"Once a bad guy, always a bad guy, huh?"
"In my experience, Marshal Blake, yes."
I patted Manny's shoulder as I drove, just to let him know I didn't agree. "We don't have time to argue about it, Agent Manning, so I'll just go it alone, psychically speaking, through the videos again."
"You can have another psychic with you, Blake, just not Rodriguez."
"There's no one else at Animators Inc. that I'd want to share the duties with," I said.
"How about Kirkland?"
"Like I said, no one at Animators Inc."
"He's full time with us and the Marshals Service now, so he doesn't work there anymore," she said; the tone in her voice was trying to get me to share information, though I couldn't have explained how: I think she'd just been on the job so long that everything was a potential interrogation. I wondered if she'd ever had teenage kids; they must have loved it, in that I-hate-you kind of way.
"Larry and I have a fundamental difference of methodology," I said.
"What does that mean?"
"He thinks I'm a cold-blooded, murdering sociopath, and I think he's a weak-willed rule lover who flinches at the hard shit."
She laughed, which was interesting since I hadn't meant to be funny. "You and he do seem to have a very different approach to your jobs, that much is true."
"I think what I said was more accurate, but have it your way."
"Is he powerful enough psychically to help you spot things on the videos?"
I thought about it, and I tried to be fair. "Is he powerful enough? Yes. Is he willing to embrace his gifts enough to see everything he can? I don't know."
"You think he doesn't embrace his gifts with the dead fully?"
"I just said that, so yeah."
"We at the bureau have found Kirkland to be fully integrated with his abilities."
"Fully integrated? I've never heard that phrase used like that before."
"Bureau-speak, you know how it is." She made light of it, but her voice gave something away; I wasn't sure exactly what that something was, but she was hiding something, or maybe wished she hadn't given me the phrase.
"Yeah, I know how it is," I said, when of course what I really meant was, You know you overshared, I know you overshared, and you're hoping I missed it, but you know I didn't. You're hoping I won't try to chase down what it means, but we both know I will.
"I'll see if Agent Kirkland is available later today to help you view the videos."
"I'd really rather not watch them with him," I said.
"Why, Blake? And it needs to be a good work reason, not a personal one."
"One, I'm not convinced he's fully integrated with his powers, so I don't know that he'll really be helpful to me. Two, he's very conservative, and I really don't want to watch sex tapes with someone who thinks I'm sleeping with the enemy."
"Come again, Blake? I don't understand."
"Agent Kirkland has an issue with me cohabiting with the monsters, Agent Manning."
"Has he said as much?"
"He sees vampires as walking corpses, so yeah, he's pretty creeped out that I'm boning one or two of them."
"Do you really think he'll let his personal opinion interfere with his job on this case?"
"Maybe, or maybe I just don't want another lecture about how I'm evil and going to hell."
"Did he truly say that to you in those words?" Now she sounded serious.
"Not in those exact words--oh, well, he's called me evil, but he didn't tell me I was going to hell; it's just sort of implied."
"I've found Kirkland to be absolutely professional, very by-the-book."
"Yeah, if you haven't noticed I'm not really a by-the-book kind of gal."
She laughed again. Glad I could amuse someone today. "Well, your record does certainly speak to a level of rule breaking that I could see Kirkland disapproving of in a partner."
"God, you do good polite-speak, Manning."
The laughter died off in her voice. "I do more paperwork than you do, I have to be more polite."
"True, and how did Larry keep his marshal's badge while he went full time for you guys?"
"We made a special arrangement between the agencies so he could carry both badges."
"Isn't that a conflict of interest, a man can't serve two masters and all that?"
"It is a level of interagency cooperation that I've never seen before," she said.
"I know he needed to stay part of the Preternatural Branch so he could keep being a legal executioner. We have some serious loopholes when it comes to violence and killing that straight FBI or even the main-branch Marshals Service doesn't have. You wanted an FBI pet, but you wanted him to be able to kill like an executioner. Larry isn't a shooter, Manning; I hope you guys didn't bring him in thinking otherwise."
"Kirkland gets the job done."
"Out in the field, I doubt that."
"And if you weren't such a fucking wild card you might have been the first agent with dual badges, but it's not just Kirkland who mistrusts your allegiances, Marshal." She was back to serious, bordering on unfriendly.
"I was told a long time ago that the Feds decided they couldn't control me, so they didn't want me in their sandbox."
"Told by whom?" she asked.
"I think I can find fresh clues using my powers if I watch those awful videos again, Manning."
"I have to clean up from the zombie-raising side of my job, but then I'm at your disposal."
Nicky said from the backseat, "You have to eat and feed before you go back out. Nathaniel and Micah texted me to remind you."
I flinched, waiting for Manning to ask, Who is that? but she didn't. Let's hear it for technology actually being aimed at just the driver. I knew it was designed so soccer moms and dads could talk hands-free while kids were screaming in the car, but hey, it was good for my job, too.
"I have to clean up and get food. My sweeties have been complaining I forget to eat when I'm on a case and it makes me . . . grumpy."
She made a sound that was almost a snort. "Well, eat before you watch the videos, because you know you won't want to eat afterward."
"Yeah, not so much," I said.
"I'm going to try to get Kirkland in on this round of video watching, Blake, just so you know."
"I figured you were."
"Will you watch the videos with him?"
"Will you sit in with us and make sure we don't fight?"
"Like you're teenagers that need a referee?" she asked.
"No, more like we're those two officers that haven't thrown a punch at each other yet, but it's coming. Think of it as the grown-up version of the teenage thing."
"I'm not sure I call that grown-up behavior."
"Call it what you like, but I'm requesting that you don't leave Larry and me alone with the videos, because it will not go well."
"If you were one of our agents, admitting that you couldn't work professionally with another agent would be a tick against you in my report."
"Well, isn't it just peachy that I'm not one of your agents, Special Agent Manning," I said, and I knew the smile that went with the words was my unpleasant one, the one that was more snarl than happy smile. I didn't care, and she couldn't see it anyway.
"And this is exactly why the bureau doesn't want you to come play with us, Blake."
"I'm never going to be team player enough for the FBI; you know it, I know it, we all know it. Now, can we move on, and will you give Larry and me a supervising agent or someone so we don't kill each other, metaphorically speaking?"
"Yes, Blake, I'll make sure you have a supervising agent to babysit the two of you while you look for clues."
"Great, thanks, let me know when Larry is free to watch the horror show. Wait, I thought you said he had seen the videos and told you to show them to me, that I'd see more than he had?"
"He's seen some of the videos," she said, and her voice had that I'm-hiding-something tone again.
He stopped near the beginning of them, didn't he?"
"He said that he didn't have your level of expertise and that you would be able to help us more."
"Son of a bitch," I said.
"Blake, there's no call for profanity."
"The hell there isn't; he didn't want to watch the videos all the way through, because he didn't want to see the nightmares on them, but he's fine with me seeing the whole fucking mess."
"You are better with the dead than Kirkland, aren't you?"
"He was right, but not for the reason he said."
"I don't understand, Blake."
"Nothing, just fuck it. I'm going home to clean up and eat; let me know when Kirkland's schedule opens up."
"I will, and Blake, I don't know what personal beef you have with Kirkland, but don't let it hurt the investigation."
"I won't if Larry won't," I said, and it sounded childish even to me.
"I really expected better of you, Blake. We need to stop these men before they pick a new victim."
"We need to free the victims they have already, Manning, I know that. Trust me, I'm motivated to stop this shit."
"Okay, that's what I needed to hear, Blake. I'll text you later with times."
"Thanks, Manning. See you later."
"Not if I can help it; I do not need to sit through those images again, but you'll have your agent to babysit and take notes." And she hung up. You'd almost think she didn't enjoy talking to me, or something.