Hit list, p.19
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       Hit List, p.19

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

  I WENT AROUND the SUV, walking sideways and sort of backward so I could watch my side of the woods. I was fighting to keep my eyes soft-focused, looking for movement only, shapes that were out of place. Edward's hand found my back, and I knew without turning around that he was looking forward, probably with the FN P90 in one hand. The M4 was a two-handed gun. We eased into the woods like that with him forward, me watching our backs. The smell of pine was everywhere, the needles shifting under my jogging shoes. Movement across the road. I must have tensed, because Edward whispered, "What?"

  "They're coming. " They were black shapes in the trees. If they'd been willing to lose the long black cloaks they could have blended in better, but there was something about the way the cloth moved that wasn't tree, or animal, but just out of place.

  "How many?"

  "Two. "

  They were like those shapes you see from the corners of your eyes; if you looked directly at them, they wouldn't be there, but looking obliquely they were always there, flitting through the trees as if the cloaks floated on their own. I got a flash of white from one of their masks, and that let me know that the next flash would be close enough for a target.

  Edward whispered beside me, "See it. "

  I breathed out, lower than a whisper, "Left. "

  "Right," and the word was less than a sound, as if he breathed it out. He moved a little away from me so his muzzle blast wouldn't be too close to me, or mine to him.

  I saw the white flash of mask just before they broke cover, and I fired. I knew I missed, because there was no hesitation in their speed. I aimed lower as my target got to the trees on their side of the road. Even with all the time in the world to make the shot, I still missed the main body mass. The blurring speed hesitated and he dived behind the SUV's side, putting the engine block between us.

  The other Harlequin was around the edge of the truck and coming for the trees. Edward shot again, but the figure never hesitated. "Missed," he said.

  I turned and got ahead of the figure. It was more luck than skill, but I took the shot. The figure went down and tumbled into the side of the ditch, so that all I could see was a dark pile of cloth almost lost in shadow.

  "They're too fast," Edward said, as he went toward the fallen figure. I moved toward the SUV, tensed to fire at anything that peeked around the truck. Nothing moved. There wasn't even a sense of movement. It hadn't been a kill shot, I knew that. I stayed far enough away from the underside of the vehicle that someone under it couldn't grab me. I kept the MP-5 snugged up against my shoulder, tensed and ready to shoot. I was inches away from rounding the last edge of the hood and having a clean visual when Edward fired behind me. It made me jump, and then he made a noise. I hurried the last few inches around the truck before I let myself look behind me. There was no one hiding behind the truck. I knew I'd hit him, but he wasn't there.

  I turned, muttering, "Shit," under my breath. I couldn't see over the top of the SUV. I rushed around the front of it, gun still at my shoulder. Edward was on the ground shooting up at the figure above him. I had time to register that he wasn't shooting him in the chest, but the legs, and I knew why I had no body in the road. Vests. They were wearing bulletproof vests. Shit. But one thing I knew was that even if a bullet didn't go through, it still hurt, so I aimed at the middle body mass, using the shots to force him back away from Edward. The shots staggered him, and then he was moving away from Edward, away from me into the trees, but he wasn't moving in that blur of speed. He was fast, but not super-fast. He wasn't much faster than human. Edward rolled onto his stomach and kept shooting. The Harlequin started using the trees for cover. He was hurt. Good.

  I felt something behind me, and threw myself toward the ground before I'd finished turning around. I hit the ground harder than I wanted, but I was aiming up, and got one shot off before my eyes registered the masked figure in front of me. The shot went wild, and then he was simply gone, moving in that blur of speed that I'd seen at the hotel.

  There were more shots from across the road and men yelling. The other police had joined the party. I turned onto my stomach and found the slight curve of the ditch blocking my view. I had to get to one knee before I could look into the trees and the shadows that were filling them up. There was nothing to shoot at; they were out of sight, but one was wounded. The question was, how hurt was he?

  Edward was on his feet; I climbed up the other side of the ditch to stay by his side. He had his gun up and ready and was moving in that shuffling, bent-legged walk that most of the special forces and especially SWAT used. It was supposed to help you move well, but keep you as steady as possible for shooting. I'd never been trained, but I'd grown up in the woods, and hunting. I knew how to move in trees.

  I heard the other police behind us, crashing through the trees like a herd of elephants. I knew they weren't actually that loud, but they seemed thunderous behind us, so that the noise seemed to make it even harder to search the shadowed trees for the Harlequin, as if the noise masked everything. I fought the urge to turn and yell at them to be quiet.

  "Cover me," Edward said.

  I moved until I was almost over him, looking out into the ever thickening shadows as he knelt down. "Blood," he said.

  I glanced at him, still trying to keep a peripheral sense of the trees and the growing darkness under the trees. There was more light on the road behind us, but here in the thick trees night would come early.

  "You wounded them?" This from Tilford, as he came up on the other side of Edward. He had his own M4 pointed out into the trees.

  I said, "Yes. "

  Edward said, "We follow the blood trail. "

  "It'll be dark soon," Tilford said.

  Edward stood up. "It will. "

  Newman was with us now. "I've never seen anything move that fast. "

  "We need them dead before full dark," I said, and was already moving through the trees.

  "Why?" Newman asked.

  "Because the vampires will rise," Edward said.

  "How do you know there will be vampires?" Newman asked.

  Tilford answered, "Wereanimals don't wear masks and cloaks. They don't sneak around. They just attack. The only thing that makes them behave like this is a vampire master. Night means we get to meet their masters, and I'd rather the shifters be dead before we have the vampires to deal with. "

  Edward and I exchanged a quick look. We both thought better of Tilford in that moment. I said, "What he said. "

  We followed the blood trail in the ever-growing dark. We followed the fresh blood even though every molecule in my body was screaming for me to run. Run before dark. Run before the vampires came. Run. But I didn't run, and neither did the other marshals. We followed the trail, because that was our job. We followed the trail because if they got away and killed more people, none of us wanted to look down at the body and explain why we'd let shadows and maybe a threat of vampires scare us off. We were U. S. Marshals. We hunted and killed the monsters. We did not run from them.

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