“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
She must have had the knife in her hand the whole time. Like me, Candy is a killer, so she gets me in the heart with the first thrust.
As I black out all I can think is, Oh hell. This again.
I PUT THE bowling bag on the bar at Bamboo House of Dolls and unzip it.
“Carlos, meet Alfredo Garcia.”
“Fuck you, man. You said you weren’t going to say that.”
“It was a long walk. I forgot.”
“I’m Kasabian. Are you the Carlos who makes the tamales?”
Carlos eyeballs Kasabian like someone seeing his first pickled punk at a sideshow.
“Yeah. That’s me.”
“They’re awesome. They’re what keep me from smothering this asshole with a pillow when he’s asleep.”
Normally I wouldn’t inflict Kasabian on a civilian, but Carlos hasn’t ever been a regular civilian. And what’s a talking head when a few days ago you had dead men in here trying to eat your customers?
“Stark’s told me about you, too.”
“Yeah? What’s he said?”
“Well,” says Carlos, looking Kasabian over, “I thought you’d be taller.”
“Very funny, beer jockey. Do you have any actual booze back there or is it just Hawaiian Punch and seashells?”
“I think we can find some booze. What are you drinking?”
“Beer. The more expensive the better. Put it on his account.”
Kasabian turns to me.
“Put my bucket under me. I haven’t been out in six months and I’m not planning on drinking responsibly. You’re the designated driver.”
I hope Carlos doesn’t mind us being here. For the time being, he’s pretty much my Plan A for not starving to death. Plan B, C, and D, too. Max Overload is dead and I don’t know if it’ll ever be back. I don’t want to think about how many thousands of dollars fixing the place up and restocking the shelves will be. It’s not like we have a dime. The insurance company canceled us after the explosion back in January. The Vigil is gone. And what are the chances that Lucifer will keep paying me a stipend after he goes home to Kansas? I’m too well known to knock over liquor stores and too ugly to be a rent boy. What’s minimum wage these days? Maybe Carlos will hire me to clean up after closing.
It’s good to see Bamboo House full of drunken monsters and crazy civilians. Maybe Brigitte was right after all. Maybe a little danger will bring in the crowds. The place still doesn’t need a velvet rope, but I don’t see business slacking off for a while. People need a drink when they survive an apocalypse. Speaking of which.
I look for Carlos to order a shot of Jack and there’s already one at my elbow. Who says he’s not psychic?
“How’s that hole in your chest doing?” comes a voice from behind me.
“I have a nice new scar. I don’t know how much of Johnny’s blood you put on the knife, but it left a mark on my heart. I might need a doctor.”
“We’ll stock up on lollipops,” says Candy.
She and Allegra squeeze in next to me at the crowded bar.
I say, “Next time you decide to stab someone to cure them from a horrible disease, try using a smaller knife.”
“I could have given you the potion in a needle like I gave Brigitte, but no, you had to be a baby about it.”
“You shouldn’t stab babies either. I’m not even a doctor and I know that.”
“We only stab the ugly ones,” says Allegra.
Allegra and Candy have been stuck together like Chang and Eng since the night I came back from the Jackal’s Backbone. With Kinski gone, we need a new hoodoo doc who can help Lurkers, take bullets out of chests without cracking them open, and juggle those hunks of God’s broken glass.
“How’s boot camp?”
Allegra does an exaggerated sigh.
“Harder than art school, but more fun than stopping kids from shoplifting Faces of Death at the store.”
“She picks up on doc’s magic healing gear fast,” says Candy. “I never had the head for it, but she zeros right in.”
“Eugène’s books help with the obscure stuff. Did you know that when necromancers and Houngans are allergic to Mandrake root, their balls can swell up to the size of cantaloupes?”
“I never wanted to know that. Soon you’ll be doctor to the stars and monsters. Dr. Kildare with two l’s.”
“Florence Frightingale,” says Allegra.
“I told her that one.”
Allegra says, “We’re going to head back to the clinic. Candy is going to show me fun things to do with leeches.”
“It’s always a party with you two.”
It’s good to see Allegra excited. And Candy with something to occupy her mind.
I hold up my drink.
“To Doc Kinski.”
We clink glasses and drink.
“And Doc Allegra.”
We drink again.
Candy nods at the door.
“We have to go.”
“Don’t let the leeches push you around.”
They go out, talking and laughing. I’ve never seen two people more excited about golden beetles and fermented goat’s blood.
“Patience isn’t my best quality.”
“She’s not running from you. She and Kinski might not have been lovers, but she still loved him. It will take her some time to get over his loss.”
“Yeah. Him dying right then was inconvenient for a lot of us.”
Vidocq pats me on the shoulder. The French are like that.
“Don’t drink too much.”
“When I can spell out your name in shot glasses, I’ll stop.”
“I’ll have to get a shorter name.”
“I’ll have to forget how to spell it.”
Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe I should be like Allegra and get a new job. The store closing might be opportunity knocking. I should go across town and see if the skinheads are back in business. I heard somewhere that a lot of skinheads support themselves by dealing meth. I wonder how much cash they keep around? It’s not like they can call the cops if someone stops by and takes all their money. How many other gangs and crooks are there in L.A.? Is there a Forbes 500 list of the ones with the most cash? I might be on the verge of a new career.
I see a familiar face heading my way. She’d be hard to miss in a room twenty times this size.
“Hello you. You’ve been kind of scarce the last few days.”
Brigitte nods, takes the glass from my hand, and finishes my drink.
“Yes, I needed some time alone to do what you Americans love most. Process my thoughts. Becoming a revenant wasn’t something I’d planned for this trip.”
“But you didn’t. We stopped it in time.”
“But I felt it. I felt the infection burning through me. I felt myself dying, but not truly dying.”
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been stabbed and shot. It’s part of my job description. Taking a chance on getting bitten has to be part of yours.”
“Of course it is. But there’s the other thing.”
“And what’s that?”
She lifts a finger and Carlos brings us a couple of new drinks. She blows him a kiss.
“The way you left the Geistwalds, it upset some people, but I thought it was apt. If I’d been there, I would have helped.”
“But there’s the other thing.”
“So I hear.”
“Your friend Candy was knifed. Your father is dead. Simon is dead. Lucifer himself almost died.”
“Johnny is gone.”
“Who was he?”
“Someone I only knew for a little while. A good guy. He had a sweet tooth.”
“Light Bringer was canceled, of course. I heard that even the Golden Vigil has disbanded.”
I sip the Jack and nod.
“It looks that way. I went by their warehouse to pull out Wells’s spine, but he was gone and the place was empty. There wasn’t a screw, a nail, or an oil stain on the floor.”
“That’s the kind of thing I mean by the other thing.”
She pushes her way in closer so that we’re side by side and leans against me.
“You’re a lovely man. Do you know that?”
“I can hear a ‘but’ the size of the Titanic bearing down on me.”
“People get hurt around you. They die. And worse.”
“I’m a professional shit magnet. I know.”
“You scare me to death, which, on the one hand, makes you more attractive, but you wear death like that long black coat of yours. I think if things had just been a little different, if we’d met at a different moment, I wouldn’t feel quite so overwhelmed.”
“If you’re keeping score, don’t forget Alice. I got her killed, too.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
We drink without talking for a minute. She feels good against my side.
“So, where are you headed from here?”
“I’m staying with Gigi Gaston. Maybe you met her at the Geistwald party. She worked at the studio and has taken over since Simon is gone.”
“Hooking up with the studio head is a smart move for an actress.”
“And for my other work, too. Gigi is one of the ones I meant by ‘my people’ when I called for someone to take the bodies of the revenants from behind the bar.”
“That work is over, you know. The Drifters are gone. They all died when the Druj broke.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“Yeah. But worrying about it is a good excuse to go off with Gigi. If I was you, it’s what I’d say.”
“If you scared me just ten percent less.”
“No. You’re doing the right thing. Things are going to get strange again soon and I’m afraid I’m going to end up in the middle of it. If Gigi can take care of you, you should go with her.”
She pushes away and looks at me, her forehead furrowing.
“You don’t hate me? You don’t think I’m a coward for deserting you?”
“Never. You were always the smart one.”
She takes my head in her hands and kisses me hard.
“Take care of yourself.”
“You, too. Go be a movie star. It’ll be fun to see you fifty feet tall.”
“Just for you.”
She starts away and I yell after her.
“You know, you never told me your real name.”
“I know. We’ll just have to find each other down the road sometime and I’ll tell you then.”
And she’s gone.
“Wow. Going out with you is a real boost to the ego,” says Kasabian. “Shot down twice in one night. Even I’m doing better than that with these kinky Goth chicks.”
“Drink up, Alfredo. I hope no one starts keeping their dirty socks in your bag.”
I get up and start away from the bar.
“Where are you going?”
“To the men’s room. You remember those?”
“Funny. When you get back you want to take me outside for a smoke?”
I get the usual funny looks of recognition and curiosity in the men’s room. It’s not just civilians. Lurkers are just as likely to stare.
“If any of you want an autograph right this second, I’m going to have to do it in piss.”
That usually breaks up the viewing party.
Marshal Julie is waiting for me when I come out of the men’s room.
“Don’t worry, officer. I washed my hands.”
She nods and looks me over.
“You cost me my job, you know.”
“Talk to Aelita about that. Or Wells. Besides, I thought you worked for Homeland Security. Just ’cause the Vigil is gone baby gone, why does that affect you?”
“When the Vigil died, Washington panicked and burned our whole operation out here. They cut everyone loose.”
“And now you’re roaming the countryside like a Ronin. If you’re looking for money or sympathy, I’m fresh out of both.”
“That’s not why I’m here. I don’t want us to be enemies.”
“I can’t play bridge, so don’t ask me to be your fourth.”
“I’m opening my own investigations agency. My father was a PI, so I have experience. If it pans out, I thought that maybe I can throw you work sometimes.”
I listen to her heart and watch her eyes. She means it. Her soul pulses steadily in her chest, a shimmering silver. A good color. Not everyone’s is that clear.
“Why not? I’m not doing anything else. But no hits. And I’m not doing any divorce stuff. No peeping in people’s windows. But if you have something specific that you think I can do, why not?”
She turns and looks around the bar.
“I’d heard all about this place. Some of the other marshals sneaked in here. Some Sub Rosa girls I knew at school. I never really believed them when they said that Lurkers and humans could hang out together like this.”
“You ought to see it on bingo night.”
“You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you?”
“You were going to stroll in here with the Druj and put me over your knee like a bad boy? That’s funny.”
Marshal Julie’s mouth is moving, but it’s Mason’s voice coming out. Her eyes are dead and vacant.