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Blind Shrike Page 48

For the duration of the ride, Spyder obsessively checked his mirrors and scanned the street, waiting for a siren or a vigilante to point him out as a killer or a child molester. But it didn't happen. As he pulled up in front of Lulu's building, Rubi was coming out. She smiled brightly and kissed both Lulu and Spyder, giving no indication that she recalled Spyder punching her. Lulu gave a shrug and followed Rubi back inside, after blowing Spyder a kiss from the steps.

Spinning a quick one-eighty across the median, Spyder cruised over to the Haight. The tattoo studio was still gone, and the vacant lot still looked like whatever had occupied it had burned. Spyder couldn't decide if that bit of historical consistency was comforting or not.

He left the Kawasaki parked between an art car covered in plush toys ha**ng s*x with na**d Barbies and a Jews for Jesus panel truck. He went into the Long Life Cupboard health food store. Immediately, his stomach was burning and his shoulders were one big knot of tension. Spyder's fight-or-flight instincts were locked on high alert for any funny look, wayward gesture or wandering beat cops. No one even acknowledged him except the cute blonde hippie chick at the register who smiled and asked, "How's it hanging?" as Spyder paid for his orange juice. "Sucks about your shop," she said.

"Thanks."

"You opening another one?"

"We haven't decided yet."

"Let me know if you do. I was thinking about getting a mudra tattooed on my shoulder," she said. "Tell Lulu Hi, and don't be a stranger."

"You got it," said Spyder. He smiled awkwardly and fled the place. It was all too much. The city. Too many people. Too much noise. Copper jitters. The angels, demons and strange beasts who'd wandered in from other Spheres were there, too, but their presence seemed kind of normal. It was the athletic shoe ads on the buses, the wandering tourists and ultra-hipsters, the panhandling poser kids that were making it hard for him to breathe. Spyder downed his OJ, gunned the bike into traffic and drove home. He'd been social enough for one day, no need to push our luck and find that one guy who still thinks I'm Charlie Manson, he thought.

Back at the warehouse, Spyder sorted through a pile of mail on the floor by the front door. There was an official looking letter from an insurance company. Inside was a settlement check for the burned studio. The check displayed a prominent one followed by many more zeroes than Spyder had ever seen on a document relating to him.

Later that night, he met Lulu for a drink at the Bardo Lounge and showed her the check.

"Rubi, give my future ex-husband a drink on me."

"Just make it a Coke, thanks."

"You feelin' sick?"

"Like I'm wearing borrowed skin."

"Me, too," Lulu said. "Still haven't heard anything from Shrike?"

Spyder shook his head. He pulled out a fresh pack of American Spirits, cracked the pack and removed one. Lulu stole one and lit Spyder's smoke with the pink Zippo she'd almost lost by the Bone Sea.

"Not a word," said Spyder.

"We been sitting around too long. We need to work."

"I'm not ready to even think about opening another shop. Maybe we could get a couple of chairs in a shop on the street. Big Bill's or Colored People."

"There you go."

Rubi came back with their drinks. "Cheers," she said, giving them a big smile. Spyder was almost used to Rubi not hating him.

Lulu raised her glass in a toast.

"To the Kaiser's moustache."

"To Lucifer's tail."

"Better yet."

A demon was on the stool to Spyder's right, nursing a glass of Jagermeister. Bilal, the demon, fat and shirtless, poured the Jager into a mouth that opened in his chest. He looked straight ahead, trying not to catch Spyder's eye.

Spyder leaned over to him. "What's the difference between a demon and a glass of beer?" Spyder asked.

Bilal shifted his eyes toward Spyder, but refused to turn his head. "What?"

"Beer's still good without a head." Spyder put his hand on the demon's shoulder. "Remember me?"

The demon turned away.

"Talking meat all looks pretty much the same to me."

"You're Bilal?"

"Maybe."

"Then you should remember me. Or do you curse so many people that we all blur together?"

"You need to go away now," Bilal said. His chest-mouth opened slowly, emitting a growl and hot breath that reeked of wet decay.

"Stop that," said Spyder. He touched the middle finger of his right hand to Bilal's chest. The skin shifted like sand, sealing the extra mouth shut. "What were you -saying?"

The demon heaved its enormous bulk from the barstool, feeling for its lost mouth.

"I'll destroy you," it said.

"Yeah, your first one worked out so well. What do you do for an encore? Not swallow my soul?" Spyder took a sip of his Coke and a long drag off his cigarette. It was good to have real smokes again. "I was in the book. I am the book. And your demon noise sounds like cricket farts to me now. I have Apollyon's blade. I'm the devil's brother. I killed the Black Clerks. What are you but some back alley rat-eater who likes to take out his bad moods on people who can't fight back?"

Bilal was breathing hard. He was angry, but Spyder could tell that he was even more scared.

"Leave me alone," said Bilal.

"All I wanted was to be left alone, but you tried to eat me. When that didn't work, you cursed me. Made people think I was Hannibal Lecter."

"That was before."

"Before what?"

"Before I knew who you were."

"And who's that?"

"The Painted Man."

"Don't you forget it. Now, what's the magic word?"

"What word?"

"What do we say when we've f**ked up and we want forgiveness?" asked Spyder.

Bilal hesitated, shook his head. He stared at the floor. "Lucretia My Reflection" came by on the jukebox.

"I'm sorry," Bilal said.

Spyder nodded, patted the demon's barstool.

"Climb back up in the saddle, big man. Let me buy you another Jager."

"You're not going to kill me?"

"Hell no," said Spyder. "I understand about bad moods and being stuck someplace maybe you don't want to be. So, you get to keep your head and I get to not spill demon guts all over this nice, clean shirt."

Bilal gestured to his chest.

"Could you?"

"Sorry." Spyder touched the demon. The skin of Bilal's chest shifted, unsealing his second mouth.

Rudi bought him a shot of Jager and Spyder passed it to the demon. He clinked his Coke against Bilal's glass in a toast.

"Tell me the truth," said Spyder, leaning in close. "People taste a lot like chicken, don't we?"

Sixty One

The Other Side of the Wind

By the end of the first month, the world slowly began to feel solid under his feet, the edges of things stable and reliable, his skin his own.

At home, Spyder kept the TV on, but the sound off. He tried to listen to music, but everything sounded flat and dull. Spyder made a couple of calls and he and Lulu started doing work out of Luscious Abrasion, a body mod studio near their old place on Haight Street. A small but steady part of Spyder and Lulu's new clientele were demons, Gytrash and other non-humans.

"Word's spreading about us. You know what this means?" asked Lulu.

"What?"

"Demon groupies."

No one at the studio ever seemed to notice, and their special clients always paid in gold so everyone was happy.

In May, on Orson Welles' birthday, an old art house theater in the Mission District had a marathon screening of his films. Spyder had seen the early stuff dozens of times, so he only came for late night flicks, It's All True, Welles' doomed Brazilian epic, and The Other Side of the Wind, a dark, micro-budget film about a bitter director, played by John Huston. He knew there weren't enough guns or tits to get Lulu to sit through either movie, so Spyder went alone.

It was almost two in the morning when the movies let out. Spyder went to the corner where he'd parked the Kawasaki and lit a cigarette. It was cold and wet. Heavy fog was blowing through the streets like sparkling ghosts.

"Hey, ponyboy."

She was leaning against the front door of a check cashing shop. Through the open door, restless illegals pretended not to see the down-on-their luck whites who were busy pretending to be somewhere else entirely.

Spyder sat on the bike, took a drag off the American Spirit.

He said, "I have this scar on my arm. Sometimes at night I touch it just to make sure I didn't imagine it. It's where the Clerks marked me. On the table by my bed, I have this big black knife. I close my eyes and my head is full of the strangest images. And none of it seems real. Like maybe all those things I think I remember are kind of the opposite of a drunken blackout. A drunken picture show. But when I fall asleep it's all okay because at the end of the pictures, I get the girl. Only I didn't, did I?"

"I'm sorry I ran off. I'm worse at goodbyes than you are," said Shrike.

"How's your father?"

"He died."

"I'm really sorry to hear that."

"It's all right. I took him home, to the Second Sphere. He rallied briefly. I think he was happy when he went."

"So, there's a happy ending, after all. I'm glad you both got that."

"You don't have to be so magnanimous."

Spyder nodded, took a pull on the cigarette.

"Yeah, I do. Otherwise the walls start doing that closing in thing and I want a drink and I'm trying real hard not to want that."

"You're not drinking? That's a good thing."

He shrugged. "Leaves more money for cigarettes."

"I'm so sorry I left you like that."

"You said that already."

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