Hollywood beauty can make your IQ drop, but there’s that other kind that’s like the end of the world. Armageddon gorgeosity. She walks in the room like the Angel of Death in a miniskirt and all you can think is, If I got shot in the head right now, I’d die smiling.
The brunette gives me a crooked smile. I was staring and she caught me. Outdrawn already.
“You found your way home,” says Koralin.
“She gave us a good chase, but we tracked her down,” says Jan. “Poor Simon was almost in tears.”
“That was sweat, not tears. I usually make other people hunt-and-gather for me these days,” says Simon.
The brunette holds out her hand to me.
“Hello. I’m Brigitte.”
“Stark. Nice to meet you.”
Ritchie wakes up.
He takes her shoulders and points her at Lucifer like she’s artillery.
“This is Brigitte Bardo. Brigitte, this is Mr. Macheath. Light Bringer, his film, is the one you’re going to be in.”
“Nice to meet you, Mack the Knife. Did you bring your dagger?”
Lucifer nods toward me.
“I brought him. He carries the knife.”
“Only because I couldn’t fit a gun under this damned jacket.”
Brigitte and Koralin smile.
“I’m glad you’re here taking care of our special guest,” says Ritchie. He claps his arm around Lucifer’s shoulders.
“Did you hear? Spencer Church is gone,” says Jan.
“Missing?” asks Ritchie.
“No one knows.”
“Spencer Church is a drug addict, a gambler, and a pusher,” says Koralin. “He’s either sleeping in a ditch or buried in the desert. But this isn’t the time or place to be talking about these things. This is a party.”
Jan says, “Why don’t we make a circle around the room? I know there are a lot of people who’d like to pay their respects.”
“I always enjoy a little genuflecting. Shall we walk?”
Lucifer, Jan, Koralin, and Ritchie stroll on ahead looking impressive and important. Brigitte and I follow a few steps behind. Close enough to keep an eye on things, but far enough back that we look like a couple of sixteen-year-olds pretending we’re not with our parents.
“So, you’re the famous Sandman Slim. I supposed we both have to have funny names to do our jobs. Do you get that my name is a little joke?”
“You mean how there’s Brigitte Bardot, a jet-propelled French succubus from the sixties? Got famous in And God Created Woman. Got respected in Contempt. Kind of a nut job, but she liked dogs. Then there’s Bardo, like the Buddhist states of being. Life, death, enlightenment, and a side of fries. Yeah, I think I got it.”
“Very nice. Most Americans don’t understand.”
“Don’t be too impressed. Everyone in California is a Buddhist for fifteen minutes. Then they realize they’re not allowed to eat chili dogs and enlightenment starts sounding like a real drag.”
“You know, I thought you would be uglier.”
“I heard that you were covered in scars. You don’t look so bad, really.”
“You sound disappointed.”
“You were looking at me before. Have you seen my work?”
“Ritchie said you were an actress in France. You coming to work in Hollywood?”
“Simon is going to help me do different sorts of movies than what I was doing back home.”
“Were you stuck in those rotten American action-movie rip-offs they do over there?”
“No, pornography. I’m very famous for it in Europe. In Japan, too.”
Hey, at least she didn’t tell me she’s dead.
“I’ve met a couple of local porn girls in clubs over the years. I’m never sure what’s worse for them—not recognizing them or recognizing them too quickly.”
“It’s fine either way. All that matters is that the person isn’t too mean or too happy to meet you.”
“Good way to put it. I’ve been trying to work through something like that myself.”
“I know. You may not know me, but I recognized you and your funny nom de plume.”
“Don’t blame me. Hellions gave me that behind my back. I didn’t even know about it until a cop told me.”
“It’s better than ‘whore.’ That’s usually what’s said behind my back.”
“Most people are idiots. There’s nothing worse than idiots who tell you their opinions.”
I puff my fake cigarette. It really doesn’t taste that bad, but the plastic texture is hard, like sucking nicotine through a spackle gun.
“So you’re in Light Bringer. You an angel or what?”
“Don’t be silly. I’m Eve, the destroyer of men and, so, the whole world.”
“And here I am without a drink to toast you with.”
“See? I’m much worse than you could ever be, Sandman Slim.”
“People call you names behind your back, but trust me, they’d call me worse if they weren’t afraid I’d skin them and wear them like oven mitts.”
“Being friends with Lucifer must help.”
“I’m not stupid enough to think we’re friends, but we’re not enemies. We have some common interests.”
“Then you are what people say you are?”
“What’s this week’s theory?”
“That you’re a bit of a vampire, but without the blood. You’re strong like a vampire. You’re fast. You heal and you can see inside people. Some believe that you were a vampire, but that Lucifer cured you and now you are his property.”
Out of habit, I tap my finger on the cigarette to knock off the ashes. Moron. There’s no ash on a piece of plastic.
“I’m no one’s property. I get paid for my services,” I say. “I also freelance for the Golden Vigil. They’re not exactly on Mr. Macheath’s side.”
Up ahead, Lucifer is getting glad-handed by Cabal Ash. I think the guy took out his spinal fluid and replaced it with tequila. He’s epically, gorgeously drunk. If his drunkenness had legs, it would be Alexander the Great and conquer the known world. Then it would puke for a week into a solid gold toilet it stole from Zeus’s guest room.
Right now, Cabal is stinking up the party with the death grip he’s got on Lucifer’s hand. He’s pumping it like he thinks he’ll strike oil. A woman dressed in the same kind of dirty rags as Cabal is trying to coax him away with more booze. Maybe I’m supposed to step in and pull the guy off, but it’s not my party and it’s too damned fun standing right where I am.
Cabal’s ragged lady friend finally gets his meat hooks off Lucifer and quickly steers the drunk into the crowd and out of sight.
“It’s nice to hear that no one owns you. Men, especially Americans, have quite a desire to buy and sell each other. For me, they’re attracted to me because I model and do sexy things in magazines and in movies, then when they have me—or think they have me—they want me to transform overnight into a mousy little housewife.”
“I can see how what you do could intimidate a guy.”
“But it doesn’t feel as if you are judging.”
“I’m pretty out of judgment for this lifetime.”
“What is that you’re smoking?”
“I’m not sure. I think it’s low-tar crack for underage robots.”
“May I try?”
She puffs away and gets a nice red glow going on the LED at what’s supposed to be the lit end of the thing. Opens her mouth in an O and blows a series of perfect smoke rings. She gives the cigarette back to me, smiling.
“Is this what you smoke in Los Angeles these days? I’m not sure I approve. Vices shouldn’t be safe. They’re what remind us we’re alive and mortal.”
I toss the thing, sending it skipping across the floor into one of the canal tributaries that run along one wall.
“There. Thanks for saving me from a too-long life.”
“So, you don’t like to be called Sandman Slim. Your Wikipedia page says that sometimes you are called Wild Bill.”
“I’m on goddamn Wikipedia?”
“It’s a tiny entry full of notes saying that no one knows if any of what’s there is real. It’s very funny. You’d like it.”
“Read it to me sometime. I have a feeling it’ll sound better in Czech.”
“But none of this answers my question. What should I call you?”
Up ahead, Lucifer turns away from his admirers with his phone to his ear. From the look on his face, someone is going to get a Cadillac-size pitchfork up the ass.
“Call me James. Not Jimmy or Jim. Just James. What do I call you?”
“Brigitte is fine.”
“Ah. I thought we were confessing true names.”
“No. I just asked what to call you.”
Now that he’s not getting the royal treatment for a couple of seconds, Ritchie’s realized that Brigitte isn’t next to him. He looks around like a Titanic survivor hunting for a life vest.
“I think you’re about to be called back to the stage.”
Brigitte gives a little sigh.
“You’re lucky. Your patron doesn’t spend all his waking hours worrying that you might fuck someone else.”
“Not that he’s mentioned.”
She smiles and waves to get Ritchie’s attention.
“I have to go. It’s been lovely talking with you, Sandman. Pardon. James.”
“You too, Ms. Bardo.”
As she goes, she runs a finger lightly over the back of my hand.
I don’t usually think of porn girls as actresses, but Brigitte might be an exception. When she goes to Ritchie, she gives him a Pretty Woman smile like she thinks he’s the center of the world.
It looks like the center of Lucifer’s world has gone sour. He crooks his finger at me and we start out of the ballroom. No good-byes. No handshakes. Nothing. It must be nice to just start walking and know that everybody else will follow. Which is exactly what happens. Jan, Koralin, and Ritchie practically sprint after him. Ritchie is pulling Brigitte like a puppy on a leash. She laughs as they go. I push through the crowd, cut around a hairy Nahual beast man and a couple of Jades eating raw meat off a golem’s tray. Wolf Boy has hold of the golem’s arm so it can’t wander away.
I catch up with them just as everyone is saying good night. Lucifer shakes a last few hands, blows some air kisses, and we’re moving again.
“What’s going on?”
He looks at his phone one more time and stuffs it into his pocket.
“We’re going back to the hotel. Apparently Amanda and her coven never left and they’re not playing nice with the hotel staff who are too afraid to throw her out.”
“Whose followers are dumber, yours or God’s?”
“Mine are simpletons and his are self-righteous prigs. Take your pick.”
“I should have known that little shit would be here.”
Lucifer looks at me. I nod at a pretty young guy drinking and scowling at the edge of a group of other pretty young things. It’s Ziggy Stardust, the bad-mannered kid from Bamboo House of Dolls who thought I was a dolphin who’d do a trick for a fish.
“That’s Jan and Koralin’s son. Rainier I think is his name. An angry little bore and a ne’er-do-well.”
“Sounds like a typical Sub Rosa to me.”
Lucifer heads for the first gondola he sees, cutting off an angry Sub Rosa woman who was stepping into it. She starts to say something, sees me, and shakes her head.
It’s Medea Bava, head of the Sub Rosa Inquisition.
I step down into the boat and she says, “Judge a man by the company he keeps.”
“Admit it. You live alone with thirty cats, all named Mr. Whiskers.”
She stands there scowling at me as the golem gondolier poles us away.
“Friend of yours?” Lucifer asks.
“She either wants to burn me at the stake or shut off my cable. I forget which.”
“Why don’t you kill her?”
I look at him. I can’t tell if he’s serious or not.
“’Cause she hasn’t done anything yet.”
“Don’t be an idiot. If you always wait for your enemies to move first, you’ll be dead before breakfast.”
“But it’s your fans, not your enemies, that ruined your night. You just can’t win.”
“We might have put your no-killing policy on hold. Amanda and her people can be unruly, but they have to be dealt with one way or another.”
“You want me to slaughter thirteen people in the hotel lobby?”
“Do it in the parking lot if you’re worried about the rugs.”
“These aren’t sulfur-sucking Hellions. I’m not promising to kill anyone.”
He lights a cigarette and doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t offer me one this time.
“If you need to play at being the humanitarian, deal with Amanda first. Put her down and the others will most likely slink away home. I’ll deal with them later.”
“While we’re dealing with annoying situations, fuck you very much for that Eleanor thing back there with the old lady.”
“Don’t be so serious. You hate the Sub Rosa because you don’t know how to have fun with them.”
“Light Bringer sounds fun. Great title, by the way. It makes you sound like Luke Skywalker’s harelip cousin. Maybe they can get Ewoks to play the other fallen angels.”