Home > Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #20)

Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #20)
Author: Laurell K. Hamilton

Chapter One

THE MAIN PIECE of the body lay on the ground, on its back in the middle of a smooth grassy field. In the predawn gloom everything looked gray, but there were scuffed and paler places around the field; I think we were in standing in the middle of a softball field. The "we" was Edward, U.S. Marshal Ted Forrester, and me, U.S. Marshal Anita Blake. Edward was his real name, the real him. Forrester was his secret identity, like Clark Kent for Superman, but to the other marshals he was good ol' boy Ted, once a bounty hunter, now a marshal, grandfathered in under the Preternatural Endangerment Act just like me. I'd been a vampire executioner, not a bounty hunter. But either way, there we stood with real badges; legally we were real cops. Edward still took assassination jobs if the pay was high enough, or the hit interesting enough. He specialized in killing only dangerous things, like wereanimals and vampires. Crime fighting had actually begun to take up most of his time. Work does interfere with your hobbies.

There were other marshals over talking to the local police, but it was just Edward and me standing in the middle of the scattered body parts. Maybe the others had gotten tired of looking at them; we had come straight from the airport in Tacoma to the crime scene. The other cops had been here longer. Dismembered bodies did lose their charm pretty fast.

I fought the urge to huddle in my Windbreaker with U.S. Marshal in big letters on it. It was fifty freaking degrees here. Whoever heard of fifty being the regular temperature in August? It was a hundred-plus with heat index at home in St. Louis. The stop before this one had been Alabama. Fifty degrees felt amazingly cold after all that heat and humidity. The light softened around us and I could see the body parts better. It didn't make me like them any better.

"Is the body lying on its back, or its ass?" I asked.

"You mean because it's bisected at midchest and the parts are about ten feet away?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Does it matter?" he asked. He pushed his hand toward a cowboy hat that he'd left in the car that brought us from the airport. Ted wore a well-loved, well-creased cowboy hat, and the fact that the hat gesture had become habitual said just how much time Edward was spending as his legal alter ego. He settled for running his hand through his short blond hair. He was five foot eight, which seemed tall to me at five-three.

"I guess not." In my head I thought, Problems like that are what you think about when you stare down at a dismembered body, because otherwise you want to run screaming, or throw up. I hadn't thrown up on a body in years, but the St. Louis police had never let me live it down.

"They can't find the heart," he said, voice as unemotional as his face. The light was strong enough that I could see that his eyes were blue rather than just pale. He had a summer tan, light gold, but better than I tanned. It seemed wrong that the blond, blue-eyed WASP tanned darker than I did with my mother's black hair and brown eyes. I was half Hispanic - shouldn't I tan darker than white-bread boy?

"Anita," he said, and he moved so I couldn't see the body. "Talk to me."

I blinked at him. "They won't find the heart. Just like they didn't find the last three hearts. The killer, or killers, is taking the heart as a trophy, or proof of the kill. Like the woodsman in Snow White taking the heart back to the Wicked Queen in a box, or something."

"I need you here, working this case, not lost in your head."

"I'm here." I frowned at him.

He shook his head. "I've seen you look at worse than this and be better about it."

"Maybe I'm tired of looking at shit like this. Aren't you?"

"You don't mean just this case," he said.

I shook my head.

"Are you asking if looking at things like this bothers me?"

"I would never ask that, it's against the guy code," I said, and just saying it that way made me smile a little.

He smiled back, but more like it was reflex. It never reached his eyes. They stayed cold and empty as a winter sky. Once the other marshals joined us he'd make his eyes sparkle, or fill with some emotion; he didn't bother when it was just us. We knew each other too well; there was no need to hide.

"No, it doesn't bother me."

I shrugged, and finally let myself huddle in the thin Windbreaker. At least with my main gun at the small of my back instead of in the shoulder holster, I was able to zip it and not compromise my gun. I still had my backup gun in the shoulder holster and a big-ass knife down my back that attached to the specially made shoulder rig.

"It's more that I'd rather be home."

"With your men," he said, and again it was totally neutral.

I nodded. I missed the men in my life when I was away too long, and this was our fourth crime scene in a fourth city. I was tired of planes, tired of other cops, tired of being away.

"I'm missing Becca in Music Man. She's just in the chorus, but she's one of the youngest they've ever cast."

"She must be really good."

"She is." He nodded, smiling, and this time it reached all the way up to his eyes. His face was warm and happy thinking about his almost stepdaughter. He'd been living with and engaged to Donna for years, but never quite married, but the kids thought of him as their dad. Becca had been only six when he and her mother started dating. Edward, whom the vampires had nicknamed "Death," had taken Becca to dance class and sat in the waiting room with the moms for years now. It made me smile just to think about it.

"It was more fun to hunt monsters before we had someone to go home to," I said.

The smile faded and he turned cold eyes to look at where the head lay to one side of the field. "I can't argue that. I don't mind the bodies. It doesn't bother me, but I hope we get home before the musical is over."

"How many nights does it run?"

"Two weeks," he said.

"Two weeks, starting today?"

"Yes."

"I don't want to be out here another two weeks," I said.

"Me, either," he said, and this time he sounded tired.

The real trouble with this case for me was that I knew exactly why these victims had been chosen. I even knew what was killing them. The trouble was I couldn't tell anyone but Edward, because if I told the police everything I knew, the killers would come after me and every policeman that I told, and everyone that they told. The Harlequin were the vampire equivalent of police, spies, judge, jury, and executioner. They were also some of the greatest warriors to ever live, or unlive. Some of them were vampires and some of them were wereanimals, which was how they were slicing apart the bodies of the weretigers they were killing across the country. The body at our feet looked like a human man. Before he died he'd been able to shift to a big-ass tiger, but it hadn't helped him against the Harlequin, just as it hadn't helped any of the others. If two people were equally fast, equally strong, but one was better trained at fighting, the better trained one would win. So far, none of the weretigers had been anything but ordinary people who just happened to turn into weretigers.

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