“Yes, it’s me. Sorry I can’t be there in person. This is the best my little homemade key can do for now.”
Then a Nahual beast man steps up.
“Trust me. I’m working on new and better keys all the time. And with Lucifer taking a powder, it makes my work that much easier.”
A civilian in a T-shirt with a software company logo on it crowds in.
“I hear you fed a whole family to golems the other night. Good for you. We were always more alike than you and Alice wanted to admit.”
The girl in the leather jacket that Spencer Church tried to bite the other night opens her mouth.
“I wish I’d been there to watch you feed Mommy and the boy to the zeds. How long did it take to eat them?”
I grab the girl.
“Druj or not, I’m going to kill you. Hard.”
Marshal Julie again.
“You know where I am. I’ll leave a light on for you.”
They walk away, some to the restroom, some back to the bar, like nothing happened.
“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t ask you to do something boring and normal,” says the marshal.
She smiles at me. I stare into her eyes, looking for Mason. She stops smiling.
“Nothing. I’ve just had too much to drink. I’m going outside.”
“Give me your number before you go.”
I tell her and head back to the bar.
“I’ll call you if something comes through.”
“Do that. Good luck with the agency.”
I go to the bar to get Kasabian, but when he sees me he shakes his head and turns his eyes back to the Lamia chatting him up. I leave him to his succubus and go outside.
I bum a cigarette from a couple of young drunk Valley guys with asymmetrical haircuts and fake IDs in their pockets.
“Are you the guy?” one of them asks.
“Which guy is that?”
“The Sandman guy. You’re skinny and you’ve got all those scars.”
“So did the neighbor’s kid back home. He had an eating disorder and kept falling off his bike.”
The Valley boy bursts out laughing, the excited nervous laugh of a kid not sure if he’s having a good time or not. The other boy grabs him and whispers something.
“Can we see your knife?”
“We heard it’s really big.”
That cracks them both up.
“Shouldn’t you youngsters be home and in bed? Isn’t it a school night?”
The one who gave me the cigarette says, “The school burned down. We’re doing classes online.”
“I hope it wasn’t one of you bad boys who burned it.”
“I wish. We’d be heroes.”
Neither of the boys notices the small group gathering behind them. Sneaking up silently on civilians is what they do best.
The tallest one, lean and ghostly pale, leans over to one of the boys.
The kid starts and smacks into his friend.
“We’d like a word with Mr. Stark.”
The one with the cigarettes laughs and says, “But he was going to show us his big knife.”
The pale man brings his face down level with the boys. The whites of his eyes flash blood red, and then darken to black. The boys head back inside the bar.
“Don’t bite either of them, okay? They’re just a little drunk. And I don’t even want to have to think about hunting another one of your young ones.”
“We appreciate that,” says the head vampire. “And we appreciate you handling the recent unpleasantness so quickly. As I’m sure you can imagine, zombies aren’t much use to us and we’re grateful to have them gone. We, the Dark Eternal, hope that you’ll accept this with our admiration and gratitude.”
He hands me a brushed aluminum Halliburton attaché case. Spies and billionaires carry these cases in Hollywood thrillers with expensive stars and crap scripts. I pop the latches and look inside.
The case is filled with neatly bundled stacks of hundred-dollar bills.
“We also hope that in the future you’ll remember who helped you in a time of need.”
“Trust me, I will.”
“We also hope that you’ll use some of the cash to reopen Max Overload. Clarice here likes spaghetti westerns and Ed is a Bollywood fan. Me, I like old Universal horror.”
“How do you feel about the Wolfman?”
“Hate the bitchy little whiner.”
“Good answer. You just got a free rental.”
He high-fives Ed.
“Have a nice night,” says the head vampire, and the whole group sweeps away into the night, something else vampires are good at.
I DUMP KASABIAN back in our room over Max Overload around 5 A.M. I didn’t even bother putting him back in his bowling bag on the way home. Anyone wandering the streets at that hour deserves to see a severed head singing “Good Vibrations.” He falls asleep the moment I put him down. I’ve never seen him drunk before. I didn’t even know he could get drunk.
I go into the bathroom and throw some water on my face. Toss my coat on the bed frame and stash my weapons under the towels in the bathroom cupboard behind the door.
Kasabian has an MP3 player with speakers in his bachelor pad in the closet. I put them on the bed frame with the bottle of Jack Daniel’s that Carlos gave me and a pack of cigarettes someone left on the bar. I pile all of it on the attaché case and step through the shadow and into the Room.
I set the case against the wall. No one’s going to steal it there. I take the Jack, cigarettes, and music and go to the Thirteenth Door. The Door of Nothing. I haven’t been through it since the night I sent the Kissi drifting out into space and left Mason in Hell.
The battered door still has the distinctive vinegar Kissi reek, but it’s quiet. There’s no scratching coming through from the other side. The Thirteenth Door used to scare me more than anywhere else in the universe. More than Downtown ever did. Now it’s just one more old door with dead bodies on the other side. I open it and go inside.
The holes I tore in the fabric of the Kissi realm are still there. Stars and the flat ovals of galaxies hang overhead. The insect husks of long-dead Kissi crunch under my boots. I spark Mason’s lighter and the place lights up. It takes me about an hour to find the ruins of the mansion Mason built here. A dusty reclining chair lies in the rubble on its side. I turn it right side up and sit down. The bottle of Jack goes on one side of the chair and the MP3 player on the other. I light a cigarette and sit in the dark and quiet for a while.
I still feel bad about Johnny and how he probably disappeared when the other Drifters ashed out. And about owing him a bag of jelly beans. I hope he understands how things got a little out of hand that night. At least Fiona didn’t shoot me when I told her that I left Johnny underground with Muninn.
I feel bad about Kinski, too. And mad as hell. Couldn’t he have said what he had to say? No. More dad bullshit. He had to control the moment and do it his way. There’s not going to be a moment now, is there, old man? But thanks for keeping me alive all those times. If I run into you in Heaven or Hell or wherever I end up, I’ll buy the first round. After I kick your ass for letting Aelita kill you.
I crack open the bottle of Jack and have a drink to him.
Like most nights, I wonder where Alice is and if she knows or cares what’s going on down here. Parking in the afterlife must have gotten really shitty after a million new souls shot up there the other night. She must have noticed that. Maybe one of the Drifters who isn’t too pissed at me for ripping out his or her spine will tell Alice it was me who set them free.
Right. And maybe Mason has an ice-cream truck and is handing out Popsicles in Hell.
I wonder if Lucifer made it back to Heaven and if his old man let him in?
Things are going to get bad. I can feel it. The parts of the angel that stuck around after Candy cured me can feel Heaven and Hell twitching, like rabid dogs just starting to foam at the mouth.
I don’t want to be the new Lucifer, but I really want to kill Mason, and if I have to wear red underwear and carry a pitchfork to do it, I will.
I wonder if Aelita will come Downtown or if I’m going to have to backdoor my way into Heaven to kill her?
I manifest the burning Gladius and it lights up the Kissi realm for a million miles. What a dump. It looks like someone built the Matterhorn Ride out of fly eggs and shit.
Stars wink overhead. Did they change when I switched on the sword?
I get out another cigarette, light it off the Gladius, and let the world go dark.
I flick ashes into Mason’s failed kingdom.
I’ve talked shit my whole life and, except for Alice and Vidocq, pretty much done everything on my own. Luck and hoodoo pulled me through, but that’s not going to work this time. Not if Downtown catches fire and Mason or Aelita bring the heat up to Heaven. I can’t bluff and bullshit my way through that. I need backup. But I might have killed off the only things in the universe crazy enough to go head-to-head with the armies of Hell and Heaven.
Or maybe not. A lot of Kissi went spinning out into space when I ripped this place open. Kissi are almost angels, so floating around in the dark shouldn’t hurt them. They’re probably just shy. Or they found someplace better to feed. I’m not going out after them. They’ll come to me eventually. I’ve got the deal of the century. And even semi-angels want revenge. Everything alive wants revenge.
I hit the MP3 player. Skull Valley Sheep Kill echoes off the walls, doing a burning cover of “Johnny Thunders.”
I let the bass rumble in my chest like a second heart.
I smoke the cigarette and then another.
I have a drink.
I listen to the music.
I sit in the dark and I wait.