Undead and undermined, p.5
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       Undead and Undermined, p.5
 

         Part #10 of Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
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  "Don't you remember? You're not very bright in this century, but don't let that shame you for even a moment," the Marc Thing soothed. His tone didn't match his expression, so it was like being soothed by a rattlesnake. A creepy, well-dressed rattlesnake who would bite you, and be sorry after. Maybe. Needless to say, I wasn't soothed. "You need your sister to take you to hell. "

  "Anyway. " I glared. The Marc Thing smirked. I wondered if Advil would work on a vampire. I was getting a real bitchkitty of a tension headache. Maybe a hundred Advil? Actually, since we weren't really prone to that sort of thing, my headache was likely psychological. How is it that, even if you know it's all in your head, it still hurts? "We were going to reach out to her anyway. " I fumbled around in my pants for a good thirty seconds before I realized I must have lost my cell phone. Maybe . . . ?

  My husband reached into his suit coat, extracted my phone, and silently (yet suavely) held it out to me. I had a dim memory of bursting, Hulk-like, out of my leggings a couple hours earlier when my cell phone flew with the greatest of ease . . . never mind. "Nobody say anything," I warned, and stabbed the button for Laura.

  "Wouldn't dream of it," Marc assured me.

  "Me, either!" the Other Marc said.

  "It's ringing, it's-"

  "Hello?"

  "Oh, good, your cell works in hell. "

  "Betsy!" My sister sounded vaguely pleased. Well, just vague. Probably more distracted than anything else. "I'm heading to Goodwill . . . I've got a box of summer clothes I want to give away. "

  I was taken aback by the mental image her statement conjured up. "They have Goodwill in hell?"

  "I'm not in hell. I'm in Apple Valley. "

  "Oh. Okay. " I let pass all the comments I could make about Apple Valley, which was a perfectly nice Twin Cities suburb if you liked cities with no personality of their own. "When did you get back?"

  "I . . . I'm just back now. "

  Weird. Was she trying my patience, or my temper? What was up with the vagueness? Oh, the hell with it. I had other fish to et cetera. "Listen, something's come up and I really, really, really need you to come over as soon as you can. "

  "Twenty minutes," she promised, and clicked off.

  "Twenty minutes," I told them.

  "What shaaaaaall we do until then?" the Marc Thing sang. He was made immobile by all the tape, but the creepy animation in his cold, cold face was jarring to say the least.

  "We could take turns shooting you," N/Dick said. There was real distaste in his voice, and I couldn't blame him. Talking to the Marc Thing was like having a conversation with someone you couldn't see but knew would bite you if he got the chance. It was like being trapped in an elevator with a great white shark. Who had live grenades taped to his fin. And a toothache, which didn't help his mood. Baaaad shit.

  "I am prepared-dying, really, no pun intended-fully prepared to undergo a grueling interrogation and scream out answers from a throat full of black blood. "

  "Jeez," Jessica complained, "do you have to?"

  "Who killed me? And why? And what happened after? And why? And why did I follow you and the Anti-Laura back? And how? And how do I get my hair to look so good a thousand years in the past? I am," he said, looking around the kitchen, "surrounded by primitives. Not to mention primitive hair and skin-care products. Just because I don't have to shave doesn't mean I don't want to smell and look terrific. I can't remember the last time I . . . " His gaze had been darting around and his eyes reminded me of a weasel's . . . alert and mean . . . and hungry . . . at the same time.

  But when he glanced out the kitchen window into the star-filled night, the nasty/fun tone went out of his voice and he just stared out the window for the next minute-I timed him, like Madonna timed Tom Hanks peeing in A League of Their Own, without saying anything.

  Tina let out a delicate fake-cough to get his attention. "Oh, look. We're being dreadful hosts. "

  "Dreadful," Sinclair agreed, sounding about as interested as a corpse. Which he sort of-yeesh, never mind.

  "Perhaps after our discussion you might like to go outside," she offered.

  Awesome. That girl is smart. That girl who is almost two hundred years old is super smart. Me, I would have threatened him with a chainsaw nose job, followed by a lawn mower enema, but Tina instantly saw one of his weaknesses and moved in. You couldn't teach that stuff, man. That shit had to be innate.

  "It's supposed to rain later," she continued, sauntering across the room until she was leaning against the sink with the big window right behind her. "We are having an unseasonably mild November. "

  N/Dick and Jessica and I all fell all over ourselves agreeing with her-my, yes, super unseasonable, unbelievably unseasonable, and the most beauteous November any of us could remember in the last thirty years because it was just all so gorgeous and cool and we wanted to go outside, too! Jeepers, maybe, when certain unpleasant interrogations were over, maybe we could all go outside! How cool would that be?

  "Do you remember," she asked kindly, "how the air smells just before it rains?"

  "No," it said shortly, and it didn't say another word until Laura showed. That was a long seventeen minutes. CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

  A word about vampire superpowers: mostly I don't notice them. (This actually explains many things in my life. I'm too busy livin', baby! Who has time to contemplate every damn thing? Life is for living! And gobs of sex. ) That probably sounds strange, because I haven't been undead very long. But it's true. After a while you realize you were bitching about somebody snoring . . . and they were doing it seventeen rooms and three floors away. Or you'll whine about food going bad . . . and the garbage was already triple bagged and taken out into a sealed-off garage.

  It's scary how fast you get used to it. These days I took it for granted almost all the time. Like lumpless gravy. (It's surprisingly easy. ) But tonight I was listening hard, so even though we were all still in the kitchen, I heard Laura's little sewing machine engine-powered Kia pull in.

  "She's here," Sinclair and I said in unison. Tina, who must have known, hadn't taken her gaze off the Marc Thing. If that bothered him, he didn't let on. It probably took a lot more than an eyeballing from Tina to scare someone who used to have a Caesar haircut and was tortured for decades.

  Jessica and Marc both jumped. "That's creepy," Jessica said. "And it always, always will be. "

  "Yeah, knock it off," Marc added.

  "Children, children," the Marc Thing said, still staring out the window.

  "Tell me she's not still driving that Kia," N/Dick begged.

  "Who cares?" I asked. "You've got something against good gas mileage?"

  "It's the Soul," he explained. "Kia's new miniwagon is called the Soul. "

  "Oh, lame!" This time I had spoken in unison with the Marc Thing, which was beyond blech. "Get your own lines," I hissed to him. To the others: "That's just bad. Lame, and bad. And lame! The Soul. Please. We don't have enough problems? The Soul. "

  "We've had this conversation before," D/Nick reminded me.

  "Well, I don't remember it, so back off. " As if I didn't have waaaay more important things to remember than keeping track of Laura's vehicles. Well, I did, dammit. In my old timeline, Laura's dad had saved for over a year to get her that Kia, which she loved almost as much as I loved new Manolos. Her adopted dad, is what I meant; her real dad, also my dad, was dead.

  Wait, was he? Maybe in this timeline, he and (barf) my stepmonster, Antonia, were alive! And yes! I know how silly it is to have two people in the same house with the same weird name! So shut up!

  How could I find out? Sure, everyone in the room knew what a moron I was, but that didn't mean I, you know, was in a big hurry to reinforce and advertise it. Was there a way to just casually ask, "So, is my dad alive?"

  The kitchen door swung open, and in came the Antichrist. "Goodwill used to be more grateful," she said by greeting. "Now they're more interested in pa
perwork over polite conversation. "

  "Thanks for coming so-"

  "Twice! I've worn those jeans twice! Not a speck of paint, which is no mean feat when you paint in them. I thought it'd be nice to give away clothing that was only 'gently used' as opposed to falling off me in shreds. Any gratitude, though? Hmm? Not a thanks, not even a smile. "

  "Here's the thing," I tried again.

  Laura was shaking her perfectly coiffed hair out of her gorgeous eyes. "Just 'do you want a slip for your taxes?' No I do not, but how about some eye contact?" Laura was a luscious blonde . . . close to my height, give or take an inch, with beautiful blue eyes, a perfect pink-hued complexion, and a gorgeous fall of corn-silk blond hair. Just . . . sickening.

  "I'm here," she said unnecessarily. "What's-oh, God!" She was pointing at The Thing That Was Jessica's Gut, and I couldn't blame her. "What-are you-what is that?"

  "You haven't noticed any subtle and not so subtle weirdnesses-"

  "Is that even a word?"

  "Shut up, Marc or Marc Thing. " I hadn't been looking, I was embarrassed to say. That sly/sneaky tone could have come from either the live Marc or the dead one. Because I didn't. Have enough. Problems.

  "How long were you home? How's your mom-not the devil, your other mom? Has she had a perm? Quit school? Or never went to college? Do you have another sibling? New pets? Are old dead pets alive again? Is your dad-your live one, not our dead one-still a minister? That"-I pointed, ignoring Jessica's glare-"is the least of the scary-ass goings-on around here. Here, Dick and Jess are practically married, and are practicing living happily ever after. "

  Laura rounded on me like a gunfighter, using shrill accusations as bullets. On the whole, I'd have preferred actual lead bullets. "It's because you didn't feed on Nick when we were in the past! You fed on me instead, you thoughtless starving wretch!"

  "Ouch," I said mildly.

  "I warned you! Didn't I warn you?"

  "You were less shrill in the old timeline. "

  "That changed his future, and Jessica's!"

  "You don't have to make it sound like a bad thing. "

  "Excuse me!" Jessica's Sperm Boy was waving his arms around. "First off, it's Dick. I hate Nick, I've hated it my entire life," Nick said. "Second, didn't feed on him? Could the studio audience hear the playback on that one, please?"

  "No time. I'll get you the blog entry later. Laura, the reason we called you here-"

  "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies. "

  "Cliche!" I said, clenching a fist in triumph. "That's been used to death in several sitcoms, including Night Court. Night Court, Laura. Be ashamed. "

  "Except I do," Laura said, calming down a little. "When our ministry spent a summer in Malawi, we assisted at dozens of births. There are at least three Lauras in Malawi, the moms were so nice and grateful. "

  "Getting gratitude is becoming a thing with you, but even so, you're the worst Antichrist ever," Jessica said. "Which is actually comforting. Stay close. "

  "It's not why you're here. "

  "Too bad. " Laura sighed. "It would have been neat to deliver a baby. That tends to be the opposite of evil. "

  "Depends on the baby," Marc muttered.

  "Cheer up-anything can happen in the next few weeks. Fairfield Hospital . . . the devil's daughter . . . if you don't have to deal with an HMO it's almost worth it . . . " Being dead was good for that if nothing else. Never again would I get a whopping bill because I'd dared use the gynecologist I was most comfortable with. "Sorry, you have to use our guy or we'll charge you a zillion bucks. " Talk about soulless.

  But! Enough musing about HMOs; I felt we were getting off track. This was nothing new, just alarming. Time was not on our side . . . even though I had a time-traveling sister.

  "Laura, listen. You know all those cute stories about people moving and then their pets following them across the country to the new house? Or a kitten takes a liking to a family and follows them around until they give in and feed it before the ASPCA gets involved, and the new family ends up taking care of it so it doesn't go feral and kill everyone in the neighborhood?" I gestured to the trussed Marc Thing. "Guess what followed us back?"

  "OhdearGod," Laura said, and missed when she reached out to grasp the back of a kitchen chair to steady herself. Her arms pinwheeled for a hilarious second until N/Dick reached out to steady her.

  "Well put. "

  "How did I not notice he was sitting right there?"

  "I was wondering that, too," Tina admitted.

  "The gut," she replied absently. "I'm not used to Jessica weighing more than seventy-eight pounds. I couldn't help be mesmerized by it. I couldn't not look at it. "

  "No one can not look at it," I soothed, ignoring Jessica's glare.

  "Oooh, yuck!"

  "Disgusting," I agreed.

  "I'm sitting"-the Marc Thing sighed-"right here. "

  "We actually weren't talking about-" I began, but fortunately wiser heads than mine (that would be every head in the room) were better able to stay on track.

  "This isn't . . . our fault?" Laura looked horrified.

  "Only in that I was able to follow you back to your loved ones because you burst onto my timeline with no right or invitation, after gaily running amok in my past and yours and instigating catastrophic change in the very fabric of the universe. "

  "Anything sounds bad when you put it like that," I snapped. Then, "Wait. How did you know we'd been in the past before falling into the future?"

  "You told me," the Marc Thing replied.

  I hate time travel.

  "Why haven't we killed him yet?" N/Dick asked. As a cop, this wasn't an idle question. "He's already dead, so I can probably keep us out of trouble. And he's only here to fuck us or kill us. "

  "Or kill us and fuck us," Laura said. That was somewhat out of character, and from Sinclair's surprised glance, I wasn't the only one who thought so.

  "I'm going to do a quick sweep around the house, make sure he didn't sprinkle any other surprises around before he let you grab him," Laura said, and darted off.

  "Okay, that was . . . heroic, I think. " Though what Laura would know about sneakiness that Sinclair and Tina wouldn't . . . oh, who cared? Back to business.

  "Shall we kill him?" Tina was saying. "We could empty a clip into his head or put that shiny new axe to use-the one I ordered from Cabela's?-and chop him up into many, many pieces, or bleed him out and then set the corpse-"

  "Uggghh," Jessica said, and rapidly waddled from the room, both hands crammed over her lips. Her eyes were practically bulging out of her head, and I knew exactly how she felt.

  "-or burn him with acid or tie weights to all his pieces and drop him in lakes all over the world and be done with it. "

  "That sounds extreme," I said, and it was a sorry-ass day when I was the voice of reason. "It's not really our thing. "

  "But you know he isn't here to help us. Come on, really? He's come all this way to not hideously murder us in a number of gruesome ways?" Dee/Nick asked. "You've seen vengeance flicks, right?"

  "Point," Tina admitted.

  "I've gotta think about more than my safety, or yours," he continued as we all tried not to hear Jessica throwing up in the small bathroom down the hall. "I don't think it's a good idea to just stand around talking about this. We need to make a decision and then get it done. "

  Wow. I was still having trouble getting used to Nick/ Dick liking me again, never mind him using his awesome cop-powers to keep us safe, or out of trouble.

  The Marc Thing seemed pretty cool about his impending dismemberment. "Don't you want to hear my unexpected-yet-vital information that will change the course of your lives?" it asked.

  "No/Uh-uh/Not really," Tina, Dick, and I said at the same time.

  And whoa! Dee-Nick and Tina had produced guns from nowhere. "How many bullets will it take?" Nee-Dick asked.

  "Shall we find out?" Tina said
. CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

  "Everything looks fine," Laura announced, coming back into the kitchen. "I don't think-whoa!" She took in the scene: Sinclair and me silently looking on, Tina and Nickie/Dickie making like two of the Charlie's Angels, and a greenish Jessica staggering down the hallway. "Okay. What'd I miss? And Tina, how many guns do you have?"

  "Seventy-four. And let's be honest. First, it's a safety issue. Second, it's what he wants-"

  "Yes, yes, yesssss!" The Marc Thing was too thoroughly taped to bounce, but he wriggled happily. It was like watching a worm trying to do the Forbidden Dance. "I do, I do, I really, really do! Ah, Laura, truly the spawn of angels . . . one angel, anyway, I dooooo!"

  "Ick," Laura commented. Then, "So it's like Tina said? It's what he wants and it's a good way to keep all of us safe so we should feel good about killing him and just get it over with?"

  Jessica had almost made it back to the kitchen when we heard her turn around to return to the bathroom. Cue ralphing noises.

  "So just . . . sayonara, sucker, and ka-blam?" D/Nick asked, looking doubtful. He'd made a gun from his thumb and forefinger (dumb, since he had an actual gun on the Marc Thing) and looked down at it with less than perfect confidence. "He's a pretty old vampire. I don't think it'll be simple. "

  "Mucho ka-blam will be required," the Marc Thing agreed, then pouted. "It's not nice to throw my age in my face. I'd never do that to you, Nick. "

  "Shut up," he replied absently. "Okay, sounds like we're on the same page. Funny how when I got up this morning I figured Lamaze class would be stressful and bloody. " We all heard the click of the hammer dropping. "Let's-"

  "Right here in our very own kitchen? We eat smoothies in here! And since when are you so quick to not follow any of the cop rules?"

  "Since I moved in with vampires and knocked up your best friend?" Nick replied, like it was a quiz.

  "We can still have smoothies in here," Laura soothed. "We'll just mop. A lot. "

  I glanced at my sister. She was taking this awfully well. Laura usually wouldn't get on board for baiting mouse traps, never mind kitchen executions. Oh, sure, she sometimes snapped and murdered serial killers and vampires, and she had tons of devil-worshipping followers who would kill or die for her, but on the whole, she was in the Murder Is Bad category. "You're taking this-" I began.

 
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