Hit list, p.22
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       Hit List, p.22

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

  TILFORD CAME TO as the EMTs were trying to shift him from the car to the stretcher. He grabbed Edward's arm. "Warrant, my warrant, it's yours. It's yours, Forrester. "

  Edward nodded and patted his hand. "I'll get the bastards for you, Tilford. "

  "I know you will," he said. He kept hold of Edward as they got him on the stretcher, and Edward didn't fight it, he just stayed at his side on the way to the ambulance. Newman came to join me beside the SUV as I blinked out at the swirl of lights and police. Raborn was suddenly in front of us. "What the hell happened, Blake?"

  I blinked at him. An EMT pushed between us. "Back up, can't you see they're both hurt?" I blinked into her pale eyes. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She started shining a light into Newman's eyes. His thin face was a mask of blood. Apparently some of the gravel had cut his forehead so the blood had just rained down from there.

  Raborn pushed into my face, trying to use his height to intimidate me. He should have known better by now. "Talk to me, Blake. "

  "The serial killers that we've been chasing across the country were here and tried to ambush us. We were better armed than they planned for, so we got away. "

  "Why would they ambush you?" This was Detective Lorenzo, who was in the group of cops. I hadn't seen him in the dark with the flashing lights. It was like looking at strobes, or maybe I was shockier than I realized.

  "When we catch them, we'll ask," I said.

  Another EMT reached around Raborn. "You're bleeding. "

  I looked down at the arm he was looking at, but it didn't seem very important. I knew it was my arm, and when he touched the wound it hurt. The little sharp spark of pain helped clear my head a little. That let me know that with the adrenaline leaving, the soft edge of shock and relief had set in; now that the emergency was over, my body was trying to shut down a little.

  Raborn backed up enough so the medic could look at it, but he hovered over the guy's shoulder. "Are they still out there?"

  "Far as I know," I said.

  The EMT reached for my arm. I pulled out of reach. "Let me at least look at it, that's a lot of blood. "

  "I'm a carrier for lycanthropy. "

  He hesitated. "I need to double-glove then. "

  "That's why I said something. "

  "I'll be right back," he said, and went at a half-run toward the ambulance.

  "If they're still out there, we need to get them," Raborn said.

  I nodded. "Yep, we do. " In my head I thought, It's a bad idea. Out loud, I said, "They're faster, stronger, see better in the dark, and smell almost as well as most dogs, and they have swords at the very least. "

  "Are you saying we shouldn't go after them?" Raborn asked.

  "No, I just want everyone who goes into those woods to know what we're up against, that's all. "

  "If that was a pep talk, you suck at it," Lorenzo said, and he was smiling.

  I didn't smile back. I don't know what my face looked like, but it wasn't a smile, and whatever he saw in my eyes made his wilt around the edges.

  "Marshal Forrester and I wounded two of them. One bad enough that he's being carried by the other. There's another one that was on fire, but I don't know if he's dead. "

  "On fire, how'd he get on fire?" Raborn asked.

  "Backwash," I said.


  Newman was batting the female EMT away from his face. "Forrester used a rocket launcher. "

  "What?" Raborn asked.

  "He used a LAW," I said, "Forrester did. "

  "Is that what scorched the back of the car?" A woman's voice, and I got a vague impression of her in the back of the group, tall, dark-haired, thin-faced.

  "Yeah," I said.

  The EMT with the dark hair was back now with another color of glove on top of the first one. He said, "Excuse me, but I need to look at her wound. " He looked at Raborn until he stepped back. The EMT unfolded my arm, and only then did I realize my right hand was in a fist.

  "What did this to your arm?" the EMT asked.

  "Tree limb, root," I said.

  "What?" he asked.

  "I slipped and cut myself on a dry tree branch," I said.

  "It must have been one hell of a tree. "

  "Yeah. "

  "Both of you come with us to the ambulance so we have more light to work," the blonde said.

  "I'm fine," Newman said.

  I just started letting the man lead me toward the ambulance. Raborn called, "I heard you were tough, Blake. "

  I turned, looked at him. "The days when someone like you could make me feel like a wimp because I let the medics work on me is long past, Raborn. "

  "What's that mean?"

  "It means that whatever I needed to prove to myself, I did it years ago, and your opinion of me doesn't matter. "

  Newman's body reacted as if someone had poked him, as if something about what I'd said mattered, or surprised him. In the swirling color of lights I watched his face debate. Should he go with me to the ambulance or stay with the guys and tough it out?

  I also wanted to talk to Edward in semiprivacy away from Raborn and the rest, and he was still by the ambulances. Besides, what I'd said was absolutely true. I had nothing to prove to anyone anymore. I knew how tough, how brave, how good I was at my job. Raborn could go to hell, and I'd actually matured enough that I didn't have to tell him that last part out loud. It was plenty satisfying to simply walk away.

  Raborn's voice rose as he said, "You going to be a girl about this, Newman, or a man?"

  I turned around, still walking, and yelled. "Yeah, Newman, be a man, keep bleeding until you pass out in the middle of the woods with shapeshifters and vampires after your ass. " Then I went back to following the dark-haired EMT.

  The light that spilled out from the ambulance seemed terribly bright and totally screwed my night vision, but Matt, the EMT, needed the light.

  The blond EMT came to join us, muttering under her breath. I caught, "Stupid . . . men. Scalp wounds bleed . . . "

  Matt had cleaned my arm and was squinting at it as if he either needed glasses he wasn't wearing, or would soon. "Julie, can you look at this?"

  The blonde, Julie, stopped cursing the stupidity of men under her breath and just joined him in staring at my arm. She was careful not to touch me, since she hadn't double-gloved, but she let his fingers do the walking. When he spread the edges of the wound, I protested. "That hurts," I said.

  "Sorry," he said, but didn't look up from the wound.

  "How long ago did you say this happened?" Julie asked.

  "An hour, less," I said.

  "No way," she said.

  Matt finally met my eyes. He was frowning. "I'd say this was hours, maybe a day old, at least. "

  "I told you I carry lycanthropy. It means I heal faster than human-normal. "

  "It's healing so fast it's going to heal crooked. Stitches would have kept it from doing that," Matt said.

  "Crooked?" I asked.

  "It's going to scar more," Julie said, "than if a doctor had stitched it for you. "

  I looked down at my arm. It was a long, jagged cut, almost like angry lightning going from elbow to almost wrist. "Nothing to be done about it now," I said.

  "Actually if you go to the hospital they can cut it open again, and then sew it up. We just had a seminar on preternatural patients. Lycanthropes can heal so fast that they scar more, or even get their muscles bunched up so the wound gives them pain almost like arthritis. " Matt said it staring down at my arm, as if it were a sort of show-and-tell.

  "Is there a time limit for when I need to come in and get this done?"

  "Sooner is better, at the rate you're healing," he said, poking at the wound again.

  "Please, stop poking it," I said.

  He looked up a little startled. "I'm sorry; it's just the first wound like this I've seen since the seminar. "

"Matt's a big one for theory in the field," his partner said.

  I looked at her, nodding. "I usually heal without scarring now. "

  "Well, this is going to scar," she said.

  I looked at it and believed them, but wasn't sure why it was happening. I thought about it, and then realized I'd absorbed anger when I visited the red tigers, but I hadn't fed the ardeur. The anger had taken the edge off my hunger, but it hadn't really refueled me. I wasn't healing as well as normal, which explained why the tree limb had hurt me so badly in the first place, as well as the scarring. I could go longer between feedings. I could control it, but apparently this was the price. I healed better than a pure human, but not as well as I could heal. That wasn't good when hunting the Harlequin. Shit.

  I tried to imagine what Raborn would say if I actually did take time out for a nookie break. It didn't even bear thinking about; I couldn't stop for sex, not until we finished hunting through the woods. Well, fuck, or rather no fuck. Damn it, I was tired of getting punished for not having sex. It was sort of the horror movie cliche turned on its ear; only the slutty survived, not the virginal.

  I couldn't explain any of this to the EMTs, or anyone else here but Edward. Always before with the ardeur it had consumed me, forced me to feed, but now I had enough control that I could delay it. The angry purple and red wound on my arm showed me the price for controlling the ardeur. Staring down at the wound, I realized that I had started counting on healing and being harder to hurt. I tried to remember the last time I'd been hurt by accident like this, and I couldn't remember. My stomach clenched tight and it wasn't hunger - that wasn't where the ardeur's hunger hit me - it was fear. If a tree limb could do this to me, then what about a sword, or a bullet? Shit.

  "You okay?" EMT Julie asked.

  I nodded. "Fine. "

  "You really need to go to the hospital and let a doctor open the wound and then stitch it back up," she said.

  "I know," I said.

  She frowned at me. "But you're not going to do it, are you?" She sounded disgusted with me, I really couldn't blame her.

  "I can't let them go into the woods without me. "

  "You know, the marshals around here do just fine when you're not in town. They hunt vampires and beasts, and they do a good job. Let them do their jobs and let us do ours and take you to the hospital. "

  Matt pulled at the edges of the wound. "Stop that," I said.

  "Sorry, but it's almost like one of those fast-forward films of flowers, you know, where you watch them bloom. I swear I can almost see your skin knitting together. It's so cool. "

  Julie hit him on the shoulder, and it must have been harder than it looked, because he said, "Ow!"

  "She's a live patient, Matt, not a cadaver in class. "

  He blinked up at me, and then looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I just . . . "

  "It's okay. Just patch me up so I can finish this hunt. "

  "You're being totally stupid," Julie said.

  "Not as stupid as Marshal Newman. He's still bleeding. "

  "He's going to keep bleeding until he passes out, too," she said, and the disgust was thick in her voice.

  "Probably," I said. "At least I'm letting you bandage me up. "

  "Your wound will be closed by the time you finish this hunt. You're not losing more blood. "

  "Then just wrap it up so I don't keep hitting the wound on things. "

  She frowned, but got gauze and started wrapping my arm.

  "Make sure none of it gets in the wound," I said.

  She looked at me. "I know my job. "

  "I don't mean to imply otherwise, but if I'm healing as fast as you think I am, sometimes the body can heal around the cloth. "

  They both looked at me. Matt said, "You mean the body will actually knit closed with some of the bandages inside?"

  "I've seen it happen," I said.

  "To you?" he asked.

  "No, a friend who was a werewolf. "

  Matt's face glowed with eagerness. I could almost feel the questions bubbling to the surface.

  "You're wrapped up. Sign here, so we can say we tried to take you to the hospital in case something goes wrong with your arm, which it will. "

  I signed, and hopped off the back of the ambulance. "Sorry I'm being a pain in your ass. "

  "When the tall guy passes out in the woods, try to keep things from eating him," she said.

  "I'll try," I said, and I would, but with my arm beginning to ache from the rapid healing, I wouldn't try too hard. Newman had let Raborn talk him out of even a bandage. I'd been green, but never that green. Maybe it was a guy thing and I'd never understand that level of stupid, or maybe mine was a girl thing. My arm began to twitch, the muscles fighting against each other as they knit together. I hadn't had that happen since I first got lycanthropy in my bloodstream. Shit. Maybe Newman wasn't being any stupider than I was. I guess I would try to keep him from getting eaten. Damn it.

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