The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 2) - Page 18

He glared at me now, anger helping him meet my eyes. "Yes, Yes!"

It was my turn to look away. "God, Manny, how could you?" My voice was soft now, not ordinary. If I didn't know better, I'd say it sounded like I was on the verge of tears.

"It was nearly twenty years ago, Anita. I was vaudun and a necromancer. I believed. I loved the Señora. Thought I did."

I stared up at him. The look on his face made my throat tight. "Manny, dammit."

He didn't say anything. He just stood there looking miserable. And I couldn't reconcile the two images. Manny Rodriguez and someone who would slaughter the hornless goat in a ritual. He had taught me right from wrong in this business. He had refused to do so many things. Things not half as bad as this. It made no sense.

I shook my head. "I can't deal with this right now." I heard myself say it out loud, and hadn't really meant to. "Fine, you've dropped your little bombshell, Señora Salvador. You said you'd help us, if I passed your test. Did I pass?" When in doubt, concentrate on one disaster at a time.

"I wanted to offer you a chance to help me with my new business venture."

"We both know I'm not going to do that," I said.

"It is a pity, Anita. With training you could rival my powers."

Be just like her when I grew up. No thanks. "Thanks anyway, but I'm happy where I am."

Her eyes flicked to Manny, back to me. "Happy?"

"Manny and I will deal with it, Señora. Now will you help me?"

"If I help you without you helping me in some way, you will owe me a favor."

I didn't want to owe her a favor. "I would rather just trade information."

"What could you possibly know that would be worth all the effort I will expend hunting for your killer zombie?"

I thought about that for a moment. "I know that legislation is being written right now, about zombies. Zombies are going to have rights, and laws protecting them soon." I hoped it was soon. No need to tell her how early in the process the legislation was.

"So, I must sell a few non-rotting zombies soon, before it becomes illegal."

"I wouldn't think illegal would bother you much. Human sacrifice is illegal, too."

She gave a tiny smile. "I do not do such things anymore, Anita. I have given up my wicked ways."

I didn't believe that, and she knew I didn't believe it. Her smile widened. "When Manuel left, I stopped such evil practices. Without his urgings, I became a respectable bokar."

She was lying, but I couldn't prove it. And she knew that, too. "I gave you valuable information. Now will you help me?"

She nodded graciously. "I will search among my followers to see if any knows of your killer zombie." I had the sense that she was quietly laughing at me.

"Manny, will she help us?"

"If the Señora says she will do a thing, it will be done. She is good that way."

"I will find your killer if it has anything to do with vaudun," she said.

"Great." I didn't say thank you, because it seemed wrong. I wanted to call her a bitch and shoot her between the eyes, but then I would have had to shoot Enzo, too. And how would I explain that to the police? She was breaking no laws. Dammit.

"I don't suppose appealing to your better nature would make you forget this mad scheme to use your new improved zombies for slaves?"

She smiled. "Chica, chica, I will be rich beyond your wildest dreams. You can refuse to join me, but you cannot stop me."

"Don't bet on it," I said.

"What will you do, go to the police? I am breaking no laws. The only way to stop me is to kill me." She looked directly at me while she said it.

"Don't tempt me."

Manny moved up beside me. "Don't, Anita, don't challenge her."

I was sort of mad at him, too, so what the hell. "I will stop you, Señora Salvador. Whatever it takes."

"You call death magic against me, Anita, and it is you who will die."

I didn't know death magic from frijoles. I shrugged. "I was thinking something more down to earth, like a bullet."

Enzo surged into the altar area, moving to stand between his boss-lady and me. Dominga stopped him. "No, Enzo, she is angry this morning, and shocked." Her eyes were still laughing at me. "She knows nothing of the deeper magics. She cannot harm me, and she is too morally superior to commit cold-blooded murder."

The worst part about it was that she was right. I couldn't just put a bullet between her eyes, not unless she threatened me. I glanced at the waiting zombies, patient as the dead, but underneath that endless patience was fear, and hope, and. . . God, the line between life and death was getting thinner all the time.

"At least lay to rest your first experiment. You've proved you can put the soul in and out multiple times. Don't make her watch."

"But, Anita, I already have a buyer for her."

"Oh, Jesus, you don't mean . . . Oh, God, a necrophiliac."

"Those that love the dead better than you or I ever will, will pay extraordinary amounts for such as her."

Maybe I could just shoot her. "You are a cold-hearted, amoral bitch."

"And you, chica, need to learn respect for your elders."

"Respect has to be earned," I said.

"I think, Anita Blake, that you need to remember why people fear the dark. I will see that very soon you have a visitor to your window. Some dark night when you are fast asleep in your warm, safe bed. Something evil will creep into your room. I will earn your respect, if that is the way you want it."

I should have been afraid, but I wasn't. I was angry and wanted to go home. "You can force people to be afraid of you, Señora, but you can't force them to respect you."

"We shall see, Anita. Call me after you have gotten my gift. It will be soon."

"Will you still help locate the killer zombie?"

"I said I would, and I will."

"Good," I said. "May we go now?"

She waved Enzo back beside her. "By all means run out into the daylight where you can be brave."

I walked to the pathway. Manny stayed right with me. We were careful not to look at each other. We were too busy watching the Señora and her pets. I stopped just inside the path. Manny touched my arm lightly, as if he knew what I was about to say. I ignored him.

"I may not be willing to kill you in cold blood, but hurt me first, and I'll put a bullet in you some bright, sunshiny day."

"Threats will not save you, chica," she said.

I smiled sweetly. "You either, bitch."

Her face went all thin and angry. I smiled wider.

"She does not mean it, Señora," Manny said. "She will not kill you."

"Is this true, chica?" Her voice was a rich growl of sound, pleasant and frightening at the same time.

I gave Manny a quick dirty look. It was a good threat. I didn't like weakening it with common sense, or truth. "I said, I'd shoot you. I didn't say I'd kill you. Now did I?"

"No, you did not."

Manny grabbed my arm and started pulling me backwards towards the stairs. He was pulling on my left arm, leaving my right free for my gun. Just in case.

Dominga never moved. Her black, angry eyes stared at me until we rounded the corner. Manny pulled me into the hallway with its cement covered doors. I pulled free of him. We stared at each other for a heartbeat.

"What's behind the doors?"

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