Home > Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #22)

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #22)
Author: Laurell K. Hamilton

Acknowledgments

We’re taught Lord Acton’s axiom: all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believed that when I started these books, but I don’t believe it’s always true anymore. Power doesn’t always corrupt. Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals.

Robert Caro

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.

John F. Kennedy

 

 

1

 


My gun was digging into my back, so I shifted forward in my office chair. That was better; now it was just the comforting pressure of the inner-skirt holster, tucked away underneath my short royal blue suit jacket. I’d stopped wearing my shoulder holster except when I was on an active warrant as a U.S. Marshal. When I was working at Animators Inc. and seeing clients, the behind-the-back holster was less likely to flash and make them nervous. You’d think if someone was asking me to raise the dead for them that they’d have better nerves, but guns seemed to scare them a lot more than talking about zombies. It was different once the zombie was raised and they were looking at the walking dead; then suddenly the guns didn’t bother them nearly as much, but until that Halloweenesque moment I tried to keep the weapons out of sight. There was a knock on my office door and Mary, our daytime receptionist, opened it without my saying Come in, which she’d never done in the six years we’d been working together, so I wasn’t grumpy about the interruption. I just looked up from double-checking my client meetings to make sure there wouldn’t be any overlap issues and knew something was up, and knowing Mary it would be important. She was like that.

She’d finally let her hair go gray, but it was still in the same obviously artificial hairdo that it had always been. She’d let herself get a little plump as she neared sixty and had finally embraced glasses full time. The combination of it all had aged her about ten years, but she seemed happy with it, saying, ‘I’m a grandma; I’m okay with looking like one.’ The look on her face was sad and set in sympathetic lines. It was the face she used to deal with grieving families who wanted their loved ones raised from the dead. Having that face aimed at me sped my pulse and tightened my stomach.

I made myself take a deep breath and let it out slow as Mary closed the door behind her and started walking toward my desk. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I didn’t want to tell you over the phone with all the clients listening,’ she said.

‘Tell me what?’ I asked, and fought the urge not to raise my voice. She was about one more uninformative answer away from getting yelled at.

‘There’s a woman on line two; she says she’s your future mother-in-law. I told her you weren’t engaged to my knowledge, and she said that she didn’t know what to call herself since you were just living with her son.’

I was actually living with several men, but most of them didn’t have families to use words like son. ‘Name, Mary, what’s her name?’ My voice was rising a little.

‘Morgan, Beatrice Morgan.’

I frowned at her. ‘I’m not living with anyone named Morgan. I’ve never even dated anyone with that last name.’

‘I didn’t recognize it from your boyfriends, but she said that the father is hurt, maybe dying, and she thought he’d want to know about his dad before it was too late. The emotion is real, Anita. I’m sorry, maybe she’s crazy, but sometimes people don’t think clearly when their husband is hurt. I didn’t want to just write her off as crazy; I mean, I don’t know the last names of everyone you’re dating.’

I started to tell her to ignore the call, but looking into Mary’s face I couldn’t do it. I’d trusted her to screen callers for years. She had a good feel for distraught versus crazy. ‘She give a first name for her son?’

‘Mike.’

I shook my head. ‘I’ve never dated a Mike Morgan. I don’t know why she called here, but she’s got the wrong Anita Blake.’

Mary nodded, but her expression looked unhappy. ‘I’ll tell her that you don’t know a Mike Morgan.’

‘Do that. She’s either got the wrong Anita Blake, or she’s crazy.’

‘She doesn’t sound crazy, just upset.’

‘You know that crazy doesn’t mean the emotion isn’t real, Mary. Sometimes the delusion is so real they believe it all.’

Mary nodded again and went out to tell Beatrice Morgan she had the wrong number. I went back to checking the last of my client meetings. I wanted to make sure that no matter how long it took to raise each zombie, I wouldn’t be too late for the next cemetery. Clients tended to get spooked if you left them hanging out in graveyards too long by themselves. At least most of the meetings were historical societies and lawyers checking wills, with the families of the deceased either long dead or not allowed near the zombie until after the will was settled in case just seeing the loved ones influenced the zombie to change its mind about the last will and testament. I wasn’t sure it was possible to sway a zombie that way, but I approved of the new court ruling that families couldn’t see the deceased until after all court matters were cleared up, just in case. Have one billionaire inheritance overturned because of undue influence on a zombie and everybody got all weird about it.

Mary came through the door without knocking. ‘Micah. Mike was his nickname as a kid. Morgan is her name from her second marriage. It was Callahan. Micah Callahan’s mother is on line two, and his dad is in the hospital.’

‘Shit!’ I said, picking up the phone and hitting the button to put the call through. ‘Mrs Callahan, I mean, Mrs Morgan, this is Anita Blake.’

‘Oh, thank God, I’m so sorry. I just forgot about the names. I’ve been Beatrice Morgan for eighteen years, since Micah was twelve, and he was Mike to us. He didn’t like Micah when he was a little boy. He thought Mike was more grown up.’ She was crying softly, I could hear it in her voice, but her words were clear, well enunciated. It made me wonder what she did for a living, but I didn’t ask. It could wait; it was just one of the thoughts you have when you’re trying not to get caught up in the emotions of a situation. Think, don’t feel, just think.

‘You told our receptionist that Micah’s dad was hurt.’

‘Yes, Rush, that’s my ex, his father, was attacked by something. His deputy said it was a zombie, but the bite isn’t human, and it’s like he’s infected with something from it.’

‘Zombies rarely attack people.’

‘I know that!’ She yelled it. I heard her taking deep breaths, drawing in her calm. I heard the effort over the phone, could almost feel her gathering herself back. ‘I’m sorry. When Mike left us he was so horrible, but Rush said he’d found out that Mike did it to protect all of us and that some of the people had their families hurt by these people.’

‘What people?’ I asked.

‘Rush wouldn’t tell me details, said it was a police matter. He was always doing that when we were married, drove me nuts, but he said that he’d found out enough to know that other wereanimals in that group had their families killed, and Mike had to convince them he hated us, or they would have hurt us. Do you know if that’s true? Does Mike want to see his father? Does he want to see any of us?’ She was crying again, and just stopped trying to talk. She hadn’t been married to the man for nearly twenty years, and she was still this upset. Crap.

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