I'd testified in court a few times when a lawyer got clever and tried to win an appeal on a zombie who had said this will is real, not this one. I'd even been called into court for an insurance company that decided to appeal the zombie's testimony on the grounds that the dead were not competent to give testimony. I'd stopped getting dragged into court to defend myself after I'd offered to bring the zombie into court to give open court testimony. The offer was accepted. And that was back in the days when my zombies actually looked more like the shambling dead than a person.
We'd all made the papers, and the media had made much of the fact that the mean of company had traumatized the family a second time. In fact, it had been the beginning of a countersuit for mental distress. The insurance company would eventually pay more in the second suit than in the original life insurance claim. Everyone learned their lesson, and I got to stay in the cemetery and out of the courtroom. But I'd spent weeks being drilled with the argument that I was not a true forensic expert. Salvia was about to hear me spit that argument back at him.
"Mr. Salvia, would you say that most evidence is open to interpretation depending on which expert you get to interpret that evidence?"
He considered that for a moment. Most lawyers won't answer questions fast, especially not in court. They want to think it through first. "I would agree with that statement."
"If I was here to collect DNA or some other physical evidence, my actions might be open to scrutiny, because my method of collection could impact how reliable my evidence was, correct?"
Micah gave me a look. I shrugged at him. I could talk lawyer-speak up to a point, in a good cause. Getting us out of here before five a.m. was a good cause.
Salvia finally answered a cautious "I would agree. Which is why I need to question your methods, so I can understand them well enough to represent my client."
"But, Mr. Salvia, what I'm about to do is not open to interpretation of any kind."
He turned to the judge. "Your honor, she is refusing to explain her methods. If I don't understand what the marshal is doing, then how will I be able to adequately defend my client?"
"Marshal Blake," the judge said, "I'm sorry that I opened this issue with my request for information, but I can see the defense's point."
"For most experts, I would see his point, too, your honor, but may I make one more point before you rule on whether the defense gets to question my every move?"
"I won't allow him to question your every move, Marshal," he said with a smile that even by moonlight seemed self-satisfied. Or maybe I was just watching the entire night go up in questions, and that was making me grumpy. I'd never had to raise the dead while being questioned by hostile lawyers. It didn't sound like a fun evening. "But I will allow you to make your point."
"If I raise Emmett Rose from the dead tonight, you'll be here to see it, right?"
"Are you speaking to me, Marshal Blake?" asked the defense lawyer.
"Yes, Mr. Salvia, I am speaking to you." I fought to keep the impatience out of my voice.
"Could you repeat the question?" he asked.
I repeated it, then added, "If I fail to raise Emmett Rose from the dead tonight, you'll be here to see that, too, right?"
I could see him frown even in the cooler darkness under the trees. "Yes." But he said it slowly, as if he didn't see the trap but suspected that there was one.
"I will either raise the zombie from this grave, or I will not. Correct, Mr. Salvia?"
"Your honor, what is Marshal Blake trying to get at?" Salvia asked.
"Do you concede that my raising Emmett Rose from the dead is either a yes or no question? Either he pops out of the grave, or he does not."
"Yes, yes, I concede that, but I still don't see--"
"Would you say that the zombie rising from the grave is open to interpretation?" I asked.
Salvia opened his mouth, closed it. "I'm not sure I understand the question."
The judge said, "Marshal Blake has made her point. Either the zombie will rise from the grave, or it won't. We will all be here to see the zombie either rise, or not rise. It isn't open to interpretation, Mr. Salvia. Either she will do what she's being paid for, or she won't. It either works or it does not."
"But the ritual she chooses to raise the dead could affect the ability of Mr. Rose to give intelligent testimony."
The judge asked me, "Is that true? Marshal, could your choice of rituals affect the zombie?"
"Not the ritual. No, your honor. But the ability of the animator." The moment that last bit left my mouth, I flinched. I should have stopped with "No, your honor." Dammit.
"Explain the last part of that statement," the judge said.
See, I'd said too much. Given them something to question and be confused by. I knew better than that.
"The greater the degree of power the animator has, and sometimes the more practice he or she has at raising the dead, the better their zombies are."
"Better how?" he asked.
"More alive. The greater the power used, the more alive the zombie will appear. You'll also get more of their personality, more of what they were like in life."
Again, I'd overexplained. What was the matter with me tonight? The moment I thought it, I knew, or thought I knew. The dead were whispering to me. Not in voices--the true dead have no voices--but in power. It should have taken energy from me to raise a zombie. They shouldn't have been offering power up to me, like some sort of gift. Power over the dead comes with a price, always. Nothing's free with the dead.
Micah touched my arm. It startled me. I looked at him, and he said softly, "Are you all right?"
"The judge is talking to you."
I turned back to the judge and apologized. "I'm sorry, your honor. Could you repeat what you just said?"
He frowned at me but said, "You seemed distracted just then, Marshal Blake."
"I'm sorry, your honor. I'm just thinking about the job ahead."
"Well, we'd like you to concentrate a little harder on this part of the proceedings before you rush ahead of us."
I sighed, swallowed a half dozen witty and unhelpful things, and settled for, "Fine, what did you say that I missed?"
Micah touched my arm again, as if my tone might have been a little less than polite. He was right. I was getting angry. That old tension in my shoulders and along my arms was settling in.
"What I said, Marshal, was I was under the impression that only a blood sacrifice would give you that much life in a zombie."
I thought better of the judge. He'd done some research, but not enough. "There's always blood involved in raising the dead, your honor."
"We understand that the FBI was requested to supply you with poultry," he said.
Any normal human being would have said, Is that what the chicken is for? Court time is not the same as real time; it's sort of like football time. What should take five minutes will take thirty.
"Yes, that is why the chicken was requested." See, I could talk the long way 'round the mountain, too. If a question has a simple yes or no answer, then give that. Beyond yes or no questions, explain things. Don't add, don't embellish, but be thorough. Because you're going to have to talk one way or the other. I preferred to give complete answers in the beginning rather than have my explanations be made longer on cross-examination.
"How does the chicken help you with this protective circle?" he asked.
"You normally behead the chicken and use its blood, its life energy, to help put up a protective circle around the grave."
"Your honor," Salvia again, "why does Marshal Blake need a protective circle?"
Laban, our friendly neighborhood prosecutor, said, "Is my esteemed colleague going to question every step of the ritual?"
"I think I have the right on behalf of my clients to ask why she needs a protective circle. One of my objections to this entire procedure was the worry that something else could animate the corpse, and what is raised will be merely Mr. Rose's shell but with something else inside it. Some wandering spirit could--"
"Mr. Salvia," Laban said, "your fanciful worries did not convince the judge to grant your motion. Why bring it up again?"
Truthfully, one of the reasons we put up protective circles was to keep wandering spirits, as Salvia put it, from animating the corpse. Though I'm not sure spirits were what I'd worry about. There were other things, nastier things, that loved getting hold of a corpse.