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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:18

The nurse, whose name was Brenda, found scrubs that fit and a hairbrush and a hair tie so that Little Henry could put all that hair back in a braid. She'd also brought him little slip-on booties. He stripped off the hospital gown so that he walked out with us in just the scrubs and boots. Nurse Brenda gazed on the tall muscled yummy of him without a shirt like she was viewing property with an eye to purchase. Little Henry didn't notice, but Nicky did. He and I exchanged looks, then smiled and looked away. It wasn't our job to match-make, and honestly right now Henry's mind wasn't thinking anything but revenge.

While we waited for SWAT I tried to call Edward, but wherever he was in the mountains there was no cell service. I walked a little distance from Henry so I could call Claudia then; our head of security needed to know that the Lover of Death wasn't dead and had a whole new level of power and crazy. Nicky stayed talking to Henry, so I didn't go too far; if I did Nicky would feel compelled to follow me.

Claudia answered on the second ring. 'You okay?'

Something in her voice made me say, 'Yeah, but your voice says that I shouldn't be.'

'Seamus is missing,' she said.

'Oh, motherfucker,' I said.

'What? That's your curse for special occasions. Do you know where Seamus is?'

'Maybe.' I told her that the vampire we were hunting was the Lover of Death.

'He's supposed to be dead,' she said.

'Vamps that jump bodies are hard to kill, and harder to make sure of the kill. Apparently, when I was taking care of business with the Mother of All Darkness, she tried to spill herself into him and use him as her escape. I was stronger than she'd planned and it didn't work, but it worked a little. He's gained power from what she did give him.'

'Just like you and Jean-Claude gained from it,' she said.

'Yeah, except that he seems to plan on using his new-found power level to raise as many flesh-eating zombies and rotting vampires as possible and turn them on the humans.'

'That's bad, but what does it have to do with Seamus?'

'The Lover of Death bit him, rolled his mind. I was able to use my connection to hyenas to help him fight it, and his ties to his vampire master probably helped him fight it better than Ares, but-'

She cut me off. 'But you thought Seamus was free of the mind control because the vamp that did it was dead.'

'I should have called you as soon as I suspected that the vamp wasn't dead, but I was trying to save one of our human victims and ... Oh, hell, Claudia I didn't think about Seamus until you said it.'

'You think the Lover of Death has control of Seamus.'

'Well, fuck,' she said.

'The Harlequin may not be as good as advertised, but they are good, some of them very good, and Seamus is one of their best fighters.'

'What's his weapons skill? I haven't trained with him much; our schedules don't seem to overlap.'

'Don't try hand-to-hand with him, he's wicked fast, Anita. Fredo nicknamed him Water because he's that smooth and fast. You shoot better than he does, but you and he both like knives. Seamus beat Fredo in knife practice, not just cut him like you've managed, but beat him.'

'Yeah, Fredo is the knife guy. I've never seen anyone beat him like that before.'

'If we have to shoot him, then his vampire master may die with him,' I said.

'I know that, but unless you shoot him, you're going to lose, and so is Nicky. If Nicky can land a blow, he's stronger, but he's not faster, and he's not better with the martial arts. We were thinking of letting Seamus help teach the mixed martial arts class.'

'He's that good,' I said.

'Well, doesn't this just suck,' I said.

'Anita, I need you to tell Nicky that Seamus is the hand-to-hand fighter that I'd least want to face for real. Make sure he understands not to mess around; if he gets a chance he must kill him, because there won't be a second chance.'

'I'll tell him,' I said.

'Do I need to give you the safety talk, too?' she asked.

'You mean tell me not to try to trade punches with Seamus?'

'Yeah, something like that.'

I laughed, though it wasn't exactly a happy laugh. 'Trust me, Claudia, if I have to fight him without weapons it won't be because I didn't try to kill him first.'

'If you lose all your weapons you cannot fight him and live, Anita. You're good, but I'm not sure I could beat him, and I'm closer to his weight class.'

'SWAT is going with us.'

'Hospital parking lot, waiting for SWAT so we can roll out.'

'Lisandro and Dev are headed out the door now.'

'If Seamus is that good, he'll eat Dev for dinner.'

'Yeah, but if I were one of the fallen council members I'd want to kill the new vampire king of America. That means that I'm keeping good people here to keep Jean-Claude safe.'

'Besides, you'll have a team of SWAT with you; they're pretty good for humans.'

'They're very good for anyone,' I said.

'Come on, Anita, they can't compete with our speed.'

'Yeah, but training counts, too.'

'You don't have to defend them to me, Anita. I respect SWAT and their abilities. I'm just saying they're human and Seamus isn't.'

'No arguments, and sorry if I was defensive.'

'It's okay. I'm going to talk to the Harlequin wereanimals and see if I can learn anything helpful about the Lover of Death.'

'If you get any info that will help, call me,' I said.

'You know I will,' she said.

'If SWAT gets here before Lisandro and Dev arrive, then we're gone. We need to use every bit of daylight we have.'

'Understood; I'll text Dev and make sure he and Lisandro understand.'

'You know my objections to endangering Lisandro, because he has a family. Why send him?'

'You know why, Anita.' She sounded softly chiding.

I sighed. 'Yeah, I have practiced with Lisandro and watched him against others. He's not the strongest of the guards, but he's wicked fast and he's got the best all-around speed, endurance, strength, and technique of anyone in the MMA classes, except maybe Pride.'

'Which is why one of them goes with you and one of them stays here, just in case.'

'It won't come to a one-on-one champion fight, Claudia.'

'Probably not, but if there comes a point where you can maneuver Seamus into fighting Lisandro and leaving the rest of you out of it, I'd do it.'

'You going to throw Pride to the hyenas, too?' I asked.

'No, we have a lot more guards here, Anita. We'll overwhelm him with skill and numbers.'

'But you'll still keep Pride with you, just in case,' I said.

'Send someone extra to Micah, too,' I said.

'Keep them safe for me.'

'Speaking of jobs, SWAT just pulled in,' I said. I waved them over to let them know I needed to talk to them before we headed out. They spilled out of their black Tahoe looking all around six feet tall or over, broad of shoulder, trim of waist, like a sports team in body armor with weapons. Most SWAT and special teams were tall and athletic and had a certain we are just that good attitude. It wasn't bragging, it was just training combined with surety; most of them had spent their lives being the toughest and most competent person in the room.

'Kill this guy for us, Anita,' Claudia said.

'It's my job,' I said.

She gave a small chuckle. 'Yeah, I guess it is.'

I hung up and went to tell SWAT we knew exactly where the vampire's lair was located. I also had to tell them that we had another shapeshifter that might have been mind-fucked like Ares. If this kept up, they were going to change the rules so I couldn't bring my furry friends along.