Undead and undermined, p.3
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       Undead and Undermined, p.3
 

         Part #10 of Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
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  But her concerns were real. And I didn't think they should be brushed aside.

  "Come on, don't be like that," Marc coaxed in an encouraging tone. "Look at the facts. If Betsy can be good at marriage, anyone can. "

  "Die screaming," I told him. Then snapped my jaw shut so quickly I almost bit off my tongue. I had the awful feeling that he did just that. Or would someday do just that. Goddamned time travel.

  "I'm not having this discussion during smoothie time," Jessica told N/Dick.

  "Indeed," Sinclair tried again, "there are other things we should-"

  "That's it. " D/Nick threw his arms in the air like a football referee ("And . . . it's gooooood!"). "I'm going to get Marc to dose you with tranqs, then haul you in front of a judge. By the time you-"

  "Remember you've never been a fan of felony kidnapping or drug abuse," Marc prompted.

  "-realize what's happened, it'll be too late. You'll be Mrs. Detective Nicholas J. Berry. " He'd said all that with a scowl, but it couldn't hold up to Jessica's amused exasperation, and when he grinned back, I was again reminded how greatlooking he was.

  I had always liked that Nickie/Dickie looked like what he was: a clean-cut, corn-fed midwestern boy. A smokin' hot midwestern boy, if I may be so uncouth.

  Once upon a time his name was Nick, and I'd hoped we'd get naked and make careless reproductive choices together. But when we first met, he saw me as a victim of the crime he hoped to solve (it was a long story involving feral vampires, Kahn's Mongolian BBQ, and my love of garlic). And after he met Jessica, he'd never thought of me at all.

  Hmmm. I wasn't sure I liked the way my memories bent. Memo to me: you have everything. And you're still irked that Nick-Dick never ever saw you in the way you were accustomed. Get over it, you greedy cow.

  Speaking of greedy, was he super-rich in this timeline or struggling on a cop's salary? Which was just pitiful, by the way . . . A good executive assistant made more than the average homicide detective, and admin staff were rarely shot at.

  I had it in my head that N-Dick was the heir to the John Deere tractor fortune, but he didn't talk about it much in my old timeline, and frankly, what with my husband being rich and my best friend being rich, I wasn't all that curious about other people's money. In any timeline.

  I can hear it now: you're not curious about money because you've always had some! Well. Yeah. I mean, my folks weren't rich or anything-my mom was a teacher, for cripe's sake-but they never wondered if there'd be money left at the end of the month, either. I'm not gonna apologize for being born into the upper-middle class. There were all sorts of more important things to apologize for.

  Besides, there was always the chance I had Nick/Dick mixed up with someone else. That happened a lot. Shit, sometimes I got myself mixed up with someone else.

  Well! Time to grasp the D-Nick by the horns. There wasn't a subtle or classy way to ask, so . . . "Are you rich right now?"

  D-Nick gasped. "You remembered! I am im-pressed, oh attentive undead queen with the short-term memory of a tree frog. Half the time you're telling me to dress better, the other half you're telling me it's disgraceful for a trust-fund baby to hog the last of the milk. Time travel has been good for you. "

  "That's a lie and you know it. "

  It helped that he was rich, which is why I'd asked; Jess had been screening gold-diggers out of her dating pool since before she graduated high school. In fact, if Nickie/Dickie hadn't been rich, I wondered if their relationship would have come this far.

  I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have guys only want you for your money. Pre-Sinclair, most guys only wanted me for my terrific tits, and that was enough of a dating burden.

  "If we could stay focused," Sinclair suggested, so I quit thinking about Nick's blue-with-flecks-of-gold eyes, his lean and powerful build (shoulders! yowza), and the way he didn't hate me.

  "Even for us, we're having trouble staying on track," Marc agreed. "Jesus! How lame are we?"

  "Don't take the Lord's name in front of my vampire husband. " There was a phrase I couldn't say enough. Sinclair's expression was still frozen in midflinch. "You know it bugs him, and then he bugs me. "

  "Also," Jessica prompted with a wicked grin, "it's a sin. "

  "Right! I would have remembered that in a few more minutes. In fact, I-"

  The swinging door whooshed open. Which was strange, because most of us were here, and shoving doors open wasn't Tina's style. I'd been so busy yakking I hadn't heard anyone coming down the hall.

  "You're back. "

  I looked up and assumed I was experiencing my first-ever seizure. Great milestone, a personal goal for some time, freak-out induced seizures, woo-hoo! Next, probably my first-ever brain hemorrhage. Then I'd probably need my tonsils out.

  Oh, it was going to be a wonderful week.

  Standing in the kitchen doorway, looking rumpled and pale and not dead, was one of my dead roommates, Garrett.

  And the last time I'd seen him, he was in the middle of killing himself.

  Did I mentioned he'd succeeded in spectacular fashion? CHAPTER FIVE

 

  "Gaaaaah," was all I managed as the kitchen floor rushed up and hit me in the forehead. Stupid rushing floor, why did it have to move when I'd had a terrible, terrible shock? Oh, wait. I'd fallen and I couldn't get up. That old lady in the commercial had a buzzer . . . Where was my buzzer? I wanted a buzzer. Bring me a buzzer! The queen has spoken. "Too much . . . weirdness . . . blacking out . . . "

  Nick (?) helpfully dripped smoothie on my forehead and I realized Sinclair was rubbing my hands between his while Marc tried to check my vitals.

  "Why do I always do this?" he bitched. "Why do I ever try to get a pulse or BP off you?"

  "Because you're an idiot in every timeline. " I resisted the urge to shout that into the bell of his stethoscope.

  "I must apologize. " Sinclair's dark eyes were wide. He was rubbing my hands so hard, I assumed he was trying to start a fire. "My poor queen! I should have predicted your reaction. "

  "Why? When have you ever been able to do that? I'm all right. " If I had a dollar for every time I ended up ass over teakettle, smack-o on the floor when I was startled or freaked or shot, I'd-well. Since Sinclair's fortune was now mine, I actually did have a dollar for every time. "Let me up. "

  "No," at least three of them said at once. Then Marc added, "Your pulse is seven. I've mentioned before: that's incompatible with life, right?"

  "It's just a lot to take in. "

  "Tell me! Everything about you is incompatible with life. "

  "Not my pulse, dumbass. Nick, if you drop one more fruity drop on me-it's in my hair!-I will take you to at least three shoe sales. "

  He jerked his glass away so quickly he almost dropped it. Ah-ha! So this was a potent weapon in both timelines. Excellent.

  One of the worried faces above mine was Garrett's. He looked like he did in my timeline . . . sort of rumpled and fierce, like he could dart off at any moment and his clothes wouldn't hinder him. He was too thin-I always wanted to hook him up to a milkshake IV-and he was sort of flinch-ey.

  It's hard to describe . . . he came off as high strung yet calm. Like someone who freaked out at the thought of speaking in public but didn't mind being in a choir. Someone who froze at the thought of back-to-school shopping but didn't mind going to the dentist. Someone who didn't fret about what to wear, but always wore clean clothes.

  Garrett was technically an old man-he was an old-timey actor from 1940s Hollywood; how was that for retro?-but his swimmer's build and blond, shoulder-length hair were more Playgirl than AARP.

  "I made you afraid," he commented, gazing down at me with eyes that were mild as chocolate, yet I remembered times when they could glare with fury.

  "You sure did. You've got a lot of nerve being alive. " I could hardly believe my eyes. And seeing he had a canvas bag hanging off one shoulder that was stuffed with bal
ls of yarn and bulging with several sizes of knitting needles, I wanted to laugh and give thanks. Garrett, the Fiend formerly known as George, could crochet a mean baby's blanket in this reality as well.

  It's corny, but as I reached up to touch his dear face, I felt blessed. I hadn't gotten a chance to know him before he died. Hadn't bothered, was more like it. And to be honest, my sadness after his suicide had been more guilt than anything else. But I would make up for that. Hadn't I just been thinking about how great it was to get a do-over in Nickie/Dickie's case, how in real life that almost never happened? Here were two, not even five minutes apart.

  "I'm so happy to see you. Is-is Antonia . . . ?"

  "Yes. She died protecting you. But don't worry, Majesty. "

  Worry? Was he kidding? I don't think I'd ever been less worried in my life. "Okay. "

  "You told me your plan. "

  "I did? How awesome of me. And I know, I'm sure, it was a wonderful plan, a great plan, my most genius plan ever. A plan I was brilliant to think up and you were privileged to hear. " I cleared my throat and glared at Jessica and Marc, who were rolling their eyes. "D'you mind reminding me what my plan is?"

  "Oh, that. Sure. You and I and the Antichrist are going to hell to get my wife back. "

  And here it came. Stroke number two. CHAPTER SIX

 

  "It's not over yet," my dead stepmother warned. There hadn't been time to work in a halfway decent insult ("Why can't you go straight to hell like any other decent God-fearing-") before I was shoved so hard, I smacked into the wall and fell.

  The impact forced a shower of plaster to rain down on me. There was the deafening boom of a pistol being fired several times over my head. We were trapped in the doorway like ants in a straw. Nobody had any room.

  And from that, worse was to come: "Why wasn't she getting up?"

  "Twenty-two longs, perfect for the job . . . They ricocheted around her skull but didn't exit . . . "

  "But she's a werewolf!"

  "Her brains are all over the floor. There will be no coming back from this. "

  "But she's-she's Antonia! She can't be-I mean, shot?"

  "No, she can't be. You're wrong. She's not. "

  "She jumped in front of me. She saved me. "

  "Everybody saves you. "

  And that last flashback quote was still echoing in my head, the way they get all echoey: saves you, saves you, saves you.

  All that was still thrumming around in my gray matter when the last of the expositional flashback clicked home.

  Then we heard the splintering crash come from the stairwell.

  I stood, trembling at the silence, and peered into the foyer. I choked back a sob at what Garrett had done to himself.

  The regretful Fiend-turned-vampire had kicked the banister off a stretch of curved stairs in the foyer, leaving a dozen or so of the rails exposed and pointing up like spears. Then he had climbed to the second floor to a spot overlooking the stairs and swan dived onto the rails, which had gone through him like teeth.

  "See?" my dead stepmother said as we stared down at the second body of a friend in less than a minute. "I warned you. "

  And the last thing. The last thing I said at the end of that crazy stupid weird scary night.

  "It was all just so-so stupid. " And preventable, my conscience had whispered. If only you'd been paying attention to business.

  And here was the proof! The proof had walked through my kitchen door. The proof was wearing red and white flannel, and carrying a canvas tote bag stuffed with primary colored balls of yarn and knitting needles. I wondered why in this timeline, Garrett hadn't killed himself after Antonia died. Did something happen in this timeline's Garrett that made the death of his wife bearable?

  "This timeline's Garrett", "that timeline's so-and-so" . . . gaaaaah. I needed an Alternate Timeline vs. Other Timeline scorecard. I was gonna get a headache if I thought it over for too long. And why was I even wondering? Here he was.

  Who cared why? CHAPTER SEVEN

 

  "Please don't tell me anything new for the next half hour," I begged. I started to lurch to my feet; Sinclair simply grasped my hand and helped me. He was so strong it was like I was floating to my feet. His hand stayed in mine and I squeezed it. He squeezed back.

  Okay. This was weird. This was all beyond weird, this was all extremely damned weird, but. But! Everything I'd seen, heard, and felt proved Sinclair and I were in love in this timeline, too. That meant I could . . . I could probably handle any other weirdness as long as I could count on that. Dear God, THAT WAS NOT A BET. I'm not daring you to freak me out more, God, okay? Okay. You're not to consider that a challenge OF ANY SORT. In Jesus' sake. Amen.

  "How are we supposed to know what you know or don't know?" Marc asked, aggrieved. When I'd pitched out of my chair, my drink had flopped (thick! like Greek yogurt) to the floor. Marc had picked it up, put it in the sink, and was now wiping up the mess.

  "I have no idea, but please figure it out this instant. " I leaned against Sinclair, which was unnecessary but yummy. That boy was built like a barn door, all broad and hard.

  Barn door? I must have hit my head harder than I thought. There was nothing sexy about a barn door. Unless I was jammed up against it while Sinclair played pirate (the swashbuckling kind from the 1700s, not the icky Somalian kind from right now).

  ". . . help me?"

  "Huh?" Okay. No time to think of pirates. Time to focus. "Sorry, I didn't catch that. "

  "When will you be prepared to help me?" Garrett asked again.

  "Good question. Okay. Let's figure this out. My big new plan was for you and me to go to hell," I prompted him, "so we can get your wife. "

  He nodded. He was still carrying his tote o' knitting supplies, and it was super cute.

  "Your wife . . . who is dead now. Here," I clarified, "in this timeline. "

  He nodded again. Ahhh, Garrett, how it all came back to me . . . like how he never talked. Shit, for the first few months he lived here, he couldn't talk. But he fed on my blood, and the blood of the Antichrist (long story) and remembered all sorts of things. Like how to talk. And crochet baby blankets. And knit sweaters. He made a black sweater with yellow piping for Sinclair last year. My husband wore it once but, when I collapsed into laughter and spent the afternoon calling him Bee Man, never wore it again.

  "Why do you think Antonia's in hell?"

  Garrett blinked, surprised. Then, "Where else would she be?"

  I thought about Antonia's near-constant pissy mood, her fuming anger, which was occasionally overtaken by spitting rage. Her standard greeting ("What's up, dumbasses?") and her standard farewell ("Bye, losers. ").

  "Right. Right! Good thinking, Garrett. You're a man of few words and mucho brains in both universes. So, your dead wife is in hell. And you want to go get her, like an Orpheus thing?"

  My husband's eyebrows arched. "My love, you never cease to amaze. You know of Orpheus and Eurydice?"

  "Duh, Sink Lair. "

  "Wonderful," he muttered. "Another dreadful holdover through both timelines?"

  "Yeah, well, in both timelines you secret name is Sink Lair, and I'm a total badass when it comes to Greek mythology. "

  "It's true," Jessica told N/Dick. "She's won contests. She's won Trivial Pursuit tournaments. "

  "It's fascinating, once you get over the ick factor of all of them marrying their brothers and sisters. And killing their dads. Anyway. So you want to go to hell to bring Antonia back here. Even though she's dead. "

  "You will fix it," Garrett said firmly. I was both flattered and horrified by his faith in me. "You are the queen. And you also know Greek mythology. "

  "And I agreed to this?"

  "Yes. "

  It sounded authentic. I wasn't exactly known for my careful deliberation and cautious tactics. Assuming we could even find Antonia, could we bring a dead person out of hell and back to earth?


  Never mind: I'd said I would do it. And I was a woman of my word in every universe, dammit. "Uh . . . so we, what? Pack a lunch? And then I, what? Summon Satan?"

  Silence, though I could almost hear the clicking eyeballs as we all stared at each other. Nobody said anything. Which, for this group, was scary and weird.

  After a long moment of stare downs: "Maybe you could just call the Antichrist on her cell first," Jessica suggested.

  "Yes! Excellent plan. Much better than sacrificing shoes. "

  "What?"

  "I don't want to talk about it," I said in my best I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it tone. Some things were just too painful to discuss, even with my best (fat) friend.

  "And I am not fat!" she cried, reading my mind in the way only a best friend can, which never failed to make me feel cared for yet freaked out. Two people knew what I was thinking most of the time: one of them was the richest woman in Minnesota, and the other one was a dead farmer. These are the things I faced weekly, if not daily.

  "Well, you certainly aren't-ow!" I stared at Sinclair. "Did you . . . did you just grab my ear and yank?"

  "I tripped," the king of the vampires responded, suaver than usual.

  "And your finger fell on my ear and pulled it?"

  "If you were about to say 'you certainly aren't thin,' then he saved your unworthy white butt, because I would have cut your ear off your head!"

  "She would have," D/Nick said, nodding hard. "The hormones, Betsy. You have no idea. It's a rare week when she doesn't cut something off somebody. "

  "Gross," was my only comment.

  "Are you going to call the Antichrist or not?"

  "Don't call her," a new voice answered. Just what we needed . . . a new, sneaky vampire.

  And everything went from sucky to beyond sucky, if there was such a thing.

  Who am I kidding? Of course there was. CHAPTER EIGHT

 

  I know why I assumed it was a vampire. Sneaking up on me is easy. Sneaking up on Sinclair, not so much. So I think it's fair to say I knew what I was getting into when I sprinted toward it.

  All I could think was, Dick isn't carrying, and neither is Nick. Marc smells like blood . . . stupid scrubs! And Jessica . . . my God, Jessica and the baby . . . her enormous fat unborn baby . . . oh Jesus . . .

 
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