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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:05

MacDougal turned and looked at me, face shocked. "I must really protest the word being used for Tom."

I smiled harder. "I understand that he passes for human, which is really cool, but legally if the health department finds out that a zombie has been in a restaurant, then they have to close the place down."

"But surely not in this case."

"I know that he looks good enough to pass, but the law doesn't differentiate between a rotting corpse that could potentially carry disease and . . . Tom here."

MacDougal looked around the restaurant. "I didn't know."

"If I'd dreamt you'd take the zombie out for a meal, I'd have mentioned it."

The zombie said, "Miss Blake, can I thank you again for this unexpected reprieve?"

I looked into his face, the clear hazel of his eyes, brown and green all mixed together. His longish blond hair looked freshly washed and dried. Had he showered the grave dirt off himself? If so, he was holding up very well; most zombies begin to disintegrate if you add water. "Reprieve is an interesting word."

"The appropriate word, though, I think, Ms. Blake."

I studied his face, and finally just looked into those brown eyes with their edge of green. I tried to see beyond the color, the smile, the energy, and into his soul, if he had one.

Manny came up beside me. "Anita, introduce me."

I introduced him to the ones whose names I remembered. The others offered their names. I threw Warrington in the middle somewhere, and Manny never blinked at him. It was only when he shook his hand that I saw Manny's shoulders shift, ever so slightly. I doubted anyone else noticed it.

Justine was the name of the woman who was holding hands with Warrington. Manny raised an eyebrow at me, widening his eyes a bit at them. I gave a small nod, letting him know I'd seen it. We'd worked together for years, so that was enough. Again, I doubted anyone at the table saw what passed between us. Nicky was the only one who might have followed it all.

I hadn't bothered to introduce Nicky and Domino. First, because they hadn't asked, and second, because you didn't introduce security. You wanted them to be grim and unfriendly; if you gave them names it humanized them and took some of the threat factor away. They were just waiting to be sent to the car for more firepower, or to go outside with the zombie and us, and for that they didn't need to be anyone's friend.

"Mr. MacDougal, Mr. Warrington, could I speak with you outside for a minute?" I was still smiling as I asked.

MacDougal got up immediately, but Warrington didn't. He put a hand over Justine's hand where it rested on his arm. It was a possessive gesture, and I didn't like it one little bit. Had they already done more than hold hands? God, I hoped not. There was no way for this to end that wouldn't be bad.

"Mr. Warrington, come outside with us."

"I'm fine here, Ms. Blake, or should I say, Marshal Blake?"

"Either will do, Mr. Warrington, but we really do need a few minutes outside to talk in private."

MacDougal touched the other man's shoulder and said, "Come outside, Tom."

He looked from one to the other of us, and finally stood up. It didn't seem to be because he had to obey either of us, but then I hadn't given him a direct order. I felt Nicky shift at my back like a small mountain flexing its shoulders, probably to get rid of built-up tension.

Justine stood up, wrapping her fingers through the zombie's hand. "I'll go where Tom goes."

"I don't think that's necessary," I said.

She wrapped her hand around her other one so she had a two-handed grip. "I do."

Warrington didn't shake her off, just stepped away from the table with her still clinging to his hand. "I would like Justine to come with us, if she wishes to."

She smiled up at him with one of those beatific smiles that usually requires serious dating, or good sex, or at least years of semiserious flirting. "I wish to."

I hoped she just had a crush on him. If it was more, she was going to have a very bad time, because Warrington was going back in the ground tonight. Whatever was happening with this zombie, I had to pull the plug as soon as possible. His finding true lust didn't change that.

Most of the rest of the group wanted to come, too. "We don't need a crowd."

"If you make me wave my badge around I'm going to be unhappy with you."

Warrington turned to them all and said, "There is no need to threaten my friends. We will go outside and speak with you in private." His calm voice did what my threats couldn't.

Domino led the way, checking and holding the door like Nicky had on the way inside. Nicky brought up the rear this time. Our client, the zombie, and his girlfriend walked ahead of me. The guy who had been recording things at the cemetery with his phone now had a small handheld video recorder. His name was Bob, and he followed us in case we did something worth recording. I'd let Bob come along for two reasons. One, his recording everything so the rest of the historical group could see it later helped them be happier with us going outside without them. Two, I was going to have to confiscate everything he'd recorded. Proof that I could raise something this lifelike could not get out on the Internet. I'd had a government element interested in me for raising a certain dead world leader, and that zombie had been much less alive than this one. If they saw this one, I'd be lucky if they didn't show up before the night was over. Keeping Bob close to me seemed like the best way to ensure I could bully him out of the "evidence" later.

We stepped away from the doors to find a little privacy near some shrubs, close enough to the light to not be in the dark, but Nicky, Domino, and I didn't stand under the light. Manny kept to the light with MacDougal and Justine. Warrington kept her hand in his, but he moved toward the shadows, so that their arms were held wide between them, as she tried to keep standing in the light the way modern women are taught to in a parking lot, and he tried to stay more hidden. Maybe it was being a soldier in life, or maybe it was the instinct of the dead to hide from the light. Or maybe I was being too poetic; I was so far out of my comfort zone I didn't know anymore.

I told the zombie what I'd told MacDougal, that the restaurant would be closed down and fined if anyone found out he'd been inside. "But Miss Blake, surely such laws are meant for those poor creatures that look like rotting corpses."

"How do you know what other zombies look like?" I asked.

He flinched a little, as if the way I'd phrased it bothered him. Justine stepped closer to him. "My new friends showed me images on their handheld devices."

I looked at Justine and Warrington, and Bob the tech guy.

"One of us said he didn't look like a zombie and he wanted to know what we meant," Bob said, shrugging.

"But look at me, Miss Blake." The zombie held out his hand toward me. "I am not like those poor creatures."

"You are a very lifelike zombie, if I do say so myself."

He frowned. "If the pictures and movies online are what I am supposed to be, then I am something else, Miss Blake."

It was really hard to argue with him as he looked at me, his face alight with force and emotion.

"However lifelike you appear now," Manny said, "it won't last."

"What do you mean, it won't last?"

Manny gave the zombie his best I'm-sorry-you're-grieving face. "No matter how alive you look and feel right now, you will begin to . . . rot, just like the zombies you saw on the Internet."

"I don't believe that."

"Of course you don't," I said.

"It is still true," Manny said.

The zombie frowned, and squeezed Justine's hand. "No zombie we saw on the . . . computer looked like me."

"Anita is a very, very powerful necromancer. I don't believe that anyone else could have brought you back in this state of completeness."

"Completeness," the zombie said, "yes, that's a good word. I feel complete and whole, and quite myself. Why am I not simply alive, rather than dead?"

"You're undead," I said. "It's not the same thing."

"You are engaged to marry a vampire, Ms. Blake. Is he any more alive than I am?"

I frowned at MacDougal.

"He had questions for us about how he got here, Ms. Blake. The Internet was the easiest way to explain, and when your name is typed in, the engagement story is the first thing to come up in the feed."

I sighed. "Of course it is."

"I ask you again, why am I not as alive as this Jean-Claude you love?"

Staring up into his so-alive face, I didn't have a good answer. Saying Because you're not didn't sound good enough, as he stood there holding hands with Justine.

"Because Anita isn't Jesus," Manny said.

"I don't understand what you mean by invoking our Lord and Savior," Warrington said.

"Jesus brought the dead back to life, but we can only raise zombies," Manny said.

The zombie shook his head. "Blasphemy isn't going to convince me that I am not alive."

"Isn't it blasphemy to think that I can raise the dead just like Jesus?" I asked.

"Lazarus was dead only a few days. You've been dead a lot longer than that, Mr. Warrington. Do you truly believe that Anita can do what our Lord and Savior never dared?"