Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it's been hell being a detective—especially for zombie PI Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines "dead on arrival." But just because he was murdered doesn't mean he'd leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching.
Now he's back from the dead and back in business—with a caseload that's downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using "spell check" on its magical tomes. And he's got to figure out a very personal question: who killed him?
For Dan Chambeaux, it's all in a day's work. (Still, does everybody have to call him "Shamble"?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the PI in RIP … with a vengeance.
I should need no introduction for how I met Kevin J. Anderson, since I've known him since birth! I chose to include the first of my Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. books in this bundle because it's such a delightful series for me to write and I want you to get hooked on it. The newest novel, TASTES LIKE CHICKEN, was just released a few days ago. And, because it's the holiday season, I am also including an anthology I edited with Keith Olexa, A FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON, which has a range of stories set during the holiday season, from zombies at Thanksgiving to aliens at Christmas. – Kevin J. Anderson
"Master storyteller Kevin J. Anderson's Death Warmed Over is wickedly funny, deviously twisted and enormously satisfying. This is a big juicy bite of zombie goodness. Two decaying thumbs up!"– Jonathan Maberry
"A darkly funny, wonderfully original detective tale."– Kelley Armstrong
I'm dead, for starters—it happens. But I'm still ambulatory, and I can still think, still be a contributing member of society (such as it is, these days). And still solve crimes.
As the detective half of Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, I'm responsible for our caseload, despite being shot in the head a month ago. My unexpected murder caused a lot of inconvenience to me and to others, but I'm not the sort of guy to leave his partner in the lurch. The cases don't solve themselves.
My partner, Robin Deyer, and I had built a decent business for ourselves, sharing office space, with several file cabinets full of pending cases, both legal matters and private investigations. Although catching my own killer is always on my mind, paying clients have to take priority.
Which is why I found myself sneaking into a cemetery at night while trying to elude a werewolf hit man who'd been following me since sunset—in order to retrieve a lost painting for a ghost.
Just another day at work for me.
The wrought-iron cemetery gate stood ajar with a Welcome mat on either side. These days, visiting hours are round-the-clock, and the gate needs to stay open so that newly risen undead can wander out. When the gates were locked, neighbors complained about moaning and banging sounds throughout the night, which made it difficult for them to sleep.
When I pulled, the gate glided open on well-oiled hinges. A small sign on the bars read, Maintained by Friends of the Greenlawn Cemetery. There were more than a hundred ostentatious crypts to choose from, interspersed with less prominent tombstones. I wished I had purchased a guide pamphlet ahead of time, but the gift shop was open only on weekends. I had to find the Ricketts crypt on my own—before the werewolf hit man caught up with me.
The world's a crazy place since the Big Uneasy, the event that changed all the rules and allowed a flood of baffled unnaturals to return—zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, succubi, and the usual associated creatures. In the subsequent ten years, the Unnatural Quarter had settled into a community of sorts—one that offered more work than I could handle.
Now the quarter moon rode high in the sky, giving me enough light to see the rest of the cemetery. The unnatural thug, hired by the heirs of Alvin Ricketts, wasn't one of the monthly full-moon-only lycanthropes: He was a full-time hairy, surly beast, regardless of the time of month. Those are usually the meanest ones.
I moved from one crypt to the next, scrutinizing the blocky stone letters. The place was quiet, spooky … part of the ambience. You might think a zombie—even a well-preserved one like myself—would feel perfectly at ease in a graveyard. After all, what do I have to be afraid of? I can still get mangled, for one thing. My body doesn't heal the way it used to, and we've all seen those smelly decomposing shamblers who refuse to take care of themselves, giving zombies everywhere a bad name. And werewolves are experts at mangling.
I decided I wanted to avoid that, if possible.
Even undead, I remain as handsome as ever, with the exception of the holes left by the bullet—the largish exit wound on my forehead and the neat round one at the back of my head, where some bastard came up from behind, pressed the barrel of a .32 caliber pistol against my skull, and popped me before I got a good look at him. Fortunately, a low-slouched fedora covers the big hole. For the most part …
In the broader sense, the world hasn't changed much since the Big Uneasy. Most people go about their daily lives, having families, working jobs. But though a decade has passed, the law—not to mention law enforcement—still hasn't caught up with the new reality. According to the latest statistics by the DUS, the Department of Unnatural Services, about one out of every seventy-five corpses wakes up as a zombie, with the odds weighted heavily in favor of suicides or murder victims.
Lucky me to be on the interesting side of statistics.
After returning to life, I had shambled back into the office, picked up my caseload, and got to work again. Same as before … sort of. Fortunately, my zombie status isn't necessarily a handicap to being a private detective in the Unnatural Quarter. As I said, the cases don't solve themselves.
Days of investigation had led me to the graveyard. I dug through files, interviewed witnesses and suspects, met with the ghost artist Alvin Ricketts and separately with his indignant still-living family. (Despite Robin's best mediation efforts in the offices, the ghost and the living family refused to speak to each other.)
Alvin Ricketts was a successful pop-culture painter before his untimely demise, attributable to a month's worth of sleeping pills washed down with a full bottle of twenty-one-year-old single malt. (No sense letting it go to waste.) The ghost told me he would have taken more pills, but his insurance had only authorized a thirty-day supply, and even in the deep gloom of his creative depression, Alvin had (on principle) refused to pay the additional pharmacy charge.
Now, whereas one in seventy-five dead people returns as a zombie, like myself, one in thirty comes back as a ghost (statistics again heavily weighted toward murder victims and suicides). Alvin Ricketts, a pop-art genius, had suffered a long and debilitating creative block, "artistic constipation" he called it. Feeling that he had nothing left to live for, he took his own life.
And then came back.
His ghost, however, found the death experience so inspirational that he found a reawakened and vibrant artistic fervor. Alvin set about painting again, announcing he would soon release his first new work with great fanfare.
His grieving (sic) family was less than enthusiastic about his return to painting, as well as his return from the dead. The artist's tragic suicide, and the fact that there would never be more Alvin Ricketts paintings, had caused his existing work to skyrocket in value—until the ghost's announcement of renewed productivity made the bottom fall out of the market. Collectors waited to see what new material Alvin would release, already speculating about how his artistic technique might have changed in his "post-death period."
The Ricketts family sued him, claiming that since Alvin was dead and they were his heirs, they now owned everything in his estate, including any new or undiscovered works and the profits from subsequent sales.
Alvin contested the claim. He hired Robin Deyer to fight for his rights, and she promptly filed challenges while the ghost happily worked on his new painting. No one had yet seen it, but he claimed the work was his masterpiece.
The Ricketts heirs took the dispute to the next level. "Someone" broke into Alvin's studio and stole the painting. With the supposed masterpiece gone, the pop artist's much-anticipated return to the spotlight was put on hold. The family vehemently denied any involvement, of course.
That's when the ghost hired me, at Robin's suggestion, to track down and retrieve the painting—by any means necessary. The Ricketts heirs had hired a thug to keep me from succeeding in my investigation.
I heard a faint clang, which I recognized as the wrought-iron cemetery gate banging shut against the frame. The werewolf hit man wasn't far behind me. On the bright side, the fact that he was breathing down my neck probably meant I was getting close.
The cemetery had plenty of shadows to choose from, and I stayed hidden as I approached another crypt. Benson. Not the right one. I had to find Ricketts.
Werewolves are usually good trackers, but the cemetery abounds with odors of dead things, and he must have kept losing my scent. Since I change clothes frequently and maintain high standards of personal hygiene for a zombie, I don't have much of a smell about me. Unlike most unnaturals, I don't choose to wear colognes, fancy specialized unnatural deodorants, or perfumes.
I turned the corner in front of another low stone building fronted by stubby Corinthian columns. Much to my delight, I saw the inhabitant's name: Ricketts. The flat stone door had been pried open, the caulking seal split apart.
New rules required quick-release latches on the insides of tombs now, so the undead can conveniently get back out. Some people were even buried with their cell phones, though I doubted they'd get good service from inside. Can you hear me now?
Now, if Alvin Ricketts were a zombie, he would have broken the seal when he came back out of the crypt. But since ghosts can pass through solid walls, Alvin would not have needed to break any door seals for his reemergence. So why was the crypt door ajar?
I spotted the silhouette of a large hairy form loping among the graves, sniffing the ground, coming closer. He still hadn't seen me. I pulled open the stone door just enough to slip through the narrow gap into the crypt, hoping my detective work was right.
During the investigation into the missing masterpiece, the police had obtained search warrants and combed through the homes, properties, and businesses of the Ricketts heirs. Nothing. With my own digging, I discovered a small storage unit that had been rented in the name of Gomez Ricketts, the black sheep of the family—and I was sure they had hidden the painting there.
But when the detectives served their warrant and opened the unit, they found only cases and cases of contraband vampire porn packaged as sick kiddie porn. Because the starlets were actually old-school vampires who had been turned while they were children, they claimed to be well over the legal age—in real years if not in physical maturity. Gomez Ricketts had been arrested for pedophilia/necrophilia, but he was out on bail. Even Robin, in her best legal opinion, couldn't say which way the verdict might go.
More to the point, we didn't find the stolen painting in the storage unit.
So I kept working on the case. Not only did I consult with Alvin's ghost, I also went over the interviews he'd given after his suicide. The ghost had gone into a manic phase, deliriously happy to put death behind him. He talked about awakening to find himself sealed in a crypt, his astral form rising from the cold physical body, his epiphany of throwing those morbid chains behind him. He had vowed never to go back there.
That's when I figured it out: The last place Alvin would ever think to look for his painting was inside his own crypt, which was property owned by the Ricketts family (though a recent court ruling deemed that a person owned his own grave in perpetuity—a landmark decision that benefitted several vampires who were caught in property-rights disputes).
Tonight, I planned to retrieve the painting from the crypt.
I slipped into the dank crypt, hoping I could grab Alvin's masterpiece and slip away before the werewolf figured out what I was doing.
It should have been as quiet as a tomb inside, but it wasn't. I heard a rustling sound, saw two lamplike yellow eyes blinking at me. A shrill nasal voice called out, "It's taken—this one's occupied! Go find your own."
"Sorry, didn't mean to disturb you," I said.
"You can't stay here."
Zombies have good night vision, and as my eyes adjusted, I made out a grayish simian creature with scaly skin. I'd heard that trolls sometimes became squatters inside empty crypts whose original owners had returned to an unnatural life.
The troll inched closer. I carried my .38 revolver loaded with silver-jacketed bullets. I would use it if I had to, but a gunshot would surely bring the werewolf hit man running. I had enough silver bullets to take care of the thug, too, but that would open a can of maggots with the law, and I just plain didn't want the hassle.
The troll rubbed his gnarled hands together. "If you're interested in a place to stay, we have many viable options. Pre-owned, gently used postmortem dwellings. If you're undead and homeless, I can help you with all of your real estate needs. Edgar Allan, at your service. Here, let me give you a business card."
"This crypt doesn't belong to you," I pointed out. "I happen to know the actual owner. He hired me to retrieve some of his personal property."
"Then we have a problem." The troll looked annoyed. "Burt!"
From the gloom emerged a larger and more threatening creature. Trolls come in various sizes, from small and ugly to huge and ugly. At close to seven feet tall with wide and scabby shoulders, this one belonged in the latter category.
"Burt is our evictions specialist," Edgar Allan explained.
I held up my hands in surrender. "Now, no need for that! I came here for a painting, that's all. No intention of interfering with your rental business."
"Painting? You mean this one?" The little troll flicked on a tiny flashlight. Hanging on the stone wall was a painting, unmistakably in the cute pop-culture style of Alvin Ricketts: two large-eyed puppies … gaunt zombie puppies. "Somebody left it here. Looks real nice on the wall, brightens up the place."
A plan began to form in my mind. "I have a suggestion that would benefit both of us." I glanced back at the door of the crypt, straining to hear the werewolf outside. I doubted I could slip out of the cemetery carrying the Ricketts "art" without the hairy hit man intercepting me. Werewolves can run much faster than zombies, and inflict severe bodily damage—the kind that's difficult to repair. If he got his paws on the painting, I would never get a second chance to retrieve it.
I also knew that Alvin Ricketts had no interest whatsoever in owning this crypt.
"What kind of suggestion?" the real estate troll said. "I can make a deal. Nobody beats my deals."
"What if I could get the legal owner of this property to sign over the deed to you, free and clear, completely aboveboard—in exchange for the painting?" (Which was rightfully Alvin's property anyway, but I didn't want to tangle up the conversation.)
Edgar Allan seemed interested, but narrowed his big yellow eyes. "If we handed over the painting, we'd never hear from you again."
"I won't take it now. You deliver the painting to my office tomorrow," I said. "Bring Burt for protection if you like." I nodded toward the huge troll. "I'll see to it that the crypt owner signs all the right documents. We have an attorney and a notary right there in our offices." I reached into my jacket and pulled out one of my business cards.
After making sure that I took one of his cards, the troll shone his little flashlight on mine. "Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations. What's the catch?"
"No catch. Just be careful. That's a beautiful painting—I'd hate to have it damaged."
The troll glanced back at the large-eyed zombie puppies. "You think so? I was wondering if it might be a bit kitschy, myself."
"I'm not an art critic. Tomorrow, in my offices at noon."
"We don't usually go out at that hour … but I'll make an exception."
I slipped out of the crypt and back into the shadows, ducking behind a tall stone angel, then moving to a big flat grave marker. I intended to circle around as quietly as I could on my way to the wrought-iron cemetery gate.
Before I made it to the third tombstone, a furry mass of growling energy slammed into me and knocked me to the ground. The werewolf hit man grabbed me by the collar and yanked me back to my feet. He was a smelly, hairy, muscular guy, half-wolf and half-human. His claws dug into the fabric of my sport jacket.
"Careful, this is my only jacket."
The werewolf pushed his long snout close to my face. "I caught you, Shamble." I could see he was having trouble forming words with all those teeth in the way.
"Chambeaux," I corrected him. "Can't a guy take a peaceful stroll in a cemetery at night?"
He patted me down, poking with his claws. "Where's the painting?"
"Which painting?" Not the cleverest response, but werewolves aren't the cleverest of creatures, especially the at-will lycanthropes.
"You know which painting. I've been watching you."
"I know you were hired by the Ricketts heirs," I admitted, "and I'm sure your employers think they're very important, but I have plenty of other cases. As a private detective who specializes in unnatural clientele, believe me, I've got more than enough reasons to come to a cemetery."
Growling, the werewolf searched me again, though I don't know where he suspected I might hide a large rolled-up painting. My chest pocket?
I heard heavy footfalls and looked up to see the scaly form of Burt the troll. "There a problem here?" Burt was sufficiently intimidating that even the werewolf didn't want to mess with him.
I pulled myself away from the claws and straightened my jacket in an attempt to regain some dignity. "I was just leaving," I said, and looked pointedly at the werewolf.
"I was escorting him out," the hairy guy growled. "Name's Larry."
Burt loomed there, watching as the two of us left the cemetery.
After we both passed through the gate, I sized up the werewolf. Since Chambeaux & Deyer had accepted the Alvin Ricketts case only a month and a half before my murder, maybe it was connected to my own case somehow. "Say, Larry, you wouldn't happen to be the guy who shot me, would you?" No harm in asking.
"Yeah, I heard about that." The hairy hit man growled deep in his throat. "Do I look like the kind of guy who sneaks up behind someone in a dark alley and shoots him in the back of the head?"
"That wouldn't be my guess."
"Have you ever seen a werewolf victim? Look at you, Shamble. You could pass for human, if somebody doesn't look too close." He flexed his claws. "If I killed you, you'd have been a pile of shredded meat."
"I'll count my blessings, then," I said. "See you around." I touched a finger to the brim of my fedora in a brief salute and headed away from the cemetery.