“They shot me. I had to. I had to.”
“You . . . had to.” David gets off the bed.
“David, I . . . ” That’s as far as I can get. I don’t know what else to say.
He starts gathering his clothes. I don’t know what to do, so I sit there, knees pulled up to my chest (which feels really tight, is this what a heart attack feels like?).
I watch him dress. He does it facing away from me, which I don’t like. And I hate the moment when he turns his head and stares a bit too long at my dresser. He has a drawer there, filled with a couple of pairs of socks, boxers, jeans, shorts, and three or four T-shirts, along with the duffel bag that carried all that stuff. If he opens that drawer (middle row, first drawer on the left), and starts packing . . .
He doesn’t, and my chest loosens a little. He glances at the ensuite bathroom (and maybe to the toiletries he’s stored in my medicine cabinet, and the thought makes my chest constrict again), then down at the floor. His shoulders sag.
He walks out of the room. After a stunned moment, I get out of bed and follow him down the hall. It opens up into the open kitchen and living room. He takes a right, to the living room. To the front door.
“David, wait, please. Let me explain. Please.”
He pauses, his hand on the door knob. “You can’t explain that. What I saw . . . there’s no explanation.”
“They shot me in the head, Mercy. And dumped me in the water. They took my car to their trailer. I went to get it back.”
“You went to that trailer and slaughtered them, Elizabeth. Their throats were ripped out. They were disemboweled.”
Were they? To be honest, my memories were a little fuzzy. “David–”
“Spense Smith said he first thought someone had gone after them with a chainsaw.”
“They tried to kill me.” I have to say something else. I just don’t know what.
“You could have got your car back and left them alive.”
My chest still feels like a python is wrapped around it. Now there’s sweat on my forehead. And he’s telling me what I should have done, when– “You weren’t even fucking there, you have no idea what happened out there!”
He nods, still facing the door. Now my panic and misery mutate into anger. The coward can’t even fucking face me.
“You’re right,” he says. “I wasn’t there. But I know what you can do, and I know you didn’t have to do that.”
“You self-righteous asshole, they tried to kill me!”
“You murdered them, Elizabeth. Do you understand that?” He finally turns his head and looks at me. I wish he hadn’t. “I’m so sorry they shot you. And I’m glad you’re okay. But answer me this: was it an option to just take the car and leave?”
Was it? It seems like there was a moment when it was. A moment when I had the keys in my hand, when all they had were drug-addled memories of a cop coming back from the dead, and who would have believed them? They had no proof that anything had happened. There was a camera in the cruiser, but I had figured out a long time ago how to erase what needed erasing.
David nods at my silence. “So you’re finally the monster you’ve always told me you were afraid of becoming. Congratulations. Are they the only ones you’ve murdered in cold blood?”
“You’re a fucking bastard,” I say.
He finally opens the door.
– – – – –
Sunday, 3:15 p.m. 2500 Sundial Lane, Mitchum Bay
I curb-parked the Mustang so it straddled the property lines of 2490 and 2500 Sundial Lane, figuring that would confuse the occupants as to whose house I was actually visiting. I got out and pretended to check my phone while I scanned the neighborhood. It was quiet. No one was outside.
I put up my phone and pulled out my keys, hit the alarm. The car chirped. I watched for any movement at the two houses: a flicker of the curtains covering the picture windows, a crack of the front doors. There were no vehicles parked in the driveways, but they had garages.
I stuffed my keys into my jeans pocket. It didn’t seem like anyone was home at any of the houses. I guessed they were visiting relatives or attending church. Or was it too late for church? Some had evening services, right? Was it too early for those?
Screw it. I strolled across 2500 Sundial’s front lawn like I had every right in the world to be there. The back yard, like every other back yard in the subdivision, was enclosed by a six-feet-high wooden privacy fence. I didn’t bother with the gate; I just vaulted over it. The back yard had a covered patio with an outdoor kitchen, an in-ground pool, and a hot tub.
I started across the yard, then stopped, inwardly shrugged, and headed back to the kitchen. I’d spotted a mini-fridge by the big four-burner KitchenAid gas grill, and I was curious if there was anything inside it that might take some of the edge off. I knelt, opened it, and was instantly disappointed.
Beer. Nothing but bottles of beer. I can’t stand beer. It tastes like wet bread.
I was about to shut the door when I saw a glimmer of hope behind a Corona longneck. I reached in and carefully extracted a fifth of Grey Goose, half-empty. Or half-full, let’s be optimistic today.
I sat back, spun off the cap, and took a swig. The vodka was cold and burned on the way down. I took another swallow, and, thus fortified, put it back in the fridge. I stood, dusted off the seat of my pants, and continued across the yard. Sundial shared a fence with Crescent, but before jumping it, I pressed my nose to a gap between the boards and sniffed. There was still an unmarked Mitchum Bay Dodge parked a few houses down from 2500, and I wanted to make sure no one was stationed in the back. Nope. Coast was clear.
I jumped the fence and landed in a crouch. Another in-ground pool. Better landscaping, though. But points off for no kitchen.
I checked the back of the house. Vertical blinds drawn across the French doors. Shades down in all the other windows. I’d scoped out this street when I’d passed it on my way to Sundial, and I’d spotted the car, but no other city vehicles. No crime scene techs conducting a follow-up visit. The Tahoe was still parked in the driveway.
I pulled a pair of Mechanix gloves from my back pocket and yanked them on. I tried the handle to the French doors, expecting to have to break in. Instead, it turned easily. I held my breath and walked inside, then shut and locked the door behind me.
The interior was dim. I was in the living room. I went to my hands and knees, knowing that the next few seconds would be bad.
I exhaled, then inhaled. The smells came fast and bad and strong: blood, fear-sweat, onions, blood, panic-sweat, motor oil, Moss and Stahlberg (huh), engine exhaust, spice and musk and sweet swirls of different colognes and perfumes, blood, Ryan Riley, latex, blood, so much blood. Then four other scents that made the hairs on the back of my neck rise: one male, one female, two female children.
My nose adjusted to the smells. I became aware that my forehead was pressed to cold ceramic tiles, that my hands were laced behind my neck, that I was growling. I stopped the growling, but stayed in that position, because it felt safe. I wished I’d brought the vodka with me.
My neck was clammy. I dropped my hands, pushed up into a sitting position. Those four scents . . . I’d smelled a variation of them last year. The Petersons really were zombies. All four of them. Mighty fuck.
Moss and Stahlberg had been here. Their presence was faint; they’d spent maybe half an hour here, but they’d been here. I stood up, my legs feeling a bit shaky. I spotted an empty bottle of wine on the triangular granite-topped work island in the kitchen. I wobbled to it.
It was Sunday. The police figured that whatever had happened to the Petersons had happened either late Friday night or early Saturday morning. Moss and Stahlberg hadn’t darkened my doorstep until this morning. Why had they waited so long? The last zombie, Josh Hamilton, had gone from a confused reanimated individual to a mindless biting monster in less than six hours. They had let the Petersons shuffle around for at least twenty-four hours.
I opened the fridge. More wine inside, outstanding. I chose a moscato. Micah Peterson had helpfully left out the bottle opener by the empty bottle of red. (His smell was all over the gadget.) I opened the bottle and tossed the cork into the farmhouse sink.
I walked into the living room. Two large leather duffel bags, one in white, the other in pink, were on the floor by the gray sectional sofa. The bags were unzipped. They contained DVDs, books, and blankets. There was a Yeti cooler by the pink bag. Its lid was up, showing me the bottled waters and fruit snacks stuffed inside it. The sofa itself had various DVDs scattered across it.
I took a drink. Moss and Stahlberg had told me that, unlike in the movies, getting bitten by a zombie wouldn’t turn you into one. You’d get a bad infection from the bite, but that was it. And, in a few days, the zombie (they had another stupid term for it, but the name escaped me) died for good. They were the mayflies of the monster world.
Still, the agents’ lack of urgency confused me. They were so frantic last time.
I nursed the bottle while I toured the rest of the house. Master bedroom, huge walk-in closet, master bathroom, huge whirlpool tub. Girls’ bedrooms, sheets stiff with maroon blood. Two more bedrooms that were used as an office and game room. Two more bathrooms. Linen closet door in the second bathroom was open.
Where had the Petersons gone? I knew how they had gotten there: a few minutes’ research had turned up a late-model Toyota Camry registered to Daniele Peterson, as well as the revelation that no one was looking for it.
I wandered back into the kitchen. I checked the bottle. Half-gone. Shit, how had that happened?
Wanting to keep a clear head, I poured the rest of the wine down the sink. I tossed the bottle in the trash can by the refrigerator. I started for the French doors, then went back to the fridge. There was a round magnet stuck above the ice dispenser, advertising Loud Noisez, Micah Peterson’s business. It also listed the address.
I peeled off the magnet. It was as good a place to look as any.