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I'm not going to have to walk around with a bullet wound in my forehead forever, am I?" Betsy Capella looked at me, her eyes not quite focused. After being deceased and in cold storage for nearly a year, it was understandable. The senses take a little while to warm up and remember what they're supposed to do.
"I don't think so. It should fade as you recover more fully. These things take a little time." Not exactly a lie, not exactly the truth, and I hope I interjected enough sympathy into my voice. I don't know the answer to her question, as I've been performing resurrections for only a year or so. Not long enough to come up with a stat sheet. Each resurrection is different, just as each death is different. The state and success of recovery depends on how long the deceased has been gone, and on whether we've stored the body or it was buried in a traditional manner. Embalming is not a good thing if you intend to return to a living state. Yeah. Cremation is a bad idea, too. Way bad.
Betsy sat more upright and smiled, the corners of her mouth a little tight and dry. "I'll bet some makeup will help."
Yeah, and a spackling trowel to slap it on with. "Give it a go. I hear there are sales on this week." Looking down at the contract she signed, I added the date. Having been dead and on ice, she wasn't up on current events. "Do you want to go with us to the 'yard? You don't have to, but if you'd like to, someone can drive you and follow us to the site."
"The yard? What's that?" A frown of confusion made the bullet wound between her eyes pucker. S-o-o not attractive.
"Graveyard." Where the life-swap rituals are completed, sending killers where they belong. A one-way ticket to the nebula. Looking away, I tried not to focus on her wound, like a deadly zit on her forehead.
Before answering, Betsy put away the compact someone had given her. Most newly resurrected have a difficult transition at first, which is why I don't keep mirrors around the office. Let 'em get used to the idea of being awake and alive again before they wonder what they look like. Sometimes it ain't pretty.
"No. I just want to go home, see the kids and take a shower." Rubbing her hands on her arms, she shivered. You go a year without a shower and see how you feel. I'd recommend a good exfoliant, like steel wool. Maybe I could come up with a gift bag for the newly resurrected. Steel wool and a mild bleach solution. That would be good PR, wouldn't it? I should write that down.
Betsy looked at her ex-husband across the room and dismissed him as if he meant nothing to her. I suppose that's the best attitude. He's the one who put her in the ground, so she obviously meant nothing to him. In my book, turnaround is simply justice, served neat.
She rose from the chair and wobbled a little, then got her land legs again. I don't know quite what to call it when they've been in containment. Grave legs? Jeez. This job just gets freakier all the time. Every day is Halloween around here. We just need some candy; we've already got the nuts.
Betsy's family was weepy and gathered around her, then pulled away. A few wiped their hands on their pants, grateful for, but at the same time repulsed by, her condition. If her body hadn't been found and put in containment quickly, none of this would have been possible.
Without my death and the death of my child, it wouldn't have been possible either. The cramp in my chest that I refuse to acknowledge surfaced, but I shoved it back as I always had. This was not the time to renew the grief of my past. This was the time to kick the ass of the guy responsible for putting my client in the grave.
Some newly resurrected have a hard time remembering what happened to them, and that's probably for the best.
I, however, will never forget.
Three years ago my husband's lover stuck a butcher knife in my belly and cut my child out of me, leaving me to die in the desert. Fortunately for me, there were forces at work in the universe that took exception to that act of atrocity and rescued me. It's made me what I am now, and I can never go back to my previous life as a nurse, a wife and almost a mother.
That debt of honor can never be repaid.
Returning from the dead definitely has had some unforeseen consequences. Like the other-siders wanting something in return. Like learning how to raise the dead and performing life-swaps. Simple stuff like that.
Many of my resurrections involve women who, like me, married the wrong man and didn't live to tell about it. Other life-swap cases I handle include cops killed in the line of duty, and kids murdered by their mothers' new boyfriend, who just happens to be a pedophile. Fortunately, I was sent back to right the wrongs done to others just like me. It's a living as well as a mission. There are other resurrectionists out there, but we are a small force trying to bring our abilities to the public without getting ourselves killed. Our country has already had one giant witch hunt. We don't need another.
It was my turn to stand, and I got up from behind the desk. I'm tall, but I usually wear cowboy boots with heels. Gives me the height to look down on these assholes so they know a woman is the one putting them in the grave for good. I have long black hair I wear straight, past my shoulders, and skin that appears perfectly tanned year-round. Not my choice, but my mixed ethnicity. It's my eyes, though, which are an odd shade of muddy green with yellow flecks, that give me the advantage over the nut jobs I deal with. Some say it's like looking into hell when I give them the right stare. Frankly, I don't believe in hell anymore, so I don't know what they are talking about.
"How you doin', Rufus? You ready for all this?" He was a weasel of a man, not much to look at. Dark brown eyes too closely set, a short, wiry frame and the disposition of a rabid coyote. Probably has a dick the size of a baby dill, too. I've discovered the meaner a man's disposition, the smaller his dick. Hmm. Wonder why?
"Fuck you," he said and spat at me.
"Sorry. I don't fuck dead guys." As if.
"You're gonna pay for what you do. Someone's going to take you down." He made the sign of the cross as well as he could in shackles. Kinda tough, though.
The guards on each side of him just laughed, and that makes me smile. As close to a warm fuzzy as I'll ever get. I'm not warm, and if I'm fuzzy I need to shave my legs.
"Really? Well, it ain't gonna be you." I let my eyes wander over his hot pink jumpsuit. I took a cue from that sheriff in Arizona who makes the inmates wear pink underwear and live in tents outside no matter how freakin' hot it is. Unfortunately, pink is not a good color for most men, unless they're gay or less than three years old, and Rufus was neither. "Let's go, boys. We don't have all night."
The guards are equipped with a bulletproof, four-wheel-drive van. One drives, one rides with a shotgun trained on the life-swapper, and I mentally prepare for what I'm about to do. My main man, Sam Lopez, is unavailable tonight, and I actually miss his strong, hunky presence at the 'yard. He has secrets I can't penetrate even if I wanted to, and I suppose he's entitled to them. I don't own him, and he isn't obligated to have share-time with me, but his presence at the graveyard gives me strength I didn't know I needed until he said he couldn't be here. Each ritual takes a lot of energy, and I'm usually too wasted to drive safely back from the 'yard. Maybe it'll get better the more resurrections I perform, but for the time being, I have guards. Men like to drive anyway, so I don't mind having them cart my ass around once in a while.
The next morning, I felt as if someone beat the hell out of me when I wasn't looking. Obviously, I hadn't had enough meat yesterday. This girl needs loads of protein just to function in a normal manner. Well, my normal anyway. My stomach roars to life the second my eyes open. Dammit. I am so ruled by my appetite.
The life-swap had taken way longer than it should have last night, and as a result I was more ragged out than usual this morning. Having Sam present for the rituals obviously makes a difference, so I'm going to have to make sure he's not out dancing naked under the full moon for the next one. My energy stores last only so long and must be replenished frequently.
After a shower I put on some jeans and a black T-shirt. The crystal amulet on a chain never leaves my neck (a little gift from the other-siders), so I tucked it inside the shirt. They didn't give me direction on the crystal, but just said it was a source of power. Maybe it wards off bacteria, too, 'cause I haven't been sick since I began wearing it. I tugged on scarred black cowboy boots I wouldn't give up for anything and shoved a pair of sunglasses over my burning eyes. When I'm depleted of nutrients, my eyes turn funny colors. Scared a waitress half to death the first time that happened, hence the shades.
Coffee sustains me in my hour of need, which is every bloody hour of the day, so I swing by the coffee shop for a couple of those gallon-size coffee boxes. I keep one and share the other with the cops in the office.
They love me.
And I love 'em right back. They're the good guys in blue. Entirely too many of them have lain down their lives for others and not been returned to this plane. My neverending project is getting a few of them back on the force and sending their killers to the nebula instead of a cushy jail cell for twenty-to-life. Two good cops had been killed a few years back by a psych patient, and it's been a high-profile case ever since. The venue for the trial had to be changed several times because there was such a public outcry on both sides. Fortunately, the cops have been on ice in my cryo lab since their deaths in anticipation of future resurrection, but I don't know when, if ever, it's going to get straightened out. Figuring out the legalities of this case still gives me a headache.
Can the mentally ill who murder be considered for life-swaps? Do they have real quality of life as they exist now? If not, then I'd like to play swap-a-cop for this particular bad boy. But how is one to know?
That's the part that has always given me pause and a lump in my gut that won't go away with an antacid.
Truly mentally ill people may or may not be held responsible for their actions, no matter how heinous. If that's the case, then I could not in good conscience perform a life-swap with this afflicted man and the two cops, no matter how much people begged. My personal moral code wouldn't allow me to proceed. As far as I know, there are no Resurrectionists Guidelines to refer to in this kind of case.
Psychiatrists will fight to the death to defend either side of the fence, which leaves me sitting in the middle of it with splinters up my ass. So that's where we sit until someone more important than me makes a decision. I've been trying to get the court to pass some new legislation that will speed up the decision, but so far I'm having no luck getting them even to look at it.
These are the issues we resurrectionists ponder every day. They may never be solved in my lifetime, however long that is, but I've got to try. Something won't allow me to walk away from a situation I might be able to help with. Maybe it's the way I'm made or part of being a resurrectionist. Others in my situation have few answers, either. Those of us who have heard the battle cry for resurrections always feel alone, even though there is a small group of support available.
"Hey, Dani." A deep voice that gives me shivers at night got my immediate attention. Though I could have just sighed and listened to him talk, I have a reputation to uphold. Tough chicks aren't just born. They're cultivated.
It's a lot of work.
"Hey, Sam, what's up?" I usually leave the door propped open with a large piece of petrified wood, about the size of a bowling ball, I had found in my yard. Here in the desert, the stuff's everywhere, and someday when he's being a butt head (and you know he will be no matter how hot he is now), I'll probably have to clobber him with it.
"Just reviewed your notes on the cop-killer case." He held several files in one hand that contained my attempts to outline the legislation. In his other hand was a cup of coffee I'd brought. See? Bringing coffee is a good thing, no matter what it costs my budget. Makes for good relationships with smart men who carry big guns. Here was one with a 9 mil on his hip, and he ain't afraid to use it. That's yummy, in my book.
"Take a seat and tell me what you think." Although I have my suspicions, I want to hear it from him. My powers don't extend to mind reading, but I know Sam pretty well, and he's giving off a negative vibe. Could be his years as an army Ranger, though. He's one tough dude. That makes him a good resource for me, but he's hell on relationships.
With a sigh he sat and parked the files on my desk. "I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think they're going to make a decision. At least not yet. The public isn't ready for it."
"Yeah." Running my hands through my hair is a habit, and one I engage in now. One I'll probably regret down the line when I experience androgenic alopecia and there's more hair in my brush than on my head. "I wish there was a way around this. It could be the start of something big here. I hate waiting for New York and California to set the bar, and then we catch up later." I wanted this, bad. Not just for me and setting a precedent in New Mexico, but setting one for all resurrectionists. We need to know. The families of those we resurrect need it, too. I tried not to think of how badly the families of the cops needed it.
Sam's dark, dark gaze roamed over my chest and lingered for a second before his attention returned to my face. Not that I dislike that sort of attention, especially from him, but we have bigger things to focus on than the bumps under my shirt.
He pushed the files back to my side of the ugly desk that was a recycle from the precinct. "Sorry, babe."
You know, I'm a fully liberated woman, but for some reason, I don't mind him calling me babe. Mostly because he does it with affection, and knows that if he ever gets in my pants we'll set the desert on fire. If anyone else tries it, I'll rip their tongue out. Sometimes the sparks between Sam and me are visible at night. In a graveyard. Woo-hoo. How romantic is that?