Home > Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2)(17)

Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2)(17)
Author: Richard Kadrey

Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces. Someday the right one will catch you in between the eyes and you’ll never see it coming. There’ll just be a flash of a face or a smell or her touch. Then bang, you’re gone. The only rational thing to do is kill memory. Get it before it gets you. One more drink should do it. It hasn’t worked before, but what the hell, maybe I’ll get lucky this time. I finish the Aqua Regia.

“I don’t want you to worry, James. I’m going to make sure you’re taken care of. I know with the way your mind works, that must sound sinister, but you’re just going to have to live with it.”

“You’re only worried ’cause I owe you money.”

He ignores this and points to my stomach.

“You’re still leaking. You need to keep pressure on the wound.”

“I’m not made of rubber. I’ve got the front, but I can’t reach the hole in back.”

He gets up and comes around the table.

“Turn around so I can see your back.”

I slide around and feel him press one of the throw pillows against the wound.

“I’m bloody and drunk and a strange man is holding a pillow over me. It’s like summer camp all over again.”

“You did a good job tonight. You saw the attack coming before I did. I hope you know how embarrassing that is for me.”

“It’ll be our little secret.”

“A century ago, I wouldn’t have missed it.”

“A century ago, they’d have been coming by steamboat and horse-drawn buggies. Helen Keller wouldn’t have missed it.”

Someone steps through the clock with a leather satchel in his hand. It’s an old man in a wrinkled shirt and a severe case of bed hair.

Lucifer barks at the old man.

“You took your time, you old fool.”

“Ich schlief. Es tut mir leid, mein herr.”

“Take care of his wounds.”

The old man nods and sets his bag on the table as Lucifer goes back to his chair. I start to take off the jacket, but Dr. Allwissend waves at me to stop. He takes an oversize cutthroat razor from his bag and, with a couple of smooth Jack the Ripper slashes, cuts the jacket and shirt so he can lift them right off me. I wouldn’t want to be dating this guy’s daughter. He wipes the blood from my wounds and takes some bottles from his bag. He spreads them on the table and begins mixing a potion.

“So, which one of them did it?” I ask.

“Which one?”

I look over the doctor’s shoulder so I can see him.

“Which one of everyone who hates your guts set you up? Mason? Aelita? Some civilian who doesn’t want his soul on a hook in a Hellion butcher shop? Maybe Bruce Willis is scared your movie will be bigger than his?”

“You’re hilarious. I have no idea.”

“Guess.”

“Not Mason. He wouldn’t have done it like that. He would have gone for something more … baroque. Winged snakes. Fire from the sky.”

“Yeah. Lizzie Borden with a death ray stuff.”

“Exactly.”

“At first I thought it was the Vigil, but—and don’t get offended, I’m just the messenger—you’re not on Aelita’s radar. She thinks you’re all buggy whips and syphilis. Quaint old antiques.”

“Lucky me.”

“That only leaves one candidate. Someone at the party. A Sub Rosa?”

“How’s that?”

“Who else knew where you were going tonight?”

“Just you and Kasabian.”

“Kasabian didn’t know when you were leaving. If I was the one who arranged the hit, I could have just let those guys take you. That means either I arranged to get myself shot again or it was someone else.”

“There were a lot of people at the party. Including civilians.”

“Yeah, but how many of them have the contacts to arrange a hit like that? They came at you with nonlethals, so they wanted you alive. That means someone has the contacts to set up a snatch-and-grab that size and the balls to think that they can hold you. That doesn’t sound like a civilian to me. At least not a civilian on his own.”

“I don’t imagine they wanted ransom. Whom would they ransom me to?”

“One of your generals? Mason? God?”

Lucifer laughs.

“If Father wanted me, he wouldn’t send a SWAT team. A rain of toads or plague of locusts, maybe, but not children in ninja pajamas.”

“What about a civilian who wants his or her soul back?”

“Hmm.”

The doctor pours the potion he’s put together into his hands and smears it on my wounds. It’s thick and smells like diesel oil. From a battered wooden box he pulls a couple of fat, glistening beetles. Puts one on my stomach and the other on my back. They start eating the oil.

“Shit!”

I try to twist away, but the doctor grabs me.

“Nicht bewegen.”

“He’s telling you not to move,” says Lucifer.

“Being shot is one thing. Bug food’s another.”

“Be quiet and take your medicine like a good boy.”

As the beetles eat the oil, they nibble the dead skin around my wounds, leaving a filament behind. When they’re done, both wounds are closed with a kind of thick spiderweb patch.

The doctor puts his beetles away and says something to Lucifer.

“He says that you’ve already stopped bleeding internally and that you won’t even have scars. He says that all your scars, including the burn on your arm, are healing very nicely.”

“Does he know any way to stop them?”

Lucifer says something to Allwissend. The doctor looks at me and laughs.

“I know. Only an idiot doesn’t want to heal. Forget it,” I say.

After the doctor puts away his tools, he and Lucifer talk for a couple of minutes. Allwissend looks at me and nods a good-bye.

Lucifer takes two Maledictions, lights both, and hands me one.

“To answer your question, I don’t know which Sub Rosa or civilian would want to kidnap me. If they’re working for one of my enemies, why not just kill me? I’d go straight back to Hell, to where whatever general hired them could pick me off.”

“What about the missing guy, Spencer Church? Do you own his soul?”

“No, I’m not sure I even met the man.”

“Seems like there’s other people around town missing. It’s practically all Lurkers at Bamboo House. Do you know anything about that?”

“No.”

Now that my right side feels better, I can feel my neck and the pins and needles on my left side more.

“You need to be careful. And you need more help than just me. Who else do you have here?” I ask.

“I’ll make some calls. But until this is resolved, I’ll be doing most of my business from this suite.”

“Good, ’cause I think I’m going to want tomorrow off.”

“Of course. We can stay in touch by phone and through Kasabian. Let’s talk and I’ll let you know when I need you again.”

I pick up the shirt the doctor sliced up.

“Can I borrow something to wear?”

Lucifer gets up and goes to the bedroom. It lets me get a good look at him and confirm what I thought I saw earlier.

He comes back and drops a pile of neatly folded silk dress shirts onto the table.

“Take whichever you like. Take a few extras, too.”

I go through the pile shirt by shirt, dropping each one onto the table.

“You like these colors, don’t you? Black, dark reds, and purples.”

“Why do you ask?”

“They’re good colors for hiding blood. You’re bleeding, aren’t you?”

He stares at me for a while. Long enough that I start to wonder if I’ve finally said the wrong thing and he’s going to have to tip the maid extra to peel my skull off the ceiling. Eventually, he nods.

“Yes, I am.”

“But you didn’t get hurt tonight. You always wear these colors, so I’m thinking you’ve had the wound for a while.”

He smiles.

“Keep going. You’re impressing me.”

“That’s why you’re here and not in Hell. You got hurt in a tussle with one of your generals who went bad on you, but you don’t want anyone to know. It’s better to come up here and play an egomaniac dick than it is to stay Downtown and hide all the blood.”

He cocks his head and puffs his Malediction.

“Not bad. You’re not entirely right, but you’re closer than I thought you’d get.”

“What did I get wrong?”

“No one in Hell did this to me. I received these wounds in Heaven.”

Lucifer stands and opens his shirt. Most of his body, from his waist to his chest, is wrapped in linen bandages. Here and there, yellow lymph and blood have soaked through. There’s a large bloody patch near his heart. That’s the blood I noticed earlier.

“There are some things even an angel can’t endure. A father’s disapproval is one.” He sits down and winces. “His thunderbolts are another.”

He buttons his shirt.

“You think you were scarred in the arena? You should have seen my face before the surgeons had their way with me. Of course, in those days we had no medicines or medical instruments in Hell. My doctors attended to me with obsidian knives chipped from the walls and slivers of sword blades that had fallen from Heaven with us.”

“You’ve always been like this. The whole time you’ve been in Hell?”

“Daddy showed me the door with a face full of fire.”

“Do your generals know you’re hurt?”

“They fought beside me. Of course they know.”

“If they know, that means Mason knows.”

“I suppose so.”

“The wound is getting worse, isn’t it? It’s bleeding more than it used to and you had to leave to hide it. What happened? Did you get hexed?”

Lucifer gestures at the table.

“Pick a shirt and get dressed.”

I take a red one so dark it’s almost black. He stares at me as I put it on.

“The front desk will call you a cab.”

He pulls a few hundreds from his pocket and hands them to me.

“This will get you home and buy you some drinks to stop the pain. We’ll talk later.”

I go to the clock and lean over to step through. I pause and look at him.

“You’re the one who told me to get smarter about what I do, so don’t get weird because I start asking questions.”

I push open the door on the other side of the clock and am stepping through when he says, “I think I liked you better when you just killed things.”

“So did I,” I say, and pull the door shut.

THIS IS SOMETHING I haven’t felt for a while. This is pain. Real pain. Fire ants gnawing their way out of the stitches over my bullet wounds. Some use their pincers, but the twitchy speed freaks are going at it with chain saws and jackhammers. I remember this feeling from my early human-punching-bag days Downtown and later ones in the arena. I don’t like remembering it and I sure as shit don’t like feeling it. This is how regular people feel, not me. I’m home and my body is developing a mind of its own. It thinks it gets a vote in how things work around here. It wants my scars to heal and it’s taking away my most basic weapon—my armor. My body is staging a revolution and it no longer recognizes me as its great and glorious dictator. Pain is how it’s burning me in effigy.

It’s not just the bullet wound, but also the road rash from bailing out of the limo. I didn’t even notice it last night when I was busy leaking all over the stolen Jeep and hotel. My pants are shredded and Lucifer’s shirt is stiff with dried blood. I may need to rethink my priorities. Maybe put off the not-killing-everyone thing while I work on shielding hexes. Getting hit without my armor just isn’t fun anymore.

As sweet as it feels, I can’t lie here forever curled up in a big ball of f**k-the-world.

If I was really smart, I’d go online, take an aptitude test, and change careers completely. Work around soft things and away from bullets. A marshmallow factory or a plush-toys sweatshop. Maybe dress like a clown and learn to make balloon animals for kids’ parties. I know some beasts the kiddies have never dreamed of.

“You’re awake,” says Kasabian.

“If you say so, Alfredo Garcia.”

“What happened to your pretty Sunday school clothes?”

“I jumped out of a car.”

“Of course you did.”

I get out of bed slowly, stagger into the bathroom to piss and brush my teeth. I wash my face in cold water, but it doesn’t help. I’m as zombied out as last night’s golems. I hope someone has the courtesy to burn my chewed-up headless corpse when I die. The thought of ending up a billionaire’s Muppet makes me want to shoot every Sub Rosa I can find, starting in East L.A., heading west, and not stopping until I hit the ocean. I’d need a pickup truck to carry that many bullets. I wonder if Kasabian can drive shift?

Still on autopilot, I flop back down on the bed. It hurts, but I don’t have to move again for a long time. Glad I told Lucifer I was taking the day off.

When I was a kid I plucked magic out of the air. Didn’t even think about it. It was just there, like breathing. I was na**d last night without my gun. I can’t live without my weapons and I’ll never give them up, but I can’t rely on guns to get me out of every scrape. I need to make friends with my inner brat, get back to when magic was as easy as getting bit by the neighbor’s dog. Ever since I got back, I’ve been in arena mode. I picked up the habit of weapons there and I have to get out of it here.

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