Authors: Richard Kadrey
For David Bowie and Lemmy,
both gone too soon.
If I die, I forgive you. If I live, we shall see.
I don't want to go to heaven. None of my friends are there.
talking about the end of the world, but I can't keep my eyes open. The inside of my head is all Disney dancing hippos and gators going at each other with knives like candy-colored Droogs.
Ever notice how the more pain you're in, the funnier the world gets? Sometimes it's peculiar funny. Sometimes it's “ha ha” funny, but it's always funny. I remember almost bleeding to death in Hellion arenas and all I could do was laugh. I understand if that seems a little strange. That's what I mean about peculiar funny versus ha-ha funny. It's all a matter of perspective. The more totally fucked you are, the funnier everything gets. Right now the world is hilarious.
What was I talking about? Right. Abbot. The end of the world. At least, I think it's the end of the world he's going on about. Maybe someone just keyed his Ferrari. Whatever it is, I'm not listening. It's not that I'm bored. I'm tired, my head aches, and my eyes hurt like someone's tunneling out with dynamite. It's been a month since I've slept right. At night, my dreams keep me awake. Awake, the daylight feels like someone scouring my skin off with steel wool. I laugh once
and everybody looks at me because they're not in on the joke. I'm squinting at the light too hard to explain it to them.
“You have something to add, Stark?” says Abbot.
“Not a thing. I'm hanging on every word. But I might have missed some of the last part.”
“I was saying the meeting was over. We've voted on everything on the agenda. I had to put you down as an abstention on, well, everything since you didn't feel like joining in.”
The other ten members of the Sub Rosa councilâthe den of thieves, high rollers, and important families that run most of our little worldâstare or shake their heads in my direction.
“I was with you in spirit, boss.”
“That's what makes it all worthwhile.”
He turns from me and back to the room. People are getting up, gathering briefcases, purses, and jackets. You could feed every refugee in Europe with what these people have in their pockets.
“Thank you all for coming. It was a good meeting. I'll see you next week,” says Abbot.
Good-byes to Abbot and general chitchat in the room. It's like my brain is an open sore and their voices are salt. I don't ever remember feeling this way, even Downtown.
“Hang around for a few minutes, Stark.”
I nod to Abbot. With my head like this, I wasn't planning on going anywhere soon anyway.
When everyone leaves, Abbot comes over and sits down next to me. He's a handsome fucker and that's always bugged me. All-American boyish looks with all the power of the Sub Rosa at his disposal. We're on his houseboat in Marina del Rey. The meeting room is trimmed in gold and exotic woods.
There's enough video monitors and other electronic gear along the back wall to launch a nuclear war. Abbot's floating pad is like a comic-book supervillain's orbiting death lair. Yet I kind of like the prick. He seems honest. He gave me a seat on the Sub Rosa council. And he hasn't thrown me out for doing a lousy job. But I can't help wondering if I'm about to get a Dear John letter.
Things aren't working out. It's not you. It's me.
You know the routine.
Abbot laces his fingers together and leans back in his chair.
“You don't look so good,” he says. “Please don't tell me you're missing meetings because you're hungover.”
I shake my head and immediately regret it.
“If only. Then, at least, I'd have had a good time. This, though. It's a Trotsky icepick.”
“Have you ever been checked out for migraines?”
“I don't get migraines. I leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Abbot gets up and looks through an expensive leather messenger bag.
“Let me give you my doctor's name. He does great work. You're aware, aren't you, that as a council member you get health insurance?”
“It was in the packet I gave you when you started.”
“You gave me a packet?”
He comes back over with something in his hand.
“Maybe you lost it at home. Look for it. You even have a small expense account.”
He puts a business card on the table. It has a doctor's name on it.
“Free money? I'll find it. And thanks for the advice, but I have my own doctor.”
“Then go see him or her. Doctors are like aspirin. They don't work if you don't use them.”
“Speaking of aspirin, you have any?”
There's something else in his hand. He sets down a small yellow prescription bottle.
“Aspirin won't do much for a migraine. But you should try these. I get headaches myself and these clear them right up.”
“Your doctor's Sub Rosa?”
“Of course. Why do you ask?”
“I don't know. You're one of the moneyed chosen. I always pictured you with your own hospital or something.”
“Just one wing. It's all Dad could afford.”
I look at him.
“I'm kidding,” he says.
“Just give me the pills, Groucho.”
He hands me the bottle and points to the glass of water that's been in front of me the whole meeting. If it had been a snake, I'd be taking a venom nap by now.
I pop the pills in my mouth. They taste like flowers. Like one of those goddamn violet candy bars my mother used to gnaw on with her whiskey. Very classy. Very sophisticated. I want to spit them out, then remember they're medicine, so I don't. Abbot pushes the water to me and I take a long gulp.
“How was that?”
I finish the glass.
“It tastes like the wreaths at a mobster's funeral.”
He puts the cap back on the prescription bottle.
“It does, doesn't it? Anyway, you should feel better in a few minutes. I can give you a few extra if you'd like to take them with you.”
“Thanks. But I'll bug my doctor for something that doesn't taste like a hobbit's lunch.”
“Suit yourself. But if you change your mind . . .”
“Thanks. But I won't.”
Listen to yourself. Stop whining. This is your boss you're talking to. He's given you free drugs and is offering more. That's what people do when they see someone in pain. Shut up. Be a person.
“I feel better already.”
Abbot gets up, tosses the bottle in the messenger bag, and brings it back to the table.
“I doubt that,” he says, “but you will. Is your head clear enough to talk? I want to discuss something with you.”
“Is this the part where you chew me out for being bad in class?”
“No. I understand how awful migraines can be. But tell me next time and maybe we can do something about it. No, I wanted to talk to you about the real agenda for the meeting.”
“Going to dish about your rich friends? What do you tell them about me?”
He sits back down.
“Nothing. But trust me, they ask. What I want to talk about is the real reason for the meeting. Did you hear anything I said tonight?”
“Something about charities. Climate change. The end of the world.”
“You're right about the charities part. What I wanted to see was who was pushing for which charities. I think some of the board members are in bed with Wormwood.”
Wormwood Investments. What can I say about that bunch? They're into money and power. And they have a good time getting and keeping both.
Charity doesn't really seem to be their thing, though, so I try to get my mind wrapped around that.
“You think that dicking around with charities will tell you which ones are on the take?”
Wormwood is like a mob-run bank if the mob was a Hellion horde and the bank was the world. They make money when the market goes up and currencies collapse. They make money on where and when famines kill the most people. They make money on who is or isn't damned.
And they make money on me.
Who I kill. Who I don't. Whether I'm a good boy or a bad boy, they make a profit, and it pisses me off.
“Wormwood has a lot of front groups,” says Abbot.
It clicks. “And the council can funnel to them through the charity fronts.”
“So, you want to see who recommends which ones.”
“You've got it.”
Another wave of pain gets me just behind my left eye. I close it and squint at Abbot through the right like I'm doing my best Popeye impression.
“Did you find out anything?” I ask.
“Maybe. I made sure everyone knew there was money to be spent. We batted around the names of a few groups, including two that I know have Wormwood connections. The next meeting we'll vote and see who pushes for which groups.”
“How diabolical of you.”
“Thanks. I'm flattered.”
The wave of pain passes and I can use both eyes again. I get up and go around the table to where there's another full glass of water and drink most of it.
“Listen. I know a guyâManimal Mikeâwith a lot of power tools. Why don't you point me at some of the shifty types on the council and I'll show them Mike's saws?”
Abbot raises an eyebrow before saying, “I'd need some proof before I'd let someone called Manimal Mike loose on anyone.”
“Point me at the Wormwood creeps and I'll make them sing
“I hope it won't come to that.”
“If it's Wormwood, it will.”
“You might be right.”
I sit back down again and the light in the room stops strobing.
“Hey. I think your hamster food is starting to do something.”
“See? I told you so.” He pauses. “There's one more thing I wanted to talk to you about.”
He reaches into his bag and pulls out a white folder. He opens it on the table. There's a photo of a young boy.
“A friend's son has gone missing. His name is Nick. He's run away before. Mostly to his father's house in San Diego. Everyone was assuming that's what had happened this time, but my friend hasn't heard anything and is worried. I remember that your lady friend, Chihiro, works for a detective agency. Do you think she could look into it for me?”
Abbot knows damn well that Chihiro is really Candy living with a new name and a new face courtesy of a powerful glamour. I have to give him points for being discreet enough, even though we're alone, to use her cover name.
“I was heading to her office after the meeting. I'll give it to her then.”
Abbot's face relaxes. I hadn't registered the worry until it wasn't there anymore. I also notice that he's gone far out of his way to not say who his friend is.
“Thank you. That means a lot to us.”
Okay. The friend is someone close, not just one of the council members trying to hide a family scandal. So, who is it? A childhood pal? A lover? Is Abbot married? I can't see his ring finger, but that's also a pretty Judeo-Christian traditionânot so much among the Sub Rosa types.
I focus back on the missing child.
“How many times has this kid run off? He looks like he's maybe twelve.”
Abbot picks up the picture, looks at it, and sets it down again.
“Yes. He's always been precocious. With luck, this is nothing. But there's some worry that his father might have abducted him.”
I flip the picture over. There's information on the back.
Eye color. Hair. Height. The only contact number is Abbot's. I close the folder and put it in my coat pocket.
“I'll give it to Julie. She runs the agency and decides who gets what cases.”
“So, what time are we doing this charity vote thing tomorrow?”
“Stark, it's Friday. We don't meet again until Monday. Take the weekend. Get your head fixed.”
“Right. Friday. How about that?”
Where the hell did this week go? I swear, it was Tuesday just yesterday.
“Okay, then. I'll see you next week, boss.”
“See you Monday,” says Abbot.
I leave and walk back to the dock as sunset comes down over the docks. From here, Abbot's floating Xanadu looks like a burned-out garbage scow. Sub Rosa chic. They love their mansions to look like ten-week-old shit from the outside.
One okay thing about being on the council is that I get a stipend (and apparently an expense accountâreally need to look at that packet Abbot talked about). Since I can't use the Room of Thirteen Doors anymore, and since the last car I borrowed got burned by a psycho named Audsley Ishii, I got one of my own. A black '68 Pontiac Catalina fastback. Actually bought it. Inside, the previous owner put a rebuilt 455 V-8 under the hood. Outside, it looks like a hearse and a cruise missile had a bullet-nosed baby. I get in, turn the key, and make the monster roar.
HE DRIVE FROM
Marina del Rey to Hollywood isn't as hideous as it could be. The 405 tonight is a plodding lava flow instead of a graveyard. Abbot's gerbil-food pill tuned down my headache, but the headlights on other cars still hurt my eyes. I can't believe I almost missed Friday. My head will be shaken back into place soon enough. I swear, having a job is half of what's wrong with me.
I never liked being an employee. I tried it before. Signed on with the Golden Vigilâbasically, a government antihoodoo spook force. It didn't work out. The bossesâLarson Wells in particularâand I didn't exactly get along (I fought the law and the law won). Then they threw Candy in jail and would have shipped her to a Lurker Alcatraz in the desert if I didn't get help from a friend. Then they screwed me out of my paycheck. Then I tried playing private detective.
Don't bother asking how that worked out.
Even though the council gig is a pretty cushy job, being a salaryman grates on me in a very basic way. It reminds me of working for Azazel, a Hellion bigwig Downtown. The relationship was simple: he was the boss and I was his slave. Pull the plow or get sent to the glue factory. This job isn't as bad as that by a long shot, but being under the thumb of anyone who can burn down your life with a phone call makes me, let's say, uneasy. Maybe that's why my sleep has been shit.