Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 74

"You okay, Marshal Blake?" Lin asked.

I managed to say, "Yes. Why doesn't the body smell worse? The bowels had to be perforated. We should be able to smell it." I wasn't sure I was actually looking for an answer, more sharing the puzzle.

"The bowels are gone, along with everything else in the lower section of the body," Olaf said.

I looked at him then, where he was still squatting beside the body. "But even if he, it, they, tore the bowels out of the body, they should have spilled inside the cavity."

"Perhaps the salt water washed it clean," Lin offered.

"Maybe," I said.

"Or perhaps he was just that skilled at removing the internal organs, like a hunter that does not wish to contaminate the meat," Olaf said.

"You think they ate her like meat?" Lin asked.

"I do not know for certain, but they did not eat her as they did it, because it is too neat for that."

I said, "This doesn't look like claws or teeth to me either. Otto is right. I don't see any tool marks that I recognize."

"Wait," Lin said, "if it's not claws, teeth, or tools, what is it? What did the killer use to do that to her?"

"There are teeth marks," Olaf said.

"Where?" I asked.

"You will either have to touch the body more, or come to my side and then perhaps you can see it."

I glanced back down at the body. I didn't want to touch it more; I really didn't. It was freaking me out far more than I'd thought it would that I knew what this body had looked like up and running, talking, living. I'd seen people I knew dead before. Had it bothered me this much? I couldn't remember; maybe I didn't want to remember. You have to get a certain amnesia about how horrible parts of the job are, or you can't keep doing it. It's like my friends who tell me that you forget how awful pregnancy and childbirth are; otherwise you would never have a second child.

I went around the body to squat down beside Olaf. He pointed with one big gloved hand toward the edge of the rib cage. The skin was a little pulled back from this angle. "Do you see the rib bone just there?"

"Yeah, it's been bitten, or I think it's tooth marks on the rib. We'll need forensics to tell us for sure. I mean, there may be some exotic tool that I've never heard of that could do shit like this."

"It is teeth. See the way it marked the bone here"--he pointed with his gloved finger--"and here."

"Damn, I think you're right."

"So it's fangs, like a wereanimal?" Lin asked.

We both looked up at him, as if we'd almost forgotten he was there. "No, not fangs like a wereanimal. Whatever did this is no type of shapeshifter that I'm familiar with," I said.

"It is closer to human teeth marks," Olaf said.

"Are you saying a human being did that?"

"No," we said together, then looked at each other. I motioned for him to elaborate. He was doing great and not being all serial-killer creepy at all. I wanted to encourage him.

"No human could bite through bone in this manner, and it looks as if they plunged their hands into her flesh to tear her open. Again, most humans would neither be strong enough to do this nor have the knowledge to do it."

"Knowledge; what do you mean knowledge?" Lin asked.

"You may have the desire to do this to a woman, but you will not know how. For something so potentially savage, it is disappointingly not."

"What?" Lin asked.

I translated. "It's too clean and neat for what was done to the body. I don't think this was done by a human being, but if it was, then this is not their first rodeo."

"If this killer has struck before, it wasn't here, because we haven't had anything remotely like this since I've been on the job."

"How long have you been on the job here?" I asked.

"Five years."

Olaf shook his head. "He has been practicing this somewhere."

"Agreed," I said.

"Well, the perp hasn't been practicing anywhere in the Keys," Lin said.

Edward spoke as he walked up to us. "If he's been practicing, we need to find out where. It could give us a clue to what, or who, it is."

I glanced past him and saw Bernardo leaning against the light pole at the edge of the parking lot. I didn't bother asking how he was, because he looked pale from here. Also, he hadn't come back to do his job, or help us do our jobs. That meant he wasn't doing well at all.

Olaf and I stood up at the same time, though he kept standing up like he found extra inches from somewhere. I knew he was either seven feet tall or damn near, but I was suddenly more aware of it than normal.

"Tell me what you found out," Edward said.

We told him.

"I was hoping one of you would have seen a creature like this before," Edward said.

"Creature?" Lin made it a question with the uptilt of the word.

"Monster is considered impolitic for our preternatural citizens," Edward said.

"Creature is better?" Lin asked.

Edward shrugged. "It's supposed to be according to the list of approved words the Marshals Service issued recently."

"Are you all certain that this wasn't a human-on-human killing?" Lin asked.

"Yes," Edward said.

"Yes," Olaf said.

"Pretty sure," I said.

"Okay, if our bad guy, or girl, isn't human, then what are they?"

The three of us looked at one another. I shrugged and shook my head. "I've never seen anything remotely like this. I can tell you what it isn't, but not what it is."

"Same here," Edward said.

"It doesn't even have a familiar scent," Olaf said.

"That's right. You're a shifter now. Does that give you a better smeller?" Lin asked.

"Not in human form, but I am more aware of scent than I was before."

"And you say it doesn't smell like human, or a shapeshifter?" Lin said.

"That is correct."

"What does it smell like, then?"

"A mystery."

And that was the best we could do. It wasn't human, or a shapeshifter, or any supernatural creature the three of us had ever run across. It was a mystery. Which didn't help Denny one fucking bit.

51

LIN ASKED US if we were done with the body, and when we said yes, he shooed us back so the next round of people could take the body away. I hoped the medical examiner could come up with more than our guesswork. It was informed guesswork, but none of it seemed to get us closer to the killer or to finding Denny. The three of us stripped off our gloves and booties and went to join Bernardo, who was well out of the way, as the next round of personnel came to collect the body. Sometimes a crime scene is like a relay race, each person handing the body and evidence off to the next leg and the next runner. This time it really was a race against time, because we were all going on the assumption that Denny had been abducted by the same "creature" that had done that to Bettina. Even though none of the other cops knew Denny at all, they would still be racing to find her, to save her, because most people go into this line of work because at heart they want to save the world, to help people, to be that white knight. White knights want to save the maiden and slay the dragon, not just find the body and clean up the mess.

Bernardo was standing up straight and tall beside the light pole at the edge of the parking lot. He'd retied his ponytail so it was even tighter, giving the illusion that his hair was short and close to his head. His sunglasses were firmly in place, and his color was back to normal. Evidently he wanted to ignore what had just happened and move forward. Fine with me.

"Why would he take all the internal organs like that?" I asked of no one in particular.

"He wanted them," Olaf said.

"Wanted them how, or for what?" I asked.

"Trophies," Edward said. "A lot of these guys take trophies--you know that."

"A heart, a liver, some of the other organs that travel well, but some of what he took is messy and hard to transport. How would you keep, say, intestines as a trophy?"

"Freeze it," Olaf said.

"Put it in a preservative, like some kind of specimen in a jar," Edward said.

"God," Bernardo said softly.

"I'm sorry if this upsets you," I said, because neither of the men would say it. I was sort of breaking the guy code even acknowledging that there was an issue.

He nodded. "Thanks, I'm fine." It was such an obvious lie that we all pretended it wasn't one.

"He could have eaten them," Edward said.

Bernardo swallowed hard enough that I could hear it, the strong lines of his throat working convulsively as if he was trying not to be sick again. "I don't think the killer did that. I don't want to think it."

Olaf said, "You know that it is possible."


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