Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(19)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(19)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I drove home wondering if anyone would be there waiting for me. The answer came when I parked beside Pam's car at the back door. Pam drove a conservative car, of course, a Toyota with a Fangtasia bumper sticker. I was only surprised it wasn't a minivan.

Pam and Amelia were watching a DVD in the living room. They were sitting on the couch but not exactly twined around each other. Bob was curled up in my recliner. There was a bowl of popcorn on Amelia's lap and a bottle of TrueBlood in Pam's hand. I stepped around so I could see what they were watching. Underworld. Hmmm.

"Kate Beckinsale is hot," Amelia said. "Hey, how was work?"

"Okay," I said. "Pam, how come you have two evenings off in a row?"

"I deserve it," Pam said. "I haven't had time off in two years. Eric agreed I was due. How do you think I would look in that black outfit?"

"Oh, as good as Beckinsale," Amelia said, and turned her head to smile at Pam. They were at the ooey-gooey stage. Considering my own complete lack of ooey, I didn't want to be around.

"Did Eric find out any more about that Jonathan guy?" I asked.

"I don't know. Why don't you call him yourself?" Pam said with a complete lack of concern.

"Right, you're off duty," I muttered, and stomped back to my room, grumpy and a little ashamed of myself. I punched in the number for Fangtasia without even having to look it up. So not good. And it was on speed dial on my cell phone. Geez. Not something I wanted to ponder just at the moment.

The phone rang, and I put my dreary musing aside. You had to be on your game when you talked to Eric.

"Fangtasia, the bar with a bite. This is Lizbet." One of the fangbangers. I scrounged around my mental closet, trying to put a face with the name. Okay - tall, very round and proud of it, moon face, gorgeous brown hair.

"Lizbet, this is Sookie Stackhouse," I said.

"Oh, hi," she said, sounding startled and impressed.

"Um... hi. Listen, could I speak to Eric, please?"

"I'll see if the master is available," Lizbet breathed, trying to sound reverent and all mysterious.

"Master," my ass.

The fangbangers were men and women who loved vampires so much they wanted to be around them every minute the vampires were awake. Jobs at places like Fangtasia were bread and butter to these people, and the opportunity to get bitten was regarded as close to sacred. The fangbanger code required them to be honored if some bloodsucker wanted to sample them; and if they died of it, well, that was just about an honor, too. Behind all the pathos and tangled sexuality of the typical fangbanger was the underlying hope that some vampire would think the fangbanger was "worthy" of being turned into a vampire. Like you had to pass a character test.

"Thanks, Lizbet," I said.

Lizbet set the phone down with a thud and went off looking for Eric. I couldn't have made her happier.

"Yes," said Eric after about five minutes.

"Busy, were you?"

"Ah... having supper."

I wrinkled my nose. "Well, hope you had enough," I said with a total lack of sincerity. "Listen, did you find out anything about that Jonathan?"

"Have you seen him again?" Eric asked sharply.

"Ah, no. I was just wondering."

"If you see him, I need to know immediately."

"Okay, got that. What have you learned?"

"He's been seen other places," Eric said. "He even came here one night when I was away. Pam's at your house, right?"

I had a sinking feeling in my gut. Maybe Pam wasn't sleeping with Amelia out of sheer attraction. Maybe she'd combined business with a great cover story, and she was staying with Amelia to keep an eye on me. Damn vampires, I thought angrily, because that scenario was entirely too close to an incident in my recent past that had hurt me incredibly.

I wasn't going to ask. Knowing would be worse than suspecting.

"Yes," I said between stiff lips. "She's here."

"Good," Eric said with some satisfaction. "If he appears again, I know she can take care of it. Not that that's why she's there," he added unconvincingly. The obvious afterthought was Eric's attempt at pacifying what he could tell were my upset feelings; it sure didn't arise from any feeling of guilt.

I scowled at my closet door. "Are you gonna give me any real information on why you're so jumpy about this guy?"

"You haven't seen the queen since Rhodes," Eric said.

This was not going to be a good conversation. "No," I said. "What's the deal with her legs?"

"They're growing back," Eric said after a brief hesitation.

I wondered if the feet were growing right out of her stumps, or if the legs would grow out and then the feet would appear at the end of the process. "That's good, right?" I said. Having legs had to be a good thing.

"It hurts very much," Eric said, "when you lose parts and they grow back. It'll take a while. She's very... She's incapacitated." He said the last word very slowly, as if it was a word he knew but had never said aloud.

I thought about what he was telling me, both on the surface and beneath. Conversations with Eric were seldom single-layered.

"She's not well enough to be in charge," I said in conclusion. "Then who is?"

"The sheriffs have been running things," Eric said. "Gervaise perished in the bombing, of course; that leaves me, Cleo, and Arla Yvonne. It would have been clearer if Andre had survived." I felt a twinge of panic and guilt. I could have saved Andre. I'd feared and loathed him, and I hadn't. I'd let him be killed.

Eric was silent for a minute, and I wondered if he was picking up on the fear and guilt. It would be very bad if he ever learned that Quinn had killed Andre for my sake. Eric continued, "Andre could have held the center because he was so established as the queen's right hand. If one of her minions had to die, I wish I could have picked Sigebert, who's all muscles and no brains. At least Sigebert's there to guard her body, though Andre could have done that and guarded her territory as well."

I'd never heard Eric so chatty about vampire affairs. I was beginning to have an awful creeping feeling that I knew where he was headed.

"You expect some kind of takeover," I said, and felt my heart plummet. Not again. "You think Jonathan was a scout."

"Watch out, or I'll begin to think you can read my mind." Though Eric's tone was light as a marshmallow, his meaning was a sharp blade hidden inside.

"That's impossible," I said, and if he thought I was lying, he didn't challenge me. Eric seemed to be regretting telling me so much. The rest of our talk was very brief. He told me again to call him at the first sight of Jonathan, and I assured him I'd be glad to.

After I'd hung up, I didn't feel quite as sleepy. In honor of the chilly night I pulled on my fleecy pajama bottoms, white with pink sheep, and a white T-shirt. I unearthed my map of Louisiana and found a pencil. I sketched in the areas I knew. I was piecing my knowledge together from bits of conversations that had taken place in my presence. Eric had Area Five. The queen had had Area One, which was New Orleans and vicinity. That made sense. But in between, there was a jumble. The finally deceased Gervaise had had the area including Baton Rouge, and that was where the queen had been living since Katrina damaged her New Orleans properties so heavily. So that should have been Area Two, due to its prominence. But it was called Area Four. Very lightly, I traced a line that I could erase, and would, after I'd looked at it for a bit.

I mined my head for other bits of information. Five, at the top of the state, stretched nearly all the way across. Eric was richer and more powerful than I'd thought. Below him, and fairly even in territory, were Cleo Babbitt's Area Three and Arla Yvonne's Area Two. A swoop down to the Gulf from the south-westernmost corner of Mississippi marked off the large areas formerly held by Gervaise and the queen, Four and One respectively. I could only imagine what vampiric political contortions had led to the numbering and arrangement.

I looked at the map for a few long minutes before I erased all the light lines I'd drawn. I glanced at the clock. Nearly an hour had passed since my conversation with Eric. In a melancholy mood, I brushed my teeth and washed my face. After I climbed into bed and said my prayers, I lay there awake for quite a while. I was pondering the undeniable truth that the most powerful vampire in the state of Louisiana, at this very point in time, was Eric Northman, my blood-bonded, once-upon-a-time lover. Eric had said in my hearing that he didn't want to be king, didn't want to take over new territory; and since I'd figured out the extent of his territory right now, the size of it made that assertion a little more likely.

I believed I knew Eric a little, maybe as much as a human can know a vampire, which doesn't mean my knowledge was profound. I didn't believe he wanted to take over the state, or he would have done so. I did think his power meant there was a giant target pinned to his back. I needed to try to sleep. I glanced at the clock again. An hour and a half since I'd talked to Eric.

Bill glided into my room quite silently.

"What's up?" I asked, trying to keep my voice very quiet, very calm, though every nerve in my body had started shrieking.

"I'm uneasy," he said in his cool voice, and I almost laughed. "Pam had to leave for Fangtasia. She called me to take her place here."


He sat in the chair in the corner. It was pretty dark in my room, but the curtains weren't drawn completely shut and I got some illumination from the yard's security light. There was a night-light in the bathroom, too, and I could make out the contours of his body and the blur of his face. Bill had a little glow, like all vampires do in my eyes.

"Pam couldn't get Cleo on the phone," he said. "Eric left the club to run an errand, and Pam couldn't raise him, either. But I got his voice mail; I'm sure he'll call back. It's Cleo not answering that's the rub."

"Pam and Cleo are friends?"

"No, not at all," he said, matter-of-factly. "But Pam should be able to talk to her at her all-night grocery. Cleo always answers."

"Why was Pam trying to reach her?" I asked.

"They call each other every night," Bill said. "Then Cleo calls Arla Yvonne. They have a chain. It should not be broken, not in these days." Bill stood up with a speed that I couldn't follow. "Listen!" he whispered, his voice as light on my ear as a moth wing. "Do you hear?"

I didn't hear jack shit. I held still under the covers, wishing passionately that this whole thing would just go away. Weres, vampires, trouble, strife... But no such luck. "What do you hear?" I asked, trying to be as quiet as Bill was being, an effort doomed in the attempt.

"Someone's coming," he said.

And then I heard a knock on the front door. It was a very quiet knock.

I threw back the covers and got up. I couldn't find my slippers because I was so rattled. I started for the bedroom door on my bare feet. The night was chilly, and I hadn't turned on the heat yet; my soles pressed coldly against the polished wood of the floor.

"I'll answer the door," Bill said, and he was ahead of me without my having seen him move.

"Jesus Christ, Shepherd of Judea," I muttered, and followed him. I wondered where Amelia was: asleep upstairs or on the living room couch? I hoped she was only asleep. I was so spooked by that time that I imagined she might be dead.

Bill glided silently through the dark house, down the hall, to the living room (which still smelled like popcorn), to the front door, and then he looked through the peephole, which for some reason I found funny. I had to slap a hand over my mouth to keep from giggling.

No one shot Bill through the peephole. No one tried to batter the door down. No one screamed.

The continuing silence was breaking me out in goose bumps. I didn't even see Bill move. His cool voice came from right beside my ear. "It is a very young woman. Her hair is dyed white or blond, and it's very short and dark at the roots. She's skinny. She's human. She's scared."

She wasn't the only one.

I tried like hell to think who my middle-of-the-night caller could be. Suddenly I thought I might know. "Frannie," I breathed. "Quinn's sister. Maybe."

"Let me in," a girl's voice said. "Oh, please let me in."

It was just like a ghost story I'd read once. Every hair on my arms stood up.

"I have to tell you what's happened to Quinn," Frannie said, and that decided me on the spot.

"Open the door," I said to Bill in my normal voice. "We have to let her in."

"She's human," Bill said, as if to say, "How much trouble can she be?" He unlocked the front door.

I won't say Frannie tumbled in, but she sure didn't waste any time getting through the door and slamming it behind her. I hadn't had a good first impression of Frannie, who was long on the aggression and attitude and short on the charm, but I'd come to know her a fraction better as she sat at Quinn's bedside in the hospital after the explosion. She'd had a hard life, and she loved her brother.

"What's happened?" I asked sharply as Frannie stumbled to the nearest chair and sat down.

"You would have a vampire here," she said. "Can I have a glass of water? Then I'll try to do what Quinn wants."

I hurried to the kitchen and got her a drink. I turned on the light in the kitchen, but even when I came back to the living room, we kept it dark.

"Where's your car?" Bill asked.

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