Communication with the dead, if it occurs, should never be attempted; invariably, it confuses and distresses.
“Goddamn,” said Phil, “where do they all come from?”
“Everywhere,” Laramie said.
Not less than thirty kudlaks were in plain view, and all of them were converging on the McDonald's. “It's my fault,” Carlos said. “I sent Meg there.” He leaned inside the van and pulled out an AK 47 with a hundred-round drum. “Lar, Daniel, you hold the fort. Harry, get what you need.”
“Excuse me,” another interjected. Carlos looked over his shoulder to see Dr. Ling. He drew a revolver, casually took aim, and severed the spine of a kudlak ten yards away. “I believe I can be of some assistance.”
“Nay,” Carlos said, eying the gun, “I think I might be...”
As he departed with the doctor, the other professor stepped into the rear of the van and came out holding a small crate. Laramie looked curiously over Harrington's shoulder as he took out another cigarette. Just as Laramie ignited his lighter, the professor lifted the lid, to reveal a box of brick-sized masses of a plastic-like substance.
Laramie put away the lighter.
“What do you want?” Meg shrieked. Greg stepped forward, while the other kudlaks halted.
Joe lurched to his feet. “Woman,” he said, “do no talk to dead men!”
“No!” she shouted, as if in rebuttal to some unheard voice. “It is mine! I gave you the money for it! It doesn't matter now, and what are you going to do with it, anyway?”
Joe clapped a hand over Meg's mouth. “If you talk to the dead,” he hissed, “they talk back.” Meg wrestled free of him, and actually took a step toward Greg.
Greg's head tilted, and then he lurched as a .410 blast raked his cheek. He gripped an anchored swiveling chair to steady himself, while whatever senses were really behind his unseeing gaze locked on his own gun in George's hand. With one motion, he ripped the chair from its moorings and hurled it over the counter. George instinctively ducked rather than taking a second shot. Meg then stepped directly into the line of fire.
“Leave him alone!” she shouted. “You want me, here I am! Now what do you want?”
Greg moved his mouth, and there was a skirling sound exactly like static from a radio. “What do you mean? That's not true!” Meg shouted. He inclined his head like a silent martyr. “I had to go to the hospital!” He looked at her, a little less innocent. Meg's voice rose to a shriek: “Well, so what? You think that matters? You think it ever mattered? And you know what, I'm not sorry. I was never sorry. You deserved it, you bastard! If I could go back in time, the only thing I'd do different is to make you the one who went to the emergency room!”
Only then did Greg reach for her, and Meg belatedly retreated, only to find the pair behind her advancing. Joe lurched to her side, softly chanting as he swung the machete. Then Meg looked back to Greg, and her momentary sense of self interest evaporated. “What's it matter now, you sonuvabitch? You're dead. You're dead, and it's your fault. It's your own damn fault you're dead, so leave me alone!”
For a moment, Greg seemed to hesitate. Then he hissed, and lunged, just as the Indian grabbed Meg and somehow managed to vault over the counter. Right about then, there was a rumble from the parking lot, and Greg looked back (or whatever they did) just as Yellow Pup came plowing straight through the doors.
“Well,” Dianna said as she and Elayne stepped out of the cab and started shooting maimed and mangled kudlaks, “I guess we won't have to use the drive-thru...” She waved to Janie, who smiled and went down the slide.
Just then, Carlos poked his head in a broken window. “An' I suppose some thanks for us is out of the question...”
Elayne brushed past and murmured, “Oh, I could think of something...”
While others were dispatching kudlaks, Meg peered across the counter and then climbed right over, to kneel beside a brown shoe in front of the truck. “This is Greg's,” she said flatly. “Where's Greg?”
Ling double-tapped a one-eyed kudlak with his Mauser, which with its long barrel and detachable stock was closer to a carbine than a pistol. When the twitching subsided, he looked back to address Carlos: “I would like some clarification. Am I to understand that Meg is a member of your party who was bitten?”
“Aye, she's one of us as far as I'm concerned,” Carlos answered. “You gonna make something of it?”
Ling smiled. “I should not think it is my affair. I would simply like you to be aware that I have experience dealing with these situations, probably- with all due respect- more than you.”
“When and where?” Carlos asked.
“Shkodra,” Ling said, “among other places.”
Carlos nodded. “Albania, aye? You got in early, then.”
“In all likelihood, the beginning,” Ling said. “The best available evidence suggests that the revenation phenomenon began in northern Albania. At the time of the outbreak, I was present as part of a People's Republic humanitarian aid detachment.”
“Did you take those guns with you?” Carlos mused.
“This?” Ling said with a hint of a smile. “Strictly for personal defense.” An ambulatory kudlak had wandered up to the window. He turned the gun sideways and fired a short burst of fully automatic fire. The Mauser's fire cut left to right, catching the revenant in the neck. “Not much more than a ceremonial item, really.”
“How 'bout t'other one?” Carlos said.
Ling lifted it from the holster. “This? It's a Nagant M1895 double-action gas-sealed revolver. It was manufactured in Tsarist and Soviet Russia through the Great Patriotic War, and some were exported to the PRC after the war... But, I expect you are already familiar with it.”
“Aye, you could say I've seen it up close,” Carlos said coolly. “The one I saw had an extra bit, to suppress the sound of the shots. I wouldn'ta heard it myself, if I hadn'ta been in the same room. Wouldn'ta seen it, either, except the guy went for officials and officers first. You wouldn't have something like that stowed away in your luggage, would you?”
“Professor Wrzniewski,” Ling said, “the suppressed variant of the M1895 was only issued to special operatives on missions of assassination.” He pointedly said no more.
Meg knelt again, beside a badly mangled kudlak outside the door. Its jaw had been blown off, and the rest of the damage could only be from a massive application of force. Dr. Carradine took one look and said, “This one must have been hit by another revenant after it was thrown by the truck.”
“Yeah,” Meg said. “But where's Greg?”
“You believe this Greg was the one you spoke to?” George asked.
“I... Wait, I said something? I don't... I must have zoned out. I suppose I just babbled, right?” George did not venture to contradict her. “But, yeah, I'm sure one of them was Greg. Even if I wasn't... You see this shoe? It looks fancy, and I guess the name brand on it is supposed to be a big deal. It's fake. Greg got it eight months ago at a flea market. The dealer admitted it was knock-off, but he insisted the leather was just as good. He said something about the leather coming from an eel...”
“It's made from the skin of a Pacific hagfish, also known as the slime eel,” Dr. Carradine said. “It's not a true eel, or even a fish in the conventional sense, but a jawless, cartilaginous vertebrate that lives in deep marine environment. It is called a slime eel because it secretes large quantities of a viscous substance as a defense mechanism. It is also well-known for scavenging, which is the main reason I am familiar with them. A few years ago, the Koreans started making leather products out of it, and it was becoming a major export item. The manufacturers always call it eelskin, presumably because they would prefer that potential customers remain unfamiliar with the animal's biology.”
“So, my boyfriend's best shoes came from a bottom-dwelling, toothless, boneless, slime-spewing scavenger,” Meg said. “Yeah, that's Greg all over. So, if we're going at this like a crime scene, the shoe's right where he would have been when the truck hit him, like, it got knocked right off. Then it only makes sense that he hit this guy here. So... where's Greg?”
Ling and Joe talked in Navajo as the doctor tended to the Indian's injuries. As Meg and Dr. Carradine walked up, Joe paused at a curt interjection by the doctor. “Any idea what just happened?” Meg whispered.
“If I'm not mistaken,” Carradine said, “the doctor just corrected Joe's grammar.”