Kill the Dead Page 3


“Ray, you okay?” Ray doesn’t hear him. He’s looking at me.


“Why?” he asks.


“’Cause you deserved it.”


Ray takes a key card from his jacket, waves it over a magnetic reader, and the gate swings open.


When I go through I turn back to them.


“I don’t have to do this, you know. I could come out of a shadow on this side of the fence and not deal with you assholes. But I’m trying to fit in a little better around here, so I’m polite and I try to play by your rules. You might consider cutting me the tiniest piece of slack.”


I head for the warehouse. Huston keeps asking Ray what happened and Ray keeps telling him to fuck off. I wonder if Ray is just a psychic reader or a projector, too, and what parts of the tour he’ll show Huston to shut him up.


WELLS YELLS AT me halfway across the warehouse floor so that everyone turns to see me looking like an executioner’s practice dummy.


“Damn, son. Did you stop to gut a deer on the way over or did that little girl do all that?”


I hold up my burned jacket with my blackened arm.


“Your little girl did this. Her four friends did the rest.”


“There’s a pod?”


“Was. Five of them.”


“That doesn’t jibe with our intelligence.”


I take four wallets from a jacket pocket and drop them on a table.


“Here’s your goddamn intelligence.”


Wells snaps, “Watch your language.”


“I took those off Eleanor’s pals. Their ash is still on them. Probably prints, too.”


“What about Eleanor?”


I take my cell out of my back pocket, thumb on the photo album, and hold it up so Wells can see the screen.


He frowns.


“What did you do to her?”


“Silly girl had a flamethrower. She fucked—I mean, messed up and set herself on fire. Then she ran out into direct sunlight. I would have been happy to quietly take her heart, but she had to turn it into D-day.”


“Are the remains still at the scene?”


“Yeah.”


“We’ll secure the site for now. Clean up isn’t a priority if the pod has been cleared out.”


“I didn’t see anyone else there and they didn’t seem to be looking, so that was probably all of them, but I can’t be a hundred percent. Like I said, I went in thinking it was one girl.”


“I’ll need a copy of that photo. E-mail a copy to my account.”


“Just did.”


Wells isn’t looking at me. He’s put on Nitrile gloves and is examining the wallets.


He says, “They’re empty.”


“Are they?”


“Was there anything inside when you found them?”


“How do I know? I was killing vampires, not checking their IDs. I’ve seen plenty of Lurkers that don’t use money. They steal what they want.”


“Then why carry a wallet?”


Shit. Good point.


“Ask a shrink. I get paid to kill things.”


“Right.”


He turns to a female agent standing on his right.


“Bag these and take them downstairs for identification.”


“Yes, sir.”


Wells motions for me to follow him. We head out across the warehouse floor.


I kind of like the organized chaos of the Golden Vigil’s headquarters. There’s always something fun to scope out and think about stealing. A group of agents in Tyvek suits and respirators forklifting a massive stone idol onto the back of a flatbed truck. The idol is on its back, and from where I’m standing, it’s all tentacles and breasts, but I swear some of the tentacles move a little as they tether the idol down. Across the floor, welders are modifying vehicles. Agents are examining new guns as they’re uncrated. A guy as skinny, leathery, and looking as old as King Tut’s mummy wanders the floor sprinkling holy water on everything.


“What kind of a bonus am I getting for taking out those four extra bloodsuckers?”


“From the look of those wallets, seems to me that you already got your bonus.”


“Is that what it seems to you? If I happened to find anything at the crime scene, trust me, it’s barely enough to cover the cost of a replacement jacket. Besides, with intelligence as bad as that, I deserve extra money just on principle.”


“Do you?”


“Unless you knew what was inside that building.”


Wells stops and looks at me.


“Come again?”


“Unless you knew there was a pod in there, but sent me in looking for one inexperienced girl. Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing you’d tell someone if you were setting them up?”


“Are you asking me or telling me?”


“How’s your lady friend downstairs?”


“Don’t talk about her like that.”


Wells gets a little defensive whenever I mention Aelita. He’s got a thing for her but an angel is just a little out of his league.


“Okay. How is Miss Aelita? Healthy? Happy? I haven’t seen her since right after Avila.”


Aelita is a kind of drill sergeant angel. She runs the Golden Vigil, Heaven’s Pinkertons. She knows I’m a nephilim and has a cute nickname for me: “The Abomination.” I’m pretty sure she’d like to see me dead.


“Did you send candy and flowers on Valentine’s Day, Wells? It’s okay, you know. He was a saint.”


His phone goes off. He walks away and speaks quietly into the receiver. I think an angel’s ears are burning.


Wells nods and pockets the phone.


“You get a twenty percent bonus added on to your next check.”


“Twenty percent? What am I, your waiter? I got you five vampires, not a BLT.”


“Twenty percent is what I’ve been authorized. Take it or leave it.”


“I’ll take it.”


He takes a white business envelope from his jacket and hands it to me. The check for my last Vigil hit. A bunch of suburban Druids in Pomona were trying to resurrect the In-vidia, a gaggle of transdimensional chaos deities. The Druids were hilarious. They looked like extras from The Andy Griffith Show trying to call up the devil in matching white housedresses. What’s even funnier was that their plan almost worked. Their scrawny Barney Fife leader was one murdered infant away from annihilating Southern California.


I wonder if I’d just held back a little and Barney did get to unleash the Invidia, would we really be able to tell the difference?


I look at the check and then at Wells.


“Why do you always pull this shit?”


“Do what? Obey the law?”


“I’m a freelancer and you’re deducting things like taxes and Social Security.”


“You don’t strike me as the type who files his taxes on time. I’m doing you a favor.”


“I don’t pay taxes because I don’t exist. You think I’m going to apply for Social Security when I’m sixty-five?”


“You’re going to want to wait until you’re seventy. The extra benefits are worth it.”


“I’m not waiting for anything. I’m legally dead. Why am I paying any of this bullshit?”


“I told you to watch your language.”


“Fuck you, Miss Manners. You get me to kill for you and then you screw me out of my money.”


“That money belongs to the government. It funds what we do here. You don’t like it, run for office.”


I don’t want to run for anything. I want to shove this miserable cheap-ass check so far up Wells’s ass he can read the routing number out the back of his eyes.


But Max Overload is just limping along these days and I don’t want to have to find someplace else to live. Landlords in L.A. don’t want you to have pets. What am I going to do with a chain-smoking severed head? Dignity is nice but it’s money makes the lights and shower work.


I watch the welders working across the warehouse so I don’t have to look at Wells while I fold the check and slip it into my pocket.


“At the end of time, when your side loses, I want you to remember this moment.”


Wells narrows his eyes.


“Why?”


“’Cause Lucifer doesn’t expect you to thank him when he fucks you over. That’s why he’s going to win.”


Wells looks down at the floor for a minute. Puts his hands behind his back.


“You know, my mother watched a lot of Christian TV when I was growing up. Hellfire-and-brimstone hucksters telling Bible stories and yelling about damnation to get fools and old people to send them their welfare checks. I never paid much attention to ’em, but one day out of nowhere this one wrinkled old preacher starts telling what he says is a Persian parable. Now, that’s weird for a Baptist Bible-thumper.


“You see, there was once a troubled man in a little village near Qom in ancient Persia.”


“This is the story, right? ’Cause I don’t want to hear about you and your dad going off-roading.”


“Shut up. One day the troubled man got out of bed to work his fields and maybe he was killed or maybe he just kept walking, but he was never heard from again. The sun was shining through the door as the man left and threw his shadow on the wall by the hearth or whatever it is you call it over there. When the man’s wife and children came home and found the house empty, the wife sees her husband’s shadow and asks who he is. The shadow says, “The man is gone and become a shadow to this house. I am the shadow of the man who did not go, but will remain here.” The shadow stayed and over time became a man and he and the woman and her children lived there happily together for many years.”


Wells puts his hands together almost like he’s praying. It creeps me out seeing this side of him.


“Later, when I heard that the Golden Vigil was founded in Persia, I knew it was God speaking to me through the TV that day. He was telling me that here is where I’m supposed to be.”


“That story doesn’t even make sense, and what exactly does it have to do with anything we’re talking about?”


“It means we’ve done our job for more than a thousand years, so you can shove your disapproval.”


“That sounds like the sin of pride, Marshal. Better run downstairs and let Miss December flog it out of you. Webcam it and charge by the minute. You won’t ever have to take government money again.”


Wells looks at me. His phone goes off. He ignores it.


I want to tell him to go fuck himself.


“You done whining? You ready to work? I have something else for you.”


But I need this.


“What do you want me to do?”


“I want you to walk through a murder scene with me. The victim was Sub Rosa. No rough stuff. Just observation.”


“You have forensics people. Why do you need me?”


“I don’t want them getting too deep into this one yet. I want you.”


“Why?”


“Because you’ve been to Hell.”


“So?”


“I want you to take a look at a body and tell me what you think it means.”


“Are you sure it’s just one body and not five?”


“Funny.”


“I want my full fee.”


“Half. No one is asking you to kill anything.”


“You’re using up my valuable drinking and smoking time. I need compensation.”


“As you just pointed out, we’re government funded, which means that we work within a simple and predetermined pay structure. In other words, looking and pointing doesn’t pay the same as hunting and killing.”


“Tell you what, go down to Chinatown, find a club called the Owl’s Shadow, and hire yourself a Deadhead. Those gloomy necromancers are a bunch of low-self-esteem Siouxsie and the Banshees bitches. They’ll fall all over themselves to help a fed do a murder-scene magic show.”


Wells takes the phone from his pocket, looks at the caller ID, and frowns.


“Look, you can sprinkle some pixie dust around while you’re at the scene. Do some damn magic that won’t break anything and I can get you two-thirds of your normal fee. But that’s it.”


“Done.”


I put out my hand. He puts the phone to his ear so he doesn’t have to shake on it.


“We’ll meet at three A.M., when things are quiet and the bars are closed. I’ll call you with the address.”


“Nice doing business with you, Marshal. Give the missus my best.”


“Get out.”


I DECIDE TO skip the Ray and Huston show on the way out, so I slip through a dark patch on a wall outside the warehouse. Come out in the alley across the street from the Bamboo House of Dolls.


What I thought was a one-night blowout right after I saved the world on New Year’s has turned into a six-month running party. After I tossed Mason to the mob Downtown, it seemed like half the Sub Rosa in L.A. showed up at Bamboo House to kiss his ass good-bye. And they never left. Carlos is happy enough. Sub Rosa tip big at civilian places where they can hang out without ending up part of the floor show.


Most Sub Rosa, you’d never notice. They look boringly human, are human, and go out of their way to fit in with other humans, even if they sometimes dress like nineteenth-century dandies or Mayan priests. Others in the bar look like they stepped off a steam-powered zeppelin from Neptune. They’re the Lurkers, and good, upstanding Sub Rosa don’t like them soiling the furniture at their clubs so they come here. There are succubi and transgendered Lamia. Shaggy Nahual wolf and tiger beast men laughing like frat boys and stacking their beer cans in a pyramid until they knock it over. Again. A group of blue-skinned schoolgirls with pale blond hair and horns peeking out through their pigtails are playing some kind of betting game with ivory cups and scorpions.

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