Kill the Dead

Page 10

“Evening, ma’am, I’m collecting for UNICEF.”

“Stark, right? Get in here. Marshal Wells is waiting.”

“And you are?”

“No one you need to know.”

She lets me inside. The interior of the place is as rotten and decayed as the outside. She leads me into the kitchen.

“Nice. Defensiveness and moral superiority in two-point-four seconds. A new land speed record.”

“Marshal Wells said you liked to talk.”

“I’m a people person.”

“Is that before or after you cut people’s heads off?”

“I only cut off my enemies’ heads. I break my friends’ hearts.”

“So, that’s, what, zero hearts broken?”

“The night’s still young.”

She stops by the door. Where the back porch would be, if it hadn’t collapsed back when Columbus took his big cruise.

“Wells is in the study.”

“Thanks, Julie.”

“How did you know my name is Julie?”

Her heartbeat just spiked. I’m here in the middle of the night and being underpaid because of Wells. I don’t need to take it out on her. I smile, trying to look pleasant and reassuring.

“It’s nothing. Just a silly trick.”

“Don’t do it again.”

“It’d be a little stupid guessing someone’s name twice.”

Marshal Julie listens to something coming through her earpiece.

She says “Got it” into her cuff and looks at me.

“Is that your Thunderbird across the street?”


“But you drove it here.”


“You came here in a stolen vehicle?”

“Define ‘stolen.’ It’s not like I’m keeping it.”

“I don’t suppose you have the keys?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

She walks back to the front door, talking to whoever is in her earpiece.

“I need someone to evacuate a red and white Thunderbird coupe from the 6th Street inquiry.”

I head out back, pretty sure that Marshal Julie will not be my secret Santa at the Homeland Security Christmas party.

I’VE ALREADY GONE down one rabbit hole tonight at the Chateau, so it’s no surprise that the house beyond the porch door has nothing to do with the wreck I entered. The house through the door is a sprawling old-fashioned California mansion. Very western. Almost cowboy. Lots of wood. Two-story-high ceilings. Leather and animal-print furniture right out of an old Rat Pack movie. Massive picture windows look out over the desert and San Gabriel Mountains.

This, the Sub Rosa house hidden inside the other, is crowded with Wells’s people. There are at least a dozen forensic agents in the living room alone. They’re using a lot of strange gear I’ve never seen before, more of the Vigil’s weird angelic technology. The room is full of agents lost behind flashing lights, on their knees shoving beeping probes under furniture or lost behind transparent floating screens showing weird images of supermagnified carpet fibers.

“Down here, dead man.”

It’s Wells, yelling to me from the far end of the house. He never gets tired of reminding me that I’m officially dead and off the radar of the cops and most of the government. But only as long as I make nice with the Vigil. It’s a good threat. Without them, my life would be a lot more complicated.

I pass another ten agents in the hall on the way to the study and six more in the study. Between agents chattering, vacuums sucking up evidence, and probes flying around checking for aether residue, I can hardly hear my own voice.

“Why the hell do you need so many people, Wells?”

The marshal doesn’t look at me. He’s staring off at something across the room.

“You do your job and let my people do theirs.”

What Wells is looking at is worthy of some top-drawer staring. There’s an altar and above it, a six-foot-tall statue of Santa Muerte, a kind of grim reaper parody of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Despite her bony looks, she’s someone her believers pray to for protection. I guess whoever owned the statue wasn’t very good at it. It looks like half of his blood is sprayed across Saint Death, the altar, and the walls. The rest is in a nice congealed pool of rust-colored Jell-O around what’s left of his body. You can’t even call what’s on the floor a corpse. There isn’t enough of it. It looks like he tried to crawl into a jet engine, changed his mind, and tried to crawl out again.

I say, “I think he’s dead.”

Wells nods, still staring at the slaughter.

“I’ll be sure to write that down. Anything else?”

“This was no boating accident.”

Wells looks at me like he’s a trash compactor and I’m week-old bacon.

“Damn you, boy. A man is dead here and he was one of yours. Sub Rosa. And he died badly. Do you have anything to contribute to our finding out what the hell happened here?”

I want to get closer to the death scene and I have to walk around several agents to do it. Glad I’m not claustrophobic.

The body is lying in pieces scattered inside a strangely modified calling circle. The edges are sharp. It’s not a circle. It’s a hexagon, a shape only used in dark magic. It looks like at least part of the circle was painted with blood, though it’s hard to be sure with pieces of the guy laid out across the floor like a buffet. There are a lot of bones scattered around. Too many to all be his. He probably used them to reinforce the hexagon.

I have to walk all the way around the room to get back to Wells.

“He doesn’t stink. How long has he been lying there?”

“At least two days. There’s been very little tissue breakdown. No blowfly eggs. Not even rigor mortis in the one elbow joint we found.”

“Did you find anything in aether tracings?”

“There’s definitely dark magic residue. We’re not sure what kind yet.”

I go back to the body and stand as close as I can without touching it. Even without trying, I can feel something radiating off the mangled flesh and bones. But I can’t tell what. It’s ancient and cold. For a minute I wonder if the Kissi could have done it, but there’s no vinegar reek. If Wells’s crew would quiet down for a goddamn second, it probably wouldn’t be hard to figure out. Some of the angel devices are pumping out celestial energy fields, stinking up the aether.

“Can you get these people to quiet the hell down for a minute?”

“This is a priority job. It’s a big crew and everybody works. Do some magic, Sandman Slim. You’ve worked loud rooms before.”

I can’t get hold of whatever it is that’s coming off the body. I touch part of what I think is an arm with the toe of my boot. Turn it over. One of the forensic techs says something.

“Get that machine out of my way so I can work,” I say.

I’m not sure exactly how I sounded, but half of Wells’s crew suddenly find other parts of the room to work.

Kneeling down, I take a close look at the not-rotting skin. There are funny marks there. Old ones. He’d tattooed over them, like he was trying to camouflage them. There are marks on the bones, too. New ones.

The altar is a jumble of magic objects. Saints and rosaries. A sephirot stitched together from separate pieces of parchment and linen. Pentagrams and swastikas drawn on Post-its. An old bottle of no-name whiskey. Animal bones. Bowls full of meth, joints, and poppers. Yojimbe bark. Gray’s Anatomy. And a very nice selection of dildos, gags, butt plugs, nipple clamps, and antique handcuffs.

I drag a chair over to where Wells is standing. The forensic crew is falling in love with me.

“Who is this guy? Was this guy?” I ask.

“Enoch Springheel.”

“Springheel, like the Springheels?”

“Yep. Supposedly, the first Sub Rosa family in L.A. I guess a couple of hundred years back, when this was mostly Indians and coyotes, they were the cock of the walk. But other families settled here and things sort of fell apart for the Springheels. Lost most of their land. Lost their status. Homeland Security doesn’t know why. Neither does the Vigil. I was hoping maybe you knew something.”

“When I was a kid, I spent most of my time trying to get away from the Sub Rosa. I know the names, but not much of the family histories.”

“What a blessing it is to have you around.”

While Wells complains I climb on the chair to get a better view of the room. Whenever I reach out with my mind, the combination of whatever is coming off the body and the Vigil’s goddamn machines start making me dizzy. But from up on high something clicks in my brain and the scene falls together like a series of snapshots of things I’ve seen over the last eleven years.

Who needs nephilim superpowers when you’ve got the devil’s slide projector in your head?

I go back to the body and cut some skin and bone with the black blade. Then I spit on the incisions. That gets their attention.

“Give me some salt.”

One of the forensic drones pulls a vial from a potion case and tosses it to me. I sprinkle the salt over where I just spit. Nothing happens. Then there are bubbles. Steam. The saliva begins to boil.

“You know much about demons, Marshal Wells? What they are? How they work?”

“They’re elementals. Not like you pixies or Lurkers. Demons are primitives. Like insects. They’re pretty much programmed to do a single thing. Killing. Inciting lust. Planting lies.”

“They’re so dumb because they’re fragments of the Angra Om Ya. The old gods. They’re powerful but brain-dead crumbs of whatever god they fell from.”

“That’s blasphemy, boy. There were no gods before God.”

“Okay, forget that. Did your team take a look at these marks on the skin? They’re teeth marks. Señor Chew Toy could have healed himself, but he didn’t. He liked the scars. He just covered them with tattoos to hide his dirty little secret from the other Sub Rosa.”

“They’re so dumb because they’re fragments of the Angra Om Ya. The old gods. They’re powerful but brain-dead crumbs of whatever god they fell from.”

“That’s blasphemy, boy. There were no gods before God.”

“Okay, forget that. Did your team take a look at these marks on the skin? They’re teeth marks. Señor Chew Toy could have healed himself, but he didn’t. He liked the scars. He just covered them with tattoos to hide his dirty little secret from the other Sub Rosa.”

Wells is looking at me now.

“Keep going.”

“If you find Enoch Shitheel’s head, check his teeth. I bet you’ll find he gave himself some of those scars.”

“Demon possession?”

“Think simpler. Ever heard of autophagia?”


“I bet you’ve never seen any Sub Rosa porn either. You’re out of your depth, choirboy. In the books, autophagia is a mental disorder, but Springheel made it into a fetish. He got off on eating himself.”

Wells is giving me his disapproving squint, but he’s listening. His team edges in closer, not even pretending to work anymore.

“Santa Muerte is death and protection all rolled into one. A gangster Kali. She’d tighten Springheel’s jeans.”

“Watch your language.”

“Fuck you. You brought me in. I’ll do this my way.”


“Keep going.”

“The altar is a dark-magic sex shop. All you need is Lucifer’s cock ring to have the party of the century. I only mention that because that’s what Springheel wanted to do. Party very hard.”

I walk over and stand in the hexagon, trying to step around the sticky bits.

“The hexagon with blood and bone calls dark power. Yojimbe mixes in sexual energy, but that’s not a big surprise considering all the speed and poppers on the altar. Well, maybe for you. Look at this one side of the hexagon. There’s maybe a half-inch gap where the edges don’t touch. If this is a protection configuration, it won’t work. Whatever Enoch calls will be able to slip in through that hole. That’s stupid and it’s sloppy. Unless it’s deliberate.”

“What did Springheel invoke and why did he let it in?”

I step forward to the broken edge of the hexagon.

“He would have been here, near the opening. He’s thrown yojimbe around. He’s probably been snorting meth and doing his poppers. He starts his spell and he calls up a demon.”

“What kind of demon?”

I hold up one of the still-smoking bones with my fingertips and point to the broken edge.

“An eater. Five hundred years ago, an eater was what you called when you wanted it to look like locusts chewed up on your neighbor’s crops or wolves killed their cattle. Enoch wanted something more up close and personal. That’s why there’s a break in the hexagon. Springheel built himself a cosmic glory hole. He was a Bone Daddy.”

Wells is frowning. He really wants me to shut up. I keep going.

“He’s got a hard-on for demons. For eaters. Springheel wanted to stick as much of himself as he could get through that glory hole and get it nibbled on by a primordial retard with ten rows of shark teeth. Only something went wrong.”


“Damned if I know. Let your techs figure it out. Springheel called an eater because that’s how he got off. But he fucked up. Broke the circle too wide or made some stupid stoner mistake to completely break the hexagon’s protection and got himself eaten.”

“You’re sure about this sick shit?”

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