Home > Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2)(5)

Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2)(5)
Author: Richard Kadrey

Good for her.

“Call me Stark. No one calls me that other name.”

“I’m sorry. It’s the only one I knew.”

“No problem. Why are you looking for me?”

She takes a picture from her purse and sets it in front of me. It’s a young man, about my age when I went Downtown. He’s broad across the shoulders, like a football player. He has her eyes.

“This is my son. His name is Aki. It’s Finnish, like his father.”

“He’s a nice-looking kid. But I don’t know him, if that’s why you’re here.”

“You don’t know him, but he knows you. Your kind, I mean. He’s Sub Rosa, just like my husband’s family. Eighteen years ago we lived here, but we moved to my mother’s property in Lawrence, Kansas, when Aki was born. We weren’t sure we wanted him growing up here …”

She trails off and looks around the room. A bald man in a white silk suit takes what looks like a whiskey flask from his pocket and snaps it open. Inside is damp soil and pale, gray worms. He picks a worm up by its head and blows on it. The bug straightens, and when it’s rigid, the man lights one end with a cigarette lighter and smokes it.

“Aki just had his eighteenth birthday and wanted to come back to where he was born. Alone, of course. A young man wants to feel independent. How could we say no?”

A corn-fed Kansas farm boy full of bumpkin magic loose in L.A., what could possibly go wrong with that?

“My husband still knows people, Sub Rosa, in the area. He asked them to keep an eye on Aki, but it’s a big city. We haven’t heard from him in weeks. I know he knew people out here. He was corresponding with a Sub Rosa girl. I forget her name.”

“Do you have the letters with you?”

“No. They’re gone. He must have taken them with him.”

“Have you talked to your husband’s friends?”

“None of them knows anything.”

“Why are you coming to me about this?”

“I have a feeling something has happened to my son. I heard that you do things other people can’t or don’t want to do. There was a crime in the city earlier this year. I believe a cult was planning on sacrificing a group of kidnapped women. You stopped it.”

Is that what the tabloids are saying happened now? It’s annoyingly close to the truth. Couldn’t they have worked in some ETs?

“Listen, Evelyn.”

“How did you know my name was Evelyn?”

“Listen, Evelyn, I know you need help, but not from me. I’m not what you think I am.”

“What are you?”

“I’m a monster.”

I let that sink in for a second. She’s a nice woman, but Ziggy really fouled my mood. I kill off the tumbler of Aqua Regia.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but if your husband really is Sub Rosa, why isn’t he out here with you doing locator spells? Or echo tracing? Sloppy teenybopper magic usually leaves a fat shiny trail of residue all over the aether. Easy to follow.”

“My husband is dead. It was very recent and sudden. That’s why I was trying to get in touch with Aki. Now I might have lost both of them.”

She looks down at the coffee cup. Her heart is slowing, but not because she’s any more relaxed. My blackened arm is starting to heal. It burns and itches. I can’t help this woman. I don’t want to be here.

Carlos says, “I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself. Why don’t you go to the cops or hire yourself a private investigator? You don’t need magic for this kind of thing. And from what I’ve seen around here, magic doesn’t really help anything. It just makes everything more confusing.”

She puts her hand on my arm.

“You saved all those people. Why won’t you help me?”

“Carlos is right. You need to go to the cops or hire yourself a detective. I’m not Sam Spade. That’s not what I do.”

“But you saved all those people.”

“I didn’t save anyone. I just killed the bastards who needed killing. Get it? I don’t save good people. I murder bad ones.” I wish I was saying this quietly and reasonably, but really, I’m way too loud.

Evelyn straightens and turns to ice. She puts her kid’s photo back in her bag and gets up.

“I’m sorry to have taken up your valuable time.”

“Wait a minute.”

This time I grab her arm. I look around for someone who was here a minute ago.

“Titus. Come on over here.”

A whippet-thin black guy in a purple velvet suit and glasses with round, yellow-tinted lenses walks cautiously to the bar. I hold a hand out at Evelyn.

“Titus, this is Evelyn. Evelyn, this is Titus Eshu. Titus is a Fiddler. Do you know what that is?”

“He reads objects by handling them.”

“Right. He plays around with things, then tells you all about the owner. He can even use them like a divining rod. Do you have any of your son’s things?”

“I have his high school class ring.”

I look at Titus.

“That good enough?”

Titus nods.

“It’s a good start,” he says to Evelyn. To me he says, “And after I do this, you’re going to owe me a favor, right?”

“Right.”

He smiles, takes Evelyn by the elbow, and leads her to his table.

“This way, ma’am. Let’s see if we can track down your wayward child.”

Carlos says, “You were a real world-class prick there for a minute. Then you turned it around right at the last second and came out sort of looking like a person.”

“I’ve gotta get out of here.”

“I’m kidding, man. You did fine with the old lady.”

“No, I didn’t. This is my punishment for not killing Mason. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. There’s no reason for me to exist. I kill things I don’t care about for people I hate. I yell at old ladies. And now I’m going to owe goddamn Titus a favor.”

“I’m going to wrap up this food so you can take it home with you.”

I turn in my seat and look at Evelyn and Titus. He has Aki’s ring in one hand and the photo in the other. His eyes are half closed and he’s whispering an incantation. Evelyn hangs on his every word. She doesn’t look happy, but maybe a little more hopeful.

I’m suddenly aware that while I’m watching Titus, pretty much everyone else in the bar is watching me. I’d like to think they’re staring because of my white-hot animal magnetism, but I know I’m not Elvis. I’m Lobster Boy, hear me roar.

Carlos gives me the tamales in a Styrofoam carrier.

Thanks and good night. Be sure to tip your waitresses.

I leave through a shadow near the fire exit in back.

YOU KNOW HOW they put out oil well fires by setting off an explosion that’s so big it snuffs out the first fireball with a bigger one? Sometimes the only way to get past something impassable is to smash it with itself. Like kills like. When you live with a dead man’s head that won’t shut up and smokes all your cigarettes, the only way to deal with the awfulness is to make it so unbelievably awful that it becomes kind of weirdly beautiful. Like an exploding giraffe full of fireworks. (Hellions really know how to throw a birthday party.)

Kasabian calls it his “pussy wagon,” but I can’t go there, so I call it the “magic carpet.” Really it’s a polished mahogany deck about the size of a dinner plate, supported by a dozen articulated brass legs. When I brought it home from Muninn’s—partial payment for a quick smash-and-grab job—one end of the deck was loaded down with prisms, mirrors, and gears that must have meshed with another long-lost machine. The top is covered in what looked like teeth marks and stained with something black. I don’t want to know what used to drive the thing or what happened to it.

After I unscrewed and sawed off all the extra hardware, I let Kasabian take it out for a test drive. What do you know? His low-rent, third-rate hoodoo was just powerful enough to keep the brass legs in sync, so he can move around on his own now. It’s nice not to have to carry Kasabian everywhere anymore, but it means that every day I come home to a chain-smoking Victorian centipede.

He’s standing on what used to be the video bootlegging table and using his brass legs to tap numbers into a PC. Ever since he got mobile, Kasabian has been doing Max Overload’s books again. He and Allegra set up a little in-store wireless network so he can do the banking and buy new inventory online. Race with the Devil, a decent piece of mid-seventies trash with Warren Oates and Peter Fonda trying to outrun a bunch of rural devil worshippers, plays on a monitor next to the PC. Ever since his visit Downtown, Kasabian has been on a devil movie kick. He doesn’t look up when he hears me come in.

“So, how did it go?” He turns and looks at me. “Oh, that bad.”

“Just about that bad, Alfredo Garcia.”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“I had to go Wild Bunch in the theater. Left me in a Peck-inpah state of mind.”

“Did you get paid, at least?”

“Yeah, here’s the big money. Plus the usual deductions.”

I drop the check next to the keyboard. Kasabian pinches the ends of the check between two of his brass legs and holds it up to read it.

“That prick. He just does this to humiliate you. It makes him feel better about not being able to do the stuff you can do and needing you for his dirty work. It’s pure envy.”

“Yeah, it’s a glamorous life here in Graceland.”

I pick up the bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the bedside table and pour some into the same glass I’ve been using for three days.

“And he’s trying to keep us on the hook by starving us. You know that, right? You ought to let me hex his ass.”

I sip the Jack. It’s good, but after the Aqua Regia, it’s about as potent as cherry Kool-Aid.

“Save your hoodoo for real work. And, technically, he’s only starving me. If he knew about you, he’d shit his heart out.”

“Great, get him up here. I’ll video it and put it up on YouTube.”

“Aelita would be the fun one to get on tape. I’m an Abomination, but I don’t even know if angels have a word for you.”

“One does. ‘Hey, shithead.’”

“Lucifer always had a way with words. He’s just like Bob Dylan, but without all the annoying talent.”

“That’s hilarious. He loves it when you say stuff like that. Every time you do, he turns up the temperature Downtown ten degrees.”

“Then he should be able to cook biscuits on his tits by now.”

“I’ll ask him for you.”

“No, you won’t. When you download your brain or play video highlights or whatever it is you do for the old man, you’ll only show him what you want him to see. You hold back crumbs ’cause when you know something he doesn’t it gives you power. Just like you hold back things from me. And I hold back things from you and he holds back things from both of us. We’re a little clusterf**k of liars.”

Kasabian nods to the Styrofoam container I set on the bed when I ditched my weapons.

“Do I smell tamales?”

“Yeah, you want them? I lost my appetite.”

Kasabian kneels down on six of his legs and hangs over the edge of the table. He uses four of his free legs to open the door of the minifridge I installed and uses two more legs to grab a bottle of Corona. He pops the top off the beer while pulling himself back onto the table and waggles a bunch of his other legs at me like a horny lobster.

“Slip me some crimson, Jimson.”

I hand him the container.

“Don’t forget your bucket.”

“Have I ever?”

“I just don’t want a first time.”

He doesn’t answer. He’s already diving into Carlos’s spicy tamales, working a plastic fork with two of his front legs. After each bite of food, a glob that looks like white-orange putty oozes from the bottom of his neck, through the hole I drilled in the magic carpet and into a blue kid-size plastic beach bucket. There’s a pop-top trash can at the end of that table. Kasabian is good about dumping his scat when he’s done, but he’s short, so he needs me to step on the pedal to open the top. It’s nice to be needed.

I’m not in the mood for Cirque de Puke right now, so I find a pad and pencil and try to remember what Eleanor’s monster belt buckle looked like. Alice was the artist in my family. Even my handwriting made my teachers weep. When I’m done, I have a sketch that’s pretty good if I was a half-blind mental patient in the last stages of tertiary syphilis. I hold it up so Kasabian can see it.

“You recognize this?”

“I’m on my lunch hour, man.”

“Just look at the goddamn paper.”

He doesn’t move his head from the food, just swivels his eyes and squints at the image.

“Nope. Never seen it before. What is it, some monster you’re supposed to kill or have you started dating again?”

“It’s something I saw today. Like a belt buckle or an icon or something. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but it’s been bugging me.”

“I don’t recognize it.”

Plop goes the tamale putty.

“Can you check it out in the Codex?”

Now he turns to look at me. He hates it when I ask him to look things up. I’m not even supposed to know about the Daimonion Codex.

“I don’t think so. Someone’s using it. Occupado, you know?”

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