Home > Sucker Punch (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #27)

Sucker Punch (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #27)
Author: Laurell K. Hamilton


   THE TINY PLANE landed in the dark on a runway that felt way too short. When the plane finally skidded to a stop, I couldn’t make my right hand let go of the armrest. Literally I’d held on so tight that my hand had locked up, as if holding on tight would have done a damn bit of good if the plane had wrecked. The pilot turned his head to look at me and give me a thumbs-up. I just stared at him, my heart in my throat. I was phobic of flying, and this bumpy trip in a four-seater Cessna hadn’t done a damn thing to quiet my fears.

   He took off his headset and said, “Oh, come on, it wasn’t that bad, was it?” He smiled when he said it. I glared at him until his smile faltered. I was projecting badass while the only mantra in my head was I will not throw up. I will not throw up. Only knowing that a man’s life hung in the balance had gotten me to climb into the progressively smaller planes until this final one.

   “Well, welcome to Hanuman, Michigan, Marshal Blake,” the pilot said at last, and opened the door.

   As I pried my hand free of its death grip, I wondered again why I was doing this. Because it’s your job, I thought. I kept telling myself that as I gathered my bags and fitted the big one through the door ahead of me.

   The pilot said, “That bag’s big enough to hold a body.”

   “Only if it was my size or smaller, though I guess I could cut it up and make almost anyone fit,” I said as I got the rest of me and the smaller bag through the door and down onto the tarmac.

   “Very funny,” the pilot said.

   I gave him the flat look until he said, “What’s really in the bag?”

   “Weapons,” a man said as he walked toward us in the last light of the setting sun.

   I’d had just a moment to see the forest, and then it was dark as if someone had turned the lights off. You know you’re in the boondocks when it’s that dark even before you step into the trees; in their shade, it would be cave dark.

   I smiled at Marshal Winston Newman. He was as tall as the first time I’d met him, as in over six feet, but had more meat on his bones as if he was either gaining weight or gaining muscle. I’d have to see him in better light to be sure whether he was hitting the gym or hitting the donuts. His hair was still short underneath his white cowboy hat, but the hat wasn’t brand-new anymore. The brim had been worked with his hands so that it made an almost sharp point over his face. It fit him now. When I’d first met him, the hat had struck me as a present from someone who hadn’t really known him or wanted him to be more cowboy than he’d seemed.

   He offered to take a bag so I could shake his hand, and I let him take it. I’d have done the same for him. “Thanks for flying out at the last minute, Blake.”

   “I appreciate you reaching out on this.” I almost added “rookie,” but he wasn’t one anymore. He was newer than me, but then, most marshals in the preternatural branch were. There were only eight of us from the old days; everyone else was either dead, worse than dead, or retired.

   “Thanks for helping me out, Jim,” Newman said to the pilot, who was standing by his plane watching us.

   “The Marchand family has been around here a long time, and Bobby is my friend, Marshal Newman. I appreciate you trying to give him a chance.”

   “You understand that if Bobby Marchand did this, then I will have to execute him,” Newman said.

   “If he killed old man Marchand, then he’ll have earned it, but Bobby has been an Ailuranthrope since just after we graduated high school. He had it under control.”

   I was surprised that Jim knew the politically correct term for cat-based lycanthropy. Sorry, for Therianthropy, which was the new term for all of it since it didn’t imply wolf like lycanthropy did. But a lifetime of using it as a general term was going to be hard to break for me.

   “That’s what everyone tells me. Thanks again, Jim. Marshal Blake and I have to get over to the sheriff’s office.” He started moving toward a big Jeep Wrangler that was parked in the grass beside the runway.

   “Duke is a good man, Newman. He’s just never seen anything like this.”

   Newman kept us moving toward the Jeep as he called back over his shoulder, “I’m not questioning Sheriff Leduc’s competency, Jim.”

   “Good, but you watch out for his deputy, Wagner.”

   That made Newman stop and look back at the pilot. “What’s wrong with Wagner?”

   “He gets rough when he thinks he can get away with it.”

   “Does the sheriff know?” Newman asked.

   “I don’t know, but everybody else in town does.”

   “Thanks for the heads-up, Jim.”

   “Not a problem. I hope you and Marshal Blake work this out.”

   “Me, too, Jim. Me, too,” Newman said as he opened the back door and tossed my bag of weapons in.

   Since I already had the Springfield EMP 9mm in an inner pants holster, with my marshal’s badge on the belt next to it—so if I had flashed it on one of the larger planes, they’d see my badge—plus two extra magazines in the cargo pockets of my pants, a folding Emerson wave knife from Gerber in another pocket, a small tactical flashlight, a very slender man’s wallet, and my smartphone, I was okay being out of easy reach of the rest of my weapons and body armor. I went around to the passenger-side door and let myself in. I’d add two more knives and switch the EMP for my Springfield Rangemaster full frame .45 in a drop leg holster when I got the chance. I had a hip holster for it, but if I had to wear the body armor, I’d have to change to the drop holster anyway, just like the EMP would switch to a holster on the MOLLE strap system on the chest of the vest. Inner pants holsters were for concealed carry when you didn’t want to spook the civilians. On an active warrant, by the time I was all geared up, concealed carry was an impossibility.

   “Did you know that this Deputy Wagner had a rep for roughing people up?” I asked.

   Newman settled himself behind the wheel of his Jeep and shook his head. “I hadn’t heard the rumor, and as far as we know, that’s all it is.”

   “How well do you know Jim the pilot?”

   “Well enough to roust him out of bed on a Saturday and get him to fly you from the main airport to here.”

   “You knew he was Bobby Marchand’s friend, so he’d be motivated.”

   “I did.”

   “Is this your home base now?”

   “It is.”

   “It’s not exactly a great post for a marshal. Did you choose it, or did you piss someone off?”

   He smiled wide enough for me to see it as he pulled the Jeep out on the runway and drove like we were a plane getting ready to take off. I realized that there didn’t seem to be any other paved area nearby. We passed a shed with a windsock, but that was it. It was the definition of middle of fucking nowhere.

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