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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:52

"I hated it when Rosita made me give up hunting vampires, but my life works better without it. You could just raise the dead, Anita. I know that neither one of us can give that up."

"Not without raising the dead by accident," I said. We'd shared stories of our powers affecting the dead by accident. My first had been my dog. His had been a toddler cousin. What did they both have in common? A lot of emotion from us, and for me, I wanted my dog back, so she came back. The college prof who committed suicide and showed up at my dorm room had been harder for me to understand, but good little Catholic that I had once been, I hadn't wanted him to spend eternity in hell, so . . . another chance to repent.

"Yes, the power will come out one way or another, but hunting monsters isn't your magic. You could give that up."

Manny didn't know anything about the Mother of All Darkness, or the Father of the Dawn, or . . . so much. Rosita had asked me to swear that I wouldn't involve her husband in any more vampire hunts after he'd nearly died in the last one we'd done together. He still did some of the morgue executions where the vampire was dead to the world and chained down with holy items, but even that made Rosita nervous. He'd been over fifty on that last hunt, and Rosita had said, "He's too old for this now. Leave my old man alone, and let him live to see his grandchildren."

What could I say? I did what she asked, and I lost my mentor, my teacher, and my partner in the undead business. Some of my worst injuries had been after I lost Manny at my back. He'd been older, not an old man, but he was currently planning his oldest daughter's wedding and if he'd stayed at my side he might have missed it.

"Anita, are you okay?"

"I'm sorry, Manny, did you say something?"

"It's not like you to lose track. Something has shaken you bad."

"Yeah, it has, and that's why I called." I glanced at Nathaniel. It was an ongoing police investigation, but what was I supposed to do, ask him to put his hands over his ears and go la, la, la? Of course, come to that Manny wasn't a marshal either. When he took himself out of the vampire-hunting business he missed his chance to be grandfathered into the preternatural marshal program. I loved Nathaniel, but I wasn't supposed to talk about ongoing police investigations with him, and certainly the FBI wouldn't appreciate me oversharing with my lover.

"If I can help, you know I will."

"I know that, Manny, I'm just debating how much I can share with you since you don't have a badge." I realized it was too blunt even as I said it, but I had used up a lot of my control already tonight. It didn't bode well for raising the dead later.

"Is it just me that doesn't have a badge, or are you with Jean-Claude?"

"I left him back in town to go to his job. We're a working couple; we can't spend every waking minute together." Again it sounded grumpy, but I didn't care; I was tired of Manny's issues with Jean-Claude. It wasn't personal exactly, but Manny didn't like my dating a vampire. He'd been the one who taught me that they weren't just people with fangs; they were monsters. The trouble was that I'd learned that wasn't true and Manny still believed it. It was ironic that he'd stopped killing vampires but still hated them in that racist sort of way, while I'd gone on to execute dozens more and I thought of them as people.

Nathaniel glanced over at me and cocked his head to one side. It meant a question, like what?

"Then if you can't talk to me about the case, why call me at all?" Manny asked.

"True." I sighed, and then tried to snake my way through what I needed to share, and what I felt I should hold back. I also didn't want to give away Manny's secrets, not even to Nathaniel, not because I didn't trust my sweetie, but because it wasn't my secret, and if the police ever found out Manny's secrets he could go to jail, or if he got the wrong judge he could be executed within a matter of weeks, or days. Some of the things he'd done when he was with Dominga Salvador fell under the magical malfeasance laws, which meant any death caused was grounds for automatic execution, none of that years-on-death-row shit. The laws had been designed to keep the human public safe from beings with so much power there was no way to keep them in jail without risking more death. Manny wasn't that dangerous, but the law is enforced the way the law is written; it's not about true justice, it's about interpretation of the law and who has the best lawyer. Cynical, yes, but the longer I was in law enforcement the more I knew that cynical was often just the truth.

"Remember Dominga Salvador?"

"You know I do." His voice was suddenly much more serious.

"I've run across a case that's using powers I thought only she had."

"What kind of powers?" he asked.

"Remember the scheme she wanted my magical help for?"

"Work question, I'll be right back," he said, and I heard his footsteps over the phone. Was he at home with his family? Was I interrupting some warm domestic scene with this scary shit?

The next thing he said let me know he was alone. "You mean her wanting you to help her raise zombies to be sold as sex slaves?"

"Yeah, that," I said.

"There are zombies sold as sex slaves all the time, Anita. The people don't keep them after they rot, but there's a niche market for it. You and I both get requests for it."

"And we both say no."

"Of course, we say no, but other practitioners of our art are not so choosy."

"But it's not that kind of zombie, Manny. It's one like she raised at the end, the one with scared eyes."

"Zombies don't feel fear, Anita."

"No, they don't," I said.

"Then what are you talking about?"

"Think it through, Manny."

"She raised very good, lifelike zombies, but others do that, as well. Yours are almost alive now."

"Souls, Manny, souls."

"I don't . . ." Then he stopped and I heard his breathing speed up. "Are you saying someone else has figured out how to capture a person's soul and put it back in their rotting corpse so the zombie doesn't rot?"

"And her trick of removing it, then putting it back, so it's a little bit rotted, yes."

He swore in Spanish. I caught that he asked for the Virgin Mary's help, though I think it was the Virgin of Guadalupe specifically. When he finally spoke English again, his accent was still thicker than normal.

"It can't be her, Anita. She is dead; even she could not come back after being torn apart by zombies and eaten." Manny was one of the few people I'd told about Dominga's real death. She'd been trying to force me to use an innocent victim as a human sacrifice to raise a very old zombie at the time, and only luck had put her henchmen in the circle so I could kill them, and raise a hell of a lot more than just one zombie with the rush of power those deaths gave me. He'd feared for his safety and that of his family from her, so I'd told him the truth. To my knowledge he'd never repeated it.

"I don't think it's her come back from the grave, Manny, but could it be someone who knew her? When I turned her down, did she recruit anyone else?"

"I don't know; the day I took you to see her was the first and last time I'd seen her in years."

"Who would know if she'd recruited someone else?" I asked.

"Think, Manny, think; these women are being tortured in a way that no one should have to endure outside of a lower circle of hell."

"I will think on it, Anita, but I don't know who would be willing to talk to me now. They know I brought the police to the Senora's door, and only fear of my own power kept them from trying to retaliate."

"I'm sorry, Manny; I didn't mean to endanger you by asking for your help."

"A good man must help stop evil when he is called, Anita; do not apologize for that."

"I'm just tired of endangering people. I mean, it's dangerous just to be around me sometimes."

"That is not true," he said.

"Anita, I don't know what part of your past you are fighting, but fight harder, because you are a good person, you fight the good fight."

I smiled. "If you think of anyone to ask, or anywhere to look for this bastard, let me know."

"Now go enjoy whatever family thing you're doing."

"I'm coming, Rosita," he called out. I heard more voices, and then the voice on the phone was a woman's. "Anita, congratulations on your engagement; I am so happy you are finally getting married."

"Thank you, Rosita; now you don't have to keep worrying I'll be an old maid."

"A woman should be married, Anita, that's all."

"You know I don't agree with that."

"But you are getting married anyway," she said, as if that proved her point.

I sighed, and laughed a little. "We'll agree to disagree, but yes, I am getting married once we work out all the details."

"If you want help with anything, just call."

"You're planning Connie's wedding, isn't that enough?"

"Consuela's wedding is almost done."

"Congratulations to you and her."

"Gracias, but I have been to every wedding shop, caterer, everything. I would be happy to give you a list of the places we found most helpful."

"Okay, that might actually be useful, thank you." I'd pass the list on to Jean-Claude.

"I will have Manny email it to you."

"Thank you, Rosita." It was probably the longest conversation I'd ever had with Manny's wife.