Hit list, p.29
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         Part #20 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
Chapter Twenty-Nine

  EDWARD WAS AT my right as we walked across the parking lot. Nicky came up on my left. His fingertips brushed mine. I had time to squeeze his fingers before Edward said, "We've got company. "

  Nicky dropped back a step like a good bodyguard. I knew without looking that Domino was at my back; I could feel him like heat behind me. I was aware of the other men the way I was aware of my surroundings, or men in general, but not the way I was with the other two; they were mine in ways the others were not.

  Marshal Newman was leaning against our rental car. He had a nice, noticeable bandage on his forehead. He looked a little pale in the sunlight, so that the few freckles he had stood out against his skin. I hadn't noticed them last night, or was it two nights ago? I honestly didn't know what day it was. Newman's short brown hair looked as if he hadn't bothered to comb it since he got out of the hospital. He leaned that tall, lanky body on the side of the rental and watched us.

  When we were close enough, Edward called out, "How's the head?" He was back to his happy Ted voice like a new person was walking around in his skin. I was used to it, but sometimes it still creeped me.

  "Fine," Newman said, pushing himself to his feet.

  We let it go at that, but Edward and I both knew Newman wasn't fine. He was functioning, he was well enough to work, but his head probably ached like a son of a bitch. We'd all have given the same answer. He was fine.

  "But Karlton isn't," he said.

  It took me a moment to realize that the last thing I'd heard about Laila Karlton had been waiting to hear back from the tests. "They told me she was going to pull through just fine," I said.

  Newman nodded. "Physically she's well. "

  "Ah," I said, and I looked down for a moment gathering my thoughts. "So she's positive for lycanthropy. "

  "Yeah," Newman said.

  "What kind?" I asked.

  He looked startled. "Does it matter?"

  I nodded. "Yeah. "

  Some of the men around me said, "Oh, yeah . . . Very much. "

  Newman looked around at the men. "So you guys really are all lycanthropes?"

  "They are," I said, and Newman looked back at me.

  "I didn't ask what kind of lycanthrope she's going to be; I didn't know it would matter that much. "

  "It matters for a lot of reasons," I said.

  It was Socrates who stepped up and asked, "I heard about what happened to the marshal. How is she taking the news?"

  Newman looked at the other man and just shook his head.

  "How bad?" Socrates asked.

  Newman's hands clenched around the hat he was still carrying. "I think if her family weren't here she'd eat her gun. "

  "Shit," I said. I looked at Edward. "What's the plan now that we have backup?"

  "We go back to the last place they attacked us and use one of your friends here to track them. "

  "You mean use them like I got to use werewolves to track that one serial killer in St. Louis?" It had worked so well, I'd hoped that it would become more standard for police around the country. I mean, it was like having a tracking dog that could talk to you, but the prejudice against shapeshifters was too deeply ingrained. You could bring a shifter to a crime scene, but you couldn't bring them in animal form, and in human form their noses weren't much better at tracking than a normal human being.

  He nodded.

  "Cool, but the odds of actually finding them close enough to track are pretty remote after all this time," I said.

  "They are, but it's still a plan. "

  "I don't have a better idea," I said. I thought about it and then said, "You take some of the men with you, track the bad guys. If you actually find a workable trail, call me. "

  "Why won't you be with us?"

  "I'm going to the hospital to talk to Karlton. I need to let her know that her life isn't over. "

  Edward moved me a little away from Newman so we could talk privately. "Since when do you have to hold the other marshal's hands?"

  "Since Micah became the head of the Furry Coalition, and I saw what a difference it can make to have another shapeshifter to talk to when you first find out. Having someone on the other side say, 'Look, I've got it and I'm doing okay. ' It helps. "

  "You feel responsible for what happened to her," he said.

  I shrugged. "A little, but I know it will help to talk to me and some of the guards. "

  He studied my face. "I don't like splitting up. "

  "Me either, but I'll have good men with me, and so will you. I'll check on Olaf, too. I didn't mean to break him. "

  "I didn't think he'd try you, and that was my fault. "

  "What made him feel the need to try his luck with me like that? It was worse than last time. "

  "I think it was the rumors about all the men, and that you're as fast and strong as a lycanthrope. "

  "A combination of boyfriend and work jealousy," I said.

  "Yes. "

  I shook my head. "Has he decided that I'm not his little serial killer pinup now?"

  "I don't know. "

  I rolled my eyes at him. "Great, just what we needed on this case. "

  "Olaf came into town asking about the rumors of new men in your life. He asked specifically about Cynric. "

  "Why especially Sin?" I asked.

  Edward looked at me. "Sin?"

  "He's seventeen, and Cynric sucks as a name for a teenager. "

  "But Sin?" Edward asked.

  I shrugged again. "If he were a different kind of kid he'd be a pale person in black, writing death poetry. I'm not real happy with the nickname either. But what is it about Cynric that bothers Olaf?"

  "I think it's the age. "

  "Because he's a teenager, or the age difference between him and me?" Edward said, "Your guess is as good as mine. He wouldn't talk about it, but he asked more questions about Cynric. He wanted to know if the rumor that you'd moved a teenage boy in with you as a lover was true. "

  "He asked it like that?" I asked.

  Edward seemed to think about it, and then nodded. "He asked, 'Is it true Anita has a teenage boy living with her?' I said it was, and then he asked, 'Is he truly her lover?' Again, I said yes. "

  "Has he ever asked about any other specific lovers before?" I asked.

  "No, just if you had as many lovers as the rumors say you do; to that, I said, no one could be fucking that many men. "

  "You didn't want to tell him how many men I was sleeping with," I said.

  "Part of Olaf's hatred of women comes from thinking they're all manipulative whores. You weren't having sex with anyone when he met you, so that helped him not have issues with you. I thought it was probably good to leave numbers of lovers vague. "

  I couldn't really argue with his reasoning, but. . . "Do you think I've gone over some magic line in Olaf's mind? Am I not his girlfriend anymore, but just another whore that he'll want to kidnap, torture, rape, and kill?"

  Edward took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes with finger and thumb. He shook his head. "I don't know, Anita, honestly I just don't know. "

  "Well, crap, that could complicate things," I said.

  "And you broke his wrist, so he's going to be trying to prove that you're not better at this job than he is; almost any man would. "

  "I didn't mean to make it worse, Edward. "

  "I know. " He looked at me, his blue eyes pale and tired under the shade of his cowboy hat. I still couldn't get used to the fact that "Ted" wore a cowboy hat and Edward didn't. Edward didn't like hats. He put his sunglasses at the back of his shirt, rather than the front. They were less in the way for shooting back there.

  "What do you want me to do about him?"

  "Hell, Anita, I don't know. If he's decided you're just another whore, then you can never, ever work with him again. And he may try to go after you for real. "

  "You mean make me one of his victims," I said.

 
"Yes. "

  We looked at each other. "So I don't check on him at the hospital when I talk to Karlton?"

  He shook his head, took off his hat, and ran his hands through his hair. He put the hat back on and moved it until it was back at the same comfortable angle it started at. He was being Ted more than himself the last few years; maybe Edward liked hats, too, now?

  "I don't like you being at the hospital at all with Olaf there, Anita. "

  "You're not asking me to skip the talk with Karlton, are you?"

  He shook his head. "I know better. "

  "Because I can't let fear of Olaf prevent me from doing my job. "

  "Holding Karlton's hand isn't your job, Anita. "

  "No, but I don't want Micah in this city with the Harle . . . shit, them here. He'd be a hostage, or a target. "

  "Agreed," Edward said.

  "Then that leaves me to do it. "

  "I know you'll be careful. "

  "Like a virgin on her wedding night," I said.

  He smiled, but it left his blue eyes untouched. He reached back and unhooked his sunglasses from the back of his shirt. He slid the glasses over his eyes so I couldn't see how cold and unhappy they were. "I don't want to kill Olaf until after he's helped us catch these bastards. "

  It was perfectly him to say he didn't want to kill him until after, not that he didn't want to kill Olaf, but just not now, not before the big man had been useful on the case.

  "You do your bleeding-heart routine for Karlton. I'll try to send Newman with you, and you try to leave both of them at the hospital. "

  "He wasn't useless in the woods, Edward. "

  "No, but he's new, fresh out of training, which means he won't bend the rules like we do. "

  "No one bends the rules like we do," I said.

  "Not true, a lot of the old-time marshals do it. "

  I thought about it and nodded. "Fair enough. "

  "If you count Bernardo and Olaf with us, then no one is as ruthless about bending the rules than we are," he said.

  I grinned. "I'll include them. "

  He smiled again. I wondered if his eyes were smiling behind the dark glasses. "I'll go try to track the big, bad vampires while you waste time at the hospital. " He started walking away from me.

  "Edward," I said.

  He spoke without turning around. "Sorry, I'm sorry, but until I know what Olaf's intentions are toward you, Anita, I don't like you away from me. "

  I touched his arm, made him look at me. "Are you really more frightened by the idea of Olaf kidnapping me than the . . . Those Who Shan't Be Named?"

  He took in a lot of air, let it out slow, and then nodded.

  "They'll try to let the Wicked Bitch of the World possess my body, Edward. I'll be worse than dead. "

  "But they won't torture you first, and I trust you to be strong enough psychically that you'll still be in there, which means we might be able to get you back. If Olaf takes you, Anita, there won't be anything left to save. You have no idea what he does to his victims. "

  "And you do?" I asked.

  He nodded. He looked pale through his summer tan.

  "You've seen it in person?"

  He nodded, again. "We'd finished a job, and we were all celebrating. We'd gone to a brothel, and I didn't know Olaf's rule that he waits until after a job to indulge. "

  "What happened?" I asked.

  "Another customer was drunk and went in the wrong room, and started screaming. The sound stopped, abruptly. All of us who weren't drunk came out of our rooms, armed; you just knew the sound of screams being cut off like that. "

  "Yeah," I said.

  "The man who had screamed was dead in the doorway. The girl was tied to the bed. "

  "She was dead?" I asked.

  "No. " He said it softly.

  I gave him wide eyes.

  "We thought she was dead, but she wasn't. I wished she were dead when we found them. I would have killed him, but he was standing there pointing a gun at me, at all of us. He bargained with us. "

  "Bargained how?"

  "We could all die, or we could we all live. We lived. "

  "Why would you ever work with him again after that?" I asked.

  "There aren't that many people as good as I am, Anita. He's one of them. Besides, part of the bargain was that he'd never indulge himself again, if he was working with me. "

  "So you made a deal to dance with the devil to keep him from killing more women?"

  "Yes. "

  "Was Bernardo there?"

  "No, he's never seen Olaf's work in person. He'd never work with him again if he had. "

  "Because he spooks easier than you do," I said.

  "Easier than either of us," Edward said.

  I took the compliment. "What do you want me to do?"

  "If you even suspect that Olaf has decided you're his next victim, kill him. Don't wait for a clean shot, don't wait to be sure, don't wait for no witness, don't wait at all, just kill him. Promise me, Anita. " He reached out and grabbed my arm, holding tight. "Promise me. "

  I could see my reflection in his dark glasses. I said the only thing I could say: "I promise. "

 
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