Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(13)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(13)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"He's passed on," Charles said in a voice so faint it was almost the ghost of a voice.

"What is it?" I asked in a voice I hoped was nearly as soundless.

"It's too dark outside to tell." If a vampire couldn't see what was out there, it must be really dark. "I'll slip outside and find out."

"No," I said urgently, but it was too late.

Jesus Christ, shepherd of Judea! What if the prowler was Mickey? He'd kill Charles - I just knew it.

"Sookie!" The last thing I expected - though frankly, I was way beyond consciously expecting anything - was for Charles to call to me. "Come out here, if you please!"

I slid my feet into my pink fuzzy slippers and hurried down the hall to the back door; that was where the voice had been coming from, I thought.

"I'm turning on the outside light," I yelled. Didn't want anyone to be blinded by the sudden electricity. "You sure it's safe out there?"

"Yes," said two voices almost simultaneously.

I flipped the switch with my eyes shut. After a second, I opened them and stepped to the door of the screened-in back porch, in my pink jammies and slippers. I crossed my arms over my chest. Though it wasn't cold tonight, it was cool.

I absorbed the scene in front of me. "Okay," I said slowly. Charles was in the graveled area where I parked, and he had an elbow around the neck of Bill Compton, my neighbor. Bill is a vampire, has been since right after the Civil War. We have a history. It's probably just a pebble of a history in Bill's long life, but in mine, it's a boulder.

"Sookie," Bill said between clenched teeth. "I don't want to cause this foreigner harm. Tell him to get his hands off me."

I mulled that over at an accelerated rate. "Charles, I think you can let him go," I said, and as fast as I could snap my fingers, Charles was standing beside me.

"You know this man?" Charles's voice was steely.

Just as coldly, Bill said, "She does know me, intimately."

Oh, gack.

"Now, is that polite?" I may have had a little cold steel in my own voice. "I don't go around telling everyone the details of our former relationship. I would expect the same of any gentleman."

To my gratification, Charles glared at Bill, raising one eyebrow in a very superior and irritating way.

"So this one is sharing your bed now?" Bill jerked his head toward the smaller vampire.

If he'd said anything else, I could've held on to my temper. I don't lose it a lot, but when I do, it's well and truly lost. "Is that any of your business?" I asked, biting off each word. "If I sleep with a hundred men, or a hundred sheep, it's not any of your business! Why are you creeping around my house in the middle of the night? You scared me halfway to death."

Bill didn't look remotely repentant. "I'm sorry you wakened and were frightened," he said insincerely. "I was checking on your safety."

"You were roaming around the woods and smelled another vampire," I said. He'd always had an extremely acute sense of smell. "So you came over here to see who it was."

"I wanted to be sure you weren't being attacked," Bill said. "I thought I caught a sniff of human, too. Did you have a human visitor today?"

I didn't believe for a minute Bill was only concerned with my safety, but I didn't want to believe jealousy brought him to my window, or some kind of prurient curiosity. I just breathed in and out for a minute, calming down and considering.

"Charles is not attacking me," I said, proud I was speaking so levelly.

Bill sneered. "Charles," he repeated in tones of great scorn.

"Charles Twining," said my companion, bowing - if you could call a slight inclination of his curly brown head a bow.

"Where did you come up with this one?" Bill's voice had regained its calm.

"Actually, he works for Eric, like you do."

"Eric's provided you with a bodyguard? You need a bodyguard?"

"Listen, bozo," I said through clenched jaws, "my life goes on while you're gone. So does the town. People are getting shot around here, among them Sam. We needed a substitute bartender, and Charles was volunteered to help us out." That may not have been entirely accurate, but I was not in the accuracy business at the moment. I was in the Make My Point business.

At least Bill was appropriately taken aback by the information.

"Sam. Who else?"

I was shivering, since it wasn't nylon pajama weather. But I didn't want Bill in the house. "Calvin Norris and Heather Kinman."

"Shot dead?"

"Heather was. Calvin was pretty badly wounded."

"Have the police arrested anyone?"


"Do you know who did it?"


"You're worried about your brother."


"He turned at the full moon."


Bill looked at me with what might have been pity. "I'm sorry, Sookie," he said, and he meant it.

"No point telling me about it," I snapped. "Tell Jason - it's him who turns fuzzy."

Bill's face went cold and stiff. "Excuse my intrusion," he said. "I'll go." He melted into the woods.

I don't know how Charles reacted to the episode, because I turned and stalked back into the house, turning off the outside light as I went. I threw myself back in bed and lay there, fuming and fussing silently. I pulled the covers up over my head so the vampire would take the hint that I didn't want to discuss the incident. He moved so quietly, I couldn't be sure where he was in the house; I think he paused in the doorway for a second, and then moved on.

I lay awake for at least forty-five minutes, and then I found myself settling back into sleep.

Then someone shook me by the shoulder. I smelled sweet perfume, and I smelled something else, something awful. I was terribly groggy.

"Sookie, your house is on fire," a voice said.

"Couldn't be," I said. "I didn't leave anything on."

"You have to get out now," the voice insisted. A persistent shriek reminded me of fire drills at the elementary school.

"Okay," I said, my head thick with sleep and (I saw when I opened my eyes) smoke. The shriek in the background, I slowly realized, was my smoke detector. Thick gray plumes were drifting through my yellow and white bedroom like evil genies. I wasn't moving fast enough for Claudine, who yanked me out of bed and carried me out the front door. A woman had never lifted me, but, of course, Claudine was no ordinary woman. She set me on my feet in the chilly grass of the front yard. The cold feel of it suddenly woke me up. This was not a nightmare.

"My house caught on fire?" I was still struggling to be alert.

"The vampire says it was that human, there," she said, pointing to the left of the house. But for a long minute my eyes were fixed on the terrible sight of flames, and the red glow of fire lighting the night. The back porch and part of the kitchen were blazing.

I made myself look at a huddled form on the ground, close to a forsythia in bud. Charles was kneeling by it. "Have you called the fire department?" I asked them both as I picked my way around the house in my bare feet to have a look at the recumbent figure. I peered at the dead man's slack face in the poor light. He was white, clean-shaven, and probably in his thirties. Though conditions were hardly ideal, I didn't recognize him.

"Oh, no, I didn't think of it." Charles looked up from the body. He came from a time before fire departments.

"And I forgot my cell phone," said Claudine, who was thoroughly modern.

"Then I have to go back in and do it, if the phones still work," I said, turning on my heel. Charles rose to his inconsiderable height and stared at me.

"You will not go back in there." This was definitely an order from Claudine. "New man, you run fast enough to do that."

"Fire," Charles said, "is very quickly fatal to vampires."

It was true; they went up like a torch once they caught. Selfishly, for a second I almost insisted; I wanted my coat and my slippers and my purse.

"Go call from Bill's phone," I said, pointing in the right direction, and off he took like a jackrabbit. The minute he was out of sight and before Claudine could stop me, I dashed back in the front door and made my way to my room. The smoke was much thicker, and I could see the flames a few feet down the hall in the kitchen. As soon as I saw the flames I knew I'd made a huge mistake by reentering the house, and it was hard not to panic. My purse was right where I'd left it, and my coat was tossed over the slipper chair in a corner of my room. I couldn't find my slippers, and I knew I couldn't stay. I fumbled in a drawer for a pair of socks, since I knew for sure they were there, and then I ran out of my room, coughing and choking. Acting through sheer instinct, I turned briefly to my left to shut the door to the kitchen, and then whirled to hurry out the front door. I fell over a chair in the living room.

"That was stupid," said Claudine the fairy, and I shrieked. She grabbed me around the waist and ran out of the house again, with me under her arm like a rolled-up carpet.

The combination of shrieking and coughing tied my respiratory system in knots for a minute or two, during which time Claudine moved me farther away from my house. She sat me down on the grass and put the socks on my feet. Then she helped me stand up and get my arms into the coat. I buttoned it around me gratefully.

This was the second time Claudine had appeared out of nowhere when I was about to get into serious trouble. The first time, I'd fallen asleep at the wheel after a very long day.

"You're making it awfully hard on me," she said. She still sounded cheerful, but maybe not quite as sweet.

Something changed about the house, and I realized the night-light in the hall had gone out. Either the electricity was out, or the line had been shut down in town by the fire department.

"I'm sorry," I said, feeling that was appropriate, though I had no idea why Claudine felt put upon when it was my house that was burning. I wanted to hurry to the backyard to get a better view, but Claudine caught hold of my arm.

"No closer," she said simply, and I could not break her hold. "Listen, the trucks are coming."

Now I could hear the fire engines, and I blessed every person who was coming to help. I knew the pagers had gone off all over the area, and the volunteers had rushed to the firehouse straight from their beds.

Catfish Hunter, my brother's boss, pulled up in his car. He leaped out and ran right to me. "Anyone left inside?" he asked urgently. The town's fire truck pulled in after him, scattering my new gravel all to hell.

"No," I said.

"Is there a propane tank?"




"Where's your car, Sookie?"

"In the back," I said, and my voice was starting to shake.

"Propane tank in the back!" Catfish bellowed over his shoulder.

There was an answering yell, followed by a lot of purposeful activity. I recognized Hoyt Fortenberry and Ralph Tooten, plus four or five other men and a couple of women.

Catfish, after a quick conversation with Hoyt and Ralph, called over a smallish woman who seemed swamped by her gear. He pointed to the still figure in the grass, and she threw off her helmet and knelt beside him. After some peering and touching, she shook her head. I barely recognized her as Dr. Robert Meredith's nurse, Jan something.

"Who's the dead man?" asked Catfish. He didn't seem too upset by the corpse.

"I have no idea," I said. I only discovered how shocked I was by the way my voice came out - quavery, small. Claudine put her arm around me.

A police car pulled in to the side of the fire truck, and Sheriff Bud Dearborn got out of the driver's seat. Andy Bellefleur was his passenger.

Claudine said, "Ah-oh."

"Yeah," I said.

Then Charles was with me again, and Bill was right on his heels. The vampires took in the frantic but purposeful activity. They noticed Claudine.

The small woman, who'd stood to resume her gear, called, "Sheriff, do me a favor and call an ambulance to take this body away."

Bud Dearborn glanced at Andy, who turned away to speak into the car radio.

"Having one dead beau ain't enough, Sookie?" Bud Dearborn asked me.

Bill snarled, the firefighters broke out the window by my great-great-grandmother's dining table, and a visible rush of heat and sparks gushed into the night. The pumper truck made a lot of noise, and the tin roof that covered the kitchen and porch separated from the house.

My home was going up in flames and smoke.

Chapter 8

CLAUDINE WAS ON my left. Bill came to stand to my right and took my hand. Together, we watched the firefighters aim the hose through the broken window. A sound of shattering glass from the other side of the house indicated they were breaking the window over the sink, too. While the firefighters concentrated on the fire, the police concentrated on the body. Charles stepped up to bat right away.

"I killed him," he said calmly. "I caught him setting fire to the house. He was armed, and he attacked me."

Sheriff Bud Dearborn looked more like a Pekinese than any human should look. His face was practically concave. His eyes were round and bright, and at the moment extremely curious. His brown hair, liberally streaked with gray, was combed back from his face all around, and I expected him to snuffle when he spoke. "And you would be?" he asked the vampire.

"Charles Twining," Charles answered gracefully. "At your service."

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