“You think she knows? Wells told me about their magic radar. Supposed to track the Sub Rosa and any big hoodoo going on in town, but I’ve never seen a bunch with less of a clue.”
“The Vigil’s technology is, at best, inconsistent, but they have psychics and Lurkers who can smell and taste changes in the aether. I have to think that the arrival of an angel as powerful as Lucifer will cause quite a ripple.”
“He’s not here for anything they’d care about. He’s here for his ego. He thinks he’s Marlon Brando.”
“Is that all?”
“And he wants out of Hell. Whatever fight’s going on down there, I think he’s losing. Maybe it’s Mason or maybe it’s just his time. I get the feeling he’s looking for any excuse not to be home right now.”
“Or he has another agenda altogether.”
Vidocq shakes his head, sets down his coffee.
“I have no idea, but this is Lucifer we’re talking about. Next to God, the brightest light in the universe. He might not lie to you, but don’t assume just because he tells you the truth you know what’s going on.”
“Don’t start talking that way. My head already hurts.”
Allegra is still grinding ingredients, concentrating. Ignoring us. It’s nice to have a job and know exactly what you’re doing, what’s expected of you, and that you can do it all yourself.
“Sometimes I miss the arena. I miss being pointed at some monster and told, ‘It’s you or him, little drytt,’ and just going for it. No decisions. No motives. No guessing games. Just blood and dust, and afterward, I have a gallon of Aqua Regia and go to sleep.”
Allegra asks, “What’s a ‘little drytt’?”
I guess she is listening after all.
“A drytt is a bug that lives in the desert outside Pandemonium, Lucifer’s capital. Drytts are like sand fleas. They’re everywhere and get into everything. They live in the dirt and they eat and shit their body weight every day for two days. Then they die. They lay eggs in their shit and that’s where their young are born.”
“You miss being called a shit bug?”
“It’s what they call all mortals,” Vidocq says. “Angels, even fallen ones, are eternal. We, the story goes, are made from dust. We eat. We shit. We grow old and die. We are born in filth, decay, and return to filth. We’re all little drytt to them.”
Allegra shakes her head.
“I bet you were one morbid little kid, Stark. Your poor mother.”
“You have no idea.”
Vidocq asks, “How is the potion coming?”
“I have all the ingredients together. It just needs to be digested.”
“Show him what you’ve learned.”
Allegra turns and raises her eyebrows at me. I go to where she’s working at the table.
“In alchemy, digesting something just means cooking it. You need the Friosan nostrum to stop your scars from healing, right? The storax, the liquid amber, is the base for the other ingredients. There’s also white cedar, salamander bones, ground sea horse. All things that grow slowly.”
“What’s that other powder?”
She glances at Vidocq.
“I don’t know. Mysterious things in old jars with Latin names. Eugène helped with that part.”
“Good. I was worried about the Latin part.”
Vidocq leans forward on the sofa.
“Don’t be shy. Show him the rest.”
Allegra dumps all the ingredients in a silver bowl and sets it on a tabletop brazier.
“Remember that fire trick you showed me?”
“The one you used on Parker? You saved my life, so, yeah, I remember.”
Allegra smiles like a girl with a secret.
She blows across her fingers the way I showed her back when she was just another civilian. Flames flicker to life on her fingertips, but she keeps blowing, moving her hand in a slow circle in front of her lips. In a few seconds, the flames have moved from the tips of her fingers to burn all the way down to her palm. She puts her hand under the silver bowl with the ingredients. As she blows, the flames rise and the storax begins to boil. Steam comes off the amber, filling the room with the smell of burned pine. The powder and other ingredients quickly dissolve. She holds her hand near her lips again, blows lightly, and the flames shrink and disappear.
“Damn. I showed you a party trick and you took it and turned pro. You’re practically Evel Knievel.”
“I’m McGyver, baby. Stick around. I’ll make you a philosopher’s stone from Barbie dolls and spark plugs.”
Vidocq says, “She’s a brilliant girl. She’s learning much faster than I did.”
“What do I do with the snake oil, doc?”
She pours the thick liquid from the silver bowl into a beer stein and hands it to me. The liquid has darkened from amber gold to something more like maple syrup.
“Slam it back. Every bit of it.”
“You sure? I think I still see some of the salamander moving around in there.”
It tastes every bit as good as you’d guess lizard and tree bark would. It’s thick enough that I have to upend the glass to get the last dregs.
“Is that it? Am I cured?”
“Not even close. But it should keep you where you are for a while. Eugène and I’ll keep looking for a long-term fix.”
“Thanks. Both of you. I mean it.”
“If you’re really that pathetically grateful, take me as your date to the party tonight.”
Vidocq is up getting more coffee.
“Did you put her up to this?”
He fills his glass and leans on the kitchen counter.
“Allegra is one of us now. She should see everything.”
“I want to see everything,” she says
“A while ago, Vidocq could have taken you to the soiree. You know why he won’t now? ’Cause the Sub Rosa don’t like me, but they don’t like him even more.”
She looks at him.
“Because you’re not Sub Rosa?”
“Because I’m a thief.”
“Because you steal their shit.”
“Only because they want what each other has, but are afraid to do it themselves. They need me to take it and Muninn to sell it back to them because the wealthy and powerful have always preferred to pay their lessers to commit their crimes for them.”
Allegra looks back at me.
“Take me with you tonight. I want to see the crazy people you two are always talking about. I’ll brush my teeth and wear underwear and everything.”
“Trust me, neither of those things are mandatory with this crowd. But you can’t be my date. I’m Lucifer’s date.”
“Bull. He wants you there to intimidate people. I’ll be Lucifer’s date. You can loom behind us like a teddy bear with a Gatling gun.”
“I’ll introduce you to Lucifer when Hell freezes over and Jesus opens a sex shop on Melrose.”
“Don’t be such a grandma. Vidocq would introduce me if he could.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“It does no good to hide the world from those determined to see it for themselves,” Vidocq says.
“We’re talking about Lucifer, not taking little Susie down to Planned Parenthood for birth control.”
“When you introduce yourself to the devil willingly, you take away his power to surprise you.”
“And an apple a day keeps the doctor away, except for all those people who got cancer.”
Allegra yells, “This is what I’m talking about. You two are arguing like I’m not here about things I’ve never seen. I want to know about these secret people and places and I will, with or without your help.”
“You’re not coming with me tonight. Maybe I can get you into something else later. Lucifer is in town for this movie thing and those can drag on forever, so there’ll be lots of other parties with plenty of magical douche bags for you to meet. But you’re not coming tonight. And I’m not introducing you to Lucifer. Not now. Not ever. That’s it. You want to do alchemy, you’re in Vidocq’s world, and you two can work that out however you want. You get near the Sub Rosa or anything to do with Hellions, you’re in my world and I make the rules. Understand?”
Allegra turns away, nods.
“I understand. Okay.”
I take my cup to Vidocq for some coffee to wash the taste of the nostrum out of my mouth.
Allegra says, “I’m sorry. I just don’t want to be left out of the big things. I get frustrated because you and Eugène have done and seen so much. I don’t think you want me to see anything. You want me to go back and be the cute little ignorant girl who runs the cash register at Max Overload.”
“I wouldn’t mind seeing you over there sometimes, but I don’t want to nail your feet to the floor. Try to understand, if Vidocq or I seem like we don’t want to show you something, maybe it’s because we’re not the best role models. We’re basically a couple of huge fuckups who ought to be dead. Eugène screwed up his chemistry set so bad he made himself immortal by mistake. He could have ended up a worm or slime on a wall in a Paris sewer, but he got lucky. Me, I’m so good at what I do that I’ve spent more than a third of my life in Hell. Sometimes, if you ask a question and we don’t jump in right away with the secrets of the universe, it’s not because we think you can’t handle it, but because we don’t have all the answers either.”
Allegra takes something out of her pocket and holds it behind her back.
“Put out your hand,” she says.
I do it and she drops something heavy. It looks like a cigarette box, but it’s dense enough to be full of buck shot.
“What is this?”
“It’s an electronic cigarette. All the cool kids have ’em. They look just like normal cigarettes. You charge the cigarette part off the computer and there’s a nicotine cartridge in the filter end. Basically, you’re just sucking in nicotine and steam. It’s just like smoking a real cigarette, but these won’t kill you as quick.”
“Doesn’t that kind of defeat the point?”
She takes the pack from my hand and slips it into my jacket pocket.
“Sometimes being smart is more important than magic.”
I say, “Thanks for looking out for me.”
She smiles and shrugs.
“What choice do I have if I want to get into one of those parties?”
Vidocq gets up and puts his arm around Allegra’s shoulders.
“I think the real reason he doesn’t want to introduce you to Lucifer is that he’s afraid you’ll be running Hell within the week, which would make you his boss.”
Allegra brightens at that, saying, “Make me a sandwich, beeyotch!”
I head for a nice shadow on the side of a bookcase.
“I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know what the beautiful people are wearing this year. Thanks for the smokes.”
A COURIER DELIVERS a package from the Chateau Marmont. It’s addressed to “Wild Bill Hickok,” which is annoying, but better than if it was addressed to Sandman Slim.
Inside the box is a brand-new tuxedo, a white shirt, socks, and shoes. A small box covered in dark green snake-skin holds miniature silver Colt .45 cuff links. Throw in a hat and spurs and I could be one of Roy Rogers’s pallbearers.
Kasabian says, “Someone wants you pretty tonight.”
“Let’s trade. You go to the party and I’ll stay here and drink beer and watch The Wizard of Oz. We can both spend the night with witches and monkeys.”
“I’ll pass. But you have fun with the beautiful people. I bet they’ve missed you.”
“Every bit as much as I missed them.”
“Try not to do anything too stupid, okay? If you piss off Lucifer and get sent back to Hell, I’m going to be on a coal cart right behind you and I don’t want to go back again for a good long time.”
“The next time I go back to Hell it’ll be because I mean to.”
“Gee wow, that’s a comfort.”
I put on the butler suit and the new shoes. Everything is a perfect fit. Lucifer must have had his tailor run the thing off for me. He would have to do it after eyeballing me for just a couple of minutes. That’s impressive, even for a Sub Rosa rag sewer, but then having the lord of the abyss looking over your shoulder is probably even more motivational than an employee-of-the-month fruit basket.
My only problem with the suit is that the jacket is too tight for me to wear a gun without looking like I have a conjoined twin. Allegra took me to a local fetish shop and I had them make me a kind of leather shoulder holster for the na’at. It fits under my left arm pretty well, and unless I get the urge to do jumping jacks at the party, it should stay hidden. If I was designing the suit myself, I would have run a twelve-inch Velcro strip from the pants cuff up the leg so I could strap the black knife under it. For now, I just slide it into my waistband behind my back. I check the bedside table for anything else I might want to take with me.
“What’s that?” Kasabian asks.
“It’s an electronic cigarette. Supposed to be better for you than regular ones. You want it?”
“I might not have balls anymore, but I still have a little pride, so no.”
At ten, my phone rings. The limo’s arrived to take me to pick up Lucifer. I go downstairs and out the back of the store, trying to get out without anyone seeing me. I know it’s stupid to use the door when I can just as easily go out through a shadow, but I like using the door at Max Overload. I think I’m the only person I know who still has a normal door.