I'm serious. No one else gets hurt.”

“Everyone gets hurt around you, but we stay anyway.”

“And sometimes I wonder if that's a mistake.”

She puts up a finger and aims it at my chest.

“You know, there's a fine line between caring and pissing ­people off. If I say I'm okay, I'm goddamn okay. Stop playing Mr. Sensitive and trust me. You want to see things get fucked up between us? Keep not listening to how I feel.”

I look away, then back at her.

“I see your point.”

“Smart boy. Stop worrying about all this relationship stuff. You're really bad at it.”

“You've got to give me points for thinking about things.”

“You've got to give me points for kicking your ass if you don't believe me again.”

“Done.”

She rubs her chin with her index finger.

“One thing. Your friend in the closet, he could see me through the glamour. What do you see when you look at me? Candy or Chihiro?”

“Don't tell me you're jealous of yourself.”

“Put a sock in it, Jack Benny. Can you see me?”

“I see both of you. Sort of a ghost hovering over another ghost. Chihiro is in the foreground, but I can see you just fine.”

That seems to satisfy her, but she's still frowning.

“You know what I'm really afraid of? Meeting new ­people. You and Brigitte and our friends know who I am under all this magic, but when I meet someone new I'll just be Chihiro. That means the first thing that person knows about me, the first thing I tell them, will be a lie.”

“I thought about that. But consider the alternative.”

She taps her round sunglasses against her knuckles.

“Yeah. I wonder if there's a statute of limitations or anything on assault. Maybe I don't have to hide forever.”

“I don't know. I'll ask Julie. But, you know, the law might not be the same for Lurkers. The government was already throwing you in internment camps. I don't think forgiveness is high on their agenda.”

She slips on the glasses. Does an unhappy half smile.

“Then, I'm Chihiro forever.”

“We don't know that. I'll see what I can find out.”

“Okay.”

“I should get going. I don't want to leave you alone with that guy any longer than I have to.”

“Don't rush. The way he looks, if I speak harshly he'll faint.”

“I won't be long. I've just got to find a car.”

“Don't steal anything boring,” she says as I start away.

“I just need to find something with an engine that didn't die in the flood.”

She points to Hollywood Boulevard.

“There's a Range Rover around the corner. It might work.”

“Thanks. I'll look for it.”

“I'm going to get drunk with Kasabian.”

“I'll join you when I get back.”

I head down the street, but she yells after me.

“Where can I get brass knuckles?”

“Why?”

“I want a set.”

“Why? You don't need them.”

She runs a hand through her short hair.

“Candy doesn't need them. I think Chihiro would look fetching with a pair.”

“Christmas is over, you know.”

“It's the first I'm hearing of it. Maybe they should be pink to match my hair.”

“No. They'll be brass or black.”

She opens the door to Max Overdrive.

“If you love me you'll find me a pair.”

“I think regular ­people refer to this as emotional blackmail.”

She starts inside.

“I can't hear you. I'm going now.”

“You're a horrible person.”

“Find me a pair or learn to love fucking your hand.”

I walk down to the boulevard, and sure enough, there's a Range Rover Defender near the end of the block. I slip the black blade into the driver's-­side lock and the door pops open. When I jam the blade into the ignition, the Rover starts on the first try. I pull out into the sparse traffic wondering who I know who deals in knuckle-­dusters.

I
GET ON
the 101 south to the 10, get off and head north on Crenshaw to Venice Boulevard, and pull up by an old battleship of a building. They used to manufacture safes inside, back when there were only three TV channels and everyone dreamed of L.A. in black and white.

I go inside and take the battered industrial elevator up to the third floor. I lived here twelve years ago, before Mason sent me Downtown and Alice was still alive. Vidocq took over the apartment after I disappeared. Used some of his alchemical tricks to make the door invisible and, better yet, make everyone in the building forget there was ever an apartment here. He's lived in the place rent free ever since.

I knock on the door and Allegra opens it, hugs me, and invites me inside. Vidocq smiles from his worktable. He's in a stained lab coat, boiling red gunk in a beaker so that it condenses and trickles down a glass tube and drips into another beaker, clear now and full of what look like small spiny fish swimming around in slow circles. It looks like he's either just created life or is making dinner. He's well preserved for two hundred (though he doesn't like to admit to being over a hundred and fifty). Close-­cropped salt-­and-­pepper hair, nice clothes, and a trimmed beard. A mad scientist by way of
GQ
.

“How's life without whooshing in and out of shadows?” says Allegra.

“Slow. Terrifying. I'm more like regular ­people every day. I'm going to end up wearing Costco suits and going to cupcake stores.”

Allegra's hair is jet black and shorter than Chihiro's. Her café au lait skin is paler than when we first met. She's spent a lot of the last year indoors at the clinic looking after sick and injured assholes like me.

“You could do with a little more real life in your life,” Allegra says.

“As long as I don't need an accountant or a résumé.”

Vidocq leaves his hoodoo table and goes into the kitchen.

“Your scars are your résumé,” he says. “What sensible employer would ask you for more?”

It's the truth. After eleven years in the arena in Hell my body looks like it was run through a wood chipper and put back together with a hot glue gun.

“Would you like some coffee?” Vidocq says. “I just made it.”

“It doesn't have little fish swimming around inside, does it?”

He glances back at his worktable.

“That's an interesting project. I'm experimenting with blood and blue amber to reanimate fossilized animals.”

“Whose blood?”

“Mine, of course.”

“Why?”

“To understand life, why else?”

“I'm not sure it's working that well.”

Allegra goes over and stares into the beaker.

“He's right. Your critters have refossilized.”

Vidocq sighs.

“We learn as much from our failures as our success.”

“Then I'm a goddamn Rhodes scholar.”

I take the coffee he offers. He hands the other cup to Allegra.

“You inspired the experiment, you know. Or your guest did,” she says. “Ever since he showed up it's life this and the nature-­of-­death that.”

“What about you? He set off any new thoughts for you?”

She blows on her brew.

“You're the only angel I've treated extensively, and you're only part angel. I'm curious about what a full angel might be like.”

I sip Vidocq's coffee. It's good and strong.

“Which brings me to the subject at hand: How do you know he's an angel?”

The day after Candy and I brought the guest home, Vidocq and Allegra came over and took hair, sweat, and saliva samples while he was asleep.

Allegra taps the side of her mug with her index finger.

“Technically, we don't. I'm just hoping.”

Vidocq comes in with his own cup and sits on their sagging couch.

“The body we examined is that of an ordinary man,” he says. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

“Except that he's missing his heart and, I'm guessing, most of his blood,” I say.

“Yes. Whatever is in the body is clearly not human.”

“Could he be a new kind of zombie?” says Allegra.

“I doubt it, but maybe I should have Brigitte look him over. She's the Drifter expert.”

“He could be exactly who he says he is. I mean, no one has died since he appeared.”

I nod and lean against the kitchen counter.

“Julie mentioned that. Okay, let's say he's the real thing. What am I supposed to do with him?”

“What would you do if he was just an ordinary man who came to you for help?” says Allegra.

“Buy him a drink and give him cab fare to the next bar. I almost died wrestling the Angra Om Ya. Don't I get a day off?”

“Maybe not.”

“Maybe time off is not your fate, Mr. Sandman Slim,” says Vidocq.

He smiles like he's being goddamn witty. Maybe from his point of view he is.

And maybe what he said hits too close to home.

“Fate is what happens when you don't run fast enough. Keep moving and fate gets dizzy.”

“Looks like you didn't run fast enough this time,” says Allegra. “So what would you do if someone came to you for help and you
did
decide to give it to them?”

I look at the coffee. Sip it, but suddenly don't want it anymore and set it down.

“I'd find out who he was.”

“You're already doing that. What else?”

“I'd find out where he came from and backtrack from there. Maybe look for some physical evidence. All Mr. D had on him was a coat and a knife.”

“What did the knife look like?” says Vidocq.

I take it from my pocket wrapped in a red utility rag I found in the Rover and hand it to him. He carefully unwraps it. Picks it up with his fingertips and turns it over.

“Do you recognize it?”

“I'm afraid not,” says Vidocq.

“Me neither,” Allegra says.

“Do you mind if I run some tests?” says Vidocq.

“Please do.”

He takes the knife to his worktable, sets it on an iron disc the size of a dinner plate, selects a green bottle from a jumble of similar bottles at the back of his table. He gives it a shake and unstoppers it. I leave my coffee and go over.

“What is that?”

Allegra stands on his other side.

“My own invention. A personal amalgam of quicksilver, sulfur, and other rarer elements I've gathered in my travels.”

“What's it going to do?”

“It reveals the history and composition of any object. Its true nature. Let's see what it tells us about your knife.”

He puts an eyedropper into the bottle and suctions up a small potion of shimmering silvery metal. Holding the tip over the knife, he lets three drops fall.

The mercury slides down the length of the blade, making it look soft and liquid. A few seconds later, it begins to sizzle like someone frying an egg with a blowtorch.

I lean in for a better look.

“Is it supposed to do that?”

“Not necessarily,” says Vidocq.

Smoke rises from the boiling metal. It shudders. Turns yellow, then deepens to black. The mercury cracks like a broken roadbed, silver veins of the knife blade visible beneath the charred metal crust. A few seconds later, the black fades and the mercury turns back to its original shimmering form, flowing off the tip of the blade. When it falls on the worktable, it spreads and burns a poker-­chip-­size hole in the wooden surface, sending up a ribbon of gray smoke.

BOOK: Killing Pretty
11.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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