Read Hardcore Twenty-Four Online

Authors: Janet Evanovich

Hardcore Twenty-Four (13 page)

TWENTY

IT TOOK US
an hour to reach the end of Diggery's road. Most of the houses had people living in them. The people didn't look all that great, but none of them looked like zombies. The dilapidated tents and yurts and sheds were also zombie free. We were almost back to Diggery's double-wide, and I realized we were at the bend in the road where I ran into the zombie. There were no houses here. It was heavily wooded on both sides, but now that I was on foot, I could see a path threading between the trees.

“I suppose we should see where that leads,” I said to Diesel. “This is where I bounced the zombie off my right front quarter panel.”

Diesel looked at me and grinned. “You ran over a zombie?”

“I didn't exactly run
over
him. He was in the middle of the road, and I kind of punted him to one side. By the time I got out of the car, he was gone.”

“Honey, it's not good to piss off a zombie.”

“That's what Lula said.”

Diesel hugged me to him and kissed me on the top of the head. “This is getting to be fun.”

Diesel followed the trail, and I followed Diesel. After a short walk, we came to a hole that had been dug in the ground. It was about six feet deep, and it looked like a tunnel opened off to one side. A ladder was propped against the wall of the hole.

Diesel jumped in and looked around.

“What's down there?” I asked.

“A tunnel. Mostly dirt shored up with some wood. Smells like dirt and carnations.”

“Zombies!”

“Sweetheart, zombies only exist in Hollywood.”

“I thought you said you believed in everything.”

He looked up at me. “Rule number one. Never believe anything I tell you. I'm going to see where this tunnel leads. You want to come along?”

“No! How can you see in there? Do you have a flashlight?”

“I have good night vision.”

“Am I supposed to believe that?”

“Your choice.”

He disappeared into the tunnel, and I was left standing on the edge of the hole. I called down to Diesel, but he didn't answer. It was late afternoon, and it was getting dark under the tree canopy. I checked my email and slid my phone back into my pocket. I heard rustling behind me, turned, and came face-to-face with a zombie woman. Two men were behind her.

“I'd like your brain,” she whispered to me.

Her face was smeared with dirt, and her hair was fright night. Her voice was six-packs-of-Camels-a-day raspy.

I stumbled back and almost fell into the hole. I yelled for Diesel, and then I took off. The zombies were in the path, so I ran through the woods in blind panic. I tripped and scraped my knee and my hands. I got up, listened for footsteps, and heard that they weren't far behind. I ran toward a patch of light and came out at Diggery's double-wide. I tried to get into the car, but it was locked. Diesel had the key. I ran for Diggery's front door, put my shoulder to it, and popped it open. I slammed the door shut and slid the bolt.

I was gasping for air, bent at the waist, and I saw Ethel looking at me. She was curled on the dining table.

“It's you and me against the zombies,” I said to Ethel. “I'm counting on you.”

There was banging on the door and some doorknob rattling. A moment of silence and then a rag-wrapped fist smashed through the window over the table. It broke the glass away, and a grotesque face looked in at me. Ethel raised her head and hissed at the face, and the face fell away.

God bless Ethel. I was going to bring her a leg of lamb tomorrow. A porterhouse steak. A ham.

I rummaged through Diggery's kitchen drawers and found a chef's knife. I went to his bedroom and searched for a gun. I found one under the bed. It was a long-barrel revolver, and it was loaded. Grandma had a similar gun.

I went back to Ethel and was about to dial Ranger when Diesel called.

“I'm outside,” he said. “Open the door.”

“I thought you had this mysterious ability to open doors.”

“I didn't want to startle the snake.”

“You don't like snakes?”

“Not my favorite.”

I opened the door and looked past Diesel to the woods, checking for red eyes.

“What's with the gun and the knife?” he asked. “Are you planning to shoot the snake?”

“I was chased through the woods by three zombies. I couldn't get into the car, so I locked myself in here and borrowed Diggery's gun.”

His eyes focused on the broken window. “Has that window always been broken?”

“No. One of the zombies put his fist through it. Ethel hissed at him, and he went away.”

“And you think they were zombies?”

“For lack of a better word.”

“Notice anything significant about the window?”

My breathing was almost back to normal, and my voice had stopped shaking. I looked over at the broken window. “Blood,” I said. “The zombie got cut when he smashed the glass. Unusual for a zombie to bleed.”

“Unheard-of,” Diesel said.

I put the gun and the knife back where I found them. We left the double-wide and got into the car.

“What did you find in the tunnel?” I asked Diesel.

“It was more cave than tunnel. It looked like it originally
might have been a root cellar. There was a burned-down cabin not far away. The cabin isn't habitable, but someone's recently used the cave.”

“The zombies.”

“Yeah, the zombies. They've been doing new digging. There was a decomposed head partially covered with dirt, and I think I saw what might be foot bones. I didn't do a lot of exploring. Didn't want to disturb the crime scene. You should call it in to Morelli. And tell him to have CSI check out the bloody window glass.”

I dialed Morelli, and he answered on the first ring.

“I went back to Diggery's,” I said. “I did some exploring and found a hole in the ground that looks like it leads somewhere. You need to check it out. I was standing over it and three zombies appeared out of nowhere and chased me back to Diggery's double-wide. One of the zombies smashed a window trying to get at me, but Ethel scared him away.”

“Where are you now? Are you okay?”

“I'm fine. Just a little freaked. I'm heading back to your house. Where are you?”

“I'm at the station, doing paperwork.”

“You want to take CSI with you to Diggery's. The zombie cut himself when he smashed the window, and he left a blood smear.”

“Zombies don't bleed,” Morelli said.

“Exactly. About a quarter mile before you get to the double-wide, there's a bend in the road. If you look right you'll see a path going into the woods. Follow the path to the zombie den.”

“I'm on it.”

“How did it go with the woman who got chased out of her house?”

“She was in her kitchen, and a zombie walked in and told her he wanted her brain. She said he was filthy and his eyes were red, but he was surprisingly short for a zombie. She said he had a brown ponytail and looked confused.”

“Do you think it could have been Slick?”

“I guess it's possible. Ziggy was first on the scene, and he said there was no sign of the intruder. They cleared the house, but the woman was too upset to stay there. She's spending the night with her sister.”

Diesel waited for me to end the call.

“We should be moving out if the police are moving in,” he said.

• • •

We drove to Morley Street and cruised the neighborhood. Houses and lots were larger here than in the Burg. Not palatial mansions, but comfortable family homes that had more than one bathroom. There was no police presence in the area. Presumably they had all moved over to Diggery's dirt road.

“It all looks so normal,” I said to Diesel. “Hard to believe there are zombies roaming around.”

Diesel pulled into the cemetery lot and parked. “Let's look around,” he said. “I didn't get a chance to see much last time I was here.”

We walked through the gate and followed the main path. “Do you think the guys you saw could have been zombies?” I asked Diesel.

“They weren't zombies when I saw them. They were just hanging out, smoking weed. The south side of the cemetery, by the church and Morley Street, is well maintained. The north side backs up to the projects. It's littered with trash and discarded drug paraphernalia.”

We stopped at Slick's campsite and looked around. It was clear that the grave had been exhumed. Nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. All traces of police activity had been removed. There weren't any signs warning people of a zombie portal.

“What do you think?” I asked Diesel. “Are you getting any ideas?”

“Yeah, but none that relate to zombies.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What then?”

“Bacon cheeseburger.”

“Anything else?”

“Onion rings, fries, beer.”

“Does that mean we're done here?” I asked him.

“No. It means we need to keep walking. There's a burger place just before you get to the projects.”

“Mickey's,” I said. “I've been there. They have excellent cheese fries.”

We wandered off the path, covering as much of the cemetery as possible, but we found no new dig sites. We exited through the gate just before the projects and crossed the street to
Mickey's. I'd been there a bunch of times before with Lula. Lula could sniff out cheese fries a mile away.

Mickey's consisted of a small, windowless room with four booths on one side and a bar on the other. It was so dark the booths could have been occupied by zombies, tree fairies, or gorillas and no one would know. It smelled like burgers and beer and deep fried everything. We slid into a booth and ordered.

“What's the deal with you and Morelli?” Diesel asked. “You've been seeing him off and on for how long? Thirty years?”

“Not thirty.”

“Does it seem like thirty?”

“Is this going somewhere?” I asked him.

“Just curious.”

“What's the longest relationship you've ever had?”

“Forty-eight hours,” Diesel said. “I thought it would never end.”

“Seriously.”

A pitcher of beer was delivered, and we both chugged some down.

“Define ‘relationship,'” Diesel said. “Does it involve cohabitation? Is it sexual? Is love involved? Do you have to share a bathroom?”

“Pick any two out of those four things.”

“Then you're probably one of my longer relationships . . . off and on.”

“Is your mother upset about this?”

“My mother is a strange woman.”

No doubt.

The bartender brought our burgers, fries, and onion rings to the table, and we dug in. I finished my burger and called Morelli while I picked at the cheese fries.

“Just checking in,” I said to him. “Are you finding anything?”

“CSI is at work in the pit. You said you saw three zombies here, correct?”

“Yes.”

“We've sealed off as much as we can, and we're combing the woods. Unfortunately, we're hampered by the dark.”

“Did you get a blood sample from the broken glass?”

“Yes. And I had someone board the window up, so Ethel doesn't sneak out. I've got thirteen men searching the woods. None of them wants to get friendly with Ethel.”

“When do you think you'll get back to the house?”

“At this rate, it'll be Tuesday.”

I disconnected and gave up a sigh.

“Honey,” Diesel said, “you need a man you can count on.”

“Like you?”

“No. I make Morelli look good. I'm fun, but I'm not someone you'd want to count on.”

“Good to know.”

Diesel grinned and paid the check. “Let's go for a walk through a cemetery.”

It was dark when we left the bar. The sky was overcast with just a hint of moon low on the horizon. There was traffic on the street behind us, but the cemetery in front of us was deathly silent.

We went a short distance on the path, and Diesel stopped.

“Do you smell that?” he asked.

“Yes, but I don't know what it is. It reminds me of an electrical fire I had in one of my cars. And at the same time, it's sweet.”

“Like carnations.”

“Oh crap. Zombies?”

He took my hand and tugged me forward. “Let's go say hello.”

Diesel left the path and cut across several graves to an aboveground crypt. I could make out two figures huddled next to the crypt. They appeared to be heating something in a metal measuring cup with a large Bic-type lighter. They saw us approach, and they extinguished the lighter.

“Back off,” one of them said to us. “Or die.”

“We're looking for Slick,” Diesel said.

“Look someplace else. There's no Slick here.”

“What's in the cup?” Diesel asked.

The guy holding the lighter pulled a gun and fired. In the next instant, he had a knife stuck in his eye. It happened so fast I didn't see the knife thrown. He screamed and fell back, dropping the gun. The other guy tossed the cup, grabbed his friend, and they scrambled away into the shadows. The cup hit the ground with a splash of iridescent green and a hiss of steam.

I almost lost my burger and fries. One second I was terrified that I'd get shot, and the next I was dumbstruck at the sight of the knife stuck in the gunman's eye. I clapped my hands over my mouth and swallowed back the horror.

“Holy cow!” I said. “How did you do that? Where did the knife come from?”

“Reflex action,” Diesel said. “I have a strong sense of survival.”

“Did you mean to put it in his eye?”

“Lucky throw,” Diesel said.

I didn't believe it was a lucky throw. I thought it was an accurate throw.

Diesel played the light from his iPhone over the patch of grass where the cup had landed, but there was no remnant of the cup's contents. Only the lingering scent of carnations.

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