I have no idea why I tell him.
He mentions it first, the discovery the previous day of two badly decomposed bodies in a rundown trailer at the end of some narrow road off of Highway 849. A friend of one of the deceased men went to pay a visit (read: score some drugs) and smelled something horrible. David was one of the deputies sent out.
“It was . . . bad,” he says. “Not the decomp, but how they died. They were torn apart. I’ve never seen anything that bad.”
My head is on his chest, his arm is around me, we’re warm in his bed, and maybe it’s the post-coital bliss that makes me open my stupid fucking mouth and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d see that.”
His hand, which has been gently stroking my right bicep, stops. “What?”
Weird sensation in my stomach now. It might be my heart dropping into it. But my voice sounds normal when I say, “I mean I’m sorry that you saw that. That must have been horrible.”
“Back up. You said you were sorry, you didn’t think I’d see that.” He shifts position and sits up a little straighter in bed. So do I. “What the hell does that mean, Elizabeth?”
I don’t like how he’s looking at me. I don’t like how my jaw is clenched. I can’t make it move. I can’t say anything. Shit, even if I could, I have no clue what to say.
“Elizabeth. Talk to me. Tell me what you meant when you said that.”
God, I wish it was dark so I couldn’t see his face. But no, it’s the middle of the afternoon, it’s our rare day off together, and tonight we’re supposed to go to the movies and eat popcorn and he’s supposed to spend the night at my place and it’s not going to happen now. Because now he’s looking at me with suspicion and distrust and disgust and fear. And that last emotion makes my heart ache, so I guess it’s not in my stomach after all.
“Elizabeth, damn it, say something.” He shifts away from me. I want to reach out and make him stop moving away from me, but I’m scared that he’ll tell me not to touch him. He’s close to the edge of the bed now. I’m worried he’ll fall off. His voice cracks when he says, “Please tell me what you meant.”
I close my eyes for a second and that somehow gets my mouth moving. And of course, I say the worst possible thing: “They shot me. I had to. I had to.”
– – – – – – – – – –
The phone’s alarm went off. I groaned and pawed at it, somehow managed to tap the Stop button. I shoved my head under the pillow. Then I smelled coffee.
I sat up, confused. Why did I smell coffee? I had a Keurig. It wasn’t programmable.
I was about to take a deeper sniff and try to dig under the scent of mild Texas pecan roast when it occurred to me that David still had a copy of my key. We hadn’t reached the point in our deteriorating relationship where we threw them at each other. Yet.
The logical part of my mind insisted that David wouldn’t just let himself in and start brewing coffee. I ignored it and, quietly as I could, got out of bed. I grabbed some clothes from the top of the laundry hamper in the master bath: jogging pants, Houston Astros tee, and pulled them on as I padded down the hallway to the kitchen.
I turned left, into the kitchen, and froze when I saw the blonde bitch in the pantsuit sitting on my kitchen table, swinging her Converse-clad feet. Behind her, in the kitchen, was a black dude roughly the size of an NFL linebacker, straining the limits of an off-the-rack navy blue suit.
“Fuck,” I spat. These two assholes. In my kitchen. In my house. My hands curled into fists.
“Morning, sunshine,” Agent Moss rumbled. He was leaning against my kitchen counter, by the coffee maker. He picked up my current favorite mug (That’s What I Do. I Drink Coffee and I Know Things was printed on it) and set it on the breakfast bar that separated us. “I didn’t know what you take in it.”
“Pull up a chair and set a spell,” Agent Stahlberg fake-drawled.
“Get off my fucking table,” I said.
She raised her over-plucked eyebrows. “Two F-bombs already, so early in the morning. You really aren’t a morning person, are you?”
“Get. Off. My. Fuc–”
“Stahlberg, come on, manners,” Moss said. He folded his massive arms across his equally massive chest.
She rolled her eyes and hopped off the table to join her partner in the kitchen. Meanwhile, I stayed where I was, seriously wondering if I was having a rage-stroke.
David and I had met these two dickwads last year: they had been tracking, of all things, a zombie, and had known about my lycanthropic condition. They claimed to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as agents, but had never elaborated on that. David and I had spent a fruitless evening after they left searching the CDC website; we’d found advice on fighting the flu and when to get colorectal screenings, and we’d seen lots of doctors listed, but the only agents we’d found had been pulmonary and chemical.
“Anderson, hey,” Moss said, “come get some coffee. Sorry for the unannounced visit.”
“How’d you get in my house?” I asked, turning around. I had a clear view of the front door through the living room. It hadn’t been kicked in.
Stahlberg said, “I’m pretty good at picking locks. We kinda thought you’d have an alarm system. And better locks.”
“Well, okay. Now get out.”
Moss raised his hands. “Hey, Anderson, hey. The coffee’s a peace offering–”
“Plus it masked our scents,” Stahlberg smirked. Moss grimaced.
I spent a few seconds indulging in a delightful fantasy wherein I bounced her head off my quartz countertop a few hundred times before ripping it off and mounting it on a stake in my front yard.
Then I sat on a stool at the breakfast bar and pulled the coffee to me. I sniffed it, didn’t find anything added to it, and took a sip. It was hot and bitter and suited my mood perfectly. “What do you want?” I finally said.
Moss rubbed his hands together. “I’m assuming you know about that family that got killed yesterday. The Petersons.”
“Presumed killed, yeah.”
“Sure, sure, presumed because no bodies, but there was a lot of blood. You heard that, right? I know one of your county homicide guys is helping out.”
I took another sip. “Yeah, we’re helping. Plus, the county’s crime lab is better equipped than the city’s. We usually end up processing most of their stuff.”
“What are they thinking happened to them?”
I shrugged. “I took a few days’ vacation. I’m out of the loop.”
Moss opened his mouth to speak again, but Stahlberg cut in with, “Enough. Jesus. We think the Petersons are zombies, and we want you to help us find them.”
I would have laughed, if not for the mouthful of caffeine.
Moss scratched his cheek. “Yes, I was getting to that.”
I put down the cup. I felt surprisingly calm. “I’m not doing that. Also, a whole family? You told me before that one zombie was rare.”
Moss shrugged. “We thought so, anyway. The lab geeks are foaming at the mouth over this. They’re also wondering why this area again.”
“I blame the refineries,” I said. I picked up the mug and was surprised to see that I was nearing the bottoms. Wait. The bottom. Were there two? Looked like there were two for a second. Why would I be drinking out of two cups?
I set it down, closed my eyes, and massaged my forehead. No. Shit no. I’d smelled the coffee beforehand. There was nothing in it except what was supposed to be in it. And it had tasted normal.
Either Moss or Stahlberg said, “Maybe you should go lay down on the couch.”
I nodded, which was a mistake, because the world started vibrating. I stood up, put my palms on the icy cold stone countertop, and realized that I couldn’t feel my legs. I looked down and saw my feet, so that was good. I told my toes to wiggle. They wiggled. Also good. I managed to turn around. The edge of the countertop dug into my back. I took two stumbling steps forward (it may also have been a hundred stumbling steps forward, I’m not sure) and found myself at my couch. I fell on top of it and passed out.