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

"We'll kill whoever told you, he typed."

"Anita, try and make the zombie do something that he's not ordering," Gillingham said.

"I can't do that to someone else's zombie, and I sure as hell can't do it over a computer like this."

"Stop saying can't and try, damn it. Don't you understand, if he thinks someone ratted them out, they'll start killing people that they suspect."

"Fine, type: Then kill yourself, because your power called to me. You told me you existed."

"Repeat it slower," Brent said.

It was so long before he replied I thought we'd lost him, but he sent back, "I thought I could hide."

"Tell him, a power as great as his shines out. It attracts the dead and those who work with the dead."

"That's bullshit, right?" Manning asked.

"Yeah, if I hadn't seen the videos I wouldn't have known he existed, but he doesn't know that."

"I've felt your power, too, Anita, he says."

"More bullshit," Manning said.

"Maybe not," Gillingham said. "Anita shines bright even to me, but to someone who raises the dead she might come up on their radar."

"It doesn't matter if it's true or not, I just want him to stay on the line so they can trace him," I said.

"You're trying to keep us on the line so you can trace us, he says," Brent read.

"Make the zombie do something, Anita," Gillingham said.

"That may make him hang up," I said.

"He's going to hang up soon anyway."

"I don't believe you felt my energy, Anita. Who told you?"

"Make the zombie move, Anita."

I said it out loud as I thought it at her, "Walk toward the door."

I repeated it. "Please God, let her hear me."

She took a step toward the door. The man's voice said, "Stop moving."

"Walk," I said, and willed her to do it.

She took another step.

"Stop!" He yelled it, and she obeyed.

To Brent I said, "Type, 'Your power called to me. Did you really think you could do this and I wouldn't know?'"

He typed and read the response, "How are you doing that? How are you giving it orders?"

I thought, and prayed, "Talk to me, I'll hear you."

The zombie said, "Ruthie, my name is Ruthie Sylvester."

"Shut up!" he screamed.

"Help me! Oh, God, help me!" she yelled.

"Come on, tell us where you are," Brent whispered.

"Give us a clue," I said.

"Illinois, he took me in Chicago."

He screamed, "Shut up!" To the actor who was standing there waiting for direction, someone offscreen said, "Hit her."

He hit her hard enough that she fell to the floor, but she kept talking. "Melvin's Diner, Trust Bank, Lucky Lady strip club."

The man in the corner rushed out into camera view. Short black hair, trimmed neat, and a hooded sweatshirt with a design on it. He grabbed the zombie's arm and the moment he touched her she stopped talking. I could still feel her energy and his now, but I couldn't hear her in my head. His touching her had put her back under his control. Damn it.

He kept his face turned away, but he spoke to me, not to the zombie when he said, "Anita, I've wanted to meet you."

"Type: We should have coffee sometime and talk."

A voice off camera read back my words to him. He laughed. "A coffee date with Anita Blake, my mother would be so happy."

The screen went blank. I couldn't feel the zombie anymore except as a vague sensation. "I'll know that zombie again when I get close enough to it, but I can't hear her now."

"They cut the feed," Brent said. "They're gone."

"What was all that the zombie was saying?" Gillingham asked.

"Clues," Manning said.

"She was trying to tell us things she'd heard or seen, to help us locate her, I think," Brent said. He typed in what we could remember, and then went back over the screen capture of the video for any place in Illinois that had a Trust Bank, Melvin's Diner, and a Lucky Lady strip club.

"Trust Bank is a Midwest chain, that's not helpful. There are about twenty Melvin's or Mel's Diners across the country, but there's only one Lucky Lady strip club. Holy shit! We may know what city they're in!"

I prayed that he was right, and that we found them soon, and I said thank you, because when God lets you hear the prayers of the dead, well, He's pulling out some serious stops for you. I was grateful. I'd be even more grateful when we found Ruthie Sylvester and set her soul free, set all the souls free that we'd seen imprisoned on the videos. Then I wanted the animator, or voodoo priest, or whatever the fuck he called himself punished to the full extent the law allowed. If we could prove that he'd killed any of the girls so he could trap their souls at the moment of death, then it was an automatic death sentence, because it would fall under the magical malfeasance acts. If someone killed with magic or for magical purposes, they were treated like rogue vampires or shapeshifters. It was the only time a warrant of execution could be issued specifically for a live human being. I hoped we proved it. I didn't have to be the one to pull the trigger on him, but for this, he needed killing. I'd have apologized to God about that whole vengeful thing, but I'd read the Old Testament; I was pretty sure He'd be okay if we helped Him out with that whole "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord," just this once. I felt that little pulse that I got sometimes when I prayed; it usually meant that I'd get what I asked for, or at least He was listening. Holy Wrath of God, Batman, your ass was going to be ours soon, you soul-trapping son of a bitch.

THREE DAYS LATER I was standing in the room where they'd filmed the videos. It was really half a room, with the other half set up with a box of props and even a makeup area, as if the zombies, or their customers, really cared that much. I stood looking down at the bed that had been the main prop for all that horror and thought aloud, "Where are you, you son of a bitch?" Apparently, I said it out loud.

"Did you say something, Marshal?" Gillingham was sitting at the mirrored makeup area in her Windbreaker with FBI emblazoned on it, but then I was in my U.S. Marshal's version of the same. We were both wearing our body armor, which was standard for most fieldwork.

"Sorry, talking more to myself, just wondering where the hell our bad guy is."

"We caught a lot of bad guys," she said, and turned around to face me. She looked more herself somehow in the dark pants and boots than she had in the costume conservative skirt outfit. The only thing still the same was the upper layer of her hair being held back by a barrette, and the lack of makeup, but that part was pretty standard for most female operatives in the field.

"We caught a lot of the guys helping make the videos, but they swear they didn't know if he trapped the soul at the moment of death, which means they didn't think they were doing anything illegal."

"If they didn't know the zombies might be murder victims then they weren't."

"See, that's the thing, regular zombies always kill their murderer. They are unreasoning, almost unstoppable killing machines until they strangle or tear apart the person who murdered them, but these were as pliable as a normal zombie."

"And you have no idea why," she said.

"No, not really. It's almost as if the soul going into them so soon after death prevented the normal homicidal fixation to kick in."

"More's the pity," she said.

"Yeah, that would have been a short, unpleasant career for him. Instead he's still out there somewhere able to start all this over, or worse."

"He could make the perfect sex slave if he knows how to give control over to a customer the way Dominga Salvador did. Hell, I know how to bind a zombie to a client so they can control it for a day or two. With the soul intact and never coming out, the zombie might be able to pass for human indefinitely."

"Do you honestly believe that no one would notice it was the undead?"

r /> ? I thought about Thomas Warrington. "If you could keep the mind and body from ever rotting, and retain the personality, hell, Teresa, the zombie itself might not know it was dead."

"But it would never age, eventually someone would notice that," she said.

"That could take decades," I said.

"Mother of God." She whispered it and crossed herself. Funny what habits stay with us in times of stress.

The FBI hostage rescue unit, HRU, had been the ones that raided the place once everyone figured out where it was, because they were closer, and though in the movies it would have been just our little band of agents and psychics, in real life you didn't make potential hostages wait eight hours for rescue, or give the bad guys an eight-hour head start on destroying evidence and fleeing the country. So Manning, Brent, Gillingham, Larry, and I had come late to the party.

They'd found the zombies, including Ruthie Sylvester, in the basement, lying in a heap like someone had swept the garbage up in the center of the room, except this center had been an altar. I'd only seen pictures of the zombies piled up, but they'd left the broken shards of pottery and glass scattered around the bodies, and the chalk drawings that covered the floor and the walls were still there, so that there was only a narrow walkway through it all. The drawings were verve symbols meant to draw and keep power in a place. It was the inner sanctum of a voodoo priest, or priestess, and it was damn near identical to the setup that Dominga Salvador had had almost seven years ago in her basement in St. Louis. She had had extra rooms off of her altar room though, and they had contained more of her creations. She'd learned how to take dead flesh and melt it together like wet clay and make monsters. She'd used human and animal zombie remains so it had been particularly horror-show worthy. The practitioner in New Mexico who could do it had used only human parts, so his haunted me more, but I was still glad that the new guy couldn't do it.

They'd brought in a voodoo expert, who was still here when we arrived. I'd asked him if the basement setup had to be that way, or was there room for variation. He said there was room for variation, but he wasn't a follower of voodoo, only an academic, so I didn't trust him to have real world knowledge, because he didn't.