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

"No, we go in with just the handguns and what we have on us. Let's see if I can persuade the zombie to walk out with us; less chance of any innocent bystanders getting hurt," I said.

"Doesn't the zombie have to obey you?" Domino asked.

"Normally, yes, but if he goes flesh eater he won't obey anyone. I can probably hold him with will and magic for a few minutes; if that happens, then go to the car and get the big guns while I try to control the zombie."

"Combined we might be able to control the zombie longer," Manny said.

"We've combined powers to raise more and bigger dead, true, but I'm not sure how to combine our talents without a blood binding."

"If we think the zombie is dangerous, cut my hand under the table, or behind our backs, cut yours, and hold on," Manny said.

"That quick, no words needed, no circle of power?"

"I'm betting we can do it without anything else, just the blood," he said.

I nodded. "Okay, but only if the zombie doesn't cooperate."

"Do you want one of the shotguns if we have to use them?" Nicky asked.

It took Manny a second to realize Nicky was talking to him. "No, I'm not a shooter."

"If we have to shoot, then Manny's part is over, and he takes cover."

"And when we come back inside with the big guns, how do we shoot the zombie? I know it's different than shooting people," Domino said.

"Shoot the legs first," Nicky said, "so he can't run; if you don't have a good leg target take the hands and mouth, those are his weapons. Take the hands and the mouth and he can't hurt anyone, then shoot his legs so he can't run, and we move up on him and shoot him to pieces."

Manny looked from Nicky to me.

"It's not his first rodeo," I said.

"I was on the trip to Colorado, too," Domino said.

"You weren't with us in the morgue," Nicky said.

"You weren't with me in the graveyard," I said.

"I was protecting Nathaniel, Micah, and his family like I was ordered to," he said.

"That's true," I said, as I finally eased us into the parking lot. I so wished I could give tickets out to people who swarmed in front of me as soon as the lights and sirens stopped. It would have been childish, but satisfying. It looked like a normal late-night Denny's with a few people at booths and tables; a waitress carried a full tray like nothing was wrong. Great; if no one was running and screaming for help, then the zombie was behaving itself. Once they take a bite out of someone everyone panics; same thing if you shoot someone, violence makes people react like prey animals. You hurt one and the herd scatters to save itself. It was so hardwired into all of us; only training would stop the reaction.

"So why do I feel like I let you down that I don't know this stuff?"

"This ain't the time, kid," Nicky said.

"We're the same age," Domino said.

"Only in years," Nicky said.

I parked in the handicapped spot, because it was the only spot open near the door, but I said a small prayer that no one who really needed it would pull up. I'd learned long ago that there but for the grace of a few injuries go I, or something like that.

I turned and said to Domino, "Either get out of the car and follow our lead, or stay in the car and out of the way." It was harsh, but I didn't have time for hand holding, and the fact that Domino didn't know that was one of the reasons he wasn't my first choice for marshal work, or a lot of other things.

His face said he was angry, but in that moment I didn't care. Manny was out on his side of the car. I got out of my side. Domino got out, too. I guess he wasn't waiting in the car.

WE WALKED THROUGH the door with me in my official Windbreaker, the one that read MARSHAL in big letters. If we had to pull weapons I wanted the civilians to know we were the good guys and not robbing the place. The jacket was harder to miss than a badge at my waist. People would also assume that everyone with me was a marshal, too, so it was easier to explain why most of the people with me were armed.

I let Nicky get the door, but he didn't hold it for me; he went through first, and then I came through, catching the door behind him. He was still technically my bodyguard and he could also take more damage than I could and keep moving, so letting him go through first just made sense. Manny came behind me, and Domino brought up the rear.

The hostess hurried toward us, her face worried. We just so looked like trouble. "Is everything all right, officers?"

I smiled as bright as I would at any client, and said, "We're just looking for some friends, need to touch base." It was vague but gave her something normal to concentrate on.

She nodded as if it made perfect sense, one hand smoothing her long brown hair back behind her ear. "Who are you looking for?"

Nicky shook his head. He didn't see the zombie, or the clients. I couldn't remember if Denny's took reservations, but I said, "It's a large party under the name MacDougal, or Willis."

She relaxed. "Oh yes, they're in the back. We needed one of the big tables." She grabbed menus as if we were staying for food. I didn't tell her different; I've found that if you can let people do normal things they're more comfortable around the guns and badges. It didn't hurt to give her the illusion that everything was normal--maybe it was, except for the zombie. If the health department found out about it, they would close them down until they sterilized the whole place top to bottom.

We followed the hostess to the back room with its bigger tables. It used to be where they sent smokers, but once you couldn't smoke inside anymore it just became more table space. I saw Owen MacDougal first; even sitting down he was the biggest guy at the table. I looked around the table for the zombie and didn't see the black suit jacket, just polo shirts, T-shirts, and the

women in some blouses. Ethel Willis, the cow lover from earlier, wasn't with the group. Maybe seeing the cow slaughtered had been too much for her?

MacDougal raised his hand in greeting at me, smiling, and only when the man beside him turned and looked at me did I realize that was the zombie. They'd let him change clothes. I hadn't recognized him in the Ramones T-shirt. My heart just stopped for a beat; the fear went through me in a rush that left my fingertips tingling.

I swallowed hard and whispered to Manny, "Pick out the zombie."

Manny looked at me, but when I nodded him toward the group, he looked that way. I walked around the table to take MacDougal's offered hand. He was terribly pleased with himself. "Ms. Blake, I didn't expect to see you again tonight, and not in full marshal gear." A tiny frown touched his face. "Is everything all right?"

I gave him the full client smile, the one that actually reaches my eyes. "I was out on other business when I got the call that you were out at a restaurant, not a place most clients take, um, mutual friends, so I thought we'd stop by, see how things were going, since we were in the area."

One of the women at the table said, "Everything is great." She smiled and laid a hand on the arm near her on the table.

The zombie smiled back at her, damn near as warmly.

My phone binged, and I checked it. Manny's text read, "I can't tell."

I smiled into the face of the man that I'd raised from the dead and wondered, could I have told if I hadn't known? Would I have picked him out of the smiling, laughing group? I tried to see them with clear eyes, but I couldn't. I looked into Thomas Warrington's happy, alive face, and fought to keep the horror off mine. What the hell had I done?

The woman who touched him had long brown hair tied back in a ponytail. Her face was young and pretty, eyes a solid brown, but they were all alight as she touched the dead man beside her. I was engaged to a vampire, who was I to bitch, but the sight of her hand on his arm chilled me. I wondered if that was how some people felt when they saw me holding hands with Jean-Claude. I hoped not, because I was truly horrified as the zombie put his hand over hers on the table. Fuck.

I moved around until I was next to MacDougal, so I could lean over and talk low. I kept smiling and being pleasant as I said, "It's illegal to bring a zombie into a restaurant."