Skin Trade - By Laurell K. Hamilton

To everyone who keeps hanging in there: Darla, Sherry, Mary, and Teresa. Merrilee, my agent, for never giving up. Susan, my editor, who often surprises me with her insights. Everyone at Marvel who works on the Anita Blake comic series. A team, at last. Shawn, who answered nearly endless questions about police work, and when he didn't know the answers, admitted it and helped me find other experts to talk to. Thanks for having our backs in Vegas. Robin, who helped calm me down. Blessed be. Thanks to Kathy, who helped us out at the last Wolf Howl. Charles, we'll miss seeing you at all the events, but life moves on, and new goals need pursuing. Good luck on getting your degree. Daven and Wendi, thanks for the hospitality and the hugs. Sharon Shinn, because no one else understands the panic. To all the rest of the Alternate Historians: Deborah Millitello, Tom Drennan, Mark Sumner, and Marella Sands-good friends, good writers, what more could one ask? To Las Vegas Metro SWAT, thanks to all of you, because I was told that it's about the team, not the individuals, and who am I to argue with a team that works this well. Thanks to Bill, Alane, Nicole, and REM, who showed us around the Clark County Coroner's office. It was great meeting everyone in Vegas; you all made us feel very welcome. Thank you. Any mistakes in the book are mine and mine alone, because there wasn't time for everyone to read over the manuscript, but the help I received in Vegas helped keep the mistakes to a minimum. Thanks, everyone.

Sudden and swift and light as that

The ties gave,

And he learned of finalities

Besides the grave.

- From "The Impulse" by Robert Frost (The Hill Wife, 1922)
Chapter 1-2
Chapter 1

I'D WORKED MY share of serial killer cases, but none of the killers had ever mailed me a human head. That was new. I looked down at the head, ghostly, through the plastic bag it was wrapped in. It sat on my desk, on top of the desk blotter, like hundreds of other packages that had been delivered to Animators Inc., where our motto was Where the Living Raise the Dead for a Killing. The head had been packed in ice, for all the world like some employee of the postal service had done it. Maybe they had; vampires can be very persuasive, and it was a vampire who had sent the package. A vampire named Vittorio. He'd included a letter with my name written on the envelope in lovely calligraphy: Anita Blake. He wanted me to know who to thank for my little surprise. He and his people had slaughtered over ten people in St. Louis alone before he fled to parts unknown. Well, not unknown now, maybe. There was a return address on the package. It had been mailed from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Either Vittorio was still there, or it would be another of his disappearing acts. Was he in Las Vegas, or had he mailed it from there and would be somewhere else by the time I gave the information to the police there?

No way to know. I could still hear our daytime secretary, Mary, being hysterical in the other room. Luckily we had no clients in the office. I was about thirty minutes away from my first client of the day, and my appointment had been the first of the day for Animators Inc.; lucky. Mary could have her breakdown while our business manager, Bert, tried to calm her. Maybe I should have helped, but I was a U.S. Marshal, and business had to come first. I had to call Vegas and tell them they might have a serial killer in town. Happy fucking Monday.

I sat down at my desk, the phone in my hand, but didn't dial it. I stared at the pictures of other people's families on my desk. Once the shared desk had been empty, just files mingling in the drawers, but first Manny Rodriguez brought in his family portrait. It was the one that every family seems to have, where people are too serious, and only one or two manage a good smile. Manny looked stiff and uncomfortable in his suit and tie. Left to his own devices he always forgot the tie, but Rosita, his wife, who was inches taller than he, and more inches wider than his slender form, would have insisted on the tie. She usually got her way on stuff like that. Manny wasn't exactly Copyright 2016 - 2024