Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 70

He called out, "Angela," again, so his power slithered down my skin. Fuck, he was powerful.

I pitched my voice so the other police still in the area and any interested civilians could hear me. "This power dance between us won't help find our friend, Detective Rankin. If we work together, maybe we can find her before it's too late."

"Angela!" This time he sort of yelled it, and it held an edge of panic rather than power.

I glanced back to find Nathaniel standing very near Dalton, with Edward standing between her line of sight and Rankin. Was Nathaniel touching her the way Rankin had been touching me? The thought was enough that I could feel his/my/our finger brushing against her bare arm. The sensation of being in two places at once made me want to clang my shields tight again, but I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and kept my shields heavier in the "front" toward the outside world, and let the ties that bound me to my people remain. I needed them, they needed me, and we all loved one another, damn it. Nathaniel hadn't tried to make me feel him touching Dalton; that had been my doing, my thought, my lack of control.

I raised my voice a little and said, "Detective Rankin, what can we do to help you find our friend before it's too late?"

He called after Dalton again, as if I hadn't said anything.

"Dalton is fine, Detective Rankin. Let us help you find Denny before it's too late and she's just another crime scene."

He tried to push past me to go to Dalton, and without thinking I grabbed his arm to keep him with me, and the power he was trying to aim at the other woman leapt from him to me. I had a moment of hearing that shushing sound--was it flowing water or was it the sound of wings? But this time I got angry and let myself flex my own power, not the necromancy but the warmth of my beasts spilling like heat from my hand to his arm. It was just a swat of power; no way was I trotting out anything major with their psychic standing just feet from us.

Rankin jerked his arm free and started to rub it like it hurt, but then stopped himself in midmotion, the way you do on the practice mat when someone one-ups you but you don't want them to know it.

His voice was low as he said, "It's already too late for your friend."

My gut tightened, and I realized I'd only had one cop's word for the body being dark-haired. Sometimes blond hair can look dark with blood, or water, or just how the light falls. "Unless the body you found is Denny, we still have time to find her alive."

He shook his head. "The body wasn't your friend, but that's all I can tell you about an ongoing investigation."

"My badge is federal," I said.

"And the men in your life are suspects."

A deep voice said, "Rankin, what the fuck is going on?" The deep voice belonged to a big man, dressed in tank top, loose shorts, and flip-flops, but there was a badge on a lanyard around his neck.

"Captain Tyburn, Blake is obstructing our investigation," Rankin said.

The big man came to loom over both of us. He was well over six feet. "Rankin, my wife just sent me video off the Internet of you yelling at Marshal Blake and her friends about them being suspects. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were playing to the damn camera phones in the crowd, so don't give me shit about two United States Marshals obstructing this investigation, unless you have proof."

"You have one woman dead, and our friend is missing, Captain. We want to help find her."

"Women just keep disappearing around you and the men in your life," Rankin said.

"Am I being overly sensitive, Captain Tyburn, or is your detective trying to hint that I and the men in my life are guilty of something?"

"No, you're not being overly sensitive, Marshal Blake."

Rankin tried to say something and Tyburn cut him off. "Find us a room where we can talk in private, Detective--now."

47

RANKIN TRIED TO call Dalton into the meeting, but Tyburn overrode him, and we got to leave Dalton talking to Nathaniel, Micah, Ru, and Rodina. Bram and Nicky were there, too, but they'd gone to bodyguard mode and were leaving the metaphysical intervention to the others. I wasn't crazy about being alone with Rankin without any of my metaphysical posse, but I wasn't alone--Rankin's boss was with us. He wouldn't want to be too hocus-pocus in front of his captain. I had to believe that, because if Tyburn didn't want Dalton to come into the meeting, he wasn't going to let me bring in my boyfriends. Rankin looked back as Tyburn herded us all into the hotel in search of some privacy. Dalton looked up as if she felt him looking. Their eyes met, and even from yards away I could see her face begin to go slack, as if Rankin could capture her with a look from a distance. I stumbled on purpose and fell against Rankin. It broke his concentration, made him glance down. Edward had caught my arm, which moved him up to block Rankin's view of the parking area. Tyburn was at the door and said, "Move like you have a purpose, people."

We moved and Rankin had no choice but to move with us and catch up with his boss. Once we were through the doors and into the lobby, Dalton was safe from his mind games, at least for now. I'd do my best to find out what he was doing to her and stop it permanently, but today I'd take the smaller victory and concentrate on finding Denny and figuring out what the hell had happened to Bettina Gonzales.

Olaf was waiting for us in the lobby, or maybe he'd just been wandering through. Whatever; there he was. We tried to hurry past him, but he sort of insisted on going with us, and Tyburn had had enough of everyone apparently, because he said, "Isn't he one of your own men?"

"He is," Edward said.

He looked at all three of us as if trying to figure out where the tension was between us, but finally told Marshal Otto Jeffries to come along. So we were weirdly stuck working with Olaf again. Every time I swore that I'd never work with him again, shit like this happened, and here we were again. All we needed was Bernardo and we'd have the old band back together. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride again--fuck. How the hell did this keep happening?

Rankin took us to the room he'd used to question Nathaniel and Micah. It was big enough for all of us, but barely. Tyburn seemed even taller and wider than he had outside, as if he took up more than his share of room. He was over six feet and an eye-catcher, but that wasn't all of it. He was pissed, and his anger made him seem even bigger, like an extra invisible layer of size that filled the room and made me fight not to back up. I was glad it wasn't aimed at me, and happier that it was aimed at Rankin.

One of the things that helped me not to back up in the face of Tyburn's anger, other than just my own attitude, was that Olaf was behind me. Edward was beside me, but the tallest guy in the room was right behind me like some kind of huge sentient tree. I could feel him warm and all too real at my back. It made me glance up, and he was looking down at me with those cave eyes of his. I fought the involuntary shiver, but finally lost as I turned around and took a step forward toward Tyburn's anger. Anger I understood. Whatever the hell was going on inside Olaf's head, I didn't want to understand.

Tyburn didn't yell. In fact his voice got lower, more careful, as if he squeezed the words out past his rage. "Explain to me why you made a worse-than-rookie mistake by yelling unfounded suspicions where the press and civilians could hear and record you, Detective!"

"They are connected to both missing women, and a shapeshifter would have the ability to kill someone the way that Bettina Gonzales was killed," Rankin said.

"They are not the only two shapeshifters in town, Detective!" Tyburn said, looming over him like a white-blond mountain. If I hadn't had Olaf to compare him to, it would have been even more impressive. Tyburn had him on bulk, which was why he made me think mountain, but the mountain was nearly a foot shorter than the towering redwood of a man behind me. I suddenly felt physically small, which wasn't like me.

Rankin said, "Graison's background is what put him on my radar for the first woman's disappearance. Pandering, prostitution, assault, attempted murder, drugs, child abuse, and that's just the highlights."

Tyburn's anger began to leak away, just a little.

He turned a pair of the palest gray eyes I'd ever seen on us. They matched the nearly perfect white of his military-short haircut. The only color was his boater's tan, which was damn near brown; maybe that's what made his hair and eyes look so pale.

"That's quite a list there, Marshals. It seems more than enough to warrant questioning Mr. Graison, regardless of who he's dating, Marshal Blake."

Edward put his hand on my arm and pressed, as if he'd noticed a breath I took without my realizing I was about to say anything. He spoke in his best down-home-Ted voice. "That would be plenty to make any cop interested in Nathaniel, if he was the one who had committed the crimes that Rankin just listed, instead of being the victim of all of them."

"I'm sure that Graison's version of things would make him seem like the victim, Marshals, but with charges like that on his record I don't see how you can date him, Blake, or let him near your family, Forrester," Tyburn said. His steely gaze had softened, as if he felt sorry for Nathaniel having pulled the wool over our eyes.

Edward drawled, "It's not Nathaniel's version, Captain, it's the official files. Rankin's right on the charges listed, but Nathaniel was never the perpetrator. He was referred to a social worker before age ten as a suspected child abuse victim; by ten he was being pimped out to other pedophiles."

I fought to keep my face blank, because I hadn't realized that Edward had researched Nathaniel that thoroughly. I knew most of it because Nathaniel had shared it.

"Of course Graison is going to make himself out the victim," Rankin said. "He bats those big eyes of his and sells a sob story to some social worker. He was probably as pretty then as he is now. Who wouldn't believe him?"

We all looked at him then, even his boss. "Wow," I said, "did you just slut-shame a pedophile victim because he was a pretty little boy?"

"No," Rankin said.

"It sure as hell sounded like you did. What is it about this case that's turned one of my best men into a potential lawsuit every time he opens his damn mouth?" Tyburn said, and his anger started to boil back up.

"Do you have a connection to Nathaniel Graison that none of us are aware of, Rankin? Because this is beginning to feel personal," Edward said. His accent was still thick, but it was managing to sound suspicious anyway.

"I don't have to answer your questions, Forrester. You're supposed to answer mine," Rankin said, trying to dig his way out of the shit he'd just landed himself in, but some things you can't really take back. Even if they were said out loud by accident, the officers who heard what you said are going to believe you meant them, somewhere in your heart of hearts.

"Do you have a personal connection to Graison?" Tyburn asked.

The silence in the room was suddenly thick. Rankin couldn't give his captain the same answer he'd given Edward. "How would I have a personal connection to a man I just met?"

I wondered if Tyburn would let him get away with the half answer. If he did, then Tyburn didn't want to know the truth. "That's not an answer. Do you have a personal connection with Nathaniel Graison?" I liked Tyburn better in that moment.

"I never met him before today." Rankin had gone very still, as if he were drawing himself inward and trying to hide in plain sight.

"Detective Rankin, have you had any personal interaction with Nathaniel Graison in person, or not in person?" Tyburn asked.

"No." He said it flat, final.


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