"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?"
"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."
"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.
"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.