Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 32

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We kissed and I said, "I'm sorry."

"But not so sorry you won't go save the day," he said.

I didn't know what to say to that, so I just looked at him as he drew back from the kiss.

"I'm sorry you're mad."

He nodded. "I know. Now, go and help Micah."

I wanted to say more, to apologize, or to make things all right between us before we left, but I didn't have any words to make this okay. I'd learned that sometimes when words can't make it better, just stop talking and do something, so I did.

"Hand up my equipment bags," I said.

"I'll just take Bram with me."

"No, you'll take Anita with you. She's got a badge and you don't. If the worst happens and you're there with him, you'll get dragged in for questioning at the least," Nathaniel said.

"He's right," Nicky said. "They're small towns. They don't get a lot of lycanthrope-related crime."

Bernardo handed a bag up to Nicky. "Where are you going with all your gear?"

"No time to explain, just got to grab and go," I said.

Bernardo stepped from the boat back to the wharf. "Okay, let's go."

"No, Bernardo," Micah said.

"I heard Nathaniel say that Anita is coming because she has a badge; well, two badges are better than one." He lifted the hem of his oversize tank top to flash the badge tucked into his belt.

"There isn't time to argue. Let's go," Micah said, heading back down the wharf. Bram fell into step behind him. Bernardo went with them. I turned back to Nathaniel. He kissed me and then turned me around. "Go with him. I'll be fine with R and R."

Micah yelled, "Anita, are you coming?"

"Coming!" Nicky and I got our equipment bags and started moving with purpose toward the SUV. The others were already getting into the vehicle. We heard the engine start. Nicky started running toward them; if my big equipment bag bothered him, it didn't show. Within a few steps, I was cursing the bag I was carrying, but it was the purse on my other shoulder that really made me curse. If I could have remembered everything in it, I'd have left it with Nathaniel. The purse slipped down my arm until it was damn near tangling in my legs. I shifted it so I was carrying the strap balled up in my free hand, because it wouldn't stay on my shoulder with the other bag already taking up most of my back. I'd packed for airport travel, not for running to the rescue. Silly me.

22

THE BAR HAD a cheerful sign that read Herbie's Chowder House, complete with a cartoon fish that seemed to be fishing for itself. Herbie's looked cheerful, but the location looked as if it was in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, maybe because of the overgrown vacant lot beside it. It wasn't overgrown with just weeds either, but with tropical-looking trees and underbrush, as if it had been vacant a long time. The bar sat right beside Highway 1, the main road through the Keys, so it wasn't as middle of nowhere as it seemed. I guess in the Keys there wasn't a lot of choice about where to put things, but the building managed to seem convenient for drive-by customers and isolated all at the same time. The gravel parking lot out front was so full we had trouble finding a place to park.

"It's just past noon; isn't that too early for a full bar?" I said.

"Some people use their vacations as an excuse to drink," Bernardo said.

"Some people travel to paradise to fall into a bottle," Bram said.

"That, too," Bernardo agreed.

We'd all talked ourselves out of putting on body armor, but I had put on a loose T-shirt over my tank top so that I could put on the custom-made knife sheath that went down along my spine and then attached with straps to my belt. The original had been part of a shoulder rig for guns, but I'd finally had a second made so I could carry my largest knife more regularly, and my regular carry for guns had become a waist holster or inner pants holster, depending on how concealed I wanted to carry.

"I'm still amazed you can carry a blade longer than your forearm and no one ever sees it," Bernardo said.

"As long as my hair is down it hides the hilt."

We all made small adjustments to our weapons, or at least touched some of them, before we got out of the car. It becomes automatic to flex your body or lightly touch to make sure that none of your weapons has shifted out of place. The trick is never to do it where people can see you, because nothing gives away the fact that you're carrying a gun like touching it to adjust it. We got out of the car with everything settled in place and threaded our way through the cars.

"Remember that thanks to Jean-Claude's vampire marks, I'm poison-proof, so if anyone has to wade into the snakes, it has to be me."

"Lycanthropes are poison-proof, too," Nicky said.

"Since this may be some ancient type of snake, let's not test how proof you and Micah are, okay?"

"I'm your bodyguard, remember."

"I remember, and I'm in love with you. I'd really rather not lose you over some macho bit of grandstanding, okay?"

Nicky gave a small smile and said, "You're the boss."

Micah said, "Bernardo stays completely away from the snakes."

Bernardo raised his hands in a sort of push-away gesture. "As the token human, I'll let you guys wrestle the deadly snakes."

Bram opened the door first like a good bodyguard, so that if the noon drunks got out of hand, they'd attack him first. I figured since no one was screaming or saying what the fuck that Andy hadn't changed into snakes yet. It was good to be in time to prevent tragedy, rather than just cleaning up after it.

The bar surprised me by being brightly lit and painted white, with the bar against the left-side wall and small, high tables against the right. Small family groups were having lunch at the tables. Either the licensing laws were different in Florida than in St. Louis, or everyone was ignoring them. I guessed if the kiddies weren't drinking the liquor from Dad's and Mom's glasses, we were good.

"Cheerful," I said.

"Food smells good, too," Bernardo said.

He was right. If I hadn't eaten on the plane, I'd have been more interested. Micah said, "There he is." We followed him and Bram farther into the room, starting toward the bar proper. I couldn't tell which of the hunched figures was our guy yet. One person drinking looks a lot like another.

A woman wearing the bar's logo on her T-shirt came toward us smiling. "We have bigger tables in the other dining room, or did you want to sit at the bar? I think we can just fit you all in."

"Sorry, we're here to give a friend a ride home, but we'll definitely keep your place in mind for later," Micah said, smiling.

She did an eye slide toward the bar. "Are you here for Andy?"

"I take it he's a regular," Micah said.

"Getting to be," she said. She looked back at the bar with her hostess smile fading around the edges. This wasn't a bar bar; it was a restaurant that had a bar in it, which meant that they would be even less happy with serious drinkers than a normal bar. I wondered if Andy had gotten thrown out of his usual bar, since he was only "getting to be" a regular here.

"He's the dark-haired one on the end," Micah said.

Bram moved ahead of Micah. There really wasn't a lot of room between the middle tables and the bar, so I went between the two rows of tables to come into the bar area from the other side, with Nicky trailing behind me. Bernardo stayed at the door. We were getting glances from some of the restaurant patrons because we weren't acting like normal tourists; we were acting like potential trouble.

Micah was talking softly to the man by the time Nicky and I were on his other side. Two of the men at the bar got up with their drinks in hand, looking more at Nicky than at anybody else. People who didn't know how to fight and were just impressed with size always looked at him first. He was like camouflage for the rest of us, unless people were trained enough to know what they were looking at.

The man we were trying to save just sat there as if nothing had changed. He was darkly tanned, with short black hair that looked coarse even from a distance. He huddled over his drink like it was the most impo

rtant thing in the world, and maybe it was to him. His wife was on bed rest with their unborn baby in her body, and he was here drinking. Addicts only love their addiction. If you believe anything else, you're lying to yourself.

I was on the other side of Andy now. I could see the bloodshot eyes, the unshaven face that could pretend it was a beard, but he'd just stopped shaving. At least he didn't smell as unkempt as he looked; since we were going to be in a car with him, I appreciated that.

I could hear Micah's voice now. "Do you really want Christy to get out of bed and lose your baby?"

"No," the man said in a voice that sounded like he had gravel in his throat. I didn't know if he wasn't used to talking or if he'd screamed himself hoarse. He looked up at me as if he'd just noticed I was there. "Who's this?"

"My fiancee," Micah said.

"Congratulations," he said, and that seemed to get him up on his feet, as if just the social niceties made him think to be nicer. Hey, if social conditioning works in our favor, I'm all for it.

Andy swayed enough that Micah and I each caught an arm. Micah kept Andy's arm on the way to the door, so he didn't bump into things like the ball in a drunken pinball game. Bram came next and Nicky and I brought up the rear. Bernardo held the door and out we went.

Bernardo drove, and after some discussion Micah took the passenger seat, because if the two bodyguards were going to have to risk one of their primaries, they didn't want to risk both of us. Since I was doubly protected from venom with lycanthropy and vampire marks, I got to sit beside Andy. The fact that Micah let me win the argument was one of the reasons I loved him. It was logical that I sit beside the potential danger, but a lot of men would have rather risked their lives than concede it. Bram and Nicky had their own moment of who would sit on the other side of Andy. Bram finally won by saying, "My shoulder span is smaller; we just fit better with you against the door."

Andy let Bram buckle him in for safety, but then he slumped forward, and I thought he'd passed out, which was fine with me. I didn't think he was going to be a great conversationalist. Most drunks aren't. They think they are, but they aren't.


Tags: Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Horror
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