As they stood there, one by one the zombies came out of it. All of them were disoriented and baffled by what had happened to them.

And none of the twelve guys on the floor remembered having played Madaug's game.

None of them.

Nick scowled at Madaug. "You think when I shocked them that it caused some kind of memory loss?" Which really worried him since he had a memory lapse himself about how he'd gotten in that courtyard at the Lalauree mansion. Had he been a zombie and not known it?

Please dont let me have eaten any brains.

That was the only thing he knew that could make his mom's powdered eggs taste good.

Madaug scratched his chin as he thought about it. "I don't know. We need a case study."

Bubba paused and turned toward him. "Case study how?"

"We have to get to Brian, shock him, and see," Madaug said. "It's the only way to know for sure since he's the only one I know for a fact was turned into a zombie after playing my game."

Not to be one to ever interject logic into anything, Nick laughed nervously. "You do know he's in jail, right? And that the police tend to get a little perturbed at people who show up there with cattle prods and stun guns. I'm just saying."

Simi jumped up and down. "We could get the police to shoot him for us!"

Mark scoffed. "Our luck, they'd shoot him with a real gun and kill him. Then we'd learn nothing."

Like that was the worst fear they had at the moment....

Yeah.

Madaug didn't relent. "We've got to either get him out or we get in to see him and stun him. Otherwise we don't really know if this is going to work. It could be temporary and they could turn right back into zombies. Think about it."

Nick was thinking about it. He was thinking of spending the rest of his life in jail, provided his mother didn't kill him first. "I don't guess any of you former zombies would like to go into the holding cell until we sort this out?"

Brett seized him by the shirt. "I don't know what game you and geek boy are playing, Gautier. But you getin mywayas I leave and I'll wipe my boots on your balls."

Nick cringed involuntarily at a threat that went down his spine like a shredder.

Before he realized what was happening, Simi had taken Brett's hand and squeezed it so hard Nick heard the bones break.

Brett cried out.

Simi held his hand in hers without letting up. "Nick is a friend of the Simi's. You threaten him and you make the Simi really unhappy and want to eat your head. Trust me, not something you want me to think about. Now go away mean person or the Simi will tell akri she don't know what happened to you and your masticated form. Not that I like to lie, but there are deceptions to every rule. And you're about to become one." She shoved him back toward the room. "Now get in there and be quiet."

By their faces, it was obvious none of them wanted to obey. But none of them had the backbone to stand up to Simi.

Bubba grinned. "I like your friend, Nick. She doesn't mince words, does she?"

"Not really." But then some of the words she didn't mince really didn't make sense, and who the heck was this akri she kept mentioning? He must be some serious badass to corral her.

Mark locked the hidden door and shut the wall so that no one entering the store could see their new prisoners.

Caleb frowned. "What if they start calling for help?"

"Won't do them any good," Bubba said. "It's soundproof and made with enough metal that no cell phones will go through neither. They're there until we let them out."

Mark let out a nervous laugh. "Then let's not get killed and starve them to death."

Nick stared at him. "Mark, there are many, many reasons I don't want to get killed doing this other than just starving the ex-zombie hostages." He looked over to Madaug. "Or go to jail. I cannot stress enough how badly I do not want to go to jail and how badly I do not want to die."

But he had a bad feeling that they were all about to head to one of those places or the other.

CHAPTER 13

Nick?" Mark called through the door as Nick was coming out of the shower. "It's your mom on the phone and she's hotter than Angelina Jolie lying in a bikini on the equator, covered in mud.... Not that I'm saying your mom is good-looking, not that she isn't, but I don't ever fantasize about your mom 'cause that would just be wrong to do to a guy—not that your mom isn't fantasy worthy... but—Ah, hell, all that sounded better in my head. My point is, she's angry. Just take the phone before she scalds my ears some more."

Nick paused. That was an interesting tirade and made him wonder about Mark's daydreams—Wait, never mind. Knowing Mark, those had to be terrifying. Heck, he was lucky Mark's dream girl wasn't zombified.

He opened the door only enough to reach through it to get the phone from Mark before he put it up to his ear and braced himself for her anger. "Hey, Mom."

"What are you doing?" Yeah, she was totally upset at him. That hot tone could melt polar ice caps. She was yelling so loud, he pulled the phone about three inches from his ear and still heard her perfectly. "Boy, where are you? Do you have any idea what time it is? You are so grounded when I see you, which, for your information, had better be soon, as in right now. If you're not walking through the door, which you're not, you're busted. You understand? Nick? Are you listening to me? What do you have to say for yourself? Huh, young man?"

He honestly didn't know what to say that wouldn't make her twice as mad, which was not his goal right now. The name of the game ... survival.

/ value my freedom, but I see severe restriction ahead. Too bad there weren't lawyers out there willing to represent kids with their parents. "Which question do you want me to answer first?"

"Don't you get smart with me, Nicholas Gautier. I'm too mad at you right now to take it."

He had to clamp down on his own temper. If he'd learned anything in his life, it was that his mom didn't react well to direct conflict. A nice, contrite Nicky was often one who avoided being grounded even when he deserved it. "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm not trying to be smart." He was trying to get her to stop screaming at him. "I got covered in—" He paused before he said the word "blood." That would flip her out even more." —goo during the class." A small lie, but what she didn't know wouldn't give her a heart attack and him a restriction that lasted until he was bald and middle-aged. "I—um, I wanted to take a bath at Bubba's before I headed back and got goo all over the club, which might get you into trouble." Not to mention the sight of his bloody clothes would have panicked her into calling the police, and the last thing Bubba needed was another arrest on his record. "I should have called and let you know first. I'm really sorry. I guess I spent more time in the shower than I meant to. Did you know Bubba has one of them steam things that comes down from the ceiling? You should see this bathroom, Mom. It's the coolest awesome ever."

She refused to let him distract her. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, ma'am." A little show of respect always went a long way in soothing her.

She sighed. "Then I guess there's no harm. But you did scare me, Nick. I just want you to know that."

"Sorry, Ma. By the way, Bubba said he'd walk me over to the club."

"That's mighty nice of him." Her voice was finally back to normal and not the l-want-your-butt-on-a-platter tone it'd been a few minutes ago. "Tell him I said thanks."

"I will. Is it okay if we stop for something to eat too?"

Her tone turned sharp again like she was accusing him of something. "I thought you ate at Mr. Hunter's?"

"I did. But I'm hungry again."

"Oh." She went from angry to calm so fast that he wondered if she wasn't the Ferrari of moms. Her top speed had to be .65 nanoseconds. Maybe less. "You must be growing again. You want to come get some money?"

"Nah, Mr. Hunter gave me some earlier."

"Why?" Boom! Her anger returned. Granted it was tinged with something he thought might be fear or suspicion, but the primary tone was definitely anger.

"Taxi money in case I needed it to get to work or home. He didn't want me on the streetcar after dark 'cause he said he didn't want me to get hurt." Which, when combined with what Mr. Poitiers had given him, was close to a hundred bucks. They kept this up and he might actually start making some progress on his ever-pathetic college fund.

"I don't know what I think about that, Nick."

What was there to think about? From his point of view if they were willing to throw money at him and he didn't have to do anything for it, he was more than willing to take it. "Well, while you figure that out, can I eat?"

She made a sound of aggravation. "I swear you're the lippiest child on the planet. Yes, Nicky, grab something to eat and I'll see you within the hour or I will come and get you myself. Do you understand? And you will be a very sorry young man if I do."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I love you, baby." Must be some mutant form of maternal bipolar disorder. There was no other explanation for the frightening mood swings.

"I love you, too, Mom, and I really am sorry I worried you."

"It's all right. It's what you're best at anyway. Remember to eat some vegetables, and neither french fries nor ketchup count."

"Yes, ma'am." Nick hung up the phone and dressed in his jeans and the Triple B big balls and brains T-shirt Bubba had loaned him. The best part of it was Bubba's logo on the back that featured a photo of Bubba holding a shotgun over his shoulder as he leaned up against an oversized computer that had smoke coming out of the top of it and a bunch of bullet holes in the monitor. It read:

Computer Problems? Dial 1-888-Ca-Bubba If I can't take care of your problems one way ... I'll take care of them anotha'

And in small print under it, it read: We tend all manner of ills for you. Zombies, rodents, and vampires. If you got a pest, we got a cure. Just call us now We will believe you.

Yeah, Bubba really wasn't right in the head, but Nick loved the commercials he and Mark filmed for the store. They were hilarious. And always ended with that slogan. "Ca' Bubba."

Sad thing was, he knew for a fact that Bubba had used a few people's computers for target practice, and he didn't want to think about Mark and the anti-zombie duck urine.

Shaking his head, he toweled off his hair and went downstairs to where Bubba, Mark, Simi, Caleb, and Madaug were discussing the great jailbreak.

They are so going to get me arrested and my mom w'll kill me for it.

Simi pointed to the schematic Bubba had produced from memory of what he liked to call the numerous "unfortunate incarcerations" he'd had at the parish lockup. "See, now the Simi can napalm that and—"

"That might kill them, Simi," Nick pointed out.

She looked up innocently. "Your point?"

Nick was too stunned to answer her honest question.

So Madaug answered for him. "We need Brian alive to test him."

"Well, poo." Simi crossed her arms over her chest and pouted. "You just take all the fun out of it then. You sure you don't know my akri?"

They ignored her.

Caleb leaned back in his chair to study them. "Can't a lawyer get in to see him?"

Bubba nodded as he studied his diagram. "Well, yeah, but a lawyer ain't going to spring him."

Caleb smirked. "Depends on the lawyer."

Bubba looked up with a scowl. "How you mean?"

Caleb's eyes gleamed like a demon eyeing evil. "I know one who owes me a favor."

"You know a lawyer?" Bubba's voice was filled with disbelief.

Caleb rubbed his hands down his shirt. "Hey, beneath these ... well, they're basically crappy clothes." Nick frowned at his choice of words. Only Caleb would consider his nice designer shirt and jeans crappy. "But beneath them beats the heart of someone who knows the right people willing to sometimes do the wrong thing for the right price."

Bubba wasn't completely sold on it and neither was Nick. "Yeah, but we need to do this before anyone else gets killed. We have to know if this is a cure."

Caleb pulled out his cell phone. "Can be arranged. Trust me."

Nick wasn't any more willing to buy into this than Bubba was. Not to mention, there was one really important, as yet unaddressed factor. "How much is this going to cost us?"

Caleb held his hand up. "Hi. This is Malphas calling to talk to Virgil Ward. Is he in?" He gave them a crap-eating grin as he waited.



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