“They’re an endangered species. The government tags them like condors and pandas.”
“You’re not what I expected. You’re a very silly man, James.”
“I come from a long line of tall-tale talkers. Our family crest is bullets over crossed fingers and underneath it says, ‘Bullshit Über Alles.’”
She takes cigarettes from her purse, but Carlos stops her.
“Sorry. You can’t in here.”
“I’m in a bar full of vampires and witches, but what people are afraid of is my cigarette.”
“Welcome to America, where everyone lives forever and everyone is beautiful if you have the money.”
“Why do you drink that horrible drink?”
“It’s a bad habit I picked up along the way.”
“When you were gone?”
“And you still drink it? I’d think you’d want to forget about that place.”
“No. I don’t want to forget anything. Not one second of it.”
“Because someone owes me for it. Every second I was there. Every beating. Every bad habit and every shitty dream. And for Alice.”
“There you are. That’s the man I was looking for. He was hiding in your eyes. A killer’s eyes.”
“What are you doing down here, Brigitte? Shouldn’t Ritchie be buying you France or something?”
“Simon is with Mr. Macheath just now. I don’t expect him back for some time. He says they’re discussing the movie, but I think he’s lying.”
“He’s trying to renegotiate his soul deal? I’d love to hear that conversation.”
“Simon can be very persuasive.”
“That I believe.”
It bugs the hell out of me how beautiful she is. I’ve seen friends go through this. Falling for porn girls can be like mainlining Twinkies. It’s usually more about addiction than nutrition. Both are sweet and oh so irresistible because they can’t help it. Then you get jealous or she gets bored and the sugar rush ends. The crash hits and there you are, depressed, toothless, alone, and with crumbs in your sheets. I don’t need to take Brigitte to Donut Universe. She is Donut Universe.
Or maybe I’m just full of shit, spooked by her ballistic beauty, and looking for an excuse to run away like a kid who’s never figured out how to talk to girls.
“You still haven’t told me why you came down.”
“I wanted to see more of L.A. than the inside of a limousine. And our conversation was cut short at the party. I heard that I missed all the fun when you and Mr. Macheath left.”
“Fun like a bullet hole in my side.”
Her eyes widen.
“Really? Let me see.”
Okay. Maybe I was too harsh. Maybe she’s more than donuts after all.
I stand and pull up my shirt. She gets off the stool and squats on her haunches so she can get a better look at the damage. We’re getting a lot of looks from around the bar and this time I can’t blame them. This crowd probably thinks I get medical exams from porn stars every night. It’s better than them knowing most of my social life is drinking and watching The Killers with a dead man’s head.
“Do you always heal that quickly?”
“Not lately. But I’m hoping that’s fixed.”
“So do I.”
“Do you know anything about the guy they were talking about at the party, Spencer Church?”
“Why do you want to know about him?”
“Because I’ve been drunk and out of touch for a long time and I’ve missed a couple of hundred things. A woman came in here asking me about her missing kid. Then I hear that other people are turning up missing. The truth is, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Spencer Church, but someone tried to make my boss disappear the other night and I got shot for it. If Church did disappear, I want to know who took him or if he did it on his own.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t know him well. I know that some of Simon’s friends bought drugs from him.”
“Did he burn any of them? Take their money and not deliver?”
“Not that I know of.”
“I never heard of a Sub Rosa dope dealer before. I guess they had to be there, but I never thought about it till now.”
Carlos sets down two glasses of brown beer nearby and comes over to us.
“Did I hear you talking about Spencer Church?”
“You know him?”
“Hell yes, I know that prick. He’s an ice-cream man and a bad one. He used to sell his shitty product out of my bar, meaning when people came back to complain, I’m the one that had to hear about it, not him. He is totally, one hundred percent banned from any building I happen to be in.”
“Except that that ratfuck concha piece of shit just walked in.”
“Spencer Church is here?”
“A couple of minutes ago. He’s at the end of the bar. You can’t miss him. Skinny blacked-eyed junkie that looks like a scarecrow with a migraine.”
I look at Brigitte.
“I’m going to go talk to this guy.”
“Do you think he will tell you anything?”
“Ritchie isn’t the only one who can be persuasive.”
I push through the crowd to the end of the bar. It’s not hard to spot Church. He’s taking up a lot of real estate. No one wants to get near him. Once upon a time his clothes were nicer than Cabal Ash’s, but he smells worse and he looks like he’s been sleeping under freeway overpasses for a week. Both of his hands are flat on the bar. His nails are long, dirty, and broken. He’s got a thousand-yard stare aimed at the far wall. Between a hundred voices yammering and the jukebox, he doesn’t hear me coming. I motion for Carlos to come get his attention.
I’m right behind Church when Carlos eyeballs him.
“What the hell are you doing here, man? I told you you weren’t welcome here.”
Church doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink. He just stares straight ahead. I nod to Carlos to try it again.
“Hey, asshole. You need to get out. Like now. Like five minutes ago. And don’t come back.”
This time Church seems to notice he’s being yelled at. He slowly raises his head, like a Sphinx waking up after a thousand-year nap. He moves his lips and makes a small sound.
“What?” Carlos asks. He moves closer. “What?”
Church growls and half leaps across the bar, grabbing at Carlos with his filthy claws. His mouth is open and he’s craning his neck like he wants to bite him. Carlos is yelling and bracing his arms against the bar. Church makes a gurgling growl. The floor clears as people try to get away from the chaos.
Church snaps black teeth at Carlos’s face, missing it by an inch. I grab the back of Church’s head and smash it down on the bar. I can feel his jaw crack, but it doesn’t even slow him down. He turns and lunges at me. He’s growling and biting the air, only his mouth isn’t working too well anymore. His shattered lower jaw flaps around like a baggie full of oatmeal. His teeth and tongue are black as tar. Someone must have slipped something interesting into his syringe. But even meth won’t rot your mouth that fast. What’s he on?
Church grabs my arms and opens his black pit of a mouth. He’s strong for a skinny guy. Must have pumped out a year’s worth of adrenaline in the last thirty seconds.
Cue my own little panic attack. What if Church only seems strong because I’ve got a Samson hair thing going on and I’m getting weaker as my scars fade?
His teeth snap next to my ear.
One way to find out.
I grab Mr. Oatmeal Jaw’s shoulder, spin, and toss him like a bag of trash. He flies the full length of the bar and smashes into the back wall, leaving an extremely satisfying dent in the plaster. While I’m admiring my work, feeling a warm, giddy sense of relief that I can still do unreasonable amounts of damage to my fellow man, Church rolls onto his side and stands up. He’s holding his body at a funny angle. It looks like his back cracked when he hit the wall. His left arm is badly dislocated. It hangs by his side, as limp as his jaw. If he’s in pain, he doesn’t show it. He teeters, gets his balance, and rushes me.
His head jerks back and then explodes. Not all of it. Just the back. An exit wound.
I spin around to see who fired and there’s Brigitte, up on the bar, kneeling and holding a weird little pistol in a double-hand cop grip. A white wisp of CO2 curls out of the gun barrel.
I’m thinking When the hell did you turn into Emma Peel? but before I can say it, two more hungry-black-mouth scarecrows come stumbling in. Brigitte turns and blasts one before he gets more than three steps inside. The other one lunges for a woman by the jukebox. A blond civilian wearing her girlfriend’s oversize leather jacket. Lucky for her that her girl rides. Scarecrow Guy latches onto her shoulder, but can’t bite through the thick leather. The blonde’s girlfriend pulls her one way while I get an arm around the guy’s throat and pull him the other. It doesn’t help. He’s not choking and he won’t let go of the jacket.
“Break his neck!”
“Don’t let him scratch her! Snap his neck!”
I slip my arm from around his throat, grab his jaw and the back of his head, and twist sharply. You can hear the crack of vertebrae and his spinal cord snapping over the music. I know this because everyone in the bar groans at exactly the same time. He drops to the ground near the scarecrow Brigitte shot. The crying blonde falls back on her girlfriend, who pulls her away. They bump into a table and a bottle smashes on the floor. The sound is like a starter’s pistol going off. Everyone in the bar decides to go batshit simultaneously and stampede over each other trying to get outside. In less than a minute it’s just Brigitte, Carlos, the corpses, and me. Except for a couple of drunk Deadheads slumped at a corner table in their purple necromancer robes.
The less drunk one shakes his head at us.
“Big deal. The soccer games at necromancer school were rougher than that.”
“We’re closed,” says Carlos.
The Deadheads stagger out while Brigitte and I drag the corpses into the back. Carlos goes to the doors and locks them.
“Can one of you tell me what the goddamn hell just happened?” I ask.
I look at Brigitte.
She says, “Don’t worry. Whatever you think you saw, no one died here tonight.”
“You’re saying Church and the others were already dead?” asks Carlos.
“You’re saying they were a bunch of High Plains Drifters?” I ask.
“How did you know Church and his friends were going to be here?”
“I didn’t. I came here looking for you.”
“You go everywhere with that gun?”
“It’s part of why I came to Los Angeles. My real work. I kill the dead.”
Carlos is leaning over Church’s body.
“Your friends are starting to leak on my floor. Should I be worried?”
“Is the back door unlocked?”
I grab Church and one of the other Drifters by the ankles while Brigitte grabs the third. We drag them into the alley behind the bar. The Dumpster is about half full, but I can make them fit if I push hard enough.
“Don’t bother,” says Brigitte.
Brigitte walks to the next building. Water is leaking from an outdoor spigot. She turns it on harder and washes her hands. I follow her over and put my hands in when she’s done, letting the frigid flow rinse black gunk from my palms. When we’re done, I wipe my hands on my jeans. Brigitte is wearing a red T-shirt with the name of a Czech band, a black miniskirt, and boots.
She gives me a questioning look.
“Go ahead,” I tell her.
She’s not shy. She happily wipes her hands all over my jeans and even kneels down so she can use my cuffs to clean between her fingers. Wish I’d thought of that.
“I take it that you don’t know a lot about revenants?” she asks.
“I’ve never even seen one until last night.”
“Do you know how to kill one?”
“I thought I just did.”
She shakes her head.
“We haven’t killed any of them. Just their brains. The rest of them is still alive and will awaken soon. That’s why it’s pointless to put them in the trash. They will just crawl out. A revenant without a brain can still hold you while others attack and kill. Or bite or scratch you, passing on their disease.”
“Okay. How do you kill it?”
“The nerves are the key. You must completely destroy its nervous system by ripping out its spine.”
I should have stayed home and watched Bedazzled with Kasabian.
“I did that to a Hellion once. It peeled all the skin off my fingers and knuckles, and really hurt.”
Brigitte makes a “why bother teaching a retard to juggle?” face.
“Don’t be stupid. There are tools for it. I don’t have mine with me, but look here.”
She takes a broken slat from an orange crate and draws something on the ground. It’s like a spear, but with a kind of claw and long backward-facing barbs on one end, like a hand with the fingers pointing the wrong way.
“The Hellion weapon you use. A na’at? Can you shape it into something like that?”
“I’ve never tried, but probably. Give me a couple of minutes.”