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In all my years of squashing paranormal creepy crawlies, I'd learned two very important lessons. First, always keep a round chambered in your gun. Trust me, when you really need it, you don't have time to load it. Second, never ignore your business phone. Mortgages are expensive and freelancer jobs hard to come by, so whenever that line rings, you answer it.
"I'm looking for Marcus Shifter," the lady on the other end said in a hushed, hurried voice.
I paused Stripes and sat up. "You got him."
"My name is Carly Banks, and my husband died a month ago."
I pinched the bridge of my nose. Another Normal hoping to resurrect a loved one.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Mrs. Banks, but I'm a Warlock, not a Necromancer. I can't raise the dead."
"You don't have to," she said, quickly. "He's on my front lawn with a shotgun."
I arrived at her neighborhood twenty minutes later.
The Banks lived in one of the posh suburbs outside of Washington, DC that catered to people with too much money and not enough imagination. Carly's place was a clone of the othersa three-story McMansion with perfectly manicured landscaping and a neon-green lawn. The four-car garage was larger than my townhouse, and a fountain bubbled noisily in the middle of the circular drive. Huge iron gates stood at the entrance to prevent we common folk from walking up the driveway.
How the husband got in was anyone's guess.
I parked a block down the road to ensure I didn't anger the territorial undead, then gave my equipment a final check. The .45 caliber Glock rested comfortably in my thigh holster with three spare magazines strapped next to it. I drew the gun and slid the rack backward, loading a round into the chamber. I grinned as I re-holstered the gun, then I pulled a dented scabbard off the passenger seat and closed the door.
There was nothing fancy about my sword. It was almost two feet in length with a nondescript handle that I'd wrapped with athletic tape for extra grip. As plain as the sword was, it had a very special attribute.
It was sharp.
I tossed the sword on my back, tightened the straps, and headed toward the Banks's gate. A bee zipped past my head, and I paused just long enough to smile at it before stepping up to the metal entrance. The late Anthony Banks, illuminated in all his glory by bright floodlights, stood on the front porch at the far end of the drive.
Carly's description of her philandering husband was spot on. Early forties, overweight and balding, Tony was equally unpleasant in death as he'd been in life. His skin was gray and hung loosely around the legs and arms. Yet despite his month vacation underground, he still had a massive beer belly. His flab shook as he banged on the front door.
I just wish she'd told me he was naked.
I allowed myself a moment of childish snickering before getting serious about the job. Since there was no good way to initiate contact with the undead, especially one that was armed, I opted for the buddy approach.
"Good evening, Mr. Banks!" I hollered with the friendliest smile I could muster.
The corpse swung his head around and peered at me. His jaw hung open, and his tongue flopped out of his mouth. He groaned and brandished the gun awkwardly before shuffling toward me.
I tapped my foot and checked my watch several times while he covered the distance. When he finally stopped, he was close enough that I could touch him through the bars of the gate if I wanted. Which I didn't.
But boy could I smell him.