Brigitte slumps for a second.
She grabs my hair as her hip thrusts come harder and faster. She moans, wraps her hands around my neck, and kisses me hard. Her breathing gets ragged. Her nails dig into my shoulders. Just as Johnny reminds us one last time that it burns, burns, burns in the ring of fire, Brigitte presses down hard onto me and stays there. Her hands shake on my shoulders and she’s about to draw blood. Then she slowly relaxes, letting out a long, breathy “oh,” and starts breathing normally again. We stay that way for a while, her forehead resting against mine. It’s sweet at first. We’re both panting, but sweat keeps running into our eyes and burning. She laughs, brushes my cheek with her palm, and stands, reaching between her legs to slide me out of her.
Brigitte unlocks the stall and goes straight for her phone. I don’t have to ask who has a “Ring of Fire” ringtone. I tuck my softening cock back inside my pants and go to the sink to wash up again.
Brigitte is staring at her phone, reading a text.
“The call wasn’t important, but the text is my people saying that the truck is nearby. We should be somewhere else before they begin their work.”
“Fine by me.”
Brigitte comes to the sink to wash next to me. She bumps her shoulders into mine. I bump back. It’s a very strange sensation, not having seen a naked woman in all these years and now being next to one whose profession is being naked, so she’s completely relaxed and in no rush to put her clothes back on. But she does. Still relaxed. Still content. And I know that half of her fun is knowing she has done and is doing serious damage to my brain.
“Do you always finish off zombie hunts by seducing a virgin?”
She smiles at me in the mirror.
“How long has it been since you’ve done that?”
“My God. Now you can tell your friends at school that you’ve seen a real live naked girl.”
“I don’t talk to most of the people I know. The rest either aren’t human or they’re dead.”
“You can tell Carlos.”
“I kind of think he knows.”
“You didn’t come back there, did you?”
“We’ll have to do something about that next time.”
We go into the bar. The chairs are up and the lights are off. The front door is open. Carlos is out front smoking.
I say, “I thought you gave those up.”
“I started again. Tonight. I knew this thing, riding your coattails and making money off you, was too good to be true. I just didn’t think it would end with me almost getting eaten in my own bar.”
Brigitte goes over and puts her arm around Carlos’s shoulders.
“The secret world behind the world is always strange at first, but seeing James’s friends must have been strange, too, yes?”
“Don’t be afraid for your business. Customers will be back. By the weekend, you’ll be making more money than ever. People love the exotic, but they love danger even more. And danger they escape is the best of all.”
“You think so?”
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. You’ll have a line outside. You’ll need a doorman and pretty girl waitresses.”
He looks back at me over his shoulder.
“I never liked the velvet rope thing, but I guess there’s worse fates.”
Like ending up in a Dumpster. Seen that twice today. None of the sushi out back is missing any limbs, so someone else lost a hand near Max Overload in the last couple of days. Wonder if it belonged to the eater or the eatee?
“I have to go. Simon is waiting for me.” She turns to me. “I’ll call you. We have a lot to talk about.”
She pecks Carlos and me on the cheek and gets into a cab waiting at a stoplight at the corner.
“Interesting night,” says Carlos.
“That’s one word for it.”
“Don’t forget your burrito.”
He hands me a brown paper bag.
“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”
“Don’t get eaten on the way home.”
“That’s my mission statement.”
By the time I make the corner, my adrenaline is dropping and all the pain I felt when I woke up is coming back hard. The bullet wound throbs and I slip into an alcove half doubled up. Even with the pain, I’m thinking straighter than before. I lean against the wall and chant some healing hoodoo. Nothing too heavy. I just want to turn the pain down a few decibels, but not erase it. I don’t want to forget I’m hurt, but I don’t want to be stumbling around like a cripple. It’s stupid I didn’t think to use the spell when I woke up. What is it about me that it takes a massacre to clear my head?
I stop by Donut Universe on the way home and get coffee and a bag of glazed old-fashioneds. Waiting for my change, I remember New Year’s Eve and kissing Candy in the middle of the bodies, blood, and the smell of cordite the night we took down Avila and wonder why I seem attracted only to women who enjoy carnage.
I’M SITTING IN bed with Alice. She’s smoking and flipping through a magazine.
“Something happened last night. There was this woman I met.”
“I know. I’m dead. I’m not blind, dear.”
“That’s the thing. You’re dead, but I still feel guilty. Like I was cheating on you.”
“You’re such an idiot. That’s why I love you. It’s been eleven years since we last touched each other and I didn’t exactly die a virgin queen. I mean, I waited for you and hoped, but after a while it got clear that you weren’t coming back. A girl can’t rely on her Hitachi Magic Wand forever.”
“You always cheated on me with technology.”
“Technology is more reliable than boys or girls.”
“You’re okay with what happened?”
“You’re alive and I’m dead. Of course I’m okay.”
“Thanks. It feels like I’m coming off a six-month bender. Things aren’t straight in my head yet.”
“You are coming off a bender. Want me to tell you the secret of life?” she asks.
“Everyone in the world is a Charlie. The trick is to figure out which Charlie you’re going to be. Charlie Manson. Charlie Starkweather. Or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
“Who’s that?” she asks.
“The retard from Flowers for Algernon.”
“‘Retard’ is not a nice word.”
“How would you know, retard?”
“Whatever you say, Charlie Brown.”
“I am not Charlie Brown.”
“Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, Chuck.”
“Did I ever tell you I thought I saw an angel when I was a kid?”
“I’d left my bike on the lawn again and the old man yelled at me to move it. I went outside and there was a woman staring at me from across the street. Really intensely. She had dark skin and bright green eyes. For a second I thought that I’d died in my sleep and she was there to take me to Heaven, but she just shook her head, turned, and walked away.”
“Why did she do that?”
“I think she knew what I was and was there to tell me that no matter what I do, Heaven isn’t interested.”
Alice shakes her head.
“What a morbid little bastard. Your poor mother.”
“Mom was worse than me. She saw angels everywhere. She looked for them like other women in the neighborhood looked for two-for-one sales at the booze warehouse by the freeway.”
“Forget it. Charlie’s Angels is three people and none of them are Charlie.”
“I was going to say your girlfriend Mason is Charlie Manson, but that’s too good for him. He’s Charlie Douche-bag.”
“That’s exactly who he is.”
She kisses me. I can taste the cigarette and her lips and tongue.
“When you thought you saw Mason the other night, it wasn’t him. But he’s still looking for you. You should find him first.”
“Am I really talking to you?”
“I doubt it. Not with the whole being-dead thing and all.”
“But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you real things.”
“That something bad is coming.”
“What do you mean?”
“Something really bad.”
Brigitte is sitting in the doorway of the bedroom on one of Carlos’s bar stools and cleaning her gun with one of my old T-shirts.
“Something bad is coming,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
Alice says, “Just remember who you are.”
“What the fuck are you two talking about? Why are all dreams and prophecies so goddamn obscure?”
“Because, dumb-ass, if any one of them flat-out told you what was coming, you’d try to stop it or change it. Some things you can’t stop. You just have to go through them. At least with a clue, you’ll be able to recognize it when it gets there.”
“If a bus hits me I’m pretty sure I’ll notice. But it would be more help if you told me when to get out of the way.”
“You ask a lot, James,” says Brigitte.
“Sometimes you need to get run down,” says Alice. “It could keep something worse from happening.”
“Now you’re both trying to piss me off, but that’s okay because I feel a lot less guilty than when this dream started. Thanks for that.”
“See you around, Charlie.”
“Dobrou noc, Sandman.”
I KICK THE sheet down by my feet and roll out of bed the moment I wake up. I’m still naked from the long shower I took last night. Kasabian stares at me from the desk, his little legs poised over the keyboard.
“Do you smell anything funny?”
“No. What’s wrong with you?”
I know it’s in my head, but I swear I can still smell Drifter gunk all over me.
“Nothing. Just a funny dream.”
“Good for you. Get dressed. I don’t need your junk staring at me while I’m trying to work.”
Last night’s clothes are getting burned as soon as I get some lighter fluid. I find a pair of jeans tossed over the back of a chair and one clean and folded T-shirt in the drawer. Thank the gods of laundry for wash-and-fold places.
“You’ve got some donuts left over from the last night, but the coffee is cold.”
The crumpled donut bag is on the floor near the head of the bed. I open it, take out one of the old-fashioneds and take a bite. I can’t taste it. I’m afraid to breathe because I might get a whiff of Drifter. I go in the bathroom, gargle, and wash my face in cold water.
“You didn’t talk much when you got back last night. You’re no fun when you go to bed sober.”
The bullet wound in my side still looks pretty raw. It doesn’t hurt, but it should have faded to just another scar by now. I’ll have to ask Allegra about that. If she’s talking to me.
I sit on the bed and eat the rest of the donut. I can sort of taste it now.
“What happened last night? All you did was grunt when you got back and then you were running a marathon all night in your sleep. Chasing bunnies again, Lassie?”
“There anything in the Codex about Drifters?”
“I think I killed some with a friend last night.”
“Is that what they’re doing in Hollywood instead of aerobics? Who did you hunt coffin jockeys with?”
“I just met her. Name is Brigitte Bardo. She’s supposed to be kind of an actress in Europe.”
Kasabian looks at me for a minute.
“Are you shitting me? The star of Cosmonauts of Sodom Brigitte Bardo?”
“I have no idea.”
“You’d know her. She has a tattoo of an angel that starts on her stomach and the wings wrap around her and up her back.”
“I wasn’t looking at her stomach.”
“Oh man. She does this scene with these two other chicks.”
“I don’t need to hear about this from you.”
“No, listen. All the chick cosmonauts quit the space program and joined a traveling circus. They’re all dressed like clowns, only their noses are dildos—”
“Stop right there and tell me about Drifters.”
He stares at me. If he had regular hands, he’d give me the finger.
“At least get me her autograph.”
“If you promise not to talk about clown fucking, I’ll get her to Xerox her ass for you.”
“Think I could meet her?”
“Are you crazy? She kills Drifters. What’s she going to make of you?”
“I’m not a zombie.”
“You’re undead. She’ll think you’re a new model Lucifer just invented.”
“Do you know anything about zombies at all?”
“Yeah. They smell like an abandoned slaughterhouse when you pull their spines out.”
“You know about spines. That’s a start. What else do you want to know?”
“Everything. But I don’t need a Ph.D. Just give me the Trivial Pursuit version.”