Tad Williams: The Dirty Streets of Heaven

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Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of Heaven


inhuman resources

I was just stepping out of the elevator on the 43rd floor of the Five Page Mill building when the alarms began going off-those nightmarish, clear-the-building kind like the screams of tortured robots-and I realized I’d pretty well lost any chance at the subtle approach.

Did I mention that when I’m under stress I tend to revert to old habits? And being chased by monsters (as well as being made the fall guy for the biggest fuck-up between Heaven and Hell in the last few thousand years) will produce some stress. So that was me right then-jumpy and in need of answers. And when I’m feeling that way I tend to push on things until something happens.

I didn’t calm down any when a husky security guard lurched out of the stairwell a few yards away, eyes adrenaline-wide, shoving his service pistol in my face. He shouted, “Get on the floor!” but instead of keeping the gun trained on me he started waving it to show me where to go, and I knew that I had him.

“Hold on, don’t…don’t you want to see my employee badge or something?” I was doing my best to sound like a confused and innocent corporate drone. “P-p-please don’t shoot me!”

“I want you down on the floor! There!” Again he jabbed the gun toward the discreetly expensive carpeting. The alarms were making it hard to hear so I went with that, screwing up my face in fear and confusion.

“What? I didn’t understand you! Don’t shoot…!”

“God damn it, get down!” He grabbed my arm with his free hand. I leaned away to get him off balance, then yanked his wrist so that he staggered toward me, waving his gun hand in a desperate attempt to keep his balance. It didn’t matter much because I hit him square in the face with my forearm, jolting his head back and dropping him like a sack of laundry. Broke his nose, too, I’m pretty sure.

I didn’t know whether Vald’s security guards were normal people on a normal payroll or soldiers of the Opposition, and I didn’t have time to search this guy for extra nipples or whatever. (To be honest, except for a few retro covens, extra nipples have pretty much fallen out of fashion as a sign of allegiance to Hell.) So I left him alive but unconscious on the floor and tossed his gun and walkie-talkie into a trash bin in case he woke up sooner than I expected.

Everything had gone ass-up now and I knew I would be better off just leaving before anyone got killed, but I do have that problem I mentioned-when I get agitated I just kind of put my head down and keep shoving. Like a rhino with an itch, as my old boss delicately put it. Anyway, I decided I might as well see where this whole thing was going to lead.

I knew I had about seven or eight minutes maximum before the building was completely overrun by people with guns who would be happy to use them on me, so I hurried up the stairs to the 44th floor where I paused for a second or two to admire the view of Stanford University’s creepy Gothic towers through the picture window at the end of the hall. The master office suite clearly took up the entire floor, so I walked through the only door and found myself standing in front of the calmest woman I have ever pointed a gun at. She was good-looking, too-slender, with Eurasian features, short, dark hair, and extremely cold eyes. I was pretty certain she’d already pushed the silent alarm.

“Who are you?” she asked in the tone of a bored DMV clerk. She didn’t even look down at the barrel of the.38, although it was only inches from her nose. “And what do you want?”

“I’m here to see your boss,” I explained. “Shall I just go in?”

To her credit she didn’t bother to argue with me or even threaten me, just came over the desk hissing and clawing like a methedrined ocelot, doing her best to tear off my face with her long Big Apple Red fingernails. Within a few seconds of rolling around on the carpet with her I had determined that she was just as strong as I was, quite possibly a better fighter than I was, and-at least based on the weird things her eyes were doing as we rolled around on the floor and I struggled to keep her teeth away from my neck-almost certainly not a human being. I mean, the bitch was scary.

Demons don’t like silver. It’s one of the few old standbys that work, at least a bit. (Holy water, for instance, is about as much use against Hell’s servants as Diet Pepsi.) Silver doesn’t always kill them, but it almost always hurts them. Unfortunately, what with one thing and another that week I didn’t have any silver bullets on me, so when I got my hand free for a moment, I just shoved the gun against her face and fired three of the ordinary kind. I had my silencer on so the.38 didn’t make too much noise, but she sure as hell did. She reeled back, screeching like a power drill and clawing at the remains of her features like someone trying to get soapy water out of their eyes, then came after me again. Any normal demon in a real-world body would have gone down just from being shot in the face, but she was one of those stubbornly murderous ones-even if you cut off her arms and legs she’d be crawling across the floor like a snake, snapping at your ankles with her teeth.

I hate the stubborn ones.

As soon as she had rubbed the blood out of her remaining eye she leaped forward and did her best to wrap her arms around me, dragging me back down to the floor. I didn’t want to use my last couple of bullets, so I did my best to beat her unconscious with the butt of my Smith amp; Wesson, but all I managed to do was push her jaw unnaturally far to the side of her face, which made her look like an extremely disturbing Popeye cosplay girl but didn’t slow her down at all. She was on top of me again, slapping and slashing with her nails at my eyes so that all I could do was cover up. Meanwhile she was also doing her best to drive her knee up through my groin and into my chest, introducing my balls to my heart, a meeting that should never take place. This gal was serious bad news and any moment now the guards were going to come busting in and it would be all over for your new friend, Bobby Dollar.

It wasn’t the first time I ever found myself with a howling, angry she-creature on top of me-and God knows it probably wasn’t going to be the last, either-but as the crooked, fanged mouth of Kenneth Vald’s secretary snapped at my face, showering me with bloody froth, I couldn’t help reflecting on how I had yet again wound up in such an extremely unpleasant situation.

And as usual, it had been my own stupid fault.


an old testament cinch

Let me go back to the beginning. It’ll make more sense then. Not a lot of sense, but more than it probably does right now.

Pretty much everybody was already in the bar the night it all started-Monica Naber, big old Sweetheart, Young Elvis, and all the rest of the Whole Sick Choir. Oh, except that because of recent changes in the local ordinances Kool Filter was stuck downstairs, smoking out on the sidewalk. Yes, some of us angels smoke. (I used to do it, but I don’t anymore.) Our bodies are loaners, after all, and it’s not like we’re too worried about dying. Anyway, it was a pretty normal late February night in The Compasses until my friend Sam came in towing an overcoat full of new meat.

“Fuck the poor and all their excuses,” he shouted to the room. “Somebody get me a drink!” He dragged over this young guy I’ve never seen before and shoved him into a chair beside me. “Here’s someone you need to know, kid,” he said. “Meet Bobby Dollar, king of the assholes.” Sam dropped into a seat on the other side of him. The youngster was trapped, but he wasn’t panicking yet. He grinned at me like he was glad to see me-big, stupid, slightly sickly grin. The rest of him was thin, white, and kind of bookish, with a haircut that on anyone but an angel would have screamed, “Mom did this!” A beginner with lots of theories, I guessed, but if he was hanging out with my pal Sam he’d be getting some rude lessons in Practical Theology.

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