Devil Said Bang

Page 32

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“Mind if I have one of those?”


“Not at all.”


He holds out the pack to me. I take one, break off the filter, and toss it on his lawn. Teddy doesn’t flinch but he saw the butt fall and knows exactly where it is. He’ll be out here with tweezers and bleach later to clean up my mess.


I light the cigarette with Mason’s lighter. Without the filter, the smoke is rough and rich, like a three-hundred-pound nurse giving me CPR.


There are acres of land below us carved up and divided between several graveyards. It’s a whole housing development for the dead.


“Speak of the Devil, to your right is a foreign sanctuary. A small one from the Cannes region of France.”


It’s a pretty collection of stone monuments and phone-booth-size tombs filled with cats. Cats seem to love dead Frenchmen. I’ll have to ask Vidocq about that sometime.


“Over here is our first import from Asia.”


Miniature candy-colored pagodas and ornate stone barges fill a very old, very crowded Thai graveyard. Beyond it is a re-creation of an improvised Civil War graveyard, complete with crumbling wooden markers.


“How the hell do you do all this?”


Teddy beams, delighted that I’m impressed.


“We keep a group of necromantic engineers on retainer. They survey the cemetery proper, caskets, tombs, and bodies. Whatever’s appropriate. Then chart the exact depth and position of each burial against the stars. The cemetery is then dismantled and rebuilt here, reproducing the original alignments down to the millimeter.”


Teddy bats away a fly, the first I’ve seen here. Maybe an ungrateful jabber left a hole open nearby like an oversize groundhog.


“If need be, we can transport native soil back with the disinterred remains.”


What’s funny is that Teddy is as unimpressive as the estate is impressive. I’m even forgetting to treat him like shit. For all his eccentricity, Teddy is one of the beige people. They want to fade into the woodwork and disappear. It’s not depression. It’s more like a desperate desire to become invisible. He’s only tolerating me because he doesn’t want to piss off the other Devil freaks enough to shun him. Plus, it’s a chance to show off. If I sat next to him at the synod, I guarantee he wouldn’t have said a word to me all night. He’s cold oatmeal in thousand-dollar loafers. Dad and Granddad must have done some serious damage before leaving him alone on a hill with nothing but dead playmates.


“Have you heard about the little girl?”


He finally lights the damn cigarette and takes a puff.


“Everyone’s heard about her. If you’re implying that she’s one of mine, she’s not. Like most ghosts, mine are completely nonaggressive.”


“You’ve never had any trouble with any ghosts?”


He shrugs. Turns the wheel and runs alongside a long stone burial mound.


“They have their moods just like anyone but they don’t go around stabbing people.”


I keep thinking about Amanda’s story about the Imp of Madrid. She’d be right at home here.


“Pull over.”


Teddy stops the cart under a towering stone angel.


“I don’t buy any of what you’re selling, Teddy. This funfair for ghosts and they’re all tame little bunnies? I don’t believe it. You’re connected to the girl. I don’t know how but you are. And, you see, she went after Saint James.”


“Who?”


“Shut up. Coming after him means she came after me.”


I take out the .45 and push it into his ribs.


“Do you know what happens to people who try to kill me or mine?”


Teddy has gone as white as his Rolls. He tries to swallow but chokes on his spit.


“Please. I don’t know what you want. The girl isn’t one of mine.”


I say, “Liar,” to double-check, but the moment has passed. I can read it in his heartbeat and his breath. The microtremors in his voice. The fucker is telling the truth. I keep the gun out anyway.


“Who could do that? Summon and control a spirit that powerful?”


“I don’t know. Maybe someone from the temple. For all I know, it could be Amanda.”


“Please. She can’t even keep her kid in line. What’s she going to do with a little Lizzie Borden?”


“Please don’t shoot me.”


“Are you sure? You can stay here forever with your drinking buddies.”


“What can I say to make you believe me?”


I lower the gun, resting it in my lap.


“Nothing. You already have.”


There’s no way the girl is one of his. At least if she is, he doesn’t know.


If she isn’t connected to Osterberg, then I’m back to nothing and this whole trip has been pointless. Traven ought to appreciate that. At least one of us will be happy. I should shoot Teddy just for getting in the way of me getting King Cairo.


“Let’s head back to the homestead, Teddy. All this fresh air is giving me hives.”


On the way back, we pass what looks like a pretty ordinary cemetery. There’s only one thing wrong.


“What’s the story with that patch of graves?”


“What do you mean?”


“American tombstones point east at the rising sun. Those face west. I think your necro-Teamsters blew the gig.”


He shakes his head.


“You have a good eye for someone so . . . excitable.”


“I’m an asshole. I’m not blind.”


“To answer your question, it’s an English Gnostic plot. They were contrarians to their very core, rejecting the reality of this world. When they died they were buried and marked in the wrong direction to display their disdain for this world for all time.”


“You’d make a billion dollars on Jeopardy! if all the categories were ‘creepy facts about the dead.’ ”


“Would you mind putting your gun away, Mr. Macheath? I think you can see that I’m no threat.”


“Yeah, but I’m a nervous passenger and it’s kind of like my security blanket.”


Teddy brings us back to the front of the house. He parks the cart back in the shade. Gets out and waits for me like an obedient kid.


“I hope there’s no hard feelings, Ted. After the ghost went after Saint James, you understand I had to check you out.”


“Of course. May I go now?”


“Sure. Run along, you scamp.”


He doesn’t move until I put the gun back in my waistband.


“Thank you for stopping by.”


“My pleasure. See you around the afterlife.”


Teddy heads for the house fast. He doesn’t run even though he wants to. Yeah, someone did a real number on him if he thanked me after what I put him through.


I take it all back, everything I’ve ever said about the rich. I love the loud rich. I want the rich to be coked up, ugly, flashy, and decked in blood diamonds. Teddy’s kind of mousy Emily Dickinson rich is so much worse. Trying to hate Teddy is like trying to hate wallpaper paste. When I get home, I’m going to write a love letter to the loathsome rich letting them know how much I appreciate them. Their glorious excess gives me something substantial to despise and I love them for it.


It takes twenty minutes to get down the hill. The sky is blue again when I climb on the bike but the clouds have turned a dull gray. I swear I can see rivets along their sides like they’re floating islands of steel.


I’m about to kick-start the bike when my phone rings. Candy is as bad at patience as I am. But it’s not her.


“Are you settling into your new home all right? Good water pressure? Is it clean under the bed? I hear the Chateau is close to all the hot spots.”


It’s a different voice this time. A woman’s voice but I know who it really is. This isn’t going to stop.


“You again. I know you’re speaking through a mortal. Why don’t you come over to the Chateau and we’ll talk things over like a couple of friendly, reasonable monsters?”


“What would Alice say about you settling into Satan’s residence so quickly and easily? Good thing she went back to Heaven when she did. Who knows what would have happened to her if she’d stayed with you.”


“Don’t talk about Alice, you Hellion puke. I know what you’re trying to do. You want me back down there.”


“Can you see her now? Her pretty face on the wall with all the other dead you have to account for.”


“You think you want me back but trust me, you don’t.”


“Speaking of the dead, we’re knee-deep in them down here. No one thinks you’re coming back. Least of all me. Every burble and bubble in every sinkhole sounds like doom to the rabble.”


“If I came back, I figure the best way to find you is to kill every Hellion down there. I don’t know how long that would take but we’ve got all eternity to try. I hope you have a good call plan.”


“If you think things were falling apart before, wait until you see what happens this time. Those poor lost souls without you to protect them.”


“Just because I’m not coming back doesn’t mean I don’t have plans. They’ll be fine long after you’re drytt food.”


“It’s such a comfort hearing your voice.”


“Yeah. You’re my evil past. All the birds come home and shit on your head. A dead girl told me all about it. As far as I’m concerned, Hell can burn to the ground this time. Tell everyone down there I said it.”


“No matter how far or fast you run, it won’t be enough. I’ll always be with you.”


I hang up. Immediately, the phone rings but I ignore it. It keeps ringing all the way through Malibu.


I look for Catalina on the ride back but I can’t find it. Sometimes the weather hides it. That’s probably what it is.


Candy is in the top-floor hall at the Chateau Marmont when I open the grandfather clock.


“You’ve got to be kidding me.”


“Are you going to stay out there or come in and see for yourself?”


She comes through and stands just inside the entrance trying to absorb it all. I’ve been here and I’ve lived in Lucifer’s palace Downtown but I’m not sure she’s ever been in such a conspicuous consumption situation before.


She puts her hands on my shoulders and turns me back and forth.


“Nice shirt. You going for your real-estate license?”


“Baby, the only real estate that counts is the pretty grave the other guy goes in.”


“I love it when you talk dirty.”


She walks around the main room, running her fingers over the expensive furniture and paintings.


I say, “Rinko’s doing better?”


“She’s apprenticing with Allegra. Why don’t you let me worry about Rinko.”


“Okay.”


She circles the room to the area I’ve settled into near the chocolate-brown leather sofa, low coffee table, and a couple of overstuffed chairs near the TV.


“This is all yours?”


“I guess so. They keep it for Mr. Macheath. As far as I know, Lucifer is the only Macheath around.”


“So you can do anything you want.”


“Yeah. But I can’t decide between a gun range or a macramé studio.”


Candy jumps onto the sofa and bounces up and down like a kid on a bed, her short hair flapping around her face, her Chuck Taylors leaving soft footprints in the sofa cushions.


“You having fun up there?”


“This is really well built. They usually collapse by now.”


As she jumps she takes off her jacket and throws it at me. Then her shirt. Then her sneakers and her pants.


Still jumping, she says, “Come on. Let’s break it.”


I catch her on a jump and drop her flat on her back. Climb on the sofa and kneel over her. She unbuckles my pants while I take off my shirt.


This time it’s more like when we first stayed at the Beat Hotel together. We smash the coffee table when I flip her over on top of it. We knock over potted bamboos and splinter chairs. But we never make a dent in the sofa.


Later, my phone rings.


“Answer that and you’re a dead man,” Candy says.


“Since when do you ever not answer your phone?”


“That’s not what I mean. I just don’t want a bunch of monsters or demons coming over so I have to get dressed.”


“There are robes in the bedroom.”


“Really? I love robes.”


She disappears down the hall. The phone stops ringing.


She comes out in a maroon terrycloth bathrobe as thick as the Lawrence, Kansas, white pages.


“Is ‘robegasm’ a word?” she asks. “Because if it is, I just had one.”


My phone pings. There’s a text from Kasabian. Someone broke into Max Overdrive.


I pick up the hotel phone and call the front desk.


“I need a car right now.”


“Of course, Mr. Macheath.”


I put down the phone and start pulling on my clothes.


“If you want to come along, you need to get dressed.”


“I am dressed.”


“No, you’re not,” I say, and hand her the folder pistol.


“What’s this?”


“Push the button on top of the grip.”


The folder snaps open from the bottom, like bomb-bay doors opening on the jet. Candy puts the rifle stock to her shoulder, sights around the room, and pulls the pistol’s trigger making Pow! noises.


“That’s exactly why I didn’t load it.”


“No fair.”


“Them’s the rules.”


“Killjoy.”


“You can always give it back if you don’t like it.”

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