Zerbrowski squeezed my arm hard enough to bruise. "Anita, damn it, we can't shoot him. The warrant doesn't have our name on it. We're not executioners. Anita, wake up!"
I blinked at him and saw Avery standing just on the other side of him. Marconi had stepped up and had his gun pressed against Avery's chest. Avery wasn't doing anything threatening, just standing and trying to walk forward against the press of the gun. He was trying to come to me. His face wasn't empty like a zombie's, in fact he was smiling, and so very present in his skin, but I'd called him, and even a gun barrel against his heart hadn't stopped that order.
"Stop," I said.
Avery stopped trying to move forward and just stood there, waiting. He stared down at me with a look that only your best boyfriend should have given you, but I didn't mind. I wanted to pull his shirt out of his pants and rub his skin along mine. It was sexual, true, but it was also that urge that makes dogs roll in smelly stuff. It just smelled so good, and I could carry the scent with me and explore it at my leisure. I knew in that moment that wolves and dogs collect scents the way people collect rocks or houseplants--just because they like them, and they think they're pretty. Some smells just make you happy like a favorite color; the fact that sweat and stale sex was "pretty" to that part of me that was Richard was a puzzle for another day. Now, I just tried not to question it too closely and not to do physically what I'd already done metaphysically.
"I'm alright, Zerbrowski." But my voice was distant and lazy with power. That I couldn't help, but when he pulled me to my feet, I was able to stand. Yea for me. I took a step forward and said, "It's okay, Marconi, I told him to come to me."
Marconi had a funny look on his face. "Not out loud you didn't."
I shrugged. "Sorry about that." But I wasn't looking at Marconi, I was looking at Avery. I was looking at him like you'd gaze on a lover, but it was all tied up with food, and smell, and things that were so nonhuman that I was having trouble processing them. I wanted to scent mark him. He was mine. I wanted to wrap his scent on my body and think about those smells and what they meant. It was as if scent was like a photograph of a murder scene. I could carry it around and "look" at it over and over again, think about it. The sense of smell had jumped from somewhere near the bottom of my sensory list to just behind visual, and the only thing that kept it lower than sight was that I was too much a primate to trust my nose that much.
"Put up your guns," Zerbrowski said, "welcome to the wide world of weird vampire shit." He didn't sound happy, but I didn't look to see what face went with the tone, because that would have meant looking away from Avery, and I didn't want to do that.
He was a little clean-cut for my taste. His hair was a soft, medium brown, cut short the way a father or grandfather would cut it. The male hairstyle that has never really gone out of style for fifty years. His eyes matched his hair--a soft brown. His eyebrows were darker than his hair and arched in that way that men's eyebrows will, perfectly, while most women have to pluck for that line above the eye. He didn't have enough eyelashes, but they seemed thicker than they were because they were dark. His face was a soft oval, only the dark scattering of beard stubble saving him from looking even younger than he was. He was almost six feet, but seemed shorter, though I wasn't sure why. Everything about him said that here was someone who'd never had anything too bad happen to him. It wasn't just his face and coloring that was soft and undramatic; it was him. He had that flavor in my head of someone who'd never really been tested. How did you get to be a vampire and not lose that soft edge?
I got sadness from him, but he didn't feel like someone who had just killed a woman, on purpose, or by accident. Was I wrong? Or had he not been the only vampire in that spotless apartment?
Avery stood in front of me with a look that was sad, so sad. Did he know? Had he done it?
There was a knock on the church doors. The sound startled all of us, I think. You just didn't knock on the doors of a church. You came in, or you didn't, but you didn't knock. A voice called, "Sergeant Zerbrowski?"
Zerbrowski went to the door and peeked out. When he came back through the door, he had a piece of paper in his hand. It was thicker than it used to be, but most of the additions were things that would keep me out of jail and wouldn't do a damn thing for Avery's health.
Zerbrowski came toward me holding out the paper. I opened it up and read it, though I already knew what it was. It was my warrant of execution. The days when any vampire hunter would kill someone without seeing the warrant first were past, but I'd gotten cautious sooner than some. I'd also never been successfully sued. One of our fellow hunters was still in prison for doing his job before the paperwork came through. Everyone who worked with me knew that without this little piece of paper, there was no vampire hunt. With it, I had almost carte blanche.
I scanned it. It was pretty standard. I could legally hunt down and execute the vampire, or vampires, responsible for--I read the names of the victims. It helped me focus. Helped me remember why I was doing this kind of work--and any other murder victims that might follow. I was empowered to use any force necessary to find and stop the murderers of these people. I was further empowered to do anything within my abilities to execute this warrant with all due haste. The bearer of this warrant is allowed to enter any and all buildings in pursuit of the suspects. Any person, or persons, human or otherwise that stand in the way of the lawful execution of my duty, forfeit their rights under the Constitution of these United States and the State of Missouri. There was other legalese, but what it all boiled down to was that I could have turned back to Avery, put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger, and not only would the police not stop me, but legally, they had to help me carry out my duty.
The entire idea of warrants of execution was drafted when vampires had first gotten legal rights, and you couldn't kill them on sight just for being vampires. The warrant had seemed like a step up once, now I looked at it, and thought, Huh. What if Avery hadn't done it? What if he was innocent?
I looked at Zerbrowski, and he knew me well enough to frown. "I don't the like that look. It always means you're about to complicate my job."
I smiled at him and nodded. "Sorry, but I'd like to make sure that I'm serving the warrant on the right vampires."
Malcolm came forward. "I would like to see that warrant, if it concerns my church and my followers."
I fished it out, flung it open, but held on to it.
His eyes flicked down the page, and he shook his head. "And you call us monsters."
"Don't take it personally, Malcolm, some of my best friends are monsters." I folded the warrant up and tucked it away.
"How can you make jokes, when you have come here to kill one of us?"
The congregation stirred and started to stand. There were hundreds of them and only a handful of us. This could get out of hand, and I didn't want that. Legally, if anyone interfered, then I could kill them, too. The last thing I wanted on my hands was a church full of martyrs.
It was as if Malcolm read my mind, or I read his, because he moved toward the door. Marconi stopped him with a hand up, not quite touching.
"We don't want any trouble," Zerbrowski said, "and you don't either, Malcolm."
"Am I supposed to simply let you escort one of my congregation out of here, knowing that you could make him kneel in the parking lot and execute him? What kind of person would I be to simply stand by and let that happen?"
Shit, I thought.
"Who are you here for?" Avery said, and his voice was like the rest of him--soft, uncertain. Was it an act?
"You for starters," I said.
His brown eyes went wide. "Why?"
"If you try to take him, we will stand in front of the door. You will have to climb over our bodies to take him with you."
I glanced at Malcolm, and I knew that he didn't mean it. He was gambling. Gambling that we wouldn't be willing to climb over the bodies of church members to execute this warrant here and now. Gambling that we'd go away and get Avery some other time. Usually I like having the warrant fast, but tonight it would have worked better to get it later, and not in front of the undead Billy Graham and his flock.
Zerbrowski looked at me. "You're the vampire hunter, Anita, it has to be your call."
"Thanks," I said, but I had an idea. I could still taste Avery. He hit my radar as innocent, could I find out? Malcolm had tried to pull specific knowledge from me, and I'd turned it back on him. I'd gained knowledge from his vampires. I'd gotten very specific images about how they fed, and lived. Could I concentrate and get something even more specific? It felt like I could. It felt like, if I touched Avery, I could know anything in his head, his body, his soul. That if I touched him, he'd be mine, mine in a way that until tonight I hadn't wanted. Suddenly it wasn't such a bad thought.