Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 55

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"How well did Parnell know Bettina Gonzales?" Rankin asked.

It took me a second, because I wasn't used to thinking of Peter by his last name. The confusion over the name probably saved me from looking shocked, because I was. I totally hadn't seen that coming and I should have. They had a woman vanish from their hotel earlier today, and then another woman being carried off against her will, so scared about it that she stabbed the man doing it. Any cop would try to put the two events together.

I shook my head. "Not well."

"Really. A nineteen-year-old boy and a twenty-one-year-old girl hanging out by the pool, but you're sure they didn't talk to each other."

"I answered the question you asked, Rankin. If you have another question, ask it."

"When you say they didn't know each other well, what does that mean?"

I shrugged. "It means what I said."

"You really don't know if he talked to Bettina Gonzales, do you?"

"I don't know what Peter is doing every minute of the day, if that's what you mean."

"So you wouldn't know if he and Bettina hooked up, would you?"

I opened my mouth, closed it, and tried to think. "I didn't see Ms. Gonzales paying any special attention to Peter. She seemed pretty focused on Bernardo Spotted-Horse last time I saw her."

"Dunley told me what you had to say about Spotted-Horse and our missing woman." Again he hadn't given me much to talk to, or about. He was trying to get me talking. I knew that Peter wasn't involved in whatever had happened to Bettina, but I also knew that anything I said could be used against Peter. It was amazing how innocent comments could sound guilty once the police finished with them. I was a cop. I knew how this game worked.

"Then you know everything I know."

"I doubt that, Blake. I really doubt that." He made it sound sort of ominous, as if he knew I was hiding things and he would dig out my deepest, darkest secrets. I wasn't hiding anything about any of this, so my secrets wouldn't help him find the missing girl. I don't know why, but I kept thinking of Bettina as a girl. Twenty-one was legal, but she'd seemed so unfinished and insecure. It was hard to think of her as all grown-up.

Rankin gave me the serious eyes again, trying to make me fess up if he'd just stop staring at me. I stared back and managed a friendly smile. I wasn't sure it reached my eyes, but it was the best I had under the circumstances.

"I need to check on Peter's little sister. She's pretty upset, watching him get carted off in an ambulance." I actually turned away, but Rankin wasn't done with me.

"I notice you're not defending Parnell's innocence."

I turned back and didn't try to keep my eyes friendly now. "Innocence for what, Rankin? Peter is the one that got stabbed so deep in his thigh that his artery got nicked."

"He's also the one that dragged a screaming woman out of the hotel pool and carried her against her will through most of the downstairs area of the hotel. We have a dozen witnesses that say Ms. Carlitos was begging him to let her go and calling for help from passersby."

"If they'd really thought she was in danger, why didn't they help her?"

"Parnell is over six feet tall and in good shape. They were afraid of him, Blake."

I tried to see Peter that way. Tried to see him as a big, athletic guy people would be afraid to mess with, but I couldn't. "I'm sorry, Detective Rankin, but I know Peter too well to see him like that."

"You wouldn't be afraid of a six-foot-plus man who was carrying a screaming and obviously frightened woman through a hotel?"

"No."

He let me see that he didn't believe me.

"I'm with the preternatural branch of the Marshals Service, Rankin. I spend my time hunting vampires and lycanthropes. A tall guy with a struggling woman doesn't even step foot in the ballpark of what I'm afraid of."

"I know who you are, Blake."

"Then you know that I'd do the same thing you'd do if you really thought a woman was being abducted right in front of you. We'd both double-check what was actually happening, and if it was an abduction, we'd stop it."

"Most men wouldn't see you as much of a threat," he said.

"Most men are stupid."

His mouth quirked as if he almost smiled, but if I'd amused him, he managed to fight it off. He went right back to that serious intensity of earlier. "You've known Parnell since he was a kid, but you still haven't defended his honor. Most people tell me how their friend couldn't have done it, that they're too nice a guy, they'd never hurt anyone. I find the fact that you aren't protesting like that interesting, Blake. It's like you know something we don't about Parnell and the missing woman."

"Do you want me on the record saying the usual shit that everyone says? He didn't do it. Well, of course he didn't. I don't have to defend Peter, but right now I do have to check on Becca and her mother and get us organized to head to the hospital and check on Peter."

I walked away then, and, yes, Rankin called after me, but I wasn't under arrest. I didn't have to keep talking to him, or any of them. I knew the rules and how far they could be bent. I would gain nothing by talking to Rankin and Dunley, but things I said could hurt Peter later. He was innocent of Bettina's disappearance, but if things went wrong, he might end up charged for what he'd done with Dixie. Assault maybe, or even holding someone against their will. Who knew? If the local cops wanted to make a big deal out of this, they could. Peter might have more problems than just a stab wound. Of course, he had to live through the last to worry about the first. Did I really think Peter would die from what Dixie had done? No, but there was a tightness in my chest that was less sure.

36

EDWARD LET US know that Peter was in surgery. Donna was already there with Uncle Bernardo. Sheriff Rufous and his wife, Marisol, were still out sight-seeing and no one had been able to get ahold of them yet. Lieutenant Colonel Franklin came to offer to take Becca to their room to hide out with their little girl, but I had to say no. Until Edward relieved me of duty, Becca was with us.

The police were still interviewing people, and that included Micah, Nathaniel, Ru, Rodina, Bram, and Nicky. I wasn't sure why they wanted to question Nicky--he hadn't even been at the pool--but the police were very insistent on it. Once Detective Rankin showed up, the police were suddenly way too interested in everyone I was traveling with

, or maybe it was just them being thorough and me being paranoid. But for whatever reason, I was suddenly out of bodyguards, and even lovers. Rather than feel nervous about it, I was almost relieved, as if maybe I needed a little more alone time. I felt almost guilty taking Becca back to her room to change, just her and me, as if I needed permission from Nicky or someone to be out by myself. The hotel was swarming with police. I figured I'd be safe enough.

The top of Becca's head came to my shoulder, but she still took my hand in hers and swung it between us as we walked. She'd liked to swing hands like that since I'd met her, but what was adorable at six was a little odd at eleven, or maybe it was just the realization that she was going to be taller than me. If she came up to my shoulder now, by the time she was fourteen she'd be as tall as I was, just like Peter had been. She might not reach his full height, but I was remembering one of those articles I'd read when I was waiting somewhere. It had said if you take a man's height and subtract five inches, then that's how tall he'd have been as a woman. If you added five inches to a woman, that would have been her height as a man. I wasn't sure it was true, but I'd liked the idea that I'd have been five-eight as a man. If I took Peter's height for Becca, she might end up five-ten at least.

"Aunt Anita," she said in a voice that was way more serious than her usual cheerful tone. I waited for her to continue, but she didn't. I glanced at her as we walked down the hallway to their room, and still she didn't say anything. She looked down at the floor as we walked, swinging our hands back and forth as if she didn't realize she was doing it. Maybe it was a comfort thing for her.

"What's up, Becca?" I asked.

"Aunt Dixie was yelling things at the pool before Peter took her away."

My stomach clenched tight and I damn near stumbled. I did not want to have this conversation with Becca. I sure as hell didn't want to have it with just the two of us. Nathaniel was better with kids than I was, and Micah was calmer with nearly everyone and everything. One of the things I'd learned was that calling someone your other half, or other halves, doesn't mean you're not whole without them, but you do divide up your life according to each other's strengths. Talking to an eleven-year-old about the supposed affair I wasn't having with her dad . . . Hell, maybe there was no good way to have this conversation. I was just being cowardly wanting to have the men with me, but right that minute I would rather have faced a bad guy than have this particular talk.


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