Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(25)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(25)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Tara, can you tell me how you came to be involved with him? What happened to Franklin?" I tried to ask these questions as gently as I could, because I knew I was treading on delicate ground.

Tara's eyes filled with tears. She was struggling to answer me, but she was ashamed. "Sookie," she began at last, almost whispering, "I thought Franklin really cared about me, you know? I mean, I thought he respected me. As a person."

I nodded, intent on her face. I was scared of disrupting the flow of her story now that she'd finally begun to talk to me.

"But he... he just passed me along when he was through with me."

"Oh, no, Tara! He... surely he explained to you why you two were breaking up. Or did you have a big fight?" I didn't want to believe Tara had been passed from vamp to vamp like some fang-banger at a bloodsucker's party.

"He said, 'Tara, you're a pretty girl and you've been good company, but I owe a debt to Mickey's master, and Mickey wants you now.' "

I knew my mouth was hanging open, and I didn't care. I could scarcely believe what Tara was telling me. I could hear the humiliation rolling off of her in waves of self-loathing. "You couldn't do anything about it?" I asked. I was trying to keep the incredulity out of my voice.

"Believe me, I tried," Tara said bitterly. She wasn't blaming me for my question, which was a relief. "I told him I wouldn't. I told him I wasn't a whore, that I'd been dating him because I liked him." Her shoulders collapsed. "But you know, Sookie, I wasn't telling the whole truth, and he knew it. I took all the presents he gave me. They were expensive things. But they were freely given, and he didn't tell me there were strings attached! I never asked for anything!"

"So he was saying that because you'd accepted his gifts, you were bound to do as he said?"

"He said - " Tara began weeping, and her sobs made everything come out in little jerks. "He said that I was acting like a mistress, and he'd paid for everything I had, and that I might as well be of more use to him. I said I wouldn't, that I'd give him back everything, and he said he didn't want it. He told me this vamp named Mickey had seen me out with him, that Franklin owed Mickey a big favor."

"But this is America," I protested. "How can they do that?"

"Vampires are awful," Tara said dismally. "I don't know how you can stand hanging out with them. I thought I was so cool, having a vamp boyfriend. Okay, he was more like a sugar daddy, I guess." Tara sighed at the admission. "It was just so nice being, you know, treated so well. I'm not used to that. I really thought he liked me, too. I wasn't just being greedy."

"Did he take blood from you?" I asked.

"Don't they always?" she asked, surprised. "During sex?"

"As far as I know," I said. "Yeah. But you know, after he had your blood, he could tell how you felt about him."

"He could?"

"After they've had your blood, they're tuned in to your feelings." I was quite sure that Tara hadn't been as fond of Franklin Mott as she'd been saying, that she was much more interested in his lavish gifts and courteous treatment than in him. Of course, he'd known that. He might not have much cared if Tara liked him for himself or not, but that had surely made him more inclined to trade her off. "So how'd it happen?"

"Well, it wasn't so abrupt as I've made it sound," she said. She stared down at her hands. "First Franklin said he couldn't go somewhere with me, so would it be okay if this other guy took me instead? I thought he was thinking of me, of how disappointed I'd be if I didn't get to go - it was a concert - so I really didn't brood over it. Mickey was on his best behavior, and it wasn't a bad evening. He left me at the door, like a gentleman."

I tried not to raise my eyebrows in disbelief. The snakelike Mickey, whose every pore breathed "bad to the bone," had persuaded Tara he was a gentleman? "Okay, so then what?"

"Then Franklin had to go out of town, so Mickey came by to see if I had everything I needed, and he brought me a present, which I thought was from Franklin."

Tara was lying to me, and halfway lying to herself. She had surely known the present, a bracelet, was from Mickey. She had persuaded herself it was kind of a vassal's tribute to his lord's lady, but she had known it wasn't from Franklin.

"So I took it, and we went out, and then when we came back that night, he started making advances. And I broke that off." She gave me a calm and regal face.

She may have repulsed his advances that night, but she hadn't done it instantly and decisively.

Even Tara forgot I could read her mind.

"So that time he left," she said. She took a deep breath. "The next time, he didn't."

He'd given plenty of advance warning of his intentions.

I looked at her. She flinched. "I know," she wailed. "I know, I did wrong!"

"So, is he living at your place?"

"He's got a day place somewhere close," she said, limp with misery. "He shows up at dark, and we're together the whole night. He takes me to meetings, he takes me out, and he..."

"Okay, okay." I patted her hand. That didn't seem like enough, and I hugged her closer. Tara was taller than I, so it wasn't a very maternal hug, but I just wanted my friend to know I was on her side.

"He's real rough," Tara said very quietly. "He's going to kill me some day."

"Not if we kill him first."

"Oh, we can't."

"You think he's too strong?"

"I think I can't kill someone, even him."

"Oh." I had thought Tara had more grit to her, after what her parents had put her through. "Then we have to think of a way to pry him off you."

"What about your friend?"

"Which one?"

"Eric. Everyone says that Eric has a thing for you."

"Everyone?"

"The vampires around here. Did Bill pass you to Eric?"

He'd told me once I should go to Eric if anything happened to him, but I hadn't taken that as meaning Eric should assume the same role that Bill had in my life. As it turned out, I had had a fling with Eric, but under entirely different circumstances.

"No, he didn't," I said with absolute clarity. "Let me think." I mulled it over, feeling the terrible pressure of Tara's eyes. "Who's Mickey's boss?" I asked. "Or his sire?"

"I think it's a woman," Tara said. "At least, Mickey's taken me to a place in Baton Rouge a couple of times, a casino, where he's met with a female vamp. Her name is Salome."

"Like in the Bible?"

"Yeah. Imagine naming your kid that."

"So, is this Salome a sheriff?"

"What?"

"Is she a regional boss?"

"I don't know. Mickey and Franklin never talked about that stuff."

I tried not to look as exasperated as I felt. "What's the name of the casino?"

"Seven Veils."

Hmmm. "Okay, did he treat her with deference?" That was a good Word of the Day entry from my calendar, which I hadn't seen since the fire.

"Well, he kind of bowed to her."

"Just his head, or from the waist?"

"From the waist. Well, more than the head. I mean, he bent over."

"Okay. What did he call her?"

"Mistress."

"Okay." I hesitated, and then asked again, "You're sure we can't kill him?"

"Maybe you can," she said morosely. "I stood over him with an ice pick for fifteen minutes one night when he went to sleep after, you know, sex. But I was too scared. If he finds out I've been here to see you, he'll get mad. He doesn't like you at all. He thinks you're a bad influence."

"He got that right," I said with a confidence I was far from feeling. "Let me see what I can think of."

Tara left after another hug. She even managed a little smile, but I didn't know how justified her flash of optimism might be.

There was only one thing I could do.

The next night I'd be working. It was full dark by now, and he'd be up.

I had to call Eric.

Chapter 13

"FANGTASIA,"SAID A bored feminine voice. "Where all your bloody dreams come true."

"Pam, it's Sookie."

"Oh, hello," she said more cheerfully. "I hear you're in even more trouble. Got your house burned. You won't live much longer if you keep that up."

"No, maybe not," I agreed. "Listen, is Eric there?"

"Yes, he's in his office."

"Can you transfer me to him?"

"I don't know how," she said disdainfully.

"Could you take the phone to him, please, ma'am?"

"Of course. Something always happens around here after you call. It's quite the break in routine." Pam was carrying the phone through the bar; I could tell by the change in the ambient noise. There was music in the background. KDED again: "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" this time. "What's happening in Bon Temps, Sookie?" Pam asked, saying in a clear aside to some bar patron, "Step aside, you son of a misbegotten whore!

"They like that kind of talk," she said to me conversationally. "Now, what's up?"

"I got shot."

"Oh, too bad," she said. "Eric, do you know what Sookie is telling me? Someone shot her."

"Don't get so emotional, Pam," I said. "Someone might think you care."

She laughed. "Here is the man," she said.

Sounding just as matter-of-fact as Pam had, Eric said, "It can't be critical or you wouldn't be talking to me."

This was true, though I would have enjoyed a more horrified reaction. But this was no time to think of little issues. I took a deep breath. I knew, sure as shooting, what was coming, but I had to help Tara. "Eric," I said with a feeling of doom, "I need a favor."

"Really?" he said. Then, after a notable pause, "Really?"

He began to laugh.

"Gotcha," he said.

He arrived at the duplex an hour later and paused on the doorsill after I'd responded to his knock. "New building," he reminded me.

"You are welcome to come in," I said insincerely, and he stepped in, his white face practically blazing with - triumph? Excitement? Eric's hair was wet with rain and straggled over his shoulders in rattails. He was wearing a golden brown silk T-shirt and brown pleated trousers with a magnificent belt that was just barbaric: lots of leather, and gold, and dangling tassels. You can take the man out of the Viking era, but you can't take the Viking out of the man.

"Can I get you a drink?" I said. "I'm sorry, I don't have any TrueBlood, and I'm not supposed to drive, so I couldn't go get any." I knew that was a big breach of hospitality, but there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn't been about to ask anyone to bring me blood for Eric.

"Not important," he said smoothly, looking around the small room.

"Please sit down."

Eric said onto the couch, his right ankle on the knee of his left leg. His big hands were restless. "What's the favor you need, Sookie?" He was openly gleeful.

I sighed. At least I was pretty sure he'd help, since he could practically taste the leverage he'd have over me.

I perched on the edge of the lumpy armchair. I explained about Tara, about Franklin, about Mickey. Eric got serious in a hurry. "She could leave during the day and she doesn't," he pointed out.

"Why should she leave her business and her home? He's the one should leave," I argued. (Though I have to confess, I'd wondered to myself why Tara didn't just take a vacation. Surely Mickey wouldn't stick around too long if his free ride was gone?) "Tara would be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life if she tried to shake him loose by running," I said firmly.

"I've learned more about Franklin since I met him in Mississippi," Eric said. I wondered if Eric had learned this from Bill's database. "Franklin has an outdated mind-set."

This was rich, coming from a Viking warrior whose happiest days had been spent pillaging and raping and laying waste.

"Vampires used to pass willing humans around," Eric explained. "When our existence was secret, it was convenient to have a human lover, to maintain that person... that is, not to take too much blood... and then, when there was no one left who wanted her - or him," Eric added hastily, so my feminist side would not be offended, "that person would be, ah, completely used."

I was disgusted and showed it. "You mean drained," I said.

"Sookie, you have to understand that for hundreds, thousands, of years we have considered ourselves better than humans, separate from humans." He thought for a second. "Very much in the same relationship to humans as humans have to, say, cows. Edible like cows, but cute, too."

I was knocked speechless. I had sensed this, of course, but to have it spelled out was just... nauseating. Food that walked and talked, that was us. McPeople.

"I'll just go to Bill. He knows Tara, and she rents her business premises from him, so I bet he'll feel obliged to help her," I said furiously.

"Yes. He'd be obliged to try to kill Salome's underling. Bill doesn't rank any higher than Mickey, so he can't order him to leave. Who do you think would survive the fight?"

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