Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(11)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(11)
Author: Charlaine Harris

My attention was caught by the dull gleam of a shaved head, and I stepped a bit to my left to have a better view. I'd never seen this man before. I would certainly have remembered him; he was very tall, taller than Alcide or even Eric, I thought. He had big shoulders and arms roped with muscle. His head and arms were the brown of a Caucasian with a real tan. I could tell, because he was wearing a sleeveless black silk tee tucked into black pants and shiny dress shoes. It was a nippy day at the end of January, but the cold didn't seem to affect him at all. There was a definite space between him and the people around him.

As I looked at him, wondering, he turned and looked at me, as if he could feel my attention. He had a proud nose, and his face was as smooth as his shaved head. At this distance, his eyes looked black.

"Who is that?" I asked Christine, my voice a thread in the wind that had sprung up, tossing the leaves of the holly bushes planted around the church.

Christine darted a look at the man, and she must have known whom I meant, but she didn't answer.

Regular people had gradually been filtering through the Weres, going up the steps and into the church. Now two men in black suits appeared at the doors. They crossed their hands in front of them, and the one on the right nodded at Jackson Herveaux and Patrick Furnan.

The two men, with their female companions, came to stand facing each other at the bottom of the steps. The assembled Weres passed between them to enter the church. Some nodded at one, some at the other, some at both. Fence-sitters. Even after their ranks had been reduced by the recent war with the witches, I counted twenty-five full-blooded adult Weres in Shreveport, a very large pack for such a small city. Its size was attributable to the Air Force base, I figured.

Everyone who walked between the two candidates was a full Were. I saw only two children. Of course, some parents might have left their kids in school rather than bring them to the funeral. But I was pretty sure I was seeing the truth of what Alcide had told me: Infertility and a high infant mortality rate plagued the Weres.

Alcide's younger sister, Janice, had married a human. She herself would never change shape, since she was not the firstborn child. Her son's recessive Were traits, Alcide had told me, might show as increased vigor and a great healing ability. Many professional athletes came from couples whose genetic pool contained a percentage of Were blood.

"We go in a second," Alcide murmured. He was standing beside me, scanning the faces as they went by.

"I'm going to kill you later," I told him, keeping my face calm for the Weres passing by. "Why didn't you explain this?"

The tall man walked up the steps, his arms swinging as he walked, his large body moving with purpose and grace. His head swung toward me as he went by, and I met his eyes. They were very dark, but still I couldn't distinguish the color. He smiled at me.

Alcide touched my hand, as if he knew my attention had wandered. He leaned over to whisper in my ear, "I need your help. I need you to find a chance after the funeral to read Patrick's mind. He's going to do something to sabotage my father."

"Why didn't you just ask me?" I was confused, and mostly I was hurt.

"I thought you might feel like you owed me anyway!"

"How do you figure that?"

"I know you killed Debbie."

If he'd slapped me, it couldn't have shocked me more. I have no idea what my face looked like. After the impact of the shock and the reflexive guilt wore off, I said, "You'd abjured her. What's it to you?"

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing. She was already dead to me." I didn't believe that for a minute. "But you thought it would be a big deal to me, and you concealed it. I figure you'd guess you owed me."

If I'd had a gun in my purse, I would've been tempted to pull it out then. "I don't owe you squat," I said. "I think you came to get me in your dad's car because you knew I'd drive away once you said that."

"No," he said. We were still keeping our voices down, but I could see from the sideways glances we were getting that our intense colloquy was attracting attention. "Well, maybe. Please, forget what I said about you owing me. The fact is, my dad's in trouble and I'd do just about anything to help him out. And you can help."

"Next time you need help, just ask. Don't trying blackmailing me into it or maneuvering me into it. I like to help people. But I hate to be pushed and tricked." He'd lowered his eyes, so I grabbed his chin and made him look into mine. "I hate it."

I glanced up at the top of the steps to gauge how much interest our quarrel was attracting. The tall man had reappeared. He was looking down at us without perceptible expression. But I knew we had his attention.

Alcide glanced up, too. His face reddened. "We need to go in now. Will you go with me?"

"What is the meaning of me going in with you?"

"It means you're on my father's side in his bid for the pack."

"What does that oblige me to do?"

"Nothing."

"Then why is it important for me to do it?"

"Though choosing a packmaster is pack business, it may influence those who know how much you helped us during the Witch War."

Witch Skirmish would have been more accurate, because though it had certainly been them vs. us, the total number of people involved had been fairly small - say, forty or fifty. But in the history of the Shreveport pack, it was an epic episode, I gathered.

I glared down at my black pumps. I struggled with my warring instincts. They seemed about equally strong. One said, "You're at a funeral. Don't make a scene. Alcide has been good to you, and it wouldn't hurt you to do this for him." The other said, "Alcide helped you in Jackson because he was trying to get his dad out of trouble with the vampires. Now, again, he's willing to involve you in something dangerous to help his dad out." The first voice chipped in, "He knew Debbie was bad. He tried to pull away from her, and then he abjured her." The second said, "Why'd he love a bitch like Debbie in the first place? Why'd he even consider sticking with her when he had clear evidence she was evil? No one else has suggested she had spellcasting power. This 'spellcasting' thing is a cheap excuse." I felt like Linda Blair in the The Exorcist, with her head whirling around on her neck.

Voice number one won out. I put my hand on Alcide's crooked elbow and we went up the stairs and into the church.

The pews were full of regular people. The front three rows on both sides had been saved for the pack. But the tall man, who would stand out anywhere, sat in the back row. I caught a glimpse of his big shoulders before I had to pay strict attention to the pack ceremony. The two Furnan children, cute as the dickens, went solemnly down to the front pew on the right of the church. Then Alcide and I entered, preceding the two candidates for packmaster. This seating ceremony was oddly like a wedding, with Alcide and me being the best man and maid of honor. Jackson and Christine and Patrick and Libby Furnan would enter like the parents of the bride and groom.

What the civilians made of this I don't know.

I knew they were all staring, but I'm used to that. If being a barmaid will get you used to anything, it's being looked over. I was dressed appropriately and I looked as good as I could make myself look, and Alcide had done the same, so let them stare. Alcide and I sat on the front row on the left side of the church, and moved in. I saw Patrick Furnan and his wife, Libby, enter the pew across the aisle. Then I looked back to see Jackson and Christine coming in slowly, looking fittingly grave. There was a slight flutter of heads and hands, a tiny buzz of whispers, and then Christine sidled into the pew, Jackson beside her.

The coffin, draped with an elaborately embroidered cloth, was wheeled up the aisle as we all stood, and then the somber service began.

After going through the litany, which Alcide showed me in the Prayer Book, the priest asked if anyone would like to say a few words about Colonel Flood. One of his Air Force friends went first and spoke of the colonel's devotion to duty and his sense of pride in his command. One of his fellow church members took the next turn, praising the colonel's generosity and applauding the time he'd spent balancing the church's books.

Patrick Furnan left his pew and strode to the lectern. He didn't do a good stride; he was too stout for that. But his speech was certainly a change from the elegies the two previous men had given. "John Flood was a remarkable man and a great leader," Furnan began. He was a much better speaker than I'd expected. Though I didn't know who'd written his remarks, it was someone educated. "In the fraternal order we shared, he was always the one who told us the direction we should take, the goal we should achieve. As he grew older, he remarked often that this was a job for the young."

A right turn from eulogy to campaign speech. I wasn't the only one who'd noticed this; all around me there were little movements, whispered comments.

Though taken aback by the reaction he'd aroused, Patrick Furnan plowed ahead. "I told John that he was the finest man for the job we'd ever had, and I still believe that. No matter who follows in his footsteps, John Flood will never be forgotten or replaced. The next leader can only hope to work as hard as John. I'll always be proud that John put his trust in me more than once, that he even called me his right hand." With those sentences, the Harley dealer underscored his bid to take Colonel's Flood's job as packmaster (or, as I referred to it internally, Leader of the Pack).

Alcide, to my right, was rigid with anger. If he hadn't been sitting in the front row of a funeral, he would have loved to address a few remarks to me on the subject of Patrick Furnan. On the other side of Alcide, I could just barely see Christine, whose face looked carved out of ivory. She was suppressing quite a few things herself.

Alcide's dad waited a moment to begin his trip to the lectern. Clearly, he wanted us to cleanse our mental palate before he gave his address.

Jackson Herveaux, wealthy surveyor and werewolf, gave us the chance to examine his maturely handsome face. He began, "We will not soon see the likes of John Flood. A man whose wisdom had been tempered and tested by the years..." Oh, ouch. This wasn't going to be pointed or anything, no sirree.

I tuned out for the rest of the service to think my own thoughts. I had plenty of food for thought. We stood as John Flood, Air Force colonel and packmaster, exited this church for the last time. I remained silent during the ride to the cemetery, stood by Alcide's side during the graveside service, and got back in the car when it was over and all the post-funeral handshaking was done.

I looked for the tall man, but he wasn't at the cemetery.

On the drive back to Bon Temps, Alcide obviously wanted to keep our silence nice and clean, but it was time to answer some questions.

"How did you know?" I asked.

He didn't even try to pretend to misunderstand what I was talking about. "When I came to your house yesterday, I could smell a very, very faint trace of her at your front door," he said. "It took me a while to think it through."

I'd never considered the possibility.

"I don't think I would've picked up on it if I hadn't known her so well," he offered. "I certainly didn't pick up a whiff anywhere else in the house."

So all my scrubbing had been to some avail. I was just lucky Jack and Lily Leeds weren't two-natured. "Do you want to know what happened?"

"I don't think so," he said after an appreciable pause. "Knowing Debbie, I'm guessing you only did what you had to do. After all, it was her scent at your house. She had no business there."

This was far from a ringing endorsement.

"And Eric was still at your house then, wasn't he? Maybe it was Eric?" Alcide sounded almost hopeful.

"No," I said.

"Maybe I do want the whole story."

"Maybe I've changed my mind about telling it to you. You either believe in me, or you don't. Either you think I'm the kind of person who'd kill a woman for no good reason, or you know I'm not." Truly, I was hurt more than I thought I'd be. I was very careful not to slip into Alcide's head, because I was afraid I might pick up on something that would have been even more painful.

Alcide tried several times to open another conversation, but the drive couldn't end soon enough for me. When he pulled into the clearing and I knew I was yards away from being in my own house, the relief was overwhelming. I couldn't scramble out of that fancy car fast enough.

But Alcide was right behind me.

"I don't care," he said in a voice that was almost a growl.

"What?" I'd gotten to my front door, and the key was in the lock.

"I don't care."

"I don't believe that for one minute."

"What?"

"You're harder to read than a plain human, Alcide, but I can see the pockets of reservation in your mind. Since you wanted me to help you out with your dad, I'll tell you: Patrick Whatsisname plans to bring up your dad's gambling problems to show he's unsuitable as packleader." Nothing more underhanded and supernatural than the truth. "I'd read his mind before you asked me to. I don't want to see you for a long, long, long time."

"What?" Alcide said again. He looked like I'd hit him in the head with an iron.

"Seeing you... listening to your head... makes me feel bad." Of course, there were several different reasons they did, but I didn't want to enumerate them. "So, thanks for the ride to the funeral." (I may have sounded a bit sarcastic.) "I appreciate your thinking of me." (Even a higher probability of sarcasm here.) I entered the house, shut the door on his startled face, and locked it just to be on the safe side. I marched across the living room so he could hear my steps, but then I stopped in the hall and waited to listen while he got back in the Lincoln. I listened to the big car rocket down the driveway, probably putting ruts in my beautiful gravel.

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Drawn into Love (Fluke My Life #4)
» Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
» Right Where I Want You
» Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
» Be the Girl
» Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)
» If I Only Knew
» Vengeance Road (Torpedo Ink #2)
» 99 Percent Mine
» Free (Chaos #6)
» Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3
» Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)