Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(25)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(25)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"What's wrong with my brother?" Frannie asked. "He's handsome; he loves you; he's got money. He's a great guy. What's wrong with you that you don't want him?"

The bald answer - that I really admired Quinn but didn't want to play second fiddle to his family's needs - was simply unspeakable for two reasons: it was unnecessarily hurtful, and I might be seriously injured as a result. Mrs. Quinn might not be compos mentis, but she was listening with growing agitation. If she changed to her tiger form, I had no idea what would happen. She might run off into the woods, or she might attack. All this zoomed through my mind in little pictures. I had to say something.

"Frannie," I said very slowly and deliberately because I had no idea what I was going to follow that up with. "There's nothing wrong with your brother at all. I think he's the greatest. But we just have too many strikes against us as a couple. I want him to have the best chance at making a match with some lucky, lucky woman. So I cut him loose. Believe me, I'm hurting, too." This was mostly true, which helped. But I hoped Amelia had her fingertips primed to deliver some good magic. And I hoped she got the spell right. Just in case, I began shifting away from Frannie and her mother.

Frannie was teetering on the brink of action, and her mother was looking increasingly restless. Amelia had eased forward to the edge of the porch. The smell of magic intensified. For a long moment, the night seemed to catch its breath.

And then Frannie turned away. "Come on, Mama," she said, and the two women got into Frannie's car. I took advantage of the moment to run up on the porch. Amelia and I stood shoulder to shoulder wordlessly until Frannie started up the car and drove away.

"Well," Amelia said. "So, you broke up with him, I'm gathering."

"Yeah." I was exhausted. "He had too much baggage." Then I winced. "Gosh, I never thought I'd catch myself saying that. Especially considering my own."

"He had his mama." Amelia was on a perceptive roll that night.

"Yeah, he had his mama. Listen, thanks for coming out of the house and risking a mauling."

"What are roommates for?" Amelia gave me a light hug and said, "You look like you need to have a bowl of soup and go to bed."

"Yeah," I said. "That sounds about right."

Chapter 15

I slept very late the next day. And I slept like a stone. I didn't dream. I didn't toss or turn. I didn't get up to pee. When I woke up, it was close to noon, so it was good I didn't have to be at Merlotte's until evening.

I could hear voices in the living room. This was the downside of having a roommate. There was someone there when you woke up, and sometimes that person had company. However, Amelia was very good about making enough coffee for me when she got up earlier. That prospect got me out of bed.

I had to get dressed since we had company; besides, the other voice sounded masculine. I did a little brisk grooming in the bathroom and threw off my nightgown. I put on a bra and a T-shirt and some khakis. Good enough. I made a beeline for the kitchen and found that Amelia had indeed made a big pot of coffee. And she'd left a mug ready for me. Oh, great. I poured, and popped some sourdough bread in the toaster. The back porch door slammed, and I turned in surprise to see Tyrese Marley enter with an armful of firewood.

"Where do you keep your wood after you bring it in?" he asked.

"I have a rack by the fireplace in the living room." He'd been splitting the wood Jason had cut and stacked by the toolshed the spring before. "That's really nice of you," I said, floundering. "Um, have you had any coffee, or some toast? Or..." I glanced at the clock. "What about a ham or meatloaf sandwich?"

"Food sounds good," he said, striding down the hall as though the wood weighed nothing.

So the guest in the living room was Copley Carmichael. Why Amelia's dad was here, I had no clue. I scrambled to assemble a couple of sandwiches, poured some water, and put two kinds of chips by his plate so Marley could pick what he wanted. Then I sat down at the table myself and finally got to drink my coffee and eat my toast. I still had some of my grandmother's plum jam to spread on it, and I tried not to be melancholy every time I used it. No point in letting good jam go to waste. She would have certainly looked at it that way.

Marley returned and sat down opposite me with no sign of discomfort. I relaxed myself.

"I appreciate the work," I said after he'd had a bite of his food.

"I got nothing else to do while he talks to Amelia," Marley said. "Plus, if she's still here all winter, he'll be glad if she can have a fire. Who cut that wood for you and didn't split it?"

"My brother," I said.

"Humph," Marley said, and settled into eating.

I finished my toast, poured myself a second mug of coffee, and asked Marley if he needed anything.

"I'm good, thank you," he said, and opened the bag of barbecue potato chips.

I excused myself to take a shower. It was definitely cooler today, and I got a long-sleeved T-shirt out of a drawer I hadn't opened in months. It was Halloween weather. It was past time to buy a pumpkin and some candy... not that I got many trick-or-treaters. For the first time in days, I felt normal: that is to say, comfortably happy with myself and my world. There was a lot to grieve about, and I would, but I wasn't walking around expecting a smack in the face.

Of course, the minute I thought that, I began to brood on bad things. I realized I hadn't heard anything from the Shreveport vampires, and then I wondered why I thought I should or would. This period of adjustment from one regime to another had to be full of tension and negotiation, and it was best to leave them to it. I hadn't heard from the Weres of Shreveport, either. Since the investigation into the disappearance of all those people was still active, that was a good thing.

And since I'd just broken up with my boyfriend, that meant (theoretically) I was footloose and fancy-free. I put on eye makeup as a gesture toward my freedom. And then I added some lipstick. It was hard to feel adventurous, actually. I hadn't wanted to be fancy-free.

As I finished making my bed, Amelia knocked at my door.

"Come on in," I said, folding my nightgown and putting it in the drawer. "What's up?"

"Well, my father has a favor to ask you," she said.

I could feel my face settle into grim lines. Of course, there had to be something Copley wanted if he'd driven up from New Orleans to talk to his daughter. And I could imagine what that request was.

"Go on," I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

"Oh, Sookie, your body language is already saying no!"

"Ignore my body and speak your piece."

She heaved a big sigh to indicate how reluctant she was to drag me into her dad's stuff. But I could tell she was tickled pink that he'd asked her to help him. "Well, since I told him about the Vegas vampire takeover, he wants to reestablish his business link with the vampires. He wants an introduction. He was hoping you could, like, broker that."

"I don't even know Felipe de Castro."

"No, but you know that Victor. And he looks like he's got his eyes on his own advancement."

"You know him as well as I do," I pointed out.

"Maybe, but what's more important is that he knows who you are, and I'm just the other woman in the room," Amelia said, and I could see her point - though I hated it. "I mean, he knows who I am, who my dad is, but he really noticed you."

"Oh, Amelia," I moaned, and for just a moment felt like kicking her.

"I know you won't like this, but he said he was ready to pay, like, a finder's fee," Amelia muttered, looking embarrassed.

I waved my hands in front of me to fan that thought away. I was not going to let my friend's father pay me money to make a phone call or whatever I had to do. At that moment I knew I'd decided I had to do this for Amelia's sake.

We went to the living room to talk face-to-face with Copley.

He greeted me with far more enthusiasm than he'd shown on his previous visit. He fixed his gaze on me, did the whole "I'm focused on you" thing. I regarded him with a skeptical eye. Since he was no fool, he picked up on that immediately.

"I'm sorry, Miss Stackhouse, for intruding here so soon after my last visit," he said, laying on the smarm. "But things in New Orleans are so desperate. We're trying to rebuild to bring the jobs back in. This connection is really important to me, and I employ a lot of people."

One, I didn't think Copley Carmichael was hurting for business even without the contracts for rebuilding the vampire properties. Two, I didn't for a minute think his sole motivation was the improvement of the damaged city; but after a moment of looking into his head, I was willing to concede that accounted for at least a fraction of his urgency.

Also, Marley had split the wood for the winter and carried a load in. That counted for more with me than any appeal based on emotion.

"I'll call Fangtasia tonight," I said. "I'll see what they say. That's the limit of my involvement."

"Miss Stackhouse, I'm indeed indebted," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"Your chauffeur already did it," I said. "If he could finish splitting that oak, that would be a great favor." I'm not a very good wood splitter, and I know because I've tried. Three or four logs done, and I'm wiped out.

"That's what he's been doing?" Copley did a good job of looking astonished. I wasn't sure if it was genuine or not. "Well, how enterprising of Marley."

Amelia was smiling and trying not to let her dad notice it. "Okay, then we're settled," she said briskly. "Dad, can I fix you a sandwich or soup? We have some chips or some potato salad."

"Sounds good," he said, since he was still trying to be just plain folks.

"Marley and I have already eaten," I said casually, and added, "I need to run to town, Amelia. You need anything?"

"I could use some stamps," she said. "You going by the post office?"

I shrugged. "It's on the way. Bye, Mr. Carmichael."

"Call me Cope, please, Sookie."

I'd just known he was going to say that. Next he was going to try being courtly. Sure enough, he smiled at me with exactly the right blend of admiration and respect.

I got my purse and headed out the back door. Marley was still working on the woodpile in his shirtsleeves. I hoped that had been his very own idea. I hoped he got a raise.

I didn't really have anything to do in town. But I had wanted to dodge any further conversation with Amelia's dad. I stopped by the store and got some more paper towels, bread, and tuna, and I stopped by the Sonic and got an Oreo Blast. Oh, I was a bad girl, no doubt about it. I was sitting in my car working on the Blast when I spied an interesting couple two cars away. They hadn't noticed me, apparently, because Tanya and Arlene were talking steadily. The two were in Tanya's Mustang. Arlene's hair was newly colored, so it was flaming red to the roots, caught up at the back in a banana clip. My former friend was wearing a tiger-print knit top, all I could see of her ensemble. Tanya was wearing a pretty lime green blouse and a dark brown sweater. And she was listening intently.

I tried to believe they were talking about something other than me. I mean, I try not to be too paranoid. But when you see your ex-buddy talking to your known enemy, you have to at least entertain the possibility that the topic of you has come up in an unflattering way.

It wasn't so much that they didn't like me. I've known people all my life who didn't like me. I've known exactly why and how much they didn't like me. That's really unpleasant, as you can well imagine. What bothered me was that I thought Arlene and Tanya were moving into the realm of actually doing something to me.

I wondered what I could find out. If I moved closer, they'd definitely notice me, but I wasn't sure I could "hear" them from where I was. I bent over like I was fiddling with my CD player, and I focused on them. I tried to mentally skip over or plow through the people in the intervening cars to reach them, which wasn't an easy task.

Finally, the familiar pattern of Arlene helped me to home in. The first impression I got was one of pleasure. Arlene was enjoying herself immensely, since she had the undivided attention of a fairly new audience and she was getting to talk about her new boyfriend's convictions about the need to kill all vampires and maybe people who collaborated with them. Arlene had no hard convictions that she'd formed for herself, but she was great at adopting other people's if they suited her emotionally.

When Tanya had an especially strong surge of exasperation, I zoomed in on her thought pattern. I was in. I remained in my half-concealed position, my hand moving every now and then over the CDs in my little car folder, while I tried to pick out everything I could.

Tanya was still in the pay of the Pelts: Sandra Pelt, specifically. And gradually I came to understand that Tanya had been sent here to do anything she could to make me miserable.

Sandra Pelt was the sister of Debbie Pelt, whom I'd shot to death in my kitchen. (After she'd tried to kill me. Several times. Let me point that out.)

Dammit. I was sick to death of the issue of Debbie Pelt. The woman had been a bane to me alive. She had been as malicious and vindictive as her little sister, Sandra. I'd suffered over her death, felt guilty, felt remorseful, felt like I had a huge C for "Cain" on my forehead. Killing a vampire is bad enough, but the corpse goes away and they're sort of... erased. Killing another human being changes you forever.

That's how it ought to be.

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