The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(10)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

I hadn't opened the drapes at all yet. The entire apartment was in twilight. I had special-ordered very heavy drapes. I rarely saw sunlight, and I didn't miss it much. I turned on the light over my fish tank. The angelfish rose towards the top, mouths moving in slow-motion begging.

Fish are my idea of pets. You don't walk them, pick up after them, or have to housebreak them. Clean the tank occasionally, feed them, and they don't give a damn how many hours of overtime you work.

The smell of strong brewed coffee wafted through the apartment from my Mr. Coffee. I sat at my little two-seater kitchen table sipping hot, black Colombian vintage. Beans fresh from my freezer, ground on the spot. There was no other way to drink coffee. Though in a pinch I'll take it just about any way I can get it.

The doorbell chimed. I jumped, spilling coffee onto the table. Nervous? Me? I left my Firestar on the kitchen table instead of taking it to the door with me. See, I'm not paranoid. Just very, very careful.

I checked the peephole and opened the door. Manny Rodriguez stood in the doorway. He's about two inches taller than I am. His coal-black hair is streaked with grey and white. Thick waves of it frame his thin face and black mustache. He's fifty-two, and with one exception, I would still rather have him backing me in a dangerous situation than anyone else I know.

We shook hands, we always do that. His grip was firm and dry. He grinned at me, flashing very white teeth in his brown face. "I smell coffee."

I grinned back. "You know it's all I have for breakfast." He walked in, and I locked the door behind him, habit.

"Rosita thinks you don't take care of yourself." He dropped into a near-perfect imitation of his wife's scolding voice, a much thicker Mexican accent than his own. "She doesn't eat right, so thin. Poor Anita, no husband, not even a boyfriend." He grinned.

"Rosita sounds like my stepmother. Judith is sick with worry that I'll be an old maid."

"You're what, twenty-four?"

"Mm-uh."

He just shook his head. "Sometimes I do not understand women."

It was my turn to grin. "What am I, chopped liver?"

"Anita, you know I didn't mean..."

"I know, I'm one of the boys. I understand."

"You are better than any of the boys at work."

"Sit down. Let me pour coffee in your mouth before your foot fits in again."

"You are being difficult. You know what I meant." He stared at me out of his solid brown eyes, face very serious.

I smiled. "Yeah, I know what you meant."

I picked one of the dozen or so mugs from my kitchen cabinet. My favorite mugs dangled from a mug-tree on the countertop.

Manny sat down, sipping coffee, glancing at his cup. It was red with black letters that said, "I'm a coldhearted bitch but I'm good at it." He laughed coffee up his nose.

I sipped my own coffee from a mug decorated with fluffy baby penguins: I'd never admit it, but it is my favorite mug.

"Why don't you bring your penguin mug to work?" he asked.

Bert's latest brainstorm was that we all use personalized coffee cups at work. He thought it would add a homey note to the office. I had brought in a grey on grey cup that said, "It's a dirty job and I get to do it." Bert had made me take it home.

"I enjoy yanking Bert's chain."

"So you're going to keep bringing in unacceptable cups."

I smiled. "Mm-uh."

He just shook his head.

"I really appreciate you coming to see Dominga with me."

He shrugged. "I couldn't let you go see the devil woman alone, could I?"

I frowned at the nickname, or was it an insult? "That's what your wife calls Dominga, not what I call her."

He glanced down at the gun still lying on the tabletop. "But you'll take a gun with you, just in case."

I looked at him over the top of my cup. "Just in case."

"If it comes to shooting our way out, Anita, it will be too late. She has bodyguards all over the place."

"I don't plan to shoot anybody. We are just going to ask a few questions. That's all."

He smirked. "Por favor, Señora Salvador, did you raise a killer zombie recently?"

"Knock it off, Manny. I know it's awkward."

"Awkward?" He shook his head. "Awkward, she says. If you piss off Dominga Salvador, it's a hell of a lot more than just awkward."

"You don't have to come."

"You called me for backup." He smiled that brilliant teeth flashing smile that lit up his entire face. "You didn't call Charles or Jamison. You called me, and, Anita, that is the best compliment you could give an old man."

"You're not an old man." And I meant it.

"That is not what my wife keeps telling me. Rosita has forbidden me to go vampire hunting with you, but she can't curtail my zombie-related activities, not yet anyway."

The surprise must have shone on my face, because he said, "I know she talked to you two years back, when I was in the hospital."

"You almost died," I said.

"And you had how many broken bones?"

"Rosita made a reasonable request, Manny. You have four children to think of."

"And I'm too old to be slaying vampires." His voice held irony, and almost bitterness.

"You'll never be too old," I said.

"A nice thought." He drained his coffee mug. "We better go. Don't want to keep the Señora waiting."

"God forbid," I said.

"Amen," he said.

I stared at him as he rinsed his mug out in the sink. "Do you know something you're not telling me?"

"No," he said.

I rinsed my own cup, still staring at him. I could feel a suspicious frown between my eyes. "Manny?"

"Honest Mexican, I don't know nuthin'."

"Then what's wrong?"

"You know I was vaudun before Rosita converted me to pure Christianity."

"Yeah, so?"

"Dominga Salvador was not just my priestess. She was my lover."

I stared at him for a few heartbeats. "You're kidding?"

His face was very serious as he said, "I wouldn't joke about something like that."