“Mr. Muninn, this is my friend Candy.”
“Very nice to meet you. I see you’re like our friend James here, with his penchant for a single name.”
“Yeah,” she says. “For the longest time all I knew was Stark. It must have taken him six months to tell me the James part.”
“Well, I still don’t know your last name,” I say.
“As far as I know, I don’t have one. When I have to use one I usually just go with Jade.”
“Candy Jade. It sounds like one of your cartoon characters.”
“Sandman Slim sounds like grout cleaner.”
Muninn puts out his hand.
“Welcome to my humble home, Candy.”
She shakes, but her arm tightens around mine. She’s scared, like she’s afraid she’ll burst into flames if she touches him. But she’s brave and does it anyway. No flames. No explosions. Not even smoke.
“Was it smart to bring someone more innocent than you or I to this place?”
“I introduced her to Samael and she survived. She knows about me, so she was twisting my arm to meet the new Lucifer.”
Muninn says, “I wish I could meet a new Lucifer too. I don’t suppose you want the job back.”
“I’m afraid not.”
Muninn sighs and waves us to a sitting area.
The place isn’t anything like the penthouse when I lived here. I never bothered fixing it up. I left all of the anonymously expensive hotel furniture right where it was. Now the place looks like a museum. Back in L.A., Muninn lived in an underground cavern full of art, machines, toys, food, and geegaws from every civilization since the last ice age. It looks like he’s moved half of it down here.
Candy and I sit on a solid-gold love seat with tentacles for armrests and shaggy horsehide cushions. From the look of the thing it’s probably nestled the rear end of at least a couple of emperors. Muninn drops into a vintage La-Z-Boy recliner, but he keeps it upright for his guests.
“That’s not quite the look I was expecting for the new Devil,” I say.
Muninn glances across the room.
“I have a throne around here somewhere. A piece that’s even grander than the seat you’re on now. I wish I could greet all my guests in this chair. The throne plays hell with my back, no pun intended.”
“Sorry again about sticking you down here, but I had stuff I needed to get back to in the world.”
Out of the corner of my eye I catch Candy’s lips flicker into a brief smile.
“I understand. I should never have let Samael play his little trick and force you into taking his place. I created Hell, which makes me responsible for its well-being.”
Candy looks puzzled, and then lets it go.
I say, “So how’s it going down here?”
Muninn leans back into the chair.
“Better than it was,” he says.
“Better than when I ran it.”
“Oh my, yes. I’m rebuilding much faster than you were and it seems to have raised everyone’s spirits.”
“You know I had to drag my feet, right? I had to keep these Hellion bastards running around making plans so they were too busy to get together and kill me.”
“I understand completely. But it didn’t help the psyches of those who had to live here.”
“That’s why I wanted you to take over. I knew you could make things right and hold off the wolves too.”
Muninn looks at Candy.
“And what do you think, young lady? Did James’s hundred days as Lucifer improve his disposition?”
“Sure. He’s a pussycat now. Of course, I kicked his ass when he got home, so maybe it was that. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Why don’t you not?” I say. “Have you heard anything about Aelita or the 8 Ball?”
He shifts in his chair, trying to ease his back.
“Aelita still has confederates in Hell and she tried to use them to hide the Qomrama here. General Semyazah and I persuaded her that that was a bad idea.”
“I wonder if she took it to Heaven?”
“I doubt it. Aelita has as many enemies as allies there. Heaven isn’t a safe place for her.”
“If she can’t hide the 8 Ball in Heaven or Hell . . .”
“Then it’s still on earth,” says Candy.
“That’s a relief. I got stuck with the fake Qomrama earlier today and was starting to think I’d wasted the last month chasing my tail.”
“No. You are right to keep looking there,” says Muninn.
“How do you know she didn’t hide it in Antarctica or the bottom of the ocean?” says Candy.
Muninn says, “It’s my understanding that soon after getting the Qomrama, Aelita was pursued by a contingent of loyal angels from Heaven, so she had to hide it quickly. I suspect it’s still somewhere in Los Angeles.”
Candy shakes her head.
“Why doesn’t God just kill the bitch?” she says.
Muninn settles back in the chair and looks at me.
“Candy, remember how Mr. Muninn said that he was responsible for Hell because he made it?”
“Lucifer didn’t make Hell. God did.”
“Yeah. I thought that sounded funny.”
“It makes more sense when you know that before he was Lucifer, Mr. Muninn was God.”
Candy looks at me to see if I’m joking. Then she looks at Muninn.
“I’m afraid he’s telling the truth,” Muninn says. “And the reason I don’t, as you said, kill the bitch is I can’t.”
I say, “He’s not as strong as he used to be. See, God isn’t exactly God anymore. He had sort of a nervous breakdown. Instead of one big God, there’s five little ones.”
“Four,” says Muninn. “Aelita has already killed Neshamah.”
“Word is your brother Ruach is tearing it up in Heaven.”
Muninn unconsciously squeezes the easy chair’s arms.
“Yes. You see, Ruach is the oldest brother. The oldest fragment. He covets the power the rest of us have. He’s a little mad, I think.”
“Was he always that way?”
“He was always a bit fragile. Then my brother Nefesh did what he did.”
“What does he do?” says Candy.
“Our quarrels became more and more violent. Finally Ruach flew into a rage. He demanded that the rest of us relinquish our powers or he would kill us all. When we wouldn’t he attacked us. Nefesh was the one who finally stopped him, in much the way I cast the first Lucifer out of Heaven.”
“With a thunderbolt.”
“Yes. It left Ruach blind and partially deaf. His anger and fear of us grew to the point where the rest of us knew we couldn’t stay.”
Candy says, “So there’s a God in Heaven, only he’s just a little piece. And there’s other pieces of God running around. And you’re a piece of God and Lucifer at the same time.”
“In a nutshell,” says Mr. Muninn.
Candy pats my arm in mock sympathy.
“Now I understand why you are the way you are. The universe is a lot more fucked up than I ever imagined.”
“Can your brothers help?” I say. “Where are they?”
Muninn waves a hand at the window.
“Here. There. Anywhere. I haven’t talked to them in a long time.”
“Okay. So, anything new with Merihim and Deumos? Are they at war yet?”
Merihim is a big wheel in the old official Hellion church. Hell’s Vatican. Strictly an old-boys club. No girls allowed. Deumos and her sister Hellions had a little problem with that. They started their own church, worshipping a kind of goddess that’s supposed to be the new post-God deity. A fairy godmother to kiss all the scraped knees and make everything all right again. One of the last things I did when I was Lucifer was give the women their own church. After I left, Merihim and his crew burned it down. What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and rotten little assholes that don’t want to share their toys.
“Not quite at war but far from peace. Deumos and many of the other sisters have gone into hiding,” says Muninn. “You might be amused to know that Medea Bava went into hiding with them.”
Medea Bava was the Sub Rosa’s Inquisition. Their ultimate enforcer. The lone-wolf cop who handed out life sentences in a little place called Tartarus, the Hell below Hell, where souls were burned to stoke the celestial furnaces. It was a place no one ever escaped from. Only I escaped and I took all the other lunatics in the asylum out with me. After that, Medea disappeared. I hate her almost as much as Aelita.
“She lost faith in me—the God part, at least—when you destroyed Tartarus, so she joined Deumos and the sisters. Another voice lost in the wilderness.”
“Fuck Medea. She’s not a voice anyone needs in their head, especially you. She’s as crazy as Aelita. Deumos is the only one of the bunch who’s sane, and she’s completely deluded. And Merihim is just a power-hungry prick. He’s long overdue for a hard fall down a long flight of stairs, if you get my drift.”
“I’m afraid I do.”
“I don’t know how he did it, but Merihim used to crank-call me in L.A. after I left here.”
“He was upset with how you left things.”
“Cry me a river, pal,” I say. “Isn’t there something you can do to get Merihim and the church under control and off Deumos’s back?”
“That would be taking sides.”
“Fine. Then stop them both and make them play nice.”
He looks around, uncomfortable. Slams his fist down on the arm of the chair.
“It’s not that simple,” Muninn shouts.
It’s the first time I’ve heard him raise his voice about anything.
“You never understood how being a ruler works, James. And you have no idea what a deity is. You want me to make myself known and manifest to humankind. Do you really think that would solve anything? Or would it make things worse? You, like Samael, want total free will for the angels.”
Muninn sweeps his arms out to the broken landscape of Hell.
“Behold. That is what angelic free will looks like.”
“That’s not fair. You took the worst of the worst, the losers and the rat-fuck crazies, and locked them at the shit-pit bottom of the universe. There was no way they were ever going to build anything but this.”
“That’s also Samael’s argument. You two are so much alike.”
“I’m not anything like Samael.”
Muninn leans forward in his chair.
“Really? Does that wound in your side hurt?”
“Of course it is.”
He looks at Candy.
“Samael walked around for millennia bleeding from a wound I gave him during the first Heavenly war. All he ever had to do was ask and I would have healed him.”
Candy gives me a look.
“That does sound familiar.”
“Samael and I aren’t anything alike.”
Muninn looks at Candy.
“He’ll bleed with that bullet in him until the end of time before he’ll ask for help.”
“What if I ask?” Candy says.
Muninn raises his eyebrows.
“Ah. Here’s someone unburdened by the sin of pride.”
“Don’t you dare,” I say to Candy.
“Too late,” says Muninn. “Here.”
He puts something in my hand. The bullet.
Candy leans over to look at it.
“And what do we say when someone magically heals us?”
“I didn’t ask him to.”
She smiles at Muninn.
“He says, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Muninn.’ ”
“I hope you’ll forgive me for snatching away your martyrdom, James,” Muninn says.
“That’s okay. You I can forgive but the idiot who put it in there and whoever he works for I don’t. Or his bastard brother.”
“Will you be seeing Wild Bill while you’re here?”
“Next visit. When I’m not on the clock.”
Candy holds out her hand.
“Can I have the bullet?”
“What, are you a crow all of a sudden? You want all the shiny things.”
“I wanted the money clip because it was pretty. I want the bullet because you’re going to conveniently lose it somewhere and I want to keep it.”
“Who knows? Maybe when you get shot again I’ll make you cuff links.”
“For all the times I wear dress shirts.”
Dress shirts. Clothes. The bullet in my gut. I almost forgot the whole reason I came down here in the first place.
“Mr. Muninn, I’m looking for a new damned soul. His name is Trevor Moseley. Is there any way I can find him?”
“You say he’s new down here?”
Muninn shakes his head.
“I’m afraid our intake procedures aren’t what they should be. Why do you want to speak to him?”
“I want to know why he was so happy to walk in front of a bus.”
“That is unusual. I can put out a notice for him and let you know when he pops up on my radar.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate it. We should go. We’ve taken up enough of your time.”
Muninn gets up.
“I’m sorry I raised my voice.”
“Don’t apologize. I probably deserved it.”
“You did,” says Candy.
“Feel free to come or go through any of the shadows in here,” says Muninn. “I don’t think you’ll be wanting to take the long way next time.”