We’re just bugs on God’s windshield. No one owns me.
These are the good and righteous people who sat on their fat asses and let Mason and Parker murder Alice and send me to Hell. And then they let him waltz away. I might not have been a good guy before, but I loved someone and I wasn’t broken into a million little pieces. I wasn’t as hollow and dead inside as a locust husk.
I know whose side I’m on.
I walk outside and leave through the front gate, Wells’s gunsels trailing behind me like a line of black ducklings.
THE PHONE RINGS four times. I’m about to hang up when she answers.
“Hey. What are you doing?”
“Nothing important. I’m reading the Light Bringer script, trying to learn my lines. What do you think it tells us about the world that I have less to say as Eve than I do when I make my pornographic films?”
“Want to go talk to a guy with a rep for using Drifters to do his dirty work?”
“Zeds. Golems. The dead boys from last night.”
“Ah. Prázdný, you mean.”
“Zed has less syllables, so I win. Do you want to meet the guy?”
“Who is it?”
She spits out something in Czech. I can’t understand it, but I don’t think it’s “yippee!”
“Where are you?”
“At Simon’s. Where are you?”
“At Max Overload. I could get a car and pick you up.”
“No thank you. Simon told me about you and cars. I’ll pick you up.”
“Okay. Don’t forget to bring the toy you were going to show me. The Drifter de-boner.”
“Ah. I was waiting for you to say something sexy. I thought for a moment that all you remembered about the night was the business behind the bar.”
“I remember the business inside the bar, too. You always remember losing your virginity.”
“Good boy. I’ll see you in half an hour.”
“I’ll be out front.”
Kasabian looks up as I thumb the phone off. While I was talking he was pretending to work.
“That was her, wasn’t it?”
“Don’t be cute. Bring her up when she gets here.”
“Next lifetime maybe.”
“At least get her to sign these.”
He holds up a couple of DVDs he was hiding on his table.
“I found a couple of her movies from when I was bootlegging discs to make ends meet.”
“Poor you. Forced to steal porn.”
“Hey, there weren’t any American versions. They were all European. PAL format. The wrong region code. By reformatting them, I was performing a public service.”
“For horny old men and bonehead teenyboppers.”
“Who needs more help than them?”
“I’m not bringing her up. But I’ll get her to sign your discs.”
“Have her make it out to ‘Aldous.’”
“You sure you don’t want to go with ‘Alfredo Garcia’?”
“Fuck you. It’s an old family name.”
“That’ll be our little secret.”
“Fuck you twice. I’m not taking name abuse from someone called Sandman Slim. That sounds like a diet shake with roofies.”
I look at him perched on the desk, his little legs on his keyboard. He frowns back at me, a defiant head on glorified skateboard.
I hate it when Kasabian is right. I take the DVDs and put them in a Max Overload bag.
“You’re a cruel man, you know that, Aldous?”
“I’d give a rat’s ass if you weren’t running off with the love of my life.”
“This week’s love.”
“That goes without saying.”
BRIGITTE PICKS ME up in a very new pale blue Porsche Targa. She’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt, plus a leather jacket for protection.
She greets me with a deep kiss when I’m inside. I kiss her back, but keep an eye open. I have to admit that after Lucifer and Wells, I’m starting to feel black helicopters circling. Ritchie seems like the kind of control freak who might have Brigitte followed. Or the Vigil could be back there. I can slap Ritchie into shredded wheat or hex him into a bowling trophy, but if Wells gets a bug up his ass, the world will get ugly fast.
Brigitte uses her thumb to wipe lipstick off my lower lip. Maybe Romany are psychic after all because she says, “Relax. No one is watching. You’re not the only one trained to look for these things.”
“Where are we going?”
I read her the hospital’s address on South St. Louis Street off my phone. She punches it into the GPS on her dashboard and we head out. I always thought those boxes were for losers, but it shows us a quick, direct route through the traffic. I make a mental note that in the future I should only steal cars equipped with the boxes.
There are TV trucks parked across the street from Linda Vista. Can you go ten minutes in this town without seeing some idiot running down the street in a Steadicam rig like he has a giant robot hard-on? I hope the hospital is haunted so when the director has the cinematographer zoom in on a really interesting bloodstain on the floor, he gets a late-night Christmas-carol visit from the blood’s owner.
“There will be security if they’re filming. How do we get in?” asks Brigitte.
“I found a map of the place online. We can use a trick I have for getting in places without using the door. But you don’t get to ask any questions about it.”
“Now you absolutely have to show me.”
We walk across the street, pointing at the building like a couple of tourists. I get Brigitte to snap pictures with her phone while I look for out-of-the-way shadows. We find some by the old emergency entrance.
“Take my hand and don’t let go until we’re all the way inside.”
She resists a little as I pull her into the shadow. And then again when I pull her out of the Room and through the Door of Restless Ardor.
“What was that place?”
“What did I say about questions?”
“You’re no fun.”
“Yes, I am.”
We follow the map to the rear of the hospital, beyond where the crew is filming. We’re on a side hall and can see the lights and cameras where they’re shooting in the wide central corridor. The director yells, “Action!” A woman screams. Voices moan. A bloody nurse runs by, chased by a mob of filthy, groaning patients. Fuck me. They’re making a zombie movie.
One more turn and we’re in the morgue. The white tile walls are cracked and streaked with grime. There’s a banged-up gurney against one wall. Someone went at the padding with a knife and left it scattered on the floor like white tumbleweeds. I don’t want to know what’s inside the pullout coolers in the walls.
We head into the big freezer. It’s dark inside and—surprise, surprise—the lights don’t work. Just as I’m trying to think of some hoodoo that makes light without blowing something up, the place brightens. Brigitte’s turned on a small LED flashlight she had in her pocket.
She asks, “What are we looking for?”
“We’re not. I am. Unless someone left the door open, you need to be Sub Rosa to find these things.”
I feel along one wall and then another. It’s between the seams running down one row of tiles. The wall swings open silently.
“I love magic. You must show me more.”
“I think you’ll see plenty before this is over.”
The door swings shut behind us and we’re in a low stone passage. Yellow light outlines a curtain up ahead. I go through first and hold the curtain back for Brigitte.
Cabal understands Sub Rosa chic. This location is even shittier than Springheel’s shack.
The place looks like the house of the month in Better Homes & Monsters. It’s all dark stone walls. There’s a huge fireplace with andirons the size of parking meters. The furniture is made of old stained mahogany. Most of the varnish has been worn off the armrests on the chairs and they’re covered with water stains and glasses and cigarette burns. Traces of half-eaten food and empty liquor bottles are scattered on every surface of the room. There are tapestries of hunting parties and war scenes hanging on the walls. One shows horsemen with scimitars slicing up a village of women and children. The men are already dead, tossed on a bonfire in the lower right corner of the tapestry. Cabal is going for a Vlad the Impaler look, but he’s ended up with a Slayer album cover.
Cosima, Cabal’s sister or wife or both, comes through a curtain that runs the length of one wall. On the curtain is an image of a Black Sun wheel. Ancient, hard-core hoodoo that supposedly gives dark mystics power over the material world. The Nazis loved the Sun wheel. Of course, things didn’t work out so well for them, so maybe they forgot to plug theirs in or something.
“You can’t just walk in here without an appointment. Cabal won’t like it,” says Cosima.
“We met at the Geistwalds’ party.”
“I know who you are and he still wouldn’t like it.”
“I don’t like having to walk in here and I’ll like having to walk out even less, so you can let him know I’m here or I will.”
Cosima looks Brigitte up and down and goes back through the curtain. Brigitte and I follow.
The next room is similar to the one we just left, but the furniture is a lot more comfortable. Plush sofas, love seats, and pillows on the floor. At least a dozen people are passed out asleep around the room, some dressed and some not. They were really living it up. Wonder what they were celebrating?
Cabal comes out of a door that looks like it was looted from Lucifer’s broom closet. He’s wearing a stained floor-length black robe, a little like a cassock. He looks skinny out of his rags and is cleaner than he was at the Geistwalds’, but he still smells like he uses sewage for aftershave. He’s holding a half-empty wine bottle in one hand. Cabal smiles, showing big yellow teeth, and holds out his hand. He knows I don’t want to shake it. I’ve met guys like this before. Everything is a test with them. Will I shake his hand? Do I get mad when he makes a dumb joke at my expense or weepy when he insults me? Alpha-male bullshit. But I can’t get too mad. I’ve done it plenty myself. I take his hand and shake like we just bought Manhattan for some M&M’s and a carton of Luckies.
Cabal waves us back into the other room and away from his snoring guests. He stumbles and sways trying to step over them and almost dumps his wine on a naked kid sleeping in golf shoes.
Cabal waves us over to the big table and drops down into the head seat. Brigitte and I sit next to each other. He offers us the bottle.
Brigitte puts up a hand and I shake my head.
“To what do I owe the honor of such an unexpected, but charming visit?”
“I wanted to ask you something.”
“Goodie. I love twenty questions.”
“You can drop the drunk act. If you were drunk, I could smell it in your sweat. All you did was take a hit off the bottle and swish it around your mouth so your breath would smell of wine.”
He gives me a wink.
“Clever boy. Cuts right to it, doesn’t be? We can’t put anything past this one, can we, young lady? I didn’t catch your name.”
“Of course. Ritchie’s darling. Forgive me, my dear. I only know you from your work and I didn’t recognize you without a cock or two in your mouth. It’s lovely to finally meet you in the flesh.”
“If you don’t mind me inquiring, do you have just the tiniest bit of Gypsy blood in you?”
“I don’t mind you asking. And yes, I do.”
“I thought so. You people play some glorious music. Of course, you weren’t so appreciated where I’m from. Most likely it was all the stealing.”
“If there’s anything missing after our visit, send a bill to Simon’s and I’ll have it taken care of.”
He laughs and takes a swig from the bottle.
“Love your Nazi curtain,” I say.
Cabal turns in his chair and looks at the Black Sun like he’s never seen it before.
“Oh, that. One has to keep up appearances. Clients expect a bit of the scary-scary when they call on me.”
“Is that why you have a slaughtered village hanging on your wall?”
He moves his eyes to look at the tapestry.
“Sadly, no. That’s more of a family portrait. We’re not the ones on horseback but the ones on fire.”
He has a pretty strong magic barrier set up around his thoughts, so I can’t tell if that’s a sad damned story or a pretty effective lie.
“I wanted to talk to you about Drifters.”
Cabal shakes his head.
“It breaks my heart to disappoint you, but the resurrected are not within the purview of my business dealings. I toil in the more prosaic fields of demons and elementals.”
“But you’ve used them, haven’t you? Maybe you don’t use them on a regular basis, but how about in some kind of rent-to-own deal?”
“As I said, one has to keep up appearances. When a competitor or social upstart oversteps the clearly demarcated boundaries of my sphere of influence, they must and will be dealt with swiftly and in as decisive a manner as it takes so that they might serve as an object lesson to others with similar rash inclinations.”
“So, you have used Drifters against your enemies.”