Cerulean Sins (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #11)

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05.03.2019

17

My badge on its little cord around my neck got us past most of the cops. The few that questioned us recognized my name, or had worked with me before. Always good to be known. They questioned Jason's presence. I finally told them that I'd deputized him.

A big statie, with shoulders wider than either of us was tall, said, "I've heard it called a lot of things, but deputy isn't one of 'em."

I turned on him, slowly, because I couldn't move fast, and the very slowness of the turn helped the menace. It's hard to be menacing to someone when you barely reach their waist, but I have had lots of practice.

Jason must have been afraid of what I'd say, because he said, "You're just jealous."

The big man shook his head in his Smokey the bear hat. "I like my women bigger."

"Funny," I said, "that's what your wife says."

It took him a minute to get it, then he unfolded those beefy arms and took a step towards us. "Why you . . ."

"Trooper Kennedy," a voice said from behind us, "don't you have some speeders to go catch?"

I turned to see Zerbrowski walking towards us. He was dressed in his usual–sloppy as hell, as if he'd slept in the brown suit, a yellow shirt with the collar on one side pointing up, and a tie at half-mast, already stained with something, even though he probably hadn't had breakfast. His wife, Katie, was always neat as a pin. I'd never figured out how she let him go out looking like that.

"I'm on my own time here, detective," Trooper Kennedy said.

"And this is my crime scene, trooper. I don't think we need you here."

"She says that she deputized him."

"She's a federal marshal, Kennedy, she can do that."

The big man looked perplexed. "I didn't mean anything by the comment, sir."

"I know you didn't, Kennedy, just as Marshall Blake here didn't mean anything by hers. Did you, Anita?"

"I don't know his wife, so no, just pulling your leg, Officer Kennedy, sorry about that."

Kennedy frowned, thinking harder than was good for him, I think. "No offense taken, and none meant, ma'am." He couldn't quite bring himself to call me officer, or marshal, which was fine with me. The federal status was so new that I didn't always look up when someone called marshal. I kept forgetting they meant me.

When the big trooper had wandered away to his car, Zerbrowski called over one of the other detectives on the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, affectionately know as RPIT. If you wanted to piss them off, call them RIP.

"See if you can clear out some of the personnel we don't need."

"You got it, Sarge," and the man went to talk with all the nice policemen from all the many jurisdictions.

"Sarge," I said, "I knew Dolph made lieutenant finally, I didn't hear your news."

He shrugged, running a hand through his already messy curls. Katie would make him go in for a haircut soon. "When they moved Dolph up, he needed a second whip, I got tapped."

"They throw you a party yet?"

He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. They didn't need adjusting. "Yeah."

If I'd been a man, I'd have let it go, but I was a girl, and girl's poke at things more than men. "I was invited to Dolph's party for making louie, but not yours?"

"I like Micah, Anita, but Dolph . . . didn't expect you to bring Micah. I don't think he could take seeing him at my shindig, too."

"He just can't handle the fact that my main squeeze is a shape-shifter."

Zerbrowski shrugged. "Katie gave me strict orders to invite you and Micah over for dinner the next time I saw you. So here it is, and when can you come over?"

There are points where you stop pushing. I didn't ask if Katie had really told Zerbrowski that, she probably had, but, whatever, he was trying to offer a social peace pipe, and I was going to take it.

"I'll ask Micah what our schedule looks like."

His eyes flicked to Jason, and he grinned. The grin reminded me so much of Jason's grin, that it made me wonder what Zerbrowski had been like in college, when Katie and he met. "Unless you've changed guys again?"

"No," I said, "Jason's just a friend."

"The friend speech," Jason clutched his heart with his free hand, the other still wrapped around mine, "it cuts so deep."

"Yeah, I've been trying to get into her pants for years. She just won't come across."

"Tell me about it," Jason said.

"Both of you, stop it, right now," I said.

They both laughed, and the laughs were so similar that it was kind of unnerving. "I know you have the right to make him a deputy, but I know what Mr. Schulyer here is, and where his primary residence is." Zerbrowski leaned in close enough to us that no one else would hear. "Dolph would kill me if I let him into the crime scene."

"You catch me if I pass out, and he can stay out here."

"Pass out," Zerbrowski said, "you're joking, right?"

"I wish I was." I had both hands on Jason's arm now, fighting the urge to totter on my high heels.

"Dolph said that you'd said you were sick. Did he know how sick?"

"He didn't seem to care, just wanted me to get my ass out here."

Zerbrowski frowned. "If he'd known you were this shaky, he wouldn't have insisted."

"Pretty to think so," I said. I could feel the blood draining from my face. I needed to sit down, soon, just for a few minutes.

"I would ask if it's the flu, but I see the bandage on your neck. What did it?"

"Vampire," I said.

"You want to report a crime?"

"It's been taken care of."

"You kill his ass?"

I looked at him through the dark lenses of the glasses. "I really need to sit down for a few minutes, Zerbrowski, and you know I wouldn't ask if I didn't need it."

He offered me his arm. "I'll escort you through, but Schulyer there can't come." He looked at Jason. "Sorry, man."

Jason shrugged. "It's okay, I'm really good at entertaining myself."

"Behave yourself," I said.

He grinned. "Don't I always?"

I would have stayed there and made sure he promised me how good he would be, but I had only about enough energy to walk into the house and sit down before my legs gave. I'd leave the police officers and emergency crews to Jason's mercy. He wouldn't do anything bad, just irritating.

I stumbled on the steps leading up to the small front porch. If Zerbrowski hadn't caught me, I'd have fallen.

"Jesus, Anita, you should be in bed."

"That's what I told Dolph."

He eased me through the door and found me a small straight-backed chair in the hallway. "I'll tell Dolph how sick you are and let the kid take you home."

"No," I said, though I did lay my forehead on my knees while the world steadied around me.

"Jesus, Anita, you're as stubborn as he is. Dolph won't take nofor an answer, so you drag your ass out of a sickbed to come down here. I give you an out, where I'll take the heat from Dolph, but nooo, you're going to show Dolph that you're just as stubborn and bullheaded as he is. You planning to faint in his arms? That'll really show him."

"Shut up, Zerbrowski."

"Fine, you sit there for a few minutes. I'll come back and check on you, and I'll escort you through the crime scene. But you're being stupid."

I spoke with my face still in my lap. "If Dolph were sick, he'd still be here."

"That doesn't prove you're right, Anita, that just proves you're bothstupid." With that he walked away, farther into the house. It was good that he left, because for the life of me, I couldn't have argued with him.

18

When Zerbrowski first led me into the room, I thought, there's a man levitating against that wall.He did look like he was floating. I knew that wasn't true, but for just a moment my eyes, my mind, tried to make that what I saw. Then I saw the dark lines where blood had dried on the body. It looked as if he'd been shot, a lot, and bled, but bullets wouldn't have kept him pinned to the wall.

Strangely, I wasn't faint, or nauseous, or anything. I felt light and distant, and more solid than I'd felt in hours. I kept walking towards the man on the wall. Zerbrowski's hand slipped away from mine, and I was steady on my high heels in the soft carpet.

I had to be almost underneath the body before my eyes could make sense of it, and even then, I was going to have to ask someone who was more tool-oriented if I was right.

It looked like someone had taken a nail gun, one of those industrial size nail guns, and nailed the man to the wall. His shoulders were about eight feet off the ground, so either they'd used a ladder, or they'd been close to seven feet tall.

The dark spots on the body were at both palms, both wrists, forearms just above the elbows, shoulders, collarbones, lower legs just below the knees, just above the ankles, then through each foot. The legs were apart, not pierced together. They hadn't tried to imitate the Crucifixion. If you went to this much trouble, it was almost odd to not echo that long-ago drama. The very fact that they hadn't tried seemed strange to me.

The man's head slumped forward. His neck showed pale and whole. There was a dark patch of blood on his nearly white hair just behind one ear. If the nails were as big as I thought they were, if that blood had been caused by a nail, the tip should have protruded from the face, but it didn't. I stood on tiptoe. I wanted to see the face.

The white hair and the face, slack with death, said he was older than the rest of him looked. The body was well cared for–exercise, probably weights, running–only the face and white hair said he was probably over fifty. All that work to maintain health and well-being, and some nutcase comes along and nails you to a wall. It seemed so unfair.

I leaned forward too far and had to put my fingertips out to catch myself. My fingers touched dried blood on the wall. Only then did I realize I'd forgotten my surgical gloves. Fuck.

Zerbrowski was there with a hand on my elbow to steady me, whether I needed it, or not.

"How could you let me come in here without gloves on?"

"I didn't expect you to touch the evidence," he said. He fished a bottle of hand sanitizer out of one of his pockets. "Katie makes me carry it."

I let him pour some into my hands, and I scrubbed them. It wasn't that I was really worried about catching anything from that one small touch, I did it more out of habit. You didn't take pieces of the crime scene home if you didn't have to.

The gel evaporated against my skin making my hands feel wet, though I knew they weren't. I looked around at the crime scene, taking in what else was there.

Colored chalk had been used on the off-white walls. There were pentagrams of varying sizes on either side of the body. Pink, blue, red, green; almost decorative. Any fool that's trying to fake a ritual murder knows enough to use a few pentagrams. But there were also Nordic runes drawn among the candy-colored pentagrams. Not every nutcase knows that Nordic runes can be used in ritual magic.

I'd had one semester of comparative religion with a professor who had really liked the Norse. It had left me with a better knowledge of runes than most Christians had. It had been years, but I still recognized enough to be confused.

"This makes no sense," I said.

"What?" Zerbrowski asked.

I pointed at the wall, while I spoke. "It's been awhile since I studied runes in college, but the perps used all the runes in a pretty standard order. If you're really doing ritual, you have a specific purpose. You don't use all the Norse runes, because some of them are contradictory. I mean, you don't want to use a rune for chaos and a rune for order. I can't think of a true ritual where you would use them all. Even if you were doing a working where you wanted to invoke polarity, healing, harming, chaos, order, god, goddess, you still wouldn't. Some of them aren't easily made to fit any true polarity/opposite sort of thing. And they're also in a pretty standard textbook order."

I backed up, taking him with me, because he was still holding on to my elbow. I pointed to the left side of the body as we looked at it. "It starts with Fehu here and descends straight through, ending with Dagaz at the other side. Someone just copied this, Zerbrowski."

"I know this sounds funky, but do you feel any magic?" he asked.

I thought about that. "Do you mean was this a spell?"

He nodded. "Yeah, can you feel a spell?"

"No, there's been nothing of power in this room."

"How can you be so sure?" he asked.

"Magic, power of any kind of a metaphysical nature, leaves a residue behind. Sometimes it's just a tingling at the back of your neck, goosebumps on your skin, but sometimes it's like a slap in the face, or even a wall that you run into. But this room is dead, Zerbrowski. I'm not psychically gifted enough to pick up emotions from what happened here, and I'm glad. But if this had been some big spell, there'd been something left of it, and the room is just a crime scene, nothing else."

"So if no spell, why all the symbols?" he asked.

"I haven't the faintest idea. From the looks of things he was shot behind the ear and nailed to the wall. The body isn't arranged to imitate any mystical or religious symbolism that I'm familiar with. Then they threw some pentagrams around and copied runes out of a book."

"Which book?"

"There are a lot of books on the runes, everything from college textbooks to the occult to New Age. You'd probably have to go to a college store or one of the New Age shops, or you could probably special order it through any bookstore."

"So this isn't a ritual murder," he said.

"There may be ritual to it from the killer's point of view, but was it done with magical purpose? No."

He let out a deep breath. "Good, that's what Reynolds told Dolph."

"Detective Tammy Reynolds, your one and only witch on staff?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Why didn't Dolph believe her?"

"He said he wanted confirmation."

I shook my head, and it didn't make me dizzy to do it. Great. "He doesn't trust her, does he?"

Zerbrowski shrugged. "Dolph's just careful."

"Bull-fucking-shit, Zerbrowski, he doesn't trust her because she's a witch. She's a Christian witch for heaven's sake, a Follower of the Way. You can't get more mainstream in your occult expert than a Christian witch."

"Hey, don't get mad at me, I didn't drag you out of bed to double-check Reynolds's work."

"And would he have dragged her down here to check my work, if I'd been first on the scene?"

"You'd have to ask Dolph about that."

"Maybe I will," I said.

Zerbrowski went a little pale. "Anita, please don't go after Dolph angry. He is in a bad, bad mood."

"Why?"

He shrugged again. "Dolph doesn't confide in me."

"Is he just in a bad mood today, or for the last few days, what?"

"The last few days have been worse, but two murders in one night have sort of given him a reason to be grumpy, and he's taking full advantage of it."

"Great, just great," I said. My anger helped me stomp off towards the bank of windows that took up most of the other wall. I stood there and stared off at the amazing view. Nothing but hills, trees, it did look as if the house sat in the middle of some vast wilderness.

Zerbrowski came to stand beside me. "Nice view, huh?"

"Whoever did this had to have scouted the house." I motioned at the windows. "They had to know for sure that there was no neighbor out there that could see what they were doing. Shooting him, you might take your chances, but putting him up on the wall, and all the symbols, no, they had to be sure they wouldn't be seen."

"That's pretty organized for a wacko," Zerbrowski said.

"Not if it's really someone wanting you to think they're a wacko."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't tell me that you and Dolph haven't thought of that."

"What?"

"That it's someone near and dear to the dead man, someone who stands to inherit all this." I looked around at the living room, which was as large as the entire downstairs of my house. "I was too sick to really notice when I came in, but if the rest of the house is as impressive as this, then there's money to be had."

"You haven't seen the pool yet, have ya?"

"Pool?"

"Indoors, with a Jacuzzi big enough for twelve."

I sighed. "Like I said, money. Follow the money, find out who stands to gain. The ritual is only window dressing, a smoke screen that the murderers hope will throw you off."

He stood staring off at the beautiful view, hands behind his back, sort of rocking on his heels. "You're right, that's exactly what Dolph thought once Reynolds said there was no magic to it."

"I'm not going over to the other scene just to check her work again, am I? Because if that's the case, I'm headed home. I may not always like Detective Tammy, but she's pretty good at what she does."

"You just don't like that she's dating Larry Kirkland, your animator in training."

"No, I don't like that she and Larry are dating. She's his first serious girlfriend, so forgive me, but I felt protective."

"Funny, I don't feel protective of Reynolds at all."

"That's because you're weird, Zerbrowski."

"No," he said, "it's because I see the way Reynolds and Kirkland look at each other. They are dead gone, Anita, in L-O-V-E."

I sighed. "Maybe."

"If you haven't noticed, it's because you didn't want to see it."

"Maybe I've been busy."

For once Zerbrowski stayed quiet.

I looked at him. "You never answered my first question, am I going to the next murder scene to check Tammy's work?"

He stopped rocking on his heels and stood quiet, face serious. "I don't know, probably some."

"I'm going home then."

He touched my arm. "Go to the second scene, Anita, please. Don't give Dolph any more reason to be more pissy."

"That is not my problem, Zerbrowski. Dolph is making his own life hard on this one."

"I know, but the couple officers that have been at both scenes say the second one is a bad one. More up your alley than Reynolds's."

"Up my alley, how?"

"Violent, real violent. Dolph doesn't want to know if it's magic, he wants to know if something that wasn't human did it."

"Dolph's a fanatic about not giving details away to his people before they've seen a crime scene, Zerbrowski. What you've just told me would piss him off mightily."

"I was afraid you wouldn't go, if I didn't . . . add a little."

"Why do you care if Dolph and I are feuding?"

"We're here to solve crimes, Anita, not fight each other. I don't know what's eating Dolph, but one of you has to be the grown-up." He smiled. "Yeah. I know things have come to a sorry state when you're the one, but there it is."

I shook my head and slapped his arm. "You are such a pain in the ass, Zerbrowski."

"It's good to be appreciated," he said.

The anger was fading, and with it the spurt of energy. I leaned my head against his shoulder. "Get me outside before I start feeling bad again. I'll go see the second crime scene."

He put his arm around my shoulders and gave me half a hug. "That's my little federal marshal."

I raised my head. "Don't push it, Zerbrowski."

"Can't help myself, sorry."

I sighed. "You're right, you can't help yourself. Forget I said anything, keep saying witty irritating things as you walk me back to Jason."

He started me across the room, arm still across my shoulders. "How did you end up with a werewolf stripper as your driver for the day?"

"Just lucky I guess."