Home > Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4)

Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4)
Author: Richard Kadrey

I punch the tunes into the jukebox and make sure it’s turned up loud. I’ve loaded up the juke with a hundred or so devil tunes. The Hellion Council can’t stand it when I come to a meeting with a pocketful of change. Wild Bill, the bartender, hates it too, but he’s a damned soul I recruited for the job, so he gets why I do it. I head back to the table and nod to him. He shakes his head and goes back to cleaning glasses.

Les Baxter winds down a spooky “Devil Cult” as I sit down with the rest of Hell’s ruling council. We’ve been here in the Bamboo House of Dolls for a couple of hours. My head hurts from reports, revised timetables, and learned opinions. If I didn’t have the music to annoy everyone with, I would probably have killed them all by now.

Buer slides a set of blueprints in my direction.

Hellions look sort of like the little demons in that Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly  Delights. Some look pretty human. Some look like the green devils on old absinthe bottles. Some are like what monsters puke up after a long weekend of eating other monsters. Buer looks like a cuttlefish in a Hugo Boss suit and smells like a pet-store Dumpster.

“What do you think of the colonnades?” he asks.

“The colonnades?”

“Yes. I redesigned the colonnades.”

“What the f**k are colonnades?”

General Semyazah, the supreme commander of Hell’s legions, sighs and points to a line of pillars at the center of the page. “That is a colonnade.”

“Ah.”

If the hen scratchings on the blueprints are different from the last bunch of hen scratchings Buer showed me, I sure as hell can’t tell. I say the first thing that pops into my head.

“Were those statues there before?”

Buer waves his little cuttlefish tentacles and moves his finger across the paper.

“They’re new. A different icon for each of the Seven Noble Virtues.”

He’s not lying. They’re all there. All the personality quirks that give Hellions a massive cultural hard-on. Cunning. Ruthlessness. Ferocity. Deception. Silence. Strength. Joy. They’re represented by a collection of demonic marble figures with leathery wings and forked tongues, bent spines and razor dorsal fins, clusters of eyestalks and spider legs. The colonnades look like the most f**ked-up miniature golf course in the universe and they’re on what’s supposed to be the new City Hall.

“I have an idea. How about instead of the Legion of Doom we put up the Rat Pack and the lyrics to ‘Luck Be a Lady’?”

“Excuse me?” says Buer.

“What I mean is, it looks a little fascist.”

“Thank you.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

I push the blueprints away with the sharpened fingers of my left hand, the ugly prosthetic one on my ugly prosthetic arm.

Buer doesn’t know how to react. None of them do.

There’s Buer the builder, Semyazah the general, Obyzuth the sorceress, and Marchosias the politician. Old Greek kings used to have councils like this, and since a certain friend hinted I should read up on the Greeks, I have a council too. The last member of the Council is Lucifer. That’s me. But I’ll get to that part later. The five of us are the big brains supposedly in charge of Hell. Really, we’re a bunch of second-rate mechanics trying to keep the wheels from coming off a burning gasoline truck skidding toward a school bus full of orphans and kittens.

The Council is staring at me. I’ve been down here a hundred days and still, anytime I say anything but yes or no, they look at me like I’m a talking giraffe. Hellions just aren’t used to humans giving them back talk. That’s okay. I can use that. Let them find me a little strange. A little inexplicable. Playing the Devil is easier if no one has any idea what you’re going to do or say next.

They’re all still waiting. I let them.

We have these meetings every couple of days. We’re rebuilding Hell after it went up in flames like a flash-paper bikini when the original Lucifer, the real Lucifer, blew out of town after sticking me with the job. The trouble for the rest of the Council is that I don’t know how fast I want Downtown back in working order.

I say to Buer, “I’m fine with Hellion pride. It’s troubled times, the team’s in last place, and they need a pep rally. Cool. But I don’t want Hell’s capital looking like we’re about to goose-step into Poland.”

Obyzuth turns the blueprints around. I still don’t know what she looks like. She wears an ivory mask that covers everything but her eyes, and a curtain of gold beads covers them.

She says, “Buer’s designs expand and celebrate many of the classic historical motifs of Hellion design. I like them.”

Obyzuth is into the spiritual side of the rebuild and doesn’t usually comment on things like this. I’ve upset her. Good.

I say, “This Nazi Disneyland stuff, it’s too cheap and easy. It’s like something the Kissi would dream up.”

That’s hitting below the belt. Calling a Hellion a Kissi is like calling Chuck Norris Joseph Stalin. Buer looks like he wants to stuff the blueprints down my throat with a road flare. Obyzuth and Semyazah look at me like they caught me eating cookies before dinner. Marchosias raises her eyebrows, which is about an inch from her challenging me to a duel at dawn.

The Bad Dad thing usually works. Hellions are big on pecking orders and I have to remind them regularly who’s at the top. Now they need a pat on the head from Good Dad before things go all Hansel and Gretel and I end up in the oven.

“You’re a talented guy, Buer. You get to redesign all of Pandemonium for the first time in about a billion years. No one’s going to get a chance like that again. Throw out the Albert Speer bullshit and modern up. When God tossed you fallen bastards into Hell the builders were the only ones who saw it as more than a pile of rocks and dust. Do that again.”

I can’t believe I’m learning how politics and court intrigue work. I feel a little dirty. I miss punching people. It’s honest work but I don’t get to do it much these days.

Marchosias shakes her head. She’s skinny, pale, and birdlike, but her instincts are more like those of a velociraptor.

“I’m not sure. In unstable times people need comfort. They need the familiar.”

“No. They don’t. They need to see that whoever’s in charge has balls and vision. They need to see that we’re making a new, bigger, and better Hell than they ever had before.”

Obyzuth nods a little to herself.

She says, “I cast the stones this morning, and although I like Buer’s work, if things must change, the signs are in an auspicious alignment for it.”

“See? We’ve got auspicious alignments and everything. We’re golden. Let’s draw up some new plans.”

I pick up a handful of little crackers from a bowl on the table and pop them one by one into my mouth. Really, they’re fried drytt eggs. Drytts are big, annoying Hellion sand fleas. I know that sounds disgusting, but this is Hell. Besides, if you fry anything long enough, it gets good. The drytt eggs go down like fried popcorn.

Semyazah hardly reacts to anything in these meetings and he chooses his words carefully. He says, “You’ve been dismissing everyone’s ideas for weeks. What ideas do you have?”

“I worry about this place ending up like L.A. All Hellion strip malls, T-shirts, and titty bars. The Pandemonium I remember is more of a Bela Lugosi–and–fog kind of town. When I have to choose between Dark Shadows or fanny packs, I’ll step over to the dark side every time. Have any of you ever seen a Fritz Lang movie called Metropolis?”

They shake their heads.

“You would love it. It’s about bigwigs that kick the shit out of proles in a city that’s all mile-high skyscrapers, smoke-belching machines, and office towers that look like dragons f**king spaceships. The place is clean, precise, and soul crushing, but with style. Just like you. So that’s everyone’s homework. Watch Metropolis. It’s in the On Demand menu.”

That’s right. Hell steals cable. Call a cop.

The three most popular TV shows Downtown are Lucha Libre, Japanese game shows, and The Brady Bunch, which Hellions seem to think is a deep anthropological study of mortal life. I hope watching the Bradys depresses them as much as being trapped here in Creation’s shit pipe depresses me.

“Let’s take a break. I need a drink.”

I walk to the bar and sit down. I make the Council hold its meetings here for a couple of reasons. The first is that Hellions love their rituals, and trying to get anything done is like a Japanese tea ceremony crossed with a High Mass, only even slower. There’s enough ritual hand waving down here to put the Dalai Lama to sleep.

Reason two is this place. It’s Hell’s version of my favorite L.A. bar, the Bamboo House of Dolls. The main difference between this and the other Bamboo House is that Carlos runs the bar in L.A. In Hell, it’s my great-great-great-granddad, Wild Bill Hickok.

Wild Bill already has a glass of Aqua Regia ready for me when I sit down.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“About what?”

“About what. About the damn meeting.”

“I think you’re about to drive them fellers crazy.”

“They’re not all fellers.”

He squints at the Council.

“There’s ladies in the bunch?”

“Two.”

“Damn. I never did learn to tell the difference with Hellions. ’Course they’re all pig-fucking sons of bitches to me, so what do I care if I guess wrong and hurt their feelings?”

I don’t think running a bar was ever Bill’s dream job and he’s not exactly the type to throw around a lot of thank-yous, but I know he likes it better here than in Butcher Valley. Bill died in 1876, was damned, and he’s been fighting hand to hand with other killers and shootists in that punishment hellhole ever since. Taking him out was the least I could do for family.

“Is anyone giving you trouble? Do they know who you run the place for?”

“I expect everyone’s aware by now. Which don’t make me particularly happy. I’m not used to another man fighting my battles for me.”

“Think of it this way. This setup isn’t just about me having a place to drink. It’s about showing the blue bloods who’s in charge. If anyone hassles you, it means they’re hassling me, and I need to do something loud and messy about it.”

He puffs his cigar and sets it on the edge of the bar. There are scorch marks all over the wood.

“Sounds like it’s hard work playing Old Nick. I don’t envy you.”

“I don’t envy me either. And you didn’t answer my questions.”

He’s silent for a moment, still annoyed that I’m asking about his well-being.

“No. No one in particular’s been causing me grief. These lizardy bastards ain’t exactly housebroken, but they don’t treat me any worse than they treat each other. And they only get up to that when you and your compadres aren’t around. That’s when the rowdies come in.”

“If you hear anything interesting, you know what to do.”

“I might be dead and damned for all eternity but I’m not addle-brained. I remember.”

We turn and look at the Council.

He says, “So which one do you figure is going to kill you first?”

“None of them. Semyazah is too disciplined. He saw Hell come apart the last time it didn’t have a Lucifer. I don’t really get a whiff of murder from any of the others. Do you?”

I finish my drink. He pours me another and one for himself.

“Not them directly. But I figure at least one’s scribbling down everything and passing it to whoever’s going to do the actual pigsticking.”

“That’s why I keep the rebuilding slow. Keep the big boys busy and scattered all over. Makes it harder for them to plan my tragic demise.”

“It’s funny hearing blood talk like that. I wasn’t exactly a planner when I was alive and it never crossed my mind anyone else in the family would ever come by the trait.”

“It’s new. Since I moved into Lucifer’s place, I spend a lot of time in the library. I never read anything longer than the back of a video jacket before. I think it’s bent my brain.”

“Books and women’ll do that. Just don’t get to thinking such big thoughts you forget to listen for what’s creeping up behind you.”

“I never read with my back to the door.”

He nods and downs his drink in one gulp.

“All it takes is the one time,” Bill says. He looks past my shoulder. “I think your friends are waiting on you.”

“Later, Wild Bill.”

“Give ’em hell, boy.”

The others look impatient when I get back. For a second, I flash on Candy back in L.A. After knowing each other for almost a year, we’d finally gotten together right before I came down here. Managed to squeeze in two good days together. What would she think of Hell’s ruling elite hanging on my every word? She’d probably laugh her ass off.

“We did all right today. Knowing what you don’t want is about as good as knowing what you do. Let’s meet back here at the same time in three days. That enough time for you to sketch out some ideas, Buer?”

He nods.

“I’ll watch your Metropolis show tonight. And have something for you at the next meeting.”

“That’s it, then. Anyone have any questions. Any thoughts? Any banana-bread recipes to share with the class?”

Nothing. Hell’s a tough room. They gather up papers and notes. Stuff them in leather bags and attaché cases.

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