Her eyes widen.
“What’s in here? Where did you get it?”
“I’ve gotta go. We’ll have lunch after the apocalypse. Have your people call my people.”
I go back out the way I came in.
I COME OUT on the corner in front of the building just to see what it’s like in the street. It’s not pretty.
I can see a couple dozen Drifters from where I’m standing to the next corner. Most are just doing the dead-guy shuffle, but a couple of dumb-ass civilians are belly-crawling behind parked cars. What is it with regular people? They don’t seem to get the idea that extremely bad things can happen to them until they’re on fire at the bottom of a ditch or handcuffed in the back of a cop van on their way to central lockup and their first night as a prison bride to a three-hundred-pound crack dealer.
Plus, they don’t know how to do anything. These geniuses think they can scuttle along like crabs and not get spotted. A good belly crawl is slow and steady, moving like a tree sloth. Why? Because you’re simultaneously moving and fucking hiding from the fucking enemy. Zeds might have kitty litter for brains, but I’ve seen them in action, and like all predators, they have a good sense of smell and their eyes pick up motion before they see anything else. The moron twins doing the dog paddle from the VW Bug to the Camry are sending out every prey signal in the book. Just ask the Lacuna who’s spotted them and is scrambling over the Camry’s hood.
Whoever owns the car keeps it in good shape. It must be waxed because the Lacuna is slip-sliding back and forth and lands right on his head between the cars. Even if he’s clumsy, he’s fast enough to run down a couple of panicky idiots.
When the civilians stand, the Lacuna finds his footing, which alerts the other Drifters, who move in on them. I pull the Smith & Wesson and turn the Lacuna’s head into a pretty pink-and-bone-colored cloud, which gets everyone’s attention.
“Run home, assholes. And don’t go out again or I’ll feed you to these shit sacks myself.”
I don’t have to tell them twice.
At this point, I could just use Eleanor’s buckle to get the Drifters to lie down, crack each other’s skulls, or square-dance. But I don’t. I put away the gun, get out the na’at, and let them come at me.
I’m not too subtle, but I’m not too greedy either. I only gut a few of them. The angel inside me is getting impatient, but Stark loves the sound of their spines snapping and watching them fold in half when there’s nothing left to support their upper bodies. Seeing a Drifter come at you with just its legs working, dragging everything from the waist up on the ground like a bag of dirty laundry, is a sight I recommend to anyone who gets the chance to see it.
But the angel finally wins the argument and I grab the buckle and tell the Drifters, “Sit,” and they do. “Good doggies. Now wait there until someone comes along to burn you like Yule logs.”
I step through a shadow under a streetlamp and come out by the hospital that’s the entrance to Cabal’s place. It’s dark enough that I can only make out the hospital’s outline with the angel’s vision. The darkness extends for blocks in all directions. A blackout. That means no decent shadows to get inside. No problem. This place has glass doors, too.
The locks are strong, but the doors are the usual crap aluminum that most institutional places use. One good kick and they swing open like the saloon doors in My Darling Clementine.
I’m halfway to the morgue when my cell rings. It’s Kasabian.
“Gesundheit. You might want to put the snakes down. You’re speaking in tongues.”
“Actually, I am. Druj Ammun is from the same old angelic language I saw on your belt buckle. It means ‘Sleepless Aegis.’ It’s a seal of protection that was on the gates of Heaven.”
I duck and go around TV cameras and microphone booms the crew left in the hall.
“Protection from what?”
“Who else? Lucifer and the fallen frat boys. God put it there to keep them from sneaking back into Heaven. It mind-fucks any fallen that get near it. Turns them into Muppets.”
“You dug all this out of the Codex?”
“Well, Kinski helped. He pretty much knew what it was when I showed him the drawing. I found the rest after.”
“So what’s the Druj Ammun doing here?”
“You know how the Kissi like a little chaos with their morning coffee? The story is that they stole it off the gates and dropped it on earth just to see what would happen.”
“Okay. That still doesn’t explain how Eleanor got it or why it affects Drifters.”
“I don’t know about Eleanor, but the zed thing makes perfect sense. Remember the story that the first zombies were civilians who’d been attacked by the fallen angel that landed on earth? It must be true. Zeds were made by that dying angel’s blood and saliva. They have a direct blood link to Hellions, so the Druj affects them the same way it affects any of Heaven’s rejects.”
I make it to the morgue, but don’t go in since I might lose the phone signal.
“Nice work. It’s good to know what this thing is. I’d hate to end up gnawed to death because the batteries ran out.”
“Hey, man. I don’t know if you’re zeroing in on the big picture. Not only can you control those coffin jockeys from skull-fucking tourists, but the Druj is kryptonite to Hellions. That means you can stroll into Hell, make one of Lucifer’s generals tell you where Mason is, go right up to the son of a bitch, and put a bullet through his head and no one is going to stop you.”
I get out the gun, push open the morgue door with my foot, and take a look around. I don’t want any surprises when I step inside. The room is empty.
“Speaking of strolling into Hell, have you talked to Lucifer?”
“No. He’s not answering his phone. I’ve left messages, but the way things are, I don’t even know if my calls are getting through.”
“Okay. Thanks for the spook story. I’ll swing by the Chateau Marmont when I’m done making Cabal cry.”
I hang up and push open the wall to Uncle Cabal’s Haunted Mansion ride.
I don’t get more than a few steps inside the front room when my heart is broken. I’m not going to make Cabal cry. Someone has beaten me to it.
Cabal’s body is scattered in about fifty pieces around the table where Brigitte and I first talked to him. If Drifters didn’t do it, then it was someone doing an A-plus impression. I follow a trail of bones and splintered furniture through the curtain and into the room where Cabal’s party guests had been asleep the last time I was here.
It’s the same story. Shredded bodies spread across the floor and furniture and splattered up the walls. There’s one Drifter left. A female at the back of the room. She’s hunched over the body of a naked boy. His chest is cracked open and someone has been gnawing on his exposed ribs. The female has the boy’s heart in her hands and she’s working on it hard, trying to bite through the tough muscle. A couple of her teeth are embedded in the shiny meat. It’s a good few seconds before she sees me and gets up to attack. That’s when I see her face. It’s Cosima. I hoodoo her back against the far wall and pull out her spine fast with the na’at. Even though I never really knew Cosima, ripping apart someone whose face you recognize isn’t as much fun as gutting a stranger. Go figure.
Bottles are scattered around the furniture and bodies. I rescue an unopened bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the depths of a beanbag chair and a bottle of wine from a moldering stack of Italian Vogues. Go back to the room where Cabal lies in peace. He was nice enough to die on the other side of the room and not get blood or meat all over my chair.
Stark and not-Stark are going at it inside my skull. Jack Daniel’s versus no-name wine. Stark is too weak. Wine wins. I slice off the top of the bottle with the black blade and drink a toast to my dead host.
“You were a prick and a crook, but no one deserves to go out the way you went. I hope it was over quick and that you tasted like ass all the way down. Amen.”
So much for suspect number one. Under other circumstances, I might think Cabal ending up a Hot Pocket was just a case of bad juju or karma coming home to roost, but he was too good a magician to let some dumb Drifters wander in here. And he just came into a load of money, which sounds like he’d done some iffy magic for someone. I’m sure he’s the one who sold the glamour to Rainier, which makes him suspect number one in Cabal’s death.
But Cabal isn’t the only Sub Rosa who’s been fucked by Drifters. Someone let loose a roomful of eaters on Enoch Springheel. The Vigil sent two after me. I bet whoever sicced them on Cabal and Springheel rented Aelita my pair.
Then there’s poor Titus. The guy never hurt anyone. The worst thing Titus ever did was pad his hours when his client had money. And he was small-time. He never had a big-time or dangerous case in his life. He was just doing a back-of-the-milk-carton job. He must have seen something he wasn’t supposed to. What was it? Maybe whoever has the local zombie franchise? And now every flavor of Drifter is running—well, stumbling—down every street in the city. Was that the plan all along or is someone making a bigger mess to cover up the mess that Titus found?
Why would anyone bother to kill a loser like Enoch Springheel? And—sorry, Cabal—take out another loser like Cabal? Cabal might mix a good glamour cocktail, but he can’t be the only Sub Rosa in town who could do that. Vidocq could do it in his sleep. There have to be others as good as Cabal and more reliable. So, the glamour might have been only half the reason the buyer came to Cabal.
What did Cabal Ash and Enoch Springheel have in common? Nothing except that they were the heads of two important Sub Rosa families. But who fucking cares about that? No wonder Sherlock Holmes did all that coke. Math is hard.
I get out my cell and call Kasabian.
“Listen, is there anything online or in the Codex about old Sub Rosa families?”
“Yeah. What do you need?”
“Spencer Church. Are the Churches a big deal? In the history of L.A.?”
The line goes quiet. I can hear typing and low voices.
“Yeah. The Churches were one of the first four families in the area.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Connections. Cabal is dead. So’s Springheel. Church went missing and then turned up dead and hungry at Bamboo House. What do they have in common? They’re all from heavyweight households. Someone is using Drifters to go after all the original families.”
“A grudge? Social climbing? I don’t know how those people think. But if I’m right, it means that the Geistwalds could be next. Hell, even without Drifters they’re in trouble. It looks like their son is an impostor. A con man. He might be the one behind this whole ballistic cluster fuck.”
“You know, sometimes I’m glad I never leave this room.”
“I’m going to stop by the Chateau before heading over to the Geistwalds’.”
“Don’t get eaten, man. Your friends are nice, but they’ve never even heard of Once Upon a Time in the West or Le Samourai.”
“I make no promises.”
I GO OUT through the broken front doors. There are no shadows and no decent wheels to steal, so I head back toward the city lights on foot. How do regular people ever get anywhere?
I almost do a header into an open manhole in front of the hospital. Another manhole is open farther up the street. And another beyond that. I want to get mad at the teenybopper clever kids who would do something like that, but I can’t because it’s exactly the kind of asshole move I would have found hilarious when I was fifteen.
The empty streets are getting crowded ahead, but no one is going anywhere. Great. A Drifter block party. They’re crawling up out of the sewers, but there’s nothing to eat in this part of town but me and I’m off the menu. I broadcast a general “Fuck Off” message through the Druj Emergency Broadcast System. That doesn’t leave the shamblers much to do but shamble. They look like little kids at their first dance class, turning in vague circles, swaying back and forth, and bumping into each other. If it wasn’t for the murder, cannibalism, and trapped, tormented souls in their rotting carcasses, they’d be almost cute.
I could go around the Drifters, but even the angel part of me is fresh out of reasonable behavior where they’re concerned. I follow the white line down the middle of the street, shoving Drifters out of the way, knocking over the slow ones and walking over them.
More open manholes and more Drifters crawling out.
Being a salaryman bad guy must really suck. Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom get to come up with the crazy schemes, but then some poor schmuck has to actually corral the giant radioactive ants or put exactly the right amount of poison in exactly the right water treatment plants at exactly the right time. And an entry-level bad guy probably doesn’t even have a helicopter. He has to drive the poison from treatment plant to treatment plant on city streets in his second-hand Civic, hoping there isn’t a flock of ducklings or a broken-down minivan blocking traffic.
Case in point is the loser up ahead prying up another damn manhole with a crowbar. Does he have gloves? Is he wearing a lower-back brace like warehouse workers use? Are there OSHA rules for supervillain henchmen?
“Lift with your legs, not your back. Didn’t Dr. No teach you anything?”
He looks up and starts running. Right into a wall of wandering Drifters. I catch up in about two seconds. He swings the crowbar a couple of times. I catch it on the third swing, tear it out of his hands, and jam it through the skull of the nearest zed. Yeah, it’s a little showy, but a move like that can save you from having to waste time making a lot of boring threats.