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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(10)

By:Kim Harrison

“If you like,” Nina said, annoyed as she brought her attention back to me. “All the information you need is in the reports. There’s evidence of at least four people involved in holding the victims.” She looked at the hanging man and frowned, her fingers twitching, grasping for something unseen—a nervous tic belonging to an undead vampire. Curious.
I exhaled as I took in what Nina was saying. If they’d moved and dumped the body, then we had five days to find the next victim. Damn it all to hell, this is ugly. Somewhere in the city a terrified man or woman was being experimented on, turned into this . . . halfway thing.
Jenks left Ivy to make irritating yo-yo motions in front of me, his color high. “One guy and two women dumped this guy,” he said proudly, and Nina’s expression showed stark amazement. “That is, if you trust pixies,” Jenks added snidely. “They came at four thirty-five in the morning, strung the guy up, finger-painted with blood from a bag, and left in a blue car. The local pixies didn’t pay much attention to them. A guy with a dog found him thirty-seven minutes later, and the I.S. flunky responding hit him with a forget charm and sent him on his way. He’s fine, but the dog is going to need massive amounts of therapy.”Nina looked livid, but I was delighted. It was probably the best intel we’d get, and more than the I.S. had gotten in over two weeks—if they were being honest with us, that is. Forget charms. I hated them, and I made a mental note to see if I could find anything in my earth-magic spell books that would counter one. I didn’t want to take this run only to be charmed into forgetting everything when the I.S. had what it wanted.
“Nice going, Jenks,” I said, unable to resist the dig. “We’ll give you that for free, Nina.”
The two vampires with the gurney and the folded body bag had started forward, and feeling a little better, I asked, “How long until the new tracking amulets made from the evidence here are ready?” I wanted to nail this coffin shut like yesterday.
Head down, Nina rubbed her chin. “Twelve hours,” she said sourly, looking startled when she found her skin smooth and unstubbled. “I don’t expect to get a ping from any of them. Ms. Morgan, is there a curse that you can perform to track them down faster?”
I lingered at the top of the stairs, the body hanging, ugly, behind me, the forbidding walls of the music hall peeping through the bare trees. Ivy was with one of the techs on the sidewalk, their heads close as they talked shop. Between us, radio chatter and the dull murmur of anxious cops filled the air. I’d had my look. I’d seen enough to get sick, scared, and now angry.
“Curse? No,” I said, feeling cold as I gripped my shoulder bag tighter and took the stairs. I couldn’t do a curse to save my life while wearing this band of charmed silver. “But if they’re using this man’s blood to stir spells to torture the next, you can find them with that using any old earth or ley-line charm.”
I started down, and Wayde edged toward me, that same uneasy expression on his face. “It’s a big city,” Nina said, almost under her breath as she followed me down the stairs, her steps silent in her scratched knock-off heels. “Profilers think there are at least five people involved. Witches.”
Witches killing witches? Not impossible, but something felt wrong to me. Jenks was dripping an angry red. “You can’t find five psychotic witches?” he said caustically.
“It’s a big city,” Nina said again tightly. “Do you realize how many witches are in Cincinnati?”
Wayde glanced up at the body as he joined us, sliding close as the gurney vamps brushed past. “Uh, witches didn’t do this,” he said.
I turned to him as the gurney vamps stood before the body, discussing the best way to get the body down as they put on their protective gear. “But it is witch magic that did this,” I said, and the pixy bobbed up and down. 
“Witches did this,” Nina said, her voice iron hard. “End of story.”
Wayde’s weight landed solidly on his front foot. “Witches would not use HAPA hate knots to tie him up.”
Nina spun to him, and Wayde jumped back at the snarl she wore, her pretty features drawing up into what was almost a hiss. Hunched, she glared at the nearby techs, who were suddenly white faced and apologetic, as if they were supposed to have removed the knots. Ivy was a blur between us, taking the steps two at a time to see for herself, Jenks right beside her, dropping swear words like red sparkles. I stayed where I was on the lowest step, suddenly a lot more scared as I looked at the cords and paled. Damn, he was right. I hadn’t even noticed, but the ropes holding him up and spread-eagled were tied with the complex knots that HAPA had been known for, used for hanging witches, tying dead vampires in the sun, and quartering Weres in the nightmare four years of the Turn.
Slowly I sat on the lowest stair again, my back to the body. HAPA: Humans Against Paranormals Association. It was the fear of being dragged out into the street and burned by your neighbors made real, an extremist hate group that had gained a brief foothold during the Turn and advocated genocide for the very same people they’d lived next to and who’d taken great personal risks to keep them alive. It was believed HAPA had vanished years ago, but perhaps that’s only what the I.S. had wanted everyone to think. By Nina’s pissed attitude, I had the ugly feeling that the I.S. not only knew HAPA was alive and well but had been covering up its activity so they could take care of them the old-fashioned way.
Sickened, I wrapped my arms around my middle. I didn’t know which was uglier: the body hanging behind me, or the I.S. hiding the crime so they could quietly murder those responsible for it. “It’s coincidence,” Nina said, but though the knot had been around for centuries, the knowledge that HAPA exclusively used it was not. After that little display of temper, I doubted very much that it was a coincidence here.
Beside me, Wayde was clearly not buying it, either. “Before I got my security license, I worked large crowds. That’s a HAPA knot. We kick two or three haters out of every show. Why are you hiding this?”
Ivy looked up from her crouch where she had been examining the knot. “Maybe it’s a copycat organization trying to blame HAPA.”
“HAPA would never use magic,” I said, agreeing with her. “Not in a million years.” Witches had suffered the most from HAPA. Weres were naturally reticent, and vampires were better at hiding. Witches, though, were easy to spot if you knew what to look for.
Jenks hovered between Ivy and me as if torn. “What better way to get rid of a group of people than to use their individual magic to sow distrust among them?”
I stood up, frustrated. “HAPA doesn’t use magic!”
Ivy’s brow furrowed. “They used to, until they decided that even magic-using humans were tainted. What has me scared is why now? Why start using magic again?”
Something evil was crawling over my shoulder, and I looked up to see that Nina’s entire posture had shifted. Anger had made her eyes hard. She wasn’t talking, but clearly Ivy was right. “HAPA has been using magic for the last two years,” Nina said, looking as if she had eaten something sour. “We think it’s because they have something they think can wipe us out once and for all. Now you know, and you have a choice,” she said as she gestured roughly and a nervous agent edged his way up the stairs and handed her an evidence bag. Smiling without mirth, she held it up so I’d be sure to see the curly red hair in it before she tucked it in an inner pocket. “You can either quietly help us find and ‘reeducate’ the people responsible for this, or you, Rachel Morgan, will take the blame for it, because as everyone knows HAPA does not use magic.”“What the hell?” Jenks exclaimed, spilling red dust as he got between me and Nina, his sword out and pointed. Ivy was aghast, and Wayde’s hand clenched on my shoulder until I shrugged it off. Reeducate? They meant catching and killing them without a trial in a back basement somewhere. If I didn’t help the I.S., that curl of red hair was going to make me responsible for it. All they’d have to do was drop it at one of the sites, and standard magic detection would lead them right back to me.
Son of a bitch.
“I am not taking the blame for this,” I said hotly.
Nina tucked the bag in an inner coat pocket. “Good. I’m looking forward to seeing how you work,” she said calmly. “I want a list of the curses you can do on my desk by tomorrow night. Early.”
They thought I was going to work for them? Fuming, I stood on the sidewalk. Ivy’s eyes were black, and Jenks almost dripped sparks. I was not going to do this. I was not going to become one of the I.S.’s elite hit squad—as flattering as that was. “There’s always option three,” I said tightly, and Jenks hesitated. Ivy, too. They’d been sending hand signals to each other, planning something that would probably end with me in the hospital or in jail.
Nina’s benevolent smile pissed me off. “Option three?”
I sent Jenks the signal to stand down and fumbled in my bag, not taking my eyes off the woman. Behind her, I.S. agents were slowly dropping back. Finding my cell, I flipped it open and scrolled through the numbers-called list. The one I wanted was at the bottom. I hadn’t realized it had been that long. “A HAPA hate crime is the FIB’s jurisdiction, not yours,” I said as I texted HAPA  WASHINGTON PARK to Glenn, thumbs moving fast, and Nina sucked in her breath, her eyes going black.