Kiss the Dead
When a fifteen-year-old girl is abducted by vampires, it’s up to U.S. Marshal Anita Blake to find her. And when she does, she’s faced with something she’s never seen before: a terrifyingly ordinary group of people—kids, grandparents, soccer moms—all recently turned and willing to die to avoid serving a master. And where there’s one martyr, there will be more…
But even vampires have monsters that they’re afraid of. And Anita is one of them…
On TV, interrogation rooms are roomy and have big windows so that you can watch everything. In reality, the rooms are pretty small, and there are almost never big picture windows; that’s why real police footage is grainy and black-and-white, rather than Technicolor gorgeous. The interrogation room was painted pale beige, or maybe it was taupe, I’d always been a little fuzzy on the difference between them. Either way it was a bland color described by real estate agents as a warm neutral; they lied. It was a cold, impersonal color. The small table was all shiny metal, and so was the chair. The idea was that the prisoners couldn’t scratch their names, or messages, in the metal like they could have in wood, but whoever thought that had never seen what a vampire, or a wereanimal, could do to metal. There were plenty of scratches in the shiny tabletop, most done with just fingernails, superhuman strength, and the boredom of hours of sitting.
The vampire sitting at the small table wasn’t trying to carve his initials on anything. He was crying, so hard that his thin shoulders shook. He’d slicked his black hair back from his face in a widow’s peak that I was betting was a haircut and no more natural than the ink-black color.
He was mumbling in a tear-choked voice, “You hate me because I’m a vampire.”
I spread my hands flat on the cool metal table. My jacket’s jewel-tone blue sleeves looked too bright against the naked metal, or maybe it was the crimson nail polish. That had been for my date the night before; it looked out of place while I was U.S. Marshal Anita Blake. I counted to ten, to keep from yelling at our suspect again. That was what had started the crying; I’d scared him. Jesus, some people don’t have enough balls to be undead.
“I don’t hate you, Mr. Wilcox,” I said, in a smooth, even friendly voice. I had to deal with clients every day at Animators Inc.; I had a customer voice. “Some of my best friends are vampires and shapeshifters.”
“You hunt and kill us,” he said, but he raised his eyes enough to gaze at me between his fingers. His tears were tinged pink with someone else’s blood. His putting his hands over his eyes had smeared the tears around so that his face was trailed and marked with the drying pink tears. It didn’t match the perfectly arched black eyebrows, or the eyebrow ring that sat dull blue metal above his left eye. He’d probably done it to bring out the blue in his eyes, but at best they were a watery, pale blue that didn’t work with the dyed black hair, and the dark blue of the eyebrow piercing just seemed to emphasize that his eyes were too pale, and matched the pink traces of blood way better than the artificial additions. I was betting he started life as a white-blond, or maybe pale, nondescript brown.
“I’m a legal vampire executioner, Mr. Wilcox, but you have to break the law to bring me to your door.”
Those pale eyes blinked at me. “You can look me in the eyes.”
I smiled, and tried to shove it all the way up into my own dark brown eyes, but was pretty sure I failed. “Mr. Wilcox, Barney, you haven’t been dead two years yet. Do you really think your weak-ass vampire mind tricks will work on me?”
“He said people would be afraid of me,” and this was almost a whisper.
“Who said?” I asked. I leaned forward just a little, keeping my hands still, trying to be pleasant, and not spook him.
He muttered, “Benjamin.”
“Benjamin who?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Just Benjamin. The old vampires only have one name.”
I nodded. Old vampires had one name, like Madonna, or Beyoncé, but what most people didn’t know was that they fought duels to see who got to use the name. A powerful vampire could demand that another lesser vampire give up the use of a name he’d had for centuries, or fight for the right to keep it. I didn’t say that part out loud, because most people, even us vampire experts, didn’t know it. It was an old custom that was dying out as the modern vampires kept their last names, and duels were illegal now that vampires weren’t. Dueling was looked on the same under the law regardless of whether the participants were alive or undead. I would have bet a lot of money that this Benjamin wasn’t old enough to know the history behind vampires having only one name.
“Where can I find Benjamin?”
“I thought you were so powerful that no vampire could resist you.” There was a flare of sullen anger in his pale blue eyes. There was temper in there, under the tears.
“I would need a connection with him, someone who was metaphysically joined with him in some way, so I could follow the psychic connection. Someone like you.” I let the hint of threat ride into that last part.
He looked sullen and arrogant. “You can’t do that; no one can.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, and my voice dropped a little lower.
“You’re a U.S. Marshal, you’re not allowed to do magic on me.”
“It’s not magic, Barney. It goes under psychic skills, and law enforcement officers are allowed to use psychic abilities in the performance of their duties if they think that is the only way to prevent further loss of life.”
He frowned, rubbing one pale hand across his face. He sniffed loudly, and I pushed the box of Kleenex toward him. He took one, used it, and then gave me angry eyes. It was probably his hard look, but as hard looks go, it wasn’t. “I have rights. The new laws won’t let you hurt me without a warrant of execution.”
“And a minute ago, you were worried I’d kill you. Barney, you need to make up your mind.” I raised a hand and spread it flat in the air as if I were holding something he should have been able to see. “Am I a danger to you, or”—and I held up my other hand—“not able to hurt you at all?”
His anger sputtered down to sullenness. “Not sure.”
“The girl that Benjamin and the others took is only fifteen. She can’t legally agree to become a vampire.”
“We didn’t take her,” Barney said, indignant, slamming his hand on the table.
“Legally, she’s a minor, so it’s kidnapping, regardless of whether she went willingly or not. It’s kidnapping and attempted murder right now; if we find her too late, it’s murder, and I’ll get that court order of execution for you and Benjamin, and every other vampire that may have touched her.”
A nervous tic started under his eye, and he swallowed so hard that it was loud in the quiet room. “I don’t know where they took her.”
“Time for lies are past, Barney; when Sergeant Zerbrowski comes back through that door with an order of execution I’ll be able to legally blow your head and heart into bloody ribbons.”
“If I’m dead, I can’t tell you where the girl is,” he said, and looked pleased with himself.
“Then you do know where she is, don’t you?”
He looked scared then, wadding the Kleenex up in his hands until his fingers mottled with the pressure. He had just enough blood in him for the skin to mottle. He’d drunk deep of someone.
The door opened. Barney Wilcox, the vampire, made a small yip of fear. Zerbrowski’s curly salt-and-pepper hair fell around his half-open collar, his tie at half-mast with a spot of something he’d eaten smeared down it. His brown slacks and white shirt looked like he’d slept in them. He might have, but then again, his wife, Katie, could dress him neat as a pin and he still fell apart before he reached the squad room. He pushed his new tortoiseshell glasses more firmly up on his face and held a piece of paper out to me. The paper looked very official. I reached for it, and the vampire yelled, “I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you everything, please, please don’t kill me!”
Zerbrowski drew his hand back. “Is he cooperating, Marshal Blake?” There was the slightest of twinkles in Zerbrowski’s brown eyes. If he grinned at me, I’d kick him in the shins. He stayed serious; there was a missing girl.
I turned back to Barney. “Cooperate, Barney, because once I touch that piece of paper I am out of legal options that don’t include lethal force.”
Barney told us where the secret lair was, and Zerbrowski got up and went for the door. “I’ll start the ball,” he said.
Barney stood up and tried to move toward Zerbrowski, but the leg shackles wouldn’t let him get far. It was standard operating procedure to chain vampires. I’d removed the cuffs to try to gain his trust, and because I didn’t see him as a danger. “Where’s he going?”
“To give the location to the other police, and you better pray that we get there before she’s been turned.”
Barney turned that pink-stained face to me, looking puzzled. “You aren’t going?”
“We’re forty-five minutes away from the location, Barney; a lot of bad things can happen in that amount of time. There’ll be other cops closer.”
“But you’re supposed to go. In the movies it’d be you.”
“Yeah, well, this isn’t the movies, and I’m not the only Marshal in the city.”
“It’s supposed to be you.” He almost whispered it. He was staring into space, as if he couldn’t think clearly, or like he was listening to some voice I couldn’t hear.
“Oh, shit,” I said. I was around the table before I had time to really think what I’d do when I got there. I grabbed a handful of Barney’s black T-shirt and put our faces inches apart. “Is this a trap, Barney? Is this a trap for me?”
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