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

"Maximiliano, and you will stop them from cutting it off of me, because you know it is keeping me alive. It would be the same as shooting me in the head now that I am handcuffed and no longer a danger to anyone."

He was right, unfortunately, but I still didn't hear the second ambulance so we had time to play with him. If I played well enough maybe he'd help us stop the zombie that was sobbing behind us.

I drew one of the smaller silver-edged blades from a wrist sheath.

"What are you going to do, Blake?" Hudson asked.

"Search him for magic. If he has a gris-gris to help heal himself, he could have other things on him that could harm us."

"We patted him down," Hill said.

"Magic can hide better than a gun," I said. I moved closer to him, and he started struggling so that Hill and Montague had to kneel down and hold him for me. Sutton finally knelt on his legs, because Max didn't want me near him with the knife. There had to be more than just the gris-gris for him to be this upset, or there had to be something about the gris-gris that he didn't want me to see. Either way, I was going to search him for dangerous magical objects, and I was going to make it thorough.

"Hold him still, boys, I wouldn't want to cut him by accident." I started at the shoulder of his shirt, along the seam. I wanted his sleeves off first. I kept my blades sharp; it didn't take much to slice through the seams and start peeling down the cloth to expose the smooth skin of his arms. He kept trying to move, but he had three large men sitting on him who knew how to subdue and hold someone. His right arm was clean, no jewelry at all.

I duck walked to his left side and he tried to struggle harder. They leaned on him more, forcing his face down into the pool of his own blood. He was afraid now. Why? I couldn't cut it off him now that we all knew it was helping keep him alive; he was right about that. It would take weeks or longer of court hearings to get permission to take the gris-gris off him, and by that time his body would have healed enough that he might not die when it was removed, unfortunately. But he knew that, so why was he afraid? Was there something else on him that he didn't want us to see?

I peeled his left sleeve down and there it was on his upper arm, snugged in tight so it dimpled his flesh. "That's a gris-gris. They don't have to be armbands. A lot of them are small bags on a cord, but for magic that keeps you this alive when you're this hurt, you'll want it attached to you."

I put up my knife and started to fish for the small flashlight I kept in one of the many pockets on the tac pants. Most of them held extra ammo, but not all of them. Hudson figured out what I was doing and hunkered down beside me with his own flashlight.

It was a band made of black hair woven together. I looked at his short black hair. It wasn't long enough to do this. Then the light picked up a strand of blond hair, and paler brown, and another shade of brown, and another blond. I touched Hudson's wrist and used it to move the light. There was hair to match every zombie I'd seen on the videos.

"You son of a bitch," I said.

"What is it, Blake?" Sutton asked.

"The smaller pieces of hair woven around the main band match all the zombies on the sex tapes. DNA will double-check that it belongs to all his victims, but the main hair is going to be Estrella's, isn't it, you fucking son of a bitch?"

"Not so chatty now, are you, Max?"

"I am Maximiliano," he said, though his voice was strained, because Hill was forcing his face down into the grass and blood.

"I don't care if you're Mother Teresa, you are going to die for this."

"I took hair from them, that doesn't prove I killed anyone."

"The hair doesn't, but a few voodoo expert witnesses, and all the practitioners of your faith will tell the truth, Max. They won't want to be anywhere near this kind of soul debt to the loa, or whatever else you invoked to do this piece of evil shit."

"Tell us what you see, Blake," Hudson said.

"He didn't tell us we wouldn't find the bottle that held Estrella's soul. He said I'd never find what contains her soul, and if I did, I wouldn't know how to free her."

"What's the significance?" Hill asked.

"Yeah, I don't understand," Montague said.

"What?" Montague asked.

"He's tied Estrella's soul to that gris-gris and him."

"That's not possible," Maximiliano said. "Everyone will tell you it's not possible."

"They will, but you figured it out anyway, didn't you, you evil piece of shit?"

"You'll never prove it, and you'll never get anyone to be able to explain the spell to a jury, or a judge."

"We'll find someone," Hudson said.

"It's an original spell," I said. "Like his mother before him, he's real creative when it comes to evil."

He gave a small smile. Hill pressed a knee harder into his shoulders, leaning more into the neck and head to grind him into the bloody grass. "Don't smile," Hudson said.

"He's used soul magic, which isn't even supposed to work, to trap Estrella and use her soul, her being a zombie, to give him some of the same ability to take damage, but he'll heal, unlike her."

"You mean she's stuck like that, with a hole in her side?" Sutton asked.

"Zombies can't heal injuries, so if we can't free her soul, yeah."

Max smiled again. Hill ground more weight into holding him down. Max finally made a noise that sounded like pain, so he could still feel it; good.

He spoke between gritted teeth. "I did not expect someone to shoot a hole in her."

"You shouldn't have used her as a shield then," I said.

I could hear sirens now; the ambulance was on its way.

"What can we do for her then?" Hill asked.

"Hope that sunup steals her mind away, and she's only afraid at night."

"Her soul doesn't vanish with the sunrise," he said, voice still strained.

All the men leaned harder on him, grinding him into the ground and making him bleed faster, but it wouldn't kill him. Until we either removed the gris-gris, or found a way to destroy Estrella's zombie, he might not be able to die. Why is it that the really evil bastards are so fucking afraid of death? Cowards, such cowards.

It was two ambulances, and we had to let the paramedics take him, and her, though once they found out she was a zombie they seemed at a loss. One EMT asked me, "Can we sedate a zombie? Can we make her comfortable?"

Then I realized that I'd been stupid, so caught up in the monstrous parts of what talent with the dead could do that I'd forgotten there might be better uses for my gifts. I went over to the zombie where she was strapped to the gurney, still whimpering and saying it hurt. I doubted it really hurt, but it could have been like phantom limb pain in an amputee. Some of them can feel pain in their missing parts for years afterward. Estrella expected the wound to hurt, so it did, and it certainly was scaring the hell out of her. If I'd known I couldn't free her soul tonight, I'd have still shot through her to save Connie, but I would have regretted it beforehand a bit more.

She looked up at me with wide, dark eyes. I took her hand in mine and aimed my necromancy at her. I thought, Be calm, don't be afraid. I whispered it to her, and watched her face lose some of the terror, felt her body relax.

Max yelled, "What are you doing, Anita?"

I ignored him, but Estrella jumped, flinching and whimpering. She knew his voice all right, and it meant bad things. "He can't hurt you anymore, Estrella. You're safe." That was both true and a lie, but it filled her eyes with calm again. It helped her relax.

"She's mine! Her soul is mine! Mine!"

I smiled down at the pretty face, the calm zombie that didn't know it was dead. She smiled back. "You're safe. Calm."

"I'm safe, calm," she repeated.

I patted her hand and put it on top of the blanket they'd strapped over her, as they moved her toward the ambulance. I went to talk to Max before they loaded him. We were going to accompany that am

bulance, because when Hudson had asked me if Max might be able to use his magic to escape from the ambulance, or hospital, I honestly couldn't say yes or no. He'd already done a piece of magic that should have been impossible, so all bets were off.

"What did you do to her?" he asked, straining against the straps that held him down and the handcuffs on both wrists.

"I helped her be less afraid."

"I want her afraid. I want her to remember that she only has herself to blame for this."

"Why, because she dumped your ass? Stalker much, Max?"

"Maximiliano, and she's mine, Anita, mine! You keep your magic off of her!"

"She listens to me, to my necromancy, when you've got a piece of her soul trapped in you, and you still can't keep me from controlling her."

"I stopped you over the computer."