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       The Lunatic Cafe, p.1

          part  #4 of  Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series  by  Laurell K. Hamilton / Mystery & Detective / Fantasy / Romance & Love / Horror
The Lunatic Cafe

Praise for the novels of Laurell K. Hamilton

featuring Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter


DANSE MACABRE

"It's an almost sure bet that there will be plenty of readers ready to enjoy the 'good parts'--sexual and otherwise--of each successive Anita Blake novel for years to come."

--The Denver Post

"Fans will find plenty here to sink their teeth into."

--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Her books outsell any other current vampire fiction."

--Publishers Weekly

"It just does not get more devilishly seductive than this...dark and chilling, hotter than hot, sexy, sensual, and incredibly intense."

--Love Romances and More "Delivers some hot goods, Anita-style."

--Fallen Angel Reviews

"A fabulous action-packed story line filled with characters readers have come to think of as friends."

--Midwest Book Review

MICAH

"An exciting, erotic, and evocative paranormal romantic suspense thriller that will thrill her fans and send new readers scrambling for her backlist."

--The Best Reviews

"Highly palatable...equal portions hot sex and supernatural crime fighting--with a dollop of old-fashioned male-female melodrama."

--Publishers Weekly

INCUBUS DREAMS

"[A] thrill ride."

--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Hamilton maintains a terrific pace with suspense, revenge, and heart-pounding endings."

--Detroit Free Press

"Action-packed...The eroticism and the 'dramedy' of complicated relationships between shapeshifting lovers sets Hamilton's novels apart from the rest of the pack...[She] really does come off like the genre's answer to Henry Miller."

--The Denver Post

"A page-turning adventure...Fans of the series will not be disappointed."

--Library Journal

CERULEAN SINS

"Lavish...Fans won't want to miss this one...A great read."

--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "The best Blake yet...hot stuff."

--Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Hamilton's complex, enthralling world is utterly absorbing, and Anita's many fans will be thrilled to see her back in action."

--Booklist

"Anita's uncontrollable sexual energy has it's amusing (not to mention arousing) moments...This manages to go over the top while remaining a really compelling read."

--Locus

"Fresh and fun."

--Metropole

NARCISSUS IN CHAINS

"Laurell K. Hamilton's sexiest book...Narcissus in Chains hits the ground running and never stops...Hamilton just keeps getting better and better."

--St. Louis Post-Dispatch "In [this novel], tough, sarcastic Anita Blake...torn between her inner vamp and wolf, makes a final mating choice that no fan will expect...Better pounce."

--Kirkus Reviews

"Interesting...compelling."

--Locus

"Amorous."

--Publishers Weekly

OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY

"An erotic, demonic thrill ride. Her sexy, edgy, wickedly ironic style sweeps the reader into her unique world and delivers red-hot entertainment. Hamilton's marvelous storytelling can be summed up in three words: over the top. She blends the genres of romance, horror, and adventure with stunning panache. Great fun!"

--Jayne Ann Krentz

"Just when I think that Laurell K. Hamilton can't possibly get any farther out on the edge, along she comes with yet another eye-popping blend of hilarious sex, violence, and stuff that makes your hair stand on end. I've never read a writer with a more fertile imagination--and fewer inhibitions about using it!"

--Diana Gabaldon

"A monstrously entertaining read."

--Publishers Weekly

"An abundance of thrills, chills, violence, and sexual innuendo. Recommended."

--Library Journal

"An R-rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer...the action never stops...the climax is an edge-of-your-seat cliff-hanger...dessert for the mind, with sprinkles."

--The New York Review of Science Fiction





Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels by Laurell K. Hamilton


GUILTY PLEASURES

THE LAUGHING CORPSE

CIRCUS OF THE DAMNED

THE LUNATIC CAFE

BLOODY BONES

THE KILLING DANCE

BURNT OFFERINGS

BLUE MOON

OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY

NARCISSUS IN CHAINS

CERULEAN SINS

INCUBUS DREAMS

MICAH

DANSE MACABRE

THE HARLEQUIN



STRANGE CANDY





THE LUNATIC CAFE


Laurell K. Hamilton




BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK





THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi--110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright (c) 1996 by Laurell K. Hamilton

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

BERKLEY and the "B" design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Berkley hardcover edition as follows:

Hamilton, Laurell K.

The lunatic cafe / Laurell K. Hamilton.

p. cm.

ISBN: 1-101-14741-5

1. Blake, Anita (Fictitious character)--Fiction. 2. Werewolves--Fiction. I. Title.

PS3558.A443357L86 2005

813'.54--dc22





2004057496





To Trinity, my daughter,

If you had never come into my life, I would be a different person.

Less happy, less comfortable with myself.

You force me, every day, to look at the world with fresh eyes

and to throw my preconceptions to the wind.





Contents


Acknowledgments



Chapter 1



Chapter 2



Chapter 3



Chapter 4



Chapter 5



Chapter 6



Chapter 7



Chapter 8



Chapter 9



Chapter 10



Chapter 11



Chapter 12



Chapter 13



Chapter 14



Chapter 15



Chapter 16



Chapter 17



Chapter 18



Chapter 19



Chapter 20



Chapter 21



Chapter 22



Chapter 23



Chapter 24



Chapter 25



Chapter 26



Chapter 27



Chapter 28



Chapter 29



Chapter 30



Chapter 31



Chapter 32



Chapter 33



Chapter 34



Chapter 35



Chapter 36



Chapter 37



Chapter 38



Chapter 39



Chapter 40



Chapter 41



Chapter 42



Chapter 43



Afterword by Laurell K. Hamilton





Acknowledgments




Dr. Keith Nunnelee, who helped bring Trinity into the world ten years ago. No small task that. Sarah Sumner for food, comfort, and emergency runs to the doctor all those years ago; Mark Sumner for the same; John Sumner for worrying--nobody has better neighbors or better friends. Deborah Millitello, who took time out of her own writing schedule to help with Trinity when she was a baby so I could finish this book the first time. Marella Sands, congrats on selling your own series.

To all the Alternate Historians: Tom Drennan, N. L. Drew, and Rett McPherson, who made sure this book stood alone.





1




IT WAS TWO weeks before Christmas. A slow time of year for raising the dead. My last client of the night sat across from me. There had been no notation by his name. No note saying zombie raising or vampire slaying. Nothing. Which probably meant whatever he wanted me to do was something I wouldn't, or couldn't, do. Pre-Christmas was a dead time of year, no pun intended. My boss, Bert, took any job that would have us.

George Smitz was a tall man, well over six feet. He was broad shouldered, and muscular. Not the muscles you get from lifting weights and running around indoor tracks. The muscles you get from hard physical labor. I would have bet money that Mr. Smitz was a construction worker, farmer, or something similar. He was shaped large and square with grime embedded under his fingernails that soap would not touch.

He sat in front of me, crushing his toboggan hat, kneading it in his big hands. The coffee that he'd accepted sat cooling on the edge of my desk. He hadn't taken so much as a sip.

I was drinking my coffee out of the Christmas mug that Bert, my boss, had insisted everyone bring in. A personalized holiday mug to add a personal touch to the office. My mug had a reindeer in a bathrobe and slippers with Christmas lights laced in its antlers, toasting the merry season with champagne and saying, "Bingle Jells."

Bert didn't really like my mug, but he let it go, probably afraid of what else I might bring in. He'd been very pleased with my outfit for the evening. A high-collared blouse so perfectly red I'd had to wear makeup to keep from looking pale. The skirt and matching jacket were a deep forest green. I hadn't dressed for Bert. I had dressed for my date.

The silver outline of an angel gleamed in my lapel. I looked very Christmasy. The Browning Hi-Power 9mm didn't look Christmasy at all, but since it was hidden under the jacket, that didn't seem to matter. It might have bothered Mr. Smitz, but he looked worried enough to not care. As long as I didn't shoot him personally.

"Now, Mr. Smitz, how may I help you today?" I asked.

He was staring at his hands and only his eyes rose to look at me. It was a little-boy gesture, an uncertain gesture. It sat oddly on the big man's face. "I need help, and I don't know who else to go to."

"Exactly what kind of help do you need, Mr. Smitz?"

"It's my wife."

I waited for him to continue, but he stared at his hands. His hat was wadded into a tight ball.

"You want your wife raised from the dead?" I asked.

He looked up at that, eyes wide with alarm. "She's not dead. I know that."

"Then what can I possibly do for you, Mr. Smitz? I raise the dead, and am a legal vampire executioner. What in that job description could help your wife?"

"Mr. Vaughn said you knew all about lycanthropy." He said that as if it explained everything. It didn't.

"My boss makes a lot of claims, Mr. Smitz. But what does lycanthropy have to do with your wife?" This was the second time I'd asked about his wife. I seemed to be speaking English, but perhaps my questions were really Swahili and I just didn't realize it. Or maybe whatever had happened was too awful for words. That happened a lot in my business.

He leaned forward, eyes intense on my face. I leaned forward, too, I couldn't help myself. "Peggy, that's my wife, she's a lycanthrope."

I blinked at him. "And?"

"If it came out, she'd lose her job."

I didn't argue with him. Legally, you couldn't discriminate against lycanthropes, but it happened a lot. "What sort of work is Peggy in?"

"She's a butcher."

A lycanthrope that was a butcher. It was too perfect. But I could see why she'd lose her job. Food preparation with a potentially fatal disease. I don't think so. I knew, and the health department knew, that lycanthropy can only be transferred by an attack in the animal form. Most people don't believe that. Can't say I blame them entirely. I don't want to be fuzzy, either.

"She runs a specialty meat store. It's a good business. She inherited it from her father."

"Was he a lycanthrope, too?" I asked.

He shook his head. "No, Peggy was attacked a few years back. She survived..." He shrugged. "But, you know."

I did know. "So your wife is a lycanthrope and would lose her business if it came out. I understand that. But how can I help you?" I fought the urge to glance at my watch. I had the tickets. Richard couldn't go in without me.

"Peggy's missing."

Ah. "I am not a private detective, Mr. Smitz. I don't do missing persons."

"But I can't go to the police. They might find out."

"How long has she been missing?"

"Two days."

"My advice is to go to the police."

He shook his head stubbornly. "No."

I sighed. "I don't know anything about finding a missing person. I raise the dead, slay vampires, that's it."

"Mr. Vaughn said you could help me."

"Did you tell him your problem?"

He nodded.

Shit. Bert and I were going to have a long talk. "The police are good at their job, Mr. Smitz. Just tell them your wife is missing. Don't mention the lycanthropy. See what they turn up." I didn't like telling a client to withhold information from the police, but it beat the heck out of not going at all.

"Ms. Blake, please, I'm worried. We've got two kids."

I started to say all the reasons I couldn't help him, then stopped. I had an idea. "Animators, Inc., has a private investigator on retainer. Veronica Sims has been involved in a lot of preternatural cases. She might be able to help you."

"Can I trust her?"

"I do."

He stared at me for a long moment, then nodded. "All right, how do I get in touch with her?"

"Let me give her a call, see if she can see you."

"That would be great, thank you."

"I want to help you, Mr. Smitz. Hunting missing spouses just isn't my specialty." I dialed the phone as I talked. I knew Ronnie's number by heart. We exercised at least twice a week together, not to mention an occasional movie, dinner, whatever. Best friends, a concept that most women never outgrow. Ask a man who his best friend is and he'll have to think about it. He won't know right off the top of his head. A woman would. A man might not even be able to think of a name, not for his best friend. Women keep track of these things. Men don't. Don't ask me why.

Ronnie's answering machine clicked in. "Ronnie, if you're there, it's Anita, pick up."

The phone clicked, and a second later I was talking to the genuine article. "Hi, Anita. I thought you had a date with Richard tonight. Something wrong?"

See, best friends. "Not with the date. I've got a client here who I think is more up your alley than mine."

"Tell me," she said.

I did.

"Did you recommend he go to the police?"

"Yep."

"He won't go?"

"Nope."

She sighed. "Well, I've done missing persons before but usually after the police have done everything they can. They have resources I can't touch."

"I'm aware of that," I said.

"He won't budge?"

"I don't think so."

"So it's me or..."

"Bert took the job knowing it was a missing person. He might try giving it to Jamison."

"Jamison doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground on anything but raising the dead."

"Yeah, but he's always eager to expand his repertoire."

"Ask him if he can be at my office..." She paused while she leafed through her appointment book. Business must be good. "At nine tomorrow morning."

"Jesus, you always were an early riser."

"One of my few faults," she said.

I asked George Smitz if nine o'clock tomorrow was all right.

"Couldn't she see me tonight?"

"He wants to see you tonight."

She thought about that for a minute. "Why not? It's not like I have a hot date, unlike some people I could mention. Sure, send him over. I'll wait. Friday with a client is better than Friday night alone, I guess."

"You've just hit a dry spell," I said.

"And you've hit a wet spell."

"Very funny."

She laughed. "I'll look forward to Mr. Smitz's arrival. Enjoy Guys and Dolls."

"I will. See you tomorrow morning for our run."

"You sure you want me over there that early in case dream boat wants to stay over?"

"You know me better than that," I said.

"Yeah, I do. Just kidding. See you tomorrow."

We hung up. I gave Mr. Smitz Ronnie's business card, directions to her office, and sent him on his way. Ronnie was the best I could do for him. It still bothered me that he wouldn't go to the police, but hey, it wasn't my wife.

I've got two kids, he'd said. Not my problem. Really. Craig, our nighttime secretary, was at the desk, which meant it was after six. I was running late. There really wasn't time to argue with Bert about Mr. Smitz, but...
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LAURELL K. HAMILTON SERIES:

  • Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
  • Merry Gentry
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