"Can you give us the lay of the land where they're keeping the women?" Edward asked.
"Hell, I can draw you a map, as long as you don't want it too pretty."
"We don't need pretty. We need accurate."
"I can give you that."
"Find a man to keep with Cleo so that she doesn't phone home and warn everyone," Edward said.
Tyburn nodded and went off to find someone to babysit our murdering Medusa, and something to draw us a rough map so that we could plan an assault on an isolated camp of venomous snake lycanthropes. It sounded like a bad B movie.
"I wonder if other body parts grow back like the serpents do," Olaf said.
"If you get a chance to find out, let me know," Bernardo said, and there was a look on his face that I'd never seen before. For the first time I thought not only would Bernardo not stop Olaf from torturing Rankin and his family of killers, but he might help him do it.
I wasn't sure how I felt about that; hell, I wasn't sure how I felt about the little game Olaf and I had played with Cleo.
"You okay?" Edward asked me.
"I'm not sure."
"Did you call him Holmes and he called you Adler?"
"Since when did you and Otto have pet names for each other?"
"It was his idea."
"And you're okay with being his dearest?"
"No, not really."
Edward leaned in even closer and whispered, "Eventually he's going to ask you to do something you won't do and then you're going to have to kill him."
"I know, but that's not right now. Right now we have women that are going to die at sundown if we don't save them, and Otto is going to help us save them."
"Yeah," Edward said, "he will. Now, let's go coordinate with the other local PD and see how many men and women we have to work with and what kind of equipment they have. I wonder if anyone has a flamethrower I could borrow. You still can't fly with them."
On one hand, fire kills everything; on the other hand, Edward had burned a house down around us once using a flamethrower inside a vampire's lair. I wasn't sure if I hoped he found one, or if I would feel safer if he didn't.
EDWARD FOUND A flamethrower to borrow, and an hour later we were standing on a narrow side road. It was mostly white gravel and seashells, not like the shells had washed up on the road, but like they'd been scooped from somewhere else to be used to help fill out the gravel. I'd lived landlocked all my life, so the thought that seashells were that common seemed weird. The vegetation that lined the road was just as alien as the thought that we were walking on seashells. We had almost every flavor of police that existed in the Florida Keys and could be mobilized in an hour's time. It wasn't much more than what we'd had at the restaurant where the girls had gone missing. Tyburn, as the person who knew the place best, had helped plan where each group would enter the overgrown grounds of the hunting camp. There was a house and several outbuildings. He was pretty sure that the girls would be held in the house, so he was going to take us to the house. Other groups had different buildings as their targets to clear, but the four of us, plus Tyburn, got the house.
Once we got into the thick, tropical underbrush, I was glad that I had the shotgun tight to my vest and could snug the AR closer to my body without getting tangled in all of it.
I kept waiting to hear gunfire from one of the other groups, but the five of us moved in a well of silence except for the constant buzz of insects that made me glad we'd used bug spray; only Olaf had turned it down. He said it would ruin his sense of smell and he'd want that in the woods.
We came to the edge of the underbrush and the big clearing that was the main camp. There was only one other group visible; it was at the far end of the clearing, moving toward what looked like a big smokehouse. We nodded at one another, but that was it; they had their objective and we had ours. We put Tyburn at the point of our group, and the rest of us took a two-by-two on either side of him, with the ones at the back also covering our asses. We moved in that awkward bent-knee group walk that I'd learned serving warrants with SWAT. It helped you have a steadier platform from which to shoot, and we all knew how to do it, even Tyburn, though he complained that the last time he'd done it his knees hadn't minded so much.
The house was an original Florida Shaker house, with a tin roof and a small front porch, all of it covered in weathered boards that had aged gray, but it seemed in good repair, which puzzled me. I associated that level of discoloration on houses with decay, but it seemed snug. The windows were open, white lace curtains fluttering in a breeze that came up from the sea. The breeze was what let me know we were close to the ocean, even though the trees hid it from view. The trees also kept most of the wind trapped, but the house and the outbuildings weren't made to withstand a storm by the sea; they had to be built farther back in the shelter of the trees. Tyburn had told us that modern building materials and engineering had enabled houses to sit right on the ocean, but before that, one good storm and your house was wiped out, and you with it.
The door was propped open like an invitation or a trap, or maybe they just didn't have air-conditioning and were trying to catch a breeze. Olaf and Bernardo took the outside to the right, Edward and I took the left, and Tyburn stayed put in hard cover by the covered porch. We'd do the outside of the house and see if we could see into any of the rooms, then meet back at the front--or that was the plan, but like all plans, it didn't survive the battleground.
Terry Rankin called out, "Captain Tyburn, I see you out there, and I can feel Anita Blake's energy. I've got one of the women with me. You come inside and she'll be safer for a little while longer."
I hadn't planned on his having drunk so deep of my metaphysics that he could sense me outside the house; fuck. "If the two of you don't come in and visit, I'll hurt her."
"Terry, it doesn't have to be this way."
"Yes, it does, Captain, and if you and Anita come inside, I'll answer all your questions. I'll even answer some questions you don't know to ask yet."
Tyburn craned up enough to see inside and say, "One of the girls is in there."
"Fuck," I said. I motioned at Edward and the others to do their perimeter check and I'd go inside. Edward didn't like it, but he gave the slightest of nods and vanished around the side of the house like water. The other two were already out of sight on the other side. Tyburn went in first, and I admit I used him as a human shield, just in case. I had my AR snug against my shoulder and ready to shoot anything hostile. If Rankin tried to mind-fuck me, I'd consider it a hostile act and kill him. He hadn't told us to lay down our weapons, so I was using mine until told otherwise.
Of course, as if he'd read my mind, he said, "You can keep your weapons, but if you come through the door with them pointed at me, I'll shoot Stephanie here."
I should have known it was too good to be true. I lowered my AR from my shoulder to my side, though I knew I could shoot from the hip if I had to and still hit most of what I aimed at.
Rankin slumped on the old-fashioned couch with a small end table next to his arm. There was a handgun on the table flanked by two iced teas. Stephanie was curled on the couch beside Rankin, her head on his shoulder and one arm across his stomach, around his waist. Her long legs were drawn up on the empty side of the couch. Her shoes were placed neatly beside it. She looked half asleep and hadn't reacted to our entering the room. She seemed drugged but otherwise unharmed. The drinks had been there long enough to sweat all over the coasters that were protecting the dark wood of the table. Both the couch and the table looked like antiques--a little worse for wear, but still nice. If the gun hadn't been sitting in plain sight, it would have looked like a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon.
"I've got War, but where are Death, Hunger, and Plague? They have to be nearby; they wouldn't let you fly solo. I bet you even have your other bodyguards out here somewhere." He put his head to one side and seemed to be thinking hard. "I don't feel Nathaniel or Micah close by. You didn'
t bring them. Interesting."
Since he didn't ask about the other horsemen a second time I ignored the question. I did a quick search of what parts of the house I could see from the living room, but I mainly had to keep my attention on the siren and soon-to-be ex-cop on the couch. If there was something dangerous in another room, it would have to wait until Rankin was neutralized.
"How did you know where to find us?"
"Once I realized that you might be involved I remembered your family's hunting camp. It's isolated and you've got room to hold prisoners and do ritualistic murder."
"Some of us think our family is cursed and if we kill the right amount of people in just the right way, it'll be over."
Tyburn managed to look blank-faced, good cop face, but I think I failed to keep a straight face, because Rankin laughed. Stephanie shifted in her sleep, snuggling against him. He petted her hair, soothing her back to sleep. His voice was low as he said, "Your face, Blake. It does sound ridiculous, but we really are cursed; you know that. You saw my cousin Andy in all his glory. If that's not a curse, I don't know what you'd call it."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Terry," Tyburn said. "Andy needs to get a handle on his drinking."
"Their baby, it's a girl."
"That's wonderful," Tyburn said.