Hit list, p.2
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         Part #20 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Chapter Two

  I HAD BEEN called into Marshal Raborn's office. It was a neat, square room. The only thing in the room that was messy was the desk, as if he'd straightened every edge in every file cabinet, and then left file folders on his desk overnight and they'd bred into short, unsteady towers of paperwork. Raborn was the local marshal in charge. If I'd been a regular marshal he'd have been more in charge of me, and Edward, but the preternatural branch was rapidly becoming its own entity, which meant Marshal Raborn was frustrated. He seemed to be particularly frustrated with me.

  "There have been rumors for decades that Seattle has a weretiger clan," he said.

  I gave him blank cop face, polite, interested, but blank. Every group of wereanimals, or kiss of vampires, runs its business slightly differently. The white tiger clan of Las Vegas and the vampires are very public about who they are, and what they're doing. The red tiger clan of Seattle, not so much. In fact, Seattle wasn't aware they had a tiger clan in residence. The queen of their clan liked it that way. Wereanimals were still people under the law, so they'd never been legal to kill on sight the way vampires had been before the new vampire citizen laws went into effect, but once someone shifted into animal form a lot of people panicked and a lot of wereanimals got shot. I'd been on the receiving end of more than one attack by a wereanimal, so I sympathized, but at the same time some of my best friends turned furry once a month. I was a little conflicted. Marshal Raborn thought so, too.

  He seemed to want me to say something, so I said, "Sorry, I haven't been on the ground long enough to pick up rumors yet. "

  "There are weretigers here, Blake. I know there are. " He gave me a steely, penetrating look out of a pair of gray eyes the color of gunmetal. It was a good hard stare. Bad guys probably folded like cheap card tables when he gave them the stare, but I wasn't a bad guy.

  "Obviously," I said, "we have a known survivor of a weretiger attack as our victim here. "

  "Don't get cute, Blake," he said, in a voice as hard as the cold stare.

  "Sorry, just a natural ability on my part. "

  He frowned at me. "What is?"

  "Being cute, or so I'm told. " I smiled at him.

  "Are you flirting with me?"

  "Nope. "

  "Then what's with the smart remark?"

  "Why am I getting solo treatment in your office, Raborn?"

  "Because you know more than you're telling about these killers. "

  Only years of training kept my face blank; only the slightest movement of one eye, almost an involuntary twitch, gave it away. It was the closest thing I had to a tell, as they say in poker. I covered it by smiling at him. I made it a good smile. I'd found that most men got distracted by it. I was buying time while I thought about what to say.

  I shook my head, still smiling, as if he amused the hell out of me. What I was thinking was, Does he actually know anything, or is he just fishing?

  "Do I amuse you, Blake?"

  "A little," I said.

  He opened the folder in front of him and started tossing out photos of body parts as if he were dealing cards. I wasn't smiling by the time he finished covering the desk in gruesome pictures.

  I gave him angry eyes then. "You should see it in person, Raborn. It's much worse. "

  "I've seen the latest crime scene," he said.

  "Good for you, now what do you want?"

  "I want the truth. "

  I resisted a terrible urge to say, "You can't handle the truth," but the thought helped kill some of the anger. I gave him calmer eyes and said, "The truth about what exactly?"

  "Are there weretigers in Seattle?"

  "I haven't been here long enough to know where to get a good cup of coffee. I don't think I should be the one you're asking. You've got a preternatural branch that is local to your area. They should know more than I do about the local wereanimals. "

  "They should, but somehow everywhere you go you know more monsters than the rest of us. "

  I shrugged, and didn't have to fight to look bored. "Maybe it's because I see them as people, not just monsters. "

  He motioned at the photos spread out on his desk. "Whatever did this isn't human. Nothing human could have done this. "

  I shrugged again. "I can't speak to that. I'm not in forensics and I've got cop friends who tell some mean stories about humans on PCP. "

  "PCP would make them strong enough to do it, but it also makes them crazy," Raborn said. "They could do the violent killings, maybe, but not this. " He pointed at one photo. "This is precise. PCP doesn't make you precise, it makes you a fucking animal. "

  Since Edward and I had put that observation into our reports, I wasn't surprised to hear him repeat it back to me. "Like a wereanimal?" I asked.

  "You know what I meant. "

  I sat up straighter in the chair because the gun at my back was digging in a little, which meant I was slumping. We were averaging three hours of sleep, and a different time zone every day was beginning to take its toil.

  "I'm not sure I do, but if you called me in here to grill me about the local wereanimals, I just got here less than four hours ago. I'm good at gathering information about the local preternatural scene, but I'm not that good. No one is that good. "

  "What's killing the weretigers?"

  "I'm not sure. "

  "Why are they being killed?"

  "Why does any serial killer choose his victim?"

  "So you know it is a he. "

  I sighed. "Statically speaking, over ninety percent of all serial killers are male. Using he as the pronoun is probably accurate, but, you're right, I don't know that it's a he. Though female serial killers are more likely to use poison or a gun; a blade is more typical of male serial killers. Whoever is killing these victims is sure of his skill with a blade, and that he has the strength to get the job done before the weretiger can fight back. That level of physical confidence is usually male, rather than female. "

  He looked at me, but there was a touch less hostility in his face. "That's true. "

  "You seem surprised that I knew that," I said.

  He settled back in his chair and looked at me, but now it was an appraising look. "I'd been told that the only reason you have more executions than anyone else in the preternatural branch is that you're fucking the monsters, so they talk to you, but maybe that's not all of it. "

  I gave him an unfriendly look, and then it seemed too much trouble. I leaned forward in the chair. "Look, Raborn, if I were living with a group of men and having sex with all of them, and everyone were human, the other cops would still hate it, or they'd see me as a slut. But my live-in sweeties are vampires and shapeshifters, so the other cops really don't like my choice in boyfriends. I accept that, because there's nothing I can do about it, but I want to stop these killers. I don't want to see any more of these bodies. I want to go home to my sweeties, and stop seeing cut-up bodies in my dreams. "

  He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "Yeah, once you start seeing the bodies in your dreams, it's a bitch. "

  "Trust me, Raborn, I'm motivated to solve these crimes. "

  He looked at me then, and let me see that he was tired, too. "I believe you want to go home, but how can I trust a marshal who's shacking up with the master vampire of her city?"

  "It's illegal to discriminate against me because of who I'm dating. "

  "Yeah, yeah, no discriminating on basis of race, religion, or lack of being human, or something like that. "

  "I know that other cops say that I'm sleeping my way to all the information, and I do sleep with the monsters. I can't deny that, but the idea that the only skill set I have is sex is just jealousy. "

  "What do you mean?" he asked.

  "Most of the preternatural branch is male. They actually have a lower percentage of female marshals than the regular branch. Men don't want to admit that a little bitty girl is kicking their asses in the field. They need me not to be better at their job t
han they are, and the only way they can explain my having the highest number of executions in the entire service is to tell themselves that if they were a woman and could sleep their way to the top it would make all the difference. "

  "You are a little bitty thing. You look dainty as my youngest daughter. I've read your cases. I know what you've managed to kill. You've been called in on cases where the first marshals were hospitalized, or killed outright. You, Marshal Forrester, Marshal Spotted-Horse, and Marshal Jefferies are the go-to guys for cleaning up the mess. "

  The "Otto Jefferies" identity was to Olaf what "Ted Forrester" was to Edward. Olaf was scarier than Edward, though, because among the mercenary stuff his hobby was being a serial killer. He'd promised Edward and some part of some government that he wouldn't do his hobby on American soil. It was one of the ways he kept his day job helping train some uber-secret unit. His victims of choice were petite dark-haired women. He seemed to have a crush on me now, and had flat-out told me he'd be willing to try for normal sex with me, or at least sex that didn't involve my being tortured and dead. Edward wanted me to encourage the attraction, because it was the closest to healthy Olaf had ever been around a woman, but we both agreed that the line between being Olaf's serial killer girlfriend as we killed vampires together, and triggering his own serial killer needs toward me, was probably a thin one. Bernardo Spotted-Horse, like me, just had one name, our real names. Neither of us had ever made a living doing things as harsh as Edward and Olaf.

  "We do what we can," I said.

  "They all have military backgrounds, special forces. They're all big, physically imposing men. "

  "Ted is only five-eight, not that imposing," I said.

  Raborn smiled. "Marshal Forrester seems taller. "

  I smiled, too. "That he does. "

  "Sometimes, so do you. "

  I just looked at him. "Thanks, I guess. "

  "Do the vampires really call you 'the Executioner'?"

  I shrugged. "Nicknames. "

  "Just answer the question," he said.

  "Fine, I've killed more of them than any other vampire hunter. When you kill enough people, it tends to impress the survivors. "

  "You can't be as good at killing as your reputation. "

  "Why not?" I asked.

  "Because if you were, you couldn't be human. " He gave me that flat, searching gaze.

  "My blood work is on record. "

  "You carry, at last count, five different types of lycanthropy, which isn't possible. The whole idea of lycanthropy is that once you get it, you can't catch anything else. "

  "Yeah, I'm a medical miracle. "

  "How can you carry active lycanthropy and not shapeshift?"

  "Just lucky, I guess. " Actually, I didn't know for sure, but we'd begun to suspect it was the vampire marks that I carried as Jean-Claude's human servant. It was as if his control and inability to change shape were shared with me. I didn't care what kept me from shifting; I was just happy for it. If I ever shifted for real, I'd lose my badge. I'd be considered unfit for duty due to disability.

  "It makes you more than human-strong, though, doesn't it?"

  "You'll turn a girl's head complimenting me like that," I said.

  "I've seen your fitness reports, Blake; don't be coy. "

  "Then you know I can pretty much lift weight until the mass of the weight to be lifted exceeds my body mass. Any other questions?"

  He looked at me and tapped his finger on the edge of the file that had held the photos. "Not right now. "

  "Good. " I stood up.

  "The preternatural branch of the service is becoming more and more its own unit; did you know there's talk of forming a new branch of service altogether?"

  "I've heard the rumor," I said, looking down at him.

  "Some of the preternatural branch marshals are just killers with badges. "

  "Yep," I said.

  "Why do you think the powers that be let you all run wild like this?"

  I looked down at him. It seemed like a real question. "I don't know for sure, but if I had to guess I'd say they're making us into a legal hit squad. They give us badges to placate the liberal left, but they give us enough room in the law to kill the monsters the way the not-so-liberal right wants us to. "

  "So you think the government is turning a blind eye to what the preternatural branch is becoming. "

  "No, Marshal Raborn, I think they're setting themselves up. "

  "Setting themselves up for what?" he asked.

  "Plausible deniability," I said.

  We looked at each other. "There are rumors that the laws are going to change again, and vampires and shapeshifters will be easier to kill legally, with less cause. "

  "There are always rumors," I said.

  "If the laws change, which side will you be on?"

  "The side I'm always on. "

  "Which is?" He studied my face as he asked.

  "Mine. "

  "Do you think of yourself as human?" he asked.

  I went for the door then, but stopped with my hand on the doorknob. I looked back at him. "Legally, shapeshifters and vampires are human; that you'd even ask that of me is not only insulting, but probably illegal. "

  "I'll deny I said it," he said.

  "Well, that answers my question. "

  "What question?"

  "If you were honest, or a lying bastard. "

  His face darkened, and he stood up, sort of looming on the edge of his desk. "Get out of my office. "

  "My pleasure," I said. I opened the door, shut it firmly but calmly behind me, and walked out through the desks of the other marshals. They'd watched the "talk" through the glass windows of Raborn's office. They'd seen the body language, and they knew the talk had ended badly. I didn't care. I was just walking, because my throat was tight, and my eyes burned. Was I really going to cry because Raborn had asked me if I thought I was human? I hoped not.

 
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