The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 18~19

18

I'm not a big one for idle chatter, but Dolph makes me seem loquacious. We drove down 270 in silence, the hiss of the wheels on the road and the thrum of the engine the only sounds. Either he'd turned off his radio or nobody was committing crimes in Saint Louis tonight. I was betting the radio was off. One of the good things about being a detective on a task force is you don't have to listen to the radio all the time, because most of the calls aren't your problem. If Dolph was needed somewhere, they could always beep him.

I tried to hold out. I tried to make Dolph talk first, but after nearly fifteen minutes, I broke. "Where are we going?"

"Creve Coeur."

My eyebrows raised. "That's a little upscale for a monster kill."

"Yeah," he said.

I waited for more; there wasn't any more. "Well, thanks for enlightening me, Dolph."

He glanced at me, then back to the road. "We'll be there in a few minutes, Anita."

"Patience has never been my strong suit, Dolph."

His lips twitched, then he smiled. Finally, he laughed, a short, abrupt sound. "I guess not."

"Glad I could lighten the mood," I said.

"You're always good for a laugh when you're not killing people, Anita."

I didn't know what to say to that. Too close to the truth, maybe. Silence settled over the car, and I left it alone. It was an easy, friendly quiet this time, tinged with laughter. Dolph wasn't mad at me anymore. I could stand a little silence.

Creve Coeur was an older neighborhood , but it didn't look it. The age showed in the large houses set in long, sloping yards. Some of the houses had circular drives and servants' quarters. The few housing developments that had crept in here and there didn't always have big yards, but the houses had variety, pools, rock gardens. No cookie cutter houses, nothing declasse.

Olive is one of my favorite streets. I like the mix of gas stations, Dunkin' Donuts, custom order jewelry stores, Mercedes-Benz dealerships, and Blockbuster Music and Video. Creve Coeur isn't like most ritzy areas, at war with the peons. This part of the city has embraced both its money and its commerce, as comfortable buying fine antiques as taking the kiddies through the drive-up line at Mickey-D's.

Dolph turned on a road sandwiched between two gas stations. It sloped sharply, making me want to use the brake. Dolph didn't share this desire, and the car coasted down the hill at a nice clip. Well, he was the police. No speeding ticket, I guess. We sped past housing developments that branched off the road like true suburbia. The houses were still more distinct, but the yards had shrunk, and you knew that most of what you were driving past had never had servants' quarters. The road climbed just a touch, then evened out. Dolph hit his turn signal while we were still in the shallow valley. A tasteful sign said Countryside Hills.

Police cars clogged the narrow streets of the subdivision, lights strobing the darkness. There was a huddle of people being held back by uniformed police, people clutching light coats over their jammies or standing with robes tied tight. The crowd was small. As we got out of the car, I saw a drape twitch in a house across the street. Why come outside when you can peek from the comfort of your own home?

Dolph led me through the uniforms and the twist of yellow Do-Not-Cross tape. The house that was the center of attention was one story with a brick wall as tall as the walls of the house forming an enclosed courtyard. There was even a wrought iron gate to the curved entrance, very Mediterranean. Except for the courtyard, the house looked like a typical suburban ranch. There was a stone path and square, rock-edged beds full of rosebushes. Floodlights filled the walled garden, lending every petal and leaf its own shadow. Someone had gone way overboard on the in-ground lighting.

"You don't even need a flashlight in here," I said.

Dolph glanced at me. "You've never been here then?"

I met his eyes and couldn't read them. He was giving me cop eyes. "No, I've never been here. Should I have been?"

Dolph opened the screened door without answering. He led the way in, and I followed. Dolph prides himself on not influencing his people, letting them come in cold and make their own conclusions. But even for him, he was being mysterious. I didn't like it.

The living room was narrow but long with a TV and video center at the end of it. The room was so thick with cops there was barely room to stand. Every murder scene gets more attention than it needs. Frankly, I wonder if more evidence is lost with all the traffic than is found with all the busy hands. A murder can make a cop's career, especially that jump from uniform to plainclothes. Find theclue or theevidence, shine at the critical time, and people notice. But it's more than that. Murder is the ultimate insult, the last worst thing you can do to another human being. Cops feel that, maybe more than the rest of us.

The cops parted before Dolph, eyes shifting to me. Most of the eyes were male, and after the first glance, almost all of them did the full body look. You know the look. The one that if the face and top match, they just have to see if the legs are as good as the rest. It works in reverse, too. But any man that starts at my feet and ends with my face has lost every brownie point he ever had.

Two short hallways led straight off the living room at right angles, a dining room directly off of the first room. An open door revealed carpeted stairs leading to a finished basement. Cops were traveling up and down the stairs like ants, with bits of evidence in plastic baggies.

Dolph led me down one of the hallways, and there was a second living room with a fireplace. It was smaller and more boxlike, but the far wall was entirely brick, which made it seem warmer, cozier. The kitchen showed to the left through an open doorway. The top half of the wall was a pass-through, open like a window so you could work in the kitchen and still talk to people in the living room. My father's house had a pass-through.

The next room was obviously new. The walls still had that raw paint look of fresh construction. Sliding glass doors made up the left-hand wall. A hot tub took up most of the floor space. Water still clung in beads to its slick surface. They'd finished the hot tub before they'd painted the room. Priorities.

A hallway so roughed out it still had that heavy plastic they put down for workers to walk on led away from the tub. There was another larger bathroom, not quite finished, and a closed door at the end of the hall. The door was carved, new wood, light-colored oak. It was the first closed door I'd seen inside the house. That was kind of ominous.

Except for the cops, I hadn't seen a damn thing out of place. It looked like a nice upper-middle-class house. A family kind of house. If I'd walked straight into carnage, I'd have been all right, but this long buildup had tightened my stomach, filled me with dread. What had happened in this nice house with its new hot tub and brick fireplace? What had happened that needed my kind of expertise? I didn't want to know. I wanted to leave before I saw some new horror. I'd seen enough bodies already this year to last a lifetime.

Dolph put his hand on the doorknob. I touched his arm. "It's not kids, is it?" I asked.

He glanced over his shoulder at me. Normally, he wouldn't have answered. He'd have said something cryptic like, "You'll see in a minute." Tonight, he said, "No, it's not kids."

I took a deep breath through my nose and let it out slowly through my lips. "Good." I smelled damp plaster, fresh cement, and underneath that, blood. The scent of freshly spilled blood, faint, just behind the door. What does blood smell like? Metallic, almost artificial. It isn't really much of a smell all by itself. The smell won't make you sick, it's what goes with it. We all know in some ancient part of ourselves that blood is the thing. Without it, we die. If we can steal enough of it from our enemies, we steal their lives. There's a reason that blood has been associated with almost every religion on the planet. It's primal stuff, and no matter how sanitized we make our world, part of us still recognizes that.

Dolph hesitated, hand still on the doorknob. He didn't look at me while he spoke. "Tell me what you think of the scene, then I have to take you back for a statement. You understand that."

"I understand," I said.

"If you're lying to me, Anita, about any of this, tell me tonight. Two bodies in two days takes a lot of explaining."

"I haven't lied to you, Dolph." At least not much, I added in my head.

He nodded without turning around and opened the door. He went in first and turned so he could watch my face as I entered the room.

"What's wrong, Dolph?" I asked.

"See for yourself," he said.

All I could see at first was pale grey carpet and a bureau with a large mirror against the right-hand wall. A cluster of cops blocked my view of the rest of the room. The cops stepped aside at a nod from Dolph. Dolph never took his eyes from me, my face. I'd never seen him so intent on my reaction before. It made me nervous.

There was a body on the floor. A man, spread-eagled, pinned at wrists and ankles with knives. The knives had black hilts. He lay in the middle of a large red circle. The circle had had to be large so the blood didn't leak out and spoil it. Blood had soaked into the pale carpet, spread across it like a red ruin. The man's face was turned away from me. All I could see was short blond hair. His chest was bare, so slick with blood it looked like a red shirt. The knives held him in place. They hadn't been what killed him. No, what had killed him was a gaping hole in his lower chest just below the ribs. It was like a red-lined cave big enough to plunge both hands into.

"They took his heart," I said.

Dolph looked at me. "You know that from the doorway?"

"I'm right, aren't I?"

"If you were going to take his heart out, why not go straight down?"

"If you wanted him to survive, like heart surgery, you'd have to break the ribs and go down the hard way. But they wanted him dead. If all you want is the heart, going under the ribs is easier."

I walked towards the body.

Dolph moved ahead of me, watching my face. "What?" I said.

He shook his head. "Just tell me about the body, Anita."

I stared at him. "What is your problem tonight?"

"No problem."

It was a lie. Something was up, but I didn't press it. It wouldn't have done me any good. When Dolph decides not to share information, he doesn't share, period.

There was a king-size bed with purple satin sheets and more pillows than you knew what to do with. The bed was rumpled as if it had been used for something other than sleeping. There were dark stains on the sheets, nearly black.

"Is that blood?"

"We think so," Dolph said.

I glanced at the body. "From the murder?"

"When you're finished looking at the body, we'll bag the sheets and get them down to the lab."

A subtle hint to get on with the job. I walked towards the body and tried to ignore Dolph. That was easier than it sounded. The body sort of stole the show. The closer I got, the more details I could see, and the more I didn't want to see. Under all that blood was a nice chest, muscular but not too much of a good thing. The hair was cut very short, curly and blond. There was something naggingly familiar about that head. The black daggers had silver wire curled around them. They'd been shoved to their hilts in the flesh, bones had broken when they'd been driven in. The red circle was definitely blood. Cabalistic symbols ran round the inside of the circle, traced in blood. I recognized some of them, enough to know that we were dealing with some form of necromancy. I knew the symbols that stood for death and the symbols that watched against it.

For some reason, I didn't want to enter the circle. I walked carefully around the edge of it until I could see the face. With my back leaning against the wall I stared into the wide eyes of Robert the vampire. Monica's husband. The soon-to-be daddy.

"Shit," I said softly.

"You know him?" Dolph asked.

I nodded. "Robert. His name's Robert." The death symbols made sense if you were going to sacrifice a vampire. But why? Why like this?

I took a step forward and hit the circle. I stopped dead. It was like a million insects crawled and swarmed over my body. I couldn't breathe. I stepped back off the blood line. The sensation stopped. I could still feel it like a memory on my skin, in my head, but I was okay now. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and stepped forward again. It wasn't like hitting a wall. It was more like hitting a blanket, a drowning, suffocating, maggot-crawling blanket. I tried to walk forward, tried to move past the circle, and couldn't. I staggered back from it. If the wall hadn't been there, I'd have fallen.

I let myself slide down until I was sitting with my knees tucked up. My toes were inches from the circle. I did not want to touch it again.

Dolph walked through the circle like it wasn't there and knelt beside me, part of him still in the circle. "Anita, what's wrong?"

I shook my head. "I'm not sure." I stared up at him. "It's a circle of power, and I can't cross it."

He glanced back at his own body partially inside the circle. "I can."

"You're not an animator. I'm not a witch, and I don't know a lot of official magic, but some of the symbols are either death symbols or maybe symbols of protection from the dead." I stared up at him, my skin still shivering from trying to cross the line. A new horror spread through my mind. "It's a spell to both contain and keep out the dead, and I can't cross it."

He stared down at me. "What exactly does that mean, Anita?"

"It means," said a female voice, "that she didn't create the circle."

19

A woman stood just inside the door. She was tall, slender, dressed in a purple skirt suit with a white man-tailored shirt. She walked into the room with an eagerness that made me knock about ten years off her age. She looked thirty, but she wasn't. Twenty-something and full of herself. Probably around my own age, but there was a shiny newness to her that I'd lost years ago.

Dolph stood, offering me a hand up. I shook my head. "Unless you want to carry me, I can't stand yet."

"Anita, this is Detective Reynolds," he said. He didn't sound entirely happy about it.

Reynolds walked around the edge of the circle as I had, but she was coming for a better view of me. She ended up on the opposite side from Dolph. She stared down at me, smiling, eager. I stared up at her, skin still jumping from trying to force my way past the circle.

She leaned down and whispered, "You're flashing the room, dear."

"That's why the underwear matches," I said.

She looked surprised.

There was no way for me to stretch my legs out without touching the circle again, so if I wanted to quit flashing the room, I had to stand up. I held my hand up to Dolph. "Help me up, but whatever you do, don't let me fall into that thing."

Detective Reynolds took my other arm without being invited, but frankly, I needed the help. My legs felt like spaghetti. The moment she touched me, the hair on my body stood at attention. I jerked away from her and would have fallen into the circle if Dolph hadn't caught me.

"What's wrong, Anita?" Dolph asked.

I leaned into him and tried to breathe slowly and evenly. "I can't take anymore magic right this moment."

"Get her a chair from the dining room," Dolph said. He didn't speak to anyone in particular, but a uniform left the room, probably to get the chair.

Dolph picked me up while we waited. Since I couldn't stand, it was hard to protest, but I felt like a damn fool.

"What's on your back, Anita?" Dolph asked.

I'd forgotten about the knife in the spine sheath. I was saved from having to answer by the uniform bringing one of the straight-backed chairs into the room.

Dolph eased me into the chair. "Did Detective Reynolds try a

spell on you?"

I shook my head.

"Someone explain what just happened."

An unhealthy flush crept up Reynold's pale neck. "I tried to read her aura, sort of."

"Why?" Dolph asked.

"Just curious. I've read about necromancers but never met one before."

I looked up at her. "If you want to do any more experiments, Detective, ask first."

She nodded, looking younger, more unsure of herself. "I am sorry."

"Reynolds," Dolph said.

She looked at him. "Yes, sir."

"Go stand over there."

She glanced at both of us and nodded. "Yes, sir." She walked over to stand by the other cops. She tried to be nonchalant about it, but she kept looking over at us.

"Since when do you have a witch on the payroll?" I asked.

"Reynolds is the first detective ever with preternatural abilities. She got her pick of assignments. She wanted to join our squad."

I was happy to hear him call it "our" squad. "She said I didn't draw the circle. Did you really think I'd done that?" I pointed at the body.

He stared down at me. "You didn't like Robert."

"If I killed everyone I didn't like, Saint Louis would be littered with bodies," I said. "Why else did you drag me down here? She's a witch. She probably knows more about the spell than I do."

Dolph stared down at me. "Explain."

"I raise the dead, but I'm not a trained witch. Most of what I do is just," I shrugged, "sort of natural ability. I studied basic magic theory in college, but for only a couple of classes, so if you want feedback on a detailed spell like this one, I can't help you."

"If Reynolds hadn't been here, what would you have suggested we do?"

"Find a witch to undo the spell for you."

He nodded. "Any thoughts on who or why?" He jabbed his thumb behind his back at the body.

"Jean-Claude made Robert a vampire. That's a strong bond. I think the spell was to prevent him from knowing what was happening."

"Could Robert have alerted his master from this far away?"

I thought about that. I wasn't sure. "I don't know. Maybe. Some master vampires are better at telepathy than others. I'm not sure how good Jean-Claude is with other vampires."

"This setup took a while," Dolph said. "Why kill him like this?"

"Good question," I said. I had a nasty idea. "It's a weird way to do it, but this might be a challenge to Jean-Claude's control over his territory."

"How so?" Dolph had his little notebook out now, pen poised. It was almost like old times.

"Robert belonged to him, and now somebody's killed him. Could be a message."

He glanced back at the body. "But who is the message meant for? Maybe Robert pissed someone off, and it was personal. If it was a message for your boyfriend, why not kill him at Jean-Claude's club? That's where he worked, right?"

I nodded. "Whoever did this couldn't have pulled off something so elaborate at the club, with other vampires around. No way. They needed privacy. They might have needed the spell just to keep Jean-Claude or some other vamp from riding to the rescue." I thought about it. What did I really know about Robert? Not much. I knew him as Jean-Claude's flunkie. Monica's boyfriend, now husband. A soon-to-be daddy. Everything I knew about him was through other people's perceptions of him. He'd been killed in his own bedroom, and all I could think of was that it was a message for Jean-Claude. I was thinking of him like a flunkie because Jean-Claude treated him that way. Because he wasn't a master vampire, no one would want to kill him for his own sake. Geez, I was actually thinking of Robert like a disposable commodity. We could always make more.

"You've thought of something," Dolph said.

"Not really. Maybe I've been hanging around vampires too long. I'm beginning to think like one of them."

"Explain," Dolph said.

"I assumed that Robert's death was connected to his master. My first thought was that no one would kill Robert for his own sake, because he wasn't important enough to kill. I mean, killing Robert won't make you Master of the City, so why do it?"

Dolph looked at me. "You're beginning to worry me, Anita."

"Worry, hell," I said, "I'm beginning to scare me." I tried to look at the murder scene fresh, not like a vampire. Who would go to this much trouble to kill Robert? I didn't have the faintest idea. "Except for this being a challenge to Jean-Claude's authority, I have no idea why anyone would kill Robert. I guess I don't really know that much about him. It could be one of the hate groups, Humans First or Humans Against Vampires. But they'd have to have some heavy magical know-how, and either group would stone a witch as fast as stake a vampire. They consider them both devil spawn."

"Why would the hate groups single out this vampire?"

"His wife's pregnant," I said.

"Another vampire?" Dolph asked.

I shook my head. "Human."

Dolph's eyes widened just a fraction. It was the most surprise I'd ever seen from him. Dolph, like most cops, doesn't ruffle easily.

"Pregnant? And the vampire is the father?"

"Yes," I said.

He shook his head. "Yeah, that might earn him a starring roll on the hate group hit parade. Tell me about vampire reproduction, Anita."

"First, I need to call Jean-Claude."

"Why?"

"Warn him," I said. "I agree this probably is something personal to Robert. You're right. Humans First especially would kill him in a heartbeat, but just in case, I want to warn Jean-Claude." I had another thought. "Maybe that's why someone wanted me dead."

"What do you mean?"

"If they want to harm Jean-Claude, killing me would be a good way to do it."

"I think half a million dollars is a little steep for bumping off someone's girlfriend." He shook his head. "That kind of money is personal, Anita. Someone's afraid of you, not your toothy boyfriend."

"Two hired killers in two days, Dolph, and I still don't know why." I stared up at him. "If I don't figure this thing out, I'll be dead."

He touched my shoulder. "We'll help you. Cops are good for some things, even if the monsters won't talk to us."

"Thanks, Dolph." I patted his hand. "Did you really believe Reynolds when she said I could have done this?"

He straightened, then met my eyes. "For a second, yes. After that, it was a matter of listening to my detective. We hired her so she could help out on the preternatural stuff. It would be stupid to ignore her on her first case."

Not to mention demoralizing, I thought. "Okay, but did you really think I was capable of doing that?" I motioned towards the body.

"I've seen you stake vamps, Anita. I've seen you decapitate them. Why not this?"

"Because Robert was alive while they carved open his chest. Until they removed his heart, he was alive. Hell, when they took his heart, I'm not sure how long he might have lived. Vampires are strange when it comes to death wounds. Sometimes they linger."

"Is that why they didn't take his head? So he'd suffer more?"

"Maybe," I said. "Jean-Claude needs to be told, in case it is a threat," I repeated.

"I'll have someone call."

"You don't trust me to tell him?"

"Leave it alone, Anita."

For once I did what he asked. Even a year ago I wouldn't have trusted anyone dating a vampire. I'd have assumed they were corrupt. Sometimes, I still assumed that. "Fine, just call him now. Be bad if Jean-Claude got wasted while we were debating who should warn him."

Dolph motioned one of the uniforms over. He scribbled something in his notebook, tore the page out, folded it, and handed it to the uniform. "Take this to Detective Perry."

The uniform left, note in hand.

Dolph glanced back at his notes. "Now, tell me about vampire reproduction." He stared at what he'd written in his notebook. "Even saying that sounds wrong."

"Newly dead males often have leftover sperm from before death. That's the most common. Doctors recommend you wait six weeks before sex after you've become a vampire, sort of like after a vasectomy. Those babies are usually healthy. Being fertile is a lot rarer in older vamps. Frankly, until I saw Robert and his wife at a party, I didn't know vamps as old as he is could make babies."

"How old was Robert?"

"A century and some change."

"Can female vamps get pregnant?" he asked.

"Sometimes with the newly dead it happens, but the body spontaneously aborts or reabsorbs the baby. A dead body can't give life." I hesitated.

"What?" Dolph asked.

"There have been two reported cases of an older female vampire giving birth." I shook my head. "It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't human."

"Did the babies survive?"

"For a while," I said. "The case that's the best documented was from the early 1900s. Back when Dr. Henry Mulligan was trying to find a cure for vampirism in the basement of Old Saint Louis City Hospital. One of his patients had given birth. Mulligan thought it was a sign that life was returning to her body. The baby had been born with a full set of pointed teeth and been more cannibal than vampire. Doctor Mulligan carried a scar on his wrist from the delivery until the day he died, which was about three years later when one of his patients crushed his face."

Dolph stared down at his notebook. "I write it all down. But frankly, this is one bit of information I hope I never have to use. They killed the baby, didn't they?"

"Yes," I said. "Before you ask, the father was not mentioned. The implication is that the father was human and may even have been Dr. Mulligan himself. Vampires can't make babies without a human partner, as far as we know."

"Nice to know humans are good for something besides blood," he said.

I shrugged. "I guess." Truthfully the thought of giving birth to a child with severe Vlad syndrome scared the hell out of me. I never planned on having sex with Jean-Claude, but if it ever came up, we were definitely taking precautions. No spontaneous sex, unless it included a condom.

Something must have shown on my face, because he asked, "Penny for your thoughts."

"Just glad I have high moral standards, I guess. Like I said, until I saw Robert and his wife, I thought a vampire over a century was sterile. And considering the length of time you'd have to keep the vamp's body temperature up"--I shook my head--"I don't see how it could be accidental. But they both claimed it was. She hasn't even gotten their amnio results back yet."

"Amnio test for what?" he asked.

"Vlad syndrome," I said.

"Is she healthy enough to stand up under this kind of news?" he asked.

I shrugged. "She looked fine, but I'm no expert. I'd say she shouldn't be told over the phone, and she probably shouldn't be alone. I just don't know."

"Are you friends with the wife?"

I shook my head. "No, and don't even ask. I am not going to hold Monica's hand while she cries over her dead husband."

"All right, all right, it's outside your job description. Maybe I'll let Reynolds do it."

I glanced at the young woman. She and Monica probably deserved each other, but... "Jean-Claude might know who Monica's friends are. If he doesn't, I know of one. Catherine Maison-Gillete and Monica work together."

"Monica is a lawyer?" Dolph said.

I nodded.

"Great," he said.

"How much are you telling Jean-Claude about this?" I asked.

"Why?" Dolph asked.

"Because I want to know how much I can tell him."

"You don't discuss ongoing homicide cases with the monsters," he said.

"The victim was his companion for over a century. He's going to want to talk about it. I need to know what you're telling him so I won't let something slip by accident."

"You don't have a problem withholding information from your boyfriend?"

"Not on a homicide. Whoever did this is at the very least a witch, and maybe something scarier. It's probably one of the monsters, one way or another. So we can't tell the monsters all the details."

Dolph looked at me long and steady, then nodded. "Keep back the heart and the symbols used in the spell."

"He'll have to know about the heart, Dolph, or he'll guess. Head or heart, there isn't a lot else that'll kill a century-old vamp."

"You said you'd withhold information, Anita."

"I'm telling you what will wash and what won't, Dolph. Keeping back the heart from the vamps won't work because they'll guess. The symbols, fine, but even there, Jean-Claude's going to have to have to wonder why he didn't feel Robert die."

"So what can we withhold from your boyfriend?"

"The exact symbols used in the spell. The knives." I thought about it for a moment. "How they got the heart out. Most people will still go through the ribs to tear out a heart. They see all the hospital shows on TV and they don't think about doing it differently."

"So if we get a suspect, we ask how'd you get the heart out?"

I nodded. "The crazies will start talking about stakes. Or be vague."

"Okay," he said. Dolph looked at me. "If anyone hated the monsters, I thought it was you. How can you date one of them?"

I met his eyes this time, not flinching. "I don't know."

He closed his notebook. "Greeley's probably wondering where I took you."

"What did you whisper to him? I would have bet money that he'd have held on to me."

"Told him you were a suspect in another murder. Said I wanted to watch your reaction."

"And he bought that?"

Dolph glanced back at the body. "Close to the truth, Anita."

He had me there. "Greeley didn't seem to like me very much," I said.

"You'd just killed a woman, Anita. Tends to give a bad first impression."

He had a point. "Do I need to have Catherine meet us down at the station?" I asked.

"You're not under arrest," Dolph said.

"I'd still like Catherine to meet us at the station."

"Call her."

I stood.

Dolph touched my arm. "Wait." He turned to the other cops. "Everybody wait outside for a minute." There were some glances, but no one argued, they just went. They'd all worked with Dolph before, and no one present outranked him.

When we were alone behind closed doors, he said, "Give it up."

"What?"

"You've got some kind of freaking blade down your back. Let's see it."

I sighed and reached under my hair to the hilt. I drew the knife out. It took a while. It was a long knife.

Dolph held out his hand. I handed it to him.

He balanced it on his open hands and gave a low whistle. "Jesus, what were you planning to do with this?"

I just looked at him.

"Who frisked you at the club?"

"Rizzo's partner," I said.

"Have to have a talk with him." Dolph looked up at me. "Be a bad thing to miss on someone who might use it. Is it the only weapon he missed?"

"Yep."

He stared at me. "Lean on the

bureau, Anita."

My eyebrows raised. "You're going to pat me down?"

"Yeah."

I thought about arguing but decided not to. There were no more weapons to find. I leaned on the bureau. Dolph laid the knife on the chair and searched me. If there'd been anything to find, he'd have found it. Dolph was thorough in everything he did, methodical. It was one of the things that made him a great cop.

I looked at him in the mirror without turning around. "Satisfied?"

"Yeah." He handed the knife back to me, hilt first.

I must have looked as surprised as I felt. "You're giving it back to me?"

"If you'd lied to me about it being your last weapon, I'd have kept it and everything I found." He took a deep breath and let it out. "But I won't take your last weapon, not with a contract out on you."

I took the knife and resheathed it. It was a lot harder putting it back than getting it out. I finally had to use the mirror to sort of direct me.

"I take it it's a new weapon?" Dolph asked.

"Yeah." I flipped my hair out over the sheath and presto, you couldn't see it. I was really going to have practice with it more. It was too good a hiding place not to use more often.

"Any other impressions of the scene before I take you back?"

"Was there forced entry?"

"No."

"Someone he knew then," I said.

"Maybe."

I glanced at Robert's still form. "Could we finish this discussion in another room?"

"This one bother you?"

"I knew him, Dolph. I might not have liked him, but I knew him."

Dolph nodded. "You can finish telling me all about it in the nursery."

I looked at him. I could feel myself going pale. I was not up to seeing what Monica would have done with a nursery. "You're developing a mean streak, Dolph."

"Can't seem to get past the fact you're dating the Master of the City, Anita. Just can't shake it."

"You want to punish me because I'm dating a vampire?"

He looked at me, a long searching look. I didn't look away. "I want you to not date him."

"You're not my dad."

"Does your family know?"

I did look away then. "No."

"They're Catholic, aren't they?"

"I am not going to have this discussion with you, Dolph."

"You need to have it with someone," he said.

"Maybe, but not with you."

"Look at him, Anita. Look at him, and tell me you could sleep with that."

"Drop it," I said.

"I can't."

We stared at each other. I was not going to stand here and explain my relationship with Jean-Claude to Dolph. It wasn't any of his business. "Then we have a problem."

There was a knock on the door. "Not now," Dolph said.

"Come in," I said.

The door opened. Goody. Zerbrowski walked in. Even better. I knew I was grinning like an idiot, but I couldn't seem to stop. The last time I'd seen him had been the day he got out of the hospital. He'd been nearly gutted by a shapeshifter, a wereleopard the size of a pony. His attacker had been not a lycanthrope but a shapeshifting witch. That was why Zerbrowski wasn't turning furry once a month. The witch had clawed him up horribly. I'd killed it. I'd held my hands over his stomach and pressed his intestines back into his body. I still had the scars from the same monster.

Zerbrowski's hair is normally curly and a mess, black going grey. He'd cut it short enough that it stayed in place. Made him look more serious, more grown-up, less like Zerbrowski. His suit was brown and looked like he'd slept in it. His tie was medium blue and matched nothing that he was wearing.

"Blake, long time no see."

I couldn't help myself; I walked over and hugged him. There are benefits to being a girl. Though, before Richard came into my life, I might have resisted the urge. Richard was bringing out my feminine side.

Zerbrowski hugged me awkwardly, laughing. "I always knew you wanted my body, Blake."

I pushed away from him. "You wish."

He eyed me up and down, eyes glittering with laughter. "If you dress up like that every night, I might leave Katie for you. If that skirt was any shorter, it'd be a lamp shade.''

Even with the teasing, I was glad to see him. "How long have you been back on full duty?"

"Not long. I saw you on the news with your boyfriend."

"News?" I said. I'd forgotten about the media blitz Jean-Claude and I had walked through.

"He sure was pretty for a dead guy."

"Shit."

"What?" Dolph asked.

"It was national media, not just local."

"So?"

"My father doesn't know."

Zerbrowski laughed. "He does now."

"Shit."

"I guess you'll have that talk with your father after all," Dolph said.

There must have been something in Dolph's voice or my face, because the humor faded from Zerbrowski's face. "What's up, you two? You look like someone stepped on your puppy."

Dolph looked at me. I looked at him. "Philosophical differences," I said finally. Dolph didn't add anything. I hadn't really expected him to.

"Okay," Zerbrowski said. He knew Dolph well enough not to pry. Me alone, he'd have bugged the hell out of me, but not Dolph.

"One of the nearest neighbors is a serious right-wing vampire hater," he said. That got our attention.

"Explain," Dolph said.

"Delbert Spalding and his wife Dora sat on the couch, holding hands. She offered me iced tea. He objected to me saying that Robert had been murdered. Said you couldn't kill the dead." Zerbrowski dug a wrinkled notebook out of his suit pocket. He flipped some pages, tried to smooth the page down, gave up, and quoted. "Now that someone has destroyed that thing, the woman should abort that monster she's carrying. I don't believe in abortion normally, but this is abomination, pure abomination."

"Humans Against Vampires, at the very least," I said, "Maybe even Humans First."

"Maybe he just doesn't like living next door to a vampire," Dolph said.

Zerbrowski and I looked at him.

"Did you ask Mr. Spalding if he belonged to either of the hate groups?" Dolph asked.

"He had HAV's newsletters scattered on his coffee table, gave me one."

"Great," I said, "evangelizing hatemongers."

"HAV doesn't advocate this kind of violence," Dolph said.

The way he said it made me wonder what mailing list Dolph was on. I shook my head. I wouldn't believe the worst of him just because he didn't like me dating the walking dead. A few months back, I'd have felt the same way. "Humans First does," I said.

"We'll find out if Mr. Spalding is a member of Humans First," Dolph said.

"You also need to find out if the Spaldings have any magical talent," I said.

"How?" Dolph said.

"I could meet them, be in the same room with them. To be sure, I might have to touch them, shake hands."

"I shook Mr. Spalding's hand," Zerbrowski said. "It was like shaking anybody else's hand."

"You're a great cop, Zerbrowski, but you're almost a null. You could shake the grand high pooh-bah's hand and not get more than a twinge. Dolph's a complete null."

"What's a null?" Dolph asked.

"A magical null. Someone who has no magical or psychic ability. It's what let you cross the blood circle and kept me out."

"So you're saying Ihave some magical ability?" Zerbrowski asked.

I shook my head. "You're a tiny bit sensitive. Probably one of those people who get hunches that turn out to be right."

"I get hunches," Dolph said.

"I'll bet your hunches are based on experience, years of police work. Zerbrowski will make a leap of logic that makes no sense, but proves to be true. Am I wrong?"

They looked at each other, then at me, then both nodded. "Zerbrowski has his moments," Dolph said.

"You want to come shake the Spaldings' hands?" Zerbrowski asked.

"Detective Reynolds can do it. It's one of the reasons you brought her on board, right?"

They looked at each other again. Zerbrowski grinned. "I'll get Reynolds and go back over." He stopped at the door. "Katie's been after me to invite you over for dinner, meet the kids, a real domestic affair." He stared at me with his brown eyes guileless behind dark-rimmed glasses. "I was going to tell you to bring Richard, but if you're dating Count Dracula now, guess that'd be awkward." He stared at me, asking without asking.

"I'm still seeing Richard, you pushy son of a bitch."

He smiled. "Good. Bring him over a week from Saturday. Katie'll fix her famous mushroom chicken."

"If I was only dating Jean-Claude, would the invitation still include my boyfriend?"

"No," he said. "Katie's a little nervous. I don't think she'd be up to meeting Count Dracula."

"His name's Jean-Claude."

"I know." He shut the door behind him, and Dolph and I were alone with the body once more. The night was not looking up.

"What are we hunting for, Anita?" I was actually relieved that Dolph was talking business. I'd had enough personal chitchat to last the night.

"More than one murderer."

"Why?"

I looked up at him. "I don't know if there's enough humans in the world to pin a vampire to the floor like that. Even if it was other vampires or shapeshifters, it'd take more than one. I'd say two beings with abnormal strength to hold, and a third to put in the knives. Maybe more to hold, maybe more to do the spell. I don't know, but at least three."

"Even if they were vampires?" Dolph asked.

I nodded. "Unless one vamp was strong enough to have mind control over Robert." I looked down at the body, careful not to touch the circle. I forced myself to stare at what had been done to him. "No, once they started putting knives in him, I don't think any mind control would work. A human, yeah, they could have done this to a human and made him smile while they did it, but not another vamp. Did any of the neighbors see or hear anything? I mean the Spaldings may be involved, so they'd lie, but someone had to see or hear something. He didn't go quietly."

"They say no," Dolph said. He said it like he knew some or all of them had lied. One of the things cops learn first is that everyone lies. Some people to hide things, some people just for the hell of it, but everyone lies. Assume that everyone is hiding something, it saves time.

I stared at Robert's face, his mouth half-open, slack. There were rubbed marks at each corner of his mouth, a slight reddening. "Did you notice the marks by his mouth?"

"Yes," Dolph said.

"And you weren't going to mention them to me?"

"You were a suspect."

I shook my head. "You didn't really believe that. You're just playing all the details close to your chest, like always. I get tired of putting the pieces together when you've already done it."

"So, what do you make of the marks?" he asked, his voice neutral.

"You know damn well what I make of them. He may have been gagged while they did this to him. The neighbors really might not have heard anything. But that still doesn't say how the killers got into the house. If vampires were involved, they couldn't cross the threshold without an invitation. Robert wouldn't have invited strange vamps into his house, so someone with them had to be known, or human, or at least not vampire."

"Could a human cross the threshold and invite vampires inside?"

"Yes," I said.

Dolph was making notes, not looking at me. "So we're looking for a mixed group, at least one vamp, at least one not vamp, at least one witch or necromancer."

"You got that last from Reynolds," I said.

"You disagree?"

"No, but since I'm the only necromancer in town, it has to be outside talent." The moment I said it, I realized that outside talent was in town now. Dominic Dumare.

"John Burke couldn't do it?"

I thought about that. "John's a vaudun priest, but this isn't voodoo. I don't know if his knowledge of the arcane stretches this far. I also don't know if he's powerful enough to have done this, even with the knowledge."

"Are you powerful enough?"

I sighed. "I don't know, Dolph. I'm sort of new at necromancy. I mean, I've raised the dead for years, but not this formally." I motioned at the body. "I've never seen a spell like this."

He nodded. "Anything else?"

I hated dragging Dominic into it, but it was too bloody big a coincidence that a powerful necromancer hits town and a vamp gets taken out with necromancy. If he was innocent, I'd apologize. If he wasn't innocent, it was a death penalty case.

"Dominic Dumare is a necromancer. He just got into town."

"Could he have done this?" Dolph asked.

"I only met the man once, Dolph."

"Give me an opinion, Anita."

I thought about the feel of Dominic in my head. His offer to teach me necromancy. The big thing was that killing Robert and leaving the body for us to find was stupid. Dominic Dumare didn't strike me as a stupid man.

"He could have. He's a vampire's human servant, so it gives you two of your mixed group."

"Did the vampire know Robert?"

I shook my head. "Not to my knowledge."

"You got a number where we can reach Mr. Dumare?"

"I can call our night secretary and get it for you."

"Great." Dolph stared down at his notes. "Is Dumare your best suspect?"

I thought about that. "Yeah, I guess he is."

"You got any proof?"

"He's a necromancer, and this was done by someone with knowledge of necromancy." I shrugged.

"The same reason we suspected you," Dolph said. He almost smiled when he said it.

"Point taken," I said. "Prejudiced little me."

Dolph closed his notebook. "I'll take you down for your statement then."

"Fine. Now can I call Catherine?"

"There's a phone in the kitchen."

Zerbrowski opened the door. "The wife's here, and she's pretty hysterical."

"Who's with her?" Dolph asked.

"Reynolds."

Through the open door, I heard a woman talking, just below the level of screaming. "Robert, my husband, dead? He can't be dead. He can't be dead. I have to see him. You don't understand what he is. He isn't dead." The voice was coming closer.

"She's doesn't need to see this, Anita."

I nodded. I walked out the door and closed it tightly behind me. I couldn't see Monica yet, but I could hear her. Her voice rising, growing thinner with panic. "You don't understand. He isn't really dead."

I was betting that Monica wouldn't take my word for Robert being well and truly dead. I guess if it was Jean-Claude lying in there, I wouldn't, either. I'd have to see for myself. I took a deep breath and walked forward to meet the grieving widow. Damn. This night just kept getting better and better.