Home > Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(2)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(2)
Author: Charlaine Harris

Their backs were to me, and the vampire hadn't seen me yet. I loosened the coiled chain so a good three feet of it swung free. Who to attack first? They were both small and vicious.

I remembered Mack's contemptuous dismissal and the fact that he never left me a tip. Mack first.

I'd never actually been in a fight before. Somehow I was positively looking forward to it.

I leapt out from behind a pickup and swung the chain. It thwacked across Mack's back as he knelt beside his victim. He screamed and jumped up. After a glance, Denise set about getting the third Vacutainer plugged. Mack's hand dipped down to his boot and came up shining. I gulped. He had a knife in his hand.

"Uh-oh," I said, and grinned at him.

"You crazy bitch!" he screamed. He sounded like he was looking forward to using the knife. I was too involved to keep my mental guard up, and I had a clear flash of what Mack wanted to do to me. It drove me really crazy. I went for him with every intention of hurting him as badly as I could. But he was ready for me and jumped forward with the knife while I was swinging the chain. He sliced at my arm and just missed it. The chain, on its recoil, wrapped around his skinny neck like a lover. Mack's yell of triumph turned into a gurgle. He dropped the knife and clawed at the links with both hands. Losing air, he dropped to his knees on the rough pavement, yanking the chain from my hand.

Well, there went Jason's chain. I swooped down and scooped up Mack's knife, holding it like I knew how to use it. Denise had been lunging forward, looking like a redneck witch in the lines and shadows of the security lights.

She stopped in her tracks when she saw I had Mack's knife. She cursed and railed and said terrible things. I waited till she'd run down to say, "Get. Out. Now."

Denise stared holes of hate in my head. She tried to scoop up the vials of blood, but I hissed at her to leave them alone. So she pulled Mack to his feet. He was still making choking, gurgling sounds and holding the chain. Denise kind of dragged him along to their car and shoved him in through the passenger's side. Yanking some keys from her pocket, Denise threw herself in the driver's seat.

As I heard the engine roar into life, suddenly I realized that the Rats now had another weapon. Faster than I've ever moved, I ran to the vampire's head and panted, "Push with your feet!" I grabbed him under the arms and yanked back with all my might, and he caught on and braced his feet and shoved. We were just inside the tree line when the red car came roaring down at us. Denise missed us by less than a yard when she had to swerve to avoid hitting a pine. Then I heard the big motor of the Rats' car receding in the distance.

"Oh, wow," I breathed, and knelt by the vampire because my knees wouldn't hold me up any more. I breathed heavily for just a minute, trying to get hold of myself. The vampire moved a little, and I looked over. To my horror, I saw wisps of smoke coming up from his wrists where the silver touched them.

"Oh, you poor thing," I said, angry at myself for not caring for him instantly. Still trying to catch my breath, I began to unwind the thin bands of silver, which all seemed to be part of one very long chain. "Poor baby," I whispered, never thinking until later how incongruous that sounded. I have agile fingers, and I released his wrists pretty quickly. I wondered how the Rats had distracted him while they got into position to put them on, and I could feel myself reddening as I pictured it.

The vampire cradled his arms to his chest while I worked on the silver wrapped around his legs. His ankles had fared better since the drainers hadn't troubled to pull up his jeans legs and put the silver against his bare skin.

"I'm sorry I didn't get here faster," I said apologetically. "You'll feel better in a minute, right? Do you want me to leave?"

"No."

That made me feel pretty good until he added, "They might come back, and I can't fight yet." His cool voice was uneven, but I couldn't exactly say I'd heard him panting.

I made a sour face at him, and while he was recovering, I took a few precautions. I sat with my back to him, giving him some privacy. I know how unpleasant it is to be stared at when you're hurting. I hunkered down on the pavement, keeping watch on the parking lot. Several cars left, and others came in, but none came down to our end by the woods. By the movement of the air around me, I knew when the vampire had sat up.

He didn't speak right away. I turned my head to the left to look at him. He was closer than I'd thought. His big dark eyes looked into mine. His fangs had retracted; I was a little disappointed about that.

"Thank you," he said stiffly.

So he wasn't thrilled about being rescued by a woman. Typical guy.

Since he was being so ungracious, I felt I could do something rude, too, and I listened to him, opening my mind completely.

And I heard ... nothing.

"Oh," I said, hearing the shock in my own voice, hardly knowing what I was saying. "I can't hear you."

"Thank you!" the vampire said, moving his lips exaggeratedly.

"No, no ... I can hear you speak, but . . ." and in my excitement, I did something I ordinarily would never do, because it was pushy, and personal, and revealed I was disabled. I turned fully to him and put my hands on both sides of his white face, and I looked at him intently. I focused with all my energy. Nothing. It was like having to listen to the radio all the time, to stations you didn't get to select, and then suddenly tuning in to a wavelength you couldn't receive.

It was heaven.

His eyes were getting wider and darker, though he was holding absolutely still.

"Oh, excuse me," I said with a gasp of embarrassment. I snatched my hands away and resumed staring at the parking lot. I began babbling about Mack and Denise, all the time thinking how marvelous it would be to have a companion I could not hear unless he chose to speak out loud. How beautiful his silence was.

"... so I figured I better come out here to see how you were," I concluded, and had no idea what I'd been saying.

"You came out here to rescue me. It was brave," he said in a voice so seductive it would have shivered DeeAnne right out of her red nylon panties.

"Now you cut that out," I said tartly, coming right down to earth with a thud.

He looked astonished for a whole second before his face returned to its white smoothness.

"Aren't you afraid to be alone with a hungry vampire?" he asked, something arch and yet dangerous running beneath the words.

"Nope."

"Are you assuming that since you came to my rescue that you're safe, that I harbor an ounce of sentimental feeling after all these years? Vampires often turn on those who trust them. We don't have human values, you know."

"A lot of humans turn on those who trust them," I pointed out. I can be practical. "I'm not a total fool." I held out my arm and turned my neck. While he'd been recovering, I'd been wrapping the Rats' chains around my neck and arms.

He shivered visibly.

"But there's a juicy artery in your groin," he said after a pause to regroup, his voice as slithery as a snake on a slide.

"Don't you talk dirty," I told him. "I won't listen to that."

Once again we looked at each other in silence. I was afraid I'd never see him again; after all, his first visit to Merlotte's hadn't exactly been a success. So I was trying to absorb every detail I could; I would treasure this encounter and rehash it for a long, long time. It was rare, a prize. I wanted to touch his skin again. I couldn't remember how it felt. But that would be going beyond some boundary of manners, and also maybe start him going on the seductive crap again.

"Would you like to drink the blood they collected?" he asked unexpectedly. "It would be a way for me to show my gratitude." He gestured at the stoppered vials lying on the blacktop. "My blood is supposed to improve your sex life and your health."

"I'm healthy as a horse," I told him honestly. "And I have no sex life to speak of. You do what you want with it."

"You could sell it," he suggested, but I thought he was just waiting to see what I'd say about that.

"I wouldn't touch it," I said, insulted.

"You're different," he said. "What are you?" He seemed to be going through a list of possibilities in his head from the way he was looking at me. To my pleasure, I could not hear a one of them.

"Well. I'm Sookie Stackhouse, and I'm a waitress," I told him. "What's your name?" I thought I could at least ask that without being presuming.

"Bill," he said.

Before I could stop myself, I rocked back onto my butt with laughter. "The vampire Bill!" I said. "I thought it might be Antoine, or Basil, or Langford! Bill!" I hadn't laughed so hard in a long time. "Well, see ya, Bill. I got to get back to work." I could feel the tense grin snap back into place when I thought of Merlotte's. I put my hand on Bill's shoulder and pushed up. It was rock hard, and I was on my feet so fast I had to stop myself from stumbling. I examined my socks to make sure their cuffs were exactly even, and I looked up and down my outfit to check for wear and tear during the fight with the Rats. I dusted off my bottom since I'd been sitting on the dirty pavement and gave Bill a wave as I started off across the parking lot.

It had been a stimulating evening, one with a lot of food for thought. I felt almost as cheerful as my smile when I considered it.

But Jason was going to be mighty angry about the chain.

A FTER WORK THAT night, I drove home, which is only about four miles south from the bar. Jason had been gone (and so had DeeAnne) when I got back to work, and that had been another good thing. I was reviewing the evening as I drove to my grandmother's house, where I lived. It's right before Tall Pines cemetery, which lies off a narrow two-lane parish road. My great-great-great grandfather had started the house, and he'd had ideas about privacy, so to reach it you had to turn off the parish road into the driveway, go through some woods, and then you arrived at the clearing in which the house stood.

It's sure not any historic landmark, since most of the oldest parts have been ripped down and replaced over the years, and of course it's got electricity and plumbing and insulation, all that good modern stuff. But it still has a tin roof that gleams blindingly on sunny days. When the roof needed to be replaced, I wanted to put regular roofing tiles on it, but my grandmother said no. Though I was paying, it's her house; so naturally, tin it was.

Historical or not, I'd lived in this house since I was about seven, and I'd visited it often before then, so I loved it. It was just a big old family home, too big for Granny and me, I guess. It had a broad front covered by a screened-in porch, and it was painted white, Granny being a traditionalist all the way. I went through the big living room, strewn with battered furniture arranged to suit us, and down the hall to the first bedroom on the left, the biggest.

Adele Hale Stackhouse, my grandmother, was propped up in her high bed, about a million pillows padding her skinny shoulders. She was wearing a long-sleeved cotton nightgown even in the warmth of this spring night, and her bedside lamp was still on. There was a book propped in her lap.

"Hey," I said.

"Hi, honey."

My grandmother is very small and very old, but her hair is still thick, and so white it almost has the very faintest of green tinges. She wears it kind of rolled against her neck during the day, but at night it's loose or braided. I looked at the cover of her book.

"You reading Danielle Steele again?"

"Oh, that woman can sure tell a story." My grandmother's great pleasures were reading Danielle Steele, watching her soap operas (which she called her "stories") and attending meetings of the myriad clubs she'd belonged to all her adult life, it seemed. Her favorites were the Descendants of the Glorious Dead and the Bon Temps Gardening Society.

"Guess what happened tonight?" I asked her.

"What? You got a date?"

"No," I said, working to keep a smile on my face. "A vampire came into the bar."

"Ooh, did he have fangs?"

I'd seen them glisten in the parking lot lights when the Rats were draining him, but there was no need to describe that to Gran. "Sure, but they were retracted."

"A vampire right here in Bon Temps." Granny was as pleased as punch. "Did he bite anybody in the bar?"

"Oh, no, Gran! He just sat and had a glass of red wine. Well, he ordered it, but he didn't drink it. I think he just wanted some company."

"Wonder where he stays."

"He wouldn't be too likely to tell anyone that."

"No," Gran said, thinking about it a moment. "I guess not. Did you like him?"

Now that was kind of a hard question. I mulled it over. "I don't know. He was real interesting," I said cautiously.

"I'd surely love to meet him." I wasn't surprised Gran said this because she enjoyed new things almost as much as I did. She wasn't one of those reactionaries who'd decided vampires were damned right off the bat. "But I better go to sleep now. I was just waiting for you to come home before I turned out my light."

I bent over to give Gran a kiss, and said, "Night night."

I half-closed her door on my way out and heard the click of the lamp as she turned it off. My cat, Tina, came from wherever she'd been sleeping to rub against my legs, and I picked her up and cuddled her for a while before putting her out for the night. I glanced at the clock. It was almost two o'clock, and my bed was calling me.

My room was right across the hall from Gran's. When I first used this room, after my folks had died, Gran had moved my bedroom furniture from their house so I'd feel more homey. And here it was still, the single bed and vanity in white-painted wood, the small chest of drawers.

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