The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(11)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

I shrugged. People's choices of lovers never failed to amaze me. "That's why you could get me a meeting with her on such short notice."

He nodded.

"Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Because you might have tried to sneak over there without me."

"Would that have been so bad?"

He just stared at me, brown eyes very serious. "Maybe."

I got my gun from the table and fitted it to the inter-pants holster. Eight bullets. The Browning could hold fourteen. But let's get real; if I needed more than eight bullets, I was dead. And so was Manny.

"Shit," I whispered.

"What?"

"I feel like I'm going to visit the bogeyman."

Manny made a back and forth motion with his head. "Not a bad analogy."

Great, just freaking, bloody great. Why was I doing this? The image of Benjamin Reynolds's blood-coated teddy bear flashed into my mind. All right, I knew why I was doing it. If there was even a remote chance that the boy could still be alive, I'd go into hell itself--if I stood a chance of coming back out. I didn't mention this out loud. I did not want to know if hell was a good analogy, too.

Chapter 5

The neighborhood was older houses; fifties, forties. The lawns were dying to brown for lack of water. No sprinklers here. Flowers struggled to survive in beds close to the houses. Mostly petunias, geraniums, a few rosebushes. The streets were clean, neat, and one block over you could get yourself shot for wearing the wrong color of jacket.

Gang activity stopped at Señora Salvador's neighborhood. Even teenagers with automatic pistols fear things you can't stop with bullets no matter how good a shot you are. Silver plated bullets will harm a vampire, but not kill it. It will kill a lycanthrope, but not a zombie. You can hack the damn things to pieces, and the disconnected body parts will crawl after you. I've seen it. It ain't pretty. The gangs leave the Señora's turf alone. No violence. It is a place of permanent truce.

There are stories of one Hispanic gang that thought it had protection against gris-gris. Some people say that the gang's ex-leader is still down in Dominga's basement, obeying an occasional order. He was great show-and-tell to any juvenile delinquents who got out of hand.

Personally, I had never seen her raise a zombie. But then I'd never seen her call the snakes either. I'd just as soon keep it that way.

Señora Salvador's two-story house is on about a half acre of land. A nice roomy yard. Bright red geraniums flamed against the whitewashed walls. Red and white, blood and bone. I was sure the symbolism was not lost on casual passersby. It certainly wasn't lost on me.

Manny parked his car in the driveway behind a cream colored Impala. The two-car garage was painted white to match the house. There was a little girl of about five riding a tricycle furiously up and down the sidewalk. A slightly older pair of boys were sitting on the steps that led up to the porch. They stopped playing and looked at us.

A man stood on the porch behind them. He was wearing a shoulder holster over a sleeveless blue T-shirt. Sort of blatant. All he needed was a flashing neon sign that said "Bad Ass."

There were chalk markings on the sidewalk. Pastel crosses and unreadable diagrams. It looked like a children's game, but it wasn't. Some devoted fans of the Señora had chalked designs of worship in front of her house. Stubs of candles had melted to lumps around the designs. The girl on the tricycle peddled back and forth over the designs. Normal, right?

I followed Manny over the sun-scorched lawn. The little girl on the tricycle was watching us now, small brown face unreadable.

Manny removed his sunglasses and smiled up at the man. "Buenos días, Antonio. It has been a long time."

"Sí, " Antonio said. His voice was low and sullen. His deeply tanned arms were crossed loosely over his chest. It put his right hand right next to his gun butt.

I used Manny's body to shield me from sight and casually put my hands close to my own gun. The Boy Scout motto, "Always be prepared." Or was that the Marines?

"You've become a strong, handsome man," Manny said.

"My grandmother says I must let you in," Antonio said.

"She is a wise woman," Manny said.

Antonio shrugged. "She is the Señora." He peered around Manny at me. "Who is this?"

"Señorita Anita Blake." Manny stepped back so I could move forward. I did, right hand loose on my waist like I had an attitude, but it was the closest I could stay to my gun.

Antonio looked down at me. His dark eyes were angry, but that was all. He didn't have near the gaze of Harold Gaynor's bodyguards. I smiled. "Nice to meet you."

He squinted at me suspiciously for a moment, then nodded. I continued to smile at him, and a slow smile spread over his face. He thought I was flirting with him. I let him think it.

He said something in Spanish. All I could do was smile and shake my head. He spoke softly, and there was a look in his dark eyes, a curve to his mouth. I didn't have to speak the language to know I was being propositioned. Or insulted.

Manny's neck was stiff, his face flushed. He said something from between clenched teeth.

It was Antonio's turn to flush. His hand started to go for his gun. I stepped up two steps, touching his wrist as if I didn't know what was going on. The tension in his arm was like a wire, straining.

I beamed up at him as I held his wrist. His eyes flicked from Manny to me, then the tension eased, but I didn't let go of his wrist until his arm fell to his side. He raised my hand to his lips, kissing it. His mouth lingered on the back of my hand, but his eyes stayed on Manny. Angry, rage-filled.

Antonio carried a gun, but he was an amateur. Amateurs with guns eventually get themselves killed. I wondered if Dominga Salvador knew that? She may have been a whiz at voodoo but I bet she didn't know much about guns, and what it took to use one on a regular basis. Whatever it took, Antonio didn't have it. He'd kill you all right. No sweat. But for the wrong reasons. Amateur's reasons. Of course, you'll be just as dead.

He guided me up on the porch beside him, still holding my hand. It was my left hand. He could hold that all day. "I must check you for weapons, Manuel."

"I understand," Manny said. He stepped up on the porch and Antonio stepped back, keeping room between them in case Manny jumped him. That left me with a clear shot of Antonio's back. Careless; under different circumstances, deadly.