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

Domino didn't like it, but he couldn't argue with my reasoning, so he climbed into the grave and started digging with Nicky beside him, rifle pointed down at the dirt in case something tried to grab them. I got to stand beside the grave and watch the dirt for signs of wood, or pale flesh, or anything that wasn't dirt. I could have unleashed my necromancy and searched the ground for the body, but I was afraid that even that little bit of power might push the zombie awake, if it was dead to the world again. I was so far out of known territory that I was afraid to do much of anything but wait to see the body, or the zombie, or whatever Warrington was now. The fact that even I couldn't define what he was, or wasn't, bothered me a lot. I was a necromancer, the first true one in centuries; if I didn't know what was going on, then no one did. We were so screwed, because I had no one I could ask for advice, or help. I'd killed the last two necromancers that I'd met. They'd been trying to kill me first, so it was self-defense, but still it would have been nice to have someone to consult with--maybe I could ask some other animators and we could coffee-klatch? The trouble was, I knew that Manny knew less than I did about all this, and he'd trained me. That didn't make me hopeful about getting real advice from anyone else in the field. Yes, I was trying to think of anything but the fact that one man I was in love with, and another that I liked a lot, both of them my lovers, were in a grave digging up a flesh-eating zombie, and all I could do was watch and wait while they endangered themselves. I liked being in the front of the charge, not leading from the rear.

With the rifle tucked up tight against his shoulder and cheek, Nicky asked, "Do I shoot at the first movement, or wait to see what he does?"

It was a great question; my answer wasn't nearly as great. "I'm not sure."

"Better be sure soon," Domino said, as he stripped off his jacket and tossed it out of the grave. His guns were very stark against the whiteness of his T-shirt, even by the light of the moon.

He was right. It wasn't like me to waffle so much; I was usually yes or no. Manny touched my arm. "If he's still moving, they need to shoot him, Anita."

I nodded, but I didn't give the order.

"Why are you hesitating?" he asked.

"I think I feel guilty."

"Feel guilty, but do what is needed."

I nodded, and said, "If he grabs for either of you, shoot him."

"Thanks, Manny," Domino said as he went back to shoveling dirt onto the edge of the pile the backhoe had already made beside the grave.

"He heard that?" Manny asked.

"He can hear your heartbeat from feet away," I said.

"Yards away if it's beating hard," Domino said, without looking up or hesitating as he shoveled.

Manny gave me wide eyes, shrugged, and smiled. I almost asked him if he had any friends who were shapeshifters, but if he did they'd be very careful around him to appear as human as possible. If I told him that, he'd just be uncomfortable around them next time they socialized, so I let it go. A lot of friendships are based on partial truths and work for years.

"Do I stop when I reach the coffin?"

"The coffin may not be intact, so if you touch wood just stop and we'll reevaluate."

"How not intact?" Nicky asked, rifle still pointed very seriously down at the dirt.

"Maybe not there at all," Manny said.

"So I'll hit body before I hit wood?" Domino asked.

"A lot of maybes tonight," he said.

He glanced up at me. "You're not even going to apologize for it?"

We had a moment of looking at each other. "You're the boss," he said, and went back to digging.

"Maybe more scraping the dirt than digging," Manny said, "so the body isn't damaged."

"If it's moving, I intend to damage it."

I wanted to tell them, Don't. This was my fault, somehow this was my fault, because I hadn't known Warrington had been a cannibal? That was ridiculous; there was no way for me to have known that. It was his deepest, darkest secret; he wouldn't have written it down where someone could find it, read it, know. I had done my due diligence. Both the research firm we used for searches and our office staff had found out everything they could on him and checked for the red flags that would have made me pass on the job. So why did I feel like I'd done something wrong?

Domino was scraping smaller scoops of dirt now, looking to see what he was hitting with the bladed edge of the shovel. Nicky was very seriously watching the ground underneath them for movement. Manny and I were here to help control the zombie if it woke ready to eat people. Susannah and Eddie were close by with hoods in place, so we could all scatter and they could fry the zombie. We had it covered, but I was supposed to be the big bad necromancer who knew everything there was to know about the undead. It had been a long time since I'd been caught this flat-footed by a zombie that I'd raised from the grave. I'd been surprised badly by other people's undead, but never by my own. Was it professional pride that was hurting? I didn't know. I just didn't know why this was hitting me so hard, but it was; it really was.

"Movement!" Nicky said, voice loud, but the rifle never wavered.

Domino sprang out of the grave like magic, one minute in the grave, the next not, as if he'd translocated, not just leapt up like the cat he could be. Nicky stayed on post in the grave. I moved up with the shotgun, trying to see what he had noticed. The dirt looked black and empty to me.

"Get out, I'll cover you," I said.

"Maybe it was a mole or something," Zerbrowski said, peering into the grave.

"Not unless it's bigger than any mole I ever saw," Nicky said.

"No self-respecting mole would stay around this much digging," I said. I had the shotgun tucked in tight to my shoulder, my cheek sighting down the barrel, while I looked for movement. "Get out of it, Nicky, that's an order."

He had to do what I told him to do as my Bride, though my own desire for him to be more independent had made it not as automatic as it had once been. He grabbed the edge of the grave and started to jump out when I saw the ground heave, a second before a hand grabbed his ankle.

I couldn't fire that close to Nicky's leg without risking hitting him. He tried to leap out of the grave the way Domino had done, and if a human, or even another lycanthrope, had grabbed him he could have done it, but the dead hold on tighter than the living. Nicky made it to the edge of the grave and halfway onto the ground, where Domino grabbed him and helped pull him forward, but it didn't free him from the zombie's hand. It pulled the hand, the arm, and part of a T-shirted shoulder into sight, but the han

d stayed tight to Nicky's ankle.

I had my finger on the trigger, half-pulled, when I heard something that made me hesitate. A voice calling, "Help me!"

Warrington was down there, alert, awake, and craving flesh. He was down there begging for help. Motherfucking son of a bitch.

"SHOOT IT!" DOMINO said.

"Shoot it!" Manny said.

Zerbrowski had his own gun out and pointed.

Domino was fighting to keep Nicky from being pulled back into the grave. Nicky's fingers were digging into the ground like he was trying to grow roots, which let me know the zombie was pulling hard.

"I won't let him hurt you, Nicky," I said.

"I trust you," he said.

"Anita, shoot the damned thing," Domino yelled.

I kept my eyes on the grave, the shotgun snugged up tight, ready to shoot. "Can you hear it, Manny?"

"So can I, so what, shoot it!" Domino said.

"Help Nicky pull the zombie up."

"What?" Domino asked.

Even Zerbrowski said, "Anita . . ."

"I do," Zerbrowski said, "you know that."

"Thank you. Nicky, can you help Warrington get his face aboveground?"

"If Domino helps steady me and the zombie keeps holding on, yes."

"He won't let go," I said.

"I'll help you hold on, but this is crazy," Domino said. He got an even better grip on Nicky. Manny was shaking his head, but he knelt down and helped hold Nicky, though I wasn't sure either of them needed the help. Zerbrowski stayed with his handgun pointed at the arm and the body underneath.

Susannah came up to the grave and was looking in at the zombie. "Anita, get your guy out of there and let us do our job."

She took off the big silver helmet and said, "Anita, how can you endanger someone you're dating?"

"Back up, Susannah, give me room to work."

"I don't have time to explain. Warrington, Mr. Warrington, can you hear me?"

The screaming just kept repeating, "Help me! Help!"

"We're coming, Warrington, we're coming."

The scream changed to, "Ms. Blake, Ms. Blake, help me!"

"Jesus," Domino said.

"What is it?" Manny asked.

"Bring him up a little, Nicky." I kept the shotgun on him. If he tried to bite Nicky I'd blow his head off, but I was hoping I wouldn't have to do that.