The God Equation

I return to Diego’s hotel room, clothes still damp, body sore, with dried blood caked around my collar.

A woman is seated on the bed, wearing nothing except a bikini bottom and a T-shirt that reads Hi, I’m Lily across her breasts.


She looks too hot to be the cleaning lady. More likely the guest relations officer, or the offspring of Carmen Electra and Sophia Loren if the two had mated, neither of which matters anyway because I think I know who she really is.

“Lilian,” I say, “what an unpleasant surprise.”

She’s as bewildered as I am, but confidently remains seated. Her wavy black hair cascades to her elbows. She takes a stick from a half empty pack of cigarettes from the night table and lights up to regain her poise. I didn’t see her use a lighter or match, but there she is, puffing away. The tail section of a serpentine tattoo winds around her tawny arm and disappears into her sleeve, which I know from experience stretches down her back. It reappears along her smooth leg to terminate in a tiny head with fangs locked against her ankle.

“You have something that belongs to us,” she finally says in ancient Assyrian. “According to the Law, all suicides fall under our jurisdiction. Why are you in that wretched body? Surrender it now.”

So she came to collect.

“He not suicide,” I reply. “Him death, eh, accidental.” My Assyrian is rusty.

She switches to English. “He finds out he’s HIV positive, he shoots up junk that’s ninety percent pure, and he tries to put a bullet in his head. You don’t call that a suicide?”

“An attempted suicide. Also, he wasn’t aware of the heroin grade and didn’t plan to OD. So by the looks of it, his soul is under legal dispute. You’ll just have to wait until I release it to Purgatory for the preliminary hearing.”

She narrows her striking goat gray eyes.

“If you’ll excuse me,” I continue, “I need to drown myself in peace. You can stay here if you want. Help yourself to the minibar, take a nap, and enjoy the aircon. There’s still some junk left in the bag. It’s a good hotel. We can continue our conversation in the proper forum.”

She takes a drag on her cigarette, and deliberately blows smoke toward my direction. Her eyes widen in realization. “You’ve assassinated someone,” she says, “whose time was not yet due. Because that’s the only reason you’d be in town. Otherwise, you’d just let things run their course. Your very presence here means that someone up there has become rather … impatient with one of his children. Like the Vatican job back in ’98. What on earth are you guys all up to? Who’s the mark this time?”

I shrug.

“Tell me. For old time’s sake.”

“What brings you here? Collecting suicides all by your lonesome seems beneath your station.”

She snorted. “Diego’s my pet. I’m his inspiration, his temptress, his recruiter, his whore. I’m the one who gave him the virus six months ago.” She pauses. “Infected needle.”

My turn to snort.

“He freaked when he found out,” she went on, “and made sure that he infected as many girls he could lay his hands on, many of them high-class hookers with kilometric lists of influential clients. Just last night, he banged one of my own, a succubus from the Ukraine. She’s very much in demand in this country. Think of the exponential damage I’ve caused; I’ll be reeling in more souls within the next decade than Beelzebub. Asmodeus doesn’t know.”

She excels at what she does. Although the Fallen try to run their business like the mafia, they operate more like a pyramid scam. A greedy, treacherous bunch of liars who recruit through empty promises. Volume is all that matters to most of them. But Lily likes to focus on a few key contacts, using their money, sweat, and unique frailties. In some twisted way, we’re so much alike.

“I didn’t violate the Law,” she says, suddenly aware that she’s revealed too much, the way villains often do. “It was entirely Diego’s decision. I did not directly interfere. I merely provided opportunities, suggestions if you will, for him to choose from and act out.”

“So,” I say, “Asmodeus doesn’t know you’re here. The prick doesn’t know you’re leeching his share.”

She walks toward me. “I can’t be dependent on him forever, Az. I’m a career woman–“

I scoff.

“–who’s just doing her part for the organization. You really should consider joining us. We offer excellent dental benefits.” She exposes her needle sharp teeth.

She leans closer and pouts. “Aw, please don’t report me. I’ll be quiet. I won’t blow your cover if you won’t blow mine. Although–” she pauses to extinguish her cigarette with the tips of her bare fingers, tossing the butt, “–I do know how to blow.”

Smoke dances around my face. She brings her lips near my ear. “And if you want,” she whispers, “I’ll even let you be on top… .”

I fire my single round.

The bullet pierces her human heart, stopping it instantly. I had held my snub nose revolver against her cleavage, and I guess her silicone-implants muffled the sound. I push her limp body to the bed. A dark stain spreads over her chest, trickles down her arm, and drips to the floor. The blood starts to crawl toward my foot, and it rears its head like a snake. Other serpentine blood trails flow out of the entry wound, and they start to braid themselves into a large, black column. Wings spread suddenly, engulfing the room, blocking the window and the light from the fading sun.

“Sorry, it was an accident,” I say to her. “Not a suicide. We’ll talk later.”

She hisses and howls, but flies through the ceiling, leaving behind a vapor of burnt flesh and dung. The bed is empty. No trace of a body.

I walk to the bathroom and get undressed. Forensics will examine Diego’s corpse, and ask lots of questions. More mysteries to ponder. But my job here is done.

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