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Authors: Janet Evanovich

Hardcore Twenty-Four (9 page)

BOOK: Hardcore Twenty-Four
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“W-w-what the hell is that?” Lula whispered, pointing to the patch of scrubby bushes beyond the car.

The area was in deep shadow, but I saw two pairs of red eyes and what appeared to be two human forms.

“Get in the car,” I whispered.



I gave her a shove, and we jumped into the car. I roared out of the yard and down the road. I followed a curve in the road, and something sprang out of the woods at us and bounced off my front right quarter panel. I hit the brake, jerking to a stop.

“What was that?” I asked Lula.

“It was a zombie! Lordy, lordy, you ran over one of the zombies. Okay, so they're already dead, but I'm guessing they aren't gonna be happy about this. Nobody likes getting run over.”

“It was an accident.”

“Yeah, but you ran over him all the same. You smacked right into him!”

I turned in my seat and looked at the road behind us. I couldn't see anything. I got out of the car and looked around.
Nothing lying in the road. Nothing lying in the scrub brush on the side of the road. I got back in the car and was about to drive away when a large man in rags rushed out of the woods at us. His arms were outstretched, his fingers were gnarled and curled, his hair was patchy and clogged with dirt. His skin was dark and shredding off his face. His eyes were glowing red.

“YOW!” Lula yelled. “In the name of the father and the son and the holy someone else . . .”

The raggedy creature slammed himself against the car, grabbing for the door handle.

“I can smell him!” Lula shrieked. “Carnations and doodie! It's hideous. I'm going to throw up. I'm going to poop.”

I stomped on the gas, and the Lexus jumped forward. The raggedy thing lost its grip, and I sped away.

I turned onto Broad with my hands clenched on the steering wheel and my heart pounding in my chest. Breathe, I told myself. Relax the fingers. Concentrate on the road.

I cut my eyes to Lula. “You didn't, did you?”


“Poop yourself.”

“I don't think so. I'm almost positive. But I need a drink, or a donut, or bacon. I don't even have a word for what happened back there.”

I didn't have a word for it either. I hit something I couldn't identify. I heard some scary sounds coming from the woods. Something charged my car. It looked like a zombie. Don't even go there, I thought. Zombies only live in Hollywood. Okay, and
I feel stupid thinking that it might have been a zombie, but I saw it, and it looked like a zombie. Truth is, I saw something else. I saw a teenage boy standing in the middle of the road. I saw it for a split second before the big raggedy man rushed out of the woods at me. When I turned my attention back to the road the boy was gone.

“Did you see a boy in the middle of the road?” I asked Lula.

“A boy? Like a zombie boy?”

“No. An ordinary boy. Maybe fourteen or fifteen.”

“I didn't see nothing but my life flashing in front of me. I'll tell you what would be a good idea. They should stuff the chicken's head up its butt with the rest of the giblets. Then it would be there if you need it.”


and deliberately drove to the office. I parked at the curb, and Lula and I got out and looked at the Lexus. It had a dent and a gash in the front right quarter panel, and a strip of filthy cloth was caught in the gash.

“That's a zombie rag,” Lula said. “I'd know it anywhere. It even smells like zombie. Boy, I'm glad I'm not the one who ran over him. They got no sense of humor about stuff like that. Zombies are mean buggers. You piss them off and they come to get you.”

“How do you know so much about zombies?”

“I saw that Brad Pitt movie. And then I googled zombies.”

Connie came out of the office and looked at the Lexus.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Stephanie ran over a zombie,” Lula said.

Connie looked at me. “Really?”

“I ran over
. I guess it looked like a zombie.”

“Bummer,” Connie said.

“Yeah, it's a problem on account of you don't want to piss off a zombie,” Lula said. “Am I right?”

I pulled the rag off the car and tossed it into the back seat with the rotisserie chicken. “See you tomorrow.”

“Hope so,” Lula said. “Remember, in case they come to get you, you have to shoot them in the brain, so you should put some bullets in your gun.”

I gave Lula a thumbs-up, and I got back into the Lexus. Lula was right about the rag. It didn't smell good. When you combined it with the chicken it was a total gag. I called Morelli and asked where he was.

“Home,” he said. “And I can actually spend the night here unless someone finds a headless body.”

“I'm on my way,” I said. “I have something to show you.”

“I have something to show you too.”

“We might not be on the same page.”

“Work with me,” Morelli said.

Ten minutes later, I walked into Morelli's house, and Bob galloped in from the kitchen to greet me. He got to the middle of the living room and stopped. His nose twitched, hackles rose on his back, and he growled. The only other time I've heard him growl was when he stole a Virginia baked ham off the table and Morelli tried to get it back.

Morelli came up behind Bob.

“What's going on?” he asked. “What's that smell? Did you run over another outhouse?”

“I ran over a zombie.” I held the rag out for him to see. “This is what's left of him.”

“What's in the other bag?”

“Rotisserie chicken.”

Morelli grinned. “That's a killer combination.”

“I thought you might want someone to examine the cloth.”

“And the chicken?”


“I like it,” Morelli said. “I'll put the zombie attack dog in the backyard.”

I followed him into the kitchen and put the piece of cloth into a plastic baggie while he carved the chicken.

“Tell me about the cloth,” he said.

I washed my hands and set the kitchen table with plates and silverware, and Morelli brought the chicken to the table.

“I took some chicken to Ethel this afternoon, and when I stepped out of the double-wide I heard creepy growly moaning sounds coming from the woods. I looked into the woods, and I saw two sets of glowing red eyes that were attached to two bodies that looked human. The bodies were in shadow, and I couldn't see any details, but it freaked me out enough to want to get out of there.”

“You were alone?”

“Lula was with me. We jumped into my car and took off. I was a short distance down Diggery's road when this
jumped out in front of me, and I bounced him off my right front quarter panel. I stopped and got out of the car, but the
was gone. Lula was sure it was a zombie.”

“Did you think it was a zombie?” Morelli asked.

“It happened so fast that I barely saw it. Honestly, it could have been a velociraptor or a unicorn. Anyway, I got back into the car, and I was about to drive away when this man, for lack of a better word, came out of the woods and rushed the car. I'm no expert but it looked a lot like a zombie. Dirt-clogged hair, rotting skin, raggedy clothes. It grabbed the door handle, but I had the car locked.”


“And I drove away. Fast. When I got to the office I looked at the car. There's a dent and a gash in the right front quarter panel, and the cloth was caught in the ripped part.”

“And you think it was a zombie?”

“I think it
like a zombie. And Lula said it smelled like a zombie.”

Morelli wiped his hands on a paper towel. “Let's look at your car.”

We went outside, and Morelli walked around the Lexus.

“Ranger?” he asked.


Ranger wasn't Morelli's favorite person for many reasons, not the least of which is my ongoing relationship with the man.

“Nice car,” Morelli said.

I nodded. “Except it has a dent in it.”

Morelli was on one knee, examining the dent and the torn fiberglass. “I don't see any blood, but I'd like to have CSI go over this.”


“And I'll give them the cloth.”

“Do you think it was a zombie?”

“No,” Morelli said. “I also don't think it was a velociraptor or a unicorn.”

“I need dessert. Do you have any ice cream?”

“Yes. Chocolate. Do you know what I need?”

“Yep,” I said. “I have a pretty good idea. Can I have my ice cream first?”

“As long as you eat fast.”


awake at six o'clock. The room was dark, and I wasn't ready to start my day. It had been a long, satisfying, but exhausting night.

“I'm heading out,” he said. “I'm going to trade cars with you so CSI can take a look at yours.”

“They're just going to look at the quarter panel, right?”

There was a beat of silence. “Something you want to tell me about the car?” he asked.

“It's a Rangeman car. It's . . . equipped.”

“Legally equipped?”

I brushed hair back from my face. “I don't even know what that means.”

“I'll check the car out before I turn it over,” Morelli said. “I'm not going to get blown up, am I?”

“Maybe you should call Ranger first.”

Morelli grunted. “My favorite thing to do.”

“I thought you did your favorite thing last night. And then you did your second favorite and third favorite.”

He smiled, his teeth white in the dark room. “You wouldn't let me do my fourth favorite.”

“You can permanently wipe that off the list. That's disgusting.”

He kissed me on my forehead and left.

• • •

It was almost nine o'clock when I rolled into the office. I'd made a stop at my apartment to shower and change clothes. Diesel wasn't there, and the bed hadn't been slept in. I had a twinge of anxiety over his safety and gave myself a mental slap in the face. He was fine. He was always fine. In fact, he might be immortal.

Connie was applying clear coat to her nails when I walked in, and Lula was pacing.

“I got a case of nerves,” Lula said. “I'm worried about the zombies. This could be the start of something. There could be an apocalypse coming. And what about the ones that are already walking around? How long before they stop looking for dead brains and start going after live brains? It could be any day now. And our brains are going to be at the top of their list because you ran over one of them and ripped off some of his rags.”

Lula's hair was au naturel today, resulting in a massive, impenetrable afro. I thought the zombies would have a hard time getting to Lula's brain.

“How about you?” Lula asked me. “Aren't you nervous? Weren't you agitated over the zombies all last night?”

I shook my head. “I spent the night with Morelli. I was agitated over other things.”

“Did you tell him you punted a zombie?”

“Yes. I gave him the piece of cloth. He's going to have it tested today. And he swapped cars with me so the lab guys could take a look at that too.”

“You've got one sexy guy who gives you cars, and another sexy guy who agitates you,” Lula said. “It's not fair that you have two sexy guys, and I'm depending on battery-operated devices.”

It got better or worse depending on your point of view. There was a third guy in my life. I wasn't sure what role he played, but he was definitely sexy.

“We have two open files,” I said. “Chucci and Slick. I'm curious about Slick. I say we check on him first.”

“I guess that would be okay,” Lula said, “but if I smell carnations and outhouse I'm out of there.”

“Fair enough.”

We left the office, and Lula was relieved to see we'd be using Morelli's green SUV.

“This is good,” she said. “This is an unrecognizable car for the zombies. They won't immediately know who we are when we park in the cemetery lot.”

I buckled up and pulled away from the curb. “You need to stop obsessing about zombies. They aren't real. Something bad is happening, but it's not the result of a zombie uprising.”

“How can you be sure?”

I didn't have an answer for this. It was like believing in God. You did or you didn't. Or in my case, I wasn't sure so I hedged my bets by going to mass at Christmas. And I only used the Lord's name in vain under extreme circumstances.

“I just don't think there are zombies,” I said.

“So what did we see?”

“I don't know. Something made up to look like a zombie.”

“What about the glowing red eyes?”

“I have to admit, they were freaky.”

“Fuckin' A,” Lula said.

I parked in the cemetery lot, and Lula and I walked to the gate. Lula had her gun drawn in case she had to shoot a zombie in the brain. My gun was at home in the cookie jar. The Rangeman gun was riding along with Morelli. I kept telling myself I didn't believe in zombies, and mostly I didn't. I also didn't believe in giant spiders that could eat me alive and venom-spewing, anal-probing aliens from Uranus. All this not believing had little effect on the irrational fear I carried for zombies, spiders, and aliens.

We passed through the gate, and Lula stopped and sniffed.

“Well?” I asked.

“It smells okay. And I'm not getting any zombie vibes. I say we keep going.”

We followed the path to the tree where Slick had set up camp. The area was littered with his belongings, but he wasn't there. A white Styrofoam cooler was overturned and empty. A blanket, his GoPro, his journal, and a ball cap were on the ground by the cooler.

“I don't like the looks of this,” Lula said.

“Maybe he had to use the bathroom.”

“Or maybe the zombies got him.”

It bothered me that Slick's GoPro and journal were lying out, and that the pen was several feet from the journal. I was trying not to be an alarmist, but I secretly agreed with Lula that this didn't look good.

Lula was standing by a tombstone, staring at the grave. “Does it look like someone started to dig this up again?”

“Yes. Some of the sod has been dislodged.”

I walked farther down the path, finding another grave that had been recently disturbed. Lula's video camera was half buried in the soft dirt. I shouted for Slick, but no one answered. The cemetery was eerily quiet.

I called Morelli, gave him the short version, and suggested he might want to take a look at the grave sites.

Lula returned to the parking lot to direct the police when they arrived, and I stayed graveside. I knew there was a good chance that this was a crime scene and I needed to keep its integrity, but I wanted to read Slick's journal and see what he'd caught on the cameras.

I carefully brushed the dirt away from Lula's camera and checked recent videos. There was nothing after Lula's bungee-jumping disaster. I placed the camera back in the dirt and went to the GoPro. The rewind on this showed more. Two shadowy forms with glowing eyes could be seen moving toward the camera.

Slick's voice was a whisper. “Oh, no. Oh crap.”

The creatures stopped and looked left. Slick panned with the camera, and I saw a third form. It was taller, and it quickly moved out of the frame. The camera was on infrared mode, making identification difficult, but there was something about the hair and the build of the third one that looked familiar. I replayed the video and had a chilling feeling in my gut. I couldn't be certain, but I thought it looked like Diesel. The camera returned to the two red-eyed creatures as they rushed at Slick, arms outstretched, mouths gaping open. The video went to the dark sky, someone screamed, and the camera cut out.

I heard cars entering the parking lot, and I was in a state of confused anxiety. I was having a hard time breathing and thinking. The red-eyed creatures in the video were terrifying. Slick was missing, and my stomach was sick at the possibility of finding his headless body behind a tombstone. And then there was Diesel. I was almost positive he was the man in the video. What the heck was he doing there? Was he one of them? Was he hunting them? And what was I supposed to say to Morelli?
I think I recognize the tall guy in the video. He's living with me
And he's been sleeping in my bed. Naked.
This brought on more nausea.

Okay, get a grip. Breathe. It's not so bad. It's all been pretty innocent. No penetration. No exchange of bodily fluids. Not yet, anyway. And now that he might be a zombie, or maybe a zombie handler . . . I squinched my eyes closed. Don't even go there. First off, there are no zombies. Second, there are no zombies.

Two uniforms appeared on the path, and I realized I hadn't
looked at the journal. I dropped the GoPro, snatched the journal off the ground, and shoved it into my bag. I made the sign of the cross and told God I was only keeping the journal for a short time. It wasn't like I was stealing something or tampering with evidence. I was actually
evidence so it didn't get trampled by all the cops who were rushing into the cemetery.

Morelli was close behind the uniforms. I stood to one side and waited for him to first take in the scene at the grave and then make his way to me.

“Let me get this straight,” Morelli said. “Instead of taking Slick in, you decided to let him stay here to film the zombies.”

“At the time, it sounded like an okay idea.”

Morelli looked at the GoPro lying on the ground. “He was going to film them with this?”

“Yes. And with a camera that Lula loaned him. We found Lula's camera at the other grave.”

“And no one's touched any of this?”

“Pretty much.”

Small grimace from Morelli. “And?”

“There's nothing on Lula's camera, but the GoPro shows a couple guys with glowing red eyes coming at Slick.”

Morelli pulled on gloves, picked the camera up, and watched the rewind.

“What do you think?” I asked him.

“Zombies,” Morelli said. “No doubt about it.”

He watched it a second time. “There's someone on this video who doesn't look like a zombie.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “I must have missed that.”

“He's at a distance, and he's only on camera for a heartbeat. I'll have the tech enhance the frame, and I'll take another look.”

“How about the zombies? Did you recognize either of them?”

“I thought one looked a little like Bugs Molinowski, but Bugs isn't dead yet.”

“Would that matter?”

“Tape this off,” Morelli said to one of the uniforms. “And get it photographed.”

“Do you want to see the other disturbed grave?” I asked him.

“Sure. Disturbed graves are my favorite. Right behind headless bodies.”

I led him along the path to the second grave, and Morelli knelt down and scooped up some earth.

“The tombstone says this woman was buried seven months ago,” Morelli said, “but this is a fresh dig, and there was no attempt made to hide it. A professional like Diggery would have replaced the sod.”

“He takes pride in his work,” I said.

Morelli stood and looked around. “And he doesn't want to get caught. Have you gone through the rest of the cemetery?”

“No. I called you when I saw this, and I went back to Slick's sleepover spot.”

“I'll have it canvassed, and I'll let you know if we find Slick.”

“Likewise,” I said.

He cut his eyes to the path to make sure we were alone. He wrapped an arm around me and kissed me.

“Last night was good,” he said. “With any luck, I won't be working tonight either.”

“That would be great. I love when we get to spend the night together. Especially at your house. It's so comfy.”

I wasn't sure I'd survive a second night in a row with Morelli, but I was going to give it my all, because I absolutely wasn't going to share a bed with Diesel. In fact, I might even move Rex temporarily to my mother's house. I had no clue what Diesel's relationship was to the zombie people, but I didn't want to take a chance on someone drilling a hole in Rex's head and sucking out his tiny hamster brain for an hors d'oeuvre.

“When will I get my car back?” I asked.

“They're going over the car now. I'll bring it home with me.”

BOOK: Hardcore Twenty-Four
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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