My heart lunged in my chest. I said, “A what?” but a beat too late.
The blond grinned. “Nice try. Do this,” she said, flashing her square human teeth again.
David stepped in front of me. “Who are you? What do you want?”
The black guy held up his hands. “Can I reach inside my jacket and get out something real quick? Something that’ll explain all this?”
I moved up beside David. “Do it slow.”
He did. He removed a small black wallet and flipped it open, held it up for us so we could see an I.D. card, dark red, with his photo and the words CDC-Investigations stamped in small white letters across the top.
“CDC? Centers for Disease Control?” I said.
“And Prevention,” the blond said. She held her own I.D. out. “I’m Agent Stahlberg. He’s Agent Moss.”
“Investigations,” David said. He looked at me. “Since when does the CDC have agents?”
Stahlberg said, “I’m sorry, were you asking me that question?”
I considered them a moment. “What are you investigating?”
Don’t say me, don’t say me, don’t say me
Stahlberg said, “Same man you are. Joshua Hamilton.”
Oh thank God. Wait a second
“Why?” I asked.
Moss tucked his wallet back inside his jacket. “There somewhere we can sit and talk?”
* * *
We chose the Starbucks on Porter Avenue, because it was close. Moss and Stahlberg ordered lattes, and we sat at a table in the back corner, by the outside patio area. We gave the CDC agents a few minutes to get their drinks and take a few sips. David was sitting on my left, and his right leg kept bouncing up and down. Nervousness. I put my hand on his thigh and gently squeezed.
“Why are you investigating Hamilton?” I asked.
Stahlberg put down her venti. “Uh, let’s see. He was shot three times, was pronounced dead at the scene by Norris Everett, an EMT with fifteen years’ experience, yet got to his feet and left the premises a few minutes later, as captured by security footage. Not your usual occurrence, hmm?”
“I get it,” I said, pointing at them. “You’re X-Files.”
Moss laughed. It sounded like a diesel engine revving up. The two baristas turned and stared at us. I stared back. They went back to their foam.
“Not close,” he said, wiping his eyes. “But kind of.”
Stahlberg said, “Tell me, Deputy Anderson. A man walks away from the scene of his murder. What would you call that?”
“Faking his death?”
She shook her head. “He isn’t bleeding anymore, is he? You didn’t find a blood trail leaving the McDonald’s? Or at his apartment?”
David finally spoke. “No. We did not.”
“So.” She paused to take a drink. “So. Come on. The dead walking.”
David and I stared at her.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be dense. You’re a werewolf, for God’s sake, and I assume”–she pointed at David– “that you know it.”
“Are you saying that Joshua Hamilton is a fucking zombie?” I said.
The agents nodded. David and I looked at each other.
“He’s a zombie,” David said.
“That explains that weird smell,” I said.
“I suppose it does.”
We looked at the agents.
Moss drained his cup. “We call them Re-animated Intelligent Persons. RIP. R-I-P, get it? Rest in Peace?”
“Hilarious,” I said dryly. “So we track him down and do a headshot?”
Moss shook his head. “This is rare, this re-animating. Hamilton’s like, the fourth case I’ve had in fifteen years. This is only Stahlberg’s second. What we want to do is capture him and transport him to Atlanta. We only have a few days until he returns to his dead state.”
“Just a few days to study him and try to find out why he re-animated,” Stahlberg clarified.
David held up his hand. “Wait a sec. Study him how?”
“There are certain medical procedures,” Stahlberg said, picking up her cup.
I shook my head. “That doesn’t sound good.”
She sipped her coffee. “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know what will happen after we deliver him.”
Moss said, “You have to understand, he’s dangerous. That bit in the movies, about zombies eating living people? That’s real. It’s a compulsion, and it’s a useless one, since he can’t digest anymore. But he’s still gonna do it. And, granted, if he bites someone, he doesn’t spread what he’s got, but whoever he bites, saying he doesn’t kill them, is gonna get a nasty, life-threatening infection. Right now, he’s intelligent, he knows what’s going on, but that will change. His brain will start functioning at a purely instinctual, basic level in a couple of days. We’d like to have him locked up at the CDC by the time that happens.”
“Zombies,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Fuck me sideways. How many werewolves have you met? You don’t tote them up to Atlanta too, do you?”
Stahlberg said, “Just the dangerous ones.”
I snorted. “Well, last year, you missed one, and he bit me. Can I sue you for negligence?”