Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 90

"God, Terry, you've sat through the lectures about child pornography and what happens to those children. You've helped us find pedophiles and put them on trial, and the whole time you were one of them," Tyburn said.

"I am not one of them. I have never, ever touched a child in real life."

"Did you pay for the films you watched?" I asked.

He glanced at me and then away, staring down at the woman in his arms. "Yes, the films are still popular enough that they cost."

"Then you know that the person you paid money to used it to make more films, to abuse more children. You know that, right? You're a cop; you know how it works."

"I do," he said and reached for his gun.

"Don't do it," I said.

"Terry, don't do this," Tyburn said.

His hand was just resting on it; he hadn't even picked it up. My AR was back at my shoulder and aimed at him. "Ease down, Marshal," Tyburn said.

"Captain, either she shoots me or I eat my gun. Remember all those old stories about dragons and monsters terrorizing the countryside back in medieval times and earlier, Anita?"

"Yeah," I said, voice soft and careful so that I could keep my aim on his face.

"When one of us becomes our monster half and stays there, we go after our victim of choice. Most of them go after young women, the legend of the maiden sacrifice, but it's like we chase what we're attracted to."

"Vampires kill their nearest and dearest first, sometimes," I said. I raised my gun barrel toward the ceiling, because he still wanted to talk and I couldn't keep a rifle pointed at him steady forever. I didn't point it at the floor, because I didn't want to cross the woman in his lap with the gun barrel.

"If I change into my monster and don't come back to myself, I'll hunt children, Captain. I can't let that happen."

"Come with us, Terry. We'll take you in, lock you up; you won't hurt anyone."

"You still don't understand what's happening--but you do, don't you, Anita?"

I didn't actually, not all of it, but I asked what I wanted to know, while I watched the center of his body, waiting for him to tense, which would let me know he was moving his gun into play. "Why do your people kill women every few decades?" I asked.

"The reason that he wants to kill these two is that the auguries were good when he gutted the first girl."

"Auguries, what are you talking about?" Tyburn asked.

"It was an old method of divination to read the entrails of a sacrifice. He thinks he has the gift of prophecy with reading animals' death throes and then what their internal organs look like after death. Like I said, he's crazy. But some of the others believe that he can read what the gods want, so he needed another woman that was tied to Bettina. He overheard Bernardo talking to Denny and thought a shared lover would be enough of a connection, but I knew we couldn't take one of the people from a U.S. Marshal's wedding party. I knew Forrester wouldn't rest until he found her, so I persuaded them that she was too high risk a target. They let me put her somewhere she'd be found, but on the condition that I use my powers to get two suitable victims to replace Denny. I did it, but you know they tried this twenty years ago and it didn't work. He's convinced that it wasn't the right connection between victims, and there's some astrological event tonight that will make it perfect. Helping clean up after a murder is one thing, but I can't live with myself bringing them like lambs to slaughter. I can't live knowing that just watching the videos of your fiance hurt him and hurt every child who's used like that. I can't pretend anymore. My son is almost the same age that your Nathaniel was in those first films. I think what I would do to anyone who touched him like that, that stole his childhood away like that, and I thought I'd kill them. I'd shoot them. I'd look them in the eyes and shoot them dead."

His chest moved, his hand closing on the gun but not raising it much. It didn't matter; he had the gun in his hand. I aimed at his face. I'd normally go for a center-mass shot first, but with the woman draped across him I couldn't risk it. It would have to be a head shot.

"I don't have a warrant of execution for you."

"Captain Tyburn will testify that I gave you no choice."

"You won't shoot us, Terry."

I wondered where Edward and the other two horsemen were. Were they listening in to the confession? I pushed it out of my mind and just concentrated on the man in front of me. Yeah, he wanted suicide by cop, but that didn't mean he wouldn't shoot us to make us shoot back.

"When I die, my magic dies with me; Stephanie and Valerie will both know that they aren't safe. I'm sorry for all the harm I've caused. The rest of us aren't bulletproof, or blade-proof, but if you don't set fire to the wounds, they heal. I know that if anyone can kill him, it's the horsemen. Don't let him get to the water, or he'll swim away and you'll lose him." He raised his gun toward us.

I let out my last breath and the world closed down to that quiet center. There was no doubt, no fear, no anxiety, no questions of right and wrong, just his face at the end of my gun barrel, his eyes so big and dark. I'd hit just above them. He could have tried to use his gaze on me, but he didn't. He didn't want to win. He wanted to lose. He brought his gun up and started moving his hand to aim at me, but he knew he'd never make it. He didn't want to make it.

I pulled the trigger and the gun jumped in my hand. His head rocked back against the couch, spraying blood all over the upholstery. Stephanie woke screaming, falling off the couch, looking at the blood, at his face. Tyburn and I both went toward the couch, Tyburn to help our victim up off the floor and get her out of there, me to look Rankin in the eyes one more time and pull the trigger again with my barrel almost touching his skin. His brains blew out the back of his skull to add thicker things to the blood that was already on the couch and wall. Once the brains come out, even vampires and shapeshifters are dead. I'd had to kill him, but the thought that he'd sat in the dark in private and watched Nathaniel as a little boy being hurt, that he was a cop and he'd tried to use that authority to pin crimes on Nathaniel, that it hadn't been enough to be part of his abuse, he'd tried to take the life, our life, away . . . If I could have killed him more than once, I would have. But as I'd told Peter once, if they're dead, that's as good as vengeance gets. Once their brains are plastered all over the wall, you're done.

The only thing that saved my hearing was the high-tech earplugs. I heard yelling, and some kind of animal sound like a bull roaring, or maybe a lion, or something I had no word for, but it was loud enough to reach through my ringing ears. We had more monsters to kill. I left the body on the couch to finish bleeding out and ran for the door and the sounds of fighting, but before I got outside I heard wood splintering inside the house, a woman who wasn't Stephanie screaming, and that bellowing sound again, except this time it was behind me inside the house. I turned with my rifle to my shoulder, putting a wall to my back, and looked down the hallway to find Edward at the end of it with a broken back door behind him, and Bernardo with the redhead from the pool in his arms. She was screaming one long, loud scream after another, but we'd found Valerie Miller. Olaf and Edward were both looking into the room that I thought they'd gotten her out of. I thought the door was closed and then realized that it wasn't a door unless it was painted black. No, it wasn't a door. There was something filling the doorway. I had a moment of Edward, Olaf, and all of us seeing one another, and then the blackness filling the doorway moved into the light of the hallway and I knew why Valerie Miller wouldn't stop screaming.

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IT WAS A mass of black tentacles that had to be more than ten feet tall and wide enough to fill most of the hallway, so that it seemed to flow toward both Edward and me at the same time. The tentacles had snake heads, or maybe the entire mass of the thing was made up of hundreds of individual snakes. There were faces, or things that looked like faces, here and there, but I wasn't sure if there was a human face in the writhing mass, or if my mind just so desperately needed something human in it that I was seeing things.

I think I heard Edward

yell at Bernardo to get the girl out. I yelled something similar to Captain Tyburn about Stephanie and knew that he got her out, even as I took an angle to shoot into the mass of snakes that wouldn't overpenetrate and hit Edward or Olaf on the other side of the house. The thing screamed and seemed undecided whether it wanted Edward and Olaf or me more. Then one of the faces in the mass opened its eyes and looked at me. For one horrible second I recognized Andy Stavros, the drunken husband and new father. Another head higher up opened its eyes and screamed at me. Was it one of the men from the pictures that Micah had shown me? Was this thing made up of more than one of the family? What the fuck was going on?

Andy Stavros's head screamed at me again, and this time I shot it, instead of the mass of snakes. The head bled from the hole in its forehead just like Rankin had. I yelled, "Shoot the heads!" For all I knew, Edward and Olaf were already doing it, but it didn't hurt to try to share intel. The monster seemed to be retreating toward the back door. I didn't know where the others were in relation to it, so I didn't want to shoot into the mass while it was moving that way. I heard Edward yell, "Fire in the hole!"

Shit! I had time to start backpedaling for the front door before I heard the whoosh of fire and heard the monster's mouths scream for real. You didn't have to understand anything to know that those were pain sounds. Fire kills everything, even Lovecraftian horrors like the thing that was now trying to crawl toward me. I ran out the front door as much to get away from the fire as to flee from the monster. The old house went up fast: Either the wood was ripe for burning or Edward had used an accelerant. Either way, the house started to collapse with the monster still inside it, or I thought that was what was happening, and then the black tentacles burst out of the burning house. I had a second to guard my face from flying fire and debris, and then I was firing up into a mix of snakes, tentacles, human heads like some kind of trophy stuck into the nest, and things my mind couldn't see, didn't want to remember. I was shooting as I moved backward, and didn't watch where I was going. One minute I was shooting fine and the next I was flat on my back with a huge tree branch tangling my feet.


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