He looks at me.
“You’re really going to get me her autograph?”
“Forget it. Tell me about the zombies last night.”
“They stank. They were stupid. They drooled and grunted and tried to bite us.”
“Zeds and zots.”
“Zombie shoptalk. They’re zeros. Dumbest of the dumb. Nothing more than a mouth with legs. What most people call golems.”
“It sounds like there’s something besides golems.”
“See? Who says you have a learning disability?”
“Yeah, who says that?”
“There’s another kind of zombie. Lacunas. You don’t want to meet them.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Lacunas have some brain function left. They can talk, walk, and dress themselves. You might not even notice one in a crowd. But don’t get close enough to smell their breath. They can’t really think for themselves, but they can take orders. The other thing is they’re mean. Old-timers called them St. George’s Pet, like all that’s working upstairs is their speech centers and their lizard brains. Because they’re such little shits, they mostly get used for muscle work.”
“Like Mason with Parker.”
“Exactly. You don’t usually see them unless there’s Deadheads having a turf war, but sometimes they make money renting them out or selling them to street gangs. Lacunas are pretty much the perfect thug.”
“How do you kill them?”
“Like the others. The spine.”
“That’s it? Nothing else?”
“Whatever fucks up the nervous system. Run them through a wood chipper. Nuke them. Chase them down the street like an angry mob in Frankenstein and burn them.”
“I wonder if I could mount a wood chipper on the front of a Bugatti?”
“What happened with you and Ms. Bardo last night?”
“You’re talking your way out of an autograph fast.”
I offer Kasabian the last donut, but he shakes his head. There’s a half-smoked cigarette butt in the ashtray and I light it up. That he wants, of course. I let him have a couple of puffs and then kill it off.
“Does the Codex say where zombies came from?”
He shakes his head.
“Not really. Hellions have plenty of blind spots and their own tall tales to fill in the missing pieces. Most Hellions say that Cain was Patient Zero. After he killed Abel, God sent him out to wander the earth forever and put a mark on him so no one would stop his wandering and torment. The Hellion smart set think zombieism was the mark. When Cain got into beefs with pushy civilians, he’d just bite them. They became the first golems and Lacunas.”
“The ones who don’t think it was Cain, what do they say?”
“This is bullshit, man. There’s facts and there’s fairy tales. None of this is going to help you kill them any better.”
“Who says I’m going to kill them? I killed those ones last night because they attacked us. I don’t have anything against going on a Drifter safari, but I want to get paid for it.”
“Goddamn it, you don’t get to be a brat when it comes to zombies. They’re like jackrabbits. They make new zombies, eat everything in sight, and then migrate down the road and do it again.”
“What do you care, Alfredo Garcia? You don’t owe this world anything either.”
“No, but I happen to live here and I like beer and burritos and cigarettes. Last time I checked, zombies don’t deliver.”
Alice and Brigitte’s voices come back to me. They’re telling me that something bad is coming. Is this it? I hope not. That would be about the lamest prophecy in history. I don’t exactly need a vision to explain how everyone getting eaten, including me, would be a downer. No, it can’t be this and that’s bad news. It means there’s something even worse coming.
“What’s the other Drifter story?”
“You’re like a dog with a bone. Let it go. Go chase a ball. Hump a stranger’s leg.”
“Tell me the story and I will.”
“The story? You’re the story. You and your kind. You fucked-up angels. The Codex says that when Lucifer’s army was cast out of Heaven, one of the fallen didn’t make it all the way to Hell and landed in a valley on earth instead. It was burned and broken, but humans still recognized it as an angel. The local blue bloods sent their doctors to help it, but the angel was sick and bloated like a tick by then. It attacked anyone who came near it. All of those people ended up turning into zeds. Those zeds attacked their families and friends. The ones they didn’t eat became zeds and attacked other people. The people who lived in the hills saw that things were getting out of control, so they started fires and burned the whole valley. They thought they’d gotten everything, but some of the zeds supposedly escaped into caves. Mostly they stay underground, but every now and then one wanders out or gets summoned by a necromancer. That’s it. They all lived happily ever fucking after. The end.”
I wave him off.
“You were right. This isn’t any help. Might as well say Muppets did it.”
“You asked and I answered. You still owe me an autograph.”
“You’ll get your scrawl. I wonder who’ll pay me more to hunt zeds and zots? Lucifer or the Vigil?”
“You don’t actually have to say ‘zeds and zots’ all the time. You can say one or the other.”
“I’ll stick with Drifters. Those other names make them sound like candy.”
“Lucifer and the Vigil both have a stake in keeping humans in general and L.A. in particular alive. Get them both to pay.”
“That’s what I was thinking. But there’s one thing bugging me.”
“When those Drifters came in, I knew one of them. I mean I knew who he was. A guy named Spencer Church. I only heard of this guy the day before when someone said he was missing. I asked a couple of people about him. Then, out of nowhere, the guy shows up at Bamboo House like the place is a zombie salad bar.”
“That’s a hell of a coincidence.”
“Isn’t it? And if golems can’t think…”
“It means someone sent him there. Probably walked him right up to the door and pushed him in.”
“Somebody who knew where I was and happened to have a few spare Drifters lying around.”
“You know the most interesting people.”
“Guess I do have a vested interest in this after all. But I still want to get paid.”
“I need to set up meetings with the Vigil and Lucifer.”
My phone buzzes on the nightstand. I pick it up and listen. It’s a short call.
“Cool. See you there.”
“Who was that?”
“Speak of the devil. He’s out at the studio. Wants me to swing by and squint menacingly at the help.”
“Next he’ll have you doing his taxes.”
“I’ve never been to a movie studio. How many guns do you think they’ll let me take inside?”
“You? All you want.”
The .460 pistol is too big to carry in my waistband, so I wear it on my hip in a tool belt I colored black with a Sharpie and modified into a speed rig. I can have it out and cocked before an angel can say “amen.”
The knife and na’at hang snug inside the coat lining.
“Does the Codex say anything about Lucifer having a family?”
Kasabian gives me a curious little smile.
“Like is there a Mrs. Lucifer?”
“Yeah. Or kids.”
“Not that I’ve ever seen, but the Codex isn’t exactly easy to use. It’s all stories and allusions, not a PowerPoint presentation. But I can look if you want. Of course, Lucifer has been fucking around on earth since the Fall, so he probably has a load of sprogs earning their keep as warlords and priests. You looking for a cage match with the Antichrist?”
I shake my head and go into the bathroom. I check myself in the mirror to make sure I look presentable and that the weapons don’t show.
“No. It’s just more trivia. I’m going to go and find a ride.”
I’m closing the door when Kasabian says, “Can you imagine him for a father?”
“He’s such a jerk, it would be torture ninety-nine percent of the time, but, come on, parent-teacher night would be fun. ‘Little Bobby took half the class’s lunch money.’ ‘Only half?’”
I nod at him.
“I’ll pick up some cigarettes while I’m out.”
THERE’S A VINTAGE car lot on North La Brea. Big glass showroom up front. A lot full of classics and a service bay right around the corner. Cars come out of the lot, make a quick right, and are double-parked by the garage until another car pulls out. A situation like this is all about shopping and timing. I don’t love T-birds or Corvettes. However, when a mechanic double-parks a red ’67 GTO, I start across the street.
I mumble a little Hellion spell. There are boxes stacked around the side of the garage waiting for garbage pickup. The oil- and gas-stained cardboard goes up fast. It takes about thirty seconds for the crew to clear the garage, some to gawk and others to hit the flames with fire extinguishers.
The moment they’re out, I’m behind the GTO’s wheel, knife jammed in the ignition and the V-8 engine growling like a Tyrannosaurus rex. I aim the beast out into traffic and take the corner as white smoke from the dying fire drifts into the street.
I pull onto the Hollywood Freeway, heading north toward Burbank. The time on my phone is 3 P.M. Should I give Brigitte a call? There’s a better-than-even chance that she’ll be at the studio with Ritchie, so I wait.
It’s not a long drive. I’m kind of sorry when I see the exit for the studio. For a second I think about not turning. Just hitting on the accelerator and heading north until there’s nowhere left to go. What would stop me first, a moose, an oil pipeline, or a glacier? I’d sit on the shore of the Arctic Ocean and let the snow pile up around me in my GTO igloo. Curl up in the backseat with a radio, turn on a news station, and listen to the world ending.
There’s a guard station at the studio gate. A tired-looking guy in a blue rent-a-cop uniform leans out of the guardhouse as I drive up.
“Sweet ride. We don’t get many V-8s on the lot anymore. It’s all rice-rocket hybrids.”
“L.A. is going to be under water in twenty years. As an American, I figure I should do my bit to help out.”
He eyes me before deciding I’m joking. He takes a clipboard from the wall inside his hut.
I have no idea what name Ritchie or Lucifer gave the guy.
The guard scans the list and nods. He hands me a plastic parking permit about the size of a hardback book.
“Keep that on your dashboard in plain view.”
He pulls a white paper map of the lot from the back of the clipboard and hands it to me, pointing to landmarks with his pen.
“Follow the outside road around the edge of the lot. The soundstage you want is all the way on the far side. There are some producers’ bungalows nearby. That’s where you can park.”
“Looks like there’s a hell of a production going on out there.”
“That’s the idea.”
I follow the road around the outside of the lot. On my left is the freeway. On the studio side, there are forklifts and sweaty guys putting up scaffolding outside soundstages. Men and women in khakis and button-down shirts cruise by them on golf carts. The stages look like blimp hangars, giant humpback Quonset huts with huge posters of the studio’s new releases. The place is about as glamorous as dental surgery.
I park the car outside the bungalows, take the knife from the ignition, and slip it back inside my coat.
There’s a soundstage across the road. Outside, a hundred people are unloading trucks, telling other people how to unload trucks, or sitting in trucks waiting to be unloaded. Ritchie and Lucifer are at the edge of the chaos, with Ritchie pointing at some papers and then at the stage, where they’re building something huge. Old women in elaborately decorated robes carry incense among the workers. Others walk around the perimeter with bottles in each hand. From one they sprinkle sacred oil on the ground. From the other they sprinkle what smells like animal blood.
Ritchie waves me over. He nods at the car when I get close.
“She’s a beauty. How long have you had her?”
“A half hour, give or take.”
“You know, if you leave the windows down like that, the sun is going to bleach the upholstery.”
“That’s okay. I only drive cars once.”
Ritchie looks from me to the car and back. It takes him a minute, but he finally gets it.
“Keep it, if you want. It drives like a dream. There aren’t any keys, but I’m sure someone around here can change the VIN and slap in a new ignition.”
Lucifer watches the old women make their rounds. Ritchie’s eyes flick down to my waist. He’s spotted the gun and smiles.
“Have you ever been on a movie lot before?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Then this ought to be pretty interesting for you.”
“Let me give you a tour. We’re shooting all the Heaven sequences first, so that’s what’s being built right now. I guess you’ll have to take my word for that since you’re better acquainted with the other place.”