Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 79

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"Fair point, but you'd still have to do it case by case, and the lawyers would go into a feeding frenzy," I said. Bernardo made a small movement, as if adjusting for my sitting on his lap. It felt weird having a serious work discussion while I was sitting on his lap with my arms around his neck. It was a date position, or at least a friendly visit, not a police-work position. If he would say something, contribute to the conversation, it might have helped ease the awkwardness.

"It would be a mess legally," Tyburn agreed.

"It would also undermine the psychic program with the police, because I'm one of the first officers that came onto the force as a practitioner and got promoted that way. If it's proven that I was compromised this badly, then they'll use it to hurt all of us."

"So it's just our little secret," I said.

"Yes," she said.

"That's fine," Bernardo said, "unless Rankin has something to do with Bettina's death and Denny's abduction."

I turned in his lap so I could look into that handsome face--from way too close. It would have been more natural to kiss him at this distance than just talk.

"Do you really think Rankin is involved?" I asked.

He nodded. "I saw the film on YouTube of him yelling out that Nathaniel, Micah, and your other men were involved in the crime. Why would he do something that stupid if he wasn't invested in getting someone blamed quick?"

"I thought you were just muscle and handsome. I didn't expect smart on top of all that," Dalton said, aiming those big brown eyes of hers in Bernardo's direction.

Bernardo looked past my shoulder to Dalton, but his face never left the deathly serious expression he'd started with, as if he were oblivious to the flirting, which I knew wasn't true. He flirted like he breathed, but his voice was as cold and relentless as Edward's could be as he said, "Are you flirting with me because you're about to be between boyfriends, or because you want to distract us from the idea that your current boyfriend is involved in the murder and abduction of two women?"

I said, "Bernardo," but when he aimed that look at me, I stopped, because the seriousness of him, the reality of his pain and anger, was there in the flexing of his hands and arms, the tension in his body. His face could hide it, but the rest of him gave the game away.

"Are you trying to distract us from Rankin's involvement, Officer Dalton?" Edward asked.

"No! I mean, I don't know he is involved in all this, but no, I'm not defending him, or covering for him either." She looked at Bernardo then, face no longer friendly, but not as hostile as mine would have been under similar circumstances. "I'm sorry I flirted, even a little bit. I was trying to lighten the mood, trying to feel normal again. The last two years of my life have been a lie, and I don't know what to do about that."

"Rankin can't be personally involved in this murder," Tyburn said.

"How can you be sure?" Edward asked, as Bernardo said, "You can't know that."

"Because I've seen bodies like this before, and Rankin would have been about ten years old when the first murders happened."

That made us all look at him, though all most of us could see was the side of his head, at best. Bernardo startled, arms flexing around me so hard and sudden that it was almost too much. If he hadn't relaxed almost immediately I'd have had to say something. Dalton didn't react as badly as we did, so I was pretty certain he'd told her earlier.

"When and where, exactly?" Edward said.

"Twenty years ago and here."

"And you're just now sharing that information?" Bernardo asked. He sounded angry.

"I've shared it with some of my officers, but until I saw the body I had no way to connect the two crimes." Tyburn's voice held just a touch of heat, as if under other circumstances he might have let himself be angry about Bernardo's tone.

"Tell us what happened twenty years ago," Edward said.

"I was brand-new on the force. I found the first body. We didn't even know we had a missing person. She was a tourist, traveling with her boyfriend."

"Why didn't he report her missing?" Bernardo asked. It was weird to hear him being the first to ask the hard questions. That was usually Edward or me. It was weirder still to watch him be all serious and hard-nosed while I was cuddled in his lap. It was like a mental and physical dissonance.

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nbsp; "They'd had a fight. She stormed off and we found her body before she'd been gone less than eight hours."

"So the killer doesn't keep the women long before killing them," I said.

"No," Tyburn said, not sounding happy about it, but truth is truth.

"He didn't keep Bettina longer than twenty hours, maybe not even that long," Bernardo said. I heard him swallow hard and breathe out slowly, as if saying her name had been hard. I could smell the breath mints he'd popped after he'd gotten sick back at the crime scene.

"That was quicker than any of the other victims twenty years ago. He kept them at least three days. I think the longest was five days between abduction and finding the body."

"So he didn't keep that victim alive for five days, because your timeline goes from abduction to finding the body," Bernardo said.

"Yes," Tyburn said, and I heard him sigh.

"How long has Denny been missing?" I asked.

"We're not sure," Edward said.

"Are you saying we have between sixteen hours and three days to find her alive?" I asked.

"I'm afraid so," Tyburn said, glancing back at me in the rearview mirror.

"Fuck," I said.

"I've sent an officer to her room to collect some things to help your men track her," Tyburn said.

"How many victims died twenty years ago?" Bernardo asked.

"Three."

"And then it stopped?" I asked.

"Yes, but not because we caught him. It just stopped."

"Until now," Olaf said.

Tyburn nodded and did that glance in the rearview mirror again. "Yes, until now."

"There have been serial killers that took years off between kills," I said.

"If they're in jail and get out," Tyburn said.

"No, there's the BTK killer. He took that long off, and wasn't in jail," I said.

"To raise his family, right?" Tyburn asked.

"And as a compliance officer. Basically if your grass was too tall, he made you cut it," I said.

"One thing that seemed to trigger him was the children becoming teenagers and rebelling against his authority. As a father of one teenager and one preteen, I can say it is high-stress parenting," Edward said.

Tyburn chuckled. "My sons are all grown-up now, but I remember."


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