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Walking Dead

Walker Papers, Book 4

C.E. Murphy

This one’s for Frank Darcy, who taught us all to raise a glass to life

AUTHOR NOTE

Welcome back to the Walker Papers!

It’s been five books in two different series and a handful of short stories and comic scripts for me since I’ve written a Joanne Walker story. That made coming back to Jo and her world a little strange—would I still know how to write her?

Some things, it seems, are like falling off a bicycle. I hope you enjoy the return to the Walker Papers as much as I have, and by the way, if you haven’t, stop by my Web site, http://cemurphy.net, and read “Rabbit Tricks,” a Walker Papers short story that fits between Coyote Dreams and this book.

Catie

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

Sarah Palmero, Nicholas Whyte, Paul Knappenberger (better known as “Trent” in these acknowledgment pages), Cameron Banks and Katrina Lehto read early drafts of this book in hopes of helping come up with a title, and, since they were doing that anyway, gave some helpful feedback on the shape of the story. If I missed anybody in that list, I beg forgiveness, but I think it was just those five. Also, Laura “Soapturtle” Denson helped me keep my blog software up-to-date when I had no brain left for such things myself. Thank you all tremendously.

There are the usual suspects who need thanking: my husband Ted, who does a remarkable job of maintaining sanity when I’m in the worst of writer-modes, and both my agent Jennifer Jackson and my editor, Mary Theresa Hussey, who inevitably make my books more worth reading. Cover artist Hugh Syme and Harlequin art-department wizards Kathleen Oudit and Fion Ngan also have my undying gratitude for giving me such a beautiful, beautiful book.

I would also like to thank the dozens of people who kept e-mailing me to ask if there was going to be another Walker Papers novel, and when it would be out. Here you go!

CHAPTER 1

Saturday, October 29, 9:45 p.m.

My wig itched like a son of a bitch.

I wanted to say I didn’t know how I’d gotten myself into it, but the truth was, I knew exactly how I had: Phoebe Kostelis, normally my fencing teacher. Tonight, however, she played the part of my short Sapphic sidekick, working the crowd outside the party hall like she’d been born to it. They looked happy to be worked, since she wore only slightly more clothing than I did and had a body that even I coveted in a strictly Platonic sense.

I hadn’t thought this much about ancient Greeks since college, which probably meant I wasn’t having enough fun. Phoebe, on the other hand, was having a blast, wheezing with laughter as she clutched the arm of a cop I didn’t know. At least, I thought he was a cop: he was dressed as one, anyway.

But then, Phoebe was dressed in a scrap of cloth wrapped around her breasts, a very short skirt and a blond wig that suited her even more poorly than long hair suited me. At least my wig and my natural hair color were the same: black. Phoebe’s hair was also black, and being blond did her olive complexion no favors. On the other hand, she was having fun, though I wasn’t convinced it was more fun than she’d have as a brunette. It didn’t matter either way, as long as she kept everybody’s attention off me.

I should have known better than to let her choose my Halloween costume. The last time she’d dressed me I’d ended up in an itty-bitty gold-lamé shirt, and jeans that stopped somewhere several miles south of my navel. This time she’d put me in a midriff-baring, boob-enhancing, hip-riding leather-pleated-skirt thing with ass- kicking boots and a variety of increasingly useless-looking weapons. I’d flat-out refused to wear it without a mask. Phoebe insisted that particular outfit didn’t have a mask. I insisted there was no way on this earth she could get me out of the house with my face—not to mention other body parts unfamiliar with seeing the light—showing. She’d finally given in and provided me with a golden mask “from season six” that left my mouth and jaw exposed, but hid more recognizable features, like my slightly too-beaky nose. Between it and the wig, I hoped nobody would know it was me.

I walked through the doors a few feet behind Phoebe, who cleared the way with a quarterstaff taller than she was. I didn’t really think she needed the quarterstaff: one glower from beneath Phoebe’s Frida Kahlo eyebrow was enough to quell me, and I had an eight-inch-height advantage over her.

Of course, it was a party, which meant the glower wasn’t really in place. Instead of skedaddling, people grinned, and then they got a load of me. A wolf whistle broke out, followed by a smattering of applause and a cheerfully bellowed, “Damn, Joanne, your legs go all the way up, don’t they?”

So much for not being recognized. I had a peace-knotted sword on one hip and a round yin-yang thing on the other. I loosened the yin-yang and shook it threateningly, but no one looked even slightly threatened. Someone did start a betting pool on whether Phoebe or I would win a fight. I put ten dollars on Phoebe and made my way farther into the room.

The noise was astonishing. Phoebe and I had been there all afternoon setting up, only leaving an hour or so earlier to go change into our costumes. Since then, an easy two hundred people had jammed into a hall meant for maybe a hundred and fifty, and enough of them were cops that somebody really should’ve taken the moral high ground and called the fire marshal. Instead, people were dancing, laughing, shouting at each other, waving red cups of cheap party drinks in the air and generally looking as if they were having a good time. I’d never helped throw a party before, much less one people came to by the hundreds. I felt all proud, and felt even better when Thor the Thunder God came through the crowd to stop in front of me with a smile. “Can I get you a drink?”

I looked him up and down, like he had to pass muster before I decided he was worthy of fetching refreshments. He did. In fact, at a guess, there was nobody more mustery at the party. He wore a tight-fitting sleeveless blue shirt with half a dozen shimmering circles set in two rows down his front, and jeans, which made him a rather modern god. Still, the loose blond hair and the goatee he’d grown out over the last few months went a long way toward the look. So did the sledgehammer he’d strapped across his back. It looked like a much more effective weapon than either of the ones I was carrying, and I was briefly jealous. He’d forgone a traditional Viking helmet, but since the man looked like Thor in his day-to-day life, he really didn’t need it to pull off the costume. His smile broadened, becoming more godlike as he looked me up and down in turn. “I thought you didn’t do Halloween.”

“I thought so, too,” I said dryly. “Phoebe thought otherwise.” I tugged the mask off and rubbed my nose. If people were going to insist on knowing who I was, at least I could indulge in breathing. Besides, I’d been kidding myself about being unrecognizable. Phoebe’d chosen the outfit because I had the physical stature for it: in bare feet I stood half an inch under six feet tall, and had the breadth of shoulder that came with working on cars most of my life. Or, I guessed, if I was going to stay in character, with swinging a sword all my life. I’d actually only

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