The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(14)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

"She was vaudun?"

I nodded.

"Why did you not study with her?"

"I have an inborn gift for raising the dead. That doesn't dictate my religious preferences."

"You are Christian." She made the word sound like something bad.

"That's it." I stood. "I wish I could say it's been a pleasure, but it hasn't."

"Ask your questions, chica."

"What?" The change of subject was too fast for me.

"Ask whatever you came here to ask," she said.

I glanced at Manny. "If she says she will answer, she will answer." He didn't look completely happy about it.

I sat down, again. The next insult and I'm outta here. But if she could really help . . . oh, hell, she was dangling that thin little thread of hope. And after what I'd seen at the Reynolds house, I was grabbing for it.

I had planned to be as polite as possible on the wording of the question, now I didn't give a shit. "Have you raised a zombie in the last few weeks?"

"Some," she said.

Okay. I hesitated over the next question. The feel of that thing moving in my hand flashed back on me. I rubbed my hand against my pants leg as if I could rub the sensation away. What was the worst she could do to me if I offended her? Don't ask. "Have you sent any zombies out on errands . . . of revenge?" There; that was polite, amazing.

"None."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

She smiled. "I'd remember if I loosed murderers from the grave."

"Killer zombies don't have to be murderers," I said.

"Oh?" Her pale eyebrows raised. "Are you so very familiar with raising 'killer' zombies?"

I fought the urge to squirm like a schoolchild caught at a lie. "Only one."

"Tell me."

"No." My voice was very firm. "No, that is a private matter." A private nightmare that I was not going to share with the voodoo lady.

I decided to change the subject just a little. "I've raised murderers before. They weren't more violent than regular undead."

"How many dead have you called from the grave?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I don't know."

"Give me an"--she seemed to be groping for a word - "estimation."

"I can't. It must have been hundreds."

"A thousand?" she asked.

"Maybe, I haven't kept count," I said.

"Has your boss at Animators, Incorporated, kept count?"

"I would assume that all my clients are on file, yes," I said.

She smiled. "I would be interested in knowing the exact number."

What could it hurt? "I'll find out if I can."

"Such an obedient girl." She stood. "I did not raise this `killer' zombie of yours. If that is what is eating citizens." She smiled, almost laughed, as if it were funny. "But I know people that would never speak to you. People that could do this horrible deed. I will question them, and they will answer me. I will have truth from them, and I will pass this truth on to you, Anita."

She said my name like it was meant to be said, Ahneetah. Made it sound exotic.

"Thank you very much, Señora Salvador."

"But there is one favor I will ask in return for this information," she said.

Something unpleasant was about to be said, I'd have bet on it. "What would that favor be, Señora?"

"I want you to pass one more test for me."

I stared at her, waiting for her to go on, but she didn't. "What sort of test?" I asked.

"Come downstairs, and I will show you." Her voice was mild as honey.

"No, Dominga," Manny said. He was standing now. "Anita, nothing the Señora could tell you would be worth what she wants."

"I can talk to people and things that will not talk to you, either of you. Good Christians that you are."

"Come on, Anita, we don't need her help." He had started for the door. I didn't follow him. Manny hadn't seen the slaughtered family. He hadn't dreamed about blood-coated teddy bears last night. I had. I couldn't leave if she could help me. Whether Benjamin Reynolds was dead or not wasn't the point. The thing, whatever it was, would kill again. And I was betting it had something to do with voodoo. It wasn't my area. I needed help, and I needed it fast.

"Anita, come on." He touched my arm, pulling me a little towards the door.

"Tell me about the test."

Dominga smiled triumphantly. She knew she had me. She knew I wasn't leaving until I had her promised help. Damn.

"Let us retire to the basement. I will explain the test there."

Manny's grip on my arm tightened. "Anita, you don't know what you're doing."

He was right, but. . . "Just stay with me, Manny, back me up. Don't let me do anything that will really hurt. Okay?"

"Anita, anything she wants you to do down there will hurt. Maybe not physically, but it will hurt."

"I have to do this, Manny." I patted his hand and smiled. "It'll be all right."

"No," he said, "it won't be."

I didn't know what to say to that, except that he was probably right. But it didn't matter. I was going to do it. Whatever she asked, within reason, if it would stop the killings. If it would fix it so that I never had to see another half-eaten body.

Dominga smiled. "Let us go downstairs." '

"May I speak with Anita alone, Señora, por favor," Manny said. His hand was still on my arm. I could feel the tension in his hand.

"You will have the rest of this beautiful day to talk to her, Manuel. But I have only this short time. If she does this test for me now, I promise to aid her in any way I can to catch this killer."

It was a powerful offer. A lot of people would talk to her just out of pure terror. The police can't inspire that. All they can do is arrest you. It wasn't enough of a deterrent. Having the undead crawl through your window . . . that was a deterrent.

Four, maybe five people were already dead. It was a bad way to die. "I've already said I'd do it. Let's go."

She walked around the table and took Manny's arm. He jumped like she'd struck him. She pulled him away from me. "No harm will come to her, Manuel. I swear."