Home > Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4)

Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4)
Richard Kadrey

I punch the tunes into the jukebox and make sure it’s turned up loud. I’ve loaded up the juke with a hundred or so devil tunes. The Hellion Council can’t stand it when I come to a meeting with a pocketful of change. Wild Bill, the bartender, hates it too, but he’s a damned soul I recruited for the job, so he gets why I do it. I head back to the table and nod to him. He shakes his head and goes back to cleaning glasses.

Les Baxter winds down a spooky “Devil Cult” as I sit down with the rest of Hell’s ruling council. We’ve been here in the Bamboo House of Dolls for a couple of hours. My head hurts from reports, revised timetables, and learned opinions. If I didn’t have the music to annoy everyone with, I would probably have killed them all by now.

Buer slides a set of blueprints in my direction.

Hellions look sort of like the little demons in that Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly  Delights. Some look pretty human. Some look like the green devils on old absinthe bottles. Some are like what monsters puke up after a long weekend of eating other monsters. Buer looks like a cuttlefish in a Hugo Boss suit and smells like a pet-store Dumpster.

“What do you think of the colonnades?” he asks.

“The colonnades?”

“Yes. I redesigned the colonnades.”

“What the f**k are colonnades?”

General Semyazah, the supreme commander of Hell’s legions, sighs and points to a line of pillars at the center of the page. “That is a colonnade.”

“Ah.”

If the hen scratchings on the blueprints are different from the last bunch of hen scratchings Buer showed me, I sure as hell can’t tell. I say the first thing that pops into my head.

“Were those statues there before?”

Buer waves his little cuttlefish tentacles and moves his finger across the paper.

“They’re new. A different icon for each of the Seven Noble Virtues.”

He’s not lying. They’re all there. All the personality quirks that give Hellions a massive cultural hard-on. Cunning. Ruthlessness. Ferocity. Deception. Silence. Strength. Joy. They’re represented by a collection of demonic marble figures with leathery wings and forked tongues, bent spines and razor dorsal fins, clusters of eyestalks and spider legs. The colonnades look like the most f**ked-up miniature golf course in the universe and they’re on what’s supposed to be the new City Hall.

“I have an idea. How about instead of the Legion of Doom we put up the Rat Pack and the lyrics to ‘Luck Be a Lady’?”

“Excuse me?” says Buer.

“What I mean is, it looks a little fascist.”

“Thank you.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

I push the blueprints away with the sharpened fingers of my left hand, the ugly prosthetic one on my ugly prosthetic arm.

Buer doesn’t know how to react. None of them do.

There’s Buer the builder, Semyazah the general, Obyzuth the sorceress, and Marchosias the politician. Old Greek kings used to have councils like this, and since a certain friend hinted I should read up on the Greeks, I have a council too. The last member of the Council is Lucifer. That’s me. But I’ll get to that part later. The five of us are the big brains supposedly in charge of Hell. Really, we’re a bunch of second-rate mechanics trying to keep the wheels from coming off a burning gasoline truck skidding toward a school bus full of orphans and kittens.

The Council is staring at me. I’ve been down here a hundred days and still, anytime I say anything but yes or no, they look at me like I’m a talking giraffe. Hellions just aren’t used to humans giving them back talk. That’s okay. I can use that. Let them find me a little strange. A little inexplicable. Playing the Devil is easier if no one has any idea what you’re going to do or say next.

They’re all still waiting. I let them.

We have these meetings every couple of days. We’re rebuilding Hell after it went up in flames like a flash-paper bikini when the original Lucifer, the real Lucifer, blew out of town after sticking me with the job. The trouble for the rest of the Council is that I don’t know how fast I want Downtown back in working order.

I say to Buer, “I’m fine with Hellion pride. It’s troubled times, the team’s in last place, and they need a pep rally. Cool. But I don’t want Hell’s capital looking like we’re about to goose-step into Poland.”

Obyzuth turns the blueprints around. I still don’t know what she looks like. She wears an ivory mask that covers everything but her eyes, and a curtain of gold beads covers them.

She says, “Buer’s designs expand and celebrate many of the classic historical motifs of Hellion design. I like them.”

Obyzuth is into the spiritual side of the rebuild and doesn’t usually comment on things like this. I’ve upset her. Good.

I say, “This Nazi Disneyland stuff, it’s too cheap and easy. It’s like something the Kissi would dream up.”

That’s hitting below the belt. Calling a Hellion a Kissi is like calling Chuck Norris Joseph Stalin. Buer looks like he wants to stuff the blueprints down my throat with a road flare. Obyzuth and Semyazah look at me like they caught me eating cookies before dinner. Marchosias raises her eyebrows, which is about an inch from her challenging me to a duel at dawn.

The Bad Dad thing usually works. Hellions are big on pecking orders and I have to remind them regularly who’s at the top. Now they need a pat on the head from Good Dad before things go all Hansel and Gretel and I end up in the oven.

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