Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(18)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(18)
Author: Charlaine Harris

After I said my prayers, I reviewed my day. It had been so full of incident that I got tired trying to remember everything. In about three minutes, I was out like a light. I dreamed about growling animals that night: they were all around me in the fog, and I was scared. I could hear Jason screaming somewhere in the mist, though I couldn't find him to defend him.

Sometimes you don't need a psychiatrist to interpret a dream, right?

I woke up just a bit when Jason left for work in the morning, mostly because he slammed the door behind him. I dozed off again for another hour, but then I woke up decisively. Terry would be coming to my house to begin tearing down the ruined part, and I needed to see if any of my kitchen things could be saved.

Since this was liable to be a dirty job, I borrowed Jason's blue jumpsuit, the one he put on when he worked on his car. I looked in his closet and pulled out an old leather jacket Jason wore for rough work. I also appropriated a box of garbage bags. As I started Tara's car, I wondered how on earth I could repay her for its use. I reminded myself to pick up her suit. Since it was on my mind, I made a slight detour to retrieve it from the dry cleaner's.

Terry was in a stable mood today, to my relief. He was smiling as he smacked away at the charred boards of the back porch with a sledgehammer. Though the day was very cool, Terry wore only a sleeveless T-shirt tucked in his jeans. It covered most of the dreadful scars. After greeting him and registering that he didn't want to talk, I went in through the front door. I was drawn down the hall to the kitchen to look again at the damage.

The firefighters had said the floor was safe. It made me nervous to step out onto the scorched linoleum, but after a moment or two, I felt easier. I pulled on gloves and began to work, going through cabinets and cupboards and drawers. Some things had melted or twisted with the heat. A few things, like my plastic colander, were so warped it took me a second or two to identify what I was holding.

I tossed the ruined things directly out the south kitchen window, away from Terry.

I didn't trust any of the food that had been in the cabinets that were on the outer wall. The flour, the rice, the sugar - they'd all been in Tupperware containers, and though the seals had held, I just didn't want to use the contents. The same held true of the canned goods; for some reason, I felt uneasy about using food from cans that had gotten so hot.

Fortunately, my everyday stoneware and the good china that had belonged to my great-great-grandmother had survived, since they were in the cabinet farthest from the flames. Her sterling silver was in fine shape, too. My far more useful stainless tableware, much closer to the fire, was warped and twisted. Some of the pots and pans were usable.

I worked for two or three hours, consigning things to the growing pile outside the window or bagging them in Jason's garbage bags for future use in a new kitchen. Terry worked hard, too, taking a break every now and then to drink bottled water while he perched on the tailgate of his pickup. The temperature rose to the upper sixties. We might have a few more hard frosts, and there was always the chance of an ice storm, but it was possible to count on spring coming soon.

It wasn't a bad morning. I felt like I was taking a step toward regaining my home. Terry was an undemanding companion, since he didn't like to talk, and he was exorcising his demons with hard work. Terry was in his late fifties now. Some of the chest hair I could see above his T-shirt neck was gray. The hair on his head, once auburn, was fading as he aged. But he was a strong man, and he swung his sledgehammer with vigor and loaded boards onto the flatbed of his truck with no sign of strain.

Terry left to take a load to the parish dump. While he was gone, I went into my bedroom and made my bed - a strange and foolish thing to do, I know. I would have to take the sheets off and wash them; in fact, I'd have to wash almost every piece of fabric in the house to completely rid it of the smell of burning. I'd even have to wash the walls and repaint the hall, though the paint in the rest of the house seemed clean enough.

I was taking a break out in the yard when I heard a truck approaching a moment before it appeared, coming out of the trees that surrounded the driveway. To my astonishment, I recognized it as Alcide's truck, and I felt a pang of dismay. I'd told him to stay away.

He seemed miffed about something when he leaped out of the cab. I'd been sitting in the sunshine on one of my aluminum lawn chairs, wondering what time it was and wondering when the contractor would get here. After the all-round discomfort of my night at Jason's, I was also planning on finding somewhere else to stay while the kitchen was being rebuilt. I couldn't imagine the rest of my house being habitable until the work was complete, and that might be months from now. Jason wouldn't want me around that long, I was sure. He'd have to put up with me if I wanted to stay - he was my brother, after all - but I didn't want to strain his fraternal spirit. There wasn't anyone I wanted to stay with for a couple of months, when I came to consider the matter.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Alcide bellowed as his feet touched the ground.

I sighed. Another angry man.

"We aren't big buddies right now," I reminded him. "But I would have gotten around to it. It's only been a couple of days."

"You should have called me first thing," he told me, striding around the house to survey the damage. He stopped right in front of me. "You could have died," he said, as if it was big news.

"Yes," I said. "I know that."

"A vampire had to save you." There was disgust in his voice. Vamps and Weres just didn't get along.

"Yes," I agreed, though actually my savior had been Claudine. But Charles had killed the arsonist. "Oh, would you rather I'd burned?"

"No, of course not!" He turned away, looked at the mostly dismantled porch. "Someone's working on tearing down the damaged part already?"

"Yes."

"I could have gotten a whole crew out here."

"Terry volunteered."

"I can get you a good rate on the reconstruction."

"I've lined up a contractor."

"I can loan you the money to do it."

"I have the money, thank you very much."

That startled him. "You do? Where'd - " He stopped before saying something inexcusable. "I didn't think your grandmother had had much to leave you," he said, which was almost as bad.

"I earned the money," I said.

"You earned the money from Eric?" he guessed accurately. Alcide's green eyes were hot with anger. I thought he was going to shake me.

"You just calm down, Alcide Herveaux," I said sharply. "How I earned it is none of your damn business. I'm glad to have it. If you'll get down off your high horse, I'll tell you that I'm glad you're concerned about me, and I'm grateful you're offering help. But don't treat me like I'm a slow fifth grader in the special class."

Alcide stared down at me while my speech soaked in. "I'm sorry. I thought you - I thought we were close enough for you to've called me that night. I thought... maybe you needed help."

He was playing the "you hurt my feelings" card.

"I don't mind asking for help when I need it. I'm not that proud," I said. "And I'm glad to see you." (Not totally true.) "But don't act like I can't do things for myself, because I can, and I am."

"The vampires paid you for keeping Eric while the witches were in Shreveport?"

"Yes," I said. "My brother's idea. It embarrassed me. But now I'm grateful I've got the money. I won't have to borrow any to get the house put into shape."

Terry Bellefleur returned with his pickup just then, and I introduced the two men. Terry didn't seem at all impressed by meeting Alcide. In fact, he went right back to work after he gave Alcide's hand a perfunctory shake. Alcide eyed Terry doubtfully.

"Where are you staying?" Alcide had decided not to ask questions about Terry's scars, thank goodness.

"I'm staying with Jason," I said promptly, leaving out the fact that I hoped that would be temporary.

"How long is it gonna take to rebuild?"

"Here's the guy who can tell me," I said gratefully. Randall Shurtliff was in a pickup, too, and he had his wife and partner with him. Delia Shurtliff was younger than Randall, pretty as a picture, and tough as nails. She was Randall's second wife. When he'd gotten divorced from his "starter" wife, the one who'd had three children and cleaned his house for twelve years, Delia had already been working for Randall and had gradually begun to run his business for him far more efficiently than he'd ever done. He was able to give his first wife and sons more advantages with the money his second wife had helped him earn than he otherwise might have, had he married someone else. It was common knowledge (by which I mean I wasn't the only one who knew this) that Delia was very ready for Mary Helen to remarry and for the three Shurtliff boys to graduate from high school.

I shut out Delia's thoughts with a firm resolve to work on keeping my shields up. Randall was pleased to meet Alcide, whom he'd known by sight, and Randall was even more eager to take on rebuilding my kitchen when he knew I was a friend of Alcide's. The Herveaux family carried a lot of weight personally and financially in the building trade. To my irritation, Randall began addressing all his remarks to Alcide instead of to me. Alcide accepted this quite naturally.

I looked at Delia. Delia looked at me. We were very unlike, but we were of one mind at that moment.

"What do you think, Delia?" I asked her. "How long?"

"He'll huff and he'll puff," she said. Her hair was paler than mine, courtesy of the beauty salon, and she wore emphatic eye makeup, but she was dressed sensibly in khakis and a polo shirt with "Shurtliff Construction" in script above her left breast. "But he's got that house over on Robin Egg to finish. He can work on your kitchen before he begins a house in Clarice. So, say, three to four months from now, you'll have you a usable kitchen."

"Thanks, Delia. Do I need to sign something?"

"We'll get an estimate ready for you. I'll bring it to the bar for you to check. We'll include the new appliances, because we can get a dealer discount. But I'll tell you right now, you're looking at this ballpark."

She showed me the estimate on a kitchen renovation they had done a month before.

"I have it," I said, though I gave one long shriek deep inside. Even with the insurance money, I'd be using up a big chunk of what I had in the bank.

I should be thankful, I reminded myself sternly, that Eric had paid me all that money, that I had it to spend. I wouldn't have to borrow from the bank or sell the land or take any other drastic step. I should think of that money as just passing through my account rather than living there. I hadn't actually owned it. I'd just had custody of it for a while.

"You and Alcide good friends?" Delia asked, our business concluded.

I gave it some thought. "Some days," I answered honestly.

She laughed, a harsh cackle that was somehow sexy. Both men looked around, Randall smiling, Alcide quizzical. They were too far away to hear what we were saying.

"I'll tell you something," Delia Shurtliff said to me quietly. "Just between you and me and the fencepost. Jackson Herveaux's secretary, Connie Babcock - you met her?"

I nodded. I'd at least seen her and talked to her when I'd dropped by Alcide's office in Shreveport.

"She got arrested this morning for stealing from Herveaux and Son."

"What did she take?" I was all ears.

"This is what I don't understand. She was caught sneaking some papers out of Jackson Herveaux's office. Not business papers, but personal, the way I heard it. She said she'd been paid to do it."

"By?"

"Some guy who owns a motorcycle dealership. Now, does that make sense?"

It did if you knew that Connie Babcock had been sleeping with Jackson Herveaux, as well as working in his office. It did if you suddenly realized that Jackson had taken Christine Larrabee, a pure Were and influential, to the funeral of Colonel Flood, instead of taking the powerless human Connie Babcock.

While Delia elaborated on the story, I stood, lost in thought. Jackson Herveaux was without a doubt a clever businessman, but he was proving to be a stupid politician. Having Connie arrested was dumb. It drew attention to the Weres, had the potential to expose them. A people so secretive would not appreciate a leader who couldn't manage a problem with more finesse than that.

As a matter of fact, since Alcide and Randall were still discussing the rebuilding of my house with each other instead of with me, a lack of finesse appeared to run in the Herveaux family.

Then I frowned. It occurred to me that Patrick Furnan might be devious and clever enough to have engineered the whole thing - bribing the spurned Connie to steal Jackson's private papers, then ensuring she was caught - knowing that Jackson would react with a hot head. Patrick Furnan might be much smarter than he looked, and Jackson Herveaux much stupider, at least in the way that mattered if you wanted to be packmaster. I tried to shake off these disturbing speculations. Alcide hadn't said a word about Connie's arrest, so I had to conclude that he considered it none of my business. Okay, maybe he thought I had enough to worry about, and he was right. I turned my mind back to the moment.

"You think they'd notice if we left?" I asked Delia.

"Oh, yeah," Delia said confidently. "It might take Randall a minute, but he'd look around for me. He'd get lost if he couldn't find me."

Here was a woman who knew her own worth. I sighed and thought about getting in my borrowed car and driving away. Alcide, catching sight of my face, broke off his discussion with my contractor and looked guilty. "Sorry," he called. "Habit."

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