I took a drag off my cigarette, drawing smoke into lungs that were probably already coated with the stuff. I didn't really feel it, not the same way I did when I was alive; my lungs still inflated, with a bit of effort and a duct tape patch over the bullet hole that was responsible for my current situation, but I didn't really feel the smoke swirling around the way I used to. It just felt kind of warm. Without a working circulatory system, the nicotine didn't get into my bloodstream and make all those wonderful chemical changes that made life temporarily worth living...which was fine by me, because I wasn't living anymore.
But I still smoked. Why? Same I reason I did everything else I did, I suppose. Force of habit.
I took another drag, just to feel like I hadn't totally wasted the effort of lighting the damn thing, then tossed it to the ground and stubbed it out with my shoe. I gestured to Kowalski for the megaphone and made the effort of filling my lungs again. “Miller?” I shouted through the megaphone. “Miller, I know what you're going through, believe me, but this isn't going to help your situation.”
The voice that came back sounded a lot like mine. There's a kind of voice that only zombies have, something you can't really describe but you know it as soon as you hear it. It's something that says that your throat doesn't produce phlegm anymore, something that tells everyone who's listening that your saliva dried up days ago and your tongue is dry and cracked in your mouth but you don't really feel it. It's the voice of a human being who's dead and still talking.
Or in this case, dead and still screaming obscenities. “Fuck you, pig! You don't know shit about me! You don't know shit about Wanda, either! We're gonna work this out, you'll see! She just needs to...you know, to get what I've been going through! Then she'll see that she needs me the same way I need her!”
She needs you like she needs a bullet in the chest, I thought to myself, but I was too smart to say something like that out loud in a hostage situation. Guys like Miller were pretty much a daily occurrence ever since the dead started coming back. They got killed—Miller had it rougher than some, he bit it when his restaurant went up in a grease fire. I was puffy and gray, but at least I didn't look like Rick Baker got an Oscar for me. Miller got up off the slab, went back home to the wife, and found out the hard way that she took 'till death do us part' literally. She called 9-1-1 from her bathroom. That was where I came in.
I wasn't on the force anymore. Not officially. It wasn't because I died, of course. It never is. According to the paperwork, I was on an 'indefinite paid leave of absence', receiving counseling for 'possible post-traumatic stress disorder' on account of how I got shot in the chest in the course of duty. My reinstatement was pending a full psychiatric evaluation from a qualified specialist who would determine whether my lethal trauma had affected me psychologically to the point where I was no longer fit to perform my responsibilities as a police officer.
But every time I tried to find out who was considered to be a 'qualified specialist', I got a vague answer from a paper-pusher who wouldn't look me in the eyes, and my pay got held up in a dispute over whether it should be workman's comp, pension or death benefits. It's the same all over. Nobody wants to be the first person to get sued for discrimination by a dead person, but everybody knows the score.
So officially, I was either retired, crazy or dead. Unofficially...well, here I was with a megaphone in one hand and a gun in the other, giving a heart to heart talk to a walking corpse. They say life takes some unexpected turns, but it's nothing compared to death.
“Look, Miller,” I shouted through the megaphone, “I know this is hard for you! Believe me, I know! But being dead isn't going to make her love you!”
“You don't know that!” Miller shouted.
I tried to sigh in exasperation, but I hadn't really taken enough of a breath first to make it sound like anything more than a wheeze. “I know you think that she'll understand you better if she's dead too,” I said into the megaphone. “But do you really think she's not going to be bitter about dying? Who do you think she's going to blame for that, Miller?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the snipers moving into position. I didn't envy them their job; back when zombies were just something you saw in the movies, everyone knew how to kill the undead. “Shoot 'em in the head!” But in the real world, the head was a small, moving target with plenty of fluid and bone surrounding the actual important bits. That's why police were trained to aim for the center mass. Which, as I was unliving proof, did sweet fuck-all to a zombie.
That was why everyone was counting on me. Tom Haney, zombie hostage negotiator I should have got business cards printed up, but I'd already spent all the money on cigarettes. “Look, Miller. You have to be patient, here. This is a big adjustment for both of you, and it's not going to happen overnight. Give her some time to think about it, go out to one of the settlements on Vineyard Street and talk to her by email. You've got nothing but time, now, believe me.”
“I don't want to go hang around with a bunch of dead fucksticks!” Miller shouted. “I want my goddamned wife!”
“Look, Miller,” I said, “I don't want to make threats here, but...you have to know that you're not going to get her like this. You kill her, and the cops here won't stop shooting until they get a head shot or you drop the gun. Even if you survive that, it's not going to end well for you. The only way out is to surrender your weapon and let Wanda go. Do that, and I'll see if I can pull some strings and get a marriage counselor for you.”