Guilty pleasures, p.13
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       Guilty Pleasures, p.13
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         Part #1 of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton
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  He had turned back to the window, and I had to fill the pained silence. "Vampires are not human. Their loyalty, first and foremost, must be to their own kind. I understand that. Monica betrayed her own kind. She also betrayed a friend. That is unforgivable."

  He twisted to look at me. I wished I could see his eyes. "So if someone was your friend, you would do anything for them?"

  I thought about that as we drove down 70 East. Anything? That was a tall order. Almost anything? Yes. "Almost anything," I said.

  "So loyalty and friendship are very important to you?"

  "Yes."

  "Because you believe Monica betrayed both of those things, it makes it a worse crime than anything the vampires did?"

  I shifted in the seat, not happy with the way the conversation was going. I am not a big one for personal analysis. I know who I am and what I do, and that's usually enough. Not always, but most of the time. "Not anything; I don't believe in many absolutes. But, if you want a short version, yes, that's why I'm angry at Monica."

  He nodded, as if that were the answer he wanted. "She's afraid of you; did you know that?"

  I smiled, and it wasn't a very nice smile. I could feel the edges curl up with a dark sort of satisfaction. "I hope the little bitch is sweating it out, big time."

  "She is," he said. His voice was very quiet.

  I glanced at him, then quickly back to the road. I had a feeling he didn't approve of my scaring Monica. Of course, that was his problem. I was quite pleased with the results.

  We were getting close to the Riverfront turnoff. He had still not answered my question. In fact, he had very nicely avoided it. "Tell me about freak parties, Phillip."

  "Did you really threaten to cut out Monica's heart?"

  "Yes. Are you going to tell me about the parties or not?"

  "Would you really do it? Cut out her heart, I mean?"

  "You answer my question, I'll answer yours." I turned the car onto the narrow brick roads of the Riverfront. Two more blocks and we would be at Guilty Pleasures.

  "I told you what the parties are like. I've stopped going the last few months."

  I glanced at him again. I wanted to ask why. So I did. "Why?"

  "Damn, you do ask personal questions, don't you?"

  "I didn't mean it to be."

  I thought he wasn't going to answer the question, but he did. "I got tired of being passed around. I didn't want to end up like Rebecca, or worse."

  I wanted to ask what was worse, but I let it go. I try not to be cruel, just persistent. There are days when the difference is pretty damn slight. "If you find out that all the vampires went to freak parties, call me."

  "Then what?" he asked.

  "I need to go to a party." I parked in front of Guilty Pleasures. The neon was quiet, a dim ghost of its nighttime self. The place looked closed.

  "You don't want to go to a party, Anita."

  "I'm trying to solve a crime, Phillip. If I don't, my friend dies. And I have no illusions about what the master will do to me if I fail. A quick death would be the best I could hope for."

  He shivered. "Yeah, yeah." He unbuckled the seat belt and rubbed his hands along his arms, as if he were cold. "You never answered my question about Monica," he said.

  "You never really told me about the parties."

  He looked down, staring at the tops of his thighs. "There's one tonight. If you have to go, I'll take you." He turned to me, arms still hugging his elbows. "The parties are always at a different location. When I find out where, how do I get in touch with you?"

  "Leave a message on my answering machine, my home number." I got a business card out of my purse and wrote my home phone number on the back. He got his jean jacket out of the back seat and stuffed the card into a pocket. He opened the door, and the heat washed into the chill, air-conditioned car like the breath of a dragon.

  He leaned into the car, one arm on the roof, one on the door. "Now, answer my question. Would you really cut out Monica's heart, so she couldn't come back as a vampire?"

  I stared into the blackness of his sunglasses and said, "Yes."

  "Remind me never to piss you off." He took a deep breath. "You'll need to wear something that shows off your scars tonight. Buy something if you don't have it." He hesitated, then asked, "Are you as good at being a friend as you are an enemy?"

  I took a deep breath and let it out. What could I say? "You don't want me for an enemy, Phillip. I make a much better friend."

  "Yeah, I'll bet you do." He closed the door and walked up to the club door. He knocked, and a few moments later the door opened. I got a glimpse of a pale figure opening the door. It couldn't be a vampire, could it? The door closed before I could see much. Vampires could not come out in daylight. That was a rule. But until last night I had known vampires could not fly. So much for what I knew.

  Whoever it was had been expecting Phillip. I pulled away from the curb. Why had they sent him at his flirtatious best? Had he been sent to charm me? Or was he the only human they could get at short notice? The only daytime member of their little club. Except for Monica. And I wasn't real fond of her right now. That was just dandy with me.

  I didn't think Phillip was lying about the freak parties, but what did I know about Phillip? He stripped at Guilty Pleasures, not exactly a character reference. He was a vampire junkie, better and better. Was all that pain an act? Was he luring me someplace, just as Monica had?

  I didn't know. And I needed to know. There was one place I could go that might have the answers. The only place in the District where I was truly welcome. Dead Dave's, a nice bar that served a mean hamburger. The proprietor was an ex-cop who had been kicked off the force for being dead. Picky, picky. Dave liked to help out, but he resented the prejudice of his former comrades. So he talked to me. And I talked to the police. It was a nice little arrangement that let Dave be pissed off at the police and still help them.

  It made me nearly invaluable to the police. Since I was on retainer, that pleased Bert to no end.

  It being daytime, Dead Dave was tucked in his coffin, but Luther would be there. Luther was the daytime manager and bartender. He was one of the few people in the District who didn't have much to do with vampires, except for the fact that he worked for one. Life is never perfect.

  I actually found a parking place not far from Dave's. Daytime parking is a lot more open in the District. When the Riverfront used to be human-owned businesses, there was never any parking on a weekend, day or night. It was one of the few positives of the new vampire laws. That and the tourism.

  St. Louis was a real hot spot for vampire watchers. The only place better was New York, but we had a lower crime rate. There was a gang that had gone all vampire in New York. They had spread to Los Angeles and tried to spread here. The police found the first recruits chopped into bite-size pieces.

  Our vampire community prides itself on being mainstream. A vampire gang would be bad publicity, so they took care of it. I admired the efficiency of it but wished they had done it differently. I had had nightmares for weeks about walls that bled and dismembered arms that crawled along the floor all by themselves. We never did find the heads.

  22

  DEAD DAVE'S IS all dark glass and glowing beer signs. At night the front windows look like some sort of modern art, featuring brand names. In the daylight everything is muted. Bars are sort of like vampires; they are at their best after dark. There is something tired and wistful about a daytime bar.

  The air conditioning was up full blast, like the inside of a freezer. It was almost a physical jolt after the skin-melting heat outside. I stood just inside the door and waited for my eyes to adjust to the twilight interior. Why are all bars so damn dark, like caves, places to hide? The air smelled of stale cigarettes no matter when you came in, as if years of smoke had settled into the upholstery, like aromatic ghosts.

  Two guys in business suits were settled at the farthest booth from the door. They were eating and had manila folders spread across the table
top. Working on a Saturday. Just like me, well, maybe not just like me. I was betting that no one had threatened to tear their throats out. Of course, I could be wrong, but I doubted it. I was betting the worst threat they had had this week was lack of job security. Ah, the good old days.

  There was a man crouched on a bar stool, nursing a tall drink. His face was already slack, his movements very slow and precise, as if he were afraid he'd spill something. Drunk at one-thirty in the afternoon; not a good sign for him. But it wasn't my business. You can't save everybody. In fact, there are days when I think you can't save anyone. Each person has to save himself first, then you can move in and help. I have found this philosophy does not work during a gun battle, or a knife fight either. Outside of that it works just fine.

  Luther was polishing glasses with a very clean white towel. He looked up when I slipped up on the bar stool. He nodded, a cigarette dangling from his thick lips. Luther is large, nay, fat. There is no other word for it, but it is hard fat, rock-solid, almost a kind of muscle. His hands are huge-knuckled and as big as my face. Of course, my face is small. He is a very dark black man, nearly purplish black, like mahogany. The creamy chocolate of his eyes is yellow-edged from too much cigarette smoke. I don't think I have ever seen Luther without a cig clasped between his lips. He is overweight, chain-smokes, and the grey in his hair marks him as over fifty, yet he's never sick. Good genetics, I guess.

  "What'll it be, Anita?" His voice matched his body, deep and gravelly.

  "The usual."

  He poured me a short glass of orange juice. Vitamins. We pretended it was a screwdriver, so my penchant for sobriety wouldn't give the bar a bad name. Who wants to get drunk when there are teetotalers in the crowd? And why in the world would I keep coming to a bar if I didn't drink?

  I sipped my fake screwdriver and said, "I need some info."

  "Figured that. Whatcha need?"

  "I need information on a man named Phillip, dances at Guilty Pleasures."

  One thick eyebrow raised. "Vamp?"

  I shook my head. "Vampire junkie."

  He took a big drag on his cig, making the end glow like a live coal. He blew a huge puff of smoke politely away from me. "Whatcha want to know about him?"

  "Is he trustworthy?"

  He stared at me for a heartbeat, then he grinned. "Trustworthy? Hell, Anita, he's a junkie. Don't matter what he's strung out on, drugs, liquor, sex, vampires, no diff. No junkie is trustworthy, you know that."

  I nodded. I did know that, but what could I do? "I have to trust him, Luther. He's all I got."

  "Damn, girl, you are moving in the wrong circles."

  I smiled. Luther was the only person I let call me girl. All women were "girl," all men "fella." "I need to know if you've heard anything really bad about him," I said.

  "What are you up to?" he asked.

  "I can't say. I'd share it if I could, or if I thought it would do any good."

  He studied me for a moment, cig dribbling ash onto the countertop. He wiped up the ash absentmindedly with his clean white towel. "Okay, Anita, you've earned the right to say no, this once, but next time you better have something to share."

  I smiled. "Cross my heart."

  He just shook his head and pulled a fresh cigarette out of the pack he always kept behind the bar. He took one last drag of the nearly burned cig, then clasped the fresh one between his lips. He put the glowing orange end of the old cig against the fresh white tip and sucked air. The paper and tobacco caught, flared orange-red, and he stubbed out the old cig in the already full ashtray he carried with him from place to place, like a teddy bear.

  "I know they got a dancer down at the club that is a freak. He does the party circuit and is reeeal popular with a certain sort of vamp." Luther shrugged, a massive movement like mountains hiccuping. "Don't have no dirt on him, 'cept he's a junkie, and he does the circuit. Shit, Anita, that's bad enough. Sounds like someone to stay away from."

  "I would if I could." It was my turn to shrug. "But you haven't heard anything else about him?"

  He thought for a moment, sucking on his new cigarette. "No, not a word. He ain't a big player in the district. He's a professional victim. Most of the talk is about the predators down here, not the sheep." He frowned. "Just a minute. I got something, an idea." He thought very carefully for a few minutes, then smiled broadly. "Yeah, got some news on a predator. Vamp calls himself Valentine, wears a mask. He been bragging that he did ol' Phillip the first time."

  "So," I said.

  "Not the first time he was a junkie, girl, the first time period. Valentine claims he jumped the boy when he was small, did him good. Claims ol' Phillip liked it so much that's why he's a junkie."

  "Dear God." I remembered the nightmares, the reality, of Valentine. What would it have been like to have been small when it happened? What would it have done to me?

  "You know Valentine?" Luther asked.

  I nodded. "Yeah. He ever say how old Phillip was when the attack took place?"

  He shook his head. "No, but word is anything over twelve is too old for Valentine, 'less it's revenge. He's a real big one for revenge. Word is if the master didn't keep him in line, he'd be damn dangerous."

  "You bet your sweet ass he's dangerous."

  "You know him." It wasn't a question.

  I looked up at Luther. "I need to know where Valentine stays during the day."

  "That's two bits of information for nuthin'. I don't think so."

  "He wears a mask because I doused him with Holy Water about two years ago. Until last night I thought he was dead, and he thought the same about me. He's going to kill me, if he can."

  "You awful hard to kill, Anita."

  "There's a first time, Luther, and that's all it takes."

  "I hear that." He started polishing already clean glasses. "I don't know. Word gets out we giving you daytime resting places, it could go bad for us. They could burn this place to the ground with us inside."

  "You're right. I don't have a right to ask." But I sat there on the bar stool, staring at him, willing him to give me what I needed. Risk your life for me old buddy ol' pal, I'd do the same for you. Riiight.

  "If you could swear you wouldn't use the info to kill him, I could tell you," Luther said.

  "It'd be a lie."

  "You got a warrant to kill him?" he asked.

  "Not active, but I could get one."

  "Would you wait for it?"

  "It's illegal to kill a vampire without a court order of execution," I said.

  He stared at me. "That ain't the question. Would you jump the gun to make sure of the kill?"

  "Might."

  He shook his head. "You gonna be up on charges one of these days, girl. Murder is a serious rap."

  I shrugged. "Beats getting your throat torn out."

  He blinked. "Well, now." He didn't seem to know what to say, so he polished a sparkling glass over and over in his big hands. "I'll have to ask Dave. If he says it's okay, you can have it."

  I finished my orange juice and paid up, a little heavy on the tip to keep things aboveboard. Dave would never admit he helped me because of my tie with the police, so money had to exchange hands, even if it wasn't nearly what the information was worth. "Thanks, Luther."

  "Word on the street is that you met the master last night. That true?"

  "You know about that before or after the fact?" I asked.

  He looked pained. "Anita, we woulda told you if we'd known, gratis."

  I nodded. "Sorry, Luther, it's been a rough few nights."

  "I'll bet. So the rumor's true?"

  What could I say? Deny it? A lot of people seemed to know. I guess you can't even trust the dead to keep a secret. "Maybe." I might as well have said yes, because I didn't say no. Luther understood the game. He nodded. "What did they want with you?"

  "Can't say."

  "Mmm . . . uh. Okay, Anita, you be damn careful. You might wanta get some help, if there's anybody you can trust."

  Trust? It
wasn't lack of trust. "There may be only two ways out of this mess, Luther. Death would be my choice. A quick death would be best, but I doubt I'll get the chance if things go bad. What friend am I supposed to drag into that?"

  His round, dark face stared at me. "I don't have no answers, girl. I wish I did."

  "So do I."

  The phone rang. Luther answered it. He looked at me and carried the phone down on its long cord. "For you," he said.

  I cradled the phone against my cheek. "Yes."

  "It's Ronnie." Her voice was suppressed excitement, a kid on Christmas morning.

  My stomach tightened. "You have something?"

  "There is a rumor going around Humans Against Vampires. A death squad designed to wipe the vampires off the face of the earth."

  "You have proof, a witness?"

  "Not yet."

  I sighed before I could stop myself.

  "Come on, Anita, this is good news."

  I cupped my hand over the phone and whispered, "I can't take a rumor about HAV to the master. The vampires would slaughter them. A lot of innocent people would get killed, and we're not even sure that HAV is really behind the murders."

  "All right, all right," Ronnie said. "I'll have something more concrete by tomorrow, I promise. Bribe or threat, I'll get the information."

  "Thanks, Ronnie."

  "What are friends for? Besides, Bert's going to have to pay for overtime and bribes. I always love the look of pain when he has to part with money."

  I grinned into the phone. "Me, too."

  "What are you doing tonight?"

  "Going to a party."

  "What?"

  I explained as briefly as I could. After a long silence she said, "That is very freaky."

  I agreed with her. "You keep working your end, I'll try from this side. Maybe we'll meet in the middle."

  "It'd be nice to think so." Her voice sounded warm, almost angry.

  "What's wrong?"

  "You're going in without backup, aren't you?" she asked.

  "You're alone," I said.

  "But I'm not surrounded by vampires and freakazoids."

  "If you're at HAV headquarters, that last is debatable."

  "Don't be cute. You know what I mean."

  "Yes, Ronnie, I know what you mean. You are the only friend I have who can handle herself." I shrugged, realized she couldn't see it, and said, "Anybody else would be like Catherine, sheep among wolves, and you know it."

  "What about another animator?"

 
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