The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(7)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

"Okay," I said. My voice sounded breathy. I stood, holding my blood-spattered hands out to my sides. "Cover it, please."

He did, and stood. "Impressions?"

"Violence, extreme violence. More than human strength. The body's been ripped apart by hand."

"Why by hand?"

"No knife marks." I laughed, but it choked me. "Hell, I'd think someone had used a saw on the body like butchering a cow, but the bones..." I shook my head. "Nothing mechanical was used to do this."

"Anything else?"

"Yeah, where is the rest of the f**king body?"

"Down the hall, second door on the left."

"The rest of the body?" The room was getting hot again.

"Just go look. Tell me what you see."

"Dammit, Dolph, I know you don't like to influence your experts, but I don't like walking in there blind."

He just stared at me.

"At least answer one question."

"Maybe, what?"

"Is it worse than this?"

He seemed to think about that for a moment. "No, and yes."

"Damn you."

"You'll understand after you've seen it."

I didn't want to understand. Bert had been thrilled that the police wanted to put me on retainer. He had told me I would gain valuable experience working with the police. All I had gained so far was a wider variety of nightmares.

Dolph walked ahead of me to the next chamber of horrors. I didn't really want to find the rest of the body. I wanted to go home. He hesitated in front of the closed door until I stood beside him. There was a cardboard cutout of a rabbit on the door like for Easter. A needlework sign hung just below the bunny. Baby's Room.

"Dolph," my voice sounded very quiet. The noise from the living room was muted.

"Yes."

"Nothing, nothing." I took a deep breath and let it out. I could do this. I could do this. Oh, God, I didn't want to do this. I whispered a prayer under my breath as the door swung inward. There are moments in life when the only way to get through is with a little grace from on high. I was betting this was going to be one of them.

Sunlight streamed through a small window. The curtains were white with little duckies and bunnies stitched around the edges. Animal cutouts danced around the pale blue walls. There was no crib, only one of those beds with handrails halfway down. A big boy bed, wasn't that what they were called?

There wasn't as much blood in here. Thank you, dear God. Who says prayers never get answered? But in a square of bright August sunshine sat a stuffed teddy bear. The teddy bear was candy-coated with blood. One glassy eye stared round and surprised out of the spiky fake fur.

I knelt beside it. The carpet didn't squeeze, no blood soaked in. Why was the damn bear sitting here covered in congealing blood? There was no other blood in the entire room that I could see.

Did someone just set it here? I looked up and found myself staring at a small white chest of drawers with bunnies painted on it. When you have a motif, I guess you stick with it. On the white paint was one small, perfect handprint. I crawled towards it and held up my hand near it comparing size. My hands aren't big, small even for a woman's, but this handprint was tiny. Two, three, maybe four. Blue walls, probably a boy.

"How old was the child?"

"Picture in the living room has Benjamin Reynolds, age three, written on the back."

"Benjamin," I whispered it, and stared at the bloody handprint. "There's no body in this room. No one was killed here."

"No."

"Why did you want me to see it?" I looked up at him, still kneeling.

"Your opinion isn't worth anything if you don't see everything."

"That damn bear is going to haunt me."

"Me, too," he said.

I stood, resisting the urge to smooth my skirt down in back. It was amazing how many times I touched my clothing without thinking and smeared blood on myself. But not today.

"Is it the boy's body under the sheet in the living room?" As I said it, I prayed that it wasn't.

"No," he said.

Thank God. "Mother's body?"

"Yes."

"Where is the boy's body?"

"We can't find it." He hesitated, then asked, "Could the thing have eaten the child's body completely?"

"You mean so there wouldn't be anything left to find?"

"Yes," he said. His face looked just the tiniest bit pale. Mine probably did, too.

"Possible, but even the undead have a limit to what they can eat." I took a deep breath. "Did you find any signs of - regurgitation."

"Regurgitation." He smiled. "Nice word. No, the creature didn't eat and then vomit. At least we haven't found it."

"Then the boy's probably still around somewhere."

"Could he be alive?" Dolph asked.

I looked up at him. I wanted to say yes, but I knew the answer was probably no. I compromised. "I don't know."

Dolph nodded.

"The living room next?" I asked.

"No." He walked out of the room without another word. I followed. What else could I do? But I didn't hurry. If he wanted to play tough, silent policeman, he could damn well wait for me to catch up.

I followed his broad back around the corner through the living room into the kitchen. A sliding glass door led out onto a deck. Glass was everywhere. Shiny slivers of it sparkled in the light from yet another skylight. The kitchen was spotless, like a magazine ad, done in blue tile and rich light-colored wood. "Nice kitchen," I said.

I could see men moving around the yard. The party had moved outside. The privacy fence hid them from the curious neighbors, as it had hidden the killer last night. There was just one detective standing beside the shiny sink. He was scribbling something in a notebook.

Dolph motioned me to have a closer look. "Okay," I said. "Something crashed through the sliding glass door. It must have made a hell of a lot of noise. This much glass breaking even with the air-conditioning on . . . You'd hear it."

"You think so?" he asked.

"Did any of the neighbors hear anything?" I asked.

"No one will admit to it," he said.

I nodded. "Glass breaks, someone comes to check it out, probably the man. Some sexist stereotypes die hard."