Hit list, p.27
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       Hit List, p.27

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

  THE BUILDING WAS an old Victorian house that had been divided into apartments. The one that Bernardo led me to was empty, all pale empty walls, and that slightly sharp smell of fresh paint. Bernardo went in first, his broad shoulders and back blocking most of my view. Edward walked into view, face grim, and then they both stepped aside so I could see Olaf.

  He stood at the far side of the room, to one side of the bay window. He was watching the street, or watching something. The ten-foot ceilings made him seem shorter than he was, but he was only bare inches from seven feet. In the heeled boots he probably was seven feet. He was the tallest person I'd ever personally known. But unlike a lot of really tall people, he had some bulk to him. It was hard to see in the black jeans and black leather jacket, but I knew there were muscles under the clothes. His head was as smooth and free of hair as ever. Since he had to shave twice a day to stay clean-shaven, I always wondered if he shaved his head, too, but I never asked him. It never seemed important once he looked at me.

  Two things startled me when he turned around. One, he was wearing a white T-shirt when all I'd ever seen him in was black. Two, he had a narrow black Vandyke beard and mustache. The color matched the eyebrows that arched thick and graceful over his deep-set eyes. He was too tall, but I could admit that he was attractive until you got to the eyes. The truth of what he was always stared back from those eyes, at least to me. I knew that other women seemed not to see it, but he never hid his eyes from me. When I first met him it had been because he wanted me afraid of him, and later I think he, like Edward, enjoyed that I was one person he didn't have to hide the truth from. I knew who and what he was, and hadn't run screaming. I might be the only woman he'd ever met more than once who knew the truth and still managed to have some sort of "normal" relationship with him. Maybe that was part of his attraction to me. I knew.

  "So is this the good Olaf, via South Park, or the evil Olaf as in the old Star Trek," I said.

  He smiled; he actually smiled, though it left his dark, dark eyes almost untouched. They were black to begin with, so it was hard to make them shine. The well-trimmed facial hair framed his lips nicely. It reminded me of one of our vampires, Requiem, who was now second banana to the Master, or rather, Mistress, of Philadelphia, and her main squeeze.

  "You like it?"

  That he asked my opinion, any woman's opinion, was real progress for him. He'd been one of the most misogynistic men I'd ever met a few years back, and I met a lot of them. It was progress, so I answered as if he weren't scary.

  "Yeah, I do. " I realized I did. It added definition to his strangely bare face. Most of the men in my life were like Bernardo, all shoulder-length or longer hair.

  He moved toward me, still smiling. He moved like he did most things, in a graceful lope. For such a big man he was surprisingly graceful; if I hadn't thought he'd take it wrong, I'd have asked if he had ever had dance training, but I doubted that would fit his ideal of macho.

  He stopped about halfway to me. I wasn't sure what was going on until Edward touched my arm. I looked at him, and he gave me a look. Oh, I remembered this part. Olaf saw it as weakness to come to me. That he'd met me even halfway was again a lot of progress.

  I started walking toward him. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar question was, what was I supposed to do once I got there?

  I offered him my hand, even though the last time I'd done that he'd done the double-hand grab up my arm and reminded me of the one and only kiss we'd had, over a body that we'd just cut up. It had been a bad vampire and we had needed to take its heart and head, but he'd acted as if the blood on both of us were an aphrodisiac.

  A handshake was still the most neutral thing I could think to offer. He wrapped his big hand around my much smaller one and pulled me into one of those guy hugs. You know, the handshake that turns into a sort of one-shoulder, one-arm hug. But it was unexpected. I went with it, but . . . it would have worked better if there hadn't been two feet of height difference. It was meant to bring me in against his shoulder, but I ended up pressed to the front of his body with my entire head below his chest, so sort of his upper stomach/chest area. God, he was big.

  I had enough guy friends that I'd automatically put my arm around him for the hug, like body memory. His much bigger arm was around me, and what was supposed to be a quick, manly, I'm-not-gay hug turned into more. His arm tightened around me, keeping me against his body. My right hand was in his, his arm behind my back, my left arm around his surprisingly slender waist.

  The moment his arm tightened, I tensed against him, my mind going over my options. He'd feel me let go with my left arm, so any weapon reaching was going to be telegraphed big-time.

  He held me against him, his arm pressing me close. I was tensed, my heart thudding, pulse racing, waiting for him to do something creepy, and then I realized he was holding me. He was just holding me. Of all the things Olaf could have done, that surprised me most. He let go of my right hand and just hugged me. He just held me close. It was so unexpected that I was at a loss, but my right arm was between our bodies, so that did two things to help my comfort level: It let me keep enough distance that we weren't pressed completely against each other, and I could touch the butt of the Smith & Wesson in the shoulder holster. His arms tightened across my back almost too tightly; he let me feel how terribly strong he was. He wasn't shapeshifter strong, but you don't have to be able to bench-press a car to hurt someone. There was enough strength in his grip to let me know that he could hurt me. I wasn't sure if he was doing it on purpose, or was simply that unaccustomed to hugging people.

  I erred on the side of caution. I snuggled against him with my left arm and body, making that little wriggling motion that girls and some smaller men make. I was hoping it would distract him from the fact that I was using my right hand to draw the gun from its shoulder holster at the same time.

  "You just drew your gun," he said, in that deep voice that matched the big body.

  I fought not to tense as I pressed the gun against the side of his body. "Yes. "

  I felt him bend over me, and then he kissed me on top of the head. Again, so unexpected that I didn't know what to do. I mean I couldn't shoot him for kissing the top of my head and giving me a hug. It was too hysterical. But this new, more tender Olaf puzzled the hell out of me.

  "I've held many women in my arms, but you're the first who's managed to draw a weapon. "

  It was a little hard to be tough talking into his stomach, but having the Smith & Wesson shoved into his side helped. "They didn't understand what you were. "

  He spoke with his chin resting on my hair. "They understood in the end, Anita. "

  "But not until it was too late," I said, and I didn't feel silly pushing the gun into the hard muscle of his side. It felt safer.

  Edward spoke from behind me. "She will kill you, if you give her a reason. "

  Olaf rose up enough to look at him more comfortably, but he was still holding me. "I know she will shoot me, if I give her cause. "

  "Then let her go. "

  "It is the possibility of danger that makes us both enjoy her, in our own ways. "

  "You and I do not think of her the same way," Edward said, and his voice was growing colder. I knew that voice. It was headed to the tone he used when he killed.

  I wanted to tell Olaf to let me go, but I'd seen him move. He was fast, not shapeshifter fast, but close. I thought I was fast enough to get enough distance that he couldn't try for my gun, but I might not be fast enough, and then I'd have to shoot him to keep my gun and to keep him off me. It seemed almost stupid to be thinking of that while he was still hugging me so normally, or as normally as I'd ever seen him interact with me.

  "I'm stepping back now, Olaf," I said, and started moving out of the hug, though I kept the gun barrel hard against his body. That would be the last thing I moved.

  I thought he'd fight me, but he didn't. He hadn't done anything I'd expected him to
do since I stepped into the room. Then the gun was the only thing touching him. I wasn't looking at the center of his body like they teach you in boxing; I was more looking to one side. It was like being in the woods and looking for movement among the leaves; you see more by not looking.

  The gun barrel left the side of his body but was still pointed at his center mass. I felt him move almost before he did it. I couldn't have told you what moved, or what clued me, but I knew what he was going to do. He tried to disarm me and if I'd been human-slow, he'd have done it. He was that fast, that good.

  I moved to one side, let his hand pass by my gun, my arm, my side, and hit his wrist with the butt of my gun as he missed me. I could have kicked his knee and dislocated it, but he was supposed to be on our side. I didn't want him crippled for the hunt. When he wasn't being all serial killer weird, he was a good man in a fight.

  He came back at me with his other hand, and I had the gun pointed at his heart, and one of the sheath knives pressed to his groin.

  Edward yelled, "Enough!"

  I froze, Olaf 's life in my hands twice. "If he behaves, so will I. " "You're faster than I remember," Olaf said.

  "Funny, that's what the weretiger spy said. "

  "I told you she's faster," Edward said.

  "I needed to see it for myself," Olaf said. I could feel the weight of his gaze, but I didn't look away from my two targets. He could stare all he wanted to; I had my priorities.

  I spoke low and carefully, afraid my tense muscles would drive the knife a little into his flesh. If I ever stabbed him in the groin I knew it would have to be a killing blow, not an accident. "If you keep testing my limits, Olaf, one of us will get hurt. "

  "I will step back if you lower the weapons," he said.

  "I'll lower the weapons if you step back. "

  "We are at an impasse then. "

  Edward said, "I'm behind you, Anita. I'm going to step between you both, and you will both back the fuck up. " He came into my view, and then he did what he said he'd do, and began to step between us.

  I let him back me up, and so did Olaf. We stood staring at each other. With Edward between us I was finally willing to look up into Olaf's face, and what I saw there wasn't comforting. He was excited: his eyes alight with it, his mouth half parted. He'd enjoyed being close to me, and the danger, or maybe he'd enjoyed something I didn't even understand, but calling him a sick fuck seemed counterproductive to us working together, so I just thought it really hard.

  "Now," Edward said, glaring from one to the other of us, "we're going to meet Anita's backup and go hunt bad guys, not each other. "

  "I will need a side trip," Olaf said.

  "Why?" Edward asked.

  Bernardo answered from near the door, where he'd moved, apparently, when Olaf and I started our dance. "Hospital emergency room. She broke his wrist. "

  Edward and I both looked at Olaf, and at his wrist. It wasn't at an odd angle, so it wasn't a bad break, but he was holding it still, and a little stiff against his side.

  "Is it broken?" Edward asked.

  "Yes," he said.

  "How bad?" Edward asked.

  "Not too bad. "

  "Will you be able to use a gun?"

  "It's why we all practice left-handed, isn't it?" Olaf said. Which meant no.

  "Fuck," I said.

  "You didn't mean to break his wrist, did you?" Edward asked, looking at me.

  I shook my head.

  "I saw in the woods how much faster you are. I think you're stronger than you realize, too. I'd be careful how hard I hit people if I were you. " The look on his face was so not happy with me. I couldn't blame him. I'd just crippled one of his backups, and one of our most dangerous marshals. And I hadn't done it on purpose. I lived with, trained with, sparred with, hunted, and killed shapeshifters and vampires. When was the last time I'd worked out with someone who was human? I couldn't remember. Shit.

  "I'll take him to the hospital," Bernardo said, "but what do we put on the paperwork?"

  "Tell them it was a lover's quarrel," Olaf said.

  "Over my dead body," I said.

  "Eventually," he said.

  "Don't be a sick fuck, Olaf," I said.

  "I know what I am, Anita," he said. "It's you who keeps fighting the truth. "

  "What truth is that?" I asked.

  "Don't do this," Edward said, and I wasn't sure which of us he was talking to.

  "You hunt and kill just like I do, like we all do. There is no one in this room who is not a murderer. "

  "Yeah, tell me something I don't know," and my voice showed the truth of it.

  I had the satisfaction of Olaf looking surprised. "Then what makes you different from me?"

  "I don't enjoy killing; you do. "

  "If that is the only difference between us, Anita, then we should date. "

  I shook my head and stepped back. "Take him to the hospital, Bernardo; get him a cast, get him a pill, get him fixed, just get him out of here. "

  Bernardo looked at Edward. He nodded and said, "Do it. Call me from the hospital and let me know how bad it is. "

  Bernardo left, shaking his head. Olaf said, "I owe you for this, Anita. "

  "Is that a threat?" I asked.

  "Of course it is," Edward said. "Now you get the fuck out of here. You" - he pointed at me - "stop talking to him. "

  We did what Edward said. The question was, how long could I work with Olaf and not talk to him, and what would he see as payback for the wrist? Had I finally made him stop thinking of me as his girlfriend and just as a victim, or had some weird rivalry set in? Either choice was a bad one. Multiple choice should have at least one right answer, but some people only come with wrong answers. Some people are like rigged tests where you can only fail. One way or the other, I was going to fail with Olaf and one of us was going to die. Great; the Harlequin were trying to capture me, Mommie Darkest wanted to destroy my soul and take over my body, and now one of the people on our side wanted to either fuck me, kill me, or a combination of both. Could things get any worse? Wait, don't answer that, I know the answer. The answer is always yes. It can always get worse. Right now the Harlequin hadn't captured me, Mommie Darkest hadn't possessed me, and Olaf and I were both still alive and hadn't fucked each other; when I looked at it that way, it wasn't a half bad day.

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