Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(7)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(7)
Author: Charlaine Harris

His face changed then; it was like someone had switched on a light behind his eyes. I turned to look where he was looking, and I saw a blond woman of medium height shaking her umbrella out at the door. She had short hair and pale skin, and when she turned, I saw that she was very pretty; at least, she would have been if she had been more animated.

But that wasn't a factor to Jack Leeds. He was looking at the woman he loved, and when she saw him, the same light switched on behind her eyes, too. She came across the floor to his table as smoothly as if she were dancing, and when she shed her own wet jacket, I saw her arms were as muscular as his. They didn't kiss, but his hand slid over hers and squeezed just briefly. After she'd taken her chair and asked for some diet Coke, her eyes went to the menu. She was thinking that all the food Merlotte's offered was unhealthy. She was right.

"Salad?" Jack Leeds asked.

"I have to have something hot," she said. "Chili?"

"Okay. Two chilis," he told me. "Lily, this is Sookie Stackhouse. Ms. Stackhouse, this is Lily Bard Leeds."

"Hello," she said. "I've just been out to your house."

Her eyes were light blue, and she had a stare like a laser. "You saw Debbie Pelt the night she disappeared." Her mind added, You're the one she hated so much.

They didn't know Debbie Pelt's true nature, and I was relieved that the Pelts hadn't been able to find a Were investigator. They wouldn't out their daughter to regular detectives. The longer the two-natured could keep the fact of their existence a secret, the better, as far as they were concerned.

"Yes," I said. "I saw her that night."

"Can we come talk to you about that? After you get off work?"

"I have to go see a friend in the hospital after work," I said.

"Sick?" Jack Leeds asked.

"Shot," I said.

Their interest quickened. "By someone local?" the blond woman asked.

Then I saw how it might all work. "By a sniper," I said. "Someone's been shooting people at random in this area."

"Have any of them vanished?" Jack Leeds asked.

"No," I admitted. "They've all been left lying. Of course, there were witnesses to all of the shootings. Maybe that's why." I hadn't heard of anyone actually seeing Calvin get shot, but someone had come along right afterward and called 911.

Lily Leeds asked me if they could talk to me the next day before I went to work. I gave them directions to my house and told them to come at ten. I didn't think talking to them was a very good idea, but I didn't think I had much of a choice, either. I would become more of an object of suspicion if I refused to talk about Debbie.

I found myself wishing I could call Eric tonight and tell him about Jack and Lily Leeds; worries shared are worries halved. But Eric didn't remember any of it. I wished that I could forget Debbie's death, too. It was awful to know something so heavy and terrible, to be unable to share it with a soul.

I knew so many secrets, but almost none of them were my own. This secret of mine was a dark and bloody burden.

Charles Twining was due to relieve Terry at full dark. Arlene was working late, since Danielle was attending her daughter's dance recital, and I was able to lighten my mood a little by briefing Arlene on the new bartender/bouncer. She was intrigued. We'd never had an Englishman visit the bar, much less an Englishman with an eye patch.

"Tell Charles I said hi," I called as I began to put on my rain gear. After a couple of hours of sprinkling, the drops were beginning to come faster again.

I splashed out to my car, the hood pulled well forward over my face. Just as I unlocked the driver's door and pulled it open, I heard a voice call my name. Sam was standing on crutches in the door of his trailer. He'd added a roofed porch a couple of years before, so he wasn't getting wet, but he didn't need to be standing there, either. Slamming the car door shut, I leaped over puddles and across the stepping-stones. In a second or two, I was standing on his porch and dripping all over it.

"I'm sorry," he said.

I stared at him. "You should be," I said gruffly.

"Well, I am."

"Okay. Good." I resolutely didn't ask him what he'd done with the vampire.

"Anything happen over at the bar today?"

I hesitated. "Well, the crowd was thin, to put it mildly. But..." I started to tell him about the private detectives, but then I knew he'd ask questions. And I might end up telling him the whole sorry story just for the relief of confessing to someone. "I have to go, Sam. Jason's taking me to visit Calvin Norris in the hospital in Grainger."

He looked at me. His eyes narrowed. The lashes were the same red-gold as his hair, so they showed up only when you were close to him. And I had no business at all thinking about Sam's eyelashes, or any other part of him, for that matter.

"I was a shit yesterday," he said. "I don't have to tell you why."

"Well, I guess you do," I said, bewildered. "Because I sure don't understand."

"The point is, you know you can count on me."

To get mad at me for no reason? To apologize afterward? "You've really confused me a lot lately," I said. "But you've been my friend for years, and I have a very high opinion of you." That sounded way too stilted, so I tried smiling. He smiled back, and a drop of rain fell off my hood and splashed on my nose, and the moment was over. I said, "When do you think you'll get back to the bar?"

"I'll try to come in tomorrow for a while," he said. "At least I can sit in the office and work on the books, get some filing done."

"See you."

"Sure."

And I dashed back to my car, feeling that my heart was much lighter than it had been before. Being at odds with Sam had felt wrong. I didn't realize how that wrongness had colored my thoughts until I was right with him again.

Chapter 5

THE RAIN PELTED down as we pulled in to the parking lot of the Grainger hospital. It was as small as the one in Clarice, the one most Renard Parish people were carried to. But the Grainger hospital was newer and had more of the diagnostic machines modern hospitals seemed to require.

I'd changed into jeans and a sweater, but I'd resumed wearing my lined slicker. As Jason and I hurried to the sliding glass doors, I was patting myself on the back for wearing boots. Weather-wise, the evening was proving as nasty as the morning had been.

The hospital was roiling with shifters. I could feel their anger as soon as I was inside. Two of the werepanthers from Hotshot were in the lobby; I figured they were acting as guards. Jason went to them and took their hands firmly. Maybe he exchanged some kind of secret shake or something; I don't know. At least they didn't rub against one another's legs. They didn't seem quite as happy to see Jason as he was to see them, and I noticed that Jason stepped back from them with a little frown between his eyes. The two looked at me intently. The man was of medium height and stocky, and he had thick brownish-blond hair. His eyes were full of curiosity.

"Sook, this is Dixon Mayhew," Jason said. "And this is Dixie Mayhew, his twin sister." Dixie wore her hair, the same color as her brother's, almost as short as Dixon's, but she had dark, almost black, eyes. The twins were certainly not identical.

"Has it been quiet here?" I asked carefully.

"No problems so far," Dixie said, keeping her voice low. Dixon's gaze was fixed on Jason. "How's your boss?"

"He's in a cast, but he'll heal."

"Calvin was shot bad." Dixie eyed me for a minute. "He's up in 214."

Having been given the seal of approval, Jason and I went to the stairs. The twins watched us all the way. We passed the hospital auxiliary "pink lady" on duty at the visitors' desk. I felt kind of worried about her: white-haired, heavy glasses, sweet face with a full complement of wrinkles. I hoped nothing would happen during her watch to upset her worldview.

It was easy to pick which room was Calvin's. A slab of muscle was leaning against the wall outside, a barrel-shaped man I'd never seen. He was a werewolf. Werewolves make good bodyguards, according to the common wisdom of the two-natured, because they are ruthless and tenacious. From what I've seen, that's just the bad-boy image Weres have. But it's true that as a rule, they're the roughest element of the two-natured community. You won't find too many Were doctors, for example, but you will find a lot of Weres in construction work. Jobs relating to motorcycles are heavily dominated by Weres, too. Some of those gangs do more than drink beer on the full-moon nights.

Seeing a Were disturbed me. I was surprised the panthers of Hotshot had brought in an outsider. Jason murmured, "That's Dawson. He owns the small engine repair shop between Hotshot and Grainger."

Dawson was on the alert as we came down the hall.

"Jason Stackhouse," he said, identifying my brother after a minute. Dawson was wearing a denim shirt and jeans, but his biceps were about to burst through the material. His black leather boots were battle scarred.

"We've come to see how Calvin is doing," Jason said. "This here's my sister, Sookie."

"Ma'am," Dawson rumbled. He eyeballed me slowly, and there wasn't anything lascivious about it. I was glad I'd left my purse in the locked truck. He would've gone through it, I was sure. "You want to take off that coat and turn around for me?"

I didn't take offense; Dawson was doing his job. I didn't want Calvin to get hurt again, either. I took off my slicker, handed it to Jason, and rotated. A nurse who'd been entering something in a chart watched this procedure with open curiosity. I held Jason's jacket as he took his turn. Satisfied, Dawson knocked on the door. Though I didn't hear a response, he must have, because he opened the door and said, "The Stackhouses."

Just a whisper of a voice came from the room. Dawson nodded.

"Miss Stackhouse, you can go in," he said. Jason started to follow me, but Dawson put a massive arm in front of him. "Only your sister," he said.

Jason and I began to protest at the same moment, but then Jason shrugged. "Go ahead, Sook," he said. There was obviously no budging Dawson, and there was no point to upsetting a wounded man, for that matter. I pushed the heavy door wide open.

Calvin was by himself, though there was another bed in the room. The panther leader looked awful. He was pale and drawn. His hair was dirty, though his cheeks above his trim beard had been shaved. He was wearing a hospital gown, and he was hooked up to lots of things.

"I'm so sorry," I blurted. I was horrified. Though many brains had indicated as much, I could see that if Calvin hadn't been two-natured, the wound would have killed him instantly. Whoever had shot him had wanted his death.

Calvin turned his head to me, slowly and with effort. "It's not as bad as it looks," he said dryly, his voice a thread. "They're going to take me off some of this stuff tomorrow."

"Where were you hit?" I asked.

Calvin moved one hand to touch his upper left chest. His golden brown eyes captured mine. I went closer to him and covered his hand with mine. "I'm so sorry," I said again. His fingers curled under mine until he was holding my hand.

"There've been others," he said in a whisper of a voice.

"Yes."

"Your boss."

I nodded.

"That poor girl."

I nodded again.

"Whoever's doing this, they've got to be stopped."

"Yes."

"It's got to be someone who hates shifters. The police will never find out who's doing this. We can't tell them what to look for."

Well, that was part of the problem of keeping your condition a secret. "It'll be harder for them to find the person," I conceded. "But maybe they will."

"Some of my people wonder if the shooter is someone who's a shifter," Calvin said. His fingers tightened around mine. "Someone who didn't want to become a shifter in the first place. Someone who was bitten."

It took a second for the light to click on in my head. I am such an idiot.

"Oh, no, Calvin, no, no," I said, my words stumbling over each other in my haste. "Oh, Calvin, please don't let them go after Jason. Please, he's all I've got." Tears began to run down my cheeks as if someone had turned on a faucet in my head. "He was telling me how much he enjoyed being one of you, even if he couldn't be exactly like a born panther. He's so new, he hasn't had time to figure out who all else is two-natured. I don't think he even realized Sam and Heather were...."

"No one's gonna take him out until we know the truth," Calvin said. "Though I might be in this bed, I'm still the leader." But I could tell he'd had to argue against it, and I also knew (from hearing it right out of Calvin's brain) that some of the panthers were still in favor of executing Jason. Calvin couldn't prevent that. He might be angry afterward, but if Jason were dead, that wouldn't make one little bit of difference. Calvin's fingers released mine, and his hand rose with an effort to wipe the tears off my cheek.

"You're a sweet woman," he said. "I wish you could love me."

"I wish I could, too," I said. So many of my problems would be solved if I loved Calvin Norris. I'd move out to Hotshot, become a member of the secretive little community. Two or three nights a month, I'd have to be sure to stay inside, but other than that, I'd be safe. Not only would Calvin defend me to the death, but so would the other members of the Hotshot clan.

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