The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #2)(8)


by Laurell K. Hamilton

"What do you mean?" Dolph asked.

"The brave hunter protecting his family," I said.

"Okay, say it was the man, what next?"

"Man comes in, sees whatever crashed through the window, yells for his wife. Probably tells her to get out. Take the kid and run."

"Why not call the police?" he asked.

"I didn't see a phone in the master bedroom." I nodded towards the phone on the kitchen wall. "This is probably the only phone. You have to get past the bogeyman to reach the phone."

"Go on."

I glanced behind me into the living room. The sheet-covered couch was just visible. "The thing, whatever it was, took out the man. Quick, disabled him, knocked him out, but didn't kill him."

"Why not kill?"

"Don't test me, Dolph. There isn't enough blood in the kitchen. He was eaten in the bedroom. Whatever did it wouldn't have dragged a dead man off to the bedroom. It chased the man into the bedroom and killed him there."

"Not bad, want to take a shot at the living room next?"

Not really, but I didn't say it out loud. There was more left of the woman, Her upper body was almost intact. Paper bags enveloped her hands. We had samples of something under her fingernails. I hoped it helped. Her wide brown eyes stared up at the ceiling. The pajama top clung wetly to where her waist used to be. I swallowed hard and used my index finger and thumb to raise the pajama top.

Her spine glistened in the hard sunshine, wet and white and dangling, like a cord that had been ripped out of its socket.

Okay. "Something tore her apart, just like the . . . man in the bedroom."

"How do you know it's a man?"

"Unless they had company, it has to be the man. They didn't have a visitor, did they?"

Dolph shook his head. "Not as far as we know."

"Then it has to be the man. Because she still has all her ribs, and both arms." I tried to swallow the anger in my voice. It wasn't Dolph's fault. "I'm not one of your cops. I wish you'd stop asking me questions that you already have the answers to."

He nodded. "Fair enough. Sometimes I forget you're not one of the boys."

"Thank you for that."

"You know what I mean."

"I do, and I even know you mean it as a compliment, but can we finish discussing this outside, please?"

"Sure." He slipped off his bloody gloves and put them in a garbage sack that was sitting open in the kitchen. I did the same.

The heat fastened round me like melting plastic, but it felt good, clean somehow. I breathed in great lungfuls of hot, sweating air. Ah, summer.

"I was right though, it wasn't human?" he asked.

There were two uniformed police officers keeping the crowd off the lawn and in the street. Children, parents, kids on bikes. It looked like a freaking circus.

"No, it wasn't human. There was no blood on the glass that it came through."

"I noticed. What's the significance?"

"Most dead don't bleed, except for vampires."

"Most?"

"Freshly dead zombies can bleed, but vampires bleed almost like a person."

"You don't think it was a vampire then?"

"If it was, then it ate human flesh. Vampires can't digest solid food."

"Ghoul?"

"Too far from a cemetery, and there'd be more destruction of the house. Ghouls would tear up furniture like wild animals."

"Zombie?"

I shook my head. "I honestly don't know. There are such things as flesh-eating zombies. They're rare, but it happens."

"You told me that there have been three reported cases. Each time the zombies stay human longer and don't rot."

I smiled. "Good memory. That's right. Flesh-eating zombies don't rot, as long as you feed them. Or at least don't rot as quickly."

"Are they violent?"

"Not so far," I said.

"Are zombies violent?" Dolph asked.

"Only if told to be."

"What does that mean?" he asked.

"You can order a zombie to kill people if you're powerful enough."

"A zombie as a murder weapon?"

I nodded. "Something like that, yes."

"Who could do something like that?"

"I'm not sure that's what happened here," I said.

"I know. But who could do it?"

"Well, hell, I could, but I wouldn't. And nobody I know that could do it would do it."

"Let us decide that," he said. He had gotten his little notebook out.

"You really want me to give you names of friends so you can ask them if they happened to have raised a zombie and sent it to kill these people?"

"Please."

I sighed. "I don't believe this. All right, me, Manny Rodriguez, Peter Burke, and. . ." I stopped words already forming a third name.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. I just remembered that I've got Burke's funeral to go to this week. He's dead so I don't think he's a suspect."

Dolph was looking at me hard, suspicion plain on his face. "You sure this is all the names you want to give me?"

"If I think of anyone else, I'll let you know," I said. I was at my wide-eyed most sincere. See, nothing up my sleeve.

"You do that, Anita."

"Sure thing."

He smiled and shook his head. "Who are you protecting?"

"Me," I said. He looked puzzled. "Let's just say I don't want to get someone mad at me."

"Who?"

I looked up into the clear August sky. "You think we'll get rain?"

"Dammit, Anita, I need your help."

"I've given you my help," I said.

"The name."

"Not yet. I'll check it out, and if it looks suspicious, I promise to share it with you."

"Well, isn't that just generous of you?" A flush was creeping up his neck. I had never seen Dolph angry before. I feared I was about to.

"The first death was a homeless man. We thought he'd passed out from liquor and ghouls got him. We found him right next to a cemetery. Open and shut, right?" His voice was rising just a bit with each word.

"Next we find this couple, teenagers caught necking in the boy's car. Dead, still not too far from the cemetery. We called in an exterminator and a priest. Case closed." He lowered his voice, but it was like he had swallowed the yelling. His voice was strained and almost touchable with its anger.