He leaves. Allegra turns on a metal desk lamp she keeps there for reading cookbooks and potions. As she tentatively runs her fingers around the edges of Brigitte’s wound, she holds the light by her face.
“Who is she? Is she from the store? I swear I’ve seen her somewhere.”
“She’s Brigitte Bardo. You two probably watched some of her movies together.”
She pauses for a few seconds.
“Right. That’s it.” Her tone is slightly embarrassed. “What’s she doing here?”
“She’s in Lucifer’s movie.”
“Lucifer is making a porn movie?”
“She’s a trained zombie hunter, but she stays dressed for that, so there’s not that much money in it.”
Allegra hands me the lamp, goes to the sink, and washes her hands. By the time she’s finished, Vidocq is back with a canopic jar and a small white metal case stamped with a red cross. She opens a plastic bottle of Betadine and squirts it all over the wound, then takes a couple of big gauze pads from the first-aid kit and gently cleans it out. When she’s done she presses her ear to Brigitte’s back.
“It looks like the bleeding has stopped, but you’re right. By her color and heartbeat she’s lost a lot of blood. I can give her a general healing potion for the wound and a restorative for the blood loss.”
“She was bitten by a damned zombie. How about something for that?”
Allegra ignores me. She takes the lid off the canopic jar and I get hit with a smell that reminds me of the Drifters at Springheel’s. She upends the jar and a pile of fat, wriggling worms falls out. Each one is the size of my thumb.
“What are those?”
“Pharaoh grubs. They’re like maggots. They eat dead skin and leave clean, healthy tissue and they’re about ten times faster about it than maggots.”
Allegra puts several of the grubs on Brigitte’s wound. They go right for her discolored flesh. Vidocq puts his hand on my arm and raises it so I’m holding the lamp at a better angle for Allegra to work.
“Thank you, dear.”
I look at Vidocq. Lit from below by the lamp, he looks old and tired.
“You’ve been around two hundred years, man. Tell me you know something to fix this.”
“I do know something. But I know that what you want doesn’t exist. There is no cure for the bite of a revenant.”
“You have all these books. How do you know there isn’t something you’ve missed?”
“I’ve read all these books many times and more besides. I’ve traveled the world hoping to cure my own involuntary immortality. I learned from magnificent alchemists, witches, and magicians. The few times the subject of revenants came up, all were in agreement. There is no cure. The best you can do is leave the afflicted in the Winter Garden.”
“Where’s the Winter Garden?” asks Allegra.
I say, “It’s not where. It’s what. He wants to put Brigitte into a fucking coma. Like suspended animation in a science-fiction movie.”
“It will stop the infection from consuming and killing her. It will halt her transformation.”
Allegra picks up a couple of the grubs.
“How long can you keep her like that?” she asks.
“In theory, forever. It will give us time to look for other possibilities.”
“You just said there weren’t any possibilities,” I say.
“There aren’t. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look.”
“I don’t like it.”
“No one ever does, but there’s nothing else to do. Unless you want to do nothing, wait for her transformation, and release her yourself.”
As Allegra packs the wound with cotton, Brigitte opens her eyes. Allegra gently holds her shoulders so she doesn’t try to get up.
“Where are we?”
“With friends. You’re all right. They’ll fix you up.”
“Bullshit. I’ve been bitten. Kill me, James. You can do it.”
“No I can’t.”
“I would do it for you. Please. Do it before I change.”
“How many people have you killed? I’m going to be much more of a monster than you soon. Kill one more. Please.”
“Maybe. But not right now.”
Brigitte closes her eyes. I look at Vidocq.
“Do it. Freeze her.”
It’s Allegra. Her voice is odd.
I look at my hands. Both are bitten and scratched. There’s a sliver of skin missing from my left palm. All the wounds are closed and scabbed.
“How ‘bout that.”
Vidocq says, “Jimmy, we must do it now. Both of you must go to the Garden.”
“Look at her and look at me. Her skin’s going blue. Her eyes are bloodshot. She’s dying. Look at me. Do I look any different from when you saw me earlier?”
“I feel fine.”
“For now,” says Allegra. “What if you’re wrong and you change later?”
“Then you have my permission to kill me. You’ve got to kill the central nervous system. You don’t have the right tools, so the easiest thing for you would be to cut off my head and burn it and my body.”
“That’s what’s easiest? Great.”
Vidocq takes the lamp and shines it in my eyes. Checks my face.
“There might be a simple reason you aren’t changing. The Cupbearer’s elixir.”
“You think it’s keeping his body from changing?”
“It’s possible. There are accounts of similar occurrences. During the Great Plague there are stories of people who drank the elixir for various ailments. These people survived while whole towns died around them. You might be all right.”
Allegra goes to the shelves lined with potions and alchemical mixtures and brings a few bottles back to the counter. She looks at me and shakes her head. I don’t know if it’s because I won’t let Vidocq put me to sleep, because I dropped a half-dead woman in her lap, or because who knows what the devil’s kid is really up to?
“My offer still stands. If you think I’ve gone bad, take my head. But I’m not lying down for this right now. Someone told me that any spell cast can be broken and any spell broken can be put back together. Someone is making all this happen and I bet they can unmake it.”
“What if you can’t?” Allegra asks. “What if Brigitte is stuck like this forever?”
I look her in the eye.
“What would you want? Would you want to be Sleeping Beauty for the next thousand years until maybe perhaps pretty please someone figures out how to fix you or do you want to get it over with fast?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you think about it. You’re a woman and about her age, so you think about it and tell me what you’d do.”
“I don’t want that responsibility.”
I head back to the wall I came through earlier.
“Allegra, I might need you to come with me later and play Kinski one more time, but just to look. Not cut anyone up.”
“Whatever. Eugène and I will plant your friend in the Garden for now.”
“Text me when she’s under. And don’t leave the apartment for anything. It’s going to get dangerous outside. I’ll talk to you later.”
When I’m back on the street I dial Carlos.
“Hola Hula. You’ve got the Bamboo House of Dolls. Talk to me.”
“Carlos, it’s Stark. You need to listen to me.”
“What’s up, man? A buddy just brought me fresh sesos straight from the butchers. Swing by. You gringos don’t know shit about food till you’ve had auténtico street-style brain tacos.”
“Shut up and listen. Something’s happened. Close the bar. I don’t know if things are going to completely melt down out here, but there’s a real good chance.”
“It’s the fuckers from the other night, isn’t it? Those dead motherfuckers.”
“Yeah. There’s a lot more of them and I don’t know exactly how many. Until I do, stay off the streets. When you close, if any of your friends want to go home, let them. But once they’ve gone, lock up, barricade the place, and don’t let them back in.”
“Ay Dios mío.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
I COME OUT of a shadow by the anime section in Max Overload. It startles two kids pawing through the cutout bin where the used and extra discs get dumped for a couple of bucks each. They look at me, more surprised than scared. I grab a couple of handfuls of movies and give them to each kid.
“Take ’em and go home. Stay there and don’t let anyone in. Things are going to get weird.”
I walk them to the door so none of the counter people tries to stop them.
“We’re closing early,” I tell the closest kid working the registers. He’s a pale pretty boy with a lopsided haircut that hangs over one eye. He’s wearing a T-shirt that says THE GOVERNMENT KILLED TUPAC AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT. I’ve never seen him before.
“Let these people take the damned movies. Just get them out of here. Then you and the rest of the crew take off. You’ll get paid for a full shift. If you’re smart you’ll go home. If you go somewhere make sure you know where all the exits are. Lock up on the way out.”
He just looks at me.
“Who the hell are you?”
“I own the place.”
He turns to the guy working the other register.
“Is he for real?”
The second kid glances at me.
I head upstairs as guy two whispers to guy one. They don’t know that my hearing is better than theirs.
“I told you about him. He’s Mr. Kasabian’s boyfriend. Did you see all those scars? They never leave upstairs. No one knows what they do up there all day, but there’s always bloody, torn-up clothes in the trash.”
When I’m upstairs I lock the door.
“The revenuers onto you selling moonshine?”
I drag the bedside table over and wedge it under the doorknob. Get my lead out of the top drawer and sketch shield circles on the door and table.
“What’s going on, man?”
I open the closet that’s Kasabian’s bedroom.
“I know that running your board is most of the hoodoo you’re into these days, but can you use anything else in here, like a weapon or some antispirit rune stones?”
“What are you talking about? What’s going on?”
I sit on the bed, suddenly tired.
“We were ambushed tonight by a load of Drifters. Brigitte got bit. I got her out and over to Vidocq’s. But most of the Drifters got out in the streets. I don’t know how many, but by morning there are going be a lot more. I’m going to be running around trying to take care of this, which means you’re going to have to look out for yourself.”
I’m hot and my head is throbbing. I toss the coat, the belt, and the gun on the bed and go to the bathroom. Half my face is smeared with soot from the barbecued zeds. I run water in the sink and wash my face. Drying off, I remember the wounds on my hand. I get an Ace bandage from the medicine cabinet and wrap it up. I don’t really need to. The cuts are all scabbed over, but I learned a long time ago that hand wounds and scabby knuckles tend to make people nervous. Since it’s vaguely flesh-colored, an Ace can keep people from noticing. And it isn’t as much trouble as throwing a glamour on the hand and trying to keep it there when you’re punching people in the brain.
“What are you doing in there? Talk to me.”
I bring a big bottle of Pepto with me and go back to the bed and down half of the pink sludge right away. Then I stretch out and drop the bottle on the floor because I moved the goddamn night table to the door. Rolling over to pick up the bottle, I get dizzy.
“What’s that on your hand?”
Kasabian might be dumb, but he’s not stupid.
“Oh shit. You got bit, too.”
“I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Where? You going to call a cab to take you to LAX? Maybe the airline will give you a discount because you can fit in the overhead compartment.”
He looks at me.
“That’s cold, man. And for your fucking information, I’m going into the closet. You think I haven’t been waiting for you to flip out this whole six months, you crazy drunk motherfucker? I’ve been scratching spells in the walls. And I’ve been online loading up on protection charms whenever I ordered videos. I’m Fort Knox, man. I’m the goddamn Death Star.”
He looks at me. I nod.
“Actually, that’s a pretty smart idea. Go and lock yourself in. You have a phone in there?”
“Good. Stay in there until I give you the all clear.”
“What if you don’t come back?”
“I’ll get Allegra or Vidocq to come and get you if anything happens to me.”
“Do they even know about me?”
“Sort of. No.”
“Don’t worry about it. Nothing is going to happen to me. I’m not human, remember?”
“Part of you is.”