Thanks to Tad Williams and his lovely wife Deborah, here's a another teaser extract from the forthcoming The Dirty Streets of Heaven. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Bobby Dollar would like to know what he was like when he was alive, but too much of his time is spent working as an extremely minor functionary in the heavenly host judging recently departed souls.
Until the day a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by ‘the other side’.
A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.
I liked my situation less and less by the moment -- in fact, the whole thing stank. Why was I being called back to the Walker house? If my bosses wanted to quiz me beyond what the fixer/minister had already done, why not just summon me to Heaven? Temuel had called me in for nothing more important than chatting about young Clarence, so something like this obviously rated a visit to the House.
Another question that was still itching me: who had called in the shock troops so quickly? As soon as Edward Walker's soul turned up missing, worker bees from both sides had descended on the scene before either Grasswax or I could check in with our bosses -- or at least that was how it had looked. My team and the Opposition are both very into procedure, as I had learned many times to my sorrow. What happened this time?
And to muddy the waters even further, only hours later Grasswax was dead and I was apparently wanted back on the scene for more questioning -- but I was the one who had questions that needed answering. Who had bothered to kill Grasswax's mortal form? It's not like it would shut him up about anything: earthbound employees of both sides wound up dead all the time. I've been there myself. We get debriefed about what happened and then decanted into another body.
Altogether, the affair had more loose ends than Swinger's Night in a bucket of worms, so I had a lot to think about as I skittered down the Bayshore through a canyon of glowing high-rise windows to the Palo Alto district, then made my way along the tree-lined streets until I was back in front of the Walker residence.
I parked as close to the house as I could. The street was still full of police vehicles and news trucks even though the death had happened this morning and by now the streetlights had come on. I'd already heard the story on the car radio -- "Scientist and Philanthropist Takes His Own Life," was the basic gist, featuring several quotes from Walker's friends and family about how they had no idea he was despondent or even worried, although there were also unsubstantiated rumors that he might have been ill with something serious.
Anyway, it wasn't the real-world version of the Walker place that I wanted (although I was beginning to have a few questions about that as well.) I opened a Zipper and the few police technicians still lingering around the open garage tented with white plastic froze into immobility as I stepped Outside, but I scarcely noticed because what I stepped into on the far side of the Zipper was your basic hive of activity. Opposition minions were everywhere, dozens of types, some indistinguishable from deformed humans, others so unpleasantly different I couldn't look at them for very long.
Only one member of our team was waiting for me there, but he was enough all by himself. I think it was the same Fixer as before -- certainly the bizarre plague-mask seemed the same, but it's hard to tell with the higher angels: outward appearances mean very little except to someone like me who's influenced by the meat body he's been lugging around.
Anyway, the minister was waiting for me and he didn't stand on ceremony, either: I scarcely had time to get both my feet on the Outside ground before he started asking me questions. The first were the obvious ones, many of which I'd already answered for him -- what had happened here earlier today, what had I seen, what had Grasswax said, and so on. But then he started asking me what happened after I left him, and about the Compasses crew, especially Sam and his new pup, Clarence. I answered everything as honestly as I could, of course: I don't even know if it's possible to lie to a minister at work, and I certainly wouldn't try it under any remotely normal circumstances.
When the fixer had grilled me for what seemed like most of an hour he suddenly clammed up, then after a pause long enough that it seemed he might be conferring with someone else I couldn't see, he said, "Come with us."
He led me along the side of the house, me walking (even Outside it's hard to make a human body do anything but act like a normal body) and him sort of gliding in front of me like an upright floor polisher with no one holding the handle.
"What we are about to do is irregular, Angel Doloriel, but so are the circumstances," he said. "Remember, you will give no answer until we indicate you may do so." I had no idea what he was talking about since he'd already asked me dozens of questions. Then we stepped into the Outside version of the Walker back yard and I got the shock of my afterlife. I definitely owed Clarence an apology.
See, normally what I'd told him was right -- people like us don't get killed, only our earthly bodies do; the Opposition is just as good as we are at plugging the disembodied soul into a new sack of meat -- then voila! Instant resurrection. Like I said, I've been through it a few times myself, leaving a corpse behind each time. And here was Grasswax's mortal body -- the earthly, flesh-and-blood version of him -- lying beside the pool in a puddle of chlorinated water, covered with a police blanket. And normally that would have been all -- just a defunct carcass and the real Grasswax's slimy but immortal soul off to the Opposition's Tijuana-style tuck and roll body shop. But as I stood looking through the frame of a little ivy-covered arbor in Edward Walker's backyard, I could also see the Other Side version of Grasswax -- the real Grasswax, just like it's the real Doloriel talking to you now -- and what had happened to him was a lot less pretty than just drowning in a suburban pool. In fact, it was disgusting and horrifying.
The ancient Norsemen used to have a punishment for traitors called the Blood Eagle, where they chopped through a guy's back ribs and pulled his lungs out through the holes to make bloody wings. That would have been an unpleasant way to go, but the bully-boys of Hell had an even better method they called the Bloody Net. I won't go into details, but it has to do with carefully pulling out the victim's nerve bundles and blood vessels with sharp tools -- while he's still alive, of course -- then hanging him up by that network of shrieking tissue and dumping nasty little things called Nerve-Chewers on him to gnaw on the exposed bits until the lucky fellow finally expires. I'd heard of it but I have to admit I never dreamed it was real. I also don't understand how you do that to someone's supposedly immortal form, but damn me if these guys hadn't managed.
The real Grasswax had been mostly reduced to fibers strung between two trees at opposite ends of the yard, a sagging, shiny red hammock. What was left of the most important bits -- and remember, this was the real Grasswax, the Outside Grasswax -- still hung there, and I will never forget the expression on the remains of his face. I had never felt sorry for a minion of Hell before, but I did then. Remember, there's no time Outside -- it might have taken him days or even weeks to die.
"Shit," I said quietly. The minster was standing behind me, staring imperturbably at the ghastly mess as though he saw worse all the time. Maybe he did, and if so, I was definitely scratching "fixer" off my list of potential career moves.
"Remember what we told you," the angelic thing with the white mask told me. "Answer each question only after we give permission."
I barely registered what he was saying because at that moment something very tall and misshapen tottered out of the Walker house. It was a dull, shiny black like a beetle's shell and trailed sticky black fibers from every limb. It had quite a few limbs. Its eyes looked like clots of blood illuminated from inside the lump that must have been its head. It was altogether ghastly, the more so because every now and then it moved in an almost human way. Almost.
"Thizzz izzz the advoc-c-c-cate Doloriel?" it asked. If you recorded a shrieking chain saw and then slowed it down until it sounded like it was playing through syrup, you'd have the voice, pretty much. The buzzing got into my bones and guts; just standing next to it made my stomach try to climb up my esophagus and flee the vicinity -- I mean, it felt bad. This was no ordinary employee of Hell.
"Yes, Chancellor." The minister said it politely, but I don't think he liked being outranked by the Opposition. "We are pleased to cooperate in your investigation. You may ask your questions." The minister's voice floated into my thoughts. "This is Chancellor Urgulap of the Second Hierarchy. He is investigating the murder of Prosecutor Grasswax. We are extending him a professional courtesy."
I don't remember much of what the buzzing thing asked me, to be honest -- just standing in front of was one of the mosts unpleasant things I'd ever experienced (and I've seen a lot of nasty things.) Most of the questions seemed fairly ordinary, though, not that different from what the minister had just asked me. I looked to the fixer each time before I answered, and each time he gave me a little mental nudge that meant, "Yes, you may." It was only after one question that he seemed reluctant to give his permission.
"And have you zzzzzpok-k-ken to any of your masterzzz or comradzzz about thizz matter?"
The heavenly minister hesitated at this one -- I could feel it. He relented a moment later but now I was a little spooked. I didn't want to drop anyone else into danger, certainly not Sam or even his rookie tagalong. "Not really. Just my supervisor, Temuel." After all, it would have been weird if I hadn't discussed it with the Mule, and it sure wasn't my job to protect middle management.
The chancellor stared at me with those squashed neon berries as if sensing my incomplete honesty. At last it turned and limped away. It must have opened a Zipper but I never saw it: one moment the Chancellor was there, a thing like a giant, melted bug standing upright on the patio beside the pool, then it was just gone. I can't begin to describe the physical relief that came with its absence.
"Thank you for your assistance, Angel Doloriel," the masked fixer said. "As you see, we are cooperating with the Opposition in all ways possible in this matter. If anyone else contacts you about this, or in any way shows inappropriate interest, you will immediately alert us. God loves you. You may go."
And go I did. After all, Grasswax's hideously mangled form was still hanging between the trees, the sightless eyes watching me with what seemed like disappointment.
Don't know what you were expecting from me, Brother Demon, I thought as I stepped back into the world of time. I don't want anything to do with the heavy-hitters, either my side's or yours.
Before I got to the Walker house I had been pretty certain I would drop by the Compasses on my way back, but now I felt unsettled right down to the soles of my feet and I just wanted to go home and bathe myself in holy water. Since I didn't have any holy water, vodka would have to serve, and the bath would have to be on the inside rather than the outside, but I kept a bottle of 42 Below in the freezer for just these kinds of spiritual emergencies.
* * *
Monica had left a message on my phone wanting to know how things had gone and I also had a reminder from Sam that we were getting together after work tomorrow for our monthly dinner (an old custom of ours I'll tell you about another time) but I didn't really want to talk to anyone. I wanted to get quickly and quietly blotto because I felt like a garage full of car alarms right after a major earthquake.
When I got through the door of my apartment I pulled out the vodka, cracked the cap, then poured myself a couple of fingers in a glass and put on some Miles as thinking music. As So What began to curl around my living room like cigarette smoke I took a fiercely cold swallow and tried to make sense out of everything that had happened in the last day, from the unheard-of absence of Edward Walker's soul to the sudden passing of Prosecutor Grasswax in the grisliest fashion imaginable.
My old boss Leo used to say that when you're working for any gigantic and corrupt bureaucracy, whether it's the British East India Company, the Politburo, or the NCAA, the first lesson is this: Don't wait to find out exactly how they're going to screw you before you start protecting yourself -- get to work when you spot the first signs of trouble. This whole Walker thing was full of holes, and from long experience I felt sure more weird things were going to be crawling out of those holes very soon.
In fact this particular little clusterfuck, with its missing souls and dead demon-prosecutors, had all the warning signs of one of the worst snafus in recent memory, and if I wasn't smack in the middle of it I was close enough to feel the heat most unpleasantly. It was time to start the counter-offensive -- if I could do so without making things worse for myself, that is.
I poured myself another glass of numbness and thought about where to start.
About an hour later I noticed I had finished my third drink but had never poured myself a fourth. I got up to rectify that, noted that Miles had gone quiet, and put on some Robert Johnson. Me and the Devil Blues. Seemed like an appropriate night for Mr. Johnson and his crossroads bargain.
"Early this mornin', when you knocked upon my door
Early this mornin', ooh, when you knocked upon my door
And I said, 'Hello, Satan, I believe it's time to go.' "
Even in a body that wasn't one hundred percent my own, I couldn't repress a shiver. It looked like I'd be doing a lot of things I wouldn't much like in the next few days, including having a conversation with my best friend Sam about why he wasn't being entirely honest with me. Because Alice in the office had said when she gave me the case that Edward Walker was supposed to be Sam's client, and if our situations had been reversed I certainly would have explained to my old buddy by now why I missed taking a client that landed him deep in the shit.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed more information about everything -- about dead Mr. Walker, even about Grasswax. But information about Hell's labor force wasn't easy to come by through regular channels. I was going to have to pay a visit to Fatback.