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Authors: Tom Holt

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BOOK: Odds and Gods
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‘Quite so.’
‘Which is why,’ said Mrs Henderson, taking a deep breath and hoping very much that she hadn’t completely misinterpreted the messages emanating from under Julian’s eyebrows, ‘I’ve taken the liberty of engaging a, um, private enquiry agent to see if he can, um, find your godfather for us.’
‘Splendid. Splendid.’
‘A Mr Lundqvist.’

Ah
.’
‘He came very highly recommended.’
‘Top rate man. Exactly what I’d have done, in your position.’
‘Oh I
am
glad.’
Julian allowed himself the luxury of a smile. It would cost a paying client about a year’s salary to be smiled at by Julian, but he treated himself to a smile a month at cost. ‘If Kurt Lundqvist can’t sort this business out,’ he said, ‘nobody can.’
 
The same Kurt Lundqvist was, at that precise moment, locked in hand-to-hand combat with a tall gentleman with projecting teeth and a conservative taste in evening dress at the bottom of an open grave somewhere in what used to be called Bohemia.
It should have been a perfectly straightforward job - go in, garlic under nose, whack the hickory smartly through the aorta and home in time to catch the closing prices on Wall Street - but he’d recently taken on a new assistant, and she wasn’t yet a hundred per cent
au fait
with the technical jargon of the supernatural contract killing profession.
‘Look,’ he gasped through clenched teeth as the Count’s icy fingers closed around his throat, ‘can we cut this a bit short, because I’m due in Haiti for a rogue zombie at six-thirty. I don’t like to rush you, but . . .’
A right pillock he’d looked, reaching into his inside pocket and fetching out a five-pound lump hammer and a prime cut of best rump steak. He would have various things to say to Ms Parfimowicz when he got back.
‘Nothing personal,’ grunted the Count, ‘but I’d rather we went through the motions. Aaaaagh!’
‘Okay, that’s fine,’ Lundqvist replied, as his right hand finally connected with the butt of his .40 Glock automatic. ‘I’m about through here anyway.’
The bullet wasn’t, strictly speaking, silver; but it was a Speer 170-grain jacketed hollow point, backed by six grains of Unique and a Federal 150 primer. By the time the echoes of the shot had died away, the Count didn’t seem in any fit state to discuss the finer points of metallurgy.You would have to be abnormally thin-skinned to take ‘Gluuuurgh!’ as any sort of valid criticism.
Nevertheless, Lundqvist felt peeved. It wasn’t the way these things ought to be done. You had to preserve the mystique. Once people cottoned on to the fact that any Tom, Dick or Harry could blow away the Undead with a factory-standard out-of-the-box compact automatic, they wouldn’t be quite so eager to pay through the nose for the services of a top flight professional.
A quick glance at his watch told him he was badly behind schedule. A quick scout round produced a three-foot length of broken fence post, and a few strokes of his Spyderco Ultramax lock-knife put enough of a point on it to do the job. He was just dusting himself off and searching the pockets for any small items of value when his bleeper went.
‘Lundqvist here.’
‘Oh Mr Lundqvist, I’m sorry to disturb you like this, I hope I haven’t called at an inconvenient moment.’
‘No, it’s okay. While I think of it, what I had in mind when I gave you the equipment list this morning was stake S-T-A-K-E, not—’
‘Oh gosh, Mr Lundqvist, I’m most terribly sorry, really I am, I never thought—’
‘That’s fine,’ Lundqvist broke in - in order to have the time to wait for a natural break in the flow of Ms Parfimowicz’s apologies you had to be a giant redwood at the very least - ‘it wasn’t a problem as it turned out. Just remember for next time, okay?’
‘I will, I promise. I’ll just quickly write it down and then I’ll be sure to remember. That’s stake spelt S-T-A...’
‘Ms Parfimowicz,’ Lundqvist said firmly, ‘quiet. Now, what was so goddam important?’
‘Oh yes, I’m sorry I got sidetracked, I must stop doing that, it must be so
irritating
for you. A Mrs Henderson called - she’s not in the card index but she knew the private number so she must be genuine, don’t you think - and she wants you to kill a god.’
There was a brief pause while Lundqvist grabbed for the receiver which he had somehow contrived to drop. ‘I don’t think I heard you right,’ he said. ‘
Kill a god?

‘That’s what she said, Mr Lundqvist. Of course I could have got it down wrong, I know I’m still having trouble with taking the messages off the machine, but I’m pretty sure—’
‘Mrs Henderson, you said?’
‘That’s right, Mr Lundqvist. Do you want me to spell that back for you?’
‘I’ll be straight back. Call Haiti, cancel the zombie, make up some excuse. This is more important.’
‘Oh.’ The voice at the end of the line quavered slightly. ‘What excuse can I make, Mr Lundqvist?’
‘Tell them . . .’ Lundqvist grinned. ‘Tell them I had to go to a funeral.’
CHAPTER SIX
L
ove, according to the songwriters, is the sweetest thing; but tea as made by the great god Pan must come a pretty close second. It’s just as well that Pan is immortal, because if he were ever to die, several third world countries whose economies depend in whole or in part on the cultivation of sugar cane are likely to fall on hard times.
‘Have another biscuit,’ said Pan with his mouth full. Osiris shook his head.
‘Too full of cake,’ he explained. ‘Couldn’t eat another thing.’
‘To the gods,’ Pan replied, helping himself, ‘all things are possible.’
‘All right, then. I like these little ones with the coconut on top.’
All living things yearn for their own kind; and it had been a long time since Pan had spent any time with a fellow god. As far as Osiris was concerned, he had several thousand years’ unhealthy eating to catch up on. So many doughnuts, so little time.
‘Well, then.’ Pan leaned back in his chair and nibbled the chocolate off a mini swiss roll. ‘So what have you been up to all this time?’
‘Nothing.’
‘Nothing at all?’
Osiris nodded. ‘The first six hundred years after I retired, I just had a bloody good rest. After that, I found I’d got out of the habit of doing things. My own fault, really.’
‘Institutionalised.’
Osiris let his eye wander around the room. His reactions were mixed. On the one hand, he thought, the very idea of an immortal god, one of
us
, being afforded so little respect by mortals that he could only afford a bed-sitting room over a chemist’s shop in a suburban high street was so infamous that it made his palms itch for a thunderbolt. On the other hand, it was a damn sight bigger than his gloomy little kennel at Sunnyvoyde (and he
owned
the horrible place, remember), and it was quite plain from the most cursory inspection that Pan didn’t have little chits of teenage girls in white pinnies barging in whenever they felt like it, moving his possessions about and confiscating his digestive biscuits. True, there was about a thousand years’ arrears of washing up in the sink, but the price of liberty is eternal housekeeping. He wrenched his mind back to the subject under discussion.
‘I suppose so, yes,’ he said wistfully. ‘To begin with you think, Hey, this is the life, five meals a day brought to your room by beautiful young girls. Then you realise that for the last thousand years you’ve noticed the food but not the girls. Then you start to wonder what’s happening to you.’
‘Yeah.’ Pan nodded, but in his mind’s eye he could picture his compact, thoroughly modern, utterly squalid kitchen. He had a perfectly good dishwasher, but it was a while since he’d actually seen it, because of all the dirty plates piled up on every available surface. ‘Mind you, five meals you haven’t had to cook for yourself. It’s definitely got something going for it.’
‘Not much, though.’ Osiris shifted slightly in his wheelchair, which seemed to have shrunk. ‘How come you never retired?’
‘Couldn’t afford to,’ Pan replied. ‘Purely and simply a question of money.’
‘Really?’
‘Really. I look back now and I say to myself, If only I’d had the good sense to take out a personal pension plan back in the third century BC, I wouldn’t still be having to get out of bed at six-thirty every morning to go to work. Mind you, it’s always the way. When you’re that age, you think you’re going to live forever. Or, more to the point, you think you
aren’t
going to live forever, so why bother? Were you, um, planning to stay long?’
Osiris nodded. ‘Depends on how long it takes.’
‘How long what takes?’
‘For me to outlive my godson,’ Osiris replied. ‘The way I see it, all I’ve got to do is stay out of the way of him and his precious doctors until they kick the bucket. And in our timescale, that just gives us time for a quick game of poker before I’ve got to be getting back.’
‘Poker?’
‘It was only a suggestion. If you’d rather play snakes and ladders or . . .’
Inside his soul, Pan grinned. The ability to cause sudden panic isn’t the world’s most useful skill; it’s not like plumbing or carpet-laying, the sort of thing that’ll always keep the wolf strictly confined to the downstairs rooms. But it surely gives you the edge when playing poker.
‘You’re not proposing,’ he said coyly, ‘that we play for money, are you?’
‘Money?’ Osiris looked at him. ‘I didn’t know you could.’
‘I’ve heard that it’s possible.’
‘Gosh. I suppose you sort of bet on who’s going to win each hand.’
‘I suppose so. Want to give it a try?’
‘Why not? Do you know how we go about it?’
‘I expect we’ll pick it up as we go along.’
Three hours later, Pan came to the conclusion that maybe he’d been a trifle injudicious. Given that he was immortal, and assuming that he managed to continue doing these lucrative voice-overs he’d just broken into right up till the scheduled destruction of the Earth, he’d probably be able to pay Osiris back eventually, provided he didn’t get charged interest and went easy on the food and electricity:
‘You’ve played this before,’ he said.
‘I learned recently,’ Osiris replied. ‘About six months ago. One of the nurses at the Home has a boyfriend who’s a lorry driver. Apparently they spend a lot of time in transport cafés playing cards. We usually have a game or two every Friday evening while he’s waiting for her shift to end.’
‘I see. Do you think your godson’s likely to be dead yet?’
Osiris glanced at his watch. ‘I doubt it,’ he said. ‘There’s this other game he’s taught me if you’d like to try something else. I’m not
quite
sure of the rules, but—’
‘No thanks.’
‘Oh.’ Osiris shrugged. ‘Well, in that case we’d better settle up. I’d rather have cash, if it’s all the same to you.’
Pan winced. ‘To be absolutely frank with you,’ he said, ‘I’m just the teeniest bit strapped for cash at the moment. Would you mind if I, er, owed it to you. Just for a week or so, you understand . . .’
Osiris smiled pleasantly. ‘I can do better than that,’ he said. ‘You do me a small favour and we’ll call it quits. How does that sound?’
 
There was a deafening crash, and the air was suddenly full of broken glass.
All over the building, alarms should have gone off. Haifisch & Dieb had security systems that projected into several as yet undiscovered dimensions; so sophisticated were they that bells rang and lights flashed on monitor screens if a hostile philosopher started postulating that lawyers might not exist in a perfect universe. But even the most elaborate setup won’t work if someone has been round snipping vital wires and stuffing socks in the mechanism at strategic places.
‘Hi,’ said Julian, not looking up. ‘Take a seat, with you directly.’
Kurt Lundqvist let go of the rope on which he’d just abseiled in, and with an easy movement drew an enormous handgun from a huge shoulder holster. He levelled it at Julian’s heart, and cleared his throat discreetly.
‘Fifty-calibre Desert Eagle,’ said Julian, apparently to the seventy-page lease open on his desk. ‘What’s wrong with the trusty old Glock, then?’
Lundqvist winced slightly. ‘My new assistant,’ he said. ‘Goddamn woman will insist on tidying the place up. It’ll turn up eventually.’
‘Tsk.’ Julian clicked his tongue sympathetically, drew a few squiggles on the page with a red felt-tip, and closed the lease. ‘Good of you,’ he said inevitably, ‘to drop in.’
‘I was just passing.’
‘Sure. Now then.’ Julian leaned back in his chair - it was the sort of chair that was designed to define its occupant, and it told you better than any words could that you were sitting on the wrong side of the desk - and steepled his fingers. ‘I got a job for you,’ he said.
‘So I’d heard.’
‘I think you’re the right man for this job.’
BOOK: Odds and Gods
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