Sucker Punch (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #27) - 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