There’s a light on upstairs in the room I used to share with Kasabian. I go up the stairs quietly, knife out and ready. At the top I push open the door with the toe of my boot. It opens on a messy bedroom. There’s a wooden desk where Kasabian used to keep his bootleg video setup. Now there’s a computer surrounded by monitors. I push the door open more. Something is in the room with its back to me. A heavy mechanical body with a human head. It picks up a bag from Donut Universe in its mouth and heads for the desk on all fours like a dog. When it sees me, the head opens its mouth and drops the bag. It raises a paw and points at me.
“Don’t say a goddamn word.”
The last time I saw him, Kasabian was still just a chattering head without a body. Now he’s something more, but I don’t know if it’s an improvement.
I come inside and drop the duffel. My armor is sticking out from under my shirt. Kasabian nods at it.
“Did the Wizard give you a heart, Tin Man?”
“Funny. Careful you don’t pop a rivet, Old Yeller.”
His face is like the couple in the street. Smeared with something dark and coarse, like black sand. He trots to the desk on all fours. Kasabian’s head on a hellhound body isn’t a pleasant sight.
When he gets to the desk chair, Kasabian pushes back with his hind legs until his ass is firmly on the seat. Then he leans the rest of his body back like half of a drawbridge rising. In a second he’s gone from windup toy to Pinocchio on a good day, an almost real boy. He picks up the bag of donuts with his claws and drops it on the desk without offering me one.
“Is that the best Saint James could come up with? It’s better than nothing but it doesn’t exactly look finished.”
Kasabian frowns for a second then gets it.
“Saint James? Yeah. That’s about right. As for this”—he raps a fist against his chest—“your better half never paid off the charm maker reworking it, so he didn’t finish the job.”
“The asshole disappeared.”
“How did you know it was me and not him just now?”
“He looks like a bathing beauty and you’re the Loch Ness Monster. Seeing you young like that was giving me the heebee-jeebies.”
“You mean how I looked before you sent me Downtown.”
“Something like that.”
With the back of one metal hand, he pushes away an ashtray overflowing with Maledictions. Fidgety jailbird stuff, like now that I’m back he thinks I’m going to steal him blind. I lean in for a closer look at his body.
“So how does it feel?”
He flexes his arms and legs. Stands and starts picking up the beer bottles, pizza boxes, and crusted food containers that cover every flat surface.
“You remember that arcade game where you move a claw around to grab a shitty teddy bear out of a bin? It’s kind of like I’m the claw.”
He flexes his fingers and picks up a Chinese-food container. His hands are the hound’s paws reworked and extended into clawlike hands.
“I know I’m ugly as a spider on a baby but it’s nice to have hands again.”
“Don’t feel so bad. We’re both in gimp club these days.”
I take the glove off and push up my left sleeve.
Kasabian shakes his head in disgust.
“Is that Kissi?”
“Yeah. Josef’s idea of a joke.”
He shakes his head and goes back to picking up trash.
“I get Rin Tin Tin’s gnawed-on bones and you get to look like Robocop. Story of my life.”
I reach over and take the Donut Universe bag off the desk. Kasabian’s eyes flicker over at me but he doesn’t say anything. I take out an apple fritter and bite into it. Fuck me. People food. The day-old dried-out grease bomb is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
“How’d you lose the arm?”
“In a fight.”
“Did it hurt?”
“A lot. Does that make you feel better?”
He moves his head side to side like he’s thinking.
“A little. Not enough. You can go out and pretend to be a person. Me? I’m still stuck in this room.”
“Why? You’ve got arms and legs. Get yourself some clothes and some gloves and you’ll be dancing in the rain.”
He picks up a burger wrapper, sniffs it, and drops it in with the other trash.
“If only. The body works okay dicking around here but I can’t go much further than the corner for beer. The legs won’t hold. Like I said, the guy never finished the job.”
“Take some of the Dark Eternal money and pay off the charm guy yourself.”
After I snuffed all the zombies in L.A., one of the local vampire cohorts, the Dark Eternal, handed me a suitcase full of cash as a reward for saving the city, i.e., their snack supply.
“Saint James took it. Gave it all away.”
“Right before he disappeared. Got all pious about it being dirty Lurker money. That kind of bullshit.”
I bite into the donut, talking with my mouth half full.
“I can’t tell you how many ways I’m going to kill that prick.”
Kasabian takes the bulging garbage bag, pushes open the alley window, and drops it into the pile on the Dumpster.
“That’s why the trash is piling up and downstairs isn’t finished.”
“Smart boy. Now tell me what number I’m thinking.”
He sits down at the desk and reaches past the overflowing ashtray to get a pack of Maledictions. Takes one for himself and holds out the pack to me. I take it and light our smokes with Mason’s lighter.
“What are you watching?” I ask.
“The Long Goodbye.”
“The best movie ever made about L.A. Fuck Chinatown. And don’t try to argue with me ’cause your opinion is going to be wrong.”
We smoke and watch the movie for a couple of minutes. A gangster is starting to strip and he’s telling Elliott Gould to do the same. I want to ask about Candy but the words won’t come out. I had this fantasy that she would have moved in here, taken my place, and be waiting for me. Being alone makes you stupid.
“If the money’s gone, why are the lights on? How do you pay for all this takeout?”
Kasabian blows smoke rings at the video screen.
“Not all the money’s gone. Just what he knew about. I embezzled some. You tried to throw me out enough times, so I set myself up a trust fund.”
He turns and looks at me.
“Always. You’re a thief. You can’t help stealing. And I probably gave you some cause to do it. How much did you get?”
“About two hundred grand.”
I cough, almost choking on the cigarette.
“Two hundred grand and you’re still hiding and living off delivery-boy donuts?”
He shakes his head.
“It sounds like a lot but it’s not exactly the rest-of-your-life money. At least the store brought in a little cash but with that gone . . .”
A few months back, Samael gave Kasabian the power to see into the Daimonion Codex, Lucifer’s Boy Scout handbook of clever awful things. Through it, Kasabian can also lurk behind the scenes watching parts of Hell like a surveillance cam.
“Did you ever look into the Codex? Did you see me Downtown?”
“Candy used to come by and ask me that.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“Three weeks. Maybe a month ago.”
“What did you say?”
He takes the Malediction out of his mouth with metal fingers stained yellow with nicotine.
“What I see is kind of erratic. I can’t see everywhere. I could see you on and off for the first few days, then you went off the air.”
“Maybe because of the Lucifer thing.”
“Never mind. I killed Mason, by the way.”
“There was a big hole in his head where his brains used to be.”
He leans an elbow on the desk and runs a metal hand over his head.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time. I used to dream about him coming back and finding me all crippled up and not able to run away.”
I say it without giving myself time to think about it.
“Where’s Candy these days?”
Elliott Gould is on a bus to Mexico. His suit is wrinkled and worn and his eyes are dark, like he hasn’t slept in days. He looks like half the population of Hell and most of Hollywood, the half not working out in gyms so they look like lunch meat stretched over Beverly Hills mannequins.
“She didn’t give me her fucking itinerary. The last number I have is for your friend’s clinic.”
He crushes out his cigarette and says, “You’re not moving back in here, are you? I’m kind of used to having the place to myself.”
I stand up, brushing the donut crumbs off my lap.
“Do you know who I am these days? I’m Lucifer, the lord high asshole of the Underworld. I’ll sleep anywhere I want.”
Kasabian tilts his eyes toward me without turning his head from the movie.
“You mean you’re broke.”
He opens one of the desk drawers and pulls out a carton of Maledictions. Instead of cigarettes, it’s full of cash. He peels off two hundred-dollar bills and holds them out to me. I don’t move to take them. After a minute he peels off a few more bills. I take them and stuff them in my pocket.
“Don’t think I’m always going to let you be so stingy with my money.”
“This is my money,” he says. “You gave your money away.”
I don’t feel like arguing the point. I lift up the mattress and feel around for my guns.
“Don’t bother. Saint James took them when he took the money.”
“Even Wild Bill’s Colt?”
“All of them.”
The old Navy Colt wasn’t Wild Bill’s actual gun but it was as close as I’m ever going to get and now it’s gone. That’s cold.
I get the Glock and my na’at from the duffel bag. The na’at goes inside my coat while the Glock goes in my waistband at my back.
“I’m leaving the duffel here until I figure out where I’m staying.”
Kasabian tosses me an unopened pack of Maledictions. That’s quite a thing coming from him. He must think it’s my birthday.
“Don’t bother. Pope Joan still works nights at the Beat Hotel. Drop some gelt on her and I bet she’ll give you our old room. I think I might have even hid some money in the air vent.”
I pick up the bag and start out.
“Good to see you on your feet, Old Yeller.”
“Happy hunting, Tin Man.”
I catch a glimpse of Kasabian in the window by the desk. In the glass his face is normal and clean, but the guy sitting in the chair is a grimy mess. That’s it, then. The Devil has special eyes. He can see sin. I wonder what Samael saw when he looked at me.
I get on the bike and drive at an entirely reasonable speed through backstreets to Allegra’s clinic. I use hand signals and everything. Look at me, Mom. A solid citizen at last.
What used to be Doc Kinski’s clinic and is currently Allegra’s is in a strip mall near where Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards meet. There’s a fried chicken franchise on one end of the mall and a local pizza joint on the other, with a Vietnamese nail salon and the clinic in between. The parking lot smells like a high school lunchroom and is one of the top ten last places anyone hunting heavy angelic magic would look.
The blinds are drawn in all the clinic windows. It says EXISTENTIAL HEALING on the door in gold peel-and-stick letters. I take the handle and pull. It’s locked. I raise my hand to knock and lower it. Seeing Kasabian is one thing—we’re both the biggest freaks the other knows—but this will be different. There are normal people in here. Not normal normal people, but ones who act and feel like normal people.
I don’t know what to say to Candy. Three months ago I told her I’d be back in three days. And Allegra. I didn’t even say good-bye to Allegra before I left. She freaked out when I briefly worked as Samael’s bodyguard and things haven’t been right between us since. If Vidocq is inside, that’s another whole complication. The old man is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a real father. But he’s also French, and loud when he gets excited. Right now I don’t know if I can handle either one, much less both. Still.
I knock on the door.
It opens a crack and a heavyset blonde with blue skin and horns peers out at me. She’s a Ludere. A kind of Lurker. The whole tribe are compulsive gamblers. Probably the only reason she works here is so she can run a line on which patients are going to recover and which are going to die.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Everyone thinks I’m dead, so probably not.”
She reaches out through the open door and shoves a business card into my hand.
“Call and Dr. Allegra will see you when she can.”
She starts to close the door. I grab the edge.
“Is Candy inside?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Does that mean she’s in there?”
She points to the card.
“Call and make an appointment.”
“Why don’t I make one right now? My name is Stark and in thirty seconds I’m coming inside. You have ten seconds to write it in your book and twenty seconds to get out of the way before I kick the door in.”
She leans to one side so the light from the clinic lobby falls across my face.