Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #1) - Page 15/24

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Chapter 30

I clicked on the safety of my gun and struggled into a seat belt. Phillip slumped down into the seat, long legs spreadeagled on either side of the floorboard hump. His eyes were closed.

"Where to?" Willie asked.

Good question. I wanted to go home and go to sleep, but..."Phillip's face needs patching up."

"You wanna take him to a hospital?"

"I'm all right," Phillip said. His voice was low and strange.

"You aren't all right," I said.

He opened his eyes and turned to look at me. The blood had run down his neck, a dark, glistening stream that shone in the flashes of the streetlights. "You were hurt a lot worse last night," he said.

I looked away from him, out the window. I didn't know what to say. "I'm all right now."

"I'll be all right, too."

I looked back at him. He was staring at me. I couldn't read the expression on his face, and wanted to. "What are you thinking, Phillip?"

He turned his head to stare straight ahead. His face was all silhouette and shadows. "That I stood up to the master. I did it. I did it!" His voice held a fierce warmth with the last. Fierce pride.

"You were very brave," I said.

"I was, wasn't I?"

I smiled and nodded. "Yes."

"I hate to interrupt you two, but I need to know where to drive this thing," Willie said.

"Drop me back at Guilty Pleasures," Phillip said.

"You should see a doc."

"They'll take care of me at the club."

"Ya sure?"

He nodded, then winced and turned to me. "You wanted to know who was giving me orders. It was Nikolaos. You were right. That first day. She wanted me to seduce you." He smiled. It didn't look right with the blood. "Guess I wasn't up to the job."

"Phillip. . ." I said.

"No, its all right. You were right about me. I'm sick. No wonder you didn't want me."

I glanced over at Willie. He was concentrating on his driving as if his life depended on it. Damn, he was smarter dead than alive.

I took a deep breath and tried to decide what to say. "Phillip...The kiss before you...bit me." God, how did I say this? "It was nice."

He glanced at me, quick, then away. "You mean that?"

"Yes."

An awkward silence stretched through the car. No sound but the rush of pavement under the wheels. The night flashes of lights, and the isolating darkness.

"Standing up to Nikolaos tonight was one of the bravest things I've ever seen anybody do. Also one of the stupidest," I said.

He laughed, abrupt and surprised.

"Don't ever do it again. I don't want your death on my hands."

"It was my choice," he said.

"No more heroics, okay?"

He glanced at me. "Would you be sorry if I died?"

"Yes."

"I guess that's something."

What did he want me to say? To confess undying love, or something silly like that? How about undying lust? Either one would be a lie. What did he want from me? I almost asked him, but I didn't. I wasn't that brave.

Chapter 31

It was nearly three by the time I walked up the stairs to my apartment. All the bruises were aching. My knees, feet, and lower back were a nearly burning grind of pain from the high heels. I wanted a long, hot shower and bed. Maybe if I were lucky I could actually get eight uninterrupted hours of sleep. Of course, I wouldn't bet on it.

I got my keys in one hand and gun in the other. I held the gun at my side, just in case a neighbor should open his or her door unexpectedly. Nothing to fear, folks, just your friendly neighborhood animator. Right.

For the first time in far too long my door was just the way I left it: locked. Thank you, God. I was not in the mood to play cops and robbers this very early morning.

I kicked off my shoes just inside the door, then stumbled to the bedroom. The message light was blinking on my answering machine. I laid my gun on the bed, hit the play button, and started undressing.

"Hi, Anita, this is Ronnie. I got a meeting set up for tomorrow with the guy from HAV. My office, eleven o'clock. If the time is bad, leave a message on my machine, and I'll get back to you. Be careful."

Click, whirr, and Edward's voice came out of the machine. "The clock is ticking, Anita." Click.

Damn. "You like your little games, don't you, you son of a bitch?" I was getting grumpy, and I didn't know what I was going to do about Edward. Or Nikolaos, or Zachary, or Valentine, or Aubrey. I did know I wanted a shower. I could start there. Maybe I'd have a brilliant idea while I was scrubbing goat blood off my skin.

I locked the door to the bathroom and laid my gun on the top of the toilet. I was beginning to get a little paranoid. Or maybe realistic was a better word.

I turned the water on until it steamed, then stepped into it. I was no closer to solving the vampire murders now than I had been twenty-four hours ago.

Even if I solved the case, I still had problems. Aubrey and Valentine were going to kill me once Nikolaos removed her protection from me. Peachy. I wasn't even sure that Nikolaos herself didn't have ideas in that direction. Now, Zachary, he was killing people to feed his voodoo charm. I had heard of charms that demanded human sacrifice. Charms that gave you a whole lot less than immortality. Wealth, power, sex - the age-old wants. It was very specific blood - children, or virgins, or preadolescent boys, or little old ladies with blue hair and one wooden leg. All right, not that specific, but there had to be a pattern to it. A string of disappearances with similar victims. If Zachary had been simply leaving the bodies to be found, the newspapers would have picked up on it by now. Maybe.

He had to be stopped. If I hadn't interfered tonight, he would have been stopped. No good deed goes unpunished.

I leaned palms against the bathroom tile, letting the water wash down my back in nearly scalding rivulets. Okay, I had to kill Valentine before he killed me. I had a warrant for his death. It had never been revoked. Of course, I had to find him first.

Aubrey was dangerous, but at least he was out of the way until Nikolaos let him out of his trapped coffin.

I could just turn Zachary over to the police. Dolph would listen to me, but I didn't have a shred of proof. Hell, the magic was even something I'd never heard of. If I couldn't understand what Zachary was, how was I going to explain it to the police?

Nikolaos. Would she let me live if I solved the case? Or not? I didn't know.

Edward was coming to get me tomorrow evening. I either gave him Nikolaos or he took a piece of my hide. Knowing Edward, it would be a painful piece to lose. Maybe I could just give him the vampire. Just tell him what he wanted to know. And he fails to kill her, and she comes and gets me. The one thing I wanted to avoid, almost more than anything else, was Nikolaos coming to get me.

I dried off, ran a brush through my hair, and had to get something to eat. I tried to tell myself I was too tired to eat. My stomach didn't believe me.

It was four before I fell into bed. My cross was safely around my neck. The gun in its holster behind the head board. And, just for pure panic's sake, I slipped a knife between the mattress and box springs. I'd never get to it in time to do any good, but...Well, you never know.

I dreamed about Jean-Claude again. He was sitting at a table eating blackberries.

"Vampires don't eat solid food," I said.

"Exactly." He smiled and pushed the bowl of fruit towards me.

"I hate blackberries," I said.

"They were always my favorite. I hadn't tasted them in centuries." His face looked wistful.

I picked up the bowl. It was cool, almost cold. The blackberries were floating in blood. The bowl fell from my hands, slow, spilling blood on the table, more than it could ever have held. Blood dripped down the tabletop, onto the floor.

Jean-Claude stared at me over the bleeding table. His words came like a warm wind. "Nikolaos will kill us both. We must strike first, ma petite."

"What's this 'we' crap?"

He cupped pale hands in the flowing blood and held them out to me, like a cup. Blood dripped out from between his fingers. "Drink. It will make you strong."

I woke staring up into the darkness. "Damn you, Jean-Claude," I whispered. "What have you done to me?"

There was no answer from the dark, empty room. Thank goodness for small favors. The clock read six-oh-three a.m. I rolled over and snuggled back into the covers. The whir of air conditioning couldn't hide the sounds of one of my neighbors running water. I switched on the radio. Mozart's piano concerto in E flat filled the darkened room. It was really too lively to sleep to, but I wanted noise. My choice of noise.

I don't know if it was Mozart or I was just too tired; whatever, I went back to sleep. If I dreamed, I didn't remember it.

Chapter 32

The alarm shrieked through my sleep. It sounded like a car alarm, hideously loud. I smashed my palm on the buttons. Mercifully, it shut off. I blinked at the clock through half-slit eyes. Nine a.m. Damn. I had forgotten to unset the alarm. I had time to get dressed and make church. I did not want to get up. I did not want to go to church. Surely, God would forgive me just this once.

Of course, I did need all the help I could get right now. Maybe I'd even have a revelation, and everything would fall into place. Don't laugh; it had happened before. Divine aid is not something I rely on, but every once in a while I think better at church.

When the world is full of vampires and bad guys, and a blessed cross may be all that stands between you and death, it puts church in a different light. So to speak.

I crawled out of bed, groaning. The phone rang. I sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for the answering machine to pick up. It did. "Anita, this is Sergeant Storr. We got another vampire murder."

I picked up the receiver. "Hi, Dolph."

"Good. Glad I caught you before church."

"Is it another dead vampire?"

"Mmhuh."

"Just like the others?" I asked.

"Seems to be. Need you to come down and take a look."

I nodded, realized he couldn't see it, and said, "Sure, when?"

"Right now."

I sighed. So much for church. They couldn't hold the body until noon, or after, just for little ol' me. "Give me the location. Wait, let me get a pen that works." I kept a notepad by the bed, but the pen had died without my knowing it. "Okay, shoot."

The location was only about a block from Circus of the Damned. "That's on the fringe of the District. None of the other murders have been that far away from the Riverfront."

"True," he said.

"What else is different about this one?"

"You'll see it when you get here."

Mr. Information. "Fine, I'll be there in half an hour."

"See you then." The phone went dead.

"Well, good morning to you to, Dolph," I said to the receiver. Maybe he wasn't a morning person either.

My hands were healing. I had taken the Band-Aids off last night because they were covered with goat blood. The scrapes were scabbing nicely, so I didn't bother with more Band-Aids.

One fat bandage covered the knife wound on my arm. I couldn't hurt my left arm anymore. I had run out of room. The bite mark on my neck was beginning to bruise. It looked like the world's worst hicky. If Zerbrowski saw it, I would never live it down. I put a Band-Aid on it. Now it looked like I was covering a vampire bite. Damn. I left it. Let people wonder. None of their business anyway.

I put a red polo shirt on, tucked into jeans. My Nikes, and a shoulder harness for my gun, and I was all set. My shoulder rig has a little pouch for extra ammo. I put fresh clips in it. Twenty-six bullets. Watch out, bad guys. Truth was, most firefights were finished before the first eight shots were gone. But there was always a first time.

I carried a bright yellow windbreaker over my arm. I'd put it on just in case the gun started making people nervous. I would be working with the police. They'd have their guns out in plain sight. Why couldn't I? Besides, I was tired of games. Let the bastards know I was armed and willing.

There are always too many people at a murder scene. Not the gawkers, the people who come to watch; you expect that. There is always something fascinating about someone else's death. But the place always swarms with police, mostly detectives with a sprinkling of uniforms. So many cops for one little murder.

There was even a news van, with a huge satellite antenna sticking out of its back like a giant ray gun from some 1940s science fiction movie. There would be more news vans, I was betting on that. I don't know how the police kept it quiet this long.

Vampire murders, gee whiz, sensationalism at its best. You don't even have to add anything to make it bizarre.

I kept the crowd between myself and the cameraman. A reporter with short blond hair and a stylish business suit was shoving a microphone in Dolph's face. As long as I stayed near the gruesome remains, I was safe. They might get me on film, but they wouldn't be able to show it on television. Good taste and all, you know.

I had a little plastic-enclosed card, complete with picture, that gave me access to police areas. I always felt like a junior G-man when I clipped it to my collar.

I was stopped at the yellow police banner by a vigilant uniform. He stared at my I. D. for several seconds, as if trying to decide whether I was kosher or not. Would he let me through the line, or would he call a detective over first?

I stood, hands at my sides, trying to look harmless. I'm actually very good at that. I can look downright cute. The uniform raised the tape and let me through. I resisted an urge to say, "Atta boy." I did say, "Thank you."

The body lay near a lamp pole. Legs were spreadeagled. One arm twisted under the body, probably broken. The center of the back was missing, as if someone had shoved a hand through the body and just scooped out the center. The heart would be gone, just like all the others.

Detective Clive Perry was standing by the body. He was a tall, slender, black man, and most recent member of the spook squad. He always seemed so soft-spoken and pleasant. I could never imagine Perry doing anything rude enough to piss someone off, but you didn't get assigned to the squad without a reason.

He looked up from his notebook. "Hi, Ms. Blake."

"Hello, Detective Perry."

He smiled. "Sergeant Storr said you'd be coming down."

"Is everyone else finished with the body?"

He nodded. "It's all yours."

A dark brown puddle of blood spread out from under the body. I knelt beside it. The blood had congealed to a tacky, gluelike consistency. Rigor mortis had come and gone, if there had been rigor mortis. Vampires didn't always react to "death" the way a human body did. It made judging the time of death harder. But that was the coroner's job, not mine.

The bright summer sun pressed down over the body. From the shape and the black pants suit, I was betting it was female. It was sort of hard to tell, lying on its stomach, chest caved in, and the head missing. The spine showed white and glistening. Blood had poured out of the neck like a broken bottle of red wine. The skin was torn, twisted. It looked like somebody had ripped the freaking head off.

I swallowed very hard. I hadn't thrown up on a murder victim in months. I stood up and put a little distance between myself and the body.

Could this have been done by a human being? No; maybe. Hell. If it was a human being, then they were trying very hard to make it look otherwise. No matter what a surface look revealed, the coroner always found knife marks on the body. The question was, did the knife marks come before or after death? Was it a human trying to look like a monster, or a monster trying to look like a human?

"Where's the head?" I asked.

"You sure you feel all right?"

I looked up at him. Did I look pale? "I'll be fine." Me, big, tough vampire slayer, no throw up at the sight of decapitated heads. Right.

Perry raised his eyebrows but was too polite to push the issue. He led me about eight feet down the sidewalk. Someone had thrown a plastic cover over the head. A second smaller pool of congealing blood oozed out from under the plastic.

Perry bent over and grasped the plastic. "You ready?"

I nodded, not trusting my voice. He lifted the plastic, like a curtain backdrop to what lay on the sidewalk.

Long, black hair flowed around a pale face. The hair was matted and sticky with blood. The face had been attractive but no more. The features were slack, almost doll-like in their unreality. My eyes saw it, but it took my brain a few seconds to register. "Shit!"

"What is it?"

I stood up, fast, and took two steps out into the street. Perry came to stand beside me. "Are you all right?"

I glanced back at the plastic with its grisly little lump. Was I all right? Good question. I could identify this body.

It was Theresa.