Born in Arkansas in 1963, Laurell Kaye Hamilton was raised by her grandmother, Laura Gentry, after her mother died in a car crash in 1969. She attributes her love of “things that go bump in the night” to her. From the age of 13, when Hamilton discovered that, not only did she want to be a writer, but also that the stories she wanted to write were about magic and romance, vampires and fairies, monsters and heroic battles, Hamilton set out to make her dream a reality. Her first Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, novel helped revitalize vampire fiction in 1994, and together with her series featuring Fey princess and private eye Merry Gentry, they have been mainstays of contemporary fantasy in the Science Fiction Book Club and in the genre as a whole. Hamilton lives in St. Louis, Missouri,with her family and pets.
THE MAIN PIECE of the body lay on the ground, on its back in the middle of a smooth grassy field. In the predawn gloom everything looked gray, but there were scuffed and paler places around the field; I think we were in standing in the middle of a softball field. The “we” was Edward, U.S. Marshal Ted Forrester, and me, U.S. Marshal Anita Blake. Edward was his real name, the real him. Forrester was his secret identity, like Clark Kent for Superman, but to the other marshals he was good ol’ boy Ted, once a bounty hunter, now a marshal, grandfathered in under the Preternatural Endangerment Act just like me. I’d been a vampire executioner, not a bounty hunter. But either way, there we stood with real badges; legally we were real cops. Edward still took assassination jobs if the pay was high enough, or the hit interesting enough. He specialized in killing only dangerous things, like wereanimals and vampires. Crime fighting had actually begun to take up most of his time. Work does interfere with your hobbies.
There were other marshals over talking to the local police, but it was just Edward and me standing in the middle of the scattered body parts. Maybe the others had gotten tired of looking at them; we had come straight from the airport in Tacoma to the crime scene. The other cops had been here longer. Dismembered bodies did lose their charm pretty fast.
I fought the urge to huddle in my Windbreaker with U.S. Marshal in big letters on it. It was fifty freaking degrees here. Whoever heard of fifty being the regular temperature in August? It was a hundred-plus with heat index at home in St. Louis. The stop before this one had been Alabama. Fifty degrees felt amazingly cold after all that heat and humidity. The light softened around us and I could see the body parts better. It didn’t make me like them any better.
“Is the body lying on its back, or its ass?” I asked.
“You mean because it’s bisected at midchest and the parts are about ten feet away?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Does it matter?” he asked. He pushed his hand toward a cowboy hat that he’d left in the car that brought us from the airport. Ted wore a well-loved, well-creased cowboy hat, and the fact that the hat gesture had become habitual said just how much time Edward was spending as his legal alter ego. He settled for running his hand through his short blond hair. He was five foot eight, which seemed tall to me at five- three.
“I guess not.” In my head I thought, Problems like that are what you think about when you stare down at a dismembered body, because otherwise you want to run screaming, or throw up. I hadn’t thrown up on a body in years, but the St. Louis police had never let me live it down.
I WAS WORMING MY way through a mass of parents and children with a tiny clown hat clutched in one hand. In my navy blue skirt suit I looked like a dozen other mothers who had had to come straight from work to the dance recital. My hair was a little curly and a little too black for all the blond mothers, but no one gave me a second glance. The one saving grace as I threaded my way through the crowd of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and siblings was that I wasn’t one of the parents. I was just here as moral support and last-minute costume rescuer. It was just Monica Vespucci’s style to leave part of her son’s costume at her house and need an emergency save. Micah and I had been running late with client meetings so we got to ride to the rescue, and now since the vast majority of the performers were female I was the only one safe to go backstage without scandalizing the mothers. What did little girls who only had male relatives do at things like this? My dad would have been at a loss.
A little girl and her mother damn near knocked me down the stairs in their rush to get up past me. The little girl was knocked into me so that my suit jacket pushed back and she was staring at my holstered gun and U.S. Marshal badge. The child’s eyes went big as she met my eyes. The mother never noticed, dragging the silent child up the stairs. I let them get ahead of me, the little girl’s huge, dark eyes following me until the crowd hid her from sight. She couldn’t have been more than five. I wondered if she’d even try to tell her mother she’d seen a woman with a gun and a badge.
I started pushing my way up the stairs, keeping the hand with the clown hat in it close to my jacket so I wouldn’t flash the gun by accident anymore. I was going to try to keep my occupation a secret from the screaming children and their frantic mothers. They didn’t need to know that I hunted bad little vampires and wereanimals for the preternatural branch of the U.S. Marshals Service. They certainly didn’t need to know that I raised zombies as my day job. I blended in as long as no one figured out who I was.
I got to the upper hallway and there was one lone male over the age of twelve being herded by his mother. She had an almost embarrassed look on her face, as if apologizing for not having a girl. I knew there were more men up here, because some of them were mine, but they were safely away from the estrogen-rich room of little girls.
Monica’s son was under five, so he didn’t count as male yet. He was just a generic child. Now if I could only find the generic child, hand his mother the hat, and flee to our seats where everyone was waiting for me, I’d count it as a win, though knowing Monica she’d need something else. I didn’t like her at all.
“I want you to raise my wife from the dead, Ms. Blake,” Tony Bennington said, in a voice that matched the expensive suit and the flash of the Rolex on his right wrist. It probably meant he was a lefty. Not that his handedness mattered, but you learn to notice primary hands when people try to kill you on a semiregular basis.
“My condolences,” I said automatically, because Bennington didn’t display any grief. His face was composed, almost blank, so that if he was handsome in that gray-haired, I’m-over-fifty-but keep-in-good-shape way, the lack of expression took all the fun out of it. Maybe the blankness was his way of showing grief, but his gray eyes were steady and cold as they met mine. It was either some steely control of grief, or he didn’t feel anything about his wife’s death; that would be interesting. “Why do you want me to raise your wife from the dead, Mr. Bennington?”
“At the rates you charge, does it matter?” he asked.
I gave him the long blink and crossed my legs, smoothing the skirt over my thighs as automatically as I’d said my condolences. I gave him the edge of a smile that I knew didn’t reach my eyes. “It does, to me.”
An emotion filled his eyes then; anger. His voice held barely a hint of the emotion that turned his eyes a darker shade of gray. Maybe it was steely self-control after all. “It’s personal, and you don’t need to know it to raise her as a zombie.”
“This is my job, Mr. Bennington, not yours. You don’t know what I need to raise a zombie.”
“I did my research, Ms. Blake. My wife wasn’t murdered, so she won’t rise as a vengeful flesh-eating monster. She wasn’t psychic, or a witch, and had never gone near any other religion that might make her more than a normal zombie. There’s nothing in her background that makes her a bad candidate for the ceremony.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’m impressed; you did do your research.”
He nodded, once, manicured hands smoothing his tailored lapel. “Then you’ll do it?”
I shook my head. “Not without a reason.”
He frowned at me, that flash of anger back in his eyes. “What kind of reason do you want?”
“One good enough to make me disturb the dead.”
“I’m willing to pay your rather exorbitant fee, Ms. Blake; I would think that would inspire you.”
“Money isn’t everything, Mr. Bennington. Why do you want her raised from the dead? What do you hope to gain from it?”
“Gain,” he said, “I don’t know what you mean by that.”
“I don’t, either, but you keep not answering my original question; I thought maybe if I rephrased it you would.”
“I don’t want to answer either question,” he said.
“Then I won’t raise your wife. There are other animators at Animators Inc. who will be happy to take your money, and they don’t charge my rates.”
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