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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:25

"That's another thing I don't like about necromancers: You can kill them, but that doesn't always stop them."

"Treat necromancers like master vampires, Jarvis. Take the head and heart, burn all of it, and scatter the ashes in three different bodies of water."

"Are you really saying that's what you want done at your death?"

"It's in my will, so yeah," I said.

He studied me for a minute. "You're afraid you'll come back."

"You're marrying a vampire, why don't you want to come back?"

"Because the only necromancers I've seen come back aren't vampires, they're just super-killing zombies, and I don't want that."

"You know you're a monster, don't you?" he said.

Gillingham said, "Agent Jarvis!" like he'd shocked her.

"I'm outta here. At least in St. Louis they're more open-minded than this."

"I'm open-minded, Blake, I just think you're dangerous, more dangerous than anyone knows. Maybe more dangerous than you know."

I shook my head, and said, "Bye, Teresa, I hope you don't drink too much of this man's Kool-Aid."

She made a point of shaking my hand; good for her. I hunted up Manning and Brent to say good-bye and good luck. They did show me good still-frame pictures of the one zombie that "Sir" took with him. She was dark complected, maybe Hispanic, maybe Greek, or southern Italian like our missing bad guy. She was pretty, with long dark hair and brown eyes that were terrified in every picture.

I said good-bye to all the agents in sight that I wanted to talk to. Larry was staying on with the rest of the Kool-Aid squad, but he apologized for Jarvis and seemed to mean it. I wished them all happy hunting and left for the airport. It was time for me to go home.

I'D LEFT MY SUV at airport parking, because I hadn't had any idea how long I'd be out of state. The men in my life had tried picking me up from the airport for a while, but it only worked if I had a set schedule. Crime-fighting was hard to schedule, but I didn't mind as I drove home from the airport in the soft spring dark, or was that early-summer dark? May was one of those months that could be either in St. Louis, late-summer cool or almost midsummer hot. The calendar could say summer started at some arbitrary astronomical event, but the weather really got the last vote.

My phone rang and the Bluetooth headset actually worked again; I don't know why that kept surprising me. "Hello, Blake here."

"I hate to ask, but Connie and Tomas went to pick up her dress and Tomas's tuxedo from the bridal shop, and now Connie's car won't start. I've asked everybody I can think of to go get them."

"They can't call AAA?" I asked.

"Tomas has to be on a bus for State tonight."

There was a time in my life when I wouldn't have understood how important that was, but that was before Sin got into sports, and I learned that colleges started scouting as early as junior high. "Okay, tell me where they are and I'll make sure Tomas is on the bus."

"Oh, Anita, you saved my life. Seriously, Rosita will kill me; I wasn't supposed to work tonight."

"I take it Bert persuaded you otherwise."

"I have one kid in college and a big wedding to pay for; Bert didn't have to persuade very hard. But I am covered in animal blood, and if I get any of it on the wedding clothes at this late date Rosita and Connie will both kill me."

I laughed. "Where are the bride-to-be and Tomas?"

He gave me the address for Pearls of Happiness Bridal. I made him repeat the name, hoping I'd misheard.

"I know the area, they've got an old cemetery near there. I'll make sure the clothes arrive unstained."

"Thank you, Anita, I owe you."

"You do, but Rosita is going to give me all sorts of wedding info about caterers and things, so maybe it will all even out."

"Rosita and I married in her mother's backyard, but for our eldest daughter's wedding it had to be the big deal."

"Rosita seems happier than I've ever heard her."

"She's talking about starting a wedding coordinator business, can you believe it, my Rosita?"

"Tomas is thirteen; she's probably seeing her days as a stay-at-home mom ending."

"But a new business beginning just as I'm thinking of retiring?"

"I didn't know you were thinking of retiring, Manny."

"Rosita and I had always planned for it when I was sixty, less than five years away."

"Maybe she'll go to work and you can be a stay-at-home dad for Tomas's high school years."

"Bite your tongue," he said, "and thank you for the rescue."

"No problem, Manny." We hung up and I headed for the bridal shop. I was probably going to have to start thinking about dresses myself soon. God, I hated to shop, and I shuddered at the thought of what kind of dress Jean-Claude would prefer for me. I really hoped he was joking about having crowns made for our wedding, but I was pretty sure he was serious.

I did a group text at a long light, letting them know I was on the ground, and had to rescue Manny's kids, and that I loved them. I got love back from everyone but Jean-Claude, and he might already be onstage at Guilty Pleasures. He was just announcing acts, not actually dancing tonight, but he still turned his phone off so it wouldn't disturb the atmosphere he was creating for the customers, and yes, that last was his phrasing, not mine.

The last time I'd seen Connie and Tomas had been the company picnic for Animators Inc. last year. Manny had warned me that his son had grown four inches since then, so I was prepared to not recognize Tomas, but Connie was twenty-five. I knew what she looked like, but I couldn't remember what kind of car she drove. Damn, I should have asked.

I called Manny back, and asked. "Silver Chevy Sonic, and I'll send you both their cell phone numbers just in case. I'm about to have to turn my phone off for the ceremony."

"It's okay, Manny, I got this." He thanked me again, and we hung up.

I had no idea what a Chevy Sonic looked like, but rather than ask, when I stopped at a red light, I Googled the car and there were all sorts of pictures of it. It was a smallish, midsize car and sort of roundish. I was not one of those cops that could rattle off car makes and models, or give a great description of a car from a crime scene. If there was an animal involved, that I could describe like gangbusters, but cars puzzled me.

Connie's car was in the parking lot. She'd even parked under a light, and close to the bridal shop, whose bright windows were advertising prom dresses more than anything else. I guess it was that time of year. It was brightly lit and neither of Manny's kids were in sight.

I parked beside the car, got out, and peeked inside it. There was a large garment bag on a hanger laid carefully on the backseat. I guess Connie hadn't wanted to risk wrinkling her wedding dress. I didn't blame her. There were two small garment bags hanging up. One was probably Tomas's tux. No idea what the other smaller bag was, some mysterious wedding thing that I'd probably be learning about soon enough.

Maybe they'd gone back into Pearls of Happiness, though I hated the name enough to never go near it. But if there wasn't a Combat Bride shop I'd probably go someplace equally saccharine. They had just gone back in to call AAA, though they both had cell phones. I took a deep breath, let it out slow, and tried to tell the tight feeling in my gut that they'd just gone back inside the shop for some reason. Being a cop of any flavor tended to make you paranoid. The paranoia wasn't always right.

I went to the bridal shop, telling myself that they'd be there. Maybe they had to use the bathroom? It didn't have to be something bad. I just needed to tell the cop part of me to lighten up. It was so bright inside the shop that it almost hurt after being out in the dark parking lot.

A woman in a nice but conservative black dress hurried forward, smiling. "Hello, I'm Anne, welcome to Pearls of Happiness, we're here for all your bridal needs, how may I help you tonight?"

I wondered if I'd looked young enough, would the slogan have

been "for all your prom needs"? "Hi, Anne, I'm looking for Connie and Tomas Rodriguez; her car broke down and they called me to help out."

"Oh, yes, Connie did come in and say something like that. She was going to wait for a friend, and her brother had some kind of important sports thing at school."

I forced myself to smile wider. "Yes, Tomas is going to State. In fact, I need to get him to his bus ASAP, so if you could just tell them I'm here."

She frowned and looked flustered. "They went back out to get the bridal gown; Connie didn't want to leave it in the car, you know how brides are."

I didn't actually, but I nodded and smiled, and said, "The dress is in the car still, but Connie and Tomas aren't in the parking lot."