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

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

I'd like to see her dance to live vampire music. You ought to hear a vampire band. You'll never forget that. They mostly play New Orleans and San Francisco, sometimes Savannah or Miami. But when I'd been dating Bill, he'd taken me to hear a group playing in Fangtasia for one night while making their way south to New Orleans. The lead singer of the vampire band - Renfield's Masters, they'd called themselves - had wept tears of blood as he sang a ballad.

"Sam was clever to send you to ask me," Eric said after a long pause. I had nothing to say to that. "I'll spare someone." I could feel my shoulders relax with relief. I focused on my hands and took a deep breath. When I glanced over at him, Eric was looking around the bar, considering the vampires present.

I'd met most of them in passing. Thalia had long black ringlets down her back and a profile that could best be described as classical. She had a heavy accent - Greek, I thought - and she also had a hasty temper. Indira was a tiny Indian vamp, complete with doe eyes and tikal; no one would take her seriously until things got out of hand. Maxwell Lee was an African-American investment banker. Though strong as any vampire, Maxwell tended to enjoy more cerebral pastimes than acting as a bouncer.

"What if I send Charles?" Eric sounded casual, but I knew him well enough to suspect he wasn't.

"Or Pam," I said. "Or anyone else who can keep their temper." I watched Thalia crush a metal mug with her fingers to impress a human male who was trying to put the moves on her. He blanched and scurried back to his table. Some vampires enjoy human company, but Thalia was not one of them.

"Charles is the least temperamental vampire I've ever met, though I confess I don't know him well. He's been working here only two weeks."

"You seem to be keeping him busy here."

"I can spare him." Eric gave me a haughty look that said quite clearly it was up to him to decide how busy he wanted to keep his employee.

"Um... okeydokey." The patrons of Merlotte's would like the pirate just fine, and Sam's revenue would jump in consequence.

"Here are the terms," Eric said, fixing me with his gaze. "Sam supplies unlimited blood for Charles and a secure place to stay. You might want to keep him in your house, as you did me."

"And I might not," I said indignantly. "I'm not running any hostel for traveling vampires." Frank Sinatra began to croon "Strangers in the Night" in the background.

"Oh, of course, I forgot. But you were generously paid for my board."

He'd touched on a sore spot. In fact, he'd poked it with a sharp stick. I flinched. "That was my brother's idea," I said. I saw Eric's eyes flash, and I flushed all over. I'd just confirmed a suspicion he'd had. "But he was absolutely right," I said with conviction. "Why should I have put a vampire up in my house without getting paid? After all, I needed the money."

"Is the fifty thousand already gone?" Eric said very quietly. "Did Jason ask for a share of it?"

"None of your business," I said, my voice exactly as sharp and indignant as I'd intended it to be. I'd given Jason only a fifth of it. He hadn't exactly asked, either, though I had to admit to myself he'd clearly expected me to give him some. Since I needed it a lot worse, I'd kept more of it than I'd initially planned.

I had no health insurance. Jason, of course, was covered through the parish plan. I'd begun thinking, What if I was disabled? What if I broke my arm or had to have my appendix out? Not only would I not put in my hours at work, but I'd have hospital bills. And any stay in a hospital, in this day and age, is an expensive one. I'd incurred a few medical bills during the past year, and it had taken me a long, painful time to pay them off.

Now I was profoundly glad I'd had that twinge of caution. In the normal course of things, I don't look real far ahead, because I'm used to living day to day. But Sam's injury had opened my eyes. I'd been thinking of how badly I needed a new car - well, a newer secondhand one. I'd been thinking of how dingy the living room drapes were, how pleasant it would be to order new ones from JCPenney. It had even crossed my mind that it would be a lot of fun to buy a dress that wasn't on sale. But I'd been shocked out of such frivolity when Sam had his leg broken.

As Connie the Corpse introduced the next song ("One of These Nights"), Eric examined my face. "I wish that I could read your mind as you can read the minds of others," he said. "I wish very much that I could know what was going on in your head. I wish I knew why I cared what's going on in that head."

I gave him a lopsided smile. "I agree to the terms: free blood and lodging, though the lodging won't necessarily be with me. What about the money?"

Eric smiled. "I'll take my payment in kind. I like Sam owing me a favor."

I called Sam with the cell phone he'd lent me. I explained.

Sam sounded resigned. "There's a place in the bar the vamp can sleep. All right. Room and board, and a favor. When can he come?"

I relayed the question to Eric.

"Right now." Eric beckoned to a human waitress, who was wearing the low-cut long black dress all the female human employees wore. (I'll tell you something about vampires: They don't like to wait tables. And they're pretty poor at it, too. You won't catch a vamp bussing tables, either. The vamps almost always hire humans to do the grubbier work at their establishments.) Eric told her to fetch Charles from behind the bar. She bowed, fist to her opposite shoulder, and said, "Yes, Master."

Honestly, it just about made you sick.

Anyway, Charles leapt over the bar theatrically, and while patrons applauded, he made his way to Eric's booth.

Bowing to me, he turned to Eric with an air of attentiveness that should have seemed subservient but instead seemed simply matter-of-fact.

"This woman will tell you what to do. As long as she needs you, she is your master." I just couldn't decipher Charles Twining's expression as he heard Eric's directive. Lots of vampires simply wouldn't agree to being at a human's beck and call, no matter what their head honcho said.

"No, Eric!" I was shocked. "If you make him answerable to anyone, it should be Sam."

"Sam sent you. I'm entrusting Charles's direction to you." Eric's face closed down. I knew from experience that once Eric got that expression, there was no arguing with him.

I couldn't see where this was going, but I knew it wasn't good.

"Let me get my coat, and I'll be ready anytime it pleases you to leave," Charles Twining said, bowing in a courtly and gracious way that made me feel like an idiot. I made a strangled noise in acknowledgment, and though he was still in the down position, his patch-free eye rolled up to give me a wink. I smiled involuntarily and felt much better.

Over the music system, Connie the Corpse said, "Hey, you night listeners. Continuing ten in a row for us genuine deadheads, here's a favorite." Connie began playing "Here Comes the Night," and Eric said, "Will you dance?"

I looked over at the little dance floor. It was empty. However, Eric had arranged for a bartender and bouncer for Sam as Sam had asked. I should be gracious. "Thank you," I said politely, and slid out of the booth. Eric offered me his hand, I took it, and he put his other hand on my waist.

Despite the difference in our heights, we managed quite well. I pretended I didn't know everyone in the bar was looking at us, and we glided along as if we knew what we were doing. I focused on Eric's throat so I wouldn't be looking up into his eyes.

When the dance was over, he said, "Holding you seems very familiar, Sookie."

With a tremendous effort, I kept my eyes fixed on his Adam's apple. I had a dreadful impulse to say, "You told me you loved me and would stay with me forever."

"You wish," I said briskly instead. I let go of his hand as quickly as I could and stepped away from his embrace. "By the way, have you ever run across a kind of mean-looking vampire named Mickey?"

Eric grabbed my hand again and squeezed it. I said, "Ow!" and he eased up.

"He was in here last week. Where have you seen Mickey?" he demanded.

"In Merlotte's." I was astonished at the effect my last-minute question had had on Eric. "What's the deal?"

"What was he doing?"

"Drinking Red Stuff and sitting at a table with my friend Tara. You know, you saw her? At Club Dead, in Jackson?"

"When I saw her she was under the protection of Franklin Mott."

"Well, they were dating. I can't understand why he'd let her go out with Mickey. I hoped maybe Mickey was just there as her bodyguard or something." I retrieved my coat from the booth. "So, what's the bottom line on this guy?" I asked.

"Stay away from him. Don't talk to him, don't cross him, and don't try to help your friend Tara. When he was here, Mickey talked mostly to Charles. Charles tells me he is a rogue. He's capable of... things that are barbarous. Don't go around Tara."

I opened my hands, asking Eric to explain.

"He'll do things the rest of us won't," Eric said.

I stared up at Eric, shocked and deeply worried. "I can't just ignore her situation. I don't have so many friends that I can afford to let one go down the drain."

"If she's involved with Mickey, she's just meat on the hoof," Eric said with a brutal simplicity. He took my coat from me and held it while I slid into it. His hands massaged my shoulders after I'd buttoned it.

"It fits well," he said. It didn't take a mind reader to guess that he didn't want to say any more about Mickey.

"You got my thank-you note?"

"Of course. Very, ah, seemly."

I nodded, hoping to indicate this was the end of the subject. But, of course, it wasn't.

"I still wonder why your old coat had bloodstains on it," Eric murmured, and my eyes flashed up to his. I cursed my carelessness once again. When he'd come back to thank me for keeping him, he'd roamed the house while I was busy until he'd come across the coat. "What did we do, Sookie? And to whom?"

"It was chicken blood. I killed a chicken and cooked it," I lied. I'd seen my grandmother do that when I was little, many a time, but I'd never done it myself.

"Sookie, Sookie. My bullshit meter is reading that as a 'false,' " Eric said, shaking his head in a chiding way.

I was so startled I laughed. It was a good note on which to leave. I could see Charles Twining standing by the front door, thoroughly modern padded jacket at the ready. "Good-bye, Eric, and thanks for the bartender," I said, as if Eric had loaned me some AA batteries or a cup of rice. He bent and brushed my cheek with his cool lips.

"Drive safely," he said. "And stay away from Mickey. I need to find out why he's in my territory. Call me if you have any problems with Charles." (If the batteries are defective, or if the rice is full of worms.) Beyond him I could see the same woman was still sitting at the bar, the one who'd remarked that I was no maiden. She was obviously wondering what I had done to secure the attention of a vampire as ancient and attractive as Eric.

I often wondered the same thing.

Chapter 4

THE DRIVE BACK to Bon Temps was pleasant. Vampires don't smell like humans or act like humans, but they're sure relaxing to my brain. Being with a vampire is almost as tension-free as being alone, except, of course, for the blood-sucking possibilities.

Charles Twining asked a few questions about the work for which he'd been hired and about the bar. My driving seemed to make him a little uneasy - though possibly his unease was due to simply being in a car. Some of the pre-Industrial Revolution vamps loathe modern transportation. His eye patch was on his left eye, on my side, which gave me the curious feeling I was invisible.

I'd run him by the vampire hostel where he'd been living so he could gather a few things. He had a sports bag with him, one large enough to hold maybe three days' worth of clothes. He'd just moved into Shreveport, he told me, and hadn't had time to decide where he would settle.

After we'd been on our way for about forty minutes, the vampire said, "And you, Miss Sookie? Do you live with your father and mother?"

"No, they've been gone since I was seven," I said. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a hand gesture inviting me to continue. "There was a whole lot of rain in a real short time one night that spring, and my dad tried to cross a little bridge that had water already over it. They got swept away."

I glanced to my right to see that he was nodding. People died, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly, and sometimes for very little reason. A vampire knew that better than anyone. "My brother and I grew up with my grandmother," I said. "She died last year. My brother has my parents' old house, and I have my grandmother's."

"Lucky to have a place to live," he commented.

In profile, his hooked nose was an elegant miniature. I wondered if he cared that the human race had gotten larger, while he had stayed the same.

"Oh, yes," I agreed. "I'm major lucky. I've got a job, I've got my brother, I've got a house, I've got friends. And I'm healthy."

He turned to look at me full-face, I think, but I was passing a battered Ford pickup, so I couldn't return his gaze. "That's interesting. Forgive me, but I was under the impression from Pam that you have some kind of disability."

"Oh, well, yeah."

"And that would be...? You look very, ah, robust."

"I'm a telepath."

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