Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(12)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(12)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"I guess they covered up the death?" The old witch seemed neither shocked nor surprised.

"Yes, they put the body out at an isolated farm he owned, knowing no one would look there for a while. The wounds on the body weren't recognizable by the time he was found."

"Has Patrick Furnan been a good leader?"

"I really don't know," I admitted. "Alcide has always seemed to have a discontented group around him, and they're the ones I know best in the pack, so I guess I'm on Alcide's side."

"Did you ever consider that you could just step aside? Let the best Were win?"

"No," I said honestly. "I would have been just as glad if Alcide hadn't called me and told me about the pack troubles. But now that I know, I'll help him if I can. Not that I'm an angel or anything. But Patrick Furnan hates me, and it's only smart to help his enemy, point number one. And I liked Maria-Star, point number two. And someone tried to kill me last night, someone who may have been hired by Furnan, point number three."

Octavia nodded. She was sure no wussy old lady.

Maria-Star had lived in a rather dated apartment building on Highway 3 between Benton and Shreveport. It was a small complex, just two buildings side by side facing a parking lot, right there on the highway. The buildings backed onto a field, and the adjacent businesses were day businesses: an insurance agency and a dentist's office.

Each of the two red brick buildings was divided into four apartments. I noticed a familiar battered pickup truck in front of the building on the right, and I parked by it. These apartments were enclosed; you went in the common entrance into a hall, and there was a door on either side of the stairway to the second floor. Maria-Star had lived on the ground-floor left apartment. This was easy to spot, because Dawson was propped against the wall beside her door.

I introduced him to the two witches as "Dawson" because I didn't know his first name. Dawson was a supersized man. I'd bet you could crack pecans on his biceps. He had dark brown hair beginning to show just a little gray, and a neatly trimmed mustache. I'd known who he was all my life, but I'd never known him well. Dawson was probably seven or eight years older than me, and he'd married early. And divorced early, too. His son, who lived with the mother, was quite a football player for Clarice High School. Dawson looked tougher than any guy I'd ever met. I don't know if it was the very dark eyes, or the grim face, or simply the size of him.

There was crime scene tape across the apartment doorway. My eyes welled up when I saw it. Maria-Star had died violently in this space only hours before. Dawson produced a set of keys (Alcide's?) and unlocked the door, and we ducked under the tape to enter.

And we all stood frozen in silence, appalled at the state of the little living room. My way was blocked by an overturned occasional table with a big gash marring the wood. My eyes flickered over the irregular dark stains on the walls until my brain told me the stains were blood.

The smell was faint but unpleasant. I began to breathe shallowly so I wouldn't get sick.

"Now, what do you want us to do?" Octavia asked.

"I thought you'd do an ectoplasmic reconstruction, like Amelia did before," I said.

"Amelia did an ectoplasmic reconstruction?" Octavia had dropped the haughty tone and sounded genuinely surprised and admiring. "I've never seen one."

Amelia nodded modestly. "With Terry and Bob and Patsy," she said. "It worked great. We had a big area to cover."

"Then I'm sure we can do one here," Octavia said. She looked interested and excited. It was like her face had woken up. I realized that what I'd seen before had been her depressed face. And I was getting enough from her head (now that she wasn't concentrating on keeping me out) to let me know that Octavia had spent a month after Katrina wondering where her next meal would come from, where she'd lay her head from night to night. Now she lived with family, though I didn't get a clean picture.

"I brought the stuff with me," Amelia said. Her brain was radiating pride and relief. She might yet get out from under the Bob contretemps without paying a huge price.

Dawson stood leaning against the wall, listening with apparent interest. Since he was a Were, it was hard to read his thoughts, but he was definitely relaxed.

I envied him. It wasn't possible for me to be at ease in this terrible little apartment, which almost echoed with the violence done in its walls. I was scared to sit on the love seat or the armchair, both upholstered in blue and white checks. The carpet was a darker blue, and the paint was white. Everything matched. The apartment was a little dull for my taste. But it had been neat and clean and carefully arranged, and less than twenty-four hours ago it had been a home.

I could see through to the bedroom, where the covers were thrown back. This was the only sign of disorder in the bedroom or the kitchen. The living room had been the center of the violence.

For lack of a better place to park myself, I went to lean against the bare wall beside Dawson.

I didn't think the motorcycle repairman and I had ever had a long conversation, though he'd gotten shot in my defense a few months before. I'd heard that the law (in this case, Andy Bellefleur and his fellow detective Alcee Beck) suspected more took place at Dawson's shop than motorcycle repairs, but they'd never caught Dawson doing anything illegal. Dawson also hired out as a bodyguard from time to time, or maybe he volunteered his services. He was certainly suited to the job.

"Were you friends?" Dawson rumbled, nodding his head at the bloodiest spot on the floor, the spot where Maria-Star had died.

"We were more like friendly acquaintances," I said, not wanting to claim more grief than my due. "I saw her at a wedding a couple of nights ago." I started to say she'd been fine then, but that would have been stupid. You don't sicken before you're murdered.

"When was the last time anyone talked to Maria-Star?" Amelia asked Dawson. "I need to establish some time limits."

"Eleven last night," he said. "Phone call from Alcide. He was out of town, with witnesses. Neighbor heard a big to-do from in here about thirty minutes after that, called the police." That was a long speech for Dawson. Amelia went back to her preparations, and Octavia read a thin book that Amelia had extracted from her little backpack.

"Have you ever watched one of these before?" Dawson said to me.

"Yeah, in New Orleans. I gather this is kind of rare and hard to do. Amelia's really good."

"She's livin' with you?"

I nodded.

"That's what I heard," he said. We were quiet for a moment. Dawson was proving to be a restful companion as well as a handy hunk of muscle.

There was some gesturing, and there was some chanting, with Octavia following her onetime student. Octavia might never have done an ectoplasmic reconstruction, but the longer the ritual went on the more power reverberated in the small room, until my fingernails seemed to hum with it. Dawson didn't exactly look frightened, but he was definitely on the alert as the pressure of the magic built. He uncrossed his arms and stood up straight, and I did, too.

Though I knew what to expect, it was still startling to me when Maria-Star appeared in the room with us. Beside me, I felt Dawson jerk with surprise. Maria-Star was painting her toenails. Her long dark hair was gathered into a ponytail on top of her head. She was sitting on the carpet in front of the television, a sheet of newspaper spread carefully under her foot. The magically re-created image had the same watery look I'd seen in a previous reconstruction, when I'd observed my cousin Hadley during her last few hours on earth. Maria-Star wasn't exactly in color. She was like an image filled with glistening gel. Because the apartment was no longer in the same order it had been when she'd sat in that spot, the effect was odd. She was sitting right in the middle of the overturned coffee table.

We didn't have long to wait. Maria-Star finished her toenails and sat watching the television set (now dark and dead) while she waited for them to dry. She did a few leg exercises while she waited. Then she gathered up the polish and the little spacers she'd had between her toes and folded the paper. She rose and went into the bathroom. Since the actual bathroom door was now half-closed, the watery Maria-Star had to walk through it. From our angle, Dawson and I couldn't see inside, but Amelia, whose hands were extended in a kind of sustaining gesture, gave a little shrug as if to say Maria-Star was not doing anything important. Ectoplasmic peeing, maybe.

In a few minutes, the young woman appeared again, this time in her nightgown. She went into the bedroom and turned back the bed. Suddenly, her head turned toward the door.

It was like watching a pantomime. Clearly Maria-Star had heard a sound at her door, and the sound was unexpected. I didn't know if she was hearing the doorbell, a knocking, or someone trying to pick the lock.

Her alert posture turned to alarm, even panic. She went back into the living room and picked up her cell phone - we saw it appear when she touched it - and punched a couple of numbers. Calling someone on speed dial. But before the phone could even have rung on the other end, the door exploded inward and a man was on her, a half wolf, half man. He showed up because he was a living thing, but he was clearer when he was close to Maria-Star, the focus of the spell. He pinned Maria-Star to the floor and bit her deeply on her shoulder. Her mouth opened wide, and you could tell she was screaming and she was fighting like a Were, but he'd caught her totally by surprise and her arms were pinned down. Gleaming lines indicated blood running down from the bite.

Dawson gripped my shoulder, a growl rising from his throat. I didn't know if he was furious at the attack on Maria-Star, excited by the action and the impression of flowing blood, or all of the above.

A second Were was right behind the first. He was in his human form. He had a knife in his right hand. He plunged it into Maria-Star's torso, withdrew it, reared back, and plunged it in again. As the knife rose and fell, it cast blood drops on the walls. We could see the blood drops, so there must be ectoplasm (or whatever it really is) in blood, too.

I hadn't known the first man. This guy, I recognized. He was Cal Myers, a henchman of Furnan's and a police detective on the Shreveport force.

The blitz attack had taken only seconds. The moment Maria-Star was clearly mortally wounded, they were out the door, closing it behind them. I was shocked by the sudden and dreadful cruelty of the murder, and I felt my breath coming faster. Maria-Star, glistening and almost clear, lay there before us for a moment in the middle of the wreckage, gleaming blood splotches on her shirt and on the floor around her, and then she just winked out of existence, because she had died in that moment.

We all stood in appalled silence. The witches were silent, their arms dropping down by their sides as if they were puppets whose strings had been cut. Octavia was crying, tears running down her creased cheeks. Amelia looked as though she were thinking of throwing up. I was shivering in reaction, and even Dawson looked nauseated.

"I didn't know the first guy since he'd only half changed," Dawson said. "The second one looked familiar. He's a cop, right? In Shreveport?"

"Cal Myers. Better call Alcide," I said when I thought my voice would work. "And Alcide needs to send these ladies something for their trouble, when he gets his own sorted out." I figured Alcide might not think of that since he was mourning for Maria-Star, but the witches had done this work with no mention of recompense. They deserved to be rewarded for their effort. It had cost them dearly: both of them had folded onto the love seat.

"If you ladies can manage," Dawson said, "we better get our asses out of here. No telling when the police'll be back. The crime lab finished just five minutes before you got here."

While the witches gathered their energy and all their paraphernalia, I talked to Dawson. "You said Alcide's got a good alibi?"

Dawson nodded. "He got a phone call from Maria-Star's neighbor. She called Alcide right after she called the police, when she heard all the ruckus. Granted, the call was to his cell phone, but he answered right away and she could hear the sounds of the hotel bar behind the conversation. Plus, he was in the bar with people he'd just met who swore he was there when he found out she'd been killed. They aren't likely to forget."

"I guess the police are trying to find a motive." That was what they did on the TV shows.

"She didn't have enemies," Dawson said.

"Now what?" Amelia said. She and Octavia were on their feet, but they were clearly drained. Dawson shepherded us out of the apartment and relocked it.

"Thanks for coming, ladies," Dawson told Amelia and Octavia. He turned to me. "Sookie, could you come with me, explain to Alcide what we just saw? Can Amelia drive Miss Fant back?"

"Ah. Sure. If she's not too tired."

Amelia said she thought she could manage. We'd come in my car, so I tossed her the keys. "You okay driving?" I asked, just to reassure myself.

She nodded. "I'll take it slow."

I was scrambling into Dawson's truck when I realized that this step dragged me even further into the Were war. Then I figured, Patrick Furnan already tried to kill me. Can't get any worse.

Chapter 7

Dawson's pickup, a Dodge Ram, although battered on the outside, was orderly within. It wasn't a new vehicle by any means - probably five years old - but it was very well-maintained both under the hood and in the cab.

"You're not a member of the pack, Dawson, right?"

"It's Tray. Tray Dawson."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

Dawson shrugged, as if to say No big deal. "I never was a good pack animal," he said. "I couldn't keep in line. I couldn't follow the chain of command."

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