I step back into a shadow, feeling at home again. I can’t hear Saint James in my head, but with luck, he feels it too.
I come out of a shadow in the hallway in the Chateau with the grandfather clock. I step through. Kasabian is watching Major Dundee on the big screen. He glances over his shoulder when I come in then turns back to the screen.
“I think we’ll have to clear out of here soon.”
“Not until they figure out I’m not Macheath anymore. A few days. Maybe a week. I don’t know.”
He nods, not taking his eyes off the screen.
“I had a feeling this was too good to be true. Okay. They haven’t sent up any food for a while. Tell them to bring a few carts. Start stockpiling so we can take it with us when we get the bum’s rush.”
I sit on the arm of the leather sofa, suddenly very tired.
“I can’t keep doing this. Saving the world and ending up broke and homeless.”
Kasabian crushes a beer can in one of his hellhound hands and opens another one-handed. Neat trick.
“Speak for yourself,” he says. “I’ve got my future locked. Between the Codex, your magic eyeball, and the Hellion translator you said you’re getting, I’m going to become the biggest medium on the Web. I can actually see into Hell, which is where most people’s asshole relatives are going to be. Isn’t that something? I’ll be the only honest online psychic in the world. I’ll make a fortune.”
“Yeah. Telling people their loved ones are burning in eternal hellfire will have the money rolling in.”
He nods his head from side to side.
“Well, I might have to leave out a few details. Shave the truth a bit. I already know how to do that.”
“Good. Then I’ll move back in; we’ll use the rest of the money to fix up the store and reopen.”
“Slow down, Seabiscuit. I don’t even have a site yet.”
“We’ll fix the store or you can give me my money back.”
“It’s my money.”
I get a bottle of Aqua Regia. Light a Malediction and dial the clinic to check on Candy. No one answers. I dial again.
Bamboo House of Dolls is crowded. Packed in like cavity-search close. Just like the old days. I don’t know why I’m surprised. It always works this way. A little mayhem. A touch of homicide without too many casualties. Just enough to give you a good story. And the Bamboo House is on the map again. Home sweet home.
“Here’s to two weeks under the radar,” says Candy, holding up a glass of Jack Daniel’s.
I clink my glass against hers.
“They haven’t tossed your asses out of the Marmont yet?” says Carlos.
His arm is still in a sling but it’s not his pouring arm, so who cares?
“Not yet,” Candy says.
“I have a feeling Mr. Muninn has something to do with it. I don’t know how long the ride will last but I’m ready to go till the wheels come off.”
“You ought to take a night off and come over,” she says to Carlos. “I’ll make dinner. And by ‘make dinner,’ I mean I’ll call down for enough food to sink the Titanic.”
“It’s a date,” says Carlos, and he pours us another round of Jack.
Father Traven pushes his way inside. He looks a little overwhelmed. I wonder if he thinks every bar is like Bamboo House. Will he be disappointed the first time he goes to a civilian one?
“Hey, Father. Damned anyone today?”
“Not a single soul.”
“The night is young. How are you holding up?”
He shrugs. Takes a sip of red wine.
“Fine. Still processing it all. The newspapers are saying that the Osterberg family had investments in the defense industry and that his death is being investigated as a possible instance of domestic terrorism. Apparently Homeland Security is involved.”
I put my Kissi arm around his shoulders. I have long sleeves and a glove on so he doesn’t have to look.
“Don’t sweat it. I used to do jobs for them. They’re looking for guys in ski masks, not a priest and some monsters. We’re not even on their radar.”
“I hope you’re right.”
He turns and looks over the crowd.
Blue-skinned Luderes are gambling at a table near the jukebox. Manimal Mike and his vucari cousins sit with a bunch of Nahuals trading shots of expensive tequila and cheap vodka. Shape-shifters, gloomy necromancers, and club kids dressed like electric peacocks slow-dance to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys doing “Blues for Dixie.”
“What if someone got my license-plate number coming down the hill?”
“When would they do that? When they were being knocked stupid by rocks or buried under flying sharks? Relax and have a drink.”
He takes another sip of wine.
“So your angel, Aelita, seems to be behind everything that’s happened. How tragic that she chose that particular vengeful ghost.”
“I don’t see it that way.”
Carlos looks as happy as I’ve seen him in a long time. His brother-in-law is helping out while he’s healing. He seems to like having a partner.
“There’s nothing tragic or bad luck about it. Aelita doesn’t make mistakes like that. She knew who the Imp was.”
“She deliberately let loose a piece of the Angra Om Ya in this world? Why?”
“To help her kill God. I figure that she can’t do it on her own. Why else would she leave the Qomrama in Hell? She got lucky when she killed Neshamah, but she doesn’t really know how to use it. The Angra do.”
Traven picks up a single peanut from the coconut bowls full of them.
“Why would she invite entities that can destroy the universe? Presumably, she’d be destroyed too.”
“You said it yourself. God made an offering that tricked the Angra into another dimension. Maybe she has that or knows how to do it. She brings the Angra in, uses them, and sends them on their merry way. It’s exactly how she likes to work.”
“How do you know all this?”
I shrug. I don’t want to tell him that Saint James and I are dating again and that he’s probably the one who figured it out and I’m just taking credit.
“It’s the only logical thing.”
“So this isn’t over.”
“This is just getting started.”
Brigitte wobbles by. She’s more than a little drunk. She opens her mouth in exaggerated silent-movie surprise when she sees me. “I couldn’t find you in this madhouse. I heard that you took care of Teddy once and for all.”
“He’s dead, burned, and gone. Hallelujah.”
“Thank you,” she says.
She looks at Traven.
“Who is your friend? You haven’t introduced us.”
“This is Father Traven. He saved my ass when we were at Teddy’s. Father Traven, this is Brigitte Bardo.”
He puts out his hand. She smiles at his politeness and how he obviously has no idea who she is.
“Very nice to meet you. Please call me Liam.”
“A father, eh, Liam? I’ve played nuns in many of my movies.”
“Really? You’re an actress. Can I find your movies in stores? I’ve just started watching movies.”
I shake my head at him.
“Stick to musicals and John Wayne for a while. You’re not ready for Brigitte.”
I whisper in Brigitte’s ear.
“Be nice. He was for real. Not one of your Hollywood hoodoo Holy Rollers.”
She touches his arm.
“A past-tense priest? What happened? Did you fall in love with a beautiful woman? A handsome boy?”
“He fell for giant-tentacle bastards from another dimension who want to eat us.”
“They sound charming. You must tell me all about them.”
The father’s eyes shift back and forth between us. I’ve revealed his darkest secret and he’s still standing.
“It’s okay, Father. She’s one of us. She’s probably taken out more monsters than you and me put together.”
I nod at Brigitte.
“Ask him about the Via Dolorosa.”
She smiles brightly.
“The Stations of the Cross? I did a movie about that too.”
“Please tell me about it.”
She loops her arm in his and leads him away.
Vidocq is coming my way. Allegra isn’t with him. When he reaches me, he clamps me in a big bear hug.
“I hear that I have you to thank for this sore jaw.”
“You came at me with a knife and I had to defend my new shirt.”
“I don’t remember any of it.”
At a table, a couple of civilian card sharks are going broke trying to hustle psychics at poker.
“And you won’t. That’s how it’s set up. Bastards get in your head. Play around and pop out and you never have a clue. They tried doing it to me.”
“Did it work?”
I shake my head.
“The tinfoil hat I had installed saved me.”
He raises a glass of whiskey.
“To the madness we choose. Not the madness others choose for us.”
“Is Allegra with you?”
He pats me on the shoulder.
“Give her some time.”
“I’m drunk enough to apologize sincerely.”
“I’m sure she’d appreciate that. But give her some time.”
A succubus slaps a vampire when he bites her throat and makes a face at the taste of her blood. The Bewlay twins are loaded enough that they’re transforming other pretty boys into clones of themselves. There’s going to be a very confusing orgy somewhere tonight.
“I’m not Lucifer anymore. I did to some poor slob what Samael did to me. Backed him into a corner so he had to take the job.”
“And who was this innocent youth?”
“May He learn well how the rest of us feel.”
“I need to go out and grab a smoke.”
Candy is talking to Brigitte and Traven. I kiss her as I go by and head out the door.
The street is crowded with civilians and Lurkers. I go around the side of the building far enough that there’s no streetlight and fire up a Malediction. I feel a little earthquake under my feet. A hole opens in the concrete a few feet away.
“Hi, Cherry,” I say. “Thanks for helping out with Teddy.”
I go to the edge of the hole and look down. Cherry is a mess. She’s lost an arm and a lot of teeth. There are a couple of bullet holes in her skull.
“Thanks for whatever you did to the Imp. She’s gone.”
“I didn’t do anything to her. I set her free and let her make her own choice. My guess is she went home.”
“As long as she’s gone.”
“Are you fishing for compliments?”
“No. Just thinking about things. Back in Hell, Great-Great-Great-Granddad told me to pick and choose my fights. I agree with him but sometimes it’s hard to pick which fights because you don’t know what they are until you start. I thought I was Elvis on Ice when I stopped Mason’s war with Heaven. But I left all those Hellions worse off because they thought they were going to get free from Hell. Then I come back to L.A. to find Candy off with someone else, Aelita is back, there’s a murdering ghost on the loose, and a scar-faced skinhead’s looking to kill me all because I cut off a Kissi’s head a year ago. He deserved it but that doesn’t matter in the big picture. What matters is everything down the line that killing him triggered. But how do you know what bad juju you’re shaking loose before you start shaking things up?”
Cherry turns her hollow eye sockets up at me.
“And the point of your eloquent speech?”
“I don’t exactly know. Maybe we need to be more careful about the messes we leave behind. Try to tidy things up a bit when the bullets stop flying.”
“Maybe you could cut off fewer heads.”
“That too. Muninn told me to forgive part of myself, and as much as I hate that healing-your-inner-child yammer, I’m trying. You need to let go and move on. Look at you. You were a sad sight when you were in one piece. Now you’re not even a skeleton. Just a sack of random bones. Come out of there. Even if you don’t want to pass on entirely, have a little dignity. Be a ghost and not a burrowing bug.”
“I am a ghost.”
“I mean a real ghost. Ditch the skeleton and do a regular haunting. How about the Lollipop Dolls store? Think of it. A high-end J-pop place with its own ghost. It’ll be like Kwaidan with pigtails.”
She’s quiet for a minute. If she had a face, she’d look lost in thought.
“I couldn’t just move in. I’d have to ask the girls.”
“I hardly know anything about that anime stuff but Candy has a Ph.D. I bet she’d talk to them for you.”
“Why are you going out of your way to help me?”
“Because you and me have a past too. You thought I could save you when you were alive and I didn’t. I figure getting you out of that hole might make up for that a little.”
“Maybe it will,” she says. “Have your friend talk to the girls.”
“I will. See you around, Cherry.”
But she’s already gone.
I throw the rest of the cigarette into the hole and start back inside when my phone rings. It’s a blocked number. Sure, why not?
It’s a man voice this time.
“I haven’t seen it myself but I hear you ruined Lucifer’s armor.”