I didn't know what to say to that. There is no higher praise between policemen than that they'd let you back them up in a life or death situation.
"You're going to make me blush, Lt. Nicols." I didn't look at him as I said it.
He seemed to be gazing down at the still-smoldering cigarette on the white gravel. "Zerbrowski over at RPIT says that you don't blush much."
"Zerbrowski is a cheerfully lecherous shit," I said.
He chuckled, a deep roll of laughter, and stomped out his cigarette, so that even that small glow was lost in the dark. "That he is, that he is. You ever met his wife?"
"I've met Katie."
"Ever wonder how Zerbrowski managed to nab her?"
"Every damn time I see her," I said.
He sighed. "I'll call for another squad car, try for two uniforms. Let's get this done and get the hell away from these people."
"Let's," I said.
He went to make the call. I went to fetch my zombie-raising equipment. Since one of my main tools is a machete bigger than my forearm, I'd left it in the car. It tends to scare people. I would try very hard tonight not to scare the bodyguards, or the nice policemen. I was pretty sure there was nothing I could do to scare Mrs. Bennington. I was also pretty sure there was nothing I could do to make her happy with me.
My zombie-raising equipment was in a gray Nike gym bag. Some animators have elaborate cases. I've even seen one who had a little suitcase that turned into a table like a magician's or a street vendor's. Me, I made sure everything was packed tight so nothing got broken or scratched up, but other than that, I didn't see the point to being fancier than you needed to be. If people wanted a show they could go down to the Circus of the Damned and watch zombies crawl from the grave with actors pretending to be terrified of them. I wasn't an entertainer, I was an animator, and this was work.
I turned down Halloween parties every year, where people wanted zombies raised at the stroke of midnight or some such nonsense. The scarier my reputation got, the more people wanted me to come be scary for them. I'd told Bert I could always go and threaten to shoot all the partygoers, that'd be scary. Bert had not been amused. But he had stopped asking me to do parties.
I'd been trained to use an ointment spread over face, hands, heart. The smell of rosemary, like breathing in a Christmas tree, still held a great nostalgia for me, but I didn't use the ointment anymore. I'd raised the dead in emergencies without it, more than once, so it got me to thinking. Some believed it helped the spirits enter you, so the powers that be could use you to raise the dead. Most, in America anyway, believed that the scent and touch of the herbal mixture enhanced your psychic abilities, or helped open them so they'd work at all. I never seemed to have any trouble raising the dead. My psychic abilities were always on line for animating. So I still carried the ointment, just in case, but I didn't use it much anymore.
The three things I did still need for animating were steel, fresh blood, and salt. Though the salt actually was to put the zombie back in the grave once we were finished with it. I'd cut my paraphernalia to the absolute minimum, and recently, I'd cut it down even more. And I mean that "cut" part literally.
My left hand was covered in little bandages. I was using the clear ones, so I didn't look like a tan version of the mummy's hand. There were larger bandages on my left forearm. All the wounds were self-inflicted, and it was beginning to piss me off.
I had been learning how to control my growing psychic powers by studying with Marianne, who had been a psychic when I met her, but had become a witch. She was Wiccan now. Not all witches are Wiccan, and if Marianne had been another flavor of witch, I wouldn't have had to cut myself up. Marianne, as my teacher, shared some of my karmic debt, or so her group--read coven--believed. The fact that I killed an animal every time I raised the dead, three, four times a night, almost every night, had made her coven rant, rave, scream, and basically lose it. Blood magic is black magic to a Wiccan. Taking a life for magical purposes, any life, even a chicken's, is very black magic.
How could Marianne have tied herself to someone who was being so . . . evil? they demanded to know.
To help Marianne's karmic burden--and mine, the coven assured me--I'd been trying to raise the dead without killing anything. I'd done it in emergencies without an animal to sacrifice, so I knew it was possible. But--surprise, surprise--while it was true that I could do my job without killing anything, I could not do it without fresh blood. Blood magic is still black magic to Wiccans, so what to do? The compromise was that I would use only my ownblood. I wasn't sure it would work. But it did, for the recently dead, at least.
I'd started out slicing up my left forearm, but that had rapidly lost its appeal, since I needed to do it three or more times a night. Then I'd taken to pricking my fingers. Just a little blood seemed to be enough for those dead under six months. But I'd run out of fingers, and my arm had enough scars already. I'd also found that when I practiced left-handed shooting that I was slower, because the cuts freaking hurt. I would not cut up my right hand, because I couldn't afford to be slower with my right. I'd pretty much decided that, while I was sorry I had to kill a few chickens or goats to raise the dead, the animal's lives were not worth my own. There I've said it, a totally selfish judgment call.
I'd really hoped the tiny cuts would heal instantly. Thanks to my ties to Jean-Claude, master vamp of the city, I healed fast, very fast. The little cuts didn't heal fast. Marianne said it was probably because I was using a magically charged blade to do the cutting. But I liked my machete. Truthfully, I wasn't a hundred percent sure that I could raise the dead with only a prick of blood without a magically charged blade. It was a problem.
I was going to have to call Marianne and tell her I'd failed the Wiccan test of goodness. Why should they be any different? Most right-wing Christian groups hated me too.
I glanced behind me at my audience. Two new uniformed police officers had joined Lt. Nicols and the first officer. The police stood in the middle of the two groups, which had been allowed to come close enough to the grave to hear what the zombie would say. It was way closer than fifty feet, but both parties needed to hear Gordon Bennington, or so the judge had ruled. The judge in question had actually joined us, along with a court reporter and her little machine. He'd also brought along two burly looking bailiffs, which made me think the judge was even smarter than he looked, and I'd been pretty impressed before. Not every judge will take zombie testimony.
For tonight Lindel graveyard was court. I was glad that Court TV hadn't gotten wind of it. It was just the kind of weird crap that they liked to televise. You know--transsexual's custody case; female teacher rapes thirteen-year-old boy student; pro-football player's murder trial. The O. J. Simpson trial had not been a good influence on American television.
The judge said in his booming, court voice, which echoed strangely in the flat emptiness of the cemetery, "Go ahead, Ms. Blake, we're all assembled."
Ordinarily I'd have beheaded a chicken and used its body to help me sprinkle a blood circle, a circle of power, to contain the zombie once it was raised so it wouldn't go wandering all over the place. The circle also helped focus power and raise energy. But I had no chickens at the moment. There was a chance that if I'd tried to get enough blood out of my body to walk even a small circle of power, I'd be finished for the night, too dizzy and too light-headed to do anything else. So what's a morally upright animator supposed to do?
I sighed and unsheathed the machete and heard several gasps behind me. It was a big blade, but I'd found that in beheading a chicken one-handed you needed a big, sharp blade. I stared at my left hand and tried to find a space that was bandage free. I put the top edge of the blade against my middle finger (the symbolism was not lost on me) and pressed. I kept the machete too sharp to risk drawing the blade down my finger. It would be a bitch to need stitches because I'd cut too deep.
The cut didn't hurt immediately, which meant I'd probably cut deeper than I wanted. I raised my hand so the moonlight fell on it, and saw the first dark welling of blood. The moment I saw it, the cut hurt. Why was it that everything hurt worse when you realized you were bleeding?
I began to walk the circle, holding the steel point downward, my bleeding finger flat to the earth, so that occasional drops would hit the ground. I'd never truly felt the machete carving the magic circle through the ground, through me, until I stopped killing animals. It had probably always been like a steel pencil tracing my circle, but I'd never ever been able to feel it over the stronger rush of the death. I felt each drop of blood that fell, felt the earth almost hungry for it, like rain in a drought, but it wasn't the moisture the earth drank, it was the power. I knew when I'd walked the entire circle around the headstone, because the moment I touched the place where I'd begun, the circle closed with a skin-tingling, hair-raising rush.