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Two Weeks' Notice

A Revivalist Novel

Rachel Caine - Author

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ISBN 9781101594346 | 320 pages | 07 Aug 2012 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
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In  New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine’s “thrilling”* Revivalist series, Bryn Davis finds out that making a living can be rough if you’re already dead...
 
After dying and being revived with the experimental drug Returne, Bryn Davis is theoretically free to live her unlife—with regular doses to keep her going. But Bryn knows that the government has every intention of keeping a tight lid on Pharmadene’s life-altering discovery, no matter the cost.
 
Thankfully, some things have changed for the better; her job at the rechristened Davis Funeral Home is keeping her busy and her fragile romance with Patrick McCallister is blossoming—thanks in part to their combined efforts in forming a support group for Returne addicts. But when some of the group members suddenly disappear, Bryn wonders if the government is methodically removing a threat to their security, or if some unknown enemy has decided to run the zombies into the ground…



CHAPTER ONE

It was a perfect day for a funeral. Overcast, cool, no rain; sweaters, not coats. The wind was light and fresh, and although fall had arrived (as much as it ever did in California), the grass remained a bright jewel green.

From a purely objective perspective, it couldn’t have been better . . . though, in truth, Bryn Davis, funeral director, didn’t much care for the cemetery itself. This was a modern–style interment facility, so instead of picturesque Gothic headstones or marble sculptures, there were long expanses of lawn, spreading trees, and gently rolling hills—the impression of undisturbed nature, but oh so carefully created. Except for the recessed vases, some holding bright bouquets of flowers, it might have been a golf course. She wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a cart roll over the hill and someone line up a difficult five–iron shot past the tent that covered the mourners and casket.

But then, she didn’t have to like this place, really; that was the family’s burden. She just had to give the impression of calm dignity as she stood with her hands folded. Until the ceremony was finished, her job was on hold—Mr. Raines’s remains had been processed and prepped, dressed and finished; the coffin had been sealed and carefully polished (nothing worse than seeing sweaty fingerprints on the shiny surface); flowers and memorial handbooks had been delivered and arranged; hearses and limousines had been freshly washed, stocked with tissues, and neatly parked. The actual graveside ceremony was Bryn’s downtime; it was her opportunity to run through the checklist in her head, over and over, to be sure she hadn’t dropped any details.

Next to her, Joe Fideli, her second–in–command, leaned closer. “Red alert. Mistress at your four o’clock,” he whispered, and she glanced that direction without moving her head. He was, of course, absolutely right. The widow, dressed formally in black, sat ramrod–stiff in the front row beside the coffin, but they’d already been warned that she wasn’t the only woman in Mr. Raines’s somewhat colorful life.

His mistress had gone with mourning color, at least. She’d chosen a Little Black Dress, more appropriate for clubbing than a funeral, and paired it with heels that were too stiletto for the grass on which she was walking. Those shoes resulted in more of a stagger than a controlled stride. Lots of leg on display, and glossy, overdone hair.

She was headed for the funeral like a torpedo for a stationary ship, and Bryn could well imagine the spectacular bang that would make.

“Let’s avoid the drama,” Bryn whispered back, and Joe nodded. He was a big man, but he was light and quick, and besides, all eyes were on the priest. Joe faded back in slow, almost imperceptible movements, and put himself in the path of the other woman.

The priest finished his message, and the prayer began. Most bent their heads, including Bryn, but she continued to watch through her lashes just in case. That was how she saw the mistress try to continue to move forward, and Joe smoothly block her, put a gentle hand on her shoulder, and bend to whisper something to her.

She burst into tears, which was a bit remarkable. She seemed to be the only one who was actually sorry to see the old man go; the dry–eyed wife certainly had never displayed a speck of feeling in all the time Bryn had spoken with her, and wasn’t showing any now. Neither did the children, both in their teens, who looked bored. At least they weren’t texting.

The prayer finished, the priest walked to offer his (probably unneeded) comfort to the wife and kids, and right on cue, the soft music that Bryn had arranged for began to play, signaling the end of the public gathering; she’d cautioned the cemetery employees that she wouldn’t tolerate any jumping of the gun, and she was pleased to see that they were still hanging well back, pretending to be gardeners until the time came for the actual burial. There was another tent erected across the way. She knew they were pressed on their schedule to get the next funeral ready, and she was sympathetic to their need to get things moving, but still. She was a great believer in respect.

Joe had engaged the mistress in tearful conversation, and was walking her away from the graveside. The woman might have been planning a dramatic flinging–herself–over–the–coffin moment, or at the very least, a shrieking catfight with the more legally bereaved. Mrs. Raines was already heading for the limousine that would take her home; the mistress was too far away now for any effective dramatics. Deprived of any other possible entertainment, the assembled mourners—not that Mr. Raines had many—were scattering fast.

Bryn caught up with Mrs. Raines and offered her last condolences, which the widow accepted with a distant, frosty confidence. She was already basking in the soft, warm glow of being a rich woman of means, motive, and opportunity.

Poor man. His mistress, for all her tears, probably wouldn’t mourn him much longer than it took to pawn whatever he’d bought her. Bryn’s mind wandered off into lurid pulp magazine plots of poisoning, evil widows, sinister mistresses, eager–to–inherit children—but truthfully, she had no reason to suspect any foul play. It was just something to do to pass the time, standing in the cool wind, watching the living depart and leave the place to the dead.

She didn’t except herself from that description. In truth, Bryn was just as dead as Mr. Raines. She just wore it a whole lot better.

Bryn finally nodded to the cemetery staffers, who with quick, efficient movements stripped off the flower covering on the casket, and began the less–than–photogenic process of the actual burial. They dropped the sides of the tent for the mechanics of it. A third uniformed worker began folding up the chairs and picking up fallen programs from the Astroturf that had been laid down around the tent. While she was watching that happen, Joe Fideli came back across the carefully manicured lawn. There was still something a little intimidating about him no matter how much tailoring might have gone into his very nice suit; maybe it was the shaved head, or the way he moved, but he had a hell of a lot of presence.

Made a pretty good funeral director, though. And an even better bodyguard.

“Thanks for that,” she said to Joe, and he nodded.

“She looked like she was powering up for a full–on drama explosion,” he said. “So. That’s lunch, then.”

The death business, Bryn thought, was so strange. It was all about emotion and pain and stage management, and then suddenly . . . lunch. “You know,” she said as she and Joe walked toward the Davis Funeral Home sedans, “it occurs to me that what we do is pretty much like being wedding planners . . . just with a much unhappier ending.”

He smiled. “Oh, I don’t know. Depends on the wedding,” he said. “I’ve seen some that might have been better off as funerals. You think people are capable of mayhem here, you should see what they get up to with a little champagne under their belts.”

Joe had a unique perspective on mayhem, Bryn thought; he might work for her as a funeral director, and he was a good one, but that was hardly his main vocation. . . . She’d never met anyone who was quite so comfortable with violence. And considering she herself had been in the army, that was saying something. She strongly suspected he had a background in special forces—Rangers, SEALs, something secretive and highly trained. For all that, he was a nice guy. Just very, very deadly.

And he was her very own private security. She knew, in fact, that he was armed with at least one weapon, possibly two; he usually doubled up when they went out in public, mostly because she hadn’t been able to find a sidearm that was easily concealable under her tailored jackets. He’d made her drill on the procedures of what to do in the event that he ever had to go for those concealed weapons: one, get behind him; two, be ready when he pitched her the second gun. Three, fall back to cover while he laid down fire.

Most funeral directors, Bryn thought, never needed to think about those kinds of contingency plans. Lucky them.

Her watch alarm went off with a tiny vibration, just at the time Joe checked his cell phone and said, “Time for meds, boss.”

“I know,” she said. It came out a little sharp, and she shot him an apologetic glance. “Sorry. I don’t think I’ll ever stop hating the needles.”

“More than the alternative?”

That didn’t deserve an answer. “I thought Manny was working on some kind of pill form.”

“You know Manny.” Joe shrugged.

“Well, not really. Do you?”

He snorted and let that one go, because the fact was, she had a point. None of them really knew her chemist, Manny Glickman, and since her life depended on the man to a great extent these days, that bothered Bryn more than she liked to admit.

“Anyway,” Joe said. “No arguments. Time for the booster.”

“I thought I was the boss.”

“You are,” he agreed. “You sign the checks and everything. Don’t mean that you can make me ignore the schedule, since that’s definitely part of what you pay me for, right?”

Right. It wasn’t that Bryn necessarily needed a reminder for this, but having one made her feel less . . . vulnerable. In oh so many ways. “Meds,” she agreed. “As soon as we get back to the office.”

For answer, he slid a syringe out of his coat pocket, held it up, and said, “No need to wait. We can take care of this in the car.”

Bryn glanced around. Nobody was watching them. “Easier out in the open,” she said, and unbuttoned and removed her suit jacket. Under it, she wore a light blue silk top, sleeveless . . . the better for shot access, unfortunately. She took a deep breath and presented her shoulder to him, and Joe uncapped the syringe, plunged it home with a quick flick of his hand, and pressed the plunger, fast.

The contents spread into her system in a slow, steady burn that traveled through muscle, entered her bloodstream, and suddenly bolted like fiery acid through her entire body. She was familiar with pain, intimately; fortunately, so was Joe, and he put a supporting hand under her elbow in case her knees gave way. They didn’t this time, but it was close. The fire began to cool, and she kept the scream locked down, pressed tight into a faint moan.

“So,” Joe said, in a neutral tone, “any better?”

She took a couple of deep breaths before even trying to answer. “If you mean ’Does it still feel like I’m being flayed?’ the answer is yes,” she said, but by the time she finished saying it, the pain had rolled through her and vanished, except for a few last whispers haunting her joints. “Maybe a little less painful than last week’s formula, but this one has a worse aftertaste.” She wanted to scrub it off her tongue with a wire brush. Manny changed the formula about once a week, trying to fine–tune and improve it, but that didn’t mean it was a joy to experience. Especially when she had to endure it every day.

“Don’t suppose that aftertaste would be, say, chocolate.”

“More like bleach and sewage,” she said, and couldn’t help the gag reflex. He held on to her until this, too, passed, and silently handed over a tin of Altoids mints. She chewed two of them, and the relief of getting that awful taste out of her mouth was worth the intense peppermint burn. “Wow, that was not pretty.” She pulled her jacket on again as Joe stepped back, assessing her with a professional kind of analysis that made her feel less like a woman and more like a machine in need of maintenance. “I’m fine.”

“Okay,” he said. “Manny said to watch out for tremors and signs of decomp. He’s still working out the kinks on the combo formula. This one should suppress the Protocols better, but there may be some side effects. Could also burn off faster. Hard to know.”

Bryn had long ago accepted that her status in this world was going to be lab rat, but that didn’t make it any easier to take pronouncements like that. “So I should watch out for tremors first, or decomp?”

“Both,” Joe said. “But stay calm while you’re doing it.”

Yeah, that was her life. Keep calm, and watch for decomposition. She got a shot, every day; they were still trying out new formulas to counter different nasty things built into the nanites that rushed through her bloodstream, acting as her life–support system and keeping her . . . well, if not alive, then a very convincing copy. She never knew what the day’s shot would bring. Every day was a new surprise, and most of them were unpleasant.

Her cell buzzed for attention, and she checked the screen. “We should be getting back,” she said.

“Uh–huh. Trouble?” She sent Joe a long look, eyebrows raised. “Never mind. Stupid question.”

Joe took the driver position; she wasn’t allowed in the front, or to sit directly behind him. On his insistence, she always sat in the sweet spot where she would—theoretically—be the safest in the event of a gunfight. Bryn thought it was bullshit, because in the event of a gunfight, she could hold her own, and besides, she was relatively damage–resistant. Thanks to the nanites, the curse that kept on giving.

She’d never intended this to be her life. She’d just taken a job, a regular job as a funeral director, and discovered her boss was reviving the dead for profit in the basement. That had ended badly for her, with a plastic bag over her head, and a one–way retirement.

Except that Joe and his boss, Patrick McCallister, had brought her back to find out what had happened, and now she was stuck here, taking shots to stay on her eternal treadmill between life and death.

Because getting off that treadmill meant having to die all over again, and not nearly as neatly and quickly.

It meant rotting alive.

While Joe drove back to Davis Funeral Home—once Fairview Mortuary, but recently renamed since she’d taken it over—Bryn checked her e–mails.

“Crap.” She sighed. Joe sent her a look in the rearview mirror. “My mom’s e–mailing. She wants to know if I’ve heard anything from Annalie.” Her sister’s disappearance hadn’t caused too much of a stir yet. . . . Mom was accustomed to Annie taking off for weeks at a time, gadding about on sailboats or backpacking trips or affairs with boyfriends that never quite worked out. So she was just casually asking right now, with a tiny flavor of concern.

But that would change, soon, and the problem was that Bryn did know what had happened to Annie. She just couldn’t tell her family.

Joe nodded. “Does she still think Annie’s on vacation?”

“Yeah. But I can’t keep this up much longer. It’s been too long, and sending Mom the occasional text from Annie’s phone number isn’t cutting it anymore. She’s going to want to see her daughter. Soon.”

Not that Bryn could do anything about it. Annie was missing. Waiting for information was the worst part . . . and while she waited, there wasn’t anything else she could do except test out new shots, hope for some new intel, and hope for the best. Wait for the government, who now solely owned the raw formula of the drug Returné that Manny worked from, to decide what to do with her, and all the others addicted to this drug. She’d signed papers. Papers that meant, essentially, that she was trading cooperation with them—ill defined as that was—for continued life. Apparently, the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness wasn’t guaranteed after you’d actually died.

She met Joe’s gaze in the mirror for a second before he focused back on driving. “If we find her, do you think this formula will work for Annie?” Because her sister, like her, was dead in every way that didn’t show. Dead, and addicted to the drug that had Revived her.

“We can give it a try,” he said. “But she’s been on the Pharmadene formula for a long time now, with all the Protocols activated. We’d have to detox her, and frankly, Manny hasn’t had enough test subjects to know if there are some people who might be resistant to the new mix. But try to be patient, okay?”

She wasn’t patient at all, and he knew that. But first they had to find Annie, then worry about the detox period, so patience was all she had right now. Patience, and running the business of caring for the dead.

Her cell phone rang before she could tell Joe what she thought about being patient. When she thumbed it on and answered “Davis Funeral Home, Bryn Davis speaking,” she knew she sounded less than her usual soothing self, so she added, in a deliberately warmed–up voice, “How may I assist you?”

“Funny you should ask that. I have a job for you,” said the voice on the other end. A familiar one—brisk, female, businesslike. The caller ID was blank. “Assuming you’re not in the middle of a corpse you can’t put aside.”

“Hello, Riley Block,” Bryn said aloud, for Joe’s benefit. She saw his eyebrows raise a little as he glanced in the rearview mirror at her. “How goes the FBI’s dirty work?”

“Tolerably well,” Riley said, with just a cool trace of amusement. “How goes the death business?”

“Never a dull moment,” Bryn said. “What do you want?”

“I’ll be at your office in thirty minutes. We can discuss it then.” Meaning, of course, that Riley Block, professional paranoid, wasn’t going to talk about it over the airwaves.

“Fine,” Bryn said, and hung up. She liked Riley, despite all the reasons she shouldn’t; the FBI agent had started out working undercover in the funeral home, and had almost gotten her killed, but hell, half her friends had that last particular honor. Not to mention at least one relative.

“So,” Joe said. “Riley. Great. Are we going to her, or is she coming to us?”

“She’s coming to us.”

“Want me to shoot her, or bake her cookies?”

“I’ll let you know.” Bryn sighed. She felt tired and achy, but that was a side effect of the shot. It was a little more painful this week than last. She wished that Manny would finalize his formula once and for all; she was tired of not knowing how she’d feel, what the side effects would be. They seemed to be getting worse, not better. And that was worrying. It wasn’t as if this process had been tested and FDA approved. “Jesus, I’m in a bad mood. Tell me something good, Joe.”

“Well, the profits are up, I think the sun’s coming out tomorrow, and your six–month anniversary as boss of this flaky outfit is coming up. I’m thinking I’ll get you some flowers.”

She shuddered. “Please. Don’t.” Flowers were one thing they both saw way too much in this business, and besides, he knew perfectly well that the six–month anniversary also tokened something else, something grim: the anniversary of her death.

The anniversary of her murder.

Bryn had been brought back for information, and hadn’t been able to offer much in exchange for her daily infusions of life–support nanites. She’d been lucky to survive at all; she knew that. Every extra day of her life—such as it was—had to be looked on as a gift.

But that didn’t mean she had to celebrate it, either.

Joe was quiet for a while, navigating the turns, and finally said, in a totally different voice, “Bryn. Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Drift,” he said. “It’s a long way back to shore when you do that. And I’m not sure you’re that good a swimmer yet.”

Maybe not, she thought. But one thing was sure: she had plenty of lifeguards.

She shook her head, and went back to checking her e–mail.


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