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It was raining when Terrence Cole buried his soldiers. A late summer downpour was the rarest of miracles in Los Angeles, and I watched as the fresh mounds of earth beside the open graves slowly turned to mud.
Terrence stood in the center of the small, black-clad crowd, his head bowed and his hands clasped in front of him. He didn't have an umbrella, and the rain glistened on the coffee-colored skin of his shaved head. It trickled down his forehead and along his temples, and the wetness on his cheeks almost looked like tears.
The service drew to a close, the coffins were lowered into the damp earth and the mourners quickly dispersed. I wasn't sure if they were fleeing the elements or the sense of helplessness and despair that hung over the gathering. Probably both. I went to him when Terrence stood alone by the graves.
"Domino," he said, "I appreciate you being here." Stylish narrow sunglasses covered his eyes, but his head remained bowed and I didn't think he'd looked up as I approached.
"I'm sorry about your guys, Terrence. I just found out about it today."
He nodded, not at me but at the graves. "These two here were my nephews."
"Jesus, Terrence, if I'd known, maybe I could have"
"Their moms was my favorite sister. Used to be. Now she just want to see my funeral."
"You're not responsible for this."
Terrence took off the glasses and lifted his head. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he had the look of a man on the run who knows he's all out of places to hide. "I brought them in. Thought it was the best way to keep them safe, thought I could protect them." He shook his head and the corner of his mouth twitched.
"They didn't even have any juice. Mobley put a posse on them just to send me a message."
Francis Mobley ran the largest Jamaican outfit in the city. He'd been aligned with Terrence's former boss, but now he saw the outfit Terrence had inherited as a target, an opportunity to expand his territory. Mobley was brutal, but I knew the executions hadn't just been a message. The hits would have given Mobley a lot of juice and he'd be planning to use it for something even worse.
It was old-school gang warfare. With magic returning to the world in force, the stronger outfits had more juice than they knew what to do with. Back in the day it hadn't been like that. There hadn't been enough magic to go around, and the L.A. outfits fought for whatever piece of it they could get. They'd used tactics like thisone seemingly pointless act of violence feeding juice to the nextto move against their rivals. It was like a game of leapfrog played with murders.
My outfit was the strongest in the city and we didn't have to resort to those tactics to take care of business. But there was still something in it for a smaller, weaker outfit, as long as the guy calling the shots didn't let anything like conscience get in the way. I'd never heard Francis Mobley had much of a conscience.
"You're my ally, Terrence. Give the word and I'll crush that motherfucker like a bug."
"Then what, Domino? You gonna move on the Koreans? Word is they want a piece of me, too."
I hadn't known about the Koreans, but Terrence was right. As much as I liked the idea of hitting back at Mobley, he was a symptom and not the disease. Taking him out wouldn't make the problem go away. The problem was Terrence's outfit was too small and too weak to protect itself. It wouldn't survive for longand never mind that it was weak mostly because of what I'd done to it a couple months ago. If it wasn't Mobley, someone else would move in to cull the herd. That's the way it worked, and if I put my personal feelings aside, I knew that's the way it should work. There was no room for weakness in the underworld.
"Are you ready to lay down, Terrence?"
He didn't say anything for a while. It surprised me, but maybe he was thinking about it. Getting your ass handed to you was no fun in any walk of life, but it really sucked in the underworld. I couldn't really blame him.
"No fucking way," Terrence said finally. "I ain't gonna lay down 'less someone puts me down."
"Okay, so what are you going to do about it?"
"Mobley ain't shit. He's not my problemmotherfucker's just exploiting my problem. I can hit him just like he's hitting me. I can drop bodies on his corners and put blood on his streets, but that just makes it worse. I need soldiers, Domino. It's simple as that."
"I know where you can get some."
Terrence narrowed his eyes. "Where's that, D? You can't send me musclethat's no different than letting you hit the Jamaicans for me. I got to prove my outfit is strong enough to protect itself."
"I can't send you troops, but I could let them go if they got the idea on their own."
"Who you have in mind?"
"Simeon Wale's crew. The prick likes you a hell of a lot better than me, anyway. He'd cross if you offered him lieutenant. I'd let him."
"Simeon Wale is a bad nigger and he got juice, but I'm not sure I trust the motherfucker any more than you do. I'd be watching my back night and day if I brought him in."
"Why you think I'm letting him go? Nothing's free, Terrence. You know that. Question is, is watching your back better than lying down? I'm getting pressure. Everyone's worried. If you can't hold your ground, something else might move in that'd make the Jamaicans look friendly."
"The Turk is on you about this?"
"No, I don't even know where that son of a bitch is. He said he was going on sabbatical, left routine operational control of the outfit to the heir apparent."
Terrence laughed. "Adan's making trouble for you. My pops always said, be careful what you wish forit might just get you."
"Your pops sounds like an asshole."
"He was, but he might have been right about that."
Adan Rashan was my boss's son. He'd been swapped out with a changeling as a baby and spent the first twenty-plus years of his life in Avalon, the fairy otherworld. A few months earlier, I'd killed the changeling and averted a war with the Seelie Court, but not before I'd fallen for the fucking guy. Now the real Adan was back and he was turning out to be a major pain in the ass. I couldn't just flip the switch and turn off the attraction, either. I didn't understand it, I didn't much like it, and I sure as hell wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
"Adan's got no say in this. I'm still the wartime captain, you're my ally and supporting our alliances is part of my job description."
"He can still make trouble."
"No, all he can do is bitch and moan about it. He's been doing a lot of that. He can't move on you unless I give the word."
"You gonna give the word?"
"I wouldn't be here if I was ready to push you out." Even if Terrence hadn't been my ally, he'd betrayed his former boss to save my life. Maybe saving my ass hadn't been his only motive, but that kind of thing still counted for something. At least to me.
"So it got to be Wale's crew?"
I nodded. "Anyone else, it looks like I'm propping you up. This way it just looks like you're taking advantage of disloyalty in my ranks. No one will have a problem with that."
"Except Mobley. You think you can arrange a sit-down?"
I shook my head. "Not yet. Mobley thinks he has you by the short ones, Terrence. You're going to have to hurt him before you sit down."
"I can put Wale on him," he said, and laughed. "You got all this worked out, don't you? Remind me never to piss you off."
I shrugged. "It's time to play hardball. You turn Wale loose, Mobley will come to you. He'll be begging for a sit-down."
Terrence nodded and was about to respond when a sound like a snapping tree limb split the air. The sound came from behind us.
From the graves.
Terrence and I turned together, toward the sound. Splintered wood from one of the coffins lay scattered around the gravesite. As we watched, one of Terrence's nephews climbed from his shattered coffin and stood up. He staggered and then braced himself with both hands on the sides of his grave. He looked down at himself, at the dark suit his mother had buried him in, and then he looked around. His gaze landed on us, and his eyes were a dull, filmy gray. They were a dead man's eyes.
"What the fuck, Uncle T?" he said. "Why you got to put a brother in the ground?"
The kid climbed out of his hole and stumbled toward us. He seemed a little stiff. After a few jerking steps, he wobbled to a stop and fell back on his ass, his legs splayed out in front of him.
Terrence and I just looked at him.
"I feel like shit, Uncle T," the kid said. He was holding his head in both hands and craning his neck to either side. It snapped and popped like dry kindling in a fire.
"You got shot seven times, Tony," Terrence said. His voice sounded dry and harsh, like he just woke up from a hard night of drinking and too many cigars.
"Damn, Uncle T, it's Antoine, I keep telling you that. No one calls me Tony anymore."
"You got shot seven times, Tony," Terrence repeated. "One of the bullets went in your brain. They didn't even bother to dig it out when they put you on the table."
I thought it was a little more detail than the kid probably needed, but Terrence sounded like he was saying it to remind himself more than for his nephew's benefit.
Tony raised a hand to his forehead and probed the gray, puckered entry wound with his fingertips. "Why ain't I dead, Uncle T?"
Terrence didn't say anything. I didn't eitherI just relaxed my vision and looked at Tony with my witch sight. Terrence had said the kid didn't have any juice, but that wasn't exactly right. Every human has a little juice in theman aura or whatever you want to call it. I could see what was left of Tony's juice soaking into the soggy earth with the rain. It was exactly what I'd expect to see on a human body that had been dead a couple days.
I dropped the sight and looked over at Terrence. He turned to me and I shook my head.
"Tell me what you remember, Tony," he said, looking back to the kid again. He stayed where he was, about ten feet from where Tony had dropped into the mud.
"I remember all of it. I remember getting shot. We were just hanging out at the store and the Rastas rolled up on us in a black Escalade. I didn't even have time to be scared, Uncle T. I saw them roll up and then I was down."
"What else, Tony? You remember anything after that?"
"I remember everything," he said. "I remember the uniforms showing up, and later the murder police. And after, when the doctors laid me out and started cutting on me. I was awake but I couldn't move. It didn't hurt, you know, but I could feel what they were doing." The kid started crying but there were no tears. His eyes were dry and gray. "I remember the funeral. But I was lying in that fucking box and I couldn't see anything. I was able to open my eyes but all I could do was lie there and look up at the ceiling."
"Any hoodoo on him, Domino?" Terrence asked. You could use magic to raise the dead, to make a zombie out of a corpse. I even knew the spell, though I'd never used it.
I shook my head. "Nothing."
"Maybe that fairy shit?"
"No, I'd see it." When I'd killed the changeling who'd replaced Adan, I'd also taken his magic. Now I could see fairy glamour as easily as human sorcery and there was no glamour on Tony. Raising zombies wasn't exactly the Seelie Court's style, anyway.
"What you think we should do?"
"We can't put him back in the ground."
"No, that doesn't seem right."
"Maybe if we wait awhile he'll die again."
"Fuck you, Uncle T. You think I can't hear you?" Tony had stopped crying and was scowling at us.
"Sorry, Tony, I didn't mean it like that. I'm just not sure what to do about this."
Tony staggered to his feet again. He was moving jerkily around the grave site when we heard a thumping sound coming from the other coffin. Terrence and I looked at each other and then at the grave. We walked over and looked down.
"I hurt, Uncle T," Tony called from behind us. "Before I couldn't feel nothing, now it hurts, real bad."
"Chill out, Tony. I got to help Keshawn." Terrence dropped to his knees in the mud, reached into the grave and unlatched the coffin. He opened the lid.
The body lying there didn't look quite as good as Tony's. Keshawn had taken one in the head, too, but the exit wound had torn away one side of his skull. The funeral home hadn't done much more than slap some industrial-strength May-belline on it. I flowed a little juice to steady my nerves and calm my stomach.
"I think I'm hungry, Uncle T," Tony called.
"I said chill the fuck out, Tony. Give me a minute and I'll take you to Mickey D's."
Keshawn opened his eyes. They were gray, empty and lifeless, just like Tony's. His lips pulled back in a snarl and bared yellow teeth, and his hands flashed up and grabbed Terrence by the throat. Keshawn screamed and thrashed and pulled Terrence into the grave. Terror welled up from someplace deep in my mind and tried to paralyze me. I flowed more juice to take the edge off it and moved forward to help. Then I heard Tony step up behind me.
"I don't want Mickey D's, Uncle T," he said, and I felt his cold, cold hands on my neck.
Everyone has an irrational fear. For some people it's spiders, for others it's snakes, or maybe clowns. I have a big fucking problem with zombies. I can deal with ghostseven the really creepy ones. Hell, I share my condo with a spook, an old woman named Mrs. Dawson. I can also deal with dead bodiesas long as they stay down. If they get up and try to eat me, that's just too fucking much.