Page 51

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:08

We stepped off the elevator into a mass of police, medical professionals, and first responders of every flavor. It was as if the hospital population had tripled between the time we went down to the basement and now.

A uniform who I remembered from the hallway earlier that day, though it seemed like a hundred years ago, said, 'What the hell happened to you guys?'

We all looked at each other. The men's hair was plastered to their heads, and even my curls were dripping wet, as were our clothes. I looked down to find that we were making a puddle on the floor. We had to have done the same thing in the elevator, but we just hadn't noticed.

The uniform laughed. 'How did you get that wet and still look like you walked out of a slaughterhouse?'

I blinked at us all and realized that the sprinklers hadn't exactly gotten all of the mess. It was like I was seeing the world in pieces, which meant that though I was handling it better than Dev, I might be a little shocky. Interesting.

'They were killing zombies,' Hatfield said as she walked up to us.

'We were killing vampires, but none of us look this bad,' he said.

'Zombies are messier,' she said, and then she said, 'Just give it a rest, Lewis. I need to talk to the marshals.'

He started to say something else, but she said, 'Now, Lewis.'

He frowned, but he walked away.

Hatfield was in full gear like we were, though we had more weapons on us, but then Edward and I tended to overpack. A gurney with a covered body on it wheeled between us. There was blood soaking through the covering, which meant it was a very fresh body.

Hatfield watched it being wheeled into the elevator. She kept watching it as the doors closed behind the dead body and the orderly pushing it. Her eyes reminded me of Dev's earlier. He'd rallied, and to strangers he probably didn't look any worse for wear than the rest of us, except for Yancey, who had gone to find the rest of his squad. He still looked fresh compared to the rest of us, but then he'd only helped with cleanup. The real mess had been the dismembering by shooting; he'd missed that part.

'We've got five dead,' she said, and her voice sounded harsh, angry even, but I knew she wasn't angry with us. She was just angry; I knew all about that.

'Did the guard, Miller, make it?' Dev asked.

She shook her head. 'I've never seen anything like these rotting bastards. They don't die like regular vampires.'

I opened my mouth, and Edward must have been afraid that I'd say I told you so, because he touched my arm. 'They're the hardest type of vamp to destroy,' he said.

'The vampires' bodies have already been put in the incinerator in the sub-basement here. The incinerator is designed to destroy medical waste, and I watched each vampire go into the fire. Is that dead enough?'

There was a flinching around her eyes, and she said, 'Could they climb back out of an incinerator? Medical waste has to be destroyed completely, so I thought it was enough; if it's not ...' Her voice broke, and she stared down at the floor, one hand resting on the butt of her sidearm. There was a time when I touched my gun like that, like a dangerous teddy bear.

'Fire destroys even the rotting vampires,' I said.

She looked up at me, and the only word I had for her eyes was haunted. She looked haunted. 'I've hunted vampires in the field. I'm not just one of those newbies who's only staked them in the morgue. I know what it's like to hunt them and have them hunt you back, but I've never seen anything like this.'

'Rotting vamps are real rare in this country,' Edward said in his best Ted voice.

She nodded. 'How did they heal the damage to their brains, hearts, and spinal cords? That's supposed to kill anything, even vampires.'

'The rotting vampires are more like zombies,' I said, 'and that means fire is the only certainty.'

'Except daylight, right?' she said.

'I've seen two rotters that could walk in daylight and not burn. Daylight shows them as rotting corpses and they can't pass for human, but they could still walk around and do everything else.'

'Day walkers, that's just legend,' she said.

I shook my head. 'I've known a few other vamps that were powerful enough to walk in daylight. Some are just so damned old that daylight doesn't hurt them anymore; for others it's a power curve, almost like being able to call an animal, or levitate.'

'Every time I think I've seen the worst of these bastards, I'm wrong,' she said, and she wasn't looking at us anymore. She was staring off into space, seeing some horror from the fighting and the dying playing over in her head. How did I know that was what Hatfield was thinking? Because I'd been there, done that, and was tired of collecting that particular T-shirt.

'The rotting vamps are the worst of it,' I said.

She looked at me then. 'Really?'

I met those haunted eyes and said, 'Yeah.'

She gave a laugh, but it was a bitter sound. 'I want to ask you to promise me, like I'm fucking five or something.'

I smiled to take the sting out what I was about to say. 'I wouldn't promise, sorry.'

'You said this was the worst.'

'I did, but there are things that have scared me more. Vampires that scared the fuck out of me.'

'Like the one you killed in Vegas.'

'Yeah, he was pretty scary,' I said.

'Is it true that he could call jinn, like make-a-wish genies?'

'I didn't even think jinn existed outside of old stories,' she said.

'Well, fuck,' she said.

I nodded, shrugged, and said, 'Fuck about covers it.'

'But these vampires are dead, right? It's over, except for the two in custody that I can kill later today.'

'We need the master vampire behind this, Hatfield. Until he's dead he'll make more rotting vampires, and we'll have more flesh-eating zombies. We need the two vampires alive so I can question them tomorrow night. They're our best chance at finding out his daytime location and destroying him once and for all.'

She nodded, and like Dev downstairs it was a little too rapid and a little too often. 'Forrester persuaded me not to kill them earlier, but if you tell me they're more valuable alive than dead, I'll believe you, Blake. I didn't believe you once and people died. It'll be dawn soon; what can we do until the vamps wake up to be questioned?'

'They've lawyered up,' Edward said. 'Questioning them won't be as easy as normal.'

'That fucking new law,' Hatfield said, and then she looked at me. She studied me as if she were trying to see inside my head. 'Knowing all that you know about them, how could you help draft a law that gave these bastards rights?'

'I've worked serial killer cases where the perp was human, but I still support human rights.'

'That's not the same,' she said.

'How many serial cases have you worked?' I asked.

'Every vampire case I've ever worked had multiple deaths.'

I shook my head. 'Most vamps kill to eat or because they're trying to make more vampires. They don't have the same kind of pathology as a serial killer, even though that's technically what they're classed as a lot.'

'What does that even mean?' Hatfield said, and she sounded irritated, a hint of her earlier attitude.

'It means I've seen human serial killers who did things so awful that as horrible as the vampires and shapeshifters can be, it's not as terrible to me.'

'Why not?' she asked, and the irritation was melting with something that was almost tears.

'Because we're human beings, damn it, and we're supposed to remember that and act accordingly. Serial killers don't remember that.'

'It can be worse than we saw tonight.'

I didn't know whether to pat her on the head or laugh in her face. Edward saved me from either. 'Marshal Hatfield, the worst monsters I've ever seen have all been human.'

Her eyes were shiny. 'I don't want to believe that.'

'No one wants to believe that,' he said, 'but that doesn't make it any less true.' He sounded sympathetic, kind even, and I knew he wasn't, not about this kind of thing. He was the consummate actor when he needed to be, and he had his Ted act down to an Oscar-worthy performance. I still didn't understand how he did it, but watching Hatfield look at him with her eyes held wide so the tears wouldn't fall, I watched her buy his sympathy, hook, line, and sinker.

She said, 'I need to go ... do something. I'll ...' She went for the doors and the outside air. Maybe she needed air, but I was betting she just didn't want anyone to see her cry. No cop wanted the other cops to see them cry, but as a woman, once you cried at a crime scene you never really lived it down. Throwing up at a crime scene was better than crying at one.

'What next?' Dev asked.

'Kiss Nathaniel and Micah, and then I'd like to finally see the hotel, clean up, and get a few hours of sleep.'

'I usually have to make you sleep on a job,' Edward said.

'Maybe I'm getting old,' I said.

'You're younger than I am,' he said.

I smiled. 'Maybe I just got out of the hospital after being shot and spent the last few hours in a brutal fucking battle against killer zombies, and so I'm a little tired.'

He grinned and settled his hat a little lower on his head. 'A little tired,' he said.

'A little tired,' I said, and smiled.

'Well, I'm fucking exhausted,' Nicky said.

'I thought lions were supposed to have stamina,' Dev said, and his eyes were wide and innocent, too innocent.

Nicky raised an eyebrow at him. 'We've got more stamina than tigers, but that's not saying a lot.'

Dev grinned. 'I can think of one way to prove what cat has the most stamina.'

'I don't know whether to put my fingers in my ears and go la-la-la or find more of your guards so we can take bets,' Edward said.

He grinned, and with all of them grinning at me, what else could I do but grin back. 'Fine, but I'm not sure I'm up to anything bet-worthy tonight.'

Dev pretended to pout. Nicky just looked smug. I narrowed my eyes at them. 'Pouting I get, but why smug?'

Nicky grinned again. 'You're dead tired, and you just got out of the hospital, and you've already fed the ardeur, but you still didn't say no.'

He leaned in close and whispered, 'I love you, too.'

It took me a moment to realize what he was referring to, which let me know just how tired I was, but when my brain caught up to the comment I blushed. Red, hot, to-my-roots blushed, which I'd almost stopped doing.

Nicky laughed, high and delighted. It was such a happy sound that it made people look at us.

'I haven't seen you blush like that in years,' Edward said.

'Fuck you both,' I said, and went for the elevator. I was going to see Micah and Nathaniel and then go to the hotel. I might not be as freaked about it as Dev had been, but I could feel thicker things than blood drying on my skin as I moved. I didn't even want to know how much, or exactly what, was in my hair.

It occurred to me after I'd pressed the button that we were covered in rotting flesh and fresh blood, and Micah's dad had an open wound that they were leaving open to the air. We couldn't go near him.

I hit the earpiece and hoped that he and Nathaniel could come down, or out to us. I needed to see them, touch them, and know they were all right with more than just a voice over the telephone. I felt exhausted and yet, weirdly, wasn't sure I'd be able to sleep. It was like that after a fight sometimes, exhausted but jazzed.

Nathaniel answered the phone. They could come down and say good night. Yay, so very yay! There, the edge of tears now. I didn't usually get this emotional this soon after the violence, but sometimes it was as if my mind didn't know how to cope so it kept trying out different strategies - humor, sarcasm, exhaustion, embarrassment, sadness. Once I'd just been numb, that was how I'd survived, but the problem was that in trying to cope with my job I'd become numb to everything. It had been damn depression, and then Jean-Claude had found me and broken down the walls that I'd so carefully built around myself. The good news was that I'd never been happier. The bad news was that in feeling love, I felt other things, too, and some of them were not so good.

The elevator doors opened and Micah and Nathaniel were there and it was everything I could do to not fall into their arms and start to sob. Two things stopped me. One, I'd have gotten zombie bits all over them and then Micah couldn't have gone back into his father's room without a shower. Two, if I threw myself into my boyfriend's arms and sobbed like a freaking girl I'd never live it down. The other cops would see me as a girl, and I needed them to see me as one of the guys, but as I reached out a hand to each of them, rather than flinging myself on them like I wanted to, I wasn't sure being one of the 'guys' was worth it.