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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:27

She was screaming wordlessly, in between threatening to kill Max, and she was seriously trying to get away and get to him. I wasn't a hundred percent sure she wouldn't try to kill him when she got there, so I held on. It would be a bitch to save her life and have her spend the rest of it in prison for being the one that struck the final blow on Max's ass. At least she didn't kick.

The ambulance came down the gravel road in full lights and sirens. The paramedics spilled out and started to go for Max, but the guys waved them off and pointed to the crypt. I thought the paramedics might argue, but in the end they went in to see what SWAT wanted them to triage first. It actually wasn't a good sign that they brought Tomas out first on the gurney, with all the damage visible on the grass out front. It meant he was hurt enough that they chose him over Max, who was lying in a pool of blood almost bigger than his body, and a "woman" whose side was blown open.

I put Connie down and let her run to Tomas. They didn't argue with her getting in the ambulance with the one paramedic and the stretcher, though there'd be precious little room for her in the back. I was left to call Manny and tell him what hospital they were headed to, and then the ambulance was off in a spill of gravel, lights decorating the night, sirens leaving the night quieter than it actually was just by getting farther away.

Manny thanked me, and it was all I could do not to say, don't thank me yet, thank me after your son wakes up, but I knew better than that. I took his gratitude and turned back to the two problems lying on the grass among the graves--Max and the zombie. Connie had said her name was Estrella. It was Spanish for star. Jesus.

She was still screaming, and I guess I couldn't blame her. We'd need to find the jar, or whatever had been used to hold her soul, but if it was in her body now, would destroying the bottle free her soul? Would she end up like Warrington, put back in the ground, but alive and aware down there? I didn't know. I just didn't know enough about what he'd done to her, but I knew how to find out.

I walked toward Max where he lay in a dark pool of his own blood. If he could still talk, he'd tell me everything I wanted to know, because a warrant of execution meant I could kill him any way I wanted to do it. If I chose carefully, it could hurt a lot before that last moment. People tell you all sorts of things if you scare them enough, and pain scares most people.

Sutton was in front of me like a black wall, because I was staring at about his upper stomach. Why were so many men on special teams, police or military, so damn big? "Hudson called an ambulance, Blake."

"She's a zombie and he's a dead man walking," I said.

"You don't have a warrant of execution, Blake."

I stopped trying to walk around him. I couldn't remember the last time I'd shot someone and hadn't had a warrant for their death. It meant that I had almost carte blanche on what I did to him, or how I did it.

"We need him to tell us how to set her soul free before the ambulance gets here, Sutton. He's bleeding out, scared, and in pain; this is our best chance to get him to tell me how to free her so she won't be scared anymore."

"I couldn't have taken the shot tonight, Blake. I couldn't have shot her."

"I knew she was already dead, Sutton. I'd seen her picture as a zombie, you hadn't."

"He was going to put that knife in Connie Rodriguez's heart and I would have hesitated, because I didn't want to shoot a zombie."

"Lucky you had me to take the shot," I said.

"Hudson greenlighted you, but you still didn't have a warrant of execution. You'll be seeing Internal Affairs on this one, Blake, and you won't have the warrant to keep them off your back."

"Whoever shot him inside the crypt will be seeing them, too. What's good for the gander is good for the goose. Are you delaying me from questioning Max over there for a reason?"

"You can't lay a hand on him, not a fingertip, nothing. You've never had to do this without the warrant absolving you of damn everything. I need you to remember that before we walk over there."

I took in a deep breath, let it out slow, and nodded. "Thanks for the reminder, Sutton."

"You took the shot I couldn't. Next time you tell me someone is already dead, I'll believe you."

"If we get this son of a bitch off the streets, we may not have to debate zombies again." To myself, I thought, unless it's one of my zombies, but if it's one of mine, then I'll take care of it myself. I really hoped I never raised another one as "real" as Warrington. No more cows as blood sacrifices.

We went to stand with Montague and Hill over the handcuffed bad guy. I stayed up on my tac boots and didn't kneel down in the blood, but I stood in the pool of it so I could be sure Max could see my face. He was lying on his stomach and in obvious pain, so he might not be tracking well.

"Hello, Max, nice to meet face-to-face, isn't it?" I smiled when I said it.

He looked at me, and the hatred on his face . . . if he could have done instant magic something very bad would have happened to me right then. But he couldn't, and vaguely I realized there'd been verve drawn in chalk all over the inside of the crypt. I just hadn't realized I'd seen it, until that moment. I'd been too focused on Manny's family to worry about details.

"Anita Blake, at least you didn't get to shoot me yourself."

I smiled wider. "The first bullet was mine, Max."

"Liar, their sniper took me."

"The sniper didn't believe that Estrella was a zombie, they wouldn't take the shot. You almost got to kill Manny's daughter, your half-sister, but I stopped you."

"He'll still lose a son tonight."

"Tomas is on his way to a hospital. He'll be fine." No, I didn't know that was true yet, but I hoped it was, and it would upset Max. I wanted him upset. "Now, if you mean Manny will lose you tonight, I'm all for that."

"They called an ambulance, because you missed your shot."

"She didn't miss her shot," Sutton said from where he towered over us.

Max craned his neck to look at him. It looked awkward and painful for him; good. "She took you through the side, under the arm, your heart should be gone."

"Blake didn't miss, and neither did I," Hudson said coming up behind us. "He was trying to bring his gun up and shoot the boy when we got inside the crypt. His one arm isn't working too good, or he'd have done it. I shot him twice in the chest so I didn't risk hitting the boy. I wonder what would happen if he got shot in the head?"

"You don't have a warrant of execution, so you've lost your chance to shoot me in the head."

"Oh, Max, you should know that when it comes to people using magic to kill people, I'll get another chance at blowing your head off. But if you tell us how to free Estrella's soul, to give her peace, maybe they won't give me a warrant for you. Judges still don't like putting out execution warrants on humans."

"I want her afraid. I want her to know what is happening to her."

"She doesn't believe she's a zombie, Max. She

doesn't really know what's happening to her, does she?"

"Maximiliano," he said.

"What?" Hudson asked.

"My name is Maximiliano." He wasn't having any trouble breathing, though he had three bullet holes in his chest.

"Okay, Maximiliano, I'll play," I said. "How do we free her soul?"

"You'll never find what contains her soul, and even if you do, you won't know how to free her."

"We can just sit here and watch you bleed out," I said. Actually, technically, police weren't allowed to do that. They could triage the victims over the perpetrators, but they had to give medical aid where needed. Ironically, if the first bullet killed the bad guy, then it was done, but if you just wounded him you could go from trying to kill him, to having to try to save his life. Sometimes the rules for regular cops were just too confusing for me.

"I'll still be alive when the ambulance gets here," he said.

I hunkered in a little closer to him, my boots in his blood. The last time I'd seen another animator that could heal like a zombie, or a vampire, he'd had a spell helping him. "What have you done to yourself, Maximiliano? Am I going to find a gris-gris on you somewhere?"

His eyes widened just a touch, his shoulders reacting to it.

"What's a gris-gris?" Hudson asked.

"It'll be something he wears, so probably a bracelet, or armband. It'll never come off, because it needs to touch his skin at all times to work, doesn't it, Maximiliano?"

He was watching me now, and not nearly as happy with himself.

"It's a spell, and it's what let him take three bullets to the chest and keep on ticking. But they'll cut your clothes and jewelry off at the emergency room, so they can treat your wounds. What happens when they cut the gris-gris off, Max?"