Hit list, p.10
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       Hit List, p.10

         Part #20 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
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Chapter Ten

  NEWMAN WAS TALL, as in over six feet tall, but slender, in that way that's all genetics. He was probably one of those men who had trouble putting muscle over an otherwise athletic frame. He ran his fingers through his short brown hair and put his hat back on, setting it on his head like he wasn't used to it yet. I wasn't sure if he thought the cowboy hat made him look older, or if it had been a gift. Either way, it was new and hadn't been broken in yet. It wasn't like Edward's hat that was creased and loved by his hands and head. This was a new, white hat. At least Edward's was sort of off-white.

  "I appreciate the concern, really, I do, but I think I have a plan," Newman said.

  "We're just trying to help out," Edward said in his best Ted voice. He'd quickly realized that he'd get further with charm than scare tactics. Since I didn't really have a lot of charm that worked with men I wasn't trying to date, I let Edward do the talking. I rarely got in trouble letting Edward do the persuading.

  "I do appreciate that," Newman said, but he somehow implied in his down-home tone that he knew exactly what we'd been trying to do and he was having none of it. He was young, but he wasn't stupid, and there was a quiet toughness to him that it was hard not to like. But the Harlequin wouldn't care about his toughness, or his down-home charm, or the fact that he reminded me of a younger version of Ted. Not a younger version of Edward, but of Ted, if Ted had been really who Edward was, which was sort of weird, and made my head hurt just a little.

  "What's your plan?" I asked.

  His brown eyes flicked to me, then back to Edward, then back to me. It was almost like he didn't quite know what to do with me. He struck me as someone who'd been raised that women were to be taken care of, and here I stood all petite and feminine looking, but decked out in guns, knives, and a badge. Would I have puzzled him less if I'd been taller?

  "Dogs. We're going to track 'em. "

  It was a good idea, but . . . Edward and I exchanged a look. Newman frowned, because he'd caught the look. "What? What did I miss?"

  I gave a small nod, and Edward said in his pleasant Ted voice, "Well, now, Newman, did you find dogs that are trained to trail shapeshifters?"

  Newman frowned harder. "They just have to follow the scent," he said.

  "Most dogs won't track shapeshifters," I said.

  He frowned harder, which made him look even younger, like a serious five-year-old who just happened to tower over me. "Why not?"

  "They're afraid of them," I said.

  "What do you mean?" he asked.

  Edward smiled, and it was a good smile, not condescending at all, just cheerful and sharing information. "Dogs get a whiff of a shapeshifter, especially one that's partially or completely form shifted, and they're afraid of 'em. "

  I explained, "Dogs can be around humans who shift form, but there's something about once the change takes place that freaks out most dogs unless they've been trained to it. "

  "Why would that make a difference to a hound? They track any scent. "

  I glanced at Edward, but he just kept smiling at Newman. "The dogs are afraid, Newman. They're just afraid of them, that's all. "

  "But why?" he asked.

  "Have you ever seen a shapeshifter in animal or half-man form?" I asked.

  "I've seen pictures, film. "

  I sighed, and said, "They didn't even bring in a shapeshifter to shift in front of your class?"

  "It's too dangerous," he said.

  "Okay, why is it too dangerous?" I asked, and I had his full eye contact now. He wasn't worried about me being petite or a woman, he just wanted to understand.

  "Because once they shift they have to eat living flesh. They'll kill anything near them. "

  I shook my head. "Not true, not even close to true of most shapeshifters. "

  "The books and instructors say it is. "

  "It's true of the newly infected shapeshifters. They can wake as ravening beasts and have complete blackouts as people for the first few full moons, but after that almost all of them regain themselves. They just happen to turn furry once a month, but they become the people they were. "

  He shook his head, frowning and so serious. "Not what we saw on the films. "

  "I'll bet money they were newbies, the newly turned lycanthropes. They can be just animals. "

  "You're telling me that what I saw in class isn't what they are, that they're more people than monsters?"

  "Newman, I live with two shapeshifters. Do you really think I could do that if they tried to kill me every time they changed form?"

  He frowned harder. "So that rumor is true?"

  "Some of the rumors are true, most aren't, but that's true. Trust me, the men that I love have never tried to hurt me in any form. "

  "So this shapeshifter from last night should be like a person in a fur suit," he said.

  I shook my head. "Not what I said. "

  "You're saying on one hand they're just furry people and on the other that the dogs are so afraid of them they won't track them. You can't have it both ways, Marshal Blake; either they're monsters or they're people. "

  "Tell that to the BTK killer," I said. "He was a churchgoer, raised two kids, married, and resisted the urge to kill for decades. He was a person, but he was a monster, too. "

  "But dogs will track a serial killer," Newman said.

  Edward tried. "Newman, it's a good idea, but if he was even partially shapeshifted, and he had to be to hurt Marshal Karlton, then the dogs will be too afraid to track him. Did you ask for dogs trained on tracking shapeshifters?"

  "I asked for the best dog we had nearby. "

  I shrugged. "It doesn't matter; the chance of having a shifter-trained dog is almost nil. It's a seriously specialized training. "

  "Why?" Newman asked.

  I was already tired of him asking that. "Because, Newman, shapeshifters, even the nice legal citizens, don't like training dogs designed to be able to hunt them down so people can kill them on sight. "

  Newman blinked at me. "I don't understand. "

  I was tired of it, and him. "I know you don't. "

  "Explain it to me, then. "

  "I don't think I can. Some things you just have to learn in the field. "

  "I'm a fast learner," he said, and he sounded a little defiant.

  "I hope so, Newman, I really hope so. "

  "What's that supposed to mean?"

  Great, I'd behaved myself and he was still getting upset with me. "It means that I had to watch last night while this shifter tortured and sliced up Marshal Karlton. He used her as a human shield so I couldn't shoot him, and then he moved faster than any shapeshifter I've ever seen. All I could do was hold pressure on her wounds and try to keep her from bleeding to death and pray that moving her so I could keep her from bleeding out hadn't just injured her spine and crippled her for life. It didn't, thank God, but I didn't know that last night, and a whole spine does no damn good if you bleed to death first. " I was up in his face as I finished, and though the closest to glaring into his face I could get was the middle of his chest, he flinched and backed away from me.

  I just turned and walked away. My anger crawled over me and through me. The beasts in their hidden place inside me swirled so that I had a moment where things twisted, a hint of the claws to come pawing at my gut. It made me hesitate as I walked.

  Edward called, "You okay?"

  "Sure, yeah, fine. " I kept walking, but I needed to feed the ardeur. I probably needed to feed before we started tracking the shapeshifter, but since the dog wasn't going to track it, I had time. I also had an idea. I'd go visit the local weretigers and see if they'd tell me things they wouldn't tell the other marshals. They probably would, and I knew one of them would. Alex was the son of the local clan queen, my lover, and my red tiger to call. I'd tell the other marshals I was trying to gather information, and I would, but it was a booty call. A booty call to keep me from being torn apart by my beasts.

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