Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(10)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(10)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Thanks for your honesty," he said, while his wife fixed me with her pale blue eyes. If I'd had any doubt, I understood clearly now that she was the more formidable of the two. Considering the depth of the investigation Jack Leeds had performed, that was saying something.

"Your collar is crooked," she said quietly. "Let me fix it." I held still while her deft fingers reached behind me and twitched the jacket until the collar lay down correctly.

They left after that. After I watched their car go down the driveway, I took my jacket off and examined it very carefully. Though I hadn't picked up any such intention from her brain, maybe she'd put a bug on me? The Leeds might be more suspicious than they'd sounded. No, I discovered: she really was the neat freak she'd seemed, and she really had been unable to withstand my turned-up collar. As long as I was being suspicious, I inspected the hall bathroom. I hadn't been in it since the last time I'd cleaned it a week ago, so it looked quite straight and as fresh and as sparkly as a very old bathroom in a very old house can look. The sink was damp, and the towel had been used and refolded, but that was all. Nothing extra was there, and nothing was missing, and if the detective had opened the bathroom cabinet to check its contents, I just didn't care.

My heel caught on a hole where the flooring had worn through. For about the hundredth time, I wondered if I could teach myself how to lay linoleum, because the floor could sure use a new layer. I also wondered how I could conceal the fact that I'd killed a woman in one minute, and worry about the cracked linoleum in the bathroom the next.

"She was bad," I said out loud. "She was mean and bad, and she wanted me to die for no very good reason at all."

That was how I could do it. I'd been living in a shell of guilt, but it had just cracked and fallen apart. I was tired of being all angst-y over someone who would have killed me in a New York minute, someone who'd tried her best to cause my death. I would never have lain in wait to ambush Debbie, but I hadn't been prepared to let her kill me just because it suited her to have me dead.

To hell with the whole subject. They'd find her, or they wouldn't. No point in worrying about it either way.

Suddenly, I felt a lot better.

I heard a vehicle coming through the woods. Alcide was right on time. I expected to see his Dodge Ram, but to my surprise he was in a dark blue Lincoln. His hair was as smooth as it could be, which wasn't very, and he was wearing a sober charcoal gray suit and a burgundy tie. I gaped at him through the window as he came up the stepping-stones to the front porch. He looked good enough to eat, and I tried not to giggle like an idiot at the mental image.

When I opened the door, he seemed equally stunned. "You look wonderful," he said after a long stare.

"You, too," I said, feeling almost shy.

"I guess we need to get going."

"Sure, if we want to be there on time."

"We need to be there ten minutes early," he said.

"Why that, exactly?" I picked up my black clutch purse, glanced in the mirror to make sure my lipstick was still fresh, and locked the front door behind me. Fortunately, the day was just warm enough for me to leave my coat at home. I didn't want to cover up my outfit.

"This is a Were funeral," he said in a tone of significance.

"That's different from a regular funeral how?"

"It's a packmaster's funeral, and that makes it more... formal."

Okay, he'd told me that the day before. "How do you keep regular people from realizing?"

"You'll see."

I felt misgivings about the whole thing. "Are you sure I should be going to this?"

"He made you a friend of the pack."

I remembered that, though at the time I hadn't realized it was a title, the way Alcide made it sound now: Friend of the Pack.

I had an uneasy feeling that there was a lot more to know about Colonel Flood's funeral ceremony. Usually I had more information than I could handle about any given subject, since I could read minds; but there weren't any Weres in Bon Temps, and the other shifters weren't organized like the wolves were. Though Alcide's mind was hard to read, I could tell he was preoccupied with what was going to happen in the church, and I could tell he was worried about a Were named Patrick.

The service was being held at Grace Episcopal, a church in an older, affluent suburb of Shreveport. The church edifice was very traditional, built of gray stone, and topped with a steeple. There wasn't an Episcopal church in Bon Temps, but I knew that the services were similar to those of the Catholic church. Alcide had told me that his father was attending the funeral, too, and that we'd come over from Bon Temps in his father's car. "My truck didn't look dignified enough for the day, my father thought," Alcide said. I could tell that his father was foremost in Alcide's thoughts.

"Then how's your dad getting here?" I asked.

"His other car," Alcide said absently, as if he weren't really listening to what I was saying. I was a little shocked at the idea of one man owning two cars: In my experience, men might have a family car and a pickup, or a pickup and a four-wheeler. My little shocks for the day were just beginning. By the time we had reached I-20 and turned west, Alcide's mood had filled up the car. I wasn't sure what it was, but it involved silence.

"Sookie," Alcide said abruptly, his hands tightening on the wheel until his knuckles were white.

"Yes?" The fact that bad stuff was coming into the conversation might as well have been written in blinking letters above Alcide's head. Mr. Inner Conflict.

"I need to talk to you about something."

"What? Is there something suspicious about Colonel Flood's death?" I should have wondered! I chided myself. But the other shifters had been shot. A traffic accident was such a contrast.

"No," Alcide said, looking surprised. "As far as I know, the accident was just an accident. The other guy ran a red light."

I settled back into the leather seat. "So what's the deal?"

"Is there anything you want to tell me?"

I froze. "Tell you? About what?"

"About that night. The night of the Witch War."

Years of controlling my face came to my rescue. "Not a thing," I said calmly enough, though I may have been clenching my hands as I said it.

Alcide said nothing more. He parked the car and came around to help me out, which was unnecessary but nice. I'd decided I wouldn't need to take my purse inside, so I stuck it under the seat and Alcide locked the car. We started toward the front of the church. Alcide took my hand, somewhat to my surprise. I might be a friend of the pack, but I was apparently supposed to be friendlier with one member of the pack than the others.

"There's Dad," Alcide said as we approached a knot of mourners. Alcide's father was a little shorter than Alcide, but he was a husky man like his son. Jackson Herveaux had iron-gray hair instead of black, and a bolder nose. He had the same olive skin as Alcide. Jackson looked all the darker because he was standing by a pale, delicate woman with gleaming white hair.

"Father," Alcide said formally, "this is Sookie Stackhouse."

"A pleasure to meet you, Sookie," Jackson Herveaux said. "This is Christine Larrabee." Christine, who might have been anything from fifty-seven to sixty-seven, looked like a painting done in pastels. Her eyes were a washed-out blue, her smooth skin was magnolia pale with the faintest tinge of pink, her white hair was immaculately groomed. She was wearing a light blue suit, which I personally wouldn't have worn until the winter was completely over, but she looked great in it, for sure.

"Nice to meet you," I said, wondering if I should curtsy. I'd shaken hands with Alcide's father, but Christine didn't extend hers. She gave me a nod and a sweet smile. Probably didn't want to bruise me with her diamond rings, I decided after a squint at her fingers. Of course, they matched her earrings. I was outclassed, no doubt about it. Eff it, I thought. It seemed to be my day for shrugging off unpleasant things.

"Such a sad occasion," Christine said.

If she wanted to do polite chitchat, I was up to it. "Yes, Colonel Flood was a wonderful man," I said.

"Oh, you knew him, dear?"

"Yes," I said. As a matter of fact, I'd seen him na**d, but in decidedly unerotic circumstances.

My brief answer didn't leave her much of anywhere to go. I saw genuine amusement lurking in her pale eyes. Alcide and his dad were exchanging low-voiced comments, which we were obviously supposed to be ignoring. "You and I are strictly decorations today," Christine said.

"Then you know more than I do."

"I expect so. You're not one of the two-natured?"

"No." Christine was, of course. She was a full-blooded Were, like Jackson and Alcide. I couldn't picture this elegant woman changing into a wolf, especially with the down-and-dirty reputation the Weres had in the shifter community, butthe impressions I got from her mind were unmistakable.

"The funeral of the packmaster marks the opening of the campaign to replace him," Christine said. Since that was more solid information than I'd gotten in two hours from Alcide, immediately I felt kindly disposed toward the older woman.

"You must be something extraordinary, for Alcide to choose you as his companion today," Christine continued.

"I don't know about extraordinary. In the literal sense, I guess I am. I have extras that aren't ordinary."

"Witch?" Christine guessed. "Fairy? Part goblin?"

Gosh. I shook my head. "None of the above. So what's going to happen in there?"

"There are more roped-off pews than usual. The whole pack will sit at the front of the church, the mated ones with their mates, of course, and their children. The candidates for packmaster will come in last."

"How are they chosen?"

"They announce themselves," she said. "But they'll be put to the test, and then the membership votes."

"Why is Alcide's dad bringing you, or is that a real personal question?"

"I'm the widow of the packmaster prior to Colonel Flood," Christine Larrabee said quietly. "That gives me a certain influence."

I nodded. "Is the packmaster always a man?"

"No. But since strength is part of the test, males usually win."

"How many candidates are there?"

"Two. Jackson, of course, and Patrick Furnan." She inclined her patrician head slightly to her right, and I gave a closer look at the couple that had been on the periphery of my attention.

Patrick Furnan was in his mid-forties, somewhere between Alcide and his father. He was a thick-bodied man with a light brown crew cut and a very short beard shaved into a fancy shape. His suit was brown, too, and he'd had trouble buttoning the jacket. His companion was a pretty woman who believed in a lot of lipstick and jewelry. She had short brown hair, too, but it was highlighted with blond streaks and elaborately styled. Her heels were at least three inches high. I eyed the shoes with awe. I would break my neck if I tried to walk in them. But this woman maintained a smile and offered a good word to everyone who approached. Patrick Furnan was colder. His narrow eyes measured and assessed every Were in the gathering crowd.

"Tammy Faye, there, is his wife?" I asked Christine in a discreetly low tone.

Christine made a sound that I would have called snigger if it had issued from someone less patrician. "She does wear a lot of makeup," Christine said. "Her name is Libby, actually. Yes, she's his wife and a full-blooded Were, and they have two children. So he's added to the pack."

Only the oldest child would become a Were at puberty.

"What does he do for a living?" I asked.

"He owns a Harley-Davidson dealership," Christine said.

"That's a natural." Weres tended to like motorcycles a lot.

Christine smiled, probably as close as she came to laughing out loud.

"Who's the front-runner?" I'd been dumped into the middle of a game, and I needed to learn the rules. Later, I was going to let Alcide have it right between the eyes; but right now, I was going to get through the funeral, since that's what I'd come for.

"Hard to say," Christine murmured. "I wouldn't have thrown in with either one, given a choice, but Jackson called on our old friendship, and I had to come down on his side."

"That's not nice."

"No, but it's practical," she said, amused. "He needs all the support he can get. Did Alcide ask you to endorse his father?"

"No. I'd be completely ignorant of the situation if you hadn't been kind enough to fill me in." I gave her a nod of thanks.

"Since you're not a Were - excuse me, honey, but I'm just trying to figure this out - what can you do for Alcide, I wonder? Why'd he drag you into this?"

"He'll have to tell me that real soon," I said, and if my voice was cold and ominous, I just didn't care.

"His last girlfriend disappeared," Christine said thoughtfully. "They were pretty on-again, off-again, Jackson tells me. If his enemies had something to do with it, you might watch your step."

"I don't think I'm in danger," I said.

"Oh?"

But I'd said enough.

"Hmmmm," Christine said after a long, thoughtful look at my face. "Well, she was too much of a diva for someone who isn't even a Were." Christine's voice expressed the contempt the Weres feel for the other shifters. ("Why bother to change, if you can't change into a wolf?" I'd heard a Were say once.)

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