“Would you like a drink?”
I don’t turn right away.
“That sounds great.”
“I have some Aqua Regia, but I hear that’s not such a rare thing for you these days.”
“No. Are you the one sending it up?”
“Don’t be stupid. I pay you enough to take care of your own vices. I’d like to know who is importing the stuff.”
“You don’t know?”
“I have a fairly full plate at the moment what with your friend Mason trying to turn my armies against me. Or hadn’t you heard?”
“Tell the truth, the revolution was already going when he got there. He just jumped on the crazy train.”
“And I have you to thank for that.”
“I didn’t plan it, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I would never accuse you of planning things. Come over and sit down.”
I follow him to an area where chairs and sofas are grouped together, facing one another. I sit on a leather easy chair. It’s the most comfortable piece of furniture in the universe. My ass wants to divorce me and marry it.
“So, Jimmy, killed anyone interesting lately?”
“No. The ones I killed today were already dead and just needed reminding.”
“I’m sure they appreciated that.”
“No one complained.”
“What flavor of undead were they?”
“Young ones? God, I hate them.”
Lucifer lights up a Malediction. I know he wants me to ask for one, so I don’t.
“Why are you up here? Shouldn’t you be Downtown spanking the guilty and slaughtering your generals? Or are you taking early retirement so you can spend more time with the grandkids?”
“Nothing so dramatic. I’m in town doing some consulting work.”
“Why does anyone come to L.A.?”
“To kill people.”
“No, that’s just you. Normal people come here to get into the movies.”
“You’re in a movie?”
“Of course not. I’m here as a technical adviser. A producer friend is in preproduction for a big-budget film of my life story.”
“Please tell me you’re bringing Ed Wood back from the dead to direct it.”
“This is strictly an A-list project. I’m disappointed, Jimmy. I thought you’d be more excited. You love movies.”
“Why do you need a biopic? About half the movies ever made are horror flicks and aren’t all horror flicks really about you? So, you already have about ten thousand movies.”
“But those are metaphorical. Even the ones where I’m depicted, it’s never really me. This will be the real thing. The true story. My side of the story.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but who fucking cares? Are there really enough Satanists and girls in striped stockings to pay for a flick like that?”
“It’s a prestige picture, Jimmy. Sometimes a studio makes a movie it knows won’t show a near-term profit because they know that it’s the right thing to do artistically.”
“You own the head of the studio, don’t you? Someone sold you their soul for fame and power and hot and cold running starlets and this is them paying you off.”
“It’s only a partial payoff. I still own the soul.”
Lucifer goes to a desk and comes back with a framed piece of black velvet, like something a jeweler would have. It’s covered with small shiny objects. A pocketknife. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses missing one lens. A pair of Shriner cuff links. A sleeping netsuke cat. He picks up a small gold necklace.
“I take something from everyone whose soul I hold. Not take. They choose what they want to give me. It’s a symbolic act. A physical reminder of our deal. These are trinkets from Hollywood friends.”
He holds the gold necklace higher so I can get a good look.
“This is Simon’s. Simon Ritchie. The head of the studio. Simon imagines that he’s very clever. Very ironic. The necklace belonged to his first wife. It was her First Communion gift. A rosary necklace with a pretty little cross. Of course, she was just a girl when she received it, so at some point she added a gold unicorn charm. A darling thing, though I’m not sure the Church would approve.”
“What does he or she get for all this?”
“Simon? He gets a little more time.”
Lucifer takes a long drag on the Malediction and puts the necklace back with the other soul souvenirs.
“That’s all you people ever want. A little more time in a world that all of you, in your heart of hearts, secretly despise.”
“I don’t keep it a secret.”
“And that’s why I like you, Jimmy. We’re alike in so many ways. Plus, you’re so very good at making things dead. That’s what you’re going to do for me while I’m here. Not kill so much as prevent a killing, namely mine. You’re going to be my bodyguard whenever I’m out in public.”
“You’re the devil. You gave God a rusty trombone and lived to talk about it. Why would you need a bodyguard?”
“Of course, no one can kill me permanently, but this physical body I inhabit on earth can be injured, even destroyed. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if it turned up riddled with bullets? We don’t want that kind of negative buzz just as the production is getting off the ground.”
“You need a new PR guy, not a bodyguard.”
“All the most famous people travel with private security these days, don’t they? You’re mine. Sandman Slim by my side, ready to snap necks at a moment’s notice. That will be quite a photo op. For both of us.”
“That’s exactly what I want. More people knowing who I am.”
“Don’t worry. The civilian media won’t see either of us. This is purely for the benefit of our sort of people.”
“The Sub Rosa.”
“Is that who owns the studio?”
“No. It’s a civilian gentleman, but most of his staff is Sub Rosa. The studio even has an outreach program, providing unskilled jobs to Lurkers that want to crawl out of the sewers and into the real world.”
“Sub Rosas get the corner office and Lurkers get to clean the toilets. Same as it ever was.”
“That sounds like class warfare, Jimmy. You’re not a socialist, are you?”
“Considering who and what I am …”
“Right. Considering that most Sub Rosa probably consider me a Lurker, do you really want me around so one of them can say something cute at a party and I have to pry his head off with a shrimp fork?”
Lucifer seems to think for a moment, sets down his drink, and leans forward in his seat. He speaks very quietly.
“Do you think for one second that I would allow any of the walking excrement that infests this world to insult me or anyone in my employ? You might be a natural-born killer, but I specialize in torment that lasts a million years. You think you’ve seen horrors because you were in the arena. Trust me, you have no idea what real horror looks like or the terrible things I’ve done to keep my throne. You’ll be by my side while I’m in Los Angeles because in this task and in all others, I’m as much your bodyguard as you are mine.”
It’s moments like this, when Lucifer gets rolling and the words and the intensity start flowing, that I understand how one lone angel convinced a third of Heaven’s worker bees to turn the dump over. And that was just the third with the cojones to follow him. I have a feeling that a lot of other angels listened, but were too scared to join the party. If I was some lower-class grease-monkey angel caught in the cross fire of an argument between Lucifer and Aelita—oh wait, I am—I’d probably think twice about giving God the finger and running off to never-never land with Satan and the Lost Boys. But I’d still go.
I want to ask what that part about us being each other’s bodyguard means, but when he gets like this, it’s scary to ask direct questions, so I go another way.
“What do I have to do as your bodyguard?”
He picks up his drink and relaxes like nothing ever happened.
“Not much. I don’t expect any trouble, but all the major celebrities travel with their own security these days. Who better for me to have by my side than Sandman Slim? All you have to do is remember to wear pants and occasionally look menacing. Really, you’ll be less my bodyguard and more of a branding opportunity, like Ronald McDonald.”
“It sounds better and better all the time.”
“You’ve already taken a lot of my money and you’re not in a position to pay it back, so let’s not argue the point. You know you’re going to take the job. You knew it before you walked in here.”
“When do I start?”
“Tomorrow night. Mr. Ritchie, the head of the studio, is throwing me a little welcome party. We’ll make our debut then.”
“I have something I have to do later tonight.”
“I’m not going anywhere tonight, so feel free.”
“Does Kasabian know about all this?”
“Why would I tell him my business? His job is to send me information.”
“What’s he been telling you about me?”
“That you’re at loose ends. That you’re depressed. That you’re drunk much of the time. That ever since you locked up Mason, all you’ve done is kill things, smoke, and drink. You need to get out more, Jimmy. This will be the perfect job for you. You’ll meet lots of exciting new people to hate.”
“I hope you’re a better salesman when you’re buying suckers’ souls.”
He pours us both more Aqua Regia. When he holds out the pack of Maledictions, I take one and he lights it for me.
“I’m not a salesman. I don’t have to be. People offer me their souls every second of every day. They bring them to my door ready to eat. It’s like having pizza delivered.”
“You’re making me hungry. There any food around here?”
“You want to eat with me? You don’t know much mythology, do you? Persephone’s story?”
“She was abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld, where she ate a single pomegranate seed. She was able to return home, but for the rest of her life she had to spend half of the year with her husband on earth and half of the year with Hades in the Underworld.”
“Was she hungry when she ate the seed?”
“I expect so.”
“Then what’s the problem? I once ate some greasy scrambled eggs at a truck stop near Fresno and puked and shit myself for two days. That was six months in Hell right there.”
Lucifer picks up a phone next to his chair.
“I’ll call room service.”
LATER, MY PHONE goes off. It’s Wells texting me the address of where I’m supposed to meet him. I go out the Alice in Wonderland clock and down to the garage, where top-of-the-line cars are laid out like Christmas morning on repo-man island. There’s a white ’57 T-bird with a white top. I pop the knife into the ignition, fire it up, and head outside. On my way out of the lot, I nod to the valet I gave the Bugatti to. He raises one arm and gives me an unsure little half wave. He won’t be able to keep the Veyron, of course, the cops and insurance company will make sure of that, but I hope he gets to have some fun before he has to ditch it.
I DRIVE EAST along Sunset. Cut south into what the chamber of commerce calls Central City East, but the rest of the universe calls skid row. The corner of Alameda and East Sixth is so boring and anonymous it’s amazing it’s allowed on maps. Warehouses, metal fences, dusty trucks, and a handful of beat-up trees that look like they’re on parole from tree jail. I turn right on Sixth and drive until I find a vacant lot. It’s not hard. A half dozen of the Vigil’s stealth supervans are parked by the curb, looking just a little out of place. Flying saucers at a rodeo.
The lot isn’t one hundred percent vacant. There’s a small house in the middle, an overgrown wood-frame shit box that’s so swallowed up by weeds, vines, and mold that I can’t even tell the original color. It’s not much more than a shack. A leftover from the days when L.A. was open enough to have orchards, oil wells, and sheep farms. Not that this place was ever any of those.
Rich Sub Rosas aren’t like rich civilians. Civilians wear their wealth on their sleeve. They get flash cars, like the Bugatti. Twenty-thousand-dollar watches that can tell you how long it takes an electron to fart. And big beautiful mansions in the hills, like Avila, far away from God’s abandoned children, the flatlanders.
Sub Rosa wealth works on sort of the opposite idea. How secret and invisible can you make yourself, your wealth, and your power? Big-time Sub Rosa families don’t live in Westwood, Benedict Canyon, or the hills. They prefer abandoned housing projects and ugly anonymous commercial areas with strip malls or warehouses. If they’re lucky or been around long enough, they might have scored themselves an overgrown wood-frame shit box in a vacant lot on skid row. Chances are this house has looked exactly this feral and miserable for the last hundred years. Before that, it was probably a broken-down log cabin.
I park the T-bird across the street and jog over to the house. Just a few streetlights and warehouse security lights. There’s nothing else alive. Not a headlight in sight.
There’s a tarnished knocker on the door. I use it. A woman opens the door. Another marshal. She’s in the female equivalent of Wells’s men-in-black chic.