Kill the Dead Page 41

He went down on his ass when I snatched the crowbar, so I grab his jacket and haul him to his feet. It takes me a minute to figure out what exactly I’m looking at. There’s a face superimposed over another face, like two ghost faces stacked on top of each other. The angel’s eyes take over and separate his real face from the glamour. I recognize one immediately. The other takes a few more seconds. I smile, but the Thug Number Six doesn’t smile back.

“Nice night, fake Rainier. How’s it hanging?”

He doesn’t say anything. His hands fumble at his waist. He has another weapon. I let him look for it.

“Is this how you got the Drifters into Cabal’s place or did you walk them in yourself? I know you were in there because he put on that glamour you’re wearing right now. I couldn’t see it back at the party, but now I can see both of your faces.”

He finally pulls his backup weapon. A cute little Sig Sauer P232. It’s a compact, toylike pistol that will blow substantial holes in you at close range. I let him get it out of his belt, but catch his arm as he’s swinging it up to shoot. Fake Rainier is a big bundle of twitchy fear, so when I grab him, the gun goes off and blows a hole in his foot. He screams and I let him fall. I take the Sig and put it in my pocket.

I look around and spot a Drifter bouncing off a chain-link fence across the street. He looks brand-new, like he was bitten and turned tonight. I go over and rip off his shirt and take it back to Rainier.

He’s on the ground rocking back and forth, whimpering and clutching his foot in both hands.

“Relax. You’ve got another foot.”

He says, “Fuck you,” through gritted teeth.

“You might want to watch your tone with the man who can bandage you or let you bleed to death.”

“Get away from me. Do you know who my family is?”

“Yeah, and the Geistwalds aren’t your real family, are they, Aki?”

He blinks at me. His hands open and close around his bleeding foot. I tear the Drifter’s shirt into strips and wrap them around the wound.

“I remember you at Bamboo House of Dolls. You came over to the bar like a snotty little prince and ordered me to do my portaling trick. When I told you to go away and you wouldn’t, there was almost a scene. But it was all an act, wasn’t it, Aki? Your mom was there hoping to find someone who could track down her lost boy. Someone told you she was going to be there. You weren’t in the bar to impress your friends or get under my skin. You were testing your glamour. You knew if you could walk by your own mother without her recognizing you, you were home free. No one would ever see anything but Rainier Geistwald.”

“Keep talking, asshole. You’re dead.”

I pull the bandage tight and make him wince.

“If Cabal did such a good job with the glamour, why did you have to kill him?”

“Have you smelled the guy? Besides, I never killed anyone.”

“Right. You just opened the door and let your friends do the dirty work. I bet you didn’t even go inside to watch the fun. You stayed by the door until the screaming stopped and then shooed your friends back out. One thing. I know why Drifters don’t eat me, but why don’t they eat you?”

The kid shrugs. Hits me with a very professional sneer. I bet he practices in a mirror.

“Maybe I was good in Sunday school and Jesus loves me.”

“Or someone threw a protection spell your way.”

He shrugs.

“There’s so much going on right now, who can remember?”

I flick his bleeding foot with my finger.

“You still haven’t told me why you killed Cabal. Mind if I take a guess? Cabal and Cosima had hit some hard times, so when he found a ripe young rube like you on his doorstep asking for illegal hoodoo, he had to say yes. Not for the fee, but so he could blackmail you later. Isn’t that what happened? He threatened to let slip that you weren’t really Rainier?”

Aki shakes his head.

“You have no goddamn idea what’s going on.”

“I know you’re impersonating the Geistwalds’ son and that someone is gunning for the old families. I have to give it to you. Hiding with an old family while you take out the others is pretty slick. You already got Cabal, the Springheels, and Spencer Church’s family. Probably others I don’t even know about. Tell me, when do the Geistwalds get it?”

“Gee, I don’t know. You’re the one with experience killing Geistwalds. You tell me.”

I look at him and keep looking until he turns away.

“You’re not a Geistwald, so don’t give me any family outrage over Eleanor. And she was a vampire. She was already dead when I got to her.”

“But she was still walking and talking. That’s an okay kind of dead. Not the best because she needed blood to keep going, but it’s better than nothing. And you had to take that away from her. Were you jealous that for all your supposed powers, you’re still going to die like all those anonymous sheep back in town? You should have been smart and let Eleanor bite you. Or do you have something against living forever?”

Interesting question. I hadn’t thought about Eleanor’s death beyond it being one more thing I regretted. But Aki has a good point.

“I don’t have anything against immortality, but I’m not begging for it either. Are you? Is that what this is about? You think you found some way around death? How? As one of these things? Jesus, kid, I hope your brilliant idea isn’t to somehow get yourself turned into a Savant.”

“You don’t understand one damned thing that’s going on.”

The angel whispers something in my ear.

“Are you sure, Aki? If you’re not going to night school to become a Drifter, what was Eleanor doing with the Druj Ammun? Where did she get it? From you?”

“How do you even know about that?”

Aki thrashes around. Almost grabs me before falling back down.

He says, “You’re dead. You are so fucking dead. And not like Eleanor. You’ll be the kind where your soul is trapped in your rotting flesh while the city sucks it dry. L.A. belongs to the Death Born. It always has and it always will.”

That’s interesting.

“Who are the Death Born, Aki? Not you. You’re just a suburban brat. You learned your magic from watching Bewitched. Who are the Death Born?”

“Your ass is grass, man. I cannot believe how fucking dead you are.”

The angel speaks again and things fall into place.

“How’s Mutti doing? Not your birth mom. Your fun mom. Koralin. Is she all right? I hope she’s somewhere safe and sound.”

He blinks, slowly.

“Eleanor wanted me to apologize to her mom for her. To tell her that Eleanor was sorry and she only took the Druj to scare her mom the way Mom scared her and Daddy. Is what Eleanor said right? Did Mutti own the Druj? Was she controlling the Drifters? Is she the one behind this? What does she want? Does she want to join the Death Born, too?”

Aki looks away. He’s talked too much and he knows it.

I bark a couple of Hellion words. A Drifter behind Aki bursts into flame. I say the word again and another zed goes up. I tell all the dead in the neighborhood to close in on us. I start burning them all. Aki and I are in the middle of a walking bonfire.

I slap the kid and hold him down on the pavement as the temperature rises.

“She knows you’re not Rainier, doesn’t she? What is she up to? What does she want? Tell me!”

Aki’s head swivels back and forth and he’s letting out a kind of high-pitched moan that hurts my ears.

I haul him to his feet and turn him around so he has to look at burning Drifters closing in around us. Thirty more seconds and it’s officially un-fucking-comfortable in the circle. The air ripples and greasy corpse smoke hurts every time I suck in a breath. The kid goes limp in my arms and starts screaming.

“It’s Mother. Mother runs everything. Who else? Father is useless. Hiding and weeping for poor dead Eleanor. Boo-hoo.”

I turn Aki around so I can look at him. His crazy fear has turned just plain crazy. He snarls when he talks.

“We’ll own this place soon and the rest of you are going to be gone or you’re going to be food.”

I could let Aki go and turn the Drifters back, but I don’t. I hold him and let them close in. My skin turns red and starts to blister. So does Aki’s. Stark likes the pain. The angel doesn’t care.

Aki starts doing the panic moan again, so I drop him and shout another Hellion word. The Drifters fall to the ground, sizzle, and ash out. Gray flakes still red-hot at the edges float away like dirty snow.

I nudge Aki with my foot.

“You have a car around here?”

“A block up.”

“Get up. I’m taking you someplace safe and then we’re going to invite Mommy over for tea.”

“She knows who you are. She’s not afraid of you, you know.”

“Not yet. But if she knows I have her little boy, she’ll come over. And if she doesn’t, I’ll kill you and find her myself. Where’s your car?”

He points behind us.

“It’s the silver Beamer.”

“Give me the keys.”

He does. I pick him up and toss him over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry.

The BMW is a silver four-door coupe. I open the rear driver’s door and toss Aki in so he can straighten out his leg and bleed somewhere that’s not on me.

It feels funny to start a car with its own key. Blasphemous almost. Who would want to own something like a BMW? You’d have to take care of it like it’s a pet. The whole idea of owning things makes me queasy.

I adjust the mirrors and look back at Aki in case he has another pistol hidden under the seat. If he does, he’s not pulling it. He’s flat on his back, sweating and bone white.

“I don’t want to drive around in a puke-smelling car, so if you need me to stop, say so.”

“Okay,” he says. “Thanks.”

I turn the ignition and we head for the Chateau Marmont.

IT’S ONE LONG, wet shit storm from the hospital to the hotel. Drifters and civilians fill the streets. Civilians run and the slow-moving Drifters bring them down in groups, like hyenas. They grab people at gas stations and all-night markets, off buses, out of cars, and chase them off the roofs of nearby buildings.

The pack is the Drifters’ real weapon. A motorcycle cop in the intersection manages to get away from one group and runs straight into the arms of another. There are just so damned many of them. I have to drive on the sidewalk and over a few stop signs to get around all the abandoned cars. The Beamer is heavy enough that it makes a pretty good battering ram, so along the way I splatter as many Drifters as I can on the hood. Mostly I go for Lacunas, the vicious little pricks. They’re easy to pick out. Zeds lumber like windup toys, but Lacunas can run and climb and hunt specific people. And they’re intelligent enough to understand what’s happening when I crush their spines and skulls under my wheels. By the time I get to the Chateau Marmont, the front of the car is a slaughterhouse spin-art painting.

Aki moans and whines every time the car bumps into something.

“Aaaah! I’m losing a lot of blood back here.”

“If you were losing a lot of blood, you wouldn’t be able to talk, so feel free to bleed faster.”

I steer us into the hotel parking lot, minus a headlight and with a lot more dents in the hood and skull fragments in the radiator than when we started. Fuck me for having too good a time on the way over. I don’t spot the vans following us until I kill the engine and the vans are moving into position to block the only exit to the street.

“The cavalry is here. Want to give yourself up, kid?”

Aki pulls himself up into a sitting position using the passenger-side headrest. He looks outside through the windshield.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s a law enforcement combo pack. The Golden Vigil and Homeland Security.”

“Golden what?”

“God’s G-men. If you think I’m bad, see what happens when those feds and sky pilots get hold of you.”

“No way, man. No cops and no preachers.”

“At least we agree on that. Keep your head down and don’t make a sound.”

The doors slide open on the sides of the Vigil vans and they make a big show of moving their troops outside. There are a dozen true-blue men in black. None are holding guns, but all have the distinctive jacket bulge that says they’re packing. There will be more and heavier artillery in the vans.

I recognize the two guards on the gate from a few days back. I’d taken the Shut-Eye, Ray, on a roller-coaster tour of Downtown. Most of the others I recognize from when Wells tossed me out of his clubhouse and off the Vigil’s payroll. Even Marshal Julie is there, though she looks like she’d rather be on an ice floe wrestling polar bears.

Wells stands in front, hands behind his back, a corn-pone Napoleon.

“Hold it right where you are, Stark. Put your hands behind your head and move away from the vehicle.”

“Are you arresting me?”

“I sure as shit am, junior.”

“For what?”

“General assholery in the face of God and reason.”

“You know, just because you’re in love with that angel hiding in your van doesn’t mean you have to be her monkey on a chain.”

He shakes his head.

“You heard stories about Gitmo? We have black prisons over in the Arctic that make Gitmo look like the penthouse at the Bellagio.”

“Does that come with a continental breakfast?”

Aelita steps out of the van and into the green fluorescent glare of the parking lot. In the flat light, everyone looks like a corpse. Only Aelita looks alive. The jittery fluorescent light doesn’t seem to affect her like the rest of us. It sort of flows around her, leaving her looking more alive and human than anyone in the lot.

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