THE KISSI I don’t think about much, but I dream about them. Their vinegar reek chokes me while their fingers dig around inside my chest like bony worms.
I PUSH A recessed sci-fi button on the armrest and one of the Veyron’s windows slides down silently, like a tinted ghost. I turn off Hollywood Boulevard onto Sunset, go about half a block, and flip a James Bond U-turn in the middle of the street. Kick the Veyron back into gear and burn rubber to the little strip mall where Doc Kinski’s clinic is located. The Veyron bottoms out as I turn into the parking lot. A couple of local geniuses have broken into the doc’s office and are carrying out armloads of junk. Nice timing. I’m just in the mood to hit someone.
I throw open the door and come around the car looking for which one to smack first and all the fun goes out of it. It isn’t thieves after all. It’s Kinski and Candy. They’re loading boxes of scrolls and the doc’s strange medicines and elixirs. They’re as surprised to see me as I am seeing them. We all just stand there looking at each other for a minute like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I threw a perfectly good cigarette out the window for this. The doc hands a box to Candy. She keeps loading while he comes over to talk to me.
“Nice to see you, doc. I don’t suppose you got any of the like fifty messages I left you? With most people I’d stop calling, but I used to think we were friends. Then after a while I kept calling because I was plain pissed off and thought I’d spread the joy.”
“Things have been a little crazy. Sorry. We’re doing a lot of work away from the clinic.”
“So I noticed.”
Candy is carrying smaller and smaller boxes one at a time to the car so she doesn’t have to come over. I give her a big talk-show smile.
“Hi. How are you?”
She stops loading for a second, but stays by the rear of the car.
“Okay. How have you been?”
“Getting my arm about burned off and the rest of me beat to shit by vampires. I was hoping maybe one of you would return my call and help me out with that since that’s what I thought you did for a living. Don’t worry, though. I got some Bactine.”
“Problem solved, then,” says Kinski.
“I hope you’re doing some superfine doctoring wherever it is you’ve been going. You better have figured out how to cure cancer with ice cream or something ’cause your reputation is going to shit around here.”
Kinski takes a step closer, speaking quietly.
“There’s a lot going on in the world that doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re always going to get burned up. Or your ass kicked by vampires. Sinatra sings ‘My Way’ and you crack your ribs. You’re a walking disaster area and I can’t fix that for you.”
“Thanks all to hell, doc. You’re a real chip off the Hippocratic oath. I’d ask you for a referral to another doctor but L.A. is full of assholes, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one.”
“You want some advice? Start stealing ambulances instead of flashy cars. Allegra can take care of you until we get back. That’s all I can do for you right now.”
“Where is it you need to be so fast? Are you two okay?”
“Candy and I need to be elsewhere. We need to be there soon, and standing here talking to you isn’t getting us any closer.”
Kinski goes to his car and Candy gets inside. I walk around to the passenger side and look in the window at her. She looks at me, away, and then back. There’s something in her eyes that I can’t quite figure out. It’s more than being uncomfortable about when we kissed at Avila, but I can’t tell what. Did she fall off the wagon again and kill someone?
Kinski starts the car and guns the engine. He takes the brake off, and I step out of the way so he can line up the car for the street. I’m getting back in the Veyron when I hear a car door open and slam shut. A second later Candy is next to me. She grabs me around the neck.
“I miss you, but we have to go. Things will be okay soon. You’ll see.”
She pecks me on the lips, turns, and gets back in the car. The doc steers them out onto Sunset, where they disappear into traffic.
THE CHATEAU MARMOT is a giant white castle on a green hill and it looms over Sunset like it fell out of a passing UFO. It fits in with the surrounding city with all the subtlety of a rat on a birthday cake. Make that a French rat. The place is a château, after all.
When the parking attendant sees the Bugatti, he mistakes me for someone he should care about and rushes over. His interest lasts for maybe a second, the exact amount of time it takes me to step out of the car. People have cash registers for eyes at places like this. By the time my feet are on the ground, he’s totaled up exactly how much my clothes and haircut are worth and I’ve come up short. Still, I’m driving a two-million-dollar car, so I might be an eccentric foreign director who’s just flown in for some meetings and sodomy, which means he can’t quite work up the nerve to shoo me away like a stray dog that just crapped in the pope’s big hat.
“Good evening, sir.”
“What time do you have?”
He checks his watch.
“Ten to eleven.”
He tears a numbered parking tag in half, hands me half, and sets the other half on the Bugatti’s dashboard.
“Are you staying at the hotel?”
“No. Meeting a friend.”
“That will be twenty dollars, sir.”
I tear up the parking tag and drop the pieces on the ground.
“I’ve got a better idea. Keep the car.”
He wants to come after me, but other cars are arriving, so he drives the Bugatti into the garage.
Inside, I go the front desk and it hits me that I don’t have a room number or any idea who to ask for. Point for Kasabian.
“Good evening, sir. How can I help you?”
The desk clerk looks like Montgomery Clift and is better dressed than the president. He’s smiling at me, but his pupils are dilating like he thinks I’m going to start stealing furniture from the lobby. I stashed the leather jacket in the Room of Thirteen Doors before coming over and am wearing the rifle coat. I thought it looked classier and more formal, but maybe I was wrong.
“A friend of mine is staying here, but I don’t have his room number.”
“Of course. What’s your friend’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s not going to give his real name and I don’t know what name he’s using. He has a lot of them.”
The clerk raises his eyebrows a little. Now he has an excuse to release his inner snotty creep.
“Well, I’m not sure what I can do about that. You and your friend should probably have dealt with that in advance. Are you even sure he’s here? We specialize in a fairly exclusive clientele.”
“He’ll be in your penthouse. The biggest one you have.”
The clerk smiles like I’m a bug and he’s deciding whether to step on me or hose me down with Raid.
“Unless your friend is a Saudi prince with an entourage of thirty-five, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”
“Check your register again. I know he’s here, Maybe the prince checked out.”
“The prince’s rooms are booked through the summer, so, no, there’s no mistake.”
I get out my phone and dial the direct line to my room above Max Overload. I know Kasabian is there, but he doesn’t answer. He knows what time it is and he’s probably dancing a centipede jig and laughing at me as the phone rings and rings. I put the phone back in my pocket. The clerk is looking at me. His expression hasn’t changed. What I want to do is punch a hole in the front of the desk, reach through, grab his balls, and make him sing The Mickey Mouse Club song. But these days, I’m working on the theory that killing everyone I don’t like might be counterproductive. I’m learning to use my indoor voice like a big boy, so I smile back at the clerk.
“Are you sure you don’t have another penthouse lying around here somewhere? Some off-the-books place you keep for special guests?”
“No, I’m sure we don’t have anything like that. And without a name or a room number, I need to ask you to leave the hotel.”
“Is needing to ask me to leave the same as telling me to leave? That’s a really confusing sentence.”
“Please, sir. I don’t want to have to call security.”
No, you don’t want to call them because then I’d have to make you into a sock puppet.
“Would you like me to tell your fortune?”
I pick up a pen from the counter.
“Give me your hand a minute.”
He tries to pull both of his hands away, but I’m faster by a mile and get a death grip on his right wrist. His heart is pumping as fast as the Bugatti’s engine. He wants to yell for security, but he can’t even open his mouth. I don’t want the poor guy to stroke out, so I draw a single Hellion character on the palm of his hand, and then ball it closed. It’s a mind trick I saw Azazel use a few times on his dumber enemies. It’s like sticking the magic word in a golem’s mouth. The clerk’s eyes glaze over and he stares past me at nothing in particular.
“Can you hear me, hotshot?”
He smiles at me. It’s nice this time. Like he’s a human talking to another human.
“Yes, of course. How can I help you?”
“I need you to tell me the names of your extra-special guests. Not princes or movie stars. Your really special guests.”
He looks away and taps something into the computer terminal behind the desk.
“We only have one guest who sounds like the kind of person you’re looking for. A Mr. Macheath.”
Another point for Kasabian. Alice loved The Threepenny Opera and I played the 1930s German version at the store a few times when I was extra drunk and maudlin. Kasabian must have told Lucifer. I wonder what else I let slip that he could pass on to his boss.
“Yeah, that’ll be him. Where’s his room?”
“That particular room isn’t a where. It’s a when.”
“Say that again, but use smaller words.”
The clerk laughs a little. I might have to leave him like this.
“You take the elevator to the top floor. On the east wall you’ll see a very beautiful old grandfather clock. Open the cabinet where the pendulum swings and hold it to one side. Count to three and step into the cabinet.”
“Inside the grandfather clock?”
“Of course, you’re not actually stepping into the clock, but through it. A kind of time membrane that opens into the room. I don’t know if the room is forward or backward in time, but I’m sure it’s one of those.”
“I’ll try it. Thanks.”
“Thank you. And Mr. Macheath.”
“How are you feeling right now?”
“Wonderful, sir. Thank you for asking.”
“Yeah, that’s going to wear off in a while, so enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Thank you. I will.”
I go to the elevator and get out on the top floor. The grandfather clock is where he said it would be. I don’t pick up any hoodoo from it, so I open the front and grab the pendulum.
One. Two. Three.
I push the pendulum to the side and step through.
And come out in a room so big, so stuffed with golden statues, marble, and antiques, that Caligula would think it’s tacky.
Lucifer stands by a marble pillar as big around as a redwood. A tailor is marking his suit with chalk, doing a final fitting.
“I would have been here early if you and Kasabian weren’t playing name games with me.”
“You should have noticed that little detail before or factored in more time to work it out when you arrived.”
“Kas said you hated it when people were late.”
“I hate when people I pay aren’t doing their best work. You’re a smarter boy than you act, Jimmy. You need to start taking things more seriously.”
“I’m taking this room seriously. This is what Liberace’s nightmares must have looked like.”
Lucifer turns around and looks at me. He’s an angel, so I can’t read him at all.
He tilts his head slightly and says, “Love the coat. Are you on your way to the O.K. Corral?”
“Yeah, it’s a little Doc Holliday, but it’s called a rifle coat for a reason. I can hide a double-barreled shotgun under here. Or do you want me in slippers and a sweater vest, fighting off your enemies with a hot cocoa?”
“Not now, but when you come back down below, I hope you’ll fight that way in the arena.”
“Is that why you’re here? To take me back?”
“No, no. That was just a terrible joke. Forgive me.”
He turns to the tailor.
“We’re done for tonight.”
The tailor gives him a small bow and helps Lucifer take off the half-finished jacket and pants. Suddenly I’m alone in a room with the Prince of Darkness in his underwear. I wouldn’t have pegged him for a boxers guy.
Actually, he’s still wearing a silk maroon shirt and he slips on a pair of pressed black slacks folded over the back of a chair. I can’t get into Lucifer’s mood or mind the way I can with humans, but I can see him move. As he pulls on pants, he makes the tiniest imaginable move with his shoulders. He flinches, almost like he’s in pain. I look over at a statue of a headless woman with wings before he turns around.