“Not enough to matter. And all it means is I have a migraine. You don’t look any more appetizing to me now than when I first met you.”
“You’ve always been my dream date, too, Penelope. Just stay over there on the bed, dead man.”
“Do you remember where I hid the belt buckle?”
Kasabian rolls his eyes.
“You really are in good shape. It’s under the mattress at the foot of the bed.”
I move the mattress and pull it out. Toss it onto my coat. I don’t know what to do with it, but I want it nearby.
“Did you ever figure out what the writing on this thing was?”
“A little. Lucifer can read it and I used the bits and pieces I grabbed out of his head to find more stuff like it.”
“What does it say?”
“It’s a warning and a blocking curse. It’s keeping something from getting in somewhere. But I don’t know who or where.”
“Or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or census takers. Or the Fuller Brush man.”
“When you figure it out let me know.”
I go to the nightstand and find some aspirin in the top drawer. I pour out four and sit there for a minute.
“Your JD is under the bed, in case you forgot.”
I shake my head.
“I don’t want that. You have any water in your fridge?”
“Oh shit. You really are dead.”
“Do you have any water?”
“I have beer. That’s kind of like water.”
“No. That’s kind of like beer.”
I go back into the bathroom, dry-swallow the pills, and drink water out of my cupped hand.
“There. I’ll be fine once those kick in.”
“That’s what Jeffrey Dahmer said when his doctor gave him Valium.”
I find my phone and dial the number Cabal gave me.
“McQueen and Sons bail bonds. We can’t come to the phone right now. Leave a number and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. If you already have a bond with us, don’t even dream about leaving the jurisdiction. Have a nice day.”
I go back to the bathroom and drink a little more water. Then I dial the number again. It goes straight to the message.
I go back to the other room and lie down.
“You’re going to break the news to Lucifer about this shit,” I say.
“Yeah. I’m Dirty Harry. You’re Paul Revere. It’s called division of labor.”
“It’s called having a Martian’s grasp of history.”
“Just let him know.”
“I mean, one of those people isn’t even real.”
“Of course they’re real. I saw them on TV.”
I dial the bail bondsman again and get the message. Fuck it. I need to close my eyes.
“I’m going to lie down and wait for a callback. You should go lock yourself up.”
Kasabian does his bug thing, crawls down to the floor and over to the closet on his little legs. He stops by the door.
“Seriously, man, are you going to go cannibal crazy?”
I sit up.
“When I dropped Brigitte off, she was already turning. Do I look dead or hungry?”
“I don’t want to have to break in a new roommate is all I’m saying.”
“Don’t open the door for anyone but me. The secret word is ‘swordfish.’”
He closes the door and I can hear him throw the lock. He’s never done that before. A TV comes on. I’m waiting to hear Lucha Libre or an old movie, but it sounds like the news.
I close my eyes and drift in the dark for a few minutes, letting the Pepto and pills have their way with me. I’m already feeling better, though my head still throbs behind my eyes. That will stop soon. I can tell.
I lied to Kasabian. I can feel myself dying inside, but just the Stark part. He flickers in and out of focus, like a strobe light losing power. The intervals of darkness get longer and longer. Soon the flashes will stop and Stark will be gone.
The phone rings. I ignore it.
Rest in peace, asshole. Maybe someone will miss you, but it won’t be me.
The phone stops ringing, then starts up again a second later. I pick it up.
“What the hell is wrong with you, boy? Have you gone full time into the getting-people-fucked-up business? I swear, you could open a goddamn franchise.”
I sit up and swing my feet onto the floor.
“Hi, doc. What do you want? I’m just a little busy.”
Kinski says, “I’m an archangel, remember? The aether all of a sudden started smelling like blood and it was coming from your direction. Some girl of yours got hurt tonight, didn’t she? And it wasn’t Allegra.”
“It’s kind of late to be pulling out your little black bag right now, don’t you think? You got secrets you want to keep, that’s fine with me. I can respect that. But don’t go calling me when you’re road-tripping on the dark side of the moon getting all high-and-mighty. I thought you were one of the few people I could count on, but it turns out to be just one more reminder of how I should never trust an angel.”
“Did it ever cross your mind that taking off in the dead of night and dragging Candy along was about the last thing I wanted to do? That it would take something pretty important for me to do anything like that?”
“Like what? You need to get your harp restrung?”
“Like someone trying to kill us. Me, mostly, but they seem fine with killing anyone in my vicinity.”
“Is Candy all right?”
“We’re both all right, but we’ve been lucky and that’s not going to last forever.”
He doesn’t say anything for a minute. I never heard this kind of stress in his voice before. There’s noise on the line behind him. Wind and rumbling. It sounds like he’s calling from the side of a freeway.
“Exactly what happened?”
“We were out one night at a Thai joint we like and six masked heavies came in. They make like they want to rob the place, but I could read them and knew they were there for something else. They told the girl at the register to give them the money, but kept getting in her way. They told the customers not to move, but they kept tripping over them. The whole thing was an act to start a fight. When no one took the bait, they got real agitated and just started shooting up the place. These boys weren’t thieves. They were a hit squad.”
“How do you know that?”
“Street punks don’t have Dragon’s Breath rifles and quantum street sweepers. All around us people were burning up and gassing out into subatomic particles.”
“Shit, that sounds like Vigil gear.”
“Or Lucifer’s. He has a whole stable of state-of-the-art friends. Though why they’d come after me after all these years, I can’t say.”
“I know you’re Mr. Self-Control, but did Candy do anything to piss them off?”
“When the shooting started she went into full Jade mode and, no, it wasn’t easy holding her back. She took down a couple of them before I could stop her. All I wanted was to get both of us out of there while we were still on our feet. The longer we were in there the more civilians were going to be collateral damage.”
“Are you safe where you are?”
“We’re safe for now because we keep moving. This is a throwaway cell, but I’m still not wild about talking even this long.”
“Why did you call?”
“To tell you to get out of there. That city is about to be hit by the shit storm of the century. I can feel it. The dead have wandered out before and the Sub Rosa have always taken care of them, but this feels different. I don’t know that they can cork the bottle this time.”
“How is it different? What do you know?”
“This isn’t going to be a few zeds and Lacunas wandering out of some abandoned mine shaft. This is going to be big. I never felt anything like it before. It’s a damn sight too big for you to handle by yourself and don’t tell me you’re not going to try ’cause that’s exactly the kind of thing you do.”
“Thanks for the warning, but I have things to do here. There’s that hurt girl, remember?”
“Dammit, boy. This isn’t the time to be bullheaded. I’m telling you to get Eugène and Allegra and get out of L.A. Bring the other girl along if you need to.”
“I’ll tell them what you said, but I’m going to stick around.”
“You saved the city once already. You don’t have to make a habit of it at the expense of dying.”
“Trust me, I know. But I’m staying anyway. See, I was bumming a smoke off a zed tonight and got bitten.”
There’s a long silence this time.
“That when the girl got hurt?”
“Yeah. Her name is Brigitte. She got bitten, too. Vidocq’s planted her in the Winter Garden. I got the feeling it wasn’t safe to be dragging her around in that condition.”
“Okay, but getting bit doesn’t necessarily mean anything for someone like you,” he says. He says it quietly. I can barely hear him over the noise on the line.
“I was just explaining that to someone. But the truth is I don’t want to risk it. And even if nephilim don’t start seeing everyone as finger food, I’m feeling sick and not very good company right now. It’ll be better for everyone if I stay.”
“Maybe Candy and me ought to come back.”
“Yeah, the two of you getting shot will fix everything.”
“I’m not going to just leave you there.”
“Stay the hell out of L.A., doc. This isn’t your town anymore. It’s mine and I’ll burn it to the ground if I have to. You take care of yourself and Candy. Thanks for calling and thanks for the offer. Tell Candy hi for me.”
I hang up before he can say something else stupid about coming back. I’m not afraid. I should be, but my head is a little funny, so I’m not.
My head is clear, not clear like before the drinking got out of hand. Clear for the first time in my life. I feel like a blind man who traded up for new and better eyes. The world has never looked like this before. Like deep, bottom-of-the-ocean fish. They’re so far down there isn’t any light and their skin is transparent. You can see the fish and through the fish at the same time. That’s the way the world looks to me. I can see it, but see inside and through it, too. This is how the world looks to angels. Real, but only as real as the souls of the almost-dead waiting to be the completely dead. We’re a world of ghosts to them. That’s how angels can turn cities to salt and rivers to blood. To them, we’re already 90% corpse and the part that’s alive is made of glass. And glass is meant to break.
When Stark is gone the angel is all that will be left.
Check me out now, boys and girls. I am become Death. The destroyer of worlds.
I dial the bail bondsman again.
The line clicks.
It sounds like a woman’s voice.
“Is this McQueen and Sons?”
“Is this the guy who calls over and over in the middle of the night and never does anything but breathe into my voice mail?”
“That was probably me.”
“I don’t recognize your number and caller ID says you’re not dialing from lockup. What do you want?”
“I want to meet Johnny Thunders. Don’t say no. I didn’t remember your name at first, but I do now because it was on a matchbook I had in my pocket when I crawled out of Hell. We’re connected somehow. You’re going to get me an audience with Pope Johnny because if you don’t this whole city is going to die and I guarantee that you’re going to be among the first.”
Someone else says something. McQueen and Sons puts her hand over the mouthpiece. More muffled talk. Then she’s back again.
“Come to the office at nine-thirty. You know what to bring?”
“I know what to bring.”
“Good. Don’t cheap out on the jelly beans.”
I HIT ALLEGRA’S number and she picks up on the second ring.
“Sorry. Did I wake you up?”
“Hell no. With a friend like you, no one expects to sleep more than a few hours a night.”
“Is Brigitte under yet?”
“Yeah. Eugène is watching her. Making sure the potion took and she’s doing all right.”
“No problem. But you owe me a story about how you hooked up with Pussy Galore.”
“Sure. Listen, I need to read someone’s meter. Do you have an animascope?”
“A couple of different kinds. But I thought you were off chasing zombies. Why do you need the scope?”
“I’m meeting someone new and I need to know if he’s dead or alive. If I have the scope, you don’t need to come along. It’ll be safer that way.”
“Fuck that. You and Eugène are going to protect me to death. If you want the scope, I’m the one who’s going to work it. That’s the deal.”
“Okay, but you have to tell Vidocq. And don’t leave out the part where I said you could stay home.”
“When should I expect you?”
“I’m supposed to meet the contact in Hollywood at nine-thirty this morning. I’ll come by a few minutes before that.”
“I’ll be ready.”
The Grand Central Market doesn’t open until nine, which is still a few hours away. I lie back on the bed, close my eyes, and sink back down into the angelic dark. It already feels like home. The place I should have been my whole life. If I’d seen and felt like this when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have grown into someone who let Mason play him for such a fool. I wouldn’t have lost a third of my life in Hell. I wouldn’t be living with a dead man in an attic and covered in scars. Normally, going over all the ways I’ve fucked up my life turns my brain to swamp gas and bleeds my vision red. I need a cigarette and a drink to keep my heart from gnawing its way out of my chest. But now my heart beats fine. I don’t want a glass of the red stuff or a smoke. The world is a perfect white diamond. Transparent. The facets glowing with internally reflected light. And it takes just one tap in the right place to shatter the whole thing.