Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(24)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(24)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Uh-huh. Sweetie."

"That's what she's calling herself? She used to work at the Foxy Femmes."

"She was a stripper?"

"Yeah, until the accident."

"Sweetie was in an accident?" I was getting more worn out by the second.

"Yeah, so she got scarred and didn't want to strip anymore. It would've required too much makeup, she said. Besides, by then she was getting a little on the, ah, old side to be stripping."

"Poor thing," I said. I tried to picture Sweetie parading down a runway in high heels and feathers. Disturbing.

"I'd never let her hear you say that," he advised.

We parked in front of the duplex. Someone had brought my car back from the library parking lot. The door to the other side of the duplex opened, and Halleigh Robinson stepped out, my keys in her hand. I was wearing the black pants I'd had on since I had been on my way to work, but my Merlotte's T-shirt had been ruined so the hospital had given me a white sweatshirt that someone had left there once upon a time. It was huge on me, but that wasn't why Halleigh was standing stock-still, catching flies with her mouth. Claude had actually gotten out to help me into the house, and the sight of him had paralyzed the young schoolteacher.

Claude eased his arm tenderly around my shoulders, bent his head to look adoringly into my face, and winked.

This was the first hint I'd had that Claude had a sense of humor. It pleased me to find he wasn't universally disagreeable.

"Thanks for bringing me my keys," I called, and Halleigh suddenly remembered she could walk.

"Um," she said. "Um, sure." She put the keys somewhere in the vicinity of my hand, and I snagged them.

"Halleigh, this is my friend Claude," I said with what I hoped was a meaningful smile.

Claude moved his arm down to circle my waist and gave her a distracted smile of his own, hardly moving his eyes from mine. Oh, brother. "Hello, Halleigh," he said in his richest baritone.

"You're lucky to have someone to bring you home from the hospital," Halleigh said. "That's very nice of you, uh, Claude."

"I would do anything for Sookie," Claude said softly.

"Really?" Halleigh shook herself. "Well, how nice. Andy drove your car back over here, Sookie, and he asked if I'd give you your keys. It's lucky you caught me. I just ran home to eat lunch. I, um, I have to go back to..." She gave Claude a final comprehensive stare before getting into her own little Mazda to drive back to the elementary school.

I unlocked my door clumsily and stepped into my little living room. "This is where I'm staying while my house is being rebuilt," I told Claude. I felt vaguely embarrassed at the small sterile room. "I just moved in the day I got shot. Yesterday," I said with some wonder.

Claude, his faux admiration having been dropped when Halleigh pulled away, eyed me with some disparagement. "You have mighty bad luck," he observed.

"In some ways," I said. But I thought of all the help I'd already gotten, and of my friends. I remembered the simple pleasure of sleeping close to Bill the night before. "My luck could definitely be worse," I added, more or less to myself.

Claude was massively uninterested in my philosophy.

After I thanked him again and asked him to give Claudine a hug from me, I repeated my promise to call him when my wound had healed enough for the posing session.

My shoulder was beginning to ache now. When I locked the door behind him, I swallowed a pill. I'd called the phone company from the library the afternoon before, and to my surprise and pleasure I got a dial tone when I picked up my phone. I called Jason's cell to tell him I was out of the hospital, but he didn't answer so I left a message on his voice mail. Then I called the bar to tell Sam I'd be back at work the next day. I'd missed two days' worth of pay and tips, and I couldn't afford any more.

I stretched out on the bed and took a long nap.

When I woke up, the sky was darkening in a way that meant rain. In the front yard of the house across the street, a small maple was whipping around in an alarming way. I thought of the tin roof my Gran had loved and of the clatter the rain made when it hit the hard surface. Rain here in town was sure to be quieter.

I was looking out my bedroom window at the identical duplex next door, wondering who my neighbor was, when I heard a sharp knock. Arlene was breathless from running through the first drops of rain. She had a bag from Wendy's in her hand, and the smell of the food made my stomach wake up with a growl.

"I didn't have time to cook you anything," she said apologetically as I stood aside to let her in. "But I remembered you liked to get the double hamburger with bacon when you were feeling low, and I figured you'd be feeling pretty low."

"You figured right," I said, though I was discovering I was much better than I'd been that morning. I went to the kitchen to get a plate, and Arlene followed, her eyes going to every corner.

"Hey, this is nice!" she said. Though it looked barren to me, my temporary home must have looked wonderfully uncluttered to her.

"What was it like?" Arlene asked. I tried not to hear that she was thinking that I got into more trouble than anyone she knew. "You must have been so scared!"

"Yes." I was serious, and my voice showed it. "I was very scared."

"The whole town is talking about it," Arlene said artlessly. That was just what I wanted to hear: that I was the subject of many conversations. "Hey, you remember that Dennis Pettibone?"

"The arson expert?" I said. "Sure."

"We've got a date tomorrow night."

"Way to go, Arlene. What are you all gonna do?"

"We're taking the kids to the roller rink in Grainger. He's got a girl, Katy. She's thirteen."

"Well, that sounds like fun."

"He's on stakeout tonight," Arlene said importantly.

I blinked. "What's he staking out?"

"They needed all the officers they could call in. They're staking out different parking lots around town to see if they can catch this sniper in the act."

I could see a flaw in their plan. "What if the sniper sees them first?"

"These are professionally trained men, Sookie. I think they know how to handle this." Arlene looked, and sounded, quite huffy. All of a sudden, she was Ms. Law Enforcement.

"Chill," I said. "I'm just concerned." Besides, unless the lawmen were Weres, they weren't in danger. Of course, the big flaw in that theory was that I had been shot. And I was no Were, no shifter. I still hadn't figured out how to work that into my scenario.

"Where's the mirror?" Arlene asked, and I looked around.

"I guess the only big one's in the bathroom," I said, and it felt strange to have to think about the location of an item in my own place. While Arlene fussed with her hair, I put my food on a plate, hoping I'd get to eat while it was still warm. I caught myself standing like a fool with the empty food bag in my hand, wondering where the garbage can was. Of course there wasn't a garbage can until I went out to buy one. I'd never lived anywhere but my Gran's house for the past nineteen years. I'd never had to start housekeeping from the ground up.

"Sam's still not driving, so he can't come to see you, but he's thinking about you," Arlene called. "You gonna be able to work tomorrow night?"

"I'm planning on it."

"Good. I'm scheduled to be off, Charlsie's granddaughter's in the hospital with pneumonia, so she's gone, and Holly doesn't always show up when she's scheduled. Danielle's going to be out of town. That new girl, Jada - she's better than Danielle, anyway."

"You think?"

"Yeah." Arlene snorted. "I don't know if you've noticed, but Danielle just doesn't seem to care anymore. People can be wanting drinks and calling to her, and it doesn't make a smidge of difference to her. She'll just stand there talking to her boyfriend while people holler at her."

It was true that Danielle had been less than scrupulous about her work habits since she'd started steady-dating a guy from Arcadia. "You think she's gonna quit?" I asked, and that opened up another conversational pit we mined for about five minutes, though Arlene had said she was in a hurry. She'd ordered me to eat while the food was good, so I chewed and swallowed while she talked. We didn't say anything startlingly new or original, but we had a good time. I could tell that Arlene (for once) was just enjoying sitting with me, being idle.

One of the many downsides to telepathy is the fact that you can tell the difference between when someone's really listening to you, and when you're talking to just a face instead of a mind.

Andy Bellefleur arrived as Arlene was getting into her car. I was glad I'd stuffed the bag from Wendy's in a cabinet just to get it out of the way.

"You're right next to Halleigh," Andy said - an obvious opening gambit.

"Thanks for leaving my keys with her and getting my car over here," I said. Andy had his moments.

"She says the guy that brought you home from the hospital was really, ah, interesting." Andy was obviously fishing. I smiled at Andy. Whatever Halleigh had said had made him curious and maybe a little jealous.

"You could say that," I agreed.

He waited to see if I'd expound. When I didn't, he became all business.

"The reason I'm here, I wanted to find out if you remembered any more about yesterday."

"Andy, I didn't know anything then, much less now."

"But you ducked."

"Oh, Andy," I said, exasperated, since he knew good and well about my condition, "you don't have to ask why I ducked."

He turned red, slowly and unbecomingly. Andy was a fireplug of a man and an intelligent police detective, but he had such ambiguity toward things he knew to be true, even if those things weren't completely conventional items of common knowledge.

"We're here all by ourselves," I pointed out. "And the walls are thick enough that I don't hear Halleigh moving around."

"Is there more?" he asked suddenly, his eyes alight with curiosity. "Sookie, is there more?"

I knew exactly what he meant. He would never spell it out, but he wanted to know if there was even more in this world than humans, and vampires, and telepaths. "So much more," I said, keeping my voice quiet and even. "Another world."

Andy's eyes met mine. His suspicions had been confirmed, and he was intrigued. He was right on the edge of asking me about the people who'd been shot - right on the verge of making the leap - but at the last instant, he drew back. "You didn't see anything or hear anything that would help us? Was there anything different about the night Sam was shot?"

"No," I said. "Nothing. Why?"

He didn't answer, but I could read his mind like a book. The bullet from Sam's leg didn't match the other recovered bullets.

After he left, I tried to dissect that quick impression I'd gotten, the one that had prompted me to duck. If the parking lot hadn't been empty, I might not have caught it at all, since the brain that had made it had been at some distance. And what I'd felt had been a tangle of determination, anger, and above all, disgust. The person who'd been shooting had been sure I was loathsome and inhuman. Stupidly enough, my first reaction was hurt - after all, no one likes to be despised. Then I considered the strange fact that Sam's bullet didn't match any of the previous Were shootings. I couldn't understand that at all. I could think of many explanations, but all of them seemed far-fetched.

The rain began to pour down outside, hitting the north-facing windows with a hiss. I didn't have a reason to call anyone, but I felt like making one up. It wasn't a good night to be out of touch. As the pounding of the rain increased, I became more and more anxious. The sky was a leaden gray; soon it would be full dark.

I wondered why I was so twitchy. I was used to being by myself, and it seldom bothered me. Now I was physically closer to people than I'd ever been in my house on Hummingbird Road, but I felt more alone.

Though I wasn't supposed to drive, I needed things for the duplex. I would have made the errand a necessity and gone to Wal-Mart despite the rain - or because of the rain - if the nurse hadn't made such a big deal out of resting my shoulder. I went restlessly from room to room until the crunch of gravel told me that I was having yet more company. This was town living, for sure.

When I opened the door, Tara was standing there in a leopard-print raincoat with a hood. Of course I asked her in, and she tried her best to shake out the coat on the little front porch. I carried it into the kitchen to drip on the linoleum.

She hugged me very gently and said, "Tell me how you are."

After I went over the story once again, she said, "I've been worried about you. I couldn't get away from the shop until now, but I just had to come see you. I saw the suit in my closet. Did you come to my house?"

"Yes," I said. "The day before yesterday. Didn't Mickey tell you?"

"He was in the house when you were there? I warned you," she said, almost panic-stricken. "He didn't hurt you, did he? He didn't have anything to do with you getting shot?"

"Not that I know of. But I did go into your house kind of late, and I know you told me not to. It was just dumb. He did, ah, try to scare me. I wouldn't let him know you've been to see me, if I were you. How were you able to come here tonight?"

A shutter dropped over Tara's face. Her big dark eyes hardened, and she pulled away from me. "He's out somewhere," she said.

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