Page 49

Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:04

I was calling the zombie a him, not an it; that was not a good sign. All the flesh eaters I'd seen had been truly walking corpses and hadn't looked alive at all, but there was always a first for everything. I did not want the very first gentleman flesh eater. I really didn't.

I made the mistake of telling the truth when Nathaniel asked why I was running out with my whole kit over my shoulder. Everyone insisted I take guards as backup, just in case. I didn't have time to argue, so Nicky and Domino were with me as I hit the stairs. Nicky had called ahead so that bigger guns were waiting for them in the storage room up top. Again, I didn't argue, because if the worst happened we were running out of time, and we'd need the firepower.

Why not call other police to meet us there? Because maybe I'd just raised a zombie so alive that he could eat a meal and talk about his adventure, and the only thing scary about him was that he was too human. I preferred that to him turning into a ravaging cannibalistic killing machine, but him being that alive scared the hell out of me, too. It was just a different kind of scared.

Nicky asked to carry my vampire-hunting kit. "You'll be faster on the stairs without it."

Normally I would have argued and carried my own damn equipment, but since it weighed almost as much as I did, I gave it to Nicky. He threw it over his shoulder. I started running up the stairs, and then the men were up with me, and the three of us fucking ran.

I CALLED MANNY from the car, and he was waiting for us outside work. He wasn't much taller than me, a slender, dark figure with salt-and-pepper hair standing under the streetlight. It highlighted him like a spotlight, ruining his night vision and making him a great target if anyone was aiming for him. He'd been my teacher in the early days of vampire hunting, but he'd never really stopped being a stake-and-hammer man, and that was only good for daytime vamps dead in their coffins, or morgue kills where the vamps were chained down with holy items. Outside those two instances I preferred shotguns or assault rifles, though handguns would do in a pinch.

There were cars having issues with parking, or not parking, in front of us, so we got to wait while we looked at Manny. I didn't think he'd seen us yet. He was talking on his phone.

"This is the guy who taught you how to hunt vampires?" Domino asked from the backseat.

"He taught you how to raise the dead," Nicky said from beside me. "Edward taught you how to hunt vampires."

"Actually, the second part was a learn-as-you-go program," I said. "If I hadn't been good enough to bother with when Edward met me, he'd have just killed me."

"Edward is like one of your best friends," Domino said.

"We weren't always friends."

"Why didn't he kill you then?" Nicky asked.

"I was useful, and he saw some of himself in me, I think."

The people who couldn't drive in front of us finally managed to have one car pull out and leave, so the other could park. Manny finally saw us, waving and giving a bright smile.

"He needs glasses," Nicky said.

"He's squinting a little, and he didn't see your car sooner, so his night vision is going."

"You think that's why he's standing in the light?" Domino asked.

"Maybe; tell him to get his eyes checked," Nicky said.

"I didn't know you cared about Manny," I said, as I pulled up to the curb.

"I don't, but you do," Nicky said, opening the door so Manny could ride shotgun. "If he has a car accident or gets himself killed on the job because he's too vain to get his eyes checked"--he got out, poking his head back in to finish what he was saying--"it would make you unhappy, and I want you happy." He held the door for Manny, then moved to the backseat to sit with Domino.

I waited for Manny to buckle up, then introduced him to Domino as I hit the gas. I tried to see the man beside me not as my mentor and teacher, but like Nicky and Domino were seeing him. I'd seen him weekly for years and hadn't noticed the eye issue, but now that they'd pointed it out I wondered how I'd missed it.

"What's wrong?" Manny asked; he knew me, too.

I shook my head. "When's the last time you had your eyes checked?"

"You didn't see us until we pulled into the light, but we were sitting there for a while waiting for the idiots to finish arguing over the parking space."

"I was talking to Tomas; he's got girl trouble and wanted his papa's advice." He grinned when he said it, and I knew he didn't want to talk about his eyes anymore.

"How old is Tomas now?"

"A little young for girl trouble, isn't he?"

Manny grinned again. "He is precocious."

I smiled and shook my head. "You mean he's cutting a swath through the little girls the way you did before you met Rosita."

He shrugged but looked pleased. I let it go for now, and just hit the lights and sirens; one problem at a time, or you get overwhelmed. I drove fast and had to keep slamming on my brakes, because St. Louis drivers were slow to get out of the way. I'd had out-of-town marshals complain about it, so it wasn't just me.

"Jesus, people," I said, as I sat behind a line of cars waiting for them to creep to the side of the road.

"The zombie is still at Denny's," Manny said.

"Yeah, but is he just eating dessert or the waitress?"

"How likely is it that he's really turned flesh eater?" Nicky asked.

"Not likely, but since we aren't entirely sure what makes a zombie turn flesh eater, forgive me if I worry."

"I'm not saying don't worry, or don't hurry, just trying to get a feel for what I don't understand."

I slammed on the brakes as a truck tried to get out of the way of the lights and sirens by pulling out directly in front of me. "Idiot!"

"You drive, I'll talk," Manny said, and glanced back at Nicky as he started to tell everything we knew about flesh-eating zombies, which wasn't actually very much. "The most common cause of a zombie turning flesh eater is a murder victim called from the grave."

"I know murder vics rise with only one purpose, to kill their murderer; that's why police can't just raise the dead and ask who killed them."

[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======

"You've been asking questions," Manny said.

"It's the only way to figure stuff out if I can't do it myself, and I can't raise the dead."

"I like this one," Manny said to me. He got a death grip on the oh-shit handle, but his voice never wavered as I careened around yet another car that wasn't getting out of the way.

"Me, too," I said, and then went back to concentrating the hell out of driving.

"Thanks," Nicky said automatically, but I knew his face would match the tone; he said thanks because he was supposed to, not because it mattered to him. "But are you saying that murder victims attack and eat people, or eat their murderer?"

"Most of the time, no," Manny said. "They just rise willing to hurt or kill anyone who gets between them and their murderer. Until they get their vengeance, they don't obey the animator who raised them, or any other magic, but if they can't find their killer right away sometimes they turn to flesh eating."

I roared through a red light, flinching, hoping the cars all obeyed my lights and not the traffic ones. We got through safely, but it always freaked me out to run a red light. "It's like they wake up more the longer they're out of the grave, and if they start to eat flesh they don't rot as quickly," I said, risking a glance in the rearview mirror, so I could see Nicky's serious face.

"So do all murder vics who don't get their killers turn flesh eater?"

"This zombie isn't a murder victim, though, right?" Domino said.

"No, I made certain of that. He died in his bed of disease, not in battle."

"Do soldiers count themselves as murder vics?" Nicky asked.

"I've known it to happen," Manny said, "but usually not."

"Manny taught me to be uber-cautious about shit like that, though."

"The most common flesh eater is a zombie that was an animator, witch, or voodoo priest in life," Manny said.

"Like you and Anita," Nicky said.

"Yes," Manny said, "which is why we both have legal papers in place to be beheaded and cremated upon death."

"Scary stuff," Domino said.

I slowed down and turned off the sirens. We were close enough to the restaurant that I didn't want to spook the zombie. He was far too aware for comfort.

"So this zombie isn't a murder vic, or a witch, or anything, so why is Anita so worried he'll start eating people?" Domino asked.

"Because zombies don't eat anything. They don't need to eat, because they're dead, and there's no reason to put fuel in something that isn't burning fuel anymore," Manny said.

I said, "Any time a zombie has ever said it's hungry, to me it's hungry for the flesh of the living. I've never, ever heard of one wanting to go out for a nice breakfast of sausage and eggs."

"So you're afraid when he finishes his food, it won't satisfy him and he'll turn on the people in the restaurant," Nicky said.

"Yes." I turned off the swirling lights on my SUV as I spotted the big yellow Denny's sign.

"Exactly," Manny said.

"So neither of you has ever heard of a zombie eating anything but people?" Domino asked.

"Okay then," Domino said, "I understand the rush."

"Do we start out with the shotgun and rifles?" Nicky asked.

I slowed down, easing through the last bit of traffic as I made toward the restaurant. Once I turned off the lights I was just another car and all the traffic laws applied to me again. I'd had some of the other regular cops explain to me that once the lights and sirens were turned off on an unmarked car, the magic get-out-of-my-fucking-way card vanished. Some people seemed to go out of their way to block you once the light show was over. It was like they resented it or something. It was hard to slow down after driving like a bat out of hell, but I'd learned that the other plainclothes cops were right, and people would get in your way just like now. It made me want to scream at the cars, but an accident this close to the goal would slow me down more than a little bit of traffic.