Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(11)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(11)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Young lady, I'm here to see Amelia Broadway," the woman informed me in very precisely pronounced English.

"Please come in," I said, because this was an older woman and I'd been brought up to revere old people. "Have a seat." I indicated the couch. "I'll go up and get Amelia."

I noticed she didn't apologize for getting me out of bed or for showing up unannounced. I climbed the stairs with a grim feeling that Amelia wasn't going to enjoy this message.

I so seldom went up to the second floor that it surprised me to see how nice Amelia had made it look. Since the upper bedrooms had only had basic furniture in them, she'd turned the one to the right, the larger one, into her bedroom. The one to the left was her sitting room. It held her television, an easy chair and ottoman, a small computer desk and her computer, and a plant or two. The bedroom, which I believed had been built for a generation of Stackhouses that had sired three boys in quick succession, had only a small closet, but Amelia had bought rolling clothes racks from somewhere on the Internet and assembled them handily. Then she'd bought a tri-fold screen at an auction and repainted it and arranged it in front of the racks to camouflage them. Her bright bedspread and the old table she'd repainted to serve as her makeup table added to the color that jumped out from the white-painted walls. Amid all this cheer was one dismal witch.

Amelia was sitting up in bed, her short hair mashed into strange shapes. "Who is that I hear downstairs?" she asked in a very hushed voice.

"Older black lady, light-skinned? Sharp way about her?"

"Omigod," Amelia breathed, and slumped back against her dozen or so pillows. "It's Octavia."

"Well, you come down and have a word with her. I can't entertain her."

Amelia snarled at me, but she accepted the inevitable. She got out of bed and pulled off her nightgown. She pulled on a bra and panties and some jeans, and she extracted a sweater from a drawer.

I went down to tell Octavia Fant that Amelia was coming. Amelia would have to walk right past her to get to the bathroom, since there was only the one staircase, but at least I could smooth the way.

"Can I get you some coffee?" I asked. The older woman was busy looking around the room with her bright brown eyes.

"If you have some tea, I'd like a cup," Octavia Fant said.

"Yes, ma'am, we have some," I said, relieved that Amelia had insisted on buying it. I had no idea what kind it was, and I hoped it was in a bag, because I'd never made hot tea in my life.

"Good," she said, and that was that.

"Amelia's on her way down," I said, trying to think of some graceful way to add, "And she's going to have to hurry through the room to pee and brush her teeth, so pretend you don't see her." I abandoned that lost cause and fled to the kitchen.

I retrieved Amelia's tea from one of her designated shelves, and while the water was getting hot, I got down two cups and saucers and put them on a tray. I added the sugar bowl and a tiny pitcher with milk and two spoons. Napkins! I thought, and wished I had some cloth ones instead of regular paper. (This was how Octavia Fant made me feel, without her using a bit of magic on me.) I heard the water running in the hall bathroom just as I put a handful of cookies on a plate and added that to the assemblage. I didn't have any flowers or a little vase, which was the only other thing I thought of that I could've added. I picked up the tray and made my way slowly down the hall to the living room.

I set the tray down on the coffee table in front of Ms. Fant. She looked up at me with her piercing eyes and gave me a curt nod of thanks. I realized that I could not read her mind. I'd been holding off, waiting for a moment when I could really give her her proper due, but she knew how to block me out. I'd never met a human who could do that. For a second I felt almost irritated. Then I remembered who and what she was, and I scooted off to my room to make my bed and visit my own little bathroom. I passed Amelia in the hall, and she gave me a scared look.

Sorry, Amelia, I thought, as I closed my bedroom door firmly. You're on your own.

I didn't have to be at work until the evening, so I put on some old jeans and a Fangtasia T-shirt ("The Bar with a Bite"). Pam had given it to me when the bar first started selling them. I slid my feet into some Crocs and went into the kitchen to fix my own beverage, coffee. I made some toast and got the local paper I'd grabbed when I'd answered the door. Rolling the rubber band off, I glanced at the front page. The school board had met, the local Wal-Mart had donated generously to the Boys and Girls Club's after-school program, and the state legislature had voted to recognize vampire-human marriages. Well, well. No one had thought that bill would ever pass.

I flipped open the paper to read the obituaries. First the local deaths - no one I knew, good. Then the area deaths - oh, no.

MARIA-STAR COOPER, read the heading. The item said only, "Maria-Star Cooper, 25, a resident of Shreveport, died unexpectedly at her home yesterday. Cooper, a photographer, is survived by her mother and father, Matthew and Stella Cooper of Minden, and three brothers. Arrangements are pending."

I felt suddenly out of breath and sank into the straight-back chair with a feeling of total disbelief. Maria-Star and I hadn't exactly been friends, but I'd liked her well enough, and she and Alcide Herveaux, a major figure in the Shreveport Were pack, had been going together for months. Poor Alcide! His first girlfriend had died violently, and now this.

The phone rang and I jumped. I grabbed it up with a terrible feeling of disaster. "Hello?" I said cautiously, as if the phone could spit at me.

"Sookie," said Alcide. He had a deep voice, and now it was husky with tears.

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I just read the paper." There was nothing else to say. Now I knew why he'd called the night before.

"She was murdered," Alcide said.

"Oh, my God."

"Sookie, it was only the beginning. On the off chance that Furnan is after you, too, I want you to stay alert."

"Too late," I said after a moment given to absorbing this awful news. "Someone tried to kill me last night."

Alcide held the phone away from him and howled. Hearing this, in the middle of the day, over the telephone... Even then, it was frightening.

Trouble within the Shreveport pack had been brewing for a while. Even I, separated from Were politics, had known that. Patrick Furnan, the leader of the Long Tooth pack, had gotten his office by killing Alcide's father in combat. The victory had been legal - well, Were legal - but there had been a few not-so-legal plays along the way. Alcide - strong, young, prosperous, and packing a grudge - had always been a threat to Furnan, at least in Furnan's mind.

This was a tense topic, since Weres were secret from the human population, not out in the open like vampires. The day was coming, and coming soon, when the shifter population would step forward. I'd heard them speak of it over and over. But that hadn't happened yet, and it wouldn't be good if the first knowledge the humans had of the Weres was of bodies turning up all over the place.

"Someone will be over there right away," Alcide said.

"Absolutely not. I have to go to work tonight, and I'm so utterly on the edge of this thing that I'm sure they won't try again. But I do need to know how the guy knew where and when to find me."

"Tell Amanda the circumstances," Alcide said, his voice thick with anger, and then Amanda came on. Hard to believe that when I'd seen her at the wedding we'd both been so cheerful.

"Tell me," she said crisply, and I knew this was no time to argue. I told her the story as tersely as possible (leaving out Niall, and Eric's name, and most other details), and she was silent for a few seconds after I'd finished speaking.

"Since he was taken out, that's one less we have to worry about," she said, sounding simply relieved. "I wish you'd known who he was."

"Sorry," I said a bit acidly. "I was thinking about the gun, not his ID. How come you-all can have a war with as few people as you have?" The Shreveport pack couldn't number over thirty.

"Reinforcements from other territories."

"Why would anyone do that?" Why join in a war that wasn't yours? What was the point of losing your own people when it was the other pack's dispute?

"There are perks to backing the winning side," Amanda said. "Listen, you still got that witch living with you?"

"I do."

"Then there's something you can do to help."

"Okay," I said, though I didn't recall offering. "What would that be?"

"You need to ask your witch friend if she'll go to Maria-Star's apartment and get some kind of reading on what happened there. Is that possible? We want to know the Weres involved."

"It's possible, but I don't know if she'll do it."

"Ask her now, please."

"Ah... let me call you back. She's got a visitor."

Before I went out to the living room, I made a call. I didn't want to leave this message on the answering machine at Fangtasia, which wouldn't be open yet, so I called Pam's cell, something I'd never done before. As it rang, I found myself wondering if it was in the coffin with her. That was an eerie thing to picture. I didn't know if Pam actually slept in a coffin or not, but if she did... I shuddered. Of course, the phone went to voice mail, and I said, "Pam, I've found out why Eric and I were pulled over last night, or at least I think so. There's a Were war brewing, and I think I was the target. Someone sold us out to Patrick Furnan. And I didn't tell anyone where I was going." That was a problem Eric and I had been too shaken to discuss the night before. How had anyone, anyone at all, known where we'd be last night? That we'd be driving back from Shreveport.

Amelia and Octavia were in the middle of a discussion, but neither of them looked as angry or upset as I'd feared.

"I hate to intrude," I said as both pairs of eyes turned to me. Octavia's eyes were brown, Amelia's bright blue, but at the moment they were eerily alike in expression.

"Yes?" Octavia was clearly queen of the situation.

Any witch worth her salt would know about Weres. I condensed the issues of the Were war down to a few sentences, told them about the attack the night before on the interstate, and explained Amanda's request.

"Is this something you should get involved with, Amelia?" Octavia asked, her voice making it quite clear there was only one answer she should give.

"Oh, I think so," Amelia said. She smiled. "Can't have someone shooting at my roomie. I'll help Amanda."

Octavia couldn't have been more shocked if Amelia had spat a watermelon seed on her pants. "Amelia! You're trying things beyond your ability! This will lead to terrible trouble! Look what you've already done to poor Bob Jessup."

Oh, boy, I hadn't known Amelia that long, but I already knew that was a poor way to get her to comply with your wishes. If Amelia was proud of anything, it was her witchy ability. Challenging her expertise was a sure way to rattle her. On the other hand, Bob was a major f**kup.

"Can you change him back?" I asked the older witch.

Octavia looked at me sharply. "Of course," she said.

"Then why don't you do it, and we can go from there?" I said.

Octavia looked very startled, and I knew I shouldn't have gotten up in her face like that. On the other hand, if she wanted to show Amelia that her magic was more powerful, here was her chance. Bob the cat was sitting in Amelia's lap, looking unconcerned. Octavia reached in her pocket and pulled out a pill container filled with what looked like marijuana; but I guess any dried herb pretty much looks the same, and I haven't ever actually handled marijuana, so I'm no judge. Anyway, Octavia took a pinch of this dried green stuff and reached out to let the bits drop on the cat's fur. Bob didn't seem to mind.

Amelia's face was a picture as she watched Octavia casting a spell, which seemed to consist of some Latin, a few motions, and the aforementioned herb. Finally, Octavia uttered what must have been the esoteric equivalent of "Allakazam!" and pointed at the cat.

Nothing happened.

Octavia repeated the phrase even more forcefully. Again with the finger pointing.

And again with the no results.

"You know what I think?" I said. No one seemed to want to know, but it was my house. "I wonder if Bob was always a cat, and for some reason he was temporarily human. That's why you can't change him back. Maybe he's in his true form right now."

"That's ridiculous," the older witch snapped. She was some kind of put out at her failure. Amelia was trying hard to suppress a grin.

"If you're so sure after this that Amelia's incompetent, which I happen to know she isn't, you might want to consider coming to see Maria-Star's apartment with us," I said. "Make sure Amelia doesn't get into any trouble."

Amelia looked indignant for a second, but she seemed to see my plan, and she added her entreaty to mine.

"Very well. I'll come along," Octavia said grandly.

I couldn't see into the old witch's mind, but I'd worked at a bar long enough to know a lonely person when I saw one.

I got the address from Amanda, who told me Dawson was guarding the place until we arrived. I knew him and liked him, since he'd helped me out before. He owned a local motorcycle repair shop a couple of miles out of Bon Temps, and he sometimes ran Merlotte's for Sam. Dawson didn't run with a pack, and the news that he was pitching in with Alcide's rebel faction was significant.

I can't say the drive to the outskirts of Shreveport was a bonding experience for the three of us, but I did fill Octavia in on the background of the pack troubles. And I explained my own involvement. "When the contest for packmaster was taking place," I said, "Alcide wanted me there as a human lie detector. I actually did catch the other guy cheating, which was good. But after that, it became a fight to the death, and Patrick Furnan was stronger. He killed Jackson Herveaux."

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