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I Ate The Sheriff
By K. BENNETT
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2012 K. Bennett
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Hello, my name is Mallory, and I'm a zombie."
"It's been twenty days since I ate a human brain."
"It hasn't been easy. In fact, it's been the hardest thing I've ever done. I love me some brain. Don't deny it. I love how it makes me feel, how it strengthens me. I'm sorry, but cow brains just don't do it. My skin is sallow and I feel weak all the time. I think I could live with dolphin brain, but then of course I'd be beheaded by PETA."
Laughter. It was a bit uncomfortable, for we were all recovering zombies and losing our heads was a major concern of our everyday lives.
But nevertheless here we were, in the fellowship room at a Catholic church in Hollywood. The Zombies Anonymous group was started by Father Clemente, my friend and confidante, who finally got around to convincing me I needed help, that eating human beings was not something God wanted me to do.
Whatever. I still have issues with the Big Kahuna. I know I'm supposed to acknowledge a "higher power" here. But I've been pretty much on my own my whole life and I'm not ready to give myself up to anyone or anything.
But I am trying to do the right thing by Father Clemente. I owe him that much. He's been one of my few allies in this town. It's also for my own good. I'm hoping some sort of karmic balance will get me my soul back if I at least try to do the right thing.
"Now I know we're not supposed to be about excuses here. I get that. We're not playing the victim card. In fact, we eat victims for lunch."
Again, laughter filled the room. A little too much for Father Clemente's taste. He was wincing in the corner and shaking his gray head. I couldn't help that. I was on a roll.
"But I have to say, I didn't want this gig. Who among us did? How I got here is that the jerk I was in love with killed me. And then somebody who I trusted brought me back to life. And now I'm walking around like this, like we all are. So is this world some big cosmic playground with invisible hands moving the pieces? Maybe so. Father Clemente over there can tell you all about that. He may even tell you it's a good thing. But that doesn't erase the fact that I am really hacked off right now. And when I get to feeling this way I want to eat a law professor's brain, or maybe a nuclear physicist's. I want to find the smartest person in the room and remove their head and suck out their cerebellum. I admit that. I admit that's what's going on inside me. And I am trying very hard not to go on antidepressants. Are there antidepressants for zombies? Maybe. Maybe eating surfer brains would mellow us out."
"Well, here's the deal. It's about taking responsibility. It's about living with courage. I'm not going to be bossed around. Not by God, or the church, not by the devil, not by anybody."
Applause. Father Clemente started to say something. I'm sure he wanted to stop me from going on. But he let it go. Maybe he wanted this to be like my confession. Okay, I would let him have it with both barrels.
"And now if you'll excuse me, I want to sit down and listen to somebody else, because I'm starting to get a flashback. I'm starting to remember the very first brain I ate. It was from the head of a UCLA PhD candidate. In biology. Man, it was some of the best eating I've ever had. And I'm truly sorry. Except for the UCLA part."
I sat down. My head was pounding with thoughts of chewy doctorates. I tried to concentrate on the next zombie to speak. I'd not seen him at the meetings before. But new ones were trickling in. There were more zombies in L.A. than I'd realized. But that's L.A. for you. We take in all kinds.
"Hi, my name is Reuben, and I'm a zombie."
"I ate a human brain yesterday but not today."
In unison several zombies said, "One day at a time!"
"Thanks," Reuben said. He was maybe in his mid-fifties, rough-hewn face like an old cowboy. "I reckon that's the thing I got to remember. I come from New Mexico, and we sure had some good eatin' down there. I don't know what it is with our friends south of the border, but the brains are spicy and always have a little kick."
That was it. I loved Mexican food when I was truly alive, and to be given this in my condition was just too much. I got up and, without so much as a glance at Father Clemente, went out the front doors of the church.
Outside in the night air, Sal, my alt-rock-band-leading zombie friend, said, "I can't do this anymore!"
"I know how you feel, Sal. Believe me, I know. But you've only been clean a week."
"Don't even call it clean! I feel dirty and shriveled—"
"I want an accountant. I've been lusting after accountant all day."
"Easy, Sal." Sal is in his early twenties and has lustrous nut-colored hair and, if not for the zombie part, would make a good catch for any woman. But being in the L.A. rock scene as he is, he tends toward fashionable dark angst anyway. He didn't need the zombie thing on top of all that.
"I can't go on trying to be something I'm not," Sal said.
I put my arm around him. "What do you say we go play some music and eat some cow brain and wash it down with Jack Daniels? We'll get stink roaring drunk. If they want us to stay sober when it comes to human flesh, we'll get hammered and laugh about it. What do you say?"
He looked at the ground. We were now at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee. The street was packed with what some called the night crowd, but what zombies called a buffet. It was like a recovering sex addict going into a strip club, or a dieter with a hundred pounds to lose walking into an all-you-can-eat joint with a gift card.
I could feel Sal tensing, big time.
"How about we get a hot dog," I said, "and pretend it's James Gandolfini's finger?"
Sal didn't laugh.
We stood there for a moment and watched. People wandering around looking for ways to distract themselves from troubling questions about life and death.
That was not a luxury for me, as I was in a netherworld of undead existence, unable to die lest my soul be consigned to a place I knew not of. Like what Hamlet said. Roughly translating his famous soliloquy: "Dude, why go through all this trouble in life when you can end the suffering by killing yourself? You can go into a restful sleep. But wait a minute, that kind of sleep, maybe you'll end up in a bad dream on the other side ... so you probably better stick around with what you know than speed to a place you don't know. Man, this is driving me nuts!"
For a zombie, this is deeply meaningful. We're cursed and don't know where the hell we're going, but it may be hell itself.
Chapter TwoThe next morning I prepared for the office. I'm a working lawyer, and nobody is going to take that away from me. There is still a world out there that needs help, and the one thing I know how to do is practice law. I can kick butt in court, and I can also figure out what people need from the system. I was very happy practicing with the public defender's office before Aaron Argula shot me down.
Now, with the all-cow-brain diet, my skin was more problematic than ever. I use a special cream made of shark cartilage to keep it supple, keep it from flaking off. The flaking was getting worse. If I didn't watch it, chunks of my skin would fall off like tiles from a Spanish-style roof. I shudder to think (yes, zombies shudder when they think, at least zombie lawyers can, though some debate the point) that this is a sign I am on the way out, so to speak. Dying and staying dead.
So I go through my morning routine, which involves rubbing my entire body with the stuff, lots of it.
And that body still looked pretty good, thank you very much. Considering I was undead, of course. I still have desires. Not just for the physical, but I so wanted to have a family. I wanted to settle down with one man and have a couple of kids and practice law and watch my kids grow up and go to school and find something they love to do and watch them do it.
Not an option now.
So I took my usual half-hour slather in my loft apartment in the middle of downtown, then walked the couple blocks to my office on Broadway.
My office is above the combination tobacco store and novelty shop. I call it the Smoke 'n Joke. A large woman I have named LoGo—easier on the tongue than Lolita Maria Sofia Consuelo Hidalgo—is the manager. She is a substantially built remnant of the Latino entertainment heyday of the 1970s. She always bugs me about rent. I usually get it to her late. This is no joke to her.
"Morning, Lo," I said.
"Is time for my money," she said. She was sitting behind her glass counter, as usual, the one filled with various toys and tricks and cigarette packs.
"Of course it is," I said.
"You got client?"
"I've got people dying to be my client," I said.
She threw back her head dismissively. "Five hundred. Now."
Think, Mallory. "When are you going to fix the door?"
I gestured toward the interior door that leads to the hallway that leads to the elevator that takes several days to go one floor. "The security lock hasn't worked for months," I said. "Any Tom, Dick or Harry can waltz right in."
"I'll get back to you."
I went and pushed open the security door with one hand. I could have also used my breath to open it.
Upstairs is my modest cell. I had a few legal matters to take care of off the bat. For one thing, my father was still in jail awaiting retrial for killing a cop. The cop was a zombie and it was clearly self-defense. But when you cut off a cop's head, even if they are undead, the district attorney's office takes it seriously.
So I was going over the transcript of the first trial, for which Aaron Argula was the prosecutor, when somebody scratched my door.
That's right, scratched.
Unsure what that meant, I simply said, "Come in."
He was about six feet tall, with thick black hair, long eyelashes, luminescent blue eyes. His broad shoulders radiated strength. The first button of his shirt was undone, revealing a luxuriant swatch of chest hair. I would've taken him for a Mediterranean import if not for his slight Texas twang.
"Are you Mallory Caine?" he said.
"If this was a Western, I'd say, Who's asking?"
He shut the door behind him. Then put his hand over his eyes. "I'm sorry. I scratched your door, didn't I?"
"And you are?"
"May I sit down?"
I motioned to one of my client chairs.
He sat and took a deep breath. "I'm told that you're a lawyer who'll understand what I'm about to tell you."
"That remains to be seen," I said. "There are a lot of things I don't understand. But I can assure you, anything you tell me will remain completely confidential."
He nodded. "I appreciate that. But the most important thing to me is I want you to believe me."
"Well, that all depends on what you tell me. People have been known to lie to their lawyers."
"I guess that's probably so."
"And it's the worst thing you can do," I said. "So I'll make you this deal. You never lie to me, I will never lie to you. And we'll keep things on that basis."
"Done," he said, with a small smile. The smile bit me.
"My name is Steve Ravener. I used to be an architect."
"Here in town?"
He shook his head. "In Houston. I started with a firm but went out on my own, and was doing pretty well. I was bringing home six figures and had a steady stream of clients coming to me. And then I gave it all away."
"What you mean by that?"
"I don't know how to explain it, except to say that I wanted more. Just more. I was addicted to the rush. Unfortunately I got into coke, Oxy. And still I wanted more. And that's when I met a group of guys in a bar who were talking about an ultimate high. And they were successful guys, too. A lawyer, a dentist, and a local talk show host. I fell in a conversation with 'em and that's where it started. I joined them one night out in the big lonely. They met a guy out there and we had a keg."
"Yeah. Just kicking back having some brew, and this guy starts talking and says, 'Are you ready to try it?' And I'm all, 'Try what?' But the next thing I know he's singing a nonsense song, like he's some five-year-old. But then everybody starts laughing, and one of the guys elbows me in the ribs and says to join in, it's part of it. Like an initiation."
"Do you remember any of the words?"
He shook his head. "They were just noise to me, but I went along with it, and the next thing I know it starts to happen, the change."
He stopped then and looked at me, like he was afraid to go on.
"Mr. Ravener," I said, "there isn't anything you can tell me that's going to jolt me. I've been around L.A. enough that nothing is going to shock."
"I wouldn't say it if I wasn't."
"I'm a werewolf."
I was shocked.
I've been around vampires and ghosts and shape-shifters and angels and goddesses and demons, and some other things I cannot name, and they're all pretty rational, even when they're doing bad things. They have the power of reflection.
But werewolves are another matter. Totally unpredictable and vicious. A werewolf once attacked one of my clients right as she sat on the witness stand in court. I had to grab his leg and bite it. Not something most lawyers are trained to do.
"Yeah," Steve Ravener said, "I see your reaction. I don't blame you."
"I don't mean anything by it," I said.
"You're afraid I might turn and come after you."
"Been known to happen."
"Sometimes I can control it. Sometimes it controls me. But there is no way out. That's what I am now."
"I don't believe in no way out," I said. "I think the minute we start to think that way is the minute we start to die, truly die."
"You sound like you know what you're talking about."
"I did pass the bar."
"I mean more than that. Like you're dealing with something, too."
"Let's keep this professional, Mr. Ravener. Tell me why you have come to see me."
He sighed and sat back in his chair. "About seven years ago I came to L.A. I figured I could blend in better here."
"Excellent call," I said.
"I found a pack and started to run with them. Then I met a woman. Thought she was the one, you know? Beautiful. Teaches Pilates in Beverly Hills. We got married."
"Did you tell her of your, um, condition?"
He looked at the floor and shook his head.
"Don't you think you might have mentioned that little item?" I said.
"I know, I know. I was trying to fight it. I thought I could find a way to get out of it."
"And have you?"
"I don't know if it's possible."
"How did she not find out?"
He said, "I turned into a pretty good liar, I guess, and then there were the kids."
The despair was evident in his voice, and in my own body, too. I knew exactly how he felt. "Go on," I said.
"We had two kids, a boy and a girl. Greatest kids in the world. I wanted more than anything to stop wolfing so I could be a good father. But then Pat found out what I was."
"Pat's your wife?"
"That's right. And now she wants to take them away from me for good."
"Are they with you now?"
"No, she has them and says she'll call the police if I try to see them." I thought I saw mist in his eyes then, but he blinked it away. "Is there anything I can do?"
I took in a long, professional breath. "It all depends on the facts," I said. "California custody law is based on the best interests of the children. You are going to have to be able to show that being a werewolf is not harmful to your kids."
"That sounds hard, doesn't it?"
"Hard. Not impossible."
"You mean there's a chance?"
"With me, there's always a chance." Why not say it? I'm good at what I do. Does Yo-Yo Ma think he's all thumbs?
Steve Ravener's face broke into a slightly relieved smile. I felt that trembling inside me again.
No, I told myself. You already are attracted to an L.A. cop named Strobert. You've had to push him away. The last thing you need is to get involved with a wolf. What's wrong with you?
"I don't have much money," Steve said. "I'm just a musician."
"No kidding. What kind?"
"Ballads. With guitar."
"Where do you play?"
"I have a regular gig in a hotel. I snag some money here and there. I also pick up work as a freelance cage fighter."
I cleared my throat. "Did you say cage fighter?"
He nodded. "I haven't clawed anyone to death yet, but it helps pay the bills."
"Are you talking about legitimate MMA-type stuff?"
"Care to explain?"
"Do I have to?"
"Mr. Ravener," I said, "do you want my help or not? If you go after custody of your cubs—I mean kids—the other side is going to tear into your life, you'll pardon the expression. So I need to know what they may uncover."
Excerpted from I Ate The Sheriff by K. BENNETT Copyright © 2012 by K. Bennett. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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