Page 61

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:12

Once upon a time, hunting vampires was all about daylight. You hoarded the hours while the vamps couldn't be up and hunting you back so you could find them in their daytime lair and put a stake through their hearts, or decapitate them while they were dead to the world and couldn't fight back, but we had two vampires in custody that might be able to answer all our questions. They probably knew his daytime retreat, but while the sun was up they couldn't talk to us. Yes, there was that pesky lawyer thing, but now that the warrant was mine I could use all the power it granted me. That power included being able to force the lawyer to let me question them with him present, if I believed more lives would be lost without their information. We'd lost five people last night, and only two of them had a job that put them in harm's way; the other three had been innocent bystanders. I had all the proof I needed to be able to question the vampires once the sun went down. I was looking forward to nightfall and being able to talk to them, at the same time that I was worried what this rogue master had up his undead sleeve. The zombies at the hospital and the rotting vampires that wouldn't die had been pretty terrible, even by my standards. So, on one hand I was eager for the day to pass, and on the other hand, not so much.

It was basically a legal version of the sheriff standing out in front of the saloon in the Old West and saying, 'Let's form a posse and go get these guys.' It meant that I could have Nicky with me officially.

I found a little privacy in a corner of the room as everyone cleared out and called him to join me; he'd asked, 'Do you want Dev?'

'I think Dev has had enough of my day job for a while,' I said.

'Do you have a preference of who I bring with me?'

'I don't know who all is here now. Lisandro said that they'd only brought the best; with Claudia in charge I believe it.'

'So let Claudia pick?' he asked.

'As long as her choice isn't someone that you or I don't like to work with, and it has to be someone who works well with the police.'

'I'll see who Claudia wants to send. Do you have a preference where Dev goes in the rotation?'

'Do you? He and you partner a lot for guard duty,' I asked.

Either he made a small pleased sound, or I could hear him smile over the phone. 'I love that you asked my opinion, when you could just make your Bride suck it up.'

I smiled. 'I guess I'm just not that kind of Groom. Honestly, until you made that remark in the hospital I thought you and Dev were good friends.'

'I don't know if I can explain it to you, but he's a friend up to a point. When he lost it after the basement fight, his status in my friend list went down.'

'Because he was weak?' I made it a question.

'And because if that fight bothered him, then he doesn't want to know most of what I've spent my life doing. You can't really be friends with someone who only likes parts of you. I can be work friends with Dev, and share you with him like in the shower, that was fun, but he couldn't stomach who I really am, Anita. I know that now.'

Edward came up to me. 'Can I put a vote in?'

I nodded. 'Ted wants to put his two cents' worth in,' I said.

'I'm cool with that,' Nicky said.

I looked at Edward, raising my eyebrows. 'Who do you want to play with?'

'I don't know everyone they brought with them, but if I can't have Bobby Lee or Fredo, I'll take Lisandro. If they brought him, Socrates would be okay, too. I'd say Claudia, but she's not sure she likes me.'

'Claudia's never said she doesn't like you, at least not to me,' I said.

'She suspects I get you into more danger than I help you get out of.'

Nicky chimed in. 'I don't want Claudia. She's great in a fight, but she's not comfortable around me.'

'I'm a big, dominant male werelion; after what happened with your last lover who fit that description, she doesn't trust me.'

He very delicately hadn't said Haven's name, because he knew having to kill him had hurt me in ways that I was still discovering. Claudia had never liked Haven, and when the shit hit the fan she'd helped me kill him, after he shot Nathaniel and her and killed one of the other werelions. It had been a mess.

'Okay, I guess I can understand that,' I said, 'but I'd rather not use Lisandro.'

'He's good at the job,' Nicky said.

'Yeah, but he almost died last time he came out on a case. He's the only one on the list who's married and has kids. I'd rather not have to explain to his wife and kids why they're down one husband and father.'

'Lisandro knows the risks,' Nicky said.

Edward said, 'If you leave Lisandro home when it gets dangerous, then you've effectively ruined him as a guard.'

I sighed. 'Maybe, but humor me, okay?'

'If you're talking to me, just tell me what you want and I have to humor you, remember,' Nicky said.

'I remember, Nicky. I was talking to Ted.'

Edward said, 'Is Socrates in town?'

'Socrates is good,' I said.

'Yeah, but he doesn't trust me, makes it hard to work together.'

'Why doesn't he trust you?'

'I'm a bad guy and he's an ex-cop,' Nicky said.

'You're not a bad guy,' I said.

'We'll agree to disagree,' I said.

He gave that deep chuckling laugh. 'No, Socrates's cop sense goes crazy around me, and it should. I'm exactly what he thinks I am. I just don't hide it as good as Ted.'

I started to say, But Ted isn't a bad guy either, and then stopped myself. Bad and good were relative terms when it came to my best bud and to some of my lovers. I took a deep breath and let it go. It was a philosophical problem for another day.

'No, of the people they brought I'd prefer Lisandro or Domino. Pride would be okay, but he was raised and trained with Dev. He might have the same issue in a rough fight. Ethan is good, but I don't know if he can handle your job either,' Nicky said.

'Pride is here, really? Our other golden tiger guard hasn't ever come out on an away job,' I said.

'Apparently Claudia volunteered him and he didn't say no,' Nicky said.

Edward came close and said, 'Anita, let Lisandro do his job.'

'I just remember how I felt when I thought we'd gotten him killed last time out. All I could think was I didn't want to tell his kids and his wife.'

'I have kids, and I'm Donna's husband except for a legal piece of paper, but you aren't leaving me home.'

I looked up into those blue eyes. He was saying something warm, but the eyes had bled to winter sky pale. I realized we were the last in the room, except for Hatfield. She wanted to ride with us, to learn the job the only way that seemed to work well, in the company of someone else who already knew how to do it. She was standing across the room, giving us privacy. Everyone else had taken their share of the addresses to check and left. Edward didn't have to pretend to be Ted when it was just me.

'Compromise,' I said. 'We bring Lisandro and Socrates. I'll talk to him about toning down his spider-sense about your thugginess.'

'You really think having Socrates along will keep Lisandro safe?' Edward asked.

'You have to let him do his job, Anita.'

'No, no, I don't.' I looked at him.

He frowned at me. 'You can't be like this just because people are married and have kids. Your guards are going to have a life outside of their job, and that's going to include more kids eventually.'

'I know that,' I said, but I sounded defensive even to myself.

'Then stop letting your issues with your own childhood mess with Lisandro's ability to do his job,' Edward said.

'I don't know what you're talking about.'

'Anita,' he said, and just looked at me.

I wanted to pout, or get unreasonably angry, all things I'd done for years as a coping mechanism. 'Fine, but I still want a third guard to come with them.'

'Will you trust Nicky to pick the third guard?' Edward asked.

I sighed and then said, 'Yeah, sure.'

I looked at him. 'Really?' I said, and didn't try to keep the surprise out of my face.

'Lisandro and who?' Nicky asked.

'Edward and I agree that you can pick whoever else comes with the two of you.'

'You used his real name,' Nicky said.

'Sorry, he just surprised me.'

'What'd he do to surprise you that badly?'

'I'll explain later,' I said. 'Just be ready. We'll pick you up on the way out of town.'

'Will do. Love you,' he said.

'I love you, too,' I said, and it was automatic, because I was still studying Edward's face. When Nicky had hung up, I said to Edward, 'You trust Nicky's judgment that much?'

'High damn praise,' I said.

'You know me, Anita; I like working with sociopaths who are willing to do anything to get the job done.'

'What's that say about me?'

He grinned, and it was all back to good-ol'-boy Ted. 'You'll never be as good a sociopath as I am, Anita, and neither of us will be as good at it as Nicky. It means he won't let emotion color his choice. It isn't that his feelings are hurt about Socrates not trusting him, it's that the lack of trust makes Socrates hesitate to follow Nicky's lead in a fight, and that makes for a bad team, and more than any sport, combat means you need a good working team.'

I stopped arguing, because Edward trusted Nicky. It was unprecedented that he had that much faith in one of my lovers. He liked Micah and Nathaniel. He didn't dislike Jean-Claude, but that wasn't the same thing as trusting any of them. I shoved it all away, put in a box to look at later, because we were running behind. I admitted to myself that the reason I'd argued about Lisandro had been about me losing my mother when I was eight. I knew how much damage that had done to me, and I didn't want to do the same thing to Lisandro's kids; there, that was the truth. I hated when my own issues interfered with me doing my job. They'd gotten in the way of my personal life for years, but my job was usually safe from my neuroses - well, most of the time.

We got Hatfield and went for Edward's SUV. I told her we were picking up some deputies on the way out of town. She didn't argue, just asked, 'Are we picking up the two blond men?'

'One of them,' I said.

'And new friends?' she asked.

'New to you,' Edward said.

'I look forward to meeting them,' she said.

I glanced in the rearview to see if she was being sarcastic, but her face looked open and honest.

'Just trying to decide if you meant that.'

'If there's anyone, or anything, that can help me do my job better, I'm all for it. I got those people killed last night. I can't bring them back, but I can get better and not do it again.'

'You didn't kill them, Hatfield,' I said.

'Neither of you would have stored the body parts in the morgue of a hospital. If either of you had been in charge last night, all five victims from last night would be alive now. Tell me how my ignorance didn't cost them their lives.'

I didn't know how to answer her.

'We all make mistakes until we know better,' Edward said.

'Exactly, and I'm going to follow you both around like your fucking shadows and learn all I can before you leave.'

I wasn't sure I wanted Hatfield following me that closely, but I couldn't tell her no. Edward and I exchanged a look. He didn't tell her no either. I guess we had a third wheel. I wondered how she'd like Lisandro and whoever else Nicky picked. For that matter, I wondered what they'd think of Hatfield.