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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:11

The local PD gave us a small room in the depths of the building to spread the papers around. There'd been some reluctance, but I had the warrant now and that made this my case. I tried not to be too rude, but I also was all out of taking shit. We had until nightfall to learn what we could from the reports, pictures, and witness statements. I was hoping to talk to some of the human witnesses, the few who had lived through being a witness, but first the reports. Yeah, they can be tedious and even boring, but there's a reason we write reports and take pictures and measurements from every angle, and not all of it's for court; sometimes you learn new things that help you catch the bad guys.

There was no way to test the theory, because they were animals with superhuman strength and super-speed that lived off the blood of the living. They weren't much more alive than a flesh-eating zombie. You couldn't cage something like that and hope it improved over time, but looking at pictures of the vampires before they became vampires made me wonder how many people we'd killed who might have recovered to be law-abiding citizen vamps. It was like wondering if a serial killer could be reformed. The answer was no, but it was still something you wondered about when you heard of one who could go twenty years without a kill while he raised his kids to be teenagers. Apparently being the parent of teens was enough to send him back to killing. I've heard having teenagers was stressful, but geez.

'You've thought of something,' Edward said.

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I looked up from the files, blinking because I had to drag myself back from the files, and the smiling faces, and the bloody faces, and my own thinking.

'Not really, or not in the way you mean.'

I glanced at Hatfield, who was looking at me now, too. If had just been Edward then I would have shared, but ... 'Just a weird thought I had about how new these vampires are. I've never been called in where this many people were listed as missing and then changed to killer vamps; one or two, yeah, but not dozens.'

'It's not dozens,' Hatfield said.

'I requested they send me all the missing-person reports for this area in the last three months, even ones they didn't think were linked. A lot of people vanished in the same area, but over about a three-month time period. They found three bodies so decomposed that they thought they'd all fallen to their deaths and then animals got to them. That may be what happened; animals do that in wilderness areas and it's routine to just accept it as accidental death.'

'But you don't think it was,' Hatfield said.

'If a vampire is powerful enough, it can go inactive for years and sustain itself, but when it wakes, or gets out of where it was trapped, whatever, it usually is a little crazy. It feeds in a more animalistic fashion, like a newbie vampire again, until it's had enough blood to sort of get its head back to a point where it's not crazy anymore. Some vampires never come back after being trapped without food for too long.'

'Trapped how?' Hatfield asked.

'Cross-wrapped coffins, usually,' I said.

'Who traps them in cross-wrapped coffins? We'd just kill them,' she asked.

I debated on what to say, and finally Edward said, 'Vampires have what amounts to jail when one of their kind goes crazy and they don't want to kill them.'

'I thought they just killed each other like any other predator.'

'Even animal predators don't like killing one of their own friends, but vampires are just like regular people. They find it hard to kill someone they've known a long time, so they try to imprison them and hope they can cure them.'

'You mean rehabilitate them?' she asked.

'Something like that,' I said. In truth, being trapped in a coffin was usually more punishment than trying to save you. I'd known vampires that had been driven crazy from long coffin imprisonment, but that wasn't something I was sharing with Hatfield. She was being friendly, but she wasn't my friend, not yet.

'So, say you had a vampire wake up, or escape being imprisoned, whatever; they'd go after the nearest food, which would probably be animals, right?' Hatfield asked.

'Animals are harder to catch than you'd think,' I said, 'but maybe you can't actually sustain yourself on animal blood, not even freshly killed animals.'

'Why not?' she asked.

'Because you need that spark, that extra energy, whatever it is from humans to go with the blood.'

'You mean like drinking someone's soul?'

'That presupposes that animals don't have souls and I wouldn't be willing to say that,' I said.

'Okay, then what? What makes us so special for vampires?'

I smiled. 'If you can answer that question in a definitive way, Hatfield, you'll be doing better than hundreds of years of religion and philosophy.'

'Oh,' she said, 'I get that. But why do you think it's an old vamp that just woke up?'

'Because it's a really rare talent, and I've only seen it in ancient vampires. If there were a vampire that old and this powerful, we'd know about it. You just can't hide this much power from both the vampire and human community, not to mention the shapeshifters. He was able to mess with my friend through the bite of one of the vampires he possessed, not even his own bite, and he was able to control Ares, or drive him crazy, from a distance.'

'I've never even heard of a vampire being able to possess its vamp followers in any of the literature. You should write a paper about it, publish it for the rest of us to read.'

I looked at Edward and he looked back. 'Not all the really old vamps like their secrets being that out in the open, Hatfield.'

'Oh, you mean they're still alive. I guess I thought you killed them.'

'I don't kill every vampire I meet, Hatfield.'

She looked a little embarrassed. 'I guess not; I mean, you are with your Master of the City. No offense meant.'

'None taken; I am dating him.'

Hatfield had a moment where thoughts chased across her face so quickly I wasn't sure what she was thinking; maybe she didn't even know what she was thinking exactly.

'Just say it, Hatfield,' Edward said.

'I don't think I could ever get past the fact that he was dead, but if you had to be dating a vampire, your Master of the City is pretty gorgeous - again, no offense.'

I smiled. 'Why should I be offended? Jean-Claude is gorgeous.'

'I'm sorry I said pretty horrible things to you earlier about him, and Micah Callahan, and ... oh, hell, I was awful and it was just that you cast a long shadow over the Preternatural Branch of the Marshals Service for the rest of us female officers.'

'I'm sorry if my dating preternaturals makes it harder for the rest of you, but I'm not going to stop dating the men I love because people are bothered by it.'

'Now that I've seen you in person, I realize a lot of it's jealousy. You're as tough as you are beautiful, which means a lot of women must hate you on sight, and the men can't decide whether to try to compete with you or sleep with you.'

I frowned at her. 'Sorry, I spend most of my time around men who make me look like the ugly stepsister, so I don't get the beauty-being-intimidating part, but on the tough part, most of them can't compete.'

'If you're the ugly stepsister, then your guys must be even prettier than their pictures.'

'They're pretty spectacular,' I said.

'And you let the men know they can't compete,' she said.

I shrugged. 'In our job we can't afford to baby anyone's ego. They're either up to the job or they're not.'

She gave a small laugh. 'Oh, yeah, a lot of your haters are just insecure around you. I didn't think anyone could live up to your reputation, but you made a believer out of me, Blake.' Her face sobered. She looked down at the papers in front of her. 'This disease is pretty terrible. I'm sorry about Sheriff Callahan for a lot of reasons, but if he really is your future father-in-law, I'm sorry that Micah Callahan had to come home to this.'

'The best thing I can do for Micah and his dad is find the vampire that started all this. Until night falls and we can question the vampires, we look at what the victims can tell us. I want to see how close the missing-person reports are to each other geographically. I need a map to see if I'm right, but if I am, then it may be where our master vampire is hiding his body. If the missing persons are clustered originally in one area like I'm thinking, then I'd send police up to check on anyone living up in the area. There are always people in the mountains who don't come to town much if you go far enough up. Some because they're just good old-fashioned mountain people and antisocial. Or, the new mountain people have money and some of them have helipads at the summit of their mountains, so either way potentially no one would know they're missing for a while.'

'You really think we have a lot more people missing?'

'I'm half-hoping we do, because that will give us someplace to start looking for the master vampire's body.'

'You say body like he's not in it,' Hatfield said.

'A vampire that can take over his created offspring this easily usually does leave their body somewhere safe and just uses other bodies as a sort of stalking horse. That body gets damaged, they abandon it like a sinking ship and find another boat to take over.'

'They jump bodies that easily?' she asked.

'I've known a couple that could, and I'm thinking worst-case scenario here.'

'If the bad vamp can jump bodies that easily, how do you kill it?'

Edward and I spoke in unison. 'Destroy the original body.'

She looked from one to the other of us and almost laughed. 'You've done this before.'

Edward and I looked at each other. Then I said, 'Yeah,' and he said, 'Yes.'

'Okay,' she said, giving us wide eyes, 'let's go find that map.'