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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Praise for A Kiss Before the Apocalypse
“The most inventive novel you’ll buy this year . . . a hard-boiled noir fantasy by turns funny, unsettling, and heartbreaking. This is the story Sniegoski was born to write, and a character I can’t wait to see again.”
—Christopher Golden, bestselling author of The Lost Ones
“Sniegoski’s choice to frame this high concept with a straight noir detective tale grounds the world for the reader and highlights the mystical elements.”
“This reviewer prays there will be more novels starring Remy. . . . The audience will believe he is on Earth for a reason, as he does great things for humanity. This heartwrenching, beautiful urban fantasy will grip readers with its potent emotional fervor.”
Published by New American Library, a division of
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, April 2009
Copyright © Thomas E. Sniegoski, 2009
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARk—MARCA REGISTRADA
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sniegoski, Thomas E.
Dancing on the head of a pin: a Remy Chandler novel/ Thomas E. Sniegoski.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02887-2
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
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For Liesa and James—
“ . . . Let no force tear asunder . . .”
Love and thanks to LeeAnne & Mulder for helping me get through this one.
Many gratitudes also to Ginjer Buchanan, Cameron Dufty, Christopher Golden, Kenn Gold, Sheila Walker, Dave Kraus, Mike Mignola, Christine Mignola, Katie Mignola, Stephanie Lane, Joe Lansdale, Lisa Clancy, Pete Donaldson, Mom & Dad Sniegoski, Mom and Dad Fogg, David Carroll, Ken Curtis, Don Kramer, Greg Skopis, Kim & Abby, Jon & Flo, Pat & Bob, Timothy Cole and his band of Merrymen down at Cole’s Comics in Lynn.
And for Steve Dias . . . get better soon, my friend.
It isn’t easy being human.
And it was never more obvious to Remy Chandler than it was now, as he stared across the desk at the foul thing pretending to be a man.
He was bulky, wearing a loose-fitting leather jacket with only a wife beater beneath. Anyone who saw him on the street, picking up the newspaper and a few lottery tickets at the corner store, would think him to be one of those neighborhood types—y’know, just rough around the edges.
Rough around the edges didn’t even begin to describe what this thing was.
“Is it all here?” he asked, his dry, raw voice echoing slightly in the cavernous warehouse. He snatched up a roll of dirty bills held together with a thick elastic band.
“Yeah,” Remy said with a slight nod. “Just like you asked.”
The thing posing as a man called himself Eddie, and as much as it pained Remy to admit it, they had once been the same, brothers of Heaven.
But that was long ago, before the fall. What separated Remy from Eddie now was damnation. Remy had chosen to abandon the glories of Heaven; Eddie had been cast out for choosing to fight on the losing team.
For challenging the authority of the All-Powerful, Eddie and all the others who had fought on the side of the Morningstar were banished to Hell until the Lord deemed that the first phase of their suffering was at an end. After a time in Hell they were brought to Earth to serve the remainder of their penance, earning forgiveness for their transgressions against the Almighty.
But His absolution was not easily given.
Remy wasn’t sure what the Supreme Being was trying to say by forcing Heavenly creatures who once served His glory to live amongst the lowly beasts that caused the rift between the Son of the Morning and the Source of All Things to begin with. What he did know was that many of the fallen angels, those Denizens of the pits, chose not to lead a quiet life of contemplation, and instead continued their downward spiral into depravity.
They hadn’t left Hell at all, really; they’d just brought a little piece of it with them.
Eddie sniffed the roll and smiled. “Smells about right,” he said, and chuckled, shifting his bulk in the metal chair.
He reached down to the floor and lifted a white hard-foam cooler onto the desk before Remy. An undulating cloud of mist rose from the dry ice inside as he lifted the lid.
“They’re all yours,” Eddie said, reaching into the grayish fog and pulling out two eyeballs, delicately held between the thumb and index finger of each hand. “Here’s a neat trick.” He held the eyes before his own. “You can look through them—see a person as they truly are.”
Remy had the urge to stop him, but what would be the use? Eddie would learn the truth sooner or later.
“Are you a good man or a bad man, my friend?” Eddie asked with a chuckle.
As if gazing through a pair of binoculars, he fixed the eyes upon Remy, and the response was immediate. Remy couldn’t decide whether it was a look of fear or revulsion that appeared upon the fallen angel’s face, not that it really mattered.
The twin orbs dropped from his fingers, falling back into the frothy mist of the cooler, and Eddie began to reach for something at his back.
Remy lunged up and over the desk, wrapping his right hand around the fallen angel’s throat, driving him backward.
“Fucking Seraphim,” Eddie gurgled as Remy slammed him against the wall, catching his wrist with his free hand before the fallen could use the dull black blade.
Remy could sense evil coming off the knife in waves. A blade like that in the right hands could do a lot of damage, but he doubted that Eddie was anything more than a common thug in the Denizen hierarchy, a parasite feeding off the sadness of the world.
So much for redemption, eh, Eddie?
“I’ll take your eyes too,” he hissed, froth spewing from his angry mouth.
“Is that any way for someone looking for God’s forgiveness to talk?” Remy asked, allowing the holy fire of the Seraphim within himself a chance to flow through his body, igniting the hand that held Eddie’s black blade at bay.
Remy’s true nature clawed at its internal confines, yearning to be released, desperate for him to shed his mask of humanity. Since he had averted the Apocalypse just a few short months ago, this power he had worked so hard to suppress had become far too easy to set free. He fought the urge to let the power of Heaven burn away his human guise and assert its full potential.
He had to wonder if there would ever come a day when he was no longer strong enough to hold it back, when he would be too weak to be human anymore.
Eddie’s scream and the sound of the knife blade clattering to the floor pulled Remy from his troubling thoughts. The stink of burning flesh wafted into his nostrils as he pulled back on the power, his angelic nature momentarily struggling as he exerted his full control.
Remy released the Denizen, and he fell to the floor clutching at his injured hand. “What did you do to him?” he asked the former angel, glancing quickly to the cooler, struggling to control his anger.
Eddie cowered on the floor, holding his blackened appendage close, flecks of burned flesh raining down to litter the floor like blighted snow. The fallen slowly lifted his face, and Remy saw both pain and fear in his eyes.
Remy pointed at the cooler still resting on the desk. “Don’t make me ask you again.”
“He . . . he gave himself freely,” Eddie stammered.
Remy was amazed. Though he was faced with the threat of further pain, the lies still flowed from this Denizen’s mouth. It was typical of their kind, the time spent in Hell shaping them into things of deception.
His angelic nature surged forward, like a pit bull testing the strength of its chain. Remy reached down, grabbed Eddie by the front of his leather jacket, and yanked him to his feet.
“Where is he?”
Eddie’s eyes shifted suddenly to the right, his fear becoming something else.
And then Remy sensed that they were no longer alone. Still gripping the fallen angel by the front of his jacket, he spun him around, as two more Denizens emerged from the shadows of the warehouse, guns in hand. Eddie didn’t even have time to protest before the bullets punched into his body.
Tossing his Denizen shield aside, Remy darted for the cover of some crates stacked in the corner of the large, open space. More bullets ricocheted off the concrete floor around him, while others burrowed deep into the wood of his cover.
The fury of his Seraphim nature roiled to be loosed, and he tried to ignore it. It would be so simple to set it free, to burn away the skin of humanity that he had worked so hard to maintain, leaving only the soldier of Heaven to deal with the foul betrayers of God’s trust.
So easy not to be human anymore, to no longer feel the agony of his loss.
Madeline is dead.
It happened at the most peculiar times: taking a shower, grocery shopping, walking the dog, trying not to be shot. It was always there, eager to remind him just how much it hurt to lose the love of his life, making him relive the most painful experience of his existence.
Three more shots brought him back to reality, allowing him to forget the gnawing pain in his heart for now. He could hear them moving closer.
Where was his backup?
He looked around his hiding place for something to use as a weapon and found an old crowbar beneath an oil-stained tarp. Remy hefted the heavy piece of metal in his hand. It wasn’t as deadly as a gun, but it would do in a pinch.
And this was most certainly that.
Holding the crowbar ready, he listened for the sounds of his attackers, but they had gone strangely silent. Carefully Remy peered out from behind the crates to see a lone figure standing in the center of the open room, two unmoving bodies at his feet.
“Where the hell have you been?” Remy asked Francis as he stepped out from his hiding place.
“Sorry,” his friend replied, cleaning the blood from a fierce-looking blade with a white handkerchief. “I ran into a few of their buddies outside having a smoke. Always said that smoking was dangerous.”
The bodies of the two fallen angels had already started to burn, their corporeal forms dissolving away to nothing as they ceased to exist. Their time on earth had been their last chance at redemption, and they had failed miserably.
“Learn anything?” Francis asked, sliding the knife into a concealed pocket on the inside of his gray suit jacket.
A pain-wracked moan filled the air, and Remy looked to see that Eddie was somehow still alive, although clearly not for long. He had propped himself against the corrugated metal wall, his breath coming in short, labored gasps. Plumes of smoke, like those from the head of an extinguished match, drifted from the bullet holes in the front of his dirty T-shirt.
“Won’t be long now,” Francis said, adjusting his black horn-rimmed glasses, the faint light of the warehouse glinting off the top of his bald head.
Remy knelt beside the Denizen, who seemed to be staring off into space, perhaps taking a good long look at the oblivion that awaited him.
“Did you hear that, Eddie?” Remy asked him. “It won’t be long now.”
Eddie turned his head slightly and looked into Remy’s eyes.
“But there might still be a chance for you,” Remy continued. “Do something right before it’s over. Tell me where he is . . . the angel whose eyes you tried to sell me. . . . What did you do to him?”
“Fucking Seraphim,” Eddie spat, then gasped as a spasm of pain wracked his body.
“Maybe we need the knife?” Francis suggested, pulling open his jacket to expose the hilt of the blade peeking from the top of the pocket.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Remy said.
“If you say so.” Francis shrugged.
“Can you feel it, Eddie?” Remy asked calmly. “That’s oblivion barreling down the tracks to meet you. No more chances, pal. You’re done, unless . . .”
The smoke from the bullet holes was thicker and carried with it the smell of rotting meat. Eddie tried weakly to staunch the flow with his good hand, but the effort was futile.
“I wanted . . . wanted to go home . . . to Heaven; I really did,” Eddie began, his voice quavering. “It gets inside you . . . Hell does, makes it so you never forget.” He shook his head quickly. “I never forgot. . . . How can you—something like that?”
Remy reached out, gripping the fallen angel’s shoulder. The leather of his jacket was hot. “Where is he, Eddie?”
“He said he couldn’t stand it anymore . . . wanted to die. Wanted to pay for his sins.”
The words ended in an awful scream as flames shot from the dying angel’s wounds, expanding across his torso, up his chest, and down his legs. Remy managed to push himself away from the Denizen as, with a final burst of strength, he surged upward, flailing in the unnatural, hungry fire.
Remy caught Francis pulling a gun from another pocket. “No,” he said, his eyes on the dying former creature of Heaven.
Eddie made it halfway across the warehouse before dropping to his knees. His body burned with a pulsing orange glow, the shape within the fire becoming less and less human. Then slowly he raised what remained of an arm, pointing to an area of darkness at the far end of the warehouse before succumbing to the final death, his body pitching forward, nothing more than orange embers burning upon the floor. And within moments those too were gone, leaving behind nothing to show that the fallen angel had ever existed.
“Stubborn prick,” Francis growled. “You’d think that after nearly an eternity in Tartarus they’d be ready to leave this evil shit behind them.”
The mention of Hell’s prison sent an icicle of dread up and down Remy’s spine. “You heard him,” he said, approaching the spot where Eddie had fallen. “It gets inside you. It changes you, makes it so you can’t do the right thing.”
“But some do,” Francis reminded him.
“Yeah, some do.”
Remy continued toward the back of the warehouse and peered into the darkness. There were more crates and some scaffolding, but nothing of any significance that he could see.
“Wonder what they’d pay out there for my eyes,” he heard Francis say.
Remy turned to see his friend holding the cooler. He had fished out one of the angel eyes and was looking at it. “Mine are as nice as this—maybe nicer.”
“But you’re not pure,” Remy told him.
“Not right now, but I’m working on it,” Francis said as he dropped the eye back into the fog created by the dry ice.
Francis had once been one of the Lord’s most powerful Guardian angels, but even the greatest sometimes make mistakes. In the beginning, he had sided with Lucifer during the rebellion, but soon saw the error of his ways. He threw himself on the mercy of the Creator, begging his master’s forgiveness. But the Lord does not forget slights easily and forgives them even less so. Still, He gave the former Guardian angel a special job—custodian of one of the many gateways between Hell and Earth.
Not the nicest of jobs, but better than a stint in Tartarus, and Francis made the best of it, even using some of the deadlier skills he’d learned from his time in the nether regions to become a highly paid assassin.
Yeah, he’s working real hard on being pure.
“I think I found something,” Remy called to his friend.
He wasn’t sure exactly what, but he could feel the hair on his arms and at the back of his neck stand on end as he moved closer to a particular area. The shadows seemed thicker there, almost palpable.