It was St. Patrick's Day, and the only green I was wearing was a button that read, "Pinch me and you're dead meat." I'd started work last night with a green blouse on, but I'd gotten blood all over it from a beheaded chicken. Larry Kirkland, zombie-raiser in training, had dropped the decapitated bird. It did the little headless chicken dance and sprayed both of us with blood. I finally caught the damn thing, but the blouse was ruined.
I had to run home and change. The only thing not ruined was the charcoal grey suit jacket that had been in the car. I put it back on over a black blouse, black skirt, dark hose, and black pumps. Bert, my boss, didn't like us wearing black to work, but if I had to be at the office at seven o'clock without any sleep at all, he would just have to live with it.
I huddled over my coffee mug, drinking it as black as I could swallow it. It wasn't helping much. I stared at a series of 8-by-10 glossy blowups spread across my desktop. The first picture was of a hill that had been scraped open, probably by a bulldozer. A skeletal hand reached out of the raw earth. The next photo showed that someone had tried to carefully scrape away the dirt, showing the splintered coffin and bones to one side of the coffin. A new body. The bulldozer had been brought in again. It had plowed up the red earth and found a boneyard. Bones studded the earth like scattered flowers.
One skull spread its unhinged jaws in a silent scream. A scraggle of pale hair still clung to the skull. The dark, stained cloth wrapped around the corpse was the remnants of a dress. I spotted at least three femurs next to the upper half of a skull. Unless the corpse had had three legs, we were looking at a real mess.
The pictures were well done in a gruesome sort of way. The color made it easier to differentiate the corpses, but the high gloss was a little much. It looked like morgue photos done by a fashion photographer. There was probably an art gallery in New York that would hang the damn things and serve cheese and wine while people walked around saying, "Powerful, don't you think? Very powerful."
They were powerful, and sad.
There was nothing but the photos. No explanation. Bert had said to come to his office after I'd looked at them. He'd explain everything. Yeah, I believed that. The Easter Bunny is a friend of mine, too.
I gathered the pictures up, slipped them into the envelope, picked my coffee mug up in the other hand, and went for the door.
There was no one at the desk. Craig had gone home. Mary, our daytime secretary, didn't get in until eight. There was a two-hour space of time when the office was unmanned. That Bert had called me into the office when we were the only ones there bothered me a lot. Why the secrecy?
Bert's office door was open. He sat behind his desk, drinking coffee, shuffling some papers around. He glanced up, smiled, and motioned me closer. The smile bothered me. Bert was never pleasant unless he wanted something.
His thousand-dollar suit framed a white-on-white shirt and tie. His grey eyes sparkled with good cheer. His eyes are the color of dirty window glass, so sparkling is a real effort. His snow-blond hair had been freshly buzzed. The crewcut was so short I could see scalp.
"Have a seat, Anita."
I tossed the envelope on his desk and sat down. "What are you up to, Bert?" His smile widened. He usually didn't waste the smile on anybody but clients. He certainly didn't waste it on me. "You looked at the pictures?"
"Yeah, what of it?"
"Could you raise them from the dead?"
I frowned at him and sipped my coffee. "How old are they?"
"You couldn't tell from the pictures?"
"In person I could tell you, but not just from pictures. Answer the question."
"Around two hundred years."
I just stared at him. "Most animators couldn't raise a zombie that old without a human sacrifice."
"But you can," he said.
"Yeah. I didn't see any headstones in the pictures. Do we have any names?"
I shook my head. He'd been the boss for five years, started the company when it was just him and Manny, and he didn't know shit about raising the dead. "How can you hang around a bunch of zombie-raisers for this many years and know so little about what we do?"
The smile slipped a little, the glow beginning to fade from his eyes. "Why do you need names?"
"You use names to call the zombie from the grave."
"Without a name you can't raise them?"
"Theoretically, no," I said.
"But you can do it," he said. I didn't like how sure he was.
"Yeah, I can do it. John can probably do it, too."
He shook his head. "They don't want John."
I finished the last of my coffee. "Who's they?"
"Beadle, Beadle, Stirling, and Lowenstein."
"A law firm," I said.
"No more games, Bert. Just tell me what the hell's going on."
"Beadle, Beadle, Stirling, and Lowenstein have some clients building a very plush resort in the mountains near Branson. A very exclusive resort. A place where the wealthy country stars that don't own a house in the area can go to get away from the crowds. Millions of dollars are at stake."
"What's the old cemetery have to do with it?"
"The land they're building on was in dispute between two families. The courts decided the Kellys owned the land, and they were paid a great deal of money. The Bouvier family claimed it was their land and there was a family plot on it to prove it. No one could find the cemetery."
Ah. "They found it," I said.
"They found an old cemetery, but not necessarily the Bouvier family plot."
"So they want to raise the dead and ask who they are?"
I shrugged. "I can raise a couple of the corpses in the coffins. Ask who they are. What happens if their last name is Bouvier?"
"They have to buy the land a second time. They think some of the corpses are Bouviers. That's why they want all the bodies raised."
I raised my eyebrows. "You're joking."
He shook his head, looking pleased. "Can you do it?"
"I don't know. Give me the pictures again." I set my coffee mug on his desk and took the pictures back. "Bert, they've screwed this six ways to Sunday. It's a mass grave, thanks to the bulldozers. The bones are all mixed together. I've only read about one case of anyone raising a zombie from a mass grave. But they were calling a specific person. They had a name." I shook my head. "Without a name it may not be possible."
"Would you be willing to try?"
I spread the pictures over the desk, staring at them. The top half of a skull had turned upside down like a bowl. Two finger bones attached by something dry and desiccated that must once had been human tissue lay next to it. Bones, bones everywhere but not a name to speak.
Could I do it? I honestly didn't know. Did I want to try? Yeah. I did.
"I'd be willing to try."
"Raising them a few every night is going to take weeks, even if I can do it. With John's help it would be quicker."
"It will cost them millions to delay that long," Bert said.
"There's no other way to do it."
"You raised the Davidsons' entire family plot, including Great-Grandpa. You weren't even supposed to raise him. You can raise more than one at a time."
I shook my head. "That was an accident. I was showing off. They wanted to raise three family members. I thought I could save them money by doing it in one shot."
"You raised ten family members, Anita. They only asked for three."
"So can you raise the entire cemetery in one night?"
"You're crazy," I said.
"Can you do it?"
I opened my mouth to say no, and closed it. I had raised an entire cemetery once. Not all of them had been two centuries old, but some of them had been older, nearly three hundred. And I raised them all. Of course, I had two human sacrifices to ride for power. It was a long story how I ended up with two people dying inside a circle of power. Self-defense, but the magic didn't care. Death is death.
Could I do it? "I really don't know, Bert."
"That's not a no," he said. He had an eager, anticipatory look on his face.
"They must have offered you a bundle of money," I said.
He smiled. "We're bidding on the project."