"I'm sorry, Ms. Stavros," Tyburn said, and he looked sad about it, "but the judge has already signed the warrant; we're just waiting for it to be delivered to the marshals. The judge signing it means that anyone involved in the murders, human or inhuman, loses their constitutional rights. If you help us find the other two women before they come to harm, then the marshals have enough legal discretion to spare your life, but once the warrant is in hand, then it is literally a warrant of execution. Your life will be in the hands of the Four Horsemen."
"The Four Horsemen? What are you babbling about? This is ridiculous. I want my damn lawyer, and I want him now!" She stood up and Olaf put a hand on her shoulder and forced her to sit back down.
Her hair moved, not like wind blowing, but like something moved it. Olaf removed his hand from her shoulder; he'd seen it, too. "I guess we're not as infamous as we thought," Bernardo said.
"I am Death," Edward said, and there was not a hint of Ted Forrester anywhere in him. His eyes were cold as January skies.
"I am Plague," Olaf said, and he was so close that his leg touched her leg. It made her jump and scoot away from him.
"I'm Hunger," Bernardo said.
"I used to be called the Executioner, but I killed so many people, I got promoted. Now I'm War."
"Wait, I read about you on the Internet, but I haven't done anything to earn a death warrant."
"Warrant of execution," Edward said.
"Whatever you call it, I haven't killed anyone."
"You helped him kidnap the women today. If he hurts them, kills them, then you're just as guilty as he is for the murders," Edward said.
"I didn't help him do anything."
Olaf leaned over her, so close that his chest almost touched her hair. She looked up at him like he was some fairy-tale giant about to devour her. I couldn't see his expression, but from the look on her face it was scary as fuck.
"We don't have time for this," Bernardo said.
"No, we do not," Olaf said, and the next thing I knew he had grabbed the woman and slammed her down on top of one of the tables. The only reason she didn't scream was that he'd probably knocked the breath out of her. He pinned both her wrists above her head against the table with one big hand. She started to try to kick, but Bernardo caught her ankles and held them on the table.
She got her breath back enough to say, "You're crazy. Let me go!"
Olaf drew a knife longer than my forearm. He held it above her face so she could see herself reflected in the flat of it. "Oh God," she whispered, "you're police. Police don't do things like this."
I came up on one side of the table and Edward on the other. We leaned over her and I said, "We're not the police."
"We're executioners," Edward said.
Olaf caressed the flat of the blade down the side of her face. She screamed and a snake appeared in her hair, mouth wide, fangs bared. If Olaf had been human, she'd have bitten him, but he wasn't human. He moved in a blur of speed, too fast for the snake to bite him. It hissed at him, and she struggled like she knew she was stronger than a plain human. She'd counted on the snake to either kill one of us or startle some of us into letting go. Cleo was playing for the wrong audience. Edward and I were both pointing guns at her. I was looking at a point just above her eyes. Edward was aiming at her heart.
"Attack us again and I will put a bullet in your head," I said. My voice was soft, careful, because I was pointing a loaded gun at her forehead. What had started out as pretend had suddenly become real.
The serpent in her hair was joined by a second. They rose through white and striped hair like deadly hair accessories. Olaf said, "Stupid bitch, we don't have to wait for the warrant now; you tried to kill a U.S. Marshal."
"You scared me," she said.
"We have not begun to scare you," Olaf said, and with that he turned the blade in a silver-edged blur and cut off the head of the snake that had tried to bite him. Blood gushed out and the snake body flopped and sprayed blood over her face, over Olaf, over me and the whole fucking room. She was screaming bloody murder, but the last snake head hid back in her hair, trying to save itself.
When she calmed down enough to talk, she told us about her uncle Terry and how he'd overheard the early dinner plans for the bridal party and how he wanted two of them. "He has this voice, this voice, and people will do anything he wants. I saw him come up to them in the parking lot; he just talked to them and they smiled and they took his hands and they went with him."
"Where has he taken them?" Edward asked.
"I don't know."
Olaf cleaned the blood off his knife over the front of her shirt, across her breasts.
"I swear I don't know."
Olaf twirled the still bloody knife in his hand and said, "You still have one more snake in your hair."
"It hurts, but they'll grow back; we can't get rid of them."
"Do your fingers grow back?" he asked, and he stared down into her blood-covered face with his deep, dark eyes.
I wasn't sure if he was serious, but just in case he was, I said, "Not fingers again. I told you not to start with fingers."
He smiled up at me with her pinned and bloody under his hands. "What do you want me to cut off of her first, then, dearest?" He caressed the flat of his blade down the front of her body, slowly, sensuously.
Fine, I could play. "We talked about this, Holmes. Leave her all the parts that let her do her job and earn money."
"For you, Adler. She is a waitress, so she does need her fingers, but her uniform will cover scars on her torso."
He slipped the tip of the blade underneath her T-shirt so that the naked blade touched naked flesh. I said, "Hold very still, Cleo. If you move, you'll cut yourself on his blade and he'll enjoy that. Won't you, honey?"
"Very much, dearest, very much," he whispered, voice so deep it rumbled.
I saw his hand move minutely and blood blossomed through the cloth of her shirt. She screamed. He cut her again.
I pulled her shirt up so I could see how bad the cuts were. They were surprisingly shallow. I was relieved. She struggled and I watched her movements cause her to cut herself on the razor-sharp blade again.
"Stop moving, Cleo, and he won't cut you again."
Cleo didn't just stop moving; I think she held her breath while the big blade slid further under her clothes. I came in close to her face, out of snake-striking range but close enough that she could move her eyes and see my face, as I said, "He's going to take the blade away from your skin and then you're going to tell us everything you know, because if you don't, he's going to make you bleed again, and you don't want him to do that again, do you, Cleo?"
She made a small, whimpering, "Hmm-mm."
"Move the knife away, dear, so she can talk to us."
"Only for you, dearest," he said, and he slid the blade slowly out from under her shirt. When she could see the blade and know it wasn't touching her she started to shake, and then to cry, but she told us everything she knew and confessed that she had been willing to sacrifice two more girls the same way Bettina had been sacrificed, because it was supposed to lift the family curse. Cl
eo even knew where the girls were being held and readied for sacrifice. She also knew it was an accelerated time schedule. They were going to kill them at sundown tonight, something about an astrological event that would make it work better than it had twenty years ago. Cleo even knew about the victims back when Tyburn was a new cop.
"I've told you everything I know. Please, please, don't hurt me anymore."
"You're begging us not to hurt you, when you helped send two other women about your own age to certain death. He guts them, Cleo. He butchers them like a hog or a deer," I said.
"Please," she said.
Bernardo said, "Did Bettina Gonzales say please? Did Bettina beg for mercy? Did she, Cleo? Did she? Did she beg for her life, Cleo? Did she?" Bernardo let go of her legs and just walked away from her. I think he didn't trust what he'd do if he didn't put some distance between himself and Cleo Stavros.
There was an ambulance waiting outside for Cleo, though once we explained exactly all the parts of her that were bleeding, the EMTs were a touch less eager to put her in their vehicle. I think they were still under the impression that the snakes were pets and might crawl off of her and hide somewhere. If they'd been that easy to get rid of, Bettina Gonzales wouldn't be dead.
Tyburn came to us and took us to one side. "Her uncle Terry is Terry Rankin."
"We figured that," I said.
"I know her grandfather's place. I use to go fishing with her uncles. Hell, I dated her mother before she married."
"Did you know what they were?" Edward asked.
"Did you know about the family curse?" I asked.
He took in a deep breath, let it out, and said, "I knew about some of it, but I thought it was like lycanthropy, just something they couldn't help."