Home > Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(11)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(11)
Author: Charlaine Harris

A lot of questions hovered on the edge of my tongue, but they remained shut inside my mouth. The police got there, in the persons of Kenya Jones and Kevin Prior. When the town police chief had partnered Kenya and Kevin, he'd been indulging his sense of humor, the town figured, for Kenya was at least five foot eleven, the color of bitter chocolate, and built to weather hurricanes. Kevin possibly made it up to five foot eight, had freckles over every visible inch of his pale body, and had the narrow, fatless build of a runner. Oddly enough, the two K's got along very well, though they'd had some memorable quarrels.

Now they both looked like cops.

"What's this about, Miss Stackhouse?" Kenya asked. "Rene says something happened to Dawn Green?" She'd scanned JB while she talked, and Kevin was looking at the ground all around us. I had no idea why, but I was sure there was a good police reason.

"My boss sent me here to find out why Dawn missed work yesterday and hadn't shown up today," I said. "I knocked on her door, and she didn't answer, but her car was here. I was worried about her, so I started around the house looking in the windows, and she's in there." I pointed behind them, and the two officers turned to look at the window. Then they looked at each other and nodded as if they'd had a whole conversation. While Kenya went over to the window, Kevin went around to the back door.

JB had forgotten to pat while he watched the officers work. In fact, his mouth was a little open, revealing perfect teeth. He wanted to go look through the window more than anything, but he couldn't shoulder past Kenya, who pretty much took up whatever space was available.

I didn't want my own thoughts any more. I relaxed, dropping my guard, and listened to the thoughts of others. Out of the clamor, I picked one thread and concentrated on it.

Kenya Jones turned back to stare through us without seeing us. She was thinking of everything she and Kevin needed to do to keep the investigation as textbook perfect as Bon Temps patrol officers could. She was thinking she'd heard bad things about Dawn and her liking for rough sex. She was thinking that it was no surprise Dawn had met a bad end, though she felt sorry for anyone who ended up with flies crawling on her face. Kenya was thinking she was sorry she'd eaten that extra doughnut that morning at the Nut Hut because it might come back up and that would shame her as a black woman police officer.

I tuned in to another channel.

JB was thinking about Dawn getting killed during rough sex just a few feet away from him, and while it was awful it was also a little exciting and Sookie was still built wonderful. He wished he could screw her right now. She was so sweet and nice. He was pushing away the humiliation he'd felt when Dawn had wanted him to hit her, and he couldn't, and it was an old humiliation.

I switched.

Kevin came around the corner thinking that he and Kenya better not botch any evidence and that he was glad no one knew he'd ever slept with Dawn Green. He was furious that someone had killed a woman he knew, and he was hoping it wasn't a black man because that would make his relationship with Kenya even more tense.

I switched.

Rene Lenier was wishing someone would come and get the body out of the house. He was hoping no one knew he'd slept with Dawn Green. I couldn't spell out his thoughts exactly, they were very black and snarled. Some people I can't get a clear reading on. He was very agitated.

Sam came hurrying toward me, slowing down when he saw JB was touching me. I could not read Sam's thoughts. I could feel his emotions (right now a mix of worry, concern, and anger) but I could not spell out one single thought. This was so fascinating and unexpected that I stepped out of JB's embrace, wanting to go up to Sam and grab his arms and look into his eyes and really probe around in his head. I remembered when he'd touched me, and I'd shied away. Now he felt me in his head and though he kept on walking toward me, his mind flinched back. Despite his invitation to me, he hadn't known I would see he was different from others: I picked up on that until he shut me down.

I'd never felt anything like it. It was like an iron door slamming. In my face.

I'd been on the point of reaching out to him instinctively, but my hand dropped to my side. Sam deliberately looked at Kevin, not at me.

"What's happening, Officer?" Sam asked.

"We're going to break into this house, Mr. Merlotte, unless you have a master key."

Why would Sam have a key?

"He's my landlord," JB said in my ear, and I jumped.

"He is?" I asked stupidly.

"He owns all three duplexes."

Sam had been fishing in his pocket, and now he came up with a bunch of keys. He flipped through them expertly, stopping at one and singling it out, getting it off the ring and handing it to Kevin.

"This fits front and back?" Kevin asked. Sam nodded. He still wasn't looking at me.

Kevin went to the back door of the duplex, out of sight, and we were all so quiet we could hear the key turn in the lock. Then he was in the bedroom with the dead woman, and we could see his face twist when the smell hit him. Holding one hand across his mouth and nose, he bent over the body and put his fingers on her neck. He looked out the window then and shook his head at his partner. Kenya nodded and headed out to the street to use the radio in the patrol car.

"Listen, Sookie, how about going to dinner with me tonight?" JB asked. "This has been tough on you, and you need some fun to make up for it."

"Thanks, JB." I was very conscious of Sam listening. "It's really nice of you to ask. But I have a feeling I'm going to be working extra hours today."

For just a second, JB's handsome face was blank. Then comprehension filtered in. "Yeah, Sam's gotta hire someone else," he observed. "I got a cousin in Springhill needs a job. Maybe I'll give her a call. We could live right next door to each other, now."

I smiled at him, though I am sure it was a very weak smile, as I stood shoulder to shoulder with the man I'd worked with for two years.

"I'm sorry, Sookie," he said quietly.

"For what?" My own voice was just as low. Was he going to acknowledge what had passed between us - or rather, failed to pass?

"For sending you to check on Dawn. I should have come myself. I was sure she was just shacked up with someone new and needed a reminder that she was supposed to be working. The last time I had to come get her, she yelled at me so much I just didn't want to deal with it again. So like a coward, I sent you, and you had to find her like that."

"You're full of surprises, Sam."

He didn't turn to look at me or make any reply. But his fingers folded around mine. For a long moment, we stood in the sun with people buzzing around us, holding hands. His palm was hot and dry, and his fingers were strong. I felt I had truly connected with another human. But then his grip loosened, and Sam stepped over to talk with the detective, who was emerging from his car, and JB began asking me how Dawn had looked, and the world fell back into its same old groove.

The contrast was cruel. I felt tired all over again, and remembered the night before in more detail than I wanted to. The world seemed a bad and terrible place, all its denizens suspect, and I the lamb wandering through the valley of death with a bell around my neck. I stomped over to my car and opened the door, sank sideways into the seat. I'd be standing plenty today; I'd sit while I could.

JB followed me. Now that he'd rediscovered me, he could not be detached. I remembered when Gran had had high hopes for some permanent relationship between us, when I'd been in high school. But talking to JB, even reading his mind, was as interesting as a kindergarten primer was to an adult reader. It was one of God's jokes that such a dumb mind had been put in such an eloquent body.

He knelt before me and took my hand. I found myself hoping that some smart rich lady would come along and marry JB and take care of him and enjoy what he had to offer. She would be getting a bargain.

"Where are you working now?" I asked him, just to distract myself.

"My dad's warehouse," he said.

That was the job of last resort, the one JB always returned to when he got fired from other jobs for doing something lamebrained, or for not showing up, or for offending some supervisor mortally. JB's dad ran an auto parts store.

"How are your folks doing?"

"Oh, fine. Sookie, we should do something together."

Don't tempt me, I thought.

Someday my hormones were going to get the better of me and I'd do something I'd regret; and I could do worse than do it with JB. But I would hold out and hope for something better. "Thanks, honey," I said. "Maybe we will. But I'm kind of upset right now."

"Are you in love with that vampire?" he asked directly.

"Where did you hear that?"

"Dawn said so." JB's face clouded as he remembered Dawn was dead. What Dawn had said, I found on scanning JB's mind, was "That new vampire is interested in Sookie Stackhouse. I'd be better for him. He needs a woman who can take some rough treatment. Sookie would scream if he touched her."

It was pointless being mad at a dead person, but briefly I indulged myself by doing just that.

Then the detective was walking toward us, and JB got to his feet and moved away.

The detective took JB's position, squatting on the ground in front of me. I must look in bad shape.

"Miss Stackhouse?" he asked. He was using that quiet intense voice many professionals adopt in a crisis. "I'm Andy Bellefleur." The Bellefleurs had been around Bon Temps as long as there'd been a Bon Temps, so I wasn't amused at a man being "beautiful flower." In fact, I felt sorry for whoever thought it was amusing as I looked down at the block of muscle that was Detective Bellefleur. This particular family member had graduated before Jason, and I'd been one class behind his sister Portia.

He'd been placing me, too. "Your brother doing okay?" he asked, his voice still quiet, not quite as neutral. It sounded like he'd had a run-in or two with Jason.

"The little I see of him, he's doing fine," I answered.

"And your grandmother?"

I smiled. "She's out planting flowers this morning."

"That's wonderful," he said, doing that sincere head shake that's supposed to indicate admiring amazement. "Now, I understand that you work at Merlotte's?"

"Yes."

"And so did Dawn Green?"

"Yes."

"When was the last time you saw Dawn?"

"Two days ago. At work." I already felt exhausted. Without shifting my feet from the ground or my arm from the steering wheel, I lay my head sideways on the headrest of the driver's seat.

"Did you talk to her then?"

I tried to remember. "I don't think so."

"Were you close to Miss Green?"

"No."

"And why did you come here today?"

I explained about working for Dawn yesterday, about Sam's phone call this morning.

"Did Mr. Merlotte tell you why he didn't want to come here himself?"

"Yes, a truck was there to unload. Sam has to show the guys where to put the boxes." Sam also did a lot of the unloading himself, half the time, to speed up the process.

"Do you think Mr. Merlotte had any relationship with Dawn?"

"He was her boss."

"No, outside work."

"Nope."

"You sound pretty positive."

"I am."

"Do you have a relationship with Sam?"

"No."

"Then how are you so sure?"

Good question. Because from time to time I'd heard thoughts that indicated that if she didn't hate Sam, Dawn sure as hell wasn't real fond of him? Not too smart a thing to tell the detective.

"Sam keeps everything real professional at the bar," I said. It sounded lame, even to me. It just happened to be the truth.

"Did you know anything about Dawn's personal life?"

"No."

"You weren't friendly?"

"Not particularly." My thoughts drifted as the detective bent his head in thought. At least that was what it looked like.

"Why is that?"

"I guess we didn't have anything in common."

"Like what? Give me an example."

I sighed heavily, blowing my lips out in exasperation. If we didn't have anything in common, how could I give him an example?

"Okay," I said slowly. "Dawn had a real active social life, and she liked to be with men. She wasn't so crazy about spending time with women. Her family is from Monroe, so she didn't have family ties here. She drank, and I don't. I read a lot, and she didn't. That enough?"

Andy Bellefleur scanned my face to see if I was giving him attitude. He must have been reassured by what he saw.

"So, you two didn't ever see each other after working hours?"

"That's correct."

"Doesn't it seem strange to you that Sam Merlotte asked you to check on Dawn, then?"

"No, not at all," I said stoutly. At least, it didn't seem strange now, after Sam's description of Dawn's tantrum. "This is on my way to the bar, and I don't have children like Arlene, the other waitress on our shift. So it would be easier for me." That was pretty sound, I thought. If I said Dawn had screamed at Sam the last time he'd been here, that would give exactly the wrong impression.

"What did you do after work two days ago, Sookie?"

"I didn't come to work. I had the day off."

"And your plan for that day was - ?"

"I sunbathed and helped Gran clean house, and we had company."

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