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Chapter 51 Off the Radar

  • "You son-of-a-bitch. We thought you were dead," said Spyder.
  • "I was," Lucifer said. "That body was as dead as dead could be. I just ende_p back here."
  • "You wanted us here all along, didn't you? You manipulated this whole thin_ust to get us here. Why?"
  • "Xero Abrasax. He came here with some very impressive magic. Enough to rall_n army and challenge me. I needed a champion. A mortal to kill a mortal soul.
  • Shrike can kill him. He doesn't show it, but he's afraid of her. There'_omething in the book she can use against him."
  • They passed a golden temple, like an Aztec step-pyramid. In front was a kin_f sculpture on a tall bronze base. A heavy cloth twisted languorously on top, looping and folding over itself, as if it was spinning slowly in water. Th_aterial changed colors as it moved, revealing eye and mouth holes. Spyde_ealized that it wasn't cloth, but human skins sewn together.
  • "Even if I believed that, all the shit you put us through, dragging our asse_hrough the desert and across Hell, why do that if you wanted us here al_long?"
  • "The universe has rules for these things. I needed Shrike here. I knew sh_eeded a partner that could help her get here, but would have no persona_esire for the book. Besides, do you think you would have come if I'd jus_opped into your tattoo shop one night around closing and said, `Hello, I'_he Prince of Darkness. Think you could help me out with a little war nex_uesday, say, sixish?'"
  • "You had that demon attack me in the alley!"
  • "I just pointed out to the Bitru that you were carrying its mark."
  • "I'm suddenly remembering Sunday school. You're the Prince of Lies."
  • "First, don't try to quote chapter and verse to me, little brother. I kno_very holy book ever written. I even penned a few of them. Second, the `Princ_f Lies' is Ahriman, the Zoroastrian lord of darkness and brother to Ahur_azda, the lord of light. Not that I ever met either one, but I'm sure the_ere lovely chaps. No, before you try telling me how the world is and who _m, remember what Samuel Butler, a mortal, once said: `It must be remembere_hat we've only heard one side of the case. God has written all the books.'"
  • "You're just a victim of bad publicity?"
  • "Isn't it obvious?" Lucifer asked. "I was the loyal opposition in Heaven. _ested Job and plenty of others, all with Yahweh's blessing. In the earl_ays, mortal faith and free will were new concepts. That's where the conflic_egan. God gave you free will, but we angels were expected to bow and scrape.
  • I couldn't accept that."
  • "You were going to steal God's throne."
  • "I bet you believe everything Republicans say about Democrats. The archange_ichael accused me of wanting to sit in the throne of Heaven, but I didn'_ant to be God. I didn't want to be God's lap dog, either."
  • "You've got some serious daddy issues, mister."
  • The devil smiled. "Pride, too. The books got that right, at least."
  • "So, you're building Heaven to prove God wrong."
  • "Something like that. Heaven with free will."
  • "And not to set yourself up as a new God?"
  • Lucifer stopped walking and pointed with his free hand. "That's my palace ove_here. I don't need to remind anyone down here who's in charge. I'm no_eluded enough to see myself as God. Over all, the first one did an impressiv_ob creating the universe. It's the details I dispute."
  • "What's that weird quote? I've heard it a couple of ways, `God is in th_etails… '"
  • "And, `The devil is in the details.' Yes, I'm aware of it. I don't know whic_ersion is more insulting."
  • "Let me get this straight, you're just down here having this family squabbl_ith God for the last few million or few thousand years… I don't get how tim_orks here."
  • "Don't try. You'll hurt your brain."
  • "Cool. And you just want to show God that free will for your kind is ho_iscuits and gravy. Then why fuck with us mortals? What's with all th_emptation and corruption?"
  • "Who said that was me? Oh yes, everyone." Lucifer released Spyder's arm an_hey sat on a stone bench on the edge of the square. "I have to take som_esponsibility for that. Millions of angels came with me when father threw m_ut and changed the locks. I had to give them something to do."
  • "All those monks and nuns, Jesus in the desert, all the visions of all thos_ighteous types, none of that was you?"
  • "I'll admit that I've had my hand in a tempting manifestation or two. I was a_ngry young man, lashing out at all God had created. But like you, littl_rother, I couldn't help growing up just a little."
  • Demons walked by them through the plaza, glancing furtively at the talkin_eat chatting with the ruler of Hell. Tall, bile-colored women with snakes fo_air and dressed in high-collared latex robes whispered to each other as the_assed. Graceful, loping things, like mechanical praying mantises, craned _talk eye or two at the conversation. A flock of living skeletons, human fro_he waist up, but bird-like from the waist down, stopped and stared at the me_n the bench. They skeletons moved as a group, like pigeons, chittering dow_ne of the side streets.
  • "What about all those souls remodeling your den? What about the ones bein_ortured down here?"
  • "Do you think I invited them here? We've been Heaven's junkyard since tim_egan. I'm just making use of the freeloaders. The tortures are just day wor_or my less intelligent brethren. And truthfully, some souls are useless, no_ven fit for manual labor."
  • "I'm having a hard time with this poor, poor, pitiful me line, Count. Lucifer.
  • What should I call you?"
  • "Anything you want, just don't call me later for dinner," Lucifer said. H_ooked Spyder in the eye. "The truth will set you free. But it might also hur_our feelings: You see, humanity isn't even on my radar. My quarrel is wit_eaven, not you."
  • Spyder looked at Lucifer's palace, thinking over everything he'd seen an_eard. "You're my friend. At least Count Non was. I don't really know what t_elieve right now."
  • "Admit it. You want me to be a monster. Humanity has to find someone to blam_or its crimes. The problem is that you never really believed Copernicus. Yo_till think you're the center of the universe and that all creation revolve_round you."
  • "You've been practicing this speech for a while, haven't you?"
  • "I'll give you an another example. The snake in the garden of Eden?"
  • "Yeah?"
  • "It was just a snake. I was never there. Humanity's first real decision was t_efy God. So was mine. That's the reason I make you uncomfortable. We're s_uch alike." Lucifer leaned closer, speaking quietly. "In Heaven I tempte_ortals for God's benefit. It's a hard habit to break. But I always worked o_he little things. Lust. Jealousy. Greed. Humanity didn't need any help wit_he big sins. It was you who ate the apple and fell from grace. It was yo_hen Carthage was raped and burned and the earth salted. It was you a_iroshima and Wounded Knee and Auschwitz and at every lynching of every -hapless sharecropper who dared to meet the eyes of a white woman."
  • "You must really hate us. If we didn't exist, you'd still be in Heaven."
  • "I don't hate you. You're children and don't know any better. And if it hadn'_een you, something else would have set off the troubles between God and me."
  • Lucifer shrugged. "Fathers and sons."
  • "Did you have anything to do with taking my blind- fold off?"
  • "Why would I do that? I don't like many mortals and the few I do care fo_hould be off living their lives, not going mad down here. You were trapped b_omething else. There's a black cloud around you that I can't see through, which means I can't help you. But you're going to have to deal with it soone_r later."
  • "Who's the Painted Man?"
  • Lucifer rolled his eyes. "The boogey man for demons. The Painted Man is th_onster in the closet. Dr. Moriarty. Kayser Soze. He's supposedly a creatur_f pure chaos, neither God nor angel nor demon, who one day will come t_estroy us. Why do you ask?"
  • "No reason. I heard a demon mention him."
  • "That's all? And you called me the Prince of Lies." -Lucifer stretched an_tuck out his long legs. "Don't trouble your handsome young head, Spyder Lee, you're not the Painted Man."
  • "Is Xero?"
  • "No, but he thinks he is and that makes him dangerous."
  • "How do you know he's not?"
  • "If he were I would have smelled him coming. I'd have tasted him. I'd hav_eard every beat of his heart. If the Painted Man ever sets foot in Hell, I'l_now it."
  • Spyder looked down and saw a half-smoked cigarette lying at his feet. H_icked up the butt and smoothed it straight. "Got a light?" he asked. Lucife_anded him a pink fur lighter.
  • "This is Lulu's," said Spyder.
  • "She dropped it by the Bone Sea. I was going to return it the next time I sa_er."
  • Spyder lit the butt and dropped the lighter into his jacket pocket. It fel_ood to pull the smoke into his lungs.
  • "What's the deal with all the Satanic losers back home? Do you like them? D_hey drive you crazy? What about Anton LaVey?"
  • "I love Anton LaVey. I love all carnies. God can have the meek. I'll take th_rifters."
  • "You've got an answer for everything. I'll give you that, Count."
  • "We all have to live with ourselves, especially here. I'll tell you something, because I think you'll understand: I know that our Heaven is quite probably _ointless and futile thing, but we'll build it anyway, because it's all th_eaven we're ever likely to have."
  • Across the plaza, Ashbliss came with Lulu and Shrike. The men rose as they go_loser. Both Lulu and Shrike went right to the man they knew as Count Non an_ugged him.
  • Spyder said, "Ladies, let me introduce you to the man in black, his inferna_adness, Lucifer."
  • Shrike and Lulu looked at the devil. Shrike took -Spyder's hand. Lulu smiled.
  • "Count Non, you tricky fuck. I knew there was something about you. Not man_en can make me question my gender preferences."
  • Lucifer looked at Ashbliss. "I'll talk to you later, dung beetle. Vanish." H_napped his fingers and the little demon was gone.
  • "Here," said Spyder, and handed Lulu back her lighter.
  • "Where'd you find it?"
  • "I'll tell you later."
  • "What happens now?" asked Shrike.
  • "Under other circumstances I'd probably throw a party. Given the curren_npleasantness, I'll just take you to the book."
  • "Just like that?"
  • "Unless you'd like to wait around in the open for Xero to attack again."
  • Lucifer nodded to the hills beyond the golden step-pyramid. Men and demon_ere massing along the ridge.
  • Lucifer turned to Shrike. "By the way, it's nice to finally see your eyes.
  • They're lovely."
  • "Thank you. It's good to see you, but a little strange, too."
  • "I get that a lot."
  • Lucifer started across the square to his palace as the others followed. Spyde_ooked over his shoulder and saw Xero's troops starting down the hill fo_andemonium.