There’s always drudge work to do before the interesting part of an investigation. The first step in any investigation of a person was to visit the registry. We wanted the basic information as accurate as we could get it. Every god was in the registry. There were so many Zeuses, Christs, and Buddhas that you ran into them constantly. Most of those big names just went by the identifier, the last name. There was more than a handful Bifrosts, and those poor suckers weren’t even gods as mortals understand them. They were only symbols, the connection between Asgard and Earth. There were quite a lot of Asgards too. Asgard Smith, Asgard Snow, Asgard Nails. Fades though? There were more fades than anything. No religion in existence had as many gods as the forgotten fades. Let me amend what I said a moment ago. Not all the gods are in the registry. The only Fades in the registry are the ones that luck into some new income, like Fade Triumph had. The others can’t be listed. Their records literally vanish from the registry and the city’s memory. None of us can recognize a god that has faded. The mortals have forgotten, so our city does as well. There are so many of us wasting away. The lucky ones last less than a century, a piece of an old story that is half remembered from a previous generation. The less fortunate ones last a lot longer than that, rambling around aimlessly, without any identity.
Triumph had a name though. The moment the Temple started granting him some of their stockpiles of drevens, he became coherent. He needed to choose a name, and have it put in the registry like all of us when we are first formed. His name was there, his photos, his details. What marks did he have? Some gods still call them birthmarks in the mortal tradition as though we are born like they are. What was his height, his weight? All of it was recorded. Of course there were gods like me who changed all of that, but that takes time, patience and, if you’re going to pull it off, solitude. Other gods, like the famous Loki Frost, had more mercurial details, changing regularly, but only between a few forms, all of which were in the records.
I imagine working at the registry was an ocean of boredom, and in our world, we don’t even have oceans. The sorry shlub set sailing in the sea of ennui greeted us with all the disdain appropriate. We were taking up the time he could be spending at his desk reading a magazine or listening to Abraxas Wheels on the radio. “How can I help you?”
I read the name tag. “Hi, Bell. Is that short for Belial?”
“Bellerophon,” he said like it was none of my business.
It must be tough, being someone like Bellerophon. Heroes like Bellerophon, Sigurd and Rostam didn’t become gods when people actually believed in them because they weren’t worshipped then. They became more than that to the mortals later on. They became symbols, archetypes that are used to explore ideas. Then they started to show up in Pantheon City. It wasn’t out of ordinary worship, but we don’t need that. It’s about belief. Some legends made a fair amount of drevens. The retelling of their tales brought in some devotion. I doubted that Bellerophon made a lot of money off the mortals. I didn’t doubt that some devotion that was rightfully his went to some Hercules somewhere in the city instead. So he took a shit job at the registry to make ends meet. Better to be bored at work than to fade into oblivion.
“Well, Bell, I’m an investigator looking into a Fade.”
“You got a last name for this Fade? And an official order?”
“I have a police order right here for the information on a murder victim, Fade Triumph. Also, I’m authorized to gather information on any other god related to the case. Like the gods of the DemiUrge Temple.”
“Yeah, we get Temple orders regularly. Usually from the Temple though. Who are you looking for?”
“I got a list of names, people the Fade worked with. I also want a look at Moloch Winters’s file.”
That stopped Bell in his tracks. “Excuse me?”
“Just a formality.” And it was. I already knew what I needed to know about Moloch, but I thought, why not give this schmuck something to talk about after work? It couldn’t hurt me, and if Moloch decided to check up on me, he’d know I was taking it seriously. There wasn’t anything in the registry that he’d want to hide. Or that he could hide. All of his secrets were buried under centuries of scheming. We got the information we needed on everyone, and copies of the I.D. photos.
“Aggie, I’m heading to the Midas Bank. That’ll just be boring financial records, and I won’t need any help. I need you to head back to the office and bring the black case.”
“Sure thing, Boss.”
Aggie took our vahana. I was stuck using public transportation to get over to the bank. They say that our public transport resembles something the mortals call cable cars, just like the modern vahanas are our versions of automobiles. Mortals sure are clever and inventive. I wish we had more of that. Sitting on that cable ark, I had time to consider my cases. For the city I had to find the person who murdered Triumph. For the Temple I had to find the person who stole their money. I was being paid a lot more for the theft than for the murder. The funny thing was, it would have been the same even if the dead god hadn’t been faded. I can’t say that disappointed me. It just reaffirmed one of the main lessons life in the city had taught me. The people with the devotional revenue were the ones who could afford to part with it.
I got about what I expected from the bank. I had an official investigation order, signed by Moloch Winter himself. That certainly opened the eyes of the snooty book keeper. But the order was limited. The Temple wanted the matter investigated, but they didn’t want me investigating them. I didn’t have access to their general records.
The bank records matched the story. A single withdrawal of two hundred thousand, and a smudged signature that would probably not match up to any name. How that got past the Midas Bank, I don’t know. Maybe someone was too scared of the Temple to turn down the request if it had an order that looked official. Could the fade have somehow forged an official order? I’d have to have a closer look at his papers. That was like the bank records though. Not everything that Fade Triumph had touched was available, and I only had copies, not originals. Moloch wasn’t the only person I had asked about why a recovered fade was given so much trust, but his efforts had been exemplary until then. That didn’t quite cut it with me. It wasn’t that he was a fade. It was that he was a bum off the street. A named god wouldn’t have had that kind of access even if he worked for them for a couple years real well. How did the fade do it? I wondered if he had, but I had no other suspects right away. You’d have to be a lunatic to steal from the DemiUrge Temple, and they weren’t in the habit of employing lunatics.
Verifying the dreven withdrawal was about all I could do there. The person who turned over the money didn’t know the guy by name. That had to have been part of the fade’s plan. He identified Triumph by photo though. So he was there. He robbed a bank with a note. I had that much, but no one there knew where the fade would have gone. Triumph didn’t have anyone with him at the bank. There weren’t any other suspects yet for the murder or the theft. So I waited for Aggie to get to me while I tried to seem like I wasn’t looking around. By the time Aggie got there, I was glad I’d sent him. I already had a shadow. That didn’t take long.
“Here it is, Boss.”
I got in back and opened it up. There they were, my pistols. What I said before, about regular work, background checks and the like? That wasn’t entirely true. Sometimes I took hard jobs. Muscle jobs. It wasn’t my favorite kind of work, but I had a knack for it, it paid well and I had the tools of the trade. Weapons were hard to come by in Pantheon City. Things that were capable of killing gods weren’t common. People like me who had actual guns were subjects of rumors and speculation. Just how many bullets did I have? How many times could I fire my weapon? When any client asked me how many I had, I always told them that I had enough. It had always been true.
What really scared people who knew me wasn’t that I was armed. I was armed to the teeth. I wish I was the only person in the city like that, but I wasn’t. After the bullet scandal a quarter century ago, there were a lot of weapons and ammo unaccounted for. No one knew who was packing. That did cause a drop in crime after a bunch of lowlifes were wounded.
I loaded my shotgun and passed it over the seat. “Carry this, Aggie. I want you ready in case I need a helping hand.”
“You think we’ll need ’em, Boss?”
“I don’t know, but I think we’re being followed already.”
“No idea. The press? The cops? Triumph’s killer? His accomplice? Maybe the Temple. Or someone who’s been watching the Temple. Then again, maybe no one. Maybe I’m just paranoid.”
“Well, you are that, Boss, but I’ll keep an eye out anyway. Where are we goin’ to next?”
“Sooner or later we’re heading back to the Temple, but let’s see what takes us there. For now I want to learn more about the mysterious Fade Triumph. Let me ask you, Aggie, should we chase the killer, like Officer Sands wants? Or the money like Moloch Winter wants?”
“We can’t do both?”
“That’s almost the right answer, Aggie. If Fade Triumph is dead and the money is missing, then it stands to reason that the money is most likely in the hands of the killer. Moloch is going to pay us for doing what we were doing anyway, and he gave us one hell of a head start. Right now we’re following that wine cork to the Primum Mobile.”
“I really don’t like it there, Boss. Gimme an ordinary bar any day.”
“The job takes you where it takes you.”
We headed away from the nice, clean, well maintained streets of the Svartalfheim banking district to the cobblestoned, potholed, winding Cockaigne division. This was not the hard part of town. This was the place that upper crust types went slumming. It was where young gods went to feel like they were thumbing their nose at reality. Go party. Go get drunk or stoned. Sex it up with some god from a religion that opposed your own. The lasciviousness of the Cockaigne area didn’t bother me. It was just so shallow.
The Primum Mobile was a semi-exclusive night club for high society types and celebrities. It was a place that people went so they could be seen. So if some capricious, society hopping fade wanted to try to enjoy the bright life, he’d come here. If he could get in. I was a bit skeptical of that, but he did have money. The Primum Mobile was a place where gods watched gods. So if he had been there, then it stood to reason that someone might know if he’d been flashing around some drevens.
Some oversized goon of a god was manning the velvet rope. He didn’t look familiar, but that didn’t matter. He knew who I was. There are certain people that get into places like Primum Mobile real easy, and I was one of them. I made headlines. When I was lucky enough to have a big case, I exposed scandals. I had ruined the careers of a few celebrities. I’d even brought down a couple politicians. I was good for the tabloids, and that was good for people who frequented the club. They loved and hated the paparazzi that kept them in business and kept them in the public eye. Whether I wanted to or not, I helped with that.
It was a big place. It was the kind of multicolored, unnecessarily comfortable place that’s hard for me to accept as a real bar. It was a hangout for people to spend money and be obnoxious. I just couldn’t face it without a bit of liquid support. The bartender was this high pitched beanpole with a perpetual smile. “Candlemas? We just got some bottles from the J.C. Splinter vineyards.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t know for sure I’m getting paid, so I’d better just have a glass of salat.”
“Comin’ right up.”
I didn’t want to start flashing Triumph’s photo around right away. The one good thing about a place like Primum was that things came to you. Even answers. I regretted my decision pretty quickly. I was noticed.
“D. Ax! Dahrling!”
I managed to hide almost all of my distaste. “Frost. How’s the limelight?”
She clucked her tongue deprecatingly a couple times. “Ax, you know I hate that name.”
“It’s your name. In the registry and everything.”
“It’s my last name. My identifier. I shouldn’t need one. I was the first Loki, you know. Why should I need a last name? All the other Lokis need their last names to differentiate them from me.”
“So you say.”
“Dear Ax. I was the first of my kind. I was the trailblazer, the mischief maker. I was the one who changed our land forever.”
It wasn’t impossible. She was older than hell. Loki was a generational celebrity. Every time the mortals cooked up a fresh batch of ideas that became young, inexperienced gods, Loki’s old routines were new again. One of the biggest parts of Loki’s schtick was the switching. She was he, then she again all the time. She put on her musical performances and appeared at celebrity parties. I’ll give her this, her looks might have declined and her charm was gone, but she was a bigger star than most godling youths could hope to be. I told her, “I’m working here, Loki.”
“Oh, I know it. You never come to the fun part of town willingly. Ooh! Maybe I can help you!”
Why not? “You seen this guy in here?”
“Mm. Not my type at all, dear. Oh, that could change tomorrow, mind you.”
“No kidding. You don’t know him then?”
“I remember him actually. This guy was loaded. He paid for anyone’s drinks, even the high dollar stuff. Well dressed in a J.C. Forest suit that made even him look handsome. It made me want to switch sexes again.”
“Is it Friday already?”
“Funny, darling. You should thank me, you know. I was the one who removed the taboo around the switching. The mortals even know that. You don’t think those super butch Viking types made up my stories without a little help, do you? It’s why there are legends about me giving birth so many times.”
“Loki, neither you nor anyone else in our city ever gave birth.”
“Oh, I know that, but those poor little half seconds down there on Earth don’t know that.”
“Imagine the horror a Viking would feel seeing you as you are.”
“Oh, they wouldn’t mind so much. They were all rooting for my brother, you know.”
“Thor isn’t your brother any more than you’ve given birth.”
“Again with that sour pragmatism. Can’t a girl imagine that we really are who we’re supposed to be? It would be so much more interesting. As it is, it’s more like we’re all a bunch of characters in a story so big that it took a thousand of each of us. Who cares for us? We’re nothing but a pack of cards. Well, sweet heart, I like to be a wild card.”
“Wild all the time. But do you know the guy or not? If you just saw him, then maybe you can point me in the direction of someone who can answer questions?”
I followed the god of culture shock to a group of falling stars that used to be the usual suspects of celebrity gossip. Not all of them there were famous for stage or song though. Loki pointed to Michael Zero who, naturally, had a blossoming bimbo on each arm. It was hard to tell a god’s age by sight, but I knew that neither of his little friends could even be fifty years old. I nodded politely, “Are they for sale?”
The girls both gave me false gasps of shock, but Michael just shook my hand. I’d done him one too many favors for him to notice any bad behavior. He had a little fun with his friends. “Don’t mind him, girls. Because if you do, there could be bloodshed.”
“My piece is with the doorman.”
“Wouldn’t be like you to walk around without a backup. A little pocket pistol maybe? But no one’s died in here for half a century. I don’t want to break our streak.”
No one had ever died in the Primum Mobile. It wasn’t exactly the Demon’s Pit. He was right about the pocket pistol though, even if it wasn’t in my pocket. I brushed aside one of his tarts and pulled a photo out of my pocket. “Loki thinks you might have met this guy.”
“I remember him, yeah. New to the scene, but willing to pay for his fun. He could do it too.”
“Loaded with more drevens than any newcomer in a century,” Loki said.
Michael told her, “You’re exaggerating.”
“You might as well say that I’m breathing, love. He really did have money in his pockets though. Is that what’s got him in trouble?”
I didn’t correct them. “You met him. You remember his name?”
“I don’t know his first name,” Michael admitted. “He just called himself Triumph.”
“That’d be Fade Triumph,” I said.
“No!,” Loki gasped. “Not really?” She burst out laughing. “How the mighty have fallen! The great Saint Michael partying with a fade.”
I prevented an argument by giving them a little bit of dirt they could enjoy. “This particular fade worked for the DemiUrge temple.”
“Seriously?,” Michael said. “Well, he certainly didn’t seem the religious type to me. I couldn’t sell you my party favors tonight, Ax, but I sure did set him up with a carnal confessional that cost him plenty.”
“Could you tell me who to talk to?”
“Sorry, chum. Even I have standards of behavior.”
Even as he said that, he slipped a piece of paper in my pocket. I had another drink with them just to be polite and maintain my connections. The girls were interested in my unique look. Michael explained that I looked like a detective from an old movie. That made him seem smart. How the hell he’d know that, I don’t know. Not one of us had ever seen a movie. Stage plays, sure, but not movies. I wondered just how many of our stories and legends resembled the mortal reality. I didn’t usually care, but I’ve got to admit that I wanted my image to be genuine.
I tilted my hat to let Aggie know that we were leaving. He met me outside at the vahana. “You got anything, Boss?”
“There’s a girl I got to talk to. Triumph paid for some company.”
“You sure it’s a girl we’re goin’ to see? What if Triumph was like Loki?”
I didn’t know that. I was about to tell him that someone would have mentioned it, but this was the Primum Mobile. Gods like Loki weren’t that uncommon there. Well, not like Loki. She was the queerest god I’d ever met. I knew others who swapped sex frequently, but I never met any others that were completely homosexual no matter what sex they were at the moment. I pulled a cigarette out of my pocket, but I didn’t light it. Aggie took the hint and lit it for me. While he was close I whispered, “Styx model vahana behind me to the right? Driver at the wheel?”
“Yeah, Boss. Looks like you were right.”
“Let’s stop for some fuel.”
My vahana didn’t need the aether right away, but we stopped all the same. Aggie went inside while I was pumping so that he could move out the back door. Instead of going in to pay, I made a direct line to the Styx that was just around the corner. He wasn’t expecting me. I wasn’t expecting him, to be honest. “Ares Hammer.”
There was a really long pause. “So do we just stare at each other awkwardly now that you’re made?”
“Stare all you want. Wherever you go. I’ll be there.”
“Who’s paying you?”
“I work for the Temple.”
That was almost a relief. He wasn’t there to kill me. “So what is this? I find the money, you make sure I bring it where it’s supposed to be?”
“Mister Winter knows that you can be trusted. I’m just insurance.”
“Are you here to get the money or the thief?”
“You do your job, Ax. I’ll do mine.”
“No. You won’t.” I nodded behind him. There was Aggie, shotgun in hand.
“You can’t kill me, Ax.”
Aggie told him, “I’ll just shoot to wound. That’s if you get outta your car or put your hands where I can’t see ’em. A war god like you wouldn’t want word getting out that he was taken by some upstart Agnosticism.”
“If you can’t shoot me, you can’t stop me. I tell you what, why don’t we all just go to your next stop in your car?”
“Funny, Ares,” I said. There’s a reason I carry a switchblade. Ares’s eyes flashed, but he knew better than to stop me. Aggie wasn’t bluffing. While my young partner kept the gorilla covered, I slashed the tires of his vahana. I tried to be polite. “Talk to me later, Ares. If you have something real to say. In the meantime, tell Moloch that I’ll drop the case if I see one more Temple thug anywhere I don’t want them to be.”
I could tell that Ares was considering making a move. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t certain he couldn’t do something about Aggie, even though Aggie had the drop on him. Ares fought with abandon. Not a lot of gods were even capable of that. When you’re immortal, you tend to avoid situations that can end your life. I think that in Pantheon City we fear death even more than the mortals do. A lot more. But Ares, he didn’t care. When it came time to fight, he was ready to lose it all. It was a sight to behold. If he wasn’t such a terrifying bastard, I could have admired that. With me on the other side of him though, also ready to fire, he was beaten. Even he knew that. I could also see that glimmer of honor in his eye. He was hired muscle, but he did have certain standards of behavior. There was no way he was going to fight us when he was supposed to be working for Moloch. Moloch didn’t want us dead or hurt. He needed us to find what no one else was going to. All the same, I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t turn my back on the sulking war god when we left him there.
Aggie and I wasted no time getting away. He knew how to drive to avoid any pattern that Ares might be able to guess. “Where we goin’, Boss?”
“I got an address here. Someone Saint Michael couldn’t tell us we should talk to. As far as you know, this was a rumor from a few of the Primum regulars.”
* * * * *
She didn’t live far from the club. In fact, she was just four blocks away in a modest apartment building with security that didn’t want to let us in until I flashed my deputy card. I wasn’t official law enforcement, but I was someone with certain privileges.
When the door was answered, Aggie was surprised. I wasn’t. She was gorgeous. She looked the way a mortal might imagine a goddess. “Bible Lighter?”
“That’s me. Do I know you from somewhere?”
“My name is Detective Axiom.”
She flinched. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“I want to ask you about someone you know.”
“I don’t know anybody.”
“Cute. I’m not a cop. I’m not here to cause you trouble.”
“Can we talk here?”
“In your doorway?”
“I don’t invite men inside all that often.”
“How about this one?” I pulled a photo out of my pocket.
She took a look and sighed. “Okay. You want inside? Come on in.” The inside of her apartment was reasonably well furnished, but only in comparison to the building itself. She sat on her couch making it clear that we were to keep our distance. “So is he in real trouble? And how much of it will be my trouble too?”
“How well did you know him? Wait. I’ll be a little more honest than that. I know that Saint Michael pointed him in your direction.”
“Michael told you that?”
“I couldn’t get that out of him. But there are a lot of eyes and ears at the Primum Mobile.”
“There are,” she agreed grimly. “Okay. You want honest, I’ll be honest. You wouldn’t think this guy would be in my paygrade. He had the dough though.”
“Yeah? You know where he got it?”
She just gave me a look. “I guess it wasn’t his.”
“I don’t need you to tell me where it came from. I already know that.” I could read it in her eyes. She didn’t know where the money was from. “Look, I need to know what you know about the guy. How much time did you spend with him and what did you talk about?”
“We didn’t do much talking.”
“Nice,” I said. “It wasn’t just silence broken up by sweat and squelching noises though.”
“Look, I don’t much care what you think of me, but I’m not going to help you find someone who was good to me.”
“So he was good to you, huh?”
“That’s right. You already know what kind of arrangement it was. He wasn’t a creep though. I was a woman to him. A woman he was paying for, but still a woman. I don’t expect you to understand this, but to me that’s a kind of gentleman.”
“Then you want to help us out. Fade Triumph isn’t in trouble. The cops aren’t looking for him. He’s dead. Someone killed him, and we’re trying to find out who.” I watched her eyes drop to the floor. I asked her, “You’re not surprised, I take it?”
“You said the money wasn’t his, right? Well that’s what I figured. There was a lot of money though, so I thought, well, I wondered…”
It was quiet for a bit. We let her think. Was she upset that the fade was dead? Or was she just trying to make sure to remember everything? It didn’t matter to me as long as she answered. “We were going to leave the city.”
Was that why he stole the money? No. He did that before he met her. He couldn’t have spent the money for the time on this broad without stealing it first. Did she have him wrapped around her finger enough to do more than party with his cash? They could have lived a decent life with that kind of funding, but part of the problem with a god’s lifespan is that a fortune doesn’t set you for life. “What was he planning?”
“With you. If you were going to leave the city, where were you going to go?”
“We didn’t know yet. I wanted to move to Nod, but Triumph thought about some house near the boundary.”
“Near the boundary. Anywhere in particular?”
“We were looking into it. We had someone drive us out there. I don’t know his name. Some guy with one of those big off road vahanas.”
I tried to get her to tell me that she had seen the spot where Triumph was killed, but I couldn’t pin it down. The direction was right, but she probably really didn’t know exactly where she was. We asked who else Triumph knew. She mentioned the club, but not much else. Who else knew he had the money? No one that she was aware of. She got to the point that most people do when they’re asked too many questions. Even though we were investigating a murder, the conversation got boring as we went over details. We weren’t going to get much more out of her that was useful, so we left her there. She was important, but I had other concerns.
I looked back up at the building. “Aggie, I want you to stay here. Watch for the girl, and find out where she goes next.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I don’t know yet. It depends on what I learn. I’m going to stop and see Doctor Lilt.”
“What do you think he’s gonna tell you?”
“What do you think, Aggie?”
“I wasn’t with you to see it, but the way you described the body, it made me think that maybe it’s not the guy who took the money.”
“The face was all smashed up. We’ll find out.”