Home > Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(3)

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)(3)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I turned on my own light and shut the door and began taking off my clothes. I had at least five pair of black shorts and many, many white T-shirts, since those tended to get stained so easily. No telling how many pairs of white socks were rolled up in my drawer. So I didn't have to do the wash tonight. I was too tired for a shower. I did brush my teeth and wash the makeup off my face, slap on some moisturizer, and take the band out of my hair.

I crawled into bed in my favorite Mickey Mouse sleep T-shirt, which came almost to my knees. I turned on my side, like I always do, and I relished the silence of the room. Almost everyone's brain is turned off in the wee hours of the night, and the vibrations are gone, the intrusions do not have to be repelled. With such peace, I only had time to think of the vampire's dark eyes, and then I fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion.

B Y LUNCHTIME THE next day I was in my folding aluminum chaise out in the front yard, getting browner by the second. I was in my favorite white strapless two-piece, and it was a little roomier than last summer, so I was pleased as punch.

Then I heard a vehicle coming down the drive, and Jason's black truck with its pink and aqua blazons pulled up to within a yard of my feet.

Jason climbed down - did I mention the truck sports those high tires? - to stalk toward me. He was wearing his usual work clothes, a khaki shirt and pants, and he had his sheathed knife clipped to his belt, like most of the county road workers did. Just by the way he walked, I knew he was in a huff.

I put my dark glasses on.

"Why didn't you tell me you beat up the Rattrays last night?" My brother threw himself into the aluminum yard chair by my chaise. "Where's Gran?" he asked belatedly.

"Hanging out the laundry," I said. Gran used the dryer in a pinch, but she really liked hanging the wet clothes out in the sun. Of course the clothesline was in the backyard, where clotheslines should be. "She's fixing country-fried steak and sweet potatoes and green beans she put up last year, for lunch," I added, knowing that would distract Jason a little bit. I hoped Gran stayed out back. I didn't want her to hear this conversation. "Keep your voice low," I reminded him.

"Rene Lenier couldn't wait till I got to work this morning to tell me all about it. He was over to the Rattrays' trailer last night to buy him some weed, and Denise drove up like she wanted to kill someone. Rene said he liked to have gotten killed, she was so mad. It took both Rene and Denise to get Mack into the trailer, and then they took him to the hospital in Monroe." Jason glared at me accusingly.

"Did Rene tell you that Mack came after me with a knife?" I asked, deciding attacking was the best way of handling this. I could tell Jason's pique was due in large part to the fact that he had heard about this from someone else.

"If Denise told Rene, he didn't mention it to me," Jason said slowly, and I saw his handsome face darken with rage. "He came after you with a knife?"

"So I had to defend myself," I said, as if it were matter-of-fact. "And he took your chain." This was all true, if a little skewed.

"I came in to tell you," I continued, "but by the time I got back in the bar, you were gone with DeeAnne, and since I was fine, it just didn't seem worth tracking you down. I knew you'd feel obliged to go after him if I told you about the knife," I added diplomatically. There was a lot more truth in that, since Jason dearly loves a fight.

"What the hell were you doing out there anyway?" he asked, but he had relaxed, and I knew he was accepting this.

"Did you know that, in addition to selling drugs, the Rats are vampire drainers?"

Now he was fascinated. "No ... so?"

"Well, one of my customers last night was a vampire, and they were draining him out in Merlotte's parking lot! I couldn't have that."

"There's a vampire here in Bon Temps?"

"Yep. Even if you don't want a vampire for your best friend, you can't let trash like the Rats drain them. It's not like siphoning gas out of a car. And they would have left him out in the woods to die." Though the Rats hadn't told me their intentions, that was my bet. Even if they'd put him under cover so he could survive the day, a drained vampire took at least twenty years to recover, at least that's what one had said on Oprah. And that's if another vampire took care of him.

"The vampire was in the bar when I was there?" Jason asked, dazzled.

"Uh-huh. The dark-haired guy sitting with the Rats."

Jason grinned at my epithet for the Rattrays. But he hadn't let go of the night before, yet. "How'd you know he was a vampire?" he asked, but when he looked at me, I could tell he was wishing he had bitten his tongue.

"I just knew," I said in my flattest voice.

"Right." And we shared a whole unspoken conversation.

"Homulka doesn't have a vampire," Jason said thoughtfully. He tilted his face back to catch the sun, and I knew we were off dangerous ground.

"True," I agreed. Homulka was the town Bon Temps loved to hate. We'd been rivals in football, basketball, and historical significance for generations.

"Neither does Roedale," Gran said from behind us, and Jason and I both jumped. I give Jason credit, he jumps up and gives Gran a hug everytime he sees her.

"Gran, you got enough food in the oven for me?"

"You and two others," Gran said. Our grandmother smiled up at Jason. She was not blind to his faults (or mine), but she loved him. "I just got a phone call from Everlee Mason. She was telling me you hooked up with DeeAnne last night."

"Boy oh boy, can't do anything in this town without getting caught," Jason said, but he wasn't really angry.

"That DeeAnne," Gran said warningly as we all started into the house, "she's been pregnant one time I know of. You just take care she doesn't have one of yours, you'll be paying the rest of your life. Course, that may be the only way I get great-grandchildren!"

Gran had the food ready on the table, so after Jason hung up his hat we sat down and said grace. Then Gran and Jason began gossiping with each other (though they called it "catching up") about people in our little town and parish. My brother worked for the state, supervising road crews. It seemed to me like Jason's day consisted of driving around in a state pickup, clocking off work, and then driving around all night in his own pickup. Rene was on one of the work crews Jason oversaw, and they'd been to high school together. They hung around with Hoyt Fortenberry a lot.

"Sookie, I had to replace the hot water heater in the house," Jason said suddenly. He lives in my parents' old house, the one we'd been living in when they died in a flash flood. We lived with Gran after that, but when Jason got through his two years of college and went to work for the state, he moved back into the house, which on paper is half mine.

"You need any money on that?" I asked.

"Naw, I got it."

We both make salaries, but we also have a little income from a fund established when an oil well was sunk on my parents' property. It played out in a few years, but my parents and then Gran made sure the money was invested. It saved Jason and me a lot of struggle, that padding. I don't know how Gran could have raised us if it hadn't been for that money. She was determined not to sell any land, but her own income is not much more than social security. That's one reason I don't get an apartment. If I get groceries when I'm living with her, that's reasonable, to her; but if I buy groceries and bring them to her house and leave them on her table and go home to my house, that's charity and that makes her mad.

"What kind did you get?" I asked, just to show interest.

He was dying to tell me; Jason's an appliance freak, and he wanted to describe his comparison shopping for a new water heater in detail. I listened with as much attention as I could muster.

And then he interrupted himself. "Hey Sook, you remember Maudette Pickens?"

"Sure," I said, surprised. "We graduated in the same class."

"Somebody killed Maudette in her apartment last night."

Gran and I were riveted. "When?" Grand asked, puzzled that she hadn't heard already.

"They just found her this very morning in her bedroom. Her boss tried to call her to find out why she hadn't shown up for work yesterday and today and got no answer, so he rode over and got the manager up, and they unlocked the place. You know she had the apartment across from DeeAnne's?" Bon Temps had only one bona fide apartment complex, a three-building, two-story U-shaped grouping, so we knew exactly where he meant.

"She got killed there?" I felt ill. I remembered Maudette clearly. Maudette had had a heavy jaw and a square bottom, pretty black hair and husky shoulders. Maudette had been a plodder, never bright or ambitious. I thought I recalled her working at the Grabbit Kwik, a gas station/convenience store.

"Yeah, she'd been working there for at least a year, I guess," Jason confirmed.

"How was it done?" My grandmother had that squnched, give-it-to-me-quick look with which nice people ask for bad news.

"She had some vampire bites on her - uh - inner thighs," my brother said, looking down at his plate. "But that wasn't what killed her. She was strangled. DeeAnne told me Maudette liked to go to that vampire bar in Shreveport when she had a couple of days off, so maybe that's where she got the bites. Might not have been Sookie's vampire."

"Maudette was a fang-banger?" I felt queasy, imagining slow, chunky Maudette draped in the exotic black dresses fang-bangers affected.

"What's that?" asked Gran. She must have missed Sally-Jessy the day the phenomenon was explored.

"Men and women that hang around with vampires and enjoy being bitten. Vampire groupies. They don't last too long, I think, because they want to be bitten too much, and sooner or later they get that one bite too many."

"But a bite didn't kill Maudette." Gran wanted to be sure she had it straight.

"Nope, strangling." Jason had begun finishing his lunch.

"Don't you always get gas at the Grabbit?" I asked.

"Sure. So do a lot of people."

"And didn't you hang around with Maudette some?" Gran asked.

"Well, in a way of speaking," Jason said cautiously.

I took that to mean he'd bedded Maudette when he couldn't find anyone else.

"I hope the sheriff doesn't want to talk to you," Gran said, shaking her head as if indicating "no" would make it less likely.

"What?" Jason was turning red, looking defensive.

"You see Maudette in the store all the time when you get your gas, you so-to-speak date her, then she winds up dead in an apartment you're familiar with," I summarized. It wasn't much, but it was something, and there were so few mysterious homicides in Bon Temps that I thought every stone would be turned in its investigation.

"I ain't the only one who fills the bill. Plenty of other guys get their gas there, and all of them know Maudette."

"Yeah, but in what sense?" Gran asked bluntly. "She wasn't a prostitute, was she? So she will have talked about who she saw."

"She just liked to have a good time, she wasn't a pro." It was good of Jason to defend Maudette, considering what I knew of his selfish character. I began to think a little better of my big brother. "She was kinda lonely, I guess," he added.

Jason looked at both of us, then, and saw we were surprised and touched.

"Speaking of prostitutes," he said hastily, "there's one in Monroe specializes in vampires. She keeps a guy standing by with a stake in case one gets carried away. She drinks synthetic blood to keep her blood supply up."

That was a pretty definite change of subject, so Gran and I tried to think of a question we could ask without being indecent.

"Wonder how much she charges?" I ventured, and when Jason told us the figure he'd heard, we both gasped.

Once we got off the topic of Maudette's murder, lunch went about as usual, with Jason looking at his watch and exclaiming that he had to leave just when it was time to do the dishes.

But Gran's mind was still running on vampires, I found out. She came into my room later, when I was putting on my makeup to go to work.

"How old you reckon the vampire is, the one you met?"

"I have no idea, Gran." I was putting on my mascara, looking wide-eyed and trying to hold still so I wouldn't poke myself in the eye, so my voice came out funny, as if I was trying out for a horror movie.

"Do you suppose ... he might remember the War?"

I didn't need to ask which war. After all, Gran was a charter member of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead.

"Could be," I said, turning my face from side to side to make sure my blush was even.

"You think he might come to talk to us about it? We could have a special meeting."

"At night," I reminded her.

"Oh. Yes, it'd have to be." The Descendants usually met at noon at the library and brought a bag lunch.

I thought about it. It would be plain rude to suggest to the vampire that he ought to speak to Gran's club because I'd saved his blood from Drainers, but maybe he would offer if I gave a little hint? I didn't like to, but I'd do it for Gran. "I'll ask him the next time he comes in," I promised.

"At least he could come talk to me and maybe I could tape his recollections?" Gran said. I could hear her mind clicking as she thought of what a coup that would be for her. "It would be so interesting to the other club members," she said piously.

I stifled an impulse to laugh. "I'll suggest it to him," I said. "We'll see."

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