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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:53:56

Ares and Bram dropped back and took up their posts behind me. It was habit now for all of us, but Burke noticed it. 'I understand that Mike Callahan has threats because he's part of the Coalition, but why do you need bodyguards?'

'I've been tied to Micah and the Coalition in the media, and I'm also tied to the Master of the City in St Louis, Jean-Claude, and the hate groups hate the vampires, a lot. You saw the level of hate from Micah's aunt and her husband; now imagine strangers.'

'Is it that bad?' he asked.

'We had a zealot try to blow up one of Jean-Claude's clubs this year.' I didn't add that he'd tried to blow it up with Nathaniel, Dev, Nicky, Cynric, and me inside it. The zealot had been a human with a few vampire bites on him, the daytime servant of a group of vampires that had decided Jean-Claude was building an evil empire to enslave them all. If they could have killed my leopard to call, two of my tigers to call, and me all at the same time, they hoped it would be enough to kill Jean-Claude. We were all metaphysically connected, which meant we shared a hell of a lot more than just emotional well-being. I'd killed a few vampires myself by simply killing their human servants. You could potentially get the same effect by killing the animal to call their moitie bete, literally their beast half? Kill anyone in the psychic power chain and you had a chance to kill them all.

'So you have terrorists,' Burke said.

I thought about it, then nodded. 'Something like that.'

'What happened to your bomber?'

Burke looked back at the other men and said, 'Good to have men of action around when you need them.' He smiled as he said it.

'Oh, it wasn't us,' Ares said.

Burke frowned and hesitated as he walked. 'You mean the other guards upstairs?'

'They were hostages,' Ares said.

'They assisted in their own rescue,' Bram said, and he gave his partner a look that took the smile off Ares' face.

'What'd I say wrong? You're giving me that look again.'

'You mean the look that says you're letting your mouth run away with your head?' Bram said.

Burke laughed. 'You two have been partners for a while.'

'We have, sir,' Bram said.

'Does it show?' Ares asked.

'Yeah, it shows; good partners are like married couples,' Burke said.

'Some people in civilian circles call the partner the work spouse,' I said.

'God knows in police work you see your partner more than you see your wife sometimes,' Burke said.

'What did I do to earn the look this time?' Ares asked.

I said, 'You implied that the other guards with us aren't as good at their jobs as you two are.'

'I did not,' he said, and his face showed that he totally didn't get it.

'Don't you get it, Ares?' Bram said, 'Dev and Nicky don't look like cops, or military, and saying they were hostages just undermines them in Commander Burke's eyes even more.'

Ares looked from one to the other of us, and then his face sort of fell. He took in a deep breath, let it out, and said, 'That is not what I meant.'

'I know,' Bram said with an eye roll, like a long-suffering spouse.

I turned my head to hide my smile.

'I'm just glad Marshal Blake and young Callahan have good men to step in when needed.'

Bram gave him a very direct look. 'None of us saved Marshal Blake that day.'

Burke frowned. 'I'm not sure I'm following.'

Bram sighed. He looked at me, back at Ares, and finally back at me. 'I'm sorry, Anita; having bodyguards with you is going to make all the other cops think less of you as a cop, like a soldier who needs guards.'

I nodded and shrugged. 'Yeah, but what can we do?'

Bram turned back to Burke. 'Let's be clear, Commander. Marshal Blake helped come up with a plan to rescue the hostages and take out the bomber. She went in with SWAT to execute that plan. The other guards upstairs were key players in that plan. In fact, Nathaniel Graison, the other civilian with Micah Callahan, helped save them all, too. If Nathaniel hadn't done his part first, the rescue would have failed. But it was Anita who took out the threat - not the other cops, not the guards, her.'

'You get mad at me for being chatty and now you're just running off at the mouth,' Ares said.

'It's a police case. Everything's on record,' Bram said.

I looked at Bram's stoic dark face. I couldn't read his expression, and hyena wasn't one of my animals to call, so I had no extrasensory hint of what he was thinking. 'Ares is right - this is the longest speech I've ever heard from you.'

'Commander Burke is the highest-ranking officer we've met. I just want him to know that you aren't a victim who needs saving, you're the person who comes through the door and does the saving.'

I smiled and frowned at the same time, puzzling. 'Then why add Nathaniel in?'

'Because he's the kind of man that men like us discount, and Nathaniel deserves better than that. If I had just told Commander Burke how tough you, Dev, and Nicky are, then it marginalizes Nathaniel.'

'You didn't defend Mike Callahan's honor to me,' Burke said.

Bram turned just his head, and there was some change in his energy, not quite his beast peeking out, but almost anger. Ares reacted to it by standing taller and moving slightly closer to his partner. Bram said, 'Micah doesn't need anyone to defend his honor. He is his honor.'

'No offense,' Burke said.

Bram nodded. 'We take Anita's orders because she leads from the front line. We follow Micah's orders because he is our leader.'

'What about your Master of the City, this Jean-Claude?'

'We respect Jean-Claude,' Bram said.

'But he isn't your leader the way Callahan and Blake are?'

It was Ares who stepped forward for Bram this time. 'Excuse my partner here; he's not used to talking this much. I think sharing time is over, right, Anita?'

'Yeah,' I said. It was actually a point of contention between some of the vampires around Jean-Claude that the bodyguards followed my orders better than his and that almost all the shapeshifters followed Micah's orders better. The Harlequin had once been the elite bodyguards of the head of the vampire council, the Mother of All Darkness, but with her defeat they belonged to Jean-Claude now. He was the new head of the vampire council. Not all the Harlequin had agreed with the change, but once the Mother of All Darkness was dead, it was very much 'The king is dead, long live the king.' Though I guess in this case it had been 'The queen is dead, long live the king.'

Burke looked from one to the other of us, but our faces gave him nothing back and he'd been a cop long enough to know when to let it go. What I didn't like was that he'd asked about Jean-Claude in the first place. How much did the other police know about our vampire politics? Looking at Burke's face, I thought maybe more than I'd thought. It made me wonder if Burke had the same mysterious federal friend as Sheriff Callahan had and how much the commander here knew about some of the less public adventures we'd all had, things that hadn't been reported to the police, because we'd handled it old-school. Yeah, I meant illegal.

I needed away from Burke before he asked something even more awkward. Unfortunately, I had the perfect out. 'I need to get back to Micah and Nathaniel. I really wish I'd been able to meet Sheriff Callahan under other circumstances,' I said.

Burke nodded, face somber. 'Callahan is a good sheriff and a good man. I hope like hell that you get a chance to find that out for yourself, Marshal.'

'So do I, Commander, so do I.'

We all shook hands and three of us went for the elevator. It was time to see if Micah's mother and aunt had gone to jail on mutual assault charges. The fun just never stopped on this trip.