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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:47

Zerbrowski gave me wide eyes; apparently I'd never shared that with him.

"That sounds pretty awful," Manning said.

"It was, and my dad and stepmom were not amused."

"Would you need a human sacrifice to do this?" Manning asked.

"You mean to capture the soul, or put the soul back in the zombies?"

"The priest would be able to answer the question about the soul-capture thing better than I could, but I don't believe so, and if the zombies are the recently dead then you wouldn't need a death that big."

"Define big," she said.

"Most of us use chickens as the blood sacrifice for a normal zombie raising, but if it's an older body we move up to goats, sometimes sheep, but mostly goats. After that you get into cows."

"So it's literally physically larger, not smarter?" Manning said.

That was a good question, maybe a great question. "You know, I've never thought about it like that. Traditionally, I was taught that bigger sacrifice meant literally bigger, so theoretically an elephant could raise more, but we jump from cow to human sacrifice, and people are smaller than most full-grown cattle." I thought about it. "I guess there's just not a reasonable way to kill something bigger than a cow, or maybe horse, though I don't know anyone in this country who uses horses for sacrifice. I know some people use doves or pigeons instead of chickens, but the jump to human is considered the biggest sacrifice possible."

"Pigs are smarter than goats or cows; would their death be bigger?" Brent asked.

"I've never known anyone who used a pig; maybe a baby pig, but not a grown one."

"Why?" Manning asked.

"Honestly, I don't know, but I was raised in farm country, and pigs will eat people; cows and chickens, even goats, won't."

"Pigs don't really eat people unless a serial killer feeds them the pieces," Brent said.

"Feral hogs used to drag off babies left at the edge of fields and eat them."

"That's just an old wives' tale," Brent said.

"No, it's not," I said, "and if you're hurt enough that you can't get back out of the pigpen some breeds will fucking eat you."

"I don't believe that."

"My dad is a veterinarian. He used to take me on his rounds sometimes; trust me, some pigs will eat you."

"But would killing a chimpanzee or a dolphin be a bigger death than a cow, but less than a human?" he asked.

I thought about it, and finally said, "Maybe, but an adult male chimpanzee can tear a normal human being's arm out of its socket, and I can't even wrap my head around trying to get a dolphin alive to a grave site just to slit its throat to raise a zombie."

"So looking for missing persons being used as human sacrifices won't help us find these creeps?" Manning asked.

"I don't think so; in fact, I'm pretty sure not."

"How do we catch them, then?"

"Dominga's plan was to give the zombies in as fresh a condition as possible to her buyers as perpetual sex slaves, but she didn't see the possibility of porn online. I'm assuming that there must be customers paying for this stuff."

"Technically it's not illegal in most states, because the necrophilia laws have been modified so that if the corpse is moving and capable of giving consent it's consensual sex, not necrophilia, and that's a misdemeanor anyway," Manning said.

"I know some states had to change their laws once vampires were considered legal citizens, because the way the law was written, sex with them was still an arrestable offense," I said.

"Some police in certain areas made a hobby of arresting the spouses of vampires in their communities," Manning said.

I nodded. "Yeah, the early days just after the law changed were interesting."

"You can say that again," Zerbrowski said.

"Hey, I was a cop when it changed. One day we could kill a vampire on sight and the next day they were legal citizens with all the protection the law offered. It was a very weird moment in law enforcement."

"It was my senior year of college when it changed. I guess I hadn't thought what I'd missed," I said.

He rolled his eyes. "I keep forgetting you're just a baby."

"You're only ten years older than me."

"Thirteen years older, thank you very much."

I grinned at him. "Oh, yeah, three years is so much more."

"You seem to think so, sometimes."

I gave him narrow eyes, because my attitude about some of my younger lovers was personal and we'd left personal behind.

Zerbrowski covered. "I'm just the old man to your young pup."

"Don't feel bad, Sergeant; you're not the oldest person in the room, though it is by less than three years." She smiled when she said it.

He offered her a fist bump and after a bemused moment, she took it.

I glanced at Brent, who was being unusually quiet, for him. "When you're the youngest person in a room of detectives or agents, you just learn to keep your mouth shut about it."

I smiled at him. "Been there, done that."

"I'll bet; you don't look anywhere near thirty."

I shrugged. "Good genetics." It was, but there was the possibility that being Jean-Claude's human servant, as well as fiancee, meant that I wasn't aging, that I might stay just like this forever. I looked at Zerbrowski's hair, grayer than when we'd met. Was I going to have to watch him age while I didn't? I didn't know, but the thought made me sad. On the heels of that thought was another one, that if he were a vampire he wouldn't age. I'd never looked at one of my friends and thought that before. I wasn't sure how I felt about thinking it now. It wasn't a good feeling, whatever it was.

"You okay, Anita?" Zerbrowski asked.

I nodded. "Sure, just thinking too hard."

He grinned. "Thinking about your tall, pale, and handsome fiance?"

"No, why would you even ask that?"

"Because you only overthink your personal life; crime busting makes you kind of peaceful."

I let my face show exactly how unpeaceful I felt about this case. "This case isn't going to make me feel peaceful, Zerbrowski."

"I'm sorry, you're right. This one's going to hurt."

"What do you mean by that?" Manning asked.

He looked at her, and his brown eyes showed that there was a shrewd thinker behind all the messy clothes and teasing. "Some cases leave a mark on your soul even after you solve it."

She studied his face and nodded. "As long as we solve it."

"You're afraid we won't," I said.

"We're here because our own resident animator Kirkland, and the most revered voodoo, vaudun, priest in the country, plus all the witches and psychics working with and for the FBI couldn't help us find these guys."

"What do your computer techs say?" Zerbrowski asked.

She nodded again. "They say that whoever is doing the tech for these creeps is really, really good."

Brent added, "They are still working on tracing to a location, but the ability to hide the computer trail is always just a little ahead of our ability to trace it, until we catch up."

"And then the bad techies figure out a new way to pull ahead of the good guys," I said.