The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 17

17

I was sitting in a straight-backed chair in Jean-Claude's office at Danse Macabre. My hands were cuffed behind me. They hadn't let me wash the blood off my right hand, and it had dried to a nice tacky substance. I was used to having dried blood on me, but it was still uncomfortable. The uniformed officers had taken the other knife and found the Seecamp in my purse. They had not found the big knife in the spine sheath. It had been a sloppy search to have missed a knife longer than my forearm, but the uniform that did it had at first assumed that I was another victim. It had shaken him to find out that the pretty little woman was a murderer. Oh, excuse me, alleged murderer.

The office had white walls, black carpet, a desk that looked like carved ebony. There was a red lacquer screen with a black castle done high on top of a black mountain. There was a framed kimono on the far wall, scarlet with black and royal blue designs. Two smaller frames held fans: one white and black with what looked like a tea ceremony painted on it, the other blue and white with a flock of cranes. I liked the cranes best, and I'd had plenty of time to make a choice.

One of the uniforms had remained in the room with me the entire time. They'd drunk coffee and not offered me any. The younger uniform would have uncuffed me, but his partner had pretty much threatened to beat the shit out of him if he did it. The partner was grey-haired with eyes as cold and empty as Edward's. His name was Rizzo. Looking at him, I was glad I'd put the gun on the floor before he came into the room.

Why, you may ask, wasn't I at the police station being questioned? Answer: The media had bayed us. Four uniforms had been enough to control traffic and keep the media from mobbing anyone--until they smelled a breaking story. Suddenly, there were cameras and microphones everywhere, like mushrooms after a rain. The uniforms had called for backup and barricaded the murder scene and the office. Everything else had fallen to the cameras and microphones.

There was a homicide detective standing over me--looming, actually. Detective Greeley was just under six feet tall, so broad-shouldered he looked like a big square. Most black people aren't truly black, but Greeley was close. His face was so dark it had purple highlights. His close-cropped greying hair looked like wool. But black, white, or brown, his dark eyes were neutral, secret, cop eyes. His gaze said he'd seen it all and hadn't been impressed by any of it. He certainly wasn't impressed by me. If anything, he looked bored, but I knew better. I'd seen Dolph get the same look right before he pounced on someone and tore their alibi apart.

Since I didn't have an alibi, I wasn't worried about that. I'd told my story before they read me my rights. After Greeley mirandized me, all I'd said was that I wanted a lawyer. I was beginning to sound like a broken record, even to me.

The detective pulled a chair around so he was sitting facing me. He even hunkered down trying not to be so intimidating. "Once we get a lawyer in here," Greeley said, "we can't help you anymore, Anita."

He didn't know me well enough to call me by my first name, but I let it go. He was pretending to be my friend. I knew better. Cops are never your friends if they suspect you of murder. Conflict of interest.

"It sounds like a clear-cut case of self-defense. Tell me what happened, and I'll bet we can do a deal."

"I want my lawyer," I said.

"Once we involve a lawyer, the deal goes out the window," he said.

"You don't have the authority to make a deal," I said. "I want my lawyer."

The skin around his eyes tightened; otherwise he looked the same, unmoved. But I was pissing him off. Couldn't blame him.

The door to the office opened. Greeley looked up, ready to be angry at the interruption. Dolph walked inside, flashing his badge. His eyes gave the briefest of flicks to me, then settled solidly on Greeley.

Greeley stood up. "Excuse me, Anita. I'll be right back." He even managed a friendly smile. He was putting so much effort into the act, it was almost a shame I wasn't buying it. Besides, if he was really being friendly, he'd have taken the cuffs off.

Greeley tried to get Dolph to step outside, but Dolph shook his head. "The office is secure. The rest of the club isn't."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Greeley said.

"It means your murder scene, complete with victim, is being flashed on national television. You ordered that no one was to talk to the press, so they've been speculating. Vampires run amok is the choice rumor."

"You want me to tell the media that a woman attached to a police squad is being charged with murder?"

"You have three witnesses that all say Ms. Smith pulled her gun first. That it was self-defense."

"That's something for the assistant district attorney to decide," Greeley said.

Funny how when he was talking to me he could make a deal. Now that he was talking to another cop, suddenly the ADA was the only one who could make a deal.

"Call them," Dolph said.

"Just like that," Greeley said. "You want to cut her loose?"

"She'll make a statement after we get her and her lawyer down to the station."

Greeley made a rude sound in his throat. "Yeah, she's real hot for her lawyer."

"Go talk to the press, Greeley."

"And tell them what?"

"That vampires aren't involved. That it was just bad timing that the murder happened at Danse Macabre."

Greeley glanced back at me. "I want her here when I get back, Storr. No disappearing act."

"We'll both be here."

Greeley glared at me, all his anger and frustration filling his eyes for a second. The friendly mask was gone. "Make sure you are. The brass may want you in on this, but this is a homicide case, mycase." He shoved a finger at Dolph, not quite touching him. "Don't fuck with it."

Greeley pushed past him and shut the door firmly. Silence thick enough to walk on filled the room.

Dolph pulled a chair up in front of the desk, next to me, and sat facing me. He clasped his big hands together and stared. I stared back.

"The three women say Ms. Smith pulled her gun first. She ripped your purse off, so she knew where your gun was," he said.

"I flashed it a little too much tonight. My fault."

"I heard about you joining the show out there. What happened?"

"I had to police the show a little. The woman didn't want to play. It's illegal to use preternatural powers to coerce anyone into doing something they don't

want to do."

"You aren't a policeman, Anita."

It was the first time he'd ever reminded me of that. Usually, Dolph treated me like one of his people. He'd even encouraged me to simply say I was with his squad so people would assume I was a detective.

"You kicking me off the squad, Dolph?" My stomach was tight as I asked. I valued working with the police. I valued Dolph and Zerbrowski and the rest of the guys. It would hurt more than I wanted to admit to lose all that.

"Two bodies in two days, Anita, both of them normal humans. That's a lot of explaining at headquarters."

"If they'd been vamps or some other creepie-crawlie, everyone would look the other way, is that it?"

"Picking a fight with me isn't your best bet right now, Anita."

We stared at each other for a second or two. I looked away first, and nodded. "Why are you here, Dolph?"

"I handle the media a lot."

"But you're letting Greeley talk to the press."

"You've got to tell me what's going on, Anita." His voice was quiet, but I knew by the tightness around his eyes, the way he held his shoulders, that he was angry. I guess I couldn't blame him.

"What do you want to hear, Dolph?" I asked.

"The truth would be nice," he said.

"I think I need a lawyer first." I wasn't going to spill my guts just because Dolph was my friend. He was still a cop, and I had killed someone.

Dolph's eyes narrowed. He turned to the uniform still leaning against the wall. "Rizzo, go get some coffee, black, for me. What do you want in yours?"

Coffee was coming. Things were looking up. "Two sugars, one cream."

"Get some for yourself, Rizzo, and take your time."

Officer Rizzo pushed away from the wall where he'd been leaning. "You sure about this, Sergeant Storr?"

Dolph looked at him, just looked at him.

Rizzo held his hands out in a sort of push away gesture. "I don't want Greeley riding my ass about leaving you two alone."

"Get the coffee, Officer Rizzo. I'll take any heat that comes down."

Rizzo left, shaking his head, probably at the stupidity of plainclothes detectives. When we were alone, Dolph said, "Turn around."

I stood up and offered him my hands. He uncuffed me, but didn't pat me down again. He probably assumed Rizzo had done it. I didn't tell him about the knife they missed, which would piss him off if he found it later, but hey, I couldn't let the cops confiscate all my weapons. Besides, I didn't want to be unarmed tonight.

I sat back down, resisting the urge to rub my wrists. I was heap-big-vampire-slayer. Nothing could hurt me. Yeah, right.

"Talk to me, Anita."

"Off the record?" I asked.

He stared at me, eyes flat and unreadable, good cop eyes. "I should say no."

"But," I said.

"Off the record, tell me."

I told him. I changed only one thing: that an anonymous call had alerted me to the contract on me. Other than that, it was the absolute truth. I thought Dolph would be happy, but he wasn't.

"And you don't know why someone would put a contract out on you?"

"For that kind of money, with a time limit on it, no."

He stared at me, as if trying to decide how much truth I was telling him. "Why didn't you tell us about the anonymous phone call earlier?" He put a lot of stress on the word anonymous.

I shrugged. "Habit, I guess."

"No, you wanted to hotdog it. Instead of hiding out, you came here and played bait. If the hitter had used a bomb, you could have gotten a lot of people hurt."

"But she didn't use a bomb, did she."

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. If I hadn't known better, I'd have said he was counting to ten.

"You got lucky," he said.

"I know."

Dolph stared at me. "She nearly did you."

"If those women hadn't come in when they did, I wouldn't be talking to you now."

"You don't seem worried."

"She's dead. I'm not. What's to worry about?"

"For that kind of money, Anita, there'll be someone else tomorrow."

"It's after midnight, and I'm still alive. Maybe the contract will be canceled."

"Why the time limit?"

I shook my head. "If I knew that, I might know who put the hit out on me."

"And if you find out who put the money up, what will you do?" he asked.

I stared at him. Off the record or not, Dolph was still the ultimate cop. He took his job very seriously. "I'll turn the name over to you."

"I wish I believed that, Anita, I really do."

I gave him my best wide-eyed, innocent look. "What do you mean?"

"Can the little girl routine, Anita. I know you too well."

"Fine, but you and I both know that as long as the money is out there, hitters will keep coming. I'm good, Dolph, but no one's that good. Eventually, I'll lose. Unless the money goes away. No contract, no more hitters."

We stared at each other. "We can put you in protective custody," Dolph said.

"For how long? Forever?" I shook my head. "Besides, the next hitter might use a bomb. You want to risk your people? I don't."

"So you'll hunt the money man down and kill him."

"I didn't say that, Dolph."

"But that's what you're planning," he said.

"Don't keep asking the question, Dolph. The answer won't change."

He stood, hands gripping the back of the chair. "Don't cross the line with me, Anita. We're friends, but I'm a cop first."

"I value our friendship, Dolph, but I value my life and yours more."

"You think I can't handle myself?"

"I think you're a cop, and that means you have to play by the rules. Dealing with professional hitters, that can get you killed."

There was a knock on the door. "Enter," Dolph said.

Rizzo came in with a round tray and three slender black china mugs. There were little red coffee stirrers in each one. Rizzo glanced from Dolph to me. He stared at my uncuffed hands but didn't say anything. He sat the tray on the desk far enough from me that I couldn't have grabbed him. Officer Rizzo looked like a

twenty-year man, and he was still treating me like a very dangerous person. I doubted that he'd have turned his back on Anabelle. If she hadn't grabbed my purse, she could have shot me in the back. Oh, I'd have seen it in the mirror, but I'd have never gotten my gun out in time. I'd never have let a man, no matter how friendly or how helpful, come up behind me like that. I'd made the same mistake with Anabelle that people made with me. I'd seen a small, pretty woman and underestimated her. I was a female chauvinist piglet. It had nearly been a fatal flaw.

Dolph handed me the mug that held the lightest-colored coffee. It was too much to hope that the cream would be real, but either way it looked wonderful. I'd never met coffee that wasn't wonderful. It was just a matter of how wonderful it was. I took a hesitant sip of the steaming liquid and made appreciative 'mmm' sounds. It was real coffee and real cream.

"Glad you like it," Rizzo said.

I looked up at him. "Thank you, Officer."

He grunted and moved away from us to lean against the other wall.

"I talked to Ted Forrester, your pet bounty hunter. The gun in your purse is registered to him." Dolph sat back down, blowing on his coffee.

Ted Forrester was one of Edward's aliases. It had stood up to police scrutiny once before when we ended up with bodies on the ground. He was, as far as the police knew, a bounty hunter specializing in preternatural creatures. Most bounty hunters stayed in the Western states where there were still substantial bounties on shapeshifters. Not all of them were particularly careful that the shapeshifter they killed was really a danger to anyone. The only criteria some states had was that after death, the body was medically certified as a lycanthrope. A blood test was sufficient in most cases. Wyoming was thinking of changing its laws because of three wrongful death suits that had made it all the way to their state supreme court.

"I needed a gun small enough to fit in the purse but with stopping power," I said.

"I don't like bounty hunters, Anita. They abuse the law."

I sipped coffee and stayed quiet. If he knew just how much Edward abused the law, he'd have locked him up for a very long time.

"If he's a good enough friend to bail your ass out of this kind of trouble, why haven't you mentioned him before? I didn't know he existed until that last trouble you had with those shapeshifter poachers."

"Poachers," I said and shook my head.

"What's wrong?" Dolph asked.

"Shapeshifters get killed, and its poaching. Normal people get killed, and it's murder."

"You sympathizing with the monsters now, Anita?" he asked. His voice was even quieter, so still you might have mistaken it for calm, but it wasn't. He was pissed.

"You're mad about something other than the body count," I said.

"You're involved with the Master of the City. Is that how you keep getting all that inside info on the monsters?"

I took a deep breath and let it out. "Sometimes."

"You should have told me, Anita."

"Since when is my personal life police business?"

He just looked at me.

I looked down into my coffee mug, staring at my hands. I finally looked back up. It was hard meeting his eyes, harder than I wanted it to be. "What do you want me to say, Dolph? That I find it embarrassing that one of the monsters is my boyfriend? I do."

"Then drop him."

"If it were that easy, trust me, I'd do it."

"How can I trust you to do your job, Anita? You're sleeping with the enemy."

"Why does everyone assume I'm sleeping with him? Doesn't anybody but me date people and not have sex?"

"I apologize for the assumption, but you got to admit a lot of people are going to assume the same thing."

"I know."

The door opened, and Greeley came back inside. His eyes took in the handcuffs being gone, the coffee. "You have a nice chat?"

"How'd your statement to the press go?" Dolph asked.

He shrugged. "I told them Ms. Blake was being questioned in connection with a death on the premises. Told 'em that no vamps were involved. Not sure they believed me. They kept wanting to speak to the Executioner. Though most of them were calling her the Master's girlfriend."

That made me flinch. Even with a career of my own, I was going to end up being Mrs. Jean-Claude in the press. He was more photogenic than I was.

Dolph stood. "I want to take Anita out of here."

Greeley stared at him. "I don't think so."

Dolph set his coffee on the desk and went to stand next to the other detective. He lowered his voice, and there was a lot of harsh whispering. Greeley shook his head. "No."

More whispering. Greeley glared at me. "All right, but she comes down to the station before the night is over or it's your ass, Sergeant."

"She'll be there," Dolph said.

Rizzo was staring at all of us. "You're taking her out of here, but not to the station house?" It sounded accusatory even to me.

"That's my decision, Rizzo," Greeley said. "You got that?" His voice growled the words. Somehow Dolph had pulled rank, and Greeley didn't like it. If Rizzo wanted to make himself a convenient target for that anger, fine.

Rizzo faded back against the wall, but he wasn't happy about it. "I got that."

"Get her out of here," Greeley said. "Try the back. But I don't know how you'll get past the cameras."

"We'll walk through," Dolph said. "Let's go, Anita."

I set my mug on the desk. "What's up, Dolph?"

"I got a body for you to look at."

"A murder suspect helping with another case. Won't the brass get mad?"

"I cleared it," Dolph said.

I looked at him, eyes wide. "How?" I asked.

"You don't want to know," he said.

I looked at him. He stared back. I finally looked away first. Most of the time, when people said I didn't want to know, it meant just the opposite. It meant I probably needed to know. But from a handful of people, I'd take their word for it. Dolph was one of those people. "Okay," I said. "Let's go."

Dolph let me wash the dried blood off my hands, and we went.