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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:09

Susannah had turned and was watching, too. She didn't turn around until Nicky placed the stone on the ground, with Domino helping him steady it so it didn't fall over and break. She finally turned back to me and said, "Not human, I take it."

"Not exactly," I said.

She shook her head. "Someone who looks like your guy there, but human, please, if you're looking for me."

"Why does human matter?" I asked, not sure if I should be offended on Nicky's behalf, or not yet.

"Because if he can lift that, I do not want to be on the receiving end of him being pissed at me. I had one boyfriend in high school who hit me. He played football and was on the wrestling team. He was strong, but not that strong. I never want to be at the mercy of someone stronger than the jock who first broke my heart and my jaw."

"I'm sorry, Susannah, really sorry; that must have been awful." And just like that I had my lesson. I shouldn't assume that every woman a man bashes gave him a good reason to do it.

She nodded, and her face had too many emotions flying over it for me to read them. "It's not them turning furry once a month, Anita, or even the vampires living on blood, it's the superhuman strength that scares me. I can't deal with a boyfriend who could hurt me that badly."

"Men really can be bastards," Zerbrowski said, and this time he meant it.

"You've got a daughter, right?" she asked.

"I don't want daughters, ever. I'd worry too much." She stopped as if she meant to say more but had thought better of it. She turned and just walked off toward the grave, her father, and the rest of the men.

"Well," Zerbrowski said.

"Yeah," I said. "I didn't know you didn't like her until tonight."

"I may have to take it back; she freaked out on one of the other cops, but he's a big guy and when he drinks he has a temper."

"You think he got out of hand?" I asked.

"Not like you mean, but I bet it wouldn't take much to spook her."

"I bet you're right."

"Damn, now I have to either ask him what happened, or defend her the next time he says what a bitch she is."

"You don't really have to do either," I said.

"Yeah, I do. If I help trash someone's reputation and then find out I'm wrong, I have to fix it if I can."

"There's a reason we're friends, Zerbrowski," I said, smiling at his uncharacteristically serious face.

"Thanks, but you'd do the same thing."

I thought about it, and nodded.

He smiled. "Yeah, there's a reason we're friends, I'm the only one who's been safe from your feminine wiles."

I shook my head and smiled back. "You're not my type, and I like your wife and kids."

"It's the middle-aged thing, isn't it?"

"Nope, it's the railroad-themed pajamas; I just could never lust after someone once I knew they like little choo-choos all over their jammies."

He grinned at me. "Katie likes them."

I gave him the rolled eyes he expected and said, "So didn't want to know that."

"Let's go help dig up your zombie."

The backhoe's engine started again, as if on cue. "Let's," I said, and we walked together through the soft dark. We'd never hold hands, or go shopping, or actually share confidences about our sex lives, and we might not be partners forever; he was dangerously close to getting promoted out of the field and onto a desk full time, but we'd always be the kind of friends that you can call up at two a.m. for a favor, whether it's an exhumation order or picking the kids up from school when emergencies happen. I'd only done that last thing once, but I'd been on the list of approved names that the school was allowed to give his kids to, in case of emergency. We were damn close to the "If I had a body and needed help getting rid of it, I'd call you" phone call, but honestly we could both probably handle that one on our own. Cops can make very good bad guys, and very good friends.

IF IT HAD been a modern grave we could have used the backhoe to remove most of the dirt, but older graves weren't always as deep as they should be, and Warrington had been buried before wooden coffins were put inside metal vaults. If we dug too deep, then we might crush the coffin and the body inside it. If Warrington was a flesh-eating zombie and came out trying to kill us, then that wouldn't be so bad, but if he was just a body then we'd have screwed up the exhumation. Judges tended to get cranky if you destroyed perfectly peaceable dead citizens who had once been taxpaying good guys. Before you ask, no, we couldn't have sworn ourselves to secrecy and not told anyone we goofed, because people will talk, especially when the story is this good. I mean, I was a necromancer, nicknamed behind my back the Zombie Queen. That I and a senior member of the Regional Preternatural Investigation Squad/Team totally destroyed a grave, because we thought there was a killer zombie in it, when it was just some poor body . . . See, it's too good not to share at the bar on a Saturday night, or the next time any of them work with other cops, so the backhoe got turned off and the shovels came out.

The men who'd come to dig the coffin out got into the open grave and started doing their job. They never questioned it, and I wondered why they didn't at least ask if it was dangerous. Then I realized they probably didn't exhume many bodies buried before metal vaults went around the coffin.

I went to the graveside and looked down at the two men. The tall blond was almost waist deep in the open grave; his shorter dark-haired partner was already up to his waist in it. "Can you get out of the grave for a minute?" I asked.

The blond looked up at me, but Dark Hair kept shoveling dirt. "We'll be down to the coffin in just a few minutes, Marshal."

"I believe you; that's why I'd like you to get out of the grave."

The moonlight showed his frown clearly. It was bright tonight for being only half full. "Honest, we'll be out of your way in just a few minutes if you let us do our job."

"Nicky, Domino, get them out of there."

Nicky didn't argue, or hesitate, just reached down and pulled Dark Hair up by a handful of his thick coveralls like you'd pick up a puppy by the loose skin at the back of its neck. "Hey," the man said as his feet dangled and he got set on solid ground.

Domino had reached toward the blond, but he scrambled out on his own. "What the hell was that?" he asked. His buddy had stumbled away from Nicky like he was afraid he'd do more than just pick him up.

"Did anyone tell you why we want to exhume this body?" I asked.

"Yeah," Blondie said. "You're checking to see if it's a killer zombie."

"That's right, which means it may come out of the grave trying to eat people."

"No worries, we'll get to the metal vault and it's all yours after that."

"Did you check the date on the tombstone before you moved it?"

They looked at each other, as if they were both going to ask, Did you check? Finally Blondie said, "It's old, so what?"

"Putting a coffin in a metal vault is a modern concept. Before that it was just wood boxes, and those rot right along with the body."

They exchanged another look between them. I watched them think it through and finally Dark Hair said, "Shit."

"They said something about it being a really old body, but that was all," Blondie said.

"They didn't explain the possible danger?" I asked.

They both shook their heads.

"You might want to discuss that with your boss later, or do your own research into burial practices through the ages. It might save your lives."

"Are you saying the zombie could be just a few feet down and . . ." Blondie stopped and stared into the hole as if it suddenly had a sign above it that read, Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

"It's possible," I said.

"They don't pay us enough to risk getting eaten alive," Blondie said.

"Fuck, no," Dark Hair said.

"You guys wait over there until it's time to put the dirt back in; we'll take it from here for a while."

to walk away with the shovels still in their hands.

"We'll need the shovels."

They looked at them as if they weren't sure they were willing to give them up. "If you break them, the cost comes out of our paycheck."

"We'll do our best not to break them," I said, and held out my hand.

Blondie started to hand me his shovel, but Nicky interceded and took it instead. "I'll dig for you."

Domino took the other shovel. "We're paid to do the heavy lifting, right?"

"You know my rule, I don't let anyone take chances I won't take myself."

"Yeah, and we love you for it," Domino said, "but you're the only one who can control the zombie. Nicky and I can dig."

"They're right, Anita," Manny said.

"I don't want them in harm's way either."

"One of us will dig, and the other one can cover with the rifle," Nicky said.

I thought about it and finally said, "Okay, Nicky covers with the AR, Domino digs."

"Why does he get to cover and I have to dig?"

"Because he's a better shot than you with a long gun," I said.

"He's not better than I am with a handgun."

"No, he's not, and if we empty all the rifles and go for handguns feel free to join, but since we're starting with the AR, he watches your back while you dig."