Kill the Dead Page 43


I spot a metal cane by the check-in desk and hand it to Aki.


“Use this and be quiet.”


Before we head up to Lucifer’s room, I find a janitor’s closet in an alcove on the far side of the lobby. I fill a trash bag with duct tape, a gallon bottle of liquid soap, and all the lightbulbs I can find. I push Aki out of the closet and over to the elevators.


I say, “Here, kitty kitty,” and the Drifters come to us, but under my control this time. I shove Aki to the back of the elevator, herd the drifters inside, and squeeze in last. I hit the button for Lucifer’s floor and look over my shoulder at Aki. He’s squeezing his eyes closed so hard, I’m surprised they don’t pop.


We get off on the third floor. I leave the zeds in the hall and take Aki through the grandfather clock into Lucifer’s room. Even though he’s in considerable pain, Aki is impressed. He might be Sub Rosa, but he’s only seen hick hoodoo before.


“This is amazing,” he says, limping around to look over Lucifer’s room.


I point to a sturdy wooden chair with arms.


“Sit.”


Aki comes over slowly and sits.


“You don’t have to do this. I’m not exactly going to run off. What if those things get in here?”


“Don’t worry. They will. But not now.”


I take away his cane and toss it across the room. I take my time duct-taping him to the chair, but I’m not thinking about it very hard. I’m wondering why Lucifer hasn’t shown up or yelled at us from another room. The suite is big, but I’m not trying to be quiet. He must have heard us come in.


When the kid is secure, I drag the chair into the middle of the room onto the hard marble floor and leave him.


I go into the bedroom carefully. I have the knife in my hand and keep my head low. Even though it’s dark, each object is perfectly outlined. Still, the two crumpled piles of something on the floor aren’t distinct enough to see in detail. I find the light switch and throw it.


There are two bodies at the foot of Lucifer’s bed. The tailor and Dr. Allwissend. Each has been shot three times. Twice in the chest and once in the head. A triple tap. It’s a little excessive considering that they’re a glorified seamstress and a sawbones. There’s no sign of Lucifer except for a bloody patch on the bed.


I sit down and look at the bodies. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that Lucifer’s attendants would be human. Even though I know none of the Hellions can crawl to earth from Downtown, in the back of my mind I’d always imagined that they’d be Sub Rosa or at least Lurkers. But the two men on the floor are just a couple of common ordinary everyday dead men. Lucifer must have owned their souls. Or maybe they were members of Amanda’s devil groupie cult. Whatever they were, they aren’t that anymore. I want to feel sorry for them. Stark would have, but from where I sit, they’re too small and human to matter.


I go back to the living room. Aki is moaning again.


“I’m really hurting here, man. Can I have a drink or something?”


“Say another word and I’ll staple your lips shut. Understand me?”


He nods, biting his lips like they’re alien animals stuck to his face and he has to get hold of them before they do something stupid.


I circle the room looking for something, anything that might tell me where Lucifer is. The light on his phone isn’t blinking, so he doesn’t have any messages. His desk is neat and there’s nothing interesting in the drawers. Most of what’s in the wastebasket are notes and set sketches for Light Bringer. Someone from the studio was here. And they had lunch. I smell a turkey sandwich and roast chicken. That narrows the suspects down to everyone in L.A. who eats meat.


On the table by the sofa where Lucifer showed me his wounds is an open bottle of wine and his jewelry-store tray full of objects confiscated from people whose souls he owns. The watches, lighters, reading glasses, and rings are laid out in tidy rows. But there’s a blank spot. Something is missing. A child’s rosary necklace with a gold unicorn charm.


I get the bottle of liquid soap and pour the whole thing around Aki’s chair. I toss the lightbulbs next, so Aki is surrounded by a moat of soap and glass.


“I’m leaving for a while, but I’ll be back. I don’t think you can get out of that chair, but on the off chance you do, with that bad foot of yours you’re going to slip on the soap and fall on all the broken glass and end up a bloody mess. Sooner or later those Drifters in the hall are going to find a way in here. I think that you lying on the floor helpless and covered in blood is going to be enough to overpower whatever hoodoo has been keeping the Drifters from eating you. So, you can try to break out, crawl through the soap and glass, slip by the zeds in the hall, and make it home with all your limbs, or you can sit there like a good boy, and when I get back, we’ll call your mutti, get her over here, and make a deal to end all this. Do you understand me?”


Aki nods, still biting his lips.


“You can talk now.”


“Okay. Yeah, I understand.”


“Good.”


“You’re leaving me here to go after Lucifer? Why would you do that?”


“Because you have to rescue family. Even asshole family.”


He starts to say something, but before he can get it out, I tear off a length of duct tape and slap it across his mouth. I don’t have to do it. There’s no one around to hear him if he starts screaming. I do it because I enjoy it.


I check to make sure he’s securely fastened to the chair. When I’m sure he is, I step into a shadow and come out by the studio bungalow where I abandoned the GTO. The Light Bringer soundstage is across a wide parking lot full of construction equipment.


I work my way past the machinery and onto the stage to the little office where I remember the panic room is located. The chair Ritchie pushed out of the way the last time we were in here is on its back across the room. I lean on the wall where it opens and I listen. I can’t hear anything, but I can feel something alive just beyond the hidden door. Light throws shadows against the wall. I slip inside and emerge in the panic room.


Lucifer is on his back on the floor. His shirt is open, revealing his seeping bandages and wounds. He looks drugged, but I’m pretty sure that what’s keeping him down is the silver athame dagger sticking out from between his ribs.


Ritchie is sitting with his fat cop ass on the lip of the control console and his feet propped on an office chair. He’s chain-smoking and covered in flop sweat. The air is thick with Marlboro smoke. He’s flicking ashes and dropping his butts on Lucifer. There’s an HK assault rifle across his lap. He looks lost in thought. He checks his watch. Shakes his head. He looks like he’s expecting someone.


I speak softly so I don’t startle him so much he’ll start shooting.


“I don’t think Aelita’s coming.”


It doesn’t work. Ritchie starts and jumps off the console, spraying the room with the HK on full auto.


I don’t have to hit him or grab him or do anything. I just hit the deck and stay there.


The shots that don’t embed themselves in the furniture and video monitors ricochet back and forth off the blast-proof walls. Ritchie just invented a new game. Ballistic handball. Too bad that he’s the ball.


I keep my head flat against the cool concrete floor as he blows the whole clip. Ritchie is taking the name “panic room” way too literally.


A three-inch chunk of heavy glass is blasted from one of the monitors and into my arm just below where Ray shot me. The coating on the back of the glass itches and burns. The shooting only lasts a few seconds, and then Ritchie is out of ammo.


When he stops shooting, the room becomes unnaturally quiet. My ears ring from the noise of the HK blasting in the confined space. The only thing I can hear is Ritchie’s slow and labored breathing. He’s on the floor next to Lucifer. Ritchie is full of holes from his own bullets. They must hurt like hell. Most of what hit him ricocheted off the steel-and-concrete walls, so he was slammed with heavy, flattened lead discs the size of quarters and traveling faster than a jet fighter.


I go to where he’s lying and take away the rifle. Pat him down and take a .45 from his belt. Then I leave him on the floor, bleeding.


“Brigitte is fine, by the way. She got what she needed. Or did you even notice or care that she was gone?”


Ritchie doesn’t say anything and I didn’t expect him to. He’s on his back, opening and closing his mouth, spitting blood and gasping like a fish.


I pull the monitor glass from my arm and toss it so that it bounces off his forehead before smashing against the wall.


I grab Lucifer’s feet and drag him out of cigarette ashes and blood and pull the silver dagger from between his ribs. There’s a sudden intake of air as he gasps and coughs, like pulling out the knife kick-started his lungs. When he looks awake enough to sit up, I help him onto the office chair. He picks up the athame from where I set it on the control console.


“Thank you,” he says. “That was getting uncomfortable.”


He sets the knife delicately back onto the console.


“What was this? Was he waiting for Aelita to come and finish you off?”


“Yes. But she never appeared.”


“How the hell did you let this prick do this to you?”


“We were having a nice chat about the movie at the Chateau and he caught me off guard. It’s my fault for taking his fear for compliance. Aelita gave Ritchie the athame. It’s not exactly an ordinary knife. It’s straight from Michael’s own armory. She could have killed me with it. Truly killed me. Not just this body. But she missed their appointment and poor Ritchie had been getting steadily more and more panicked.”


“Ritchie doesn’t strike me as the type to help an angel out of the kindness of his heart.”


“Aelita promised him his soul back if he incapacitated me.”


I nod, pick up one of Ritchie’s cigarette butts from the floor, sniff, and drop it again. It smells like hot tar and cancer. A little echo of Stark’s compulsions.


Lucifer cocks his head and gives me a sidelong look.


“What’s wrong with you? You sound different, James.”


“James isn’t here. It’s just me now.”


Lucifer rolls his eyes.


“I was wondering when this was going to happen. Nephilim are so unstable. Now it’s time for you to have a little psychotic break and imagine you’re a true angel. How sweet. Sad, but sweet.”


“You knew that something awful was going to happen, didn’t you?”


I sit down on the console near Lucifer.


“You knew about the Geistwalds. And maybe even that Aelita would use the chaos to pull something, didn’t you?”


Lucifer nods.


“You never intended for Light Bringer to get made. The movie was just an excuse to hang around and see it play out. Tell me that you didn’t know it was going to be a Drifter shit storm.”


He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pack of Maledictions, finds one that isn’t broken, and lights it.


“Are you interrogating me? Remember who it is you’re talking to.”


“A half-dead old man who hides his seeping wounds and bloody bandages under dark shirts.”


“Playing angel is fun, isn’t it? You feel powerful. Omnipotent. Don’t let it go to your head. Even if the Stark part of you is gone, it doesn’t make you an angel. At best it makes you half. You’re a novelty toy like a talking doll or sea monkeys.”


I pick up the athame and shove it back between Lucifer’s ribs. He doubles over and collapses onto the floor. I leave him there and go to Ritchie’s gun cabinet to look for bullets. I find the right ones on the top shelf and reload the Smith & Wesson. Take that box and another box of shells and put them in my pocket.


“You knew all about it. You knew about Koralin and Aki and how they were going to murder the city.”


From the floor he says, “What if I did?”


“Why? You own half the place. Why would you let that happen?”


Lucifer tries to sit up. It gets annoying watching him flail around, so I pull out the knife. He breathes deeply, leaning on one elbow on the floor.


“Remember when I came to your room after you stopped the angel sacrifice at Avila? I joked that you were my science project.”


“Yes.”


“You still are.”


“You sent Spencer Church into the bar the other night.”


“I had to. You’d missed so much in your drunken self-pity these last months. You didn’t notice people disappearing or sense the presence of golems in the aether. I sent Spencer to nudge you in the right direction.”


“Why me? Why am I your damned project?”


He draws on the Malediction and coughs. Smoke leaks from the wound in his side.


“Weren’t you a Boy Scout when you were young? I’m helping you earn a very special merit badge.”


“Explain.”


Lucifer shakes his head and laughs.


“There’s that tone again. You’re beginning to sound like Aelita. I don’t like you towering over me. Help me into the chair.”


“I think you look good right where you are.”


“Have your fun, then. However, I might point out that if you don’t help me, Mason is going to win and you’re going to die and that if you think that tonight is Hell on earth, kiddo, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”


I holster the gun, take him by the shoulders, and set him on the chair. I can’t tell if he’s smaller than I remembered or if I’m getting stronger. Maybe both. Lucifer has to lean on his arm to stay upright. He sets the Malediction on the console and lets it burn into the plastic top.

Prev Next