Hollywood dead, p.1
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       Hollywood Dead, p.1

           Richard Kadrey
Hollywood Dead



  Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

  1 London Bridge Street

  London SE1 9GF


  First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2018

  Copyright © Richard Kadrey 2018

  Cover layout design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2018

  Designed by Crush Creative (www.crushed.co.uk)

  Richard Kadrey asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

  A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

  This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

  Source ISBN: 9780008219093

  Ebook Edition © July 2018 ISBN: 9780008219109

  Version: 2018-07-12


  Sandman Slim wouldn’t exist without the music that inspires me and keeps me writing. This book is for Lustmord, Klaus Schulze, Bohren and Der Club of Gore, (early) Tangerine Dream, and Nine Inch Nails.


  Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge – and has to content oneself with dreaming.

  —Paul Gauguin

  So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you.

  —Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory



  Title Page




  Hollywood Dead


  About the Author

  By Richard Kadrey

  About the Publisher

  THERE’S DEAD AND there’s Hollywood dead, and those are two very different things.

  Dead is just dead. In the ground. Pennies on your eyes. A cold slab of meat with no slaw and definitely no dessert.

  But Hollywood dead? That can be a lot of things. Yeah, you’re still a slab of meat, but now you come with curly fries and hot apple pie.

  Hollywood dead is movie dead. When the director yells “cut” you get up and have a donut, and someone makes sure your hair is perfect. When you’re Hollywood dead you can die a hundred times and still come back for the sequel.

  Hollywood dead is the dead everybody thinks they want because nothing is final, everything is negotiable, and you’ll even get a producer credit if you keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told. That last is the hard part. When you’re Hollywood dead it’s hard to sit still and take orders. Hollywood dead is party dead and you never want to hear last call. Hollywood dead is the best kind of dead and the worst.

  Hollywood dead means you can go to the movies and have a smoke, but if you’re out in the sun too long you start to rot and stink. Hollywood dead makes you very careful about cuts and scratches because you don’t exactly heal anymore.

  Hollywood dead gets you thinking about making everyone else regular dead. The good news is that if you’re lucky and you play your cards right, you might just get the chance to do it.

  DON’T LET ANYONE tell you that shooting a gun in a bowling alley isn’t loud. It’s very loud. Incredibly damn loud. The noise bounces off the smooth paneled walls and rattles every nerve in your skull. Of course, everything down here under the mansion is soundproof, so my target practice doesn’t bother anyone else. But I should have brought some earplugs. The tissues I jammed in my ears are pretty undignified and I don’t have a lot of dignity left to spare. I mean, I was dead and now I’m alive, but I’m still sort of dead. Not pork-chop-dropped-in-a-parking-lot dead, but dead enough that Tinder is out of the question. That’s why I’m shooting the shit out of Eva Sandoval’s bowling alley.

  There’s something very satisfying about seeing bowling pins explode when they’re hit with a .45 slug. But I’m annoyed with myself. I left an open frame on the right lane, only killing nine out of the ten. And yet that’s still better than the seven-six-ten split I left on the other lane. I need to practice. My body hasn’t moved in a year and I have to get it back in shape. Whatever Wormwood has planned for me, I’m definitely going to get punched and I’d like to be able to hit back harder than a marshmallow Peep.

  Sandoval and her entourage come in while I’m reloading. She frowns and her lackeys cluster in back of her like confused ducklings. I’m not exactly sure why. I mean, I’m working for them. Maybe seeing a corpse loading a Colt .45 wasn’t in their day planner.

  I say, “Take it up with HR.”

  “Take up what?” says Sandoval.

  “Whatever is bothering your Mouseketeers. They look like they just saw Lemmy’s ghost.”

  When I’m done reloading, I hit a button and an arm slides out of the back of the bowling lane on the left, sweeps away the debris, and loads another ten pins in place. I raise the Colt and cock it, sighting on the one pin. But Sandoval walks over, puts her hand on the pistol, and lowers it.

  “Exactly what are you doing?” she says.

  “Target practice. I need to get my eye back.”

  She looks around the alley.

  “My grandfather built this. My father updated it, and I use it with guests.”

  “Sounds great.” I raise the Colt and fire. The one pin explodes. Everybody except Sandoval cringes.

  I say, “I’m a guest.”

  “You’re an employee.”

  “Independent contractor, if you want to get technical.”

  I raise the Colt and she pushes it down again.

  “If you needed weapons practice you should have told me. I would have arranged something less deranged.”

  “I thought deranged was why you wanted me. Otherwise you could have hired any number of local knuckle draggers.” I smile at the people behind her.

  “What I want is for you to have a basic modicum of self-control and sense of responsibility. If you can’t do that, we should part ways and void your contract right now.”

  Ouch. She got me where it hurts.

  “Anything else?”

  “Yes,” she says, leaning in close to my ear. “I don’t like being fucked with.”

  I give her a smile and slip the Colt into my waistband at my back.

  “See, now we’re speaking the same language. Okay. You can have your alley back. If you give me your granddad’s name, I’ll write him an apology note. I’ve got connections in Hell, you know. They’ll get it right to him.”

  She probes a shattered bit of bowling pin with the toe of her designer pump, clearly biting down what I’m sure is a clever retort.

  “If you’re through playing the idiot, let’s go upstairs and talk business.”

  “Sure. But remember. I might be an idiot, but you’re the idiot who hired me. You have to expect a certain amount of breakage.”

  Sandoval looks me up and down and says, “And put a glove on that grotesque hand. It makes me sick.”

  I flex my prosthetic left hand. I can’t argue with her on the ugly part. The hand was a present from a monster. Really, my whole left arm looks like something that belongs on a mechanical insect. It’s still good at giving t
he finger, but I restrain myself now.

  While I slip on my glove, she leaves with her entouragein tow. I give them a few seconds before leaving the bowling alley. I might be an idiot, but I know they need time to cool down. Just like I know I have to keep pushing them. If they get pissed or flustered enough, they might drop some useful piece of information. But I can’t go too far too fast. Sandoval could have their necromancer pull the plug on me and I’d be right back in Hell with no body and a pack of new enemies. I’ve got to play this right. Dance around the edges of being a complete asshole.

  The problem is, I’m not the best dancer.

  On my way out, I flick off the bowling alley lights. Too bad they found me. I kind of like it down here. Especially the soundproofing. It would be a good place to play the monster and slap the shit out of one of them until they told me what’s really going on.

  I MEET UP with them in Sandoval’s office, where I woke up yesterday. It’s a nice room. Nice furniture covered in pretty silks and leather. A nice pool table. A nice TV the size of Kansas. It’s all so fucking nice it’s like a museum. I halfway expect a stuffed grizzly bear and maybe some wax Neanderthals in the corner. No such luck. It’s the same six assholes I’ve been staring at since I got back.

  Sandoval is the boss, that much is clear. Black hair, a deep tan, and a dress cut low enough that you could autopsy her and never touch the edges. She’s pretty, she knows it, and she isn’t above using it. It’s tedious just looking at her.

  “I take it that you’re feeling better today,” says Sandoval.

  I glance at the other idiots in the room.

  “Better is a relative thing. I feel better than dead, so, yeah, I guess I’m feeling swell.”

  “It looks like your motor functions are coming back, too. That’s good. You’re going to need them,” says Barron Sinclair. He’s the only other one who talks much. He’s heavyset. Long gray hair and perfect little beard. He’s one of those guys born with an old face. He could be fifty or seventy. He’s also sick. I can smell the drugs in his system. Metallic and bitter as lemons. Sinclair tries to look calm, but he’s scared. Whatever he has, it must be bad if he can’t find any magicians who can cure it. He’s worried about what’s waiting for him in Hell, especially since I wiped out Wormwood down there. Good. That’s more incentive for him to want me alive.

  “Eva keeps telling me that, but she won’t say what I’ll need them for.”

  “That’s what this meeting is about. I think you’re coherent enough to discuss your mission,” she says.

  I look at her.

  “My mission? That sounds so noble. Am I going to rescue your kitten from a tree?”

  “Not quite,” she says, shooting me a feral smile. “You’re going to kill someone.”

  “Probably a lot of people,” says Sinclair.

  “That’s what I figured. Who’s the lucky guy or gal?”

  She points to one of the other cockroaches that follow her around. A young, cocky guy with a face built for punching.

  “Roger here can give you the details. Roger?” says Sandoval.

  I hold up a hand as Roger opens his mean little mouth. He closes it again.

  “Is Roger going to be giving me orders? Are any of these other idiots?”

  Sandoval crosses her arms.

  “I suppose not.”

  “Can any of them help me stay in my body?”


  “Then fuck ’em.”

  Roger and the other roaches’ heartbeats spike. I smell sweat. Roger starts to open his mouth again. I raise the Colt and point it at his stupid face.

  “Hush, Roger. Grown-ups are talking.”

  He clamps his mouth shut. I put the Colt in my waistband at my back. Okay. Enough of that stuff for now. Everyone is nice and rattled. Let’s see if someone says something interesting.

  Sandoval stares at me, wondering if she made a huge mistake. When she doesn’t say anything, Sinclair steps forward.

  “It’s not exactly a hit,” he says. “Though I suspect there will be a considerable number of casualties. What we need you to do is stop an event.”

  He coughs wetly and wipes his mouth with a monogrammed hankie. When he’s done I say, “What kind of event?”

  “Stupendous,” says Sandoval. “Cataclysmic.”

  “Can you narrow that down a little?”

  “No. All you need to know is that something awful will happen on Sunday unless you stop it.”

  “And if I do I get put back in my body for good, completely alive?”

  She raises her eyebrows a fraction of an inch, even as she says, “That’s the deal.”

  The silk slippers they gave me are absurdly comfortable. I wiggle my toes in them, telling myself that this pack of jackals is going to keep its end of the bargain.

  “I’d still like to know what kind of event.”

  “I told you. No.”

  “You see, it would help to know what I’m walking into. Am I knocking over a quinceañera or stopping a nuke launch? You get my meaning? It’s about preparations, appropriate tools, and my general attitude.”

  “Maybe we should tell him,” says Sinclair.

  “No,” says Sandoval. “It’s a trick.”

  I look at Sinclair, then back at Sandoval.

  “I know it has to do with the Wormwood bunch that broke away and opened their own lemonade stand without you.”

  “No,” says Sandoval. “You do what we say and you get your body back. That’s all you need to know.”

  I don’t say anything long enough for the room to get uncomfortable. Sandoval gives me the stink eye and I give it right back.

  “I think we should tell him,” says Sinclair.

  Eva shakes her head.


  I wait, wiggling my toes. Not saying a word.

  Finally, Sinclair blurts, “It’s a ritual. A magic ritual.”

  Sandoval whirls around and slaps him hard enough to leave a mark on his cheek.

  I say, “What kind of ritual?”

  Sandoval stares at Sinclair, breathing hard. Sinclair touches his face where she hit him. Despite things, he says, “When you joked about a nuclear launch you were closer than you realize.”

  “The other Wormwood has a bomb?”

  “They might as well have,” says Sandoval. She turns from Sinclair and looks at me. “The splinter faction are in possession of a ritual that will utterly destroy Los Angeles.”

  Sinclair says, “It will trigger similar destruction all over the world. Berlin. Tokyo. Sydney. Anywhere we, the true Wormwood, are concentrated.”

  “They hope to wipe us out in one massive action,” Sandoval says.

  I listen to their hearts. Check the microtremors on their faces. They’re telling the truth.

  Well … fuck.

  I say, “With all due respect to Berlin, Tokyo, and wherever the fuck else, I don’t care. Let’s talk about L.A.”

  “They’re out to destroy our entire infrastructure,” says Sinclair.

  Sandoval says, “Then they can pick off the stragglers one by one.”

  I look over at the roaches.

  “Any of you have a cigarette?”

  “There’s no smoking in the house,” says Sandoval.

  “I wouldn’t think it matters, seeing as how you’re all going to die.”

  “What do you mean?” says Sinclair. “You won’t take the job?”

  “Not if you keep lying to me.”

  He frowns.

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean you’re Wormwood. Why do you need a dead man to do your dirty work? You’re global and yet you can’t find one single asshole who can handle this job for you?”

  “I think you might overestimate us at the moment,” says Sandoval quietly.

  “The other faction took many of our best and brightest,” says Sinclair. “Or killed them.”

  “Besides, you have a unique set of skills,” Sandoval says.

  It’s making more sens
e now.

  “That’s why you gave me back the Room of Thirteen Doors. You don’t just need someone who can stop the ritual. You need someone who can get to it.”


  “That means you don’t know where it will happen.”


  “But you’re absolutely sure it will happen Sunday.”

  “On the new moon, yes,” says Sinclair.

  I look at them both. They’re still telling the truth.

  “What day is it now?”

  “Wednesday evening.”

  “Wednesday? Why didn’t you bring me back sooner?”

  “You don’t just snatch a soul from the afterlife willy-nilly,” says Jonathan Howard, their necromancer. “It needs to happen at the right time.”

  He’s taller than me. British, with wire-rim glasses. He carries the weird smell of death that all necromancers have. Rotting flesh. Nasty hoodoo potions. They try to cover it up with cologne, but that just makes it worse.

  I walk over to him.

  “What about fixing my body? Does that need to happen at some super-special time too?”

  He leans back from me a little.

  “No. That can happen anytime.”

  “You sure?”


  I pat him on the arm.

  “You better be, Johnny, ’cause I’m not going back to Hell alone.”

  I turn back to Sandoval.

  “Let’s hit the fucking road. Where do we go? Who do I kill first?”

  “I have no idea,” she says. “We thought we’d leave that up to you. You seem to have a knack for these things.”

  I look at Sinclair.

  “Is she serious? You don’t have a where or a who?”

  “I’m afraid not.”

  “Okay. How do you contact the faction? A phone number. A name.”

  “They’ve hidden themselves well. We don’t have anything.”


  I look over at the roaches. They’re no help. Not a flicker of intelligence anywhere in the bunch.

  “Here I was expecting Lex Luthor and what I get is a bunch of runaways picking pockets at the bus station.”

  Sandoval looks at her watch.

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