The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(13)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

Goose bumps broke out on my body, a rush of prickling warmth. I licked my lips and stared at Dominga Salvador.

It was a slap of magic. She was testing me. I'd had it done before. People are so fascinated with what I do. Convinced that I know magic. I don't. I have an affinity with the dead.

It's not the same.

I stared into her nearly black eyes and felt myself sway forward. It was like falling without movement. The world sort of swung for a moment, then steadied. Warmth burst out of my body, like a twisting rope of heat. It went outward to the old woman. It hit her solid, and I felt it like a jolt of electricity.

I stood up, gasping for air. "Shit!"

"Anita, are you all right?" Manny was standing now, too. He touched my arm gently.

"I'm not sure. What the hell did she do to me?"

"It is what you have done to me, chica," Dominga said. She looked a little pale around the edges. Sweat beaded on her forehead.

The man stood away from the wall, his hands loose and ready. "No," Dominga said, "Enzo, I am all right." Her voice was breathy as if she had been running:

I stayed standing. I wanted to go home now, please.

"We did not come here for games, Dominga," Manny said. His voice had deepened with anger and, I think, fear. I agreed with that last emotion.

"It is not a game, Manuel. Have you forgotten everything I taught you. Everything you were?"

"I have forgotten nothing, but I did not bring her here to be harmed."

"Whether she is harmed or not is up to her, mi corazón."

I didn't much like that last part. "You're not going to help us. You're just going to play cat and mouse. Well, this mouse is leaving." I turned to leave, keeping a watchful eye on Enzo. He wasn't an amateur.

"Don't you wish to find the little boy that Manny said was taken? Three years old, very young to be in the hands of the bokor."

It stopped me. She knew it would. Damn her. "What is a bokor?"

She smiled. "You really don't know, do you?"

I shook my head.

The smile widened, all surprised pleasure. "Place your right hand palm up on the table, por favor."

"If you know something about the boy, just tell me. Please."

"Endure my little tests, and I will help you."

"What sort of tests?" I hoped I sounded as suspicious as I felt.

Dominga laughed, an abrupt and cheery sound. It went with all the smile lines in her face. Her eyes were practically sparkling with mirth. Why did I feel like she was laughing at me?

"Come, chica, I will not hurt you," she said.

"Manny?"

"If she does anything that may harm you, I will say so."

Dominga gazed up at me, a sort of puzzled wonder on her face. "I have heard that you can raise three zombies in a night, night after night. Yet, you truly are a novice."

"Ignorance is bliss," I said.

"Sit, chica. This will not hurt, I promise."

This will not hurt. It promised more painful things later. I sat. "Any delay could cost the boy his life." Try to appeal to her good side.

She leaned towards me. "Do you really think the child is still alive?" Guess she didn't have a good side.

I leaned back from her. I couldn't help it, and I couldn't lie to her. "No."

"Then we have time, don't we?"

"Time for what?"

"Your hand, chica, por favor, then I will answer your questions."

I took a deep breath and placed my right hand on the table, palm up. She was being mysterious. I hated people who were mysterious.

She brought a small black bag from under the table, as if it had been sitting in her lap the whole time. Like she'd planned this.

Manny was staring at the bag like something noisome was about to crawl out. Close. Dominga Salvador pulled something noisome out of it.

It was a charm, a gris-gris made of black feathers, bits of bone, a mummified bird's foot. I thought at first it was a chicken until I saw the thick black talons. There was a hawk or eagle out there somewhere with a peg leg.

I had visions of her digging the talons into my flesh, and was all tensed to pull away. But she simply placed the gris-gris on my open palm. Feathers, bits of bone, the dried hawk foot. It wasn't slimy. It didn't hurt. In fact, I felt a little silly.

Then I felt it, warmth. The thing was warm, sitting there in my hand. It hadn't been warm a second ago. "What are you doing to it?"

Dominga didn't answer. I glanced up at her, but her eyes were staring at my hand, intent. Like a cat about to pounce.

I glanced back down. The talons flexed, then spread, then flexed. It was moving in my hand. "Shiiit!" I wanted to stand up. To fling the vile thing to the floor. But I didn't. I sat there with every hair on my body tingling, my pulse thudding in my throat, and let the thing move in my hand. "All right," my voice sounded breathy, "I've passed your little test. Now get this thing the hell out of my hand."

Dominga lifted the claw gently from my hand. She was careful not to touch my skin. I didn't know why, but it was a noticeable effort.

"Dammit, dammit!" I whispered under my breath. I rubbed my hand against my stomach, touching the gun hidden there. It was comforting to know that if worse came to worst, I could just shoot her. Before she scared me to death. "Can we get down to business now?" My voice sounded almost steady. Bully for me.

Dominga was cradling the claw in her hands. "You made the claw move. You were frightened, but not surprised. Why?"

What could I say? Nothing I wanted her to know. "I have an affinity with the dead. It responds to me like some people can read thoughts."

She smiled. "Do you really believe that your ability to raise the dead is like mind reading? Parlor tricks?"

Dominga had obviously never met a really good telepath. If she had, she wouldn't have been scornful: In their own way, they were just as scary as she was.

"I raise the dead, Señora. It is just a job."

"You do not believe that any more than I do."

"I try real hard," I said.

"You've been tested before by someone." She made it a statement.

"My grandmother on my mother's side tested me, but not with that." I pointed to the still flexing foot. It looked like one of those fake hands that you can buy at Spencer's. Now that I wasn't holding it, I could pretend it just had tiny little batteries in it somewhere. Right.