Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 86

Listen Audio


"Is she in the car?" Bernardo asked.

The leopard shook his head.

"Have you lost the scent?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Did they get in a car and drive away?"

He looked at me, and again there was that weight of intelligence and human thinking in the leopard eyes that no ordinary cat had. He nodded.

Tyburn cursed softly. "We'll try to see if any of the witnesses remember the same car parked in this slot, but I wouldn't hold my breath."

"The jacket was new; she'd never worn it before," Bernardo said.

"Lucky we had the purse," I said.

"They got in a car and were driven away by a man--that's the only thing that the few witnesses that saw them can agree on," Tyburn said. Apparently, while we'd been sniffing purses and jackets, he'd been gathering intelligence to share. It was a nice division of labor; too bad it didn't help us find a clue.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I got it out and saw that it was Micah. "What do you have for me?"

He didn't chastise me, or say I love you; he just told me, which is one of the reasons we worked as a couple. "Two of the extended family work there. One of them is at the hospital with Christy and the baby. The other one, Cleo, was working today." He gave me her name and then texted me a picture of a smiling young woman with hair so white it couldn't be natural.

"She's got a few streaks of color in the white now, her cousin says; the funky hair color helps hide that she's got snake locks."

"Like the new baby," I said.

"Yes, but Cleo didn't get hers until she was three."

"Thanks, Micah."

"I hope it helps. I'm at the hospital with Bram."

"Where are R and R?" I asked.

"I sent them down to try to get an update on Denny."

"She's still unconscious as far as we know," I said.

"If I find out different, I'll text."

"Thanks," I said, and saw a woman with short white hair and streaks of color. "I think I see her. Love you." I hung up to his "I love you, too."

I tried to question Cleo Stavros, but she panicked at the sight of Nathaniel on his leash. We could hunt for missing persons with a leopard on a leash, but questioning witnesses with him seemed to go under the heading of coercion, or undue influence. Basically, if I wanted to talk to Cleo, Nathaniel had to go somewhere else.

Dalton volunteered to drive Nicky and Nathaniel back to the hotel. Nicky would order some rare steaks and pay-per-view and then wait for Nathaniel to change back to human form. I rubbed my face against Nathaniel's furred one, which made a few more of the witnesses and one of the cops scream; then I kissed Nicky good-bye, wrapping the faint scent of lion just below his skin around me. If I was going to be close to Olaf again, I wanted my lioness to remember we already had a lion in our lives.

Tyburn helped us find a spot to question Cleo alone with just him and the Four Horsemen. I learned how he was managing so many different overlapping jurisdictions out of our way so often. He'd been part of the county sheriff's office, but Kirke Key had offered him more money and a promotion. It still seemed like a political miracle, but so far, everyone seemed to know him and like him. Sometimes the good-ol'-boy network can work for you, instead of against you, even if you're not one of the boys.

61

CLEO'S WHITE HAIR was streaked with pale purple and what I thought at first was black, but in the sunlight, it was a blue so dark it was almost the shade of Jean-Claude's eyes. The hair was shorter than I thought it would be since it was trying to hide the big family secret, but it was thick and straight and almost touched her shoulders. Her eye makeup and lipstick were black and purple to match her hair. She also seemed to stay out of the sun, or she was using one of the best white bases I'd ever seen, because it looked invisible on her skin.

I tried to be friendly, the good cop--I mean, I had Edward and Olaf to play bad cop--but to every question I asked she had only one reply: "I told the other cops everything I know." She worded it slightly differently, but the meaning was the same.

"She's better at avoiding answering the questions than I am at asking them," I said when the four of us took a huddle to regroup. Tyburn was talking to Cleo, his deep voice rumbling in reassuring tones.

"Whatever she is hiding must be important or she would not be working this hard to hide it," Olaf said.

"Maybe we're overcomplicating this," Bernardo said.

We all looked at him. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"What if all she's hiding is the family secret?"

"Go on," Edward said.

"Maybe that's why she's good at keeping secrets; she's had to keep one all her life."

We all thought about it, and I finally said, "You really aren't just another pretty face, Bernardo."

"The compliment would mean more to me normally. Right now, I just don't want to see another girl butchered the way Bettina was."

"Let's lie," I said.

"What do you have in mind?" Edward asked.

"Tyburn will need to be in on it," I said.

"In on what?" he asked.

"We're the Four Horsemen, the scourge of bad little supernaturals everywhere."

"We don't have a warrant of execution for this crime," Olaf said.

"She doesn't know that."

Bernardo nodded. "Nice."

"Simple," Edward said.

"Frightening," Olaf said.

"Yes," I said.

"So we're all bad cops," Bernardo said.

"Exactly."

"I like it," he said.

"As do I," Olaf said.

"Let's do it," Edward said.

62

WE SAT CLEO Stavros down at one of the picnic bench seats and crowded her, though I made sure that Olaf and I were the ones closest to her. I knew she had at least one snake hidden in her hair somewhere. We had to consider the snake potentially venomous, just like you considered suspects armed until you patted them down.

"We don't want to hurt you, Cleo," I said.

She frowned at me, unsure for the first time. "What are you talking about?"

"We know that there's a supernatural element to Bettina Gonzales's murder and the disappearances of the other women."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"If you tell us what you know before the warrant arrives, then we won't use the warrant against you."

"What kind of warrant?"

I looked at the other men and we bounced our glances around like it was a game of catch. "You know who we are, right?"

"You know what we are," Bernardo said.

She frowned at us all. "You're marshals."

"We're marshals with the preternatural branch," Edward said.

She frowned harder, and then the first flicker of unease went through her eyes. "The preternatural branch. You kill monsters."

"We kill supernatural citizens that break the law," I said.

"We kill monsters that prey on humans," Olaf said.

"I know what the preternatural branch does," she said, and she still sounded angry, but she also sounded nervous. We were making progress.

"Once the warrant of execution gets here, Cleo, we can't help you anymore. We will be duty bound to execute the order as written," I said.

"There are no monsters for you to kill here."

"Now, Cleo, you know that's not true."

"I don't know what you're talking about, but I want a lawyer."

"Normally, Ms. Stavros, that would be the end of this interview and we'd get you a lawyer," Tyburn said from farther back in the room, "but supernatural Americans that commit murder don't have the same rights as ordinary American citizens."

"I want a lawyer," she said.

Tyburn should have called it, because we didn't have a warrant of execution. We couldn't actually prove supernatural involvement in the first murder or the abductions yet, but we had two missing women and less than a day to find them alive. We'd all agreed to push enough boundaries

that Cleo would never be able to be successfully tried for anything, but we didn't want her; we wanted what she knew.

"Talk to us before the judge signs off on the warrant and it gets delivered here, Cleo," I said.

"Once we have the warrant in hand, Ms. Stavros, we will have to consider you part of the conspiracy to murder Bettina Gonzales, and if anything happens to the other two women, that will be added to the charges," Edward said.

"The first murder is enough," Olaf said. "We can only kill her once."

"What are you talking about? You're not going to kill me," she said, and she was more angry than nervous. Had we overplayed our hand?

"I'd rather not kill a beautiful young woman like you, but if you're conspiring to kill human beings, I won't have a choice," Bernardo said, sounding sad.

"What are you talking about? You're all crazy. I want a lawyer, now."


Tags: Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Horror
Source: www.freenovel24.com