The Quick And The Dead by Brian K. Lowe

The Quick And The Dead
by Brian K. Lowe

magic, wizards, wizardry

It’s funny how shy murder victims can be when they have to testify in court. I knew a DA once whose entire case fell apart just because the victim had been pushed down a flight of stairs and his neck never sat right on his shoulders after that. He was too embarrassed to testify.

That wasn’t going to be a problem with Sabrina. I followed the sound of the Bickersons to the radio in her bedroom, where she was lying face-down on the floor. When I turned her over, her beautiful face hadn’t been marked at all. There was a tear in her dress over her heart, but not much blood. Professional job. I put my thumb on her wrist to check her pulse and got zip.

She was still warm. Not surprising, since she’d only called me, begging me to come over, half-an-hour ago. It makes resurrection easier, getting there as soon as possible after the soul takes its bow. Of course, my job would be even easier if I got there before that, but it never works out that way; I always seem to get there five minutes too late.

That’s why I took that correspondence course in necromancy. I may not be the best private eye in town, but I give it all I’ve got.

A lot of guys won’t even touch a corpse. Me, I don’t do divorces.

I hauled the chicken blood out of my bag and started sprinkling it around. The cops would call it tampering with evidence, but hell, I was about to tamper with the victim.

I finished sprinkling the blood and ground some crushed herbs with my mortar and pestle. I mixed in a drop of blood; it made a real nice paste, and with soap and water it would come right off the body later, when the undertaker finally had a chance to do his job. Until then, it had to stay on.

I swabbed the mixture on Sabrina’s forehead, up high where her hair would fall down and hide it. The body twitched, making me jump.

I stood up, so I wouldn’t be touching her when I started to chant. Just in time I remembered to turn off the radio.

Don’t ask me what I was saying. They told me it was from somewhere down in the Caribbean. All I know is what I heard on the phonograph records they sent me–and what I saw in the picture they sent along of one poor slob who got it wrong. Depending on the angle, he looked like a goat, a block of cheese, or Lake Michigan. I had repeated that chant over and over–without the chicken blood–for two weeks until I got it absolutely right.

Sabrina opened her eyes and made a noise like a mouse that has just seen the trap sprung and knows that bar is coming down. I tried to smile reassuringly, but my face paint must have scared her. For a second she didn’t know if she’d come back or just kept on falling till she reached the hottest nightclub of them all.

“It’s okay, Sabrina.” I held her shoulders until she could get her body back under control again. Some people have trouble readjusting, especially if they die violently. My very first resurrection was a guy who’d been shot in the gut. Not only did I get blood on my second-best shirt, he gave me a black eye that didn’t fade for weeks.

“How long?” she whispered, her voice papery.

“‘How long?'” I repeated. “How long were you dead?”

“No.” She seemed to be having trouble breathing–not surprisingly. It takes effort at first to remember to do that, but it’s tough to talk if there’s no air in your lungs. “How long will I be like this?”

This was the hardest part. I took a deep breath.

“It depends. I got to you real fast, and there doesn’t seem to be any gross physical damage. You’ll probably last a while–three, maybe four weeks. Longer if you stay cold–and if you keep away from dead things.”

“What?” She shook her head, trying to clear it.

I gave her a hand up. “You can’t go near any dead animals,” I said. “It’s one of the rules. Any time you get too close to something dead, or made from dead animals, it’s like grounding an electrical circuit; it’ll steal away some of the life that’s still sticking to your body. The bigger the animal, or the object made from an animal, the more life it steals away. You stand next to another human corpse, for instance–you’ll keel right over. And don’t even think about eating meat.”

I got to my feet and reached into my bag for a towel to wipe my face. Which reminded me of one last thing.

“By the way, don’t wash that mark off your forehead.” She reached up automatically to touch it, but I caught her hand. “If it gets wiped off, you’ll die instantly.”

“Oh.” Her eyes lost a little of their shine as she mulled that over. “What happens now?”

“We call the cops. Did your killer touch the phone?”

She shook her head. “Not that I saw. I mean, he could’ve–after . . .”

“Yeah.” I took out a handkerchief and used it to pick up the phone. You can’t wear gloves when you do this kind of work, but there was no sense in leaving my prints all over the place for the lab boys to find. I dialed LAPD Homicide. They knew me there. I gave them the address and hung up. “Now we wait.”

###

Lieutenant Byers was the first one to arrive. He’s about forty, too big, too bald, and too good. I mean that. He’s too good a Catholic to like me: in his book, you have to be dead three days before you’ve got any business walking around again, but he’s also too good a cop to let that stand in the way of his investigation.

I let him and his men into the apartment, and they followed me to the bedroom.

“That the victim?” he asked me, nodding at Sabrina.

“Yeah. She was dead when I got here, but just barely.” Sabrina started to say something, but I waved her quiet.

“We’ll let the coroner decide all that. You talk to her?”

“Just when she came back. She asked how long she’d be here.”

Byers grunted. By law, nobody’s supposed to talk to the dead before the official post-mortem statement. But then, the dead don’t much care about the law.

Byers ordered his men to seal off the apartment, then turned back to me.

“Tell her to get back on the floor. We’ll need to take pictures.”

I looked at Sabrina, motioning to her to do what Byers said. I was careful not to say another word to her. I was already walking on thin ice.

“That how you found her?”

“No,” I said. “She was face down.”

Byers didn’t say anything. He just shook his head back and forth, real slowly. It wasn’t my fault she’d gotten it wrong, but he blamed me anyway. Sabrina must have been watching us, because she turned over without prompting and moved herself into roughly the same position she’d been in when I arrived and found her.

“That’s how she looked,” I said. Byers was still shaking his head. Luckily, the lab boys arrived right then with the photographer. We stood back and let them do their job.

It was a long time before they were finished, and I could tell Sabrina wasn’t happy when Byers finally told her she could get up. It was the first time he’d spoken to her directly, but now he had a room full of witnesses.

“Just sit there on the bed, ma’am, if you would. I know this is going to be tough, but you’ll make it through.” Byers stood in front of her, taking notes. “Name?”

“Sabrina de Foix.”

Byers’ eyebrow lifted a fraction, but he wrote it down. “Do you live here, ma’am?”

She smiled crookedly. “In a manner of speaking, I suppose.” Jesus, she was a cool one.

“This is important, ma’am, so think carefully. Did you see who killed you?”

I was standing behind and to the left of Byers, next to the window under which I had found Sabrina. There were at least half-a-dozen cops between me and the door. Sabrina flicked her eyes at me, then at the cops, then she jumped up into the middle of that crowd of bluecoats and started screaming like a fire alarm.

“Yes! He did it!”

Son of a gun, she was pointing straight at me.

###

I’d first met Sabrina less than a week before. I was working late in my office, two dingy rooms on Spring Street above a movie house, when the hall door creaked at me. I like the hall door. It creaks whenever somebody comes in, which saves me the price of a receptionist. The inner door, on the other hand, swings open as silent as a grave. That saves me the price of a peephole.

But as soon as I saw Sabrina, I threw that door wide open wearing my best smile, the one left over from when I used to sell used cars for Lefty Lopez.

But it wasn’t Lefty on my mind in those first hot seconds as I escorted Sabrina into my inner office and helped slip her ermine stole off her perfect white shoulders. She turned to thank me, and the front of her dress pulled tight–just like she knew it would. She’d stuffed a lot of body into that dress. She’d left almost as much outside it. It wasn’t what any sensible woman would wear in that neighborhood at night, which should have tipped me off.

I offered her my best chair. She sat down without even looking at the cushion. A lot of dames who think they’ve got class check a chair before they sit down to make sure it’s clean. The ones who’ve got class just sit, like dirt won’t dare stick to them anyway.

By the time I got to my own chair, I had managed to tuck in my shirt and run a comb through my hair. I should’ve done that before I let her see me, but she was the kind of woman you run after first and make sure your shoes are tied later.

“My name is Sabrina de Foix,” she said when I’d made myself presentable. “And I would like to hire a resurrectionist.”

The obvious comebacks ran through my brain heading straight for my mouth, but I tripped them before they got out. One wrong word and Sabrina de Foix would get up and glide right back out of my life. She didn’t need me nearly as much as I needed her, which at the moment was exactly as much as I needed to pay the rent.

While I considered my reply, I gave her the sixty-second once-over. Then I took another thirty seconds to do the job right. Even in the forty-watt lamps that I could afford, I could see ninety-nine guys out of a hundred would throw themselves on a grenade for her. She was tall and long-legged, sporting the kind of curves Mulholland built the highway on. Her hair was black, piled high on her head. She didn’t wear a hat. Her dress was low-cut, high-slit, simple, and expensive. Her jewelry was inconspicuous, but even in that light, her diamonds flashed.

She was a gorgeous fishing hook, and I was a big, dumb bass with my mouth wide open.

Finally the business part of my brain forced my mouth to work in a professional manner. Fantasies aside, I knew the most she would ever do for me was keep the wolves at bay for another month.

I pulled out a pencil and scrounged up a piece of paper, just for effect. “Who’s dead?”

“No, no one. Not yet. It’s my–boyfriend. I’m afraid it’s not working out, and he’s very jealous. When I tell him it’s over, he’s going to think there’s another man, and I’m afraid he’ll try to hurt me.”

“Has he ever hit you?”

“Yes.”

“Recently?”

“Yes.”

Then you must use one hell of a brand of make-up, I said to myself. There wasn’t a mark on her that I could see, and brother, I could see plenty.

“Why don’t you go to the cops?”


“My boyfriend is Mark Gold,” she purred, and she looked away suddenly as if she didn’t want to watch my face. She knew how I’d react. Mark Gold had fingers in the movies, oil, cars, and government on every level. There was talk he was the reason the Eastern syndicate had never gotten its claws into Hollywood. I kept my poker face with an effort.

Sabrina must have thought it would get a rise out of me, and she was surprised when it didn’t. Her head jerked around to draw a bead on me. Her eyes searched my face, trying to decide if I was the coolest PI in town, or the dumbest.

“So what do you want with a resurrectionist?”

“Mark is very superstitious. If he hears that I’ve hired you, he won’t hurt me because he’ll be afraid you’ll bring me back to haunt him.”

“What’s to stop him from hurting me first, then you?”

“No,” she said, with as much calm as she’d shown so far. “He won’t touch you.”

I’m probably not the dumbest private dick in town–but I’m in the running.

“I get fifty a day plus expenses,” I said back at her, with that same flat tone. I hoped she’d get the idea my rates weren’t negotiable.

She opened her purse and carefully pulled out an envelope. She placed it just as carefully on the desk in front of me, without a word. There were three C-notes inside. Crisp. New. Consecutively numbered.

I should have told her a hundred a day.

###

Maybe it comes with the territory, but every time I do a resurrection I get a funny kind of feeling, just for a while, that I know what’s going to happen next. Maybe that’s why I found myself standing next to the open window when Sabrina up and accused me of being the one who did her in. Whatever the reason, I caught on just a little faster than the cops did.

I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing. I was through the window and out on the fire escape before my brain was even in gear, so good idea or not, I was now on the lam. Suddenly the room behind me was a riot, the cops jump-started into action by my escape. I heard Byers’ voice over all of them, shouting at somebody to take the stairs and try to cut me off on the ground. I got lucky there; they had to be careful following me until they were sure I didn’t have a gun. By the time I heard the first footsteps on the metal behind me, I was two stories down and running for my life.

I wasn’t worried they’d shoot–this wasn’t a movie. They knew they couldn’t hit me through all the grillwork, and besides, they didn’t have anything on me. Byers wouldn’t shoot me just because I was running away . . .

. . . at least not until he had a clear shot. A bullet slapped the concrete at my feet and zinged away, the echoes bouncing back and forth across the alley. I dived into the shadows, and hitting me became a matter of luck.

I ran out of the alley and headed downtown, wiping my face. For such a classy dame, Sabrina hadn’t staked her claim in a very nice neighborhood. There weren’t many people out, and those who were weren’t paying much attention to me. Being L.A., there also weren’t any cabs around, and since I knew Byers would be looking for my Plymouth, for now I had to walk.

As soon as I was pretty sure they weren’t behind me, I ducked into another dark alley and stopped long enough to allow myself a good attack of the shakes.

Item: a beautiful, dead woman had just fingered me as her killer.

Item: the cops, eyewitnesses to the post-mortem declaration, were swarming all over the joint.

Item: Byers should’ve yelled at me to stop before he fired, but he hadn’t.

Item: when Mark Gold heard his girlfriend had said I killed her, I might wish Byers hadn’t missed.

###

Most people deal with ghosts and monsters by just ignoring them. And it makes sense; there are fewer than a dozen supernatural murders in town every year. Take vampires, for instance. There are only a handful in all of L.A., and they have very little interest in increasing their numbers, because if you’ve got to deal with somebody for the rest of eternity, you’d better be pretty damn sure you get to know him first. That’s why random vampire attacks are so rare. You’re in more danger walking across the street in the middle of the block. But some people are paranoid. They move away from big cities. They wear crucifixes. They dress their windows with garlic and avoid being seen with guys like me.

Gold’s mansion was built to stand up to the hordes of Hell. Literally. The ten-foot boundary wall sported outward-facing sharpened spikes tipped with silver. A moat surrounded the house, even at the rear, where it overlooked the ocean. And what was less obvious, according to my buddy at the city planning office, was that the whole thing was built on an old Chumash Indian burial ground.

Silver, running water, sacred earth . . . He should’ve spent more on his locksmith.

I got out of my rental car and checked around for alarms as I let myself in through the gate. I needed to meet the man, size him up, see if I could play him. If he was as superstitious as Sabrina said, that might be the only thing that would keep me breathing. I could have walked right up to the front door like any ordinary visitor, but if I acted like a two-bit mug, he’d expect a two-bit mug.

The thing is, anybody this afraid of werewolves and vampires wasn’t going to be using dogs–they might be turned against him–so who was watching his property?

I found out a couple of minutes later. Zombies. I never hear them coming.

###

I was hauled up to meet Gold in his study, much the worse for wear.

“You can tell them to knock off the act,” I said, jerking my head at one of the two zombies who had escorted me in from outside. They were the classic B-movie type: white skin, dark circles under the eyes, blank stares . . .strong as rock, and about as smart. “Real zombies make lousy bodyguards. Dead people are too fragile. They fall apart too easy.” The way these gorillas had frisked me before bringing me in here had made me feel like the fragile one.

Gold pursed his lips, holding back whatever opening remarks he might have had in mind. He looked me up and down like he was getting a second opinion, so I returned the favor. He was blond, fair-skinned, and his hair was starting to retreat from his forehead. His muscles were beginning to turn to flab the way a ballplayer’s do when he stops playing. He was a big guy, nearly six feet, and from where I looked up at him I could see dark stubble under his chin.

“You sound like a man who knows his business,” he said at last. I relaxed a bit–and tried not to think about the two rock piles on either side of me. I was standing in front of a big leather sofa, but I didn’t think he was about to invite me to sit on it.

“I have a resurrection license,” I said.

“That so?” He pursed his lips again. Already I was starting to hate it. It meant he was thinking. “Not a whole lot of call for that. What else do you do?”

I said it straight out. “I’m a PI.” All of a sudden, my bright idea to come here and explain things voluntarily was beginning to look fatally stupid.

“What’s your name?”

Before I could answer he jerked his head, and one of his “zombies” ripped open the front of my coat and grabbed my wallet. He handed it over to the boss without ever taking his eyes off me. I wondered why they were so paranoid; they’d already frisked me.

Gold looked at my driver’s license, and his eyebrows rose. Not a good sign. The silence in the house started to pound in my ears. The fake zombies watched me like I was going to sprout horns. My nose began to itch.

At last Gold sighed and tucked my wallet back into my jacket.

“One of us has underestimated the other. On the surface, it would seem to be you.” He paused for just a second, and pursed his damned lips again. “On the other hand, maybe you have an ace up your sleeve. Marty, see what the gentleman has up his sleeve.”

Zombie Number One twisted my right arm up between my shoulder blades. I screamed.

“Now, Mr. Private Investigator, tell me why you’re here.”

I’m not ashamed to admit my voice came out in small gasps. “I heard you were looking for me.” When in pain, even a weak lie is better than nothing.

“That’s a good reason not to come here.”

“I didn’t kill Sabrina de Foix. She hired me.”

Gold frowned. He motioned for the zombie to let me go.

“Why did she hire you?”

“She wanted me to protect her from you.”

His face didn’t change expression. “That was ironic, wasn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean she hired you to protect her, and you killed her instead.”

I got a cold feeling in my gut. “I told you I didn’t kill her. She was dead when I got there.”

He ignored me. “Obviously, once you found out who she was, you thought that if you killed her, then brought her back, you could use your control over her to get to me. Somebody made you an offer. Somebody who thought I’d let her get close enough to hurt me.” He pursed his lips. “Or did you really think this up yourself? What’s your game? Extortion? Kidnapping? Or are you some kind of pervert?”

I didn’t see any signal, but suddenly my arm was up around my back again, even higher this time. I had no time to scream before all the breath left my lungs. It hurt too much even to breathe. Gold kept going as if nothing was wrong.

“Whatever your game was, it was spoiled when the cops found out Sabrina was dead–because what the cops know, I know.” He looked pleased with himself for figuring out what I was supposed to have done. The plan could even have worked the way he saw it, assuming I’d been good enough to carry off that level of necromancy. I wasn’t, but correcting him seemed a bad idea. “So then you figured you’d come here yourself, peddle your talents to me in person. I cooperate with you, lay some cash on the table, and you release your hold over Sabrina. I get Sabrina, you get the money, and it’s all just a neat little business deal.” My field of vision was getting black around the edges as his voice got low and serious. “Well. Let me tell you how your little scheme is going to work out.”

I was rapidly losing interest in anything that didn’t involve air.

“You’re going to summon Sabrina here. Right now. And then you’re going to release your hold on her. And then we’ll discuss your reward. Who knows?” He rose and walked around the desk to stare out at the ocean. “Maybe it’ll work out better this way. She always did talk too much.”

I tried to say something, but I couldn’t. Gold waved a hand and his gorilla let me go. I groaned from the sudden release, gulping air and working my arm slowly, trying to bring back the circulation–and to work on my story. I’d figured Gold would have his facts screwed up, but this . . . !

“I can’t summon her back here,” I gasped finally, rubbing my shoulder. “You’ve got too many defenses. She’d never get past the running water by herself.”

“What do you mean, by herself?”

“I mean that I’ve got to go and get her, and bring her back myself. Even if she could hear me at this distance, the crosses and the running water would scare her away.” I was lying for all I was worth. “She might run, and then nobody’d be able to control her.”

He watched me carefully for half a minute. “All right. Go and get her, and bring her back here. I’ll be waiting.”

He didn’t send any of his boys with me. He didn’t even bother to tell me what would happen if I didn’t come back. If you’re really tough, you don’t need to shout it.

###

Just the same, I was grinning when I left the house. I couldn’t “summon” Sabrina, or make her do anything dead she wouldn’t have done alive–in fact, I couldn’t make her do anything at all. But I wasn’t about to let Gold know that.

My problem was that he wanted me to return his “property,” and I didn’t think she was gonna go willingly. Kidnapping’s not my meat, but I knew I couldn’t run from Gold, and the cops would only lock me up.

So I got a cup of joe and set myself up to watch her apartment from across the street. Her lights were on. I could have gone up there, but all she had to do was not let me in. I’m in no shape to go kicking down doors and dragging screaming dead women down the stairs. I didn’t think Gold would appreciate it, either. But I doubted Sabrina expected me to come back, and her being a nightclub kind of girl, I figured she’d come to me. At that point, if she didn’t cooperate, I might have to get a little rough.

In about half an hour, the lights went out in Sabrina’s place. I tossed out the cold coffee and threw the cup into the back seat. I started the engine while she was on the way down, nursing it in a low idle. I bent forward without meaning to, waiting for her to appear in the doorway.

Sabrina reached the street wearing nearly the same outfit she’d worn when I first met her, except the dress was a darker shade. Her skin shone like she was in a spotlight instead of streetlights.

She was still waiting patiently for her cab when I drove up next to her. She didn’t recognize me until I leaned over and called her name.

She must have been surprised, but she didn’t show it. She looked away like I was some bum asking for a dime.

“Your boyfriend’s looking for you.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” she replied, watching the road for her cab.

“That’s not how he sees it, Sabrina. If I don’t bring you back, you know what’s going to happen. To both of us.”

Without another word, she opened the door and got into the car.

###

The gate opened before I came to a full stop. I drove through slowly, because I still wasn’t sure exactly what kind of reception we were headed for.

Nobody came out to question us, so I drove right up to the front door. A guy dressed like a butler opened it. No zombies. He let us in and took our coats, and then he took us to Gold. Nobody frisked us this time.

“Sabrina!” Gold held out his arms like he expected her to run right up to him. “I thought I had lost you.” He was so sincere, for a second I almost believed him myself.

Sabrina started to step forward, then hesitated. I could almost see the light dawn in her face as she realized she didn’t have to do what he said any more. Gold’s smile fell a little bit, and he shot me a look that said I was responsible. I shook off the urge to shrug.

“Sit down,” he said to me. “You, too, Sabrina.” He pointed to the big leather sofa.

“Go to hell, Mark.”

Without a word, he leaned forward, shoving her onto the sofa with one hand. Then he leaned back against his desk, smiling down at us. He might find this funny, but I didn’t feel like laughing.

“You know, this could have gone much more easily on you. Originally the plan was to frame you for Sabrina’s murder so that she and I could leave the country–you see, Sabrina’s past is about to catch up with her. It’s a Federal problem, so there was nothing I could do. But if she were dead . . .” he shrugged. “No Sabrina, no problem.


“But then you went and killed her. I guess I can’t blame you; Sabrina is quite the mistress at squashing men. You must have merited a real putting down when she was finished playing with you.” His voice hardened at the last phrase, and Sabrina shrank further into the leather sofa. “So then you came to me, figuring that getting on my good side was your only chance to live.” He nodded. “A good plan, but flawed.”

“How come?”

“Because I don’t have a good side.”

I looked at Sabrina, stalling for time, but she was trying to sink right through the leather couch. “So what do you want out of me?”

Gold smiled, but there was nothing in his eyes. “Release her, and I will release you. Simple enough?”

Oh, yeah. As simple as a bullet between the eyes. It was time to test my poker skills. I stood up, which he wasn’t expecting.

“Sure, Gold, as long as you understand the ground rules. First, I need my bag. It’s in my car.” He made a motion and I guessed somebody was headed outside. “Second, I raise the dead. It’s my job. So if anything bad happens to me, I’ll be back. And I won’t be alone.”

His eyes locked on mine and I couldn’t tell if the flicker behind them was doubt or my wishful thinking. Then he smiled.

“And what if I have you cut up into a hundred pieces and fed to the sharks at Catalina?”

I smiled back. “What if you do?” We stood like that for a minute.

“Simmons!” Gold snapped at the butler. “Where the hell’s Marty with that bag?” One of the “zombies” ran in and gave it to him.

“We checked it, sir. There’s no guns inside.” Gold frowned and the zombie made himself scarce again.

I glanced back at Sabrina. The leather under her arm was wet where she was sweating. And that’s when it hit me. Just like a bullet in the forehead. Somebody was playing Gold for a sap, all right, and me along with him.

“Maybe we should all stop and think a minute,” I said. “You don’t know the whole score.”

“Don’t waste my time. I can break a lot of your bones without killing you.”

I didn’t stop. “We’re both being played for patsies here.”

“I said, stop wasting my time.”

I sucked in a deep breath and let it out again. He wasn’t buying it. Figures. Bad guys believe your lies, but never the truth. Even if I told him what I thought–what I knew–he’d break every bone in my body and dump me in the ocean before he believed me.

Well, if lies were what he wanted . . . “I need my bag.”

Gold didn’t say anything; he just waved me on. But he was watching me like a hawk, and I knew the butler was doing the same. And probably Marty and some other guys I hadn’t seen yet.

I walked past Sabrina, who twisted around on the couch to look up at me.

“Stand up.”

Now I had my back to the wall and all the players in front of me. Sabrina hesitated a second, then did like I said. A tease to the last, she stood real close to me, nose to nose, making sure I got an eyeful. “Turn around slowly.”

“Whatever you say, sweetheart.” Then she gave Gold a contemptuous glance. “I don’t know what you think this is going to accomplish, Mark. He doesn’t have any more influence on me than you do. Not any more.” The fabric of her dress rasped on the front of my jacket. I waited until her back was to me, then I grabbed her around the throat.

“Nobody move!” A second later the zombies burst into the room–this time they had guns, and their expressions were a lot less stupid. They weren’t bothering to put on their act for me anymore. The butler was aiming a big automatic at my left eye. I was hugging Sabrina like a second skin, but I was in no position to enjoy it. “Gold, if any of your boys lets loose, Sabrina’s gonna be the first to get popped.”

Gold sighed. “Why are you doing this? She’s already dead.”

“Oh, yeah? Then ask her why she’s sweating.” I had my arm around her throat; I could feel her perspiration. I grabbed her other arm and held her sweaty palm up to the light. “She’s fooled us both, Gold. I knew it when I saw the armrest on that leather couch was wet. Dead people don’t sweat, and they can’t stand to touch other dead things. It makes ’em . . .sick.”

Now he was interested. “What are you saying?”

I had to laugh, because the look on his face was so perfect.

“She’s alive, Gold. She had this all planned from the beginning. She was the one who suggested you use me for the frame, wasn’t she? Why the hell do you think she wanted a guy with a resurrection license? She cut herself and used a drug to slow down her heartbeat and her pulse. She wanted to fake her death and her resurrection just to get away from you.”

We all stood there for several seconds while Gold finally realized I had been telling the truth all along. A slow smile spread across his features. I didn’t think he was about to congratulate me.

“Damn, Sabrina. I never knew you had it in you. And you,” he said to me. “Since you were kind enough to verify that my defenses will stop zombies, I don’t think I need to worry what will happen if you die. Marty, take this lout out the back way. Be certain he is not seen again.”

His “zombies” holstered their cannons and came at me, flexing their muscles. My brave stand was about to come to an abrupt and unpleasant end. I shifted one foot backward, bracing myself so I could push Sabrina into them and make a break for the door.

I heard a crash from the front of the house. “Police!” somebody shouted. “Nobody move!”

And then all the lights went out.

###

It sounded like a war. It must’ve looked like one, too, but I didn’t see any of it; I was flat on the floor with my head covered. I opened my eyes when Byers poked me in the ribs with his shoe.

“You alive?” It was still dark; he was holding a flashlight, which after a moment he had the decency to move away from my face. Other spots of light bobbed around the room, his boys checking the bodies.

“Yeah. I’m okay.” I drew a long breath, happy that I still could. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“We’ve had Sabrina under surveillance ever since you took off down that alley. I knew her murder was a setup from the start. Even a bozo like you wouldn’t resurrect a woman he’d just killed. So I ask myself, what’s up? Who’d want to kill Sabrina and frame you? Since there’s a straight line between Mark Gold and half the bodies in this town, and she was his girlfriend, the answer was easy. You were obviously just his latest patsy. Third-rate private eye with one foot in hell, it wasn’t a bad choice.”

“Gee, I didn’t know you cared.”

“I don’t, but Gold didn’t like to leave loose ends, and that included you and the girl, so it was worth the trouble to follow her.“

“But if you knew I was innocent, why the hell did you shoot at me in the alley?”

“That was one of the boys. He was in Gold’s pocket, figured he’d do his boss a favor. Moron.”

The lights came back on. Gold and his boys were spread all over the room. They’d tried to fight it out; it hadn’t gotten them anywhere.

Sabrina, eyes staring, lay under a window with an automatic in her hand. I wondered where the hell she’d had it hidden. Then I thought about how she’d handed me the three C-notes seven days ago. I walked over to her, bag in hand.

“You’re going to revive her?” Byers asked me, his distaste evident.

“Yeah.” I started putting on the paint. “When she hired me, she paid me three hundred dollars up front. That only covers six days work. She still owes me fifty bucks.”

©Brian K. Lowewizards, wizardry, fantasy

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Brian K. Lowe
Brian K. Lowe is a native of Northern California who went south for the sun. After receiving his BA in English at UCLA with an emphasis on creative writing, he embarked on a series of jobs that included proofreading, fine china, and abusing Smurfs on a regular basis. As everyone eventually does, he ended up working for a law firm. He joined SFWA in 2011.

In mysteries, the detective always arrives just a little too late to talk to the one person who may hold the key to the client’s innocence. But to a fantasy writer, death is no obstacle, you just need a character who can speak to the deceased. You would think that would make his job easier, right? Maybe not. And raising the dead isn’t the kind of job that would get you invited to a lot of dinner parties. This results in a low-brow hero in a seedy office, one who doesn’t even get a name. But he does see the kind of cases that would make Holmes scratch his head and Marlowe call it a night.
Brian K. Lowe

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