Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(4)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(4)
Author: Charlaine Harris

As I waited my turn for Eric's attention, I watched Charles Twining work. He was polite to everyone, served the drinks swiftly, and never got rattled. I liked his technique much better than that of Chow, the previous bartender, who'd always made patrons feel like he was doing them a favor by bringing them drinks at all. Long Shadow, the bartender before Chow, had had too much of an eye for the female customers. That'll cause a lot of strife in a bar.

Lost in my own thoughts, I didn't realize Charles Twining was right across the bar from me until he said, "Miss Stackhouse, may I tell you how lovely you look tonight?"

"Thank you, Mr. Twining," I said, entering into the spirit of the encounter. The look in Charles Twining's one visible brown eye let me know that he was a first-class rogue, and I didn't trust him any farther than I could throw him, which was maybe two feet. (The effects of my last infusion of vampire blood had worn off, and I was my regular human self. Hey, I'm no junkie; it had been an emergency situation calling for extra strength.)

Not only was I back at average stamina for a fit woman in her twenties, my looks were back to normal; no vampire-blood enhancement. I hadn't dressed up, since I didn't want Eric to think I was dressing up for him, but I hadn't wanted to look like a slob, either. So I was wearing low-riding blue jeans and a fuzzy white long-sleeved sweater with a boat-neck. It stopped just at my waist, so some tummy showed when I walked. That tummy wasn't fish-belly white, either, thanks to the tanning bed at the video rental place.

"Please, dear lady, call me Charles," the bartender said, pressing his hand to his heart.

I laughed out loud, despite my weariness. The gesture's theatricality wasn't diminished by the fact that Charles's heart wasn't beating.

"Of course," I said agreeably. "If you'll call me Sookie."

He rolled his eyes up as if the excitement was too much for him, and I laughed again. Pam tapped me on the shoulder.

"If you can tear yourself away from your new buddy, Eric's free."

I nodded to Charles and eased off the stool to follow Pam. To my surprise, she didn't lead me back to Eric's office, but to one of the booths. Evidently, tonight Eric was on bar duty. All the Shreveport-area vampires had to agree to show themselves at Fangtasia for a certain number of hours each week so the tourists would keep coming; a vampire bar without any actual vampires is a money-losing establishment. Eric set a good example for his underlings by sitting out in the bar at regular intervals.

Usually the sheriff of Area Five sat in the center of the room, but tonight he was in the corner booth. He watched me approach. I knew he was taking in my jeans, which were on the tight side, and my tummy, which was on the flat side, and my soft fuzzy white sweater, which was filled with natural bounty. I should have worn my frumpiest clothes. (Believe me, I have plenty in my closet.) I shouldn't have carried the cranberry coat, which Eric had given me. I should have done anything but look good for Eric - and I had to admit to myself that that had been my goal. I'd blindsided myself.

Eric slid out of the booth and rose to his considerable height - around six foot four. His mane of blond hair rippled down his back, and his blue eyes sparkled from his white, white face. Eric has bold features, high cheekbones, and a square jaw. He looks like a lawless Viking, the kind that could pillage a village in no time at all; and that's exactly what he had been.

Vampires don't shake hands except under extraordinary circumstances, so I didn't expect any salutation from Eric. But he bent to give me a kiss on the cheek, and he gave it lingeringly, as if he wanted me to know he'd like to seduce me.

He didn't realize he'd already kissed just about every inch of Sookie Stackhouse. We'd been as up close and personal as a man and a woman could be.

Eric just couldn't remember anything about it. I wanted it to stay that way. Well, not exactly wanted; but I knew it was better all the way around if Eric didn't recall our little fling.

"What pretty nail polish," Eric said, smiling. He had a slight accent. English was not his second language, of course; it was maybe his twenty-fifth.

I tried not to smile back, but I was pleased at his compliment. Trust Eric to pick out the one thing that was new and different about me. I'd never had long nails until recently, and they were painted a wonderful deep red - cranberry, in fact, to match the coat.

"Thank you," I murmured. "How you been doing?"

"Just fine." He raised a blond eyebrow. Vampires didn't have variable health. He waved a hand at the empty side of the booth, and I slid into it.

"Had any trouble picking up the reins?" I asked, to clarify.

A few weeks previously, a witch had given Eric amnesia, and it had taken several days to restore his sense of identity. During that time, Pam had parked him with me to keep him concealed from the witch who'd cursed him. Lust had taken its course. Many times.

"Like riding a bicycle," Eric said, and I told myself to focus. (Though I wondered when bicycles had been invented, and if Eric had had anything to do with it.) "I did receive a call from Long Shadow's sire, an American Indian whose name seems to be Hot Rain. I'm sure you remember Long Shadow."

"I was just thinking of him," I said.

Long Shadow had been the first bartender of Fangtasia. He'd been embezzling from Eric, who had coerced me into interrogating the barmaids and other human employees until I discovered the culprit. About two seconds before Long Shadow would have ripped out my throat, Eric had executed the bartender with the traditional wooden stake. Killing another vampire is a very serious thing, I gathered, and Eric had had to pay a stiff fine - to whom, I hadn't known, though now I was sure the money had gone to Hot Rain. If Eric had killed Long Shadow without any justification, other penalties would have come into play. I was content to let those remain a mystery.

"What did Hot Rain want?" I said.

"To let me know that though I had paid him the price set by the arbitrator, he didn't consider himself satisfied."

"Did he want more money?"

"I don't think so. He seemed to think financial recompense was not all he required." Eric shrugged. "As far as I'm concerned, the matter is settled." Eric took a swallow of synthetic blood, leaned back in his chair, and looked at me with unreadable blue eyes. "And so is my little amnesia episode. The crisis is over, the witches are dead, and order is restored in my little piece of Louisiana. How have things been for you?"

"Well, I'm here on business," I said, and I put my business face on.

"What can I do for you, my Sookie?" he asked.

"Sam wants to ask you for something," I said.

"And he sends you to ask for it. Is he very clever or very stupid?" Eric asked himself out loud.

"Neither," I said, trying not to sound snippy. "He's very leg-broken. That is to say, he got his leg broken last night. He got shot."

"How did this come about?" Eric's attention sharpened.

I explained. I shivered a little when I told him Sam and I had been alone, how silent the night had been.

"Arlene was just out of the parking lot. She went on home without knowing a thing. The new cook, Sweetie - she'd just left, too. Someone shot him from the trees north of the parking lot." I shivered again, this time with fear.

"How close were you?"

"Oh," I said, and my voice shook. "I was real close. I'd just turned to... then he was... There was blood all over."

Eric's face looked hard as marble. "What did you do?"

"Sam had his cell phone in his pocket, thank God, and I held one hand over the hole in his leg and I dialed nine-one-one with the other."

"How is he?"

"Well." I took a deep breath and tried to make myself still. "He's pretty good, all things considered." I'd put that quite calmly. I was proud. "But of course, he's down for a while, and so much... so many odd things have been happening at the bar lately.... Our substitute bartender, he just can't handle it for more than a couple of nights. Terry's kind of damaged."

"So what's Sam's request?"

"Sam wants to borrow a bartender from you until his leg heals."

"Why's he making this request of me, instead of the packmaster of Shreveport?" Shifters seldom got organized, but the city werewolves had. Eric was right: It would have been far more logical for Sam to make the request of Colonel Flood.

I looked down at my hands wrapped around the ginger ale glass. "Someone's gunning for the shifters and Weres in Bon Temps," I said. I kept my voice very low. I knew he would hear me through the music and the talk of the bar.

Just then a man lurched up to the booth, a young serviceman from Barksdale Air Force Base, which is a part of the Shreveport area. (I pigeonholed him instantly from his haircut, fitness, and his running buddies, who were more or less clones.) He rocked on his heels for a long moment, looking from me to Eric.

"Hey, you," the young man said to me, poking my shoulder. I looked up at him, resigned to the inevitable. Some people court their own disaster, especially when they drink. This young man, with his buzz haircut and sturdy build, was far from home and determined to prove himself.

There's not much I dislike more than being addressed as "Hey, you" and being poked with a finger. But I tried to present a pleasant face to the young man. He had a round face and round dark eyes, a small mouth and thick brown brows. He was wearing a clean knit shirt and pressed khakis. He was also primed for a confrontation.

"I don't believe I know you," I said gently, trying to defuse the situation.

"You shouldn't be sitting with a vamp," he said. "Human girls shouldn't go with dead guys."

How often had I heard that? I'd gotten an earful of this kind of crap when I'd been dating Bill Compton.

"You should go back over there to your friends, Dave. You don't want your mama to get a phone call about you being killed in a bar fight in Louisiana. Especially not in a vampire bar, right?"

"How'd you know my name?" he asked slowly.

"Doesn't make any difference, does it?"

From the corner of my eye, I could see that Eric was shaking his head. Mild deflection was not his way of dealing with intrusion.

Abruptly, Dave began to simmer down.

"How'd you know about me?" he asked in a calmer voice.

"I have x-ray vision," I said solemnly. "I can read your driver's license in your pants."

He began to smile. "Hey, can you see other stuff through my pants?"

I smiled back at him. "You're a lucky man, Dave," I said ambiguously. "Now, I'm actually here to talk business with this guy, so if you'd excuse us..."

"Okay. Sorry, I..."

"No problem at all," I assured him. He went back to his friends, walking cocky. I was sure he'd give them a highly embellished account of the conversation.

Though everyone in the bar had tried to pretend they weren't watching the incident, which had so much potential for some juicy violence, they had to scramble to look busy when Eric's eyes swept the surrounding tables.

"You were starting to tell me something when we were so rudely interrupted," he said. Without my asking, a barmaid came up and deposited a fresh drink in front of me, whisking my old glass away. Anyone sitting with Eric got the deluxe treatment.

"Yes. Sam isn't the only shape-shifter who's been shot in Bon Temps lately. Calvin Norris was shot in the chest a few days ago. He's a werepanther. And Heather Kinman was shot before that. Heather was just nineteen, a werefox."

Eric said, "I still don't see why this is interesting."

"Eric, she was killed."

He still looked inquiring.

I clenched my teeth together so I wouldn't try to tell him what a nice girl Heather Kinman had been: She'd just graduated from high school and she was working at her first job as a clerk at Bon Temps Office Supplies. She'd been drinking a milkshake at the Sonic when she'd been shot. Today, the crime lab would be comparing the bullet that had shot Sam with the bullet that had killed Heather, and both of those with the bullet from Calvin's chest. I assumed the bullets would match.

"I'm trying to explain to you why Sam doesn't want to ask another shape-shifter or Were to step in to help," I said through clenched teeth. "He thinks that might be putting him or her in danger. And there's just not a local human who's got the qualifications for the job. So he asked me to come to you."

"When I stayed at your house, Sookie..."

I groaned. "Oh, Eric, give it a rest."

It griped Eric's butt that he couldn't remember what had happened while he was cursed. "Someday I'll remember," he said almost sullenly.

When he remembered everything, he wouldn't just recall the sex.

He'd also recall the woman who'd been waiting in my kitchen with a gun. He'd remember that he'd saved my life by taking the bullet meant for me. He'd remember that I'd shot her. He'd remember disposing of the body.

He'd realize that he had power over me forever.

He might also recall that he'd humbled himself enough to offer to abandon all his businesses and come to live with me.

The sex, he'd enjoy remembering. The power, he'd enjoy remembering. But somehow I didn't think Eric would enjoy remembering that last bit.

"Yes," I said quietly, looking down at my hands. "Someday, I expect you will remember." WDED was playing an old Bob Seger song, "Night Moves." I noticed Pam was twirling unself-consciously in her own dance, her unnaturally strong and limber body bending and twisting in ways human bodies couldn't.

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