Home > Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(9)

Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse #5)(9)
Author: Charlaine Harris

He shook his head. "I know you can do that, but I'm always taken by surprise." I could hear that he was disconcerted. "I'll pick you up at eleven thirty," he said.

"Let me see about swapping shifts."

I called Holly and found it suited her to switch shifts with me. "I can just drive over there and meet you," I offered.

"No," he said. "I'll come get you and bring you back."

Okay, if he wanted to go to the trouble of fetching me, I could live with it. I'd save mileage on my car, I figured. My old Nova was none too reliable.

"All right. I'll be ready."

"I better go," he said. The silence drew out. I knew Alcide was thinking of kissing me. He leaned over and kissed me lightly on the lips. We regarded each other from a few inches apart.

"Well, I have some things I need to be doing, and you should be going back to Shreveport. I'll be ready at eleven thirty tomorrow."

After Alcide left, I got my library book, Carolyn Haines's latest, and tried to forget my worries. But for once, a book just couldn't do the trick. I tried a hot soak in the bathtub, and I shaved my legs until they were perfectly smooth. I painted my toenails and fingernails a deep pink and then I plucked my eyebrows. Finally, I felt relaxed, and when I crawled into my bed I had achieved peace through pampering. Sleep came upon me in such a rush that I didn't finish my prayers.

Chapter 6

YOU HAVE TO figure out what to wear to a funeral, just like any other social occasion, even if it seems your clothes should be the last thing on your mind. I had liked and admired Colonel Flood during our brief acquaintance, so I wanted to look appropriate at his burial service, especially after Alcide's comments.

I just couldn't find anything in my closet that seemed right. About eight the next morning, I phoned Tara, who told me where her emergency key was. "Get whatever you need out of my closet," Tara said. "Just be sure you don't go into any other rooms, okay? Go straight from the back door to my room and back out again."

"That's what I'd be doing anyway," I said, trying not to sound offended. Did Tara think I'd rummage around her house just to pry?

"Of course you would, but I just feel responsible."

Suddenly, I understood that Tara was telling me that there was a vampire sleeping in her house. Maybe it was the bodyguard Mickey, maybe Franklin Mott. After Eric's warning, I wanted to stay far away from Mickey. Only the very oldest vampires could rise before dark, but coming across a sleeping vampire would give me a nasty start in and of itself.

"Okay, I get you," I said hastily. The idea of being alone with Mickey made me shiver, and not with happy anticipation. "Straight in, straight out." Since I didn't have any time to waste, I jumped in my car and drove into town to Tara's little house. It was a modest place in a modest part of town, but Tara's owning her own home was a miracle, when I recalled the place where she'd grown up.

Some people should never breed; if their children have the misfortune to be born, those children should be taken away immediately. That's not allowed in our country, or any country that I know of, and I'm sure in my brainier moments that's a good thing. But the Thorntons, both alcoholics, had been vicious people who should have died years earlier than they did. (I forget my religion when I think of them.) Iremember Myrna Thornton tearing my grandmother's house up looking for Tara, ignoring my grandmother's protests, until Gran had to call the sheriff's department to come drag Myrna out. Tara had run out our back door to hide in the woods behind our house when she had seen the set of her mother's shoulders as Mrs. Thornton staggered to our door, thank God. Tara and I had been thirteen at the time.

I can still see the look on my grandmother's face while she talked to the deputy who'd just put Myrna Thornton in the back of the patrol car, handcuffed and screaming.

"Too bad I can't drop her off in the bayou on the way back to town," the deputy had said. I couldn't recall his name, but his words had impressed me. It had taken me a minute to be sure what he meant, but once I was, I realized that other people knew what Tara and her siblings were going through. These other people were all-powerful adults. If they knew, why didn't they solve the problem?

I sort of understood now that it hadn't been so simple; but I still thought the Thornton kids could have been spared a few years of their misery.

At least Tara had this neat little house with all-new appliances, and a closet full of clothes, and a rich boyfriend. I had an uneasy feeling that I didn't know everything that was happening in Tara's life, but on the surface of it, she was still way ahead of the predictions.

As she'd directed, I went through the spanky-clean kitchen, turned right, and crossed a corner of the living room to pass through the doorway to Tara's bedroom. Tara hadn't had a chance to make her bed that morning. I pulled the sheets straight in a flash and made it look nice. (I couldn't help it.) I couldn't decide if that was a favor to her or not, since now she'd know I minded it not being made, but for the life of me I couldn't mess it up again.

I opened her walk-in closet. I spotted exactly what I needed right away. Hanging in the middle of the rear rack was a knit suit. The jacket was black with creamy pink facings on the lapels, meant to be worn over the matching pink shell on the hanger beneath it. The black skirt was pleated. Tara had had it hemmed up; the alteration tag was still on the plastic bag covering the garment. I held the skirt up to me and looked in Tara's full-length mirror. Tara was two or three inches taller than I, so the skirt fell just an inch above my knees, a fine length for a funeral. The sleeves of the jacket were a little long, but that wasn't so obvious. I had some black pumps and a purse, and even some black gloves that I'd tried to save for nice.

Mission accomplished, in record time.

I slid the jacket and shell into the plastic bag with the skirt and walked straight out of the house. I'd been in Tara's place less than ten minutes. In a hurry, because of my ten o'clock appointment, I began getting ready. I French braided my hair and rolled the remaining tail under, securing everything with some antique hairpins my grandmother had stashed away; they'd been her grandmother's. I had some black hose, fortunately, and a black slip, and the pink of my fingernails at least coordinated with the pink of the jacket and shell. When I heard a knock on the front door at ten, I was ready except for my shoes. I stepped into my pumps on the way to the door.

Jack Leeds looked openly astonished at my transformation, while Lily's eyebrows twitched.

"Please come in," I said. "I'm dressed for a funeral."

"I hope you're not burying a friend," Jack Leeds said. His companion's face might have been sculpted from marble. Had the woman never heard of a tanning bed?

"Not a close one. Won't you sit down? Can I get you anything? Coffee?"

"No, thank you," he said, his smile transforming his face.

The detectives sat on the couch while I perched on the edge of the La-Z-Boy. Somehow, my unaccustomed finery made me feel braver.

"About the evening Ms. Pelt vanished," Leeds began. "You saw her in Shreveport?"

"Yes, I was invited to the same party she was. At Pam's place." All of us who'd lived through the Witch War - Pam, Eric, Clancy, the three Wiccans, and the Weres who had survived - had agreed on our story: Instead of telling the police that Debbie had left from the dilapidated and abandoned store where the witches had established their hideout, we'd said that we'd stayed the whole evening at Pam's house, and Debbie had left in her car from that address. The neighbors might have testified that everyone had left earlier en masse if the Wiccans hadn't done a little magic to haze their memories of the evening.

"Colonel Flood was there," I said. "Actually, it's his funeral I'm going to."

Lily looked inquiring, which was probably the equivalent of someone else exclaiming, "Oh, you've got to be kidding!"

"Colonel Flood died in a car accident two days ago," I told them.

They glanced at each other. "So, were there quite a few people at this party?" Jack Leeds said. I was sure he had a complete list of the people who'd been sitting in Pam's living room for what had been essentially a war council.

"Oh, yes. Quite a few. I didn't know them all. Shreveport people." I'd met the three Wiccans that evening for the first time. I'd known the werewolves slightly. The vampires, I'd known.

"But you'd met Debbie Pelt before?"

"Yes."

"When you were dating Alcide Herveaux?"

Well. They'd certainly done their homework.

"Yes," I said. "When I was dating Alcide." My face was as smooth and impassive as Lily's. I'd had lots of practice in keeping secrets.

"You stayed with him once at the Herveaux apartment in Jackson?"

I started to blurt out that we'd stayed in separate bedrooms, but it really wasn't their business. "Yes," I said with a certain edge to my voice.

"You two ran into Ms. Pelt one night in Jackson at a club called Josephine's?"

"Yes, she was celebrating her engagement to some guy named Clausen," I said.

"Did something happen between you that night?"

"Yes." I wondered whom they'd been talking to; someone had given the detectives a lot of information that they shouldn't have. "She came over to the table, made a few remarks to us."

"And you also went to see Alcide at the Herveaux office a few weeks ago? You two were at a crime scene that afternoon?"

They'd done way too much homework. "Yes," I said.

"And you told the officers at that crime scene that you and Alcide Herveaux were engaged?"

Lies will come back to bite you in the butt. "I think it was Alcide who said that," I said, trying to look thoughtful.

"And was his statement true?"

Jack Leeds was thinking that I was the most erratic woman he'd ever met, and he couldn't understand how someone who could get engaged and unengaged so adeptly could be the sensible hardworking waitress he'd seen the day before.

She was thinking my house was very clean. (Strange, huh?) She also thought I was quite capable of killing Debbie Pelt, because she'd found people were capable of the most horrible things. She and I shared more than she'd ever know. I had the same sad knowledge, since I'd heard it directly from their brains.

"Yes," I said. "At the time, it was true. We were engaged for, like, ten minutes. Just call me Britney." I hated lying. I almost always knew when someone else was lying, so I felt I had LIAR printed in big letters on my forehead.

Jack Leeds's mouth quirked, but my reference to the pop singer's fifty-five-hour marriage didn't make a dent in Lily Bard Leeds.

"Ms. Pelt object to your seeing Alcide?"

"Oh, yes." I was glad I'd had years of practice of hiding my feelings. "But Alcide didn't want to marry her."

"Was she angry with you?"

"Yes," I said, since undoubtedly they knew the truth of that. "Yes, you could say that. She called me some names. You've probably heard that Debbie didn't believe in hiding her emotions."

"So when did you last see her?"

"I last saw her..." (with half her head gone, sprawled on my kitchen floor, her legs tangled up in the legs of a chair) "Let me think.... As she left the party that night. She walked off into the dark by herself." Not from Pam's, but from another location altogether; one full of dead bodies, with blood splashed on the walls. "I just assumed she was starting back to Jackson." I shrugged.

"She didn't come by Bon Temps? It's right off the interstate on her return route."

"I can't imagine why she would. She didn't knock on my door." She'd broken in.

"You didn't see her after the party?"

"I have not seen her since that night." Now, that was the absolute truth.

"You've seen Mr. Herveaux?"

"Yes, I have."

"Are you engaged now?"

I smiled. "Not that I know of," I said.

I wasn't surprised when the woman asked if she could use my bathroom. I'd let down my guard to find out how suspicious the detectives were, so I knew she wanted to have a more extensive look at my house. I showed her to the bathroom in the hall, not the one in my bedroom; not that she'd find anything suspicious in either of them.

"What about her car?" Jack Leeds asked me suddenly. I'd been trying to steal a glimpse of the clock on the mantel over the fireplace, because I wanted to be sure the duo were gone before Alcide picked me up for the funeral.

"Hmm?" I'd lost track of the conversation.

"Debbie Pelt's car."

"What about it?"

"Do you have any idea where it is?"

"Not an idea in the world," I said with complete honesty.

As Lily came back into the living room, he asked, "Ms. Stackhouse, just out of curiosity, what do you think happened to Debbie Pelt?"

I thought, I think she got what was coming to her. I was a little shocked at myself. Sometimes I'm not a very nice person, and I don't seem to be getting any nicer. "I don't know, Mr. Leeds," I said. "I guess I have to tell you that except for her family's worry, I don't really care. We didn't like each other. She burned a hole in my shawl, she called me a whore, and she was awful to Alcide; though since he's a grown-up, that's his problem. She liked to jerk people around. She liked to make them dance to her tune." Jack Leeds was looking a little dazed at this flow of information. "So," I concluded, "that's the way I feel."

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