Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(4)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(4)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"What do you think he really wanted?" Amelia said.

"I can't imagine." I shrugged.

"You need to find out. Especially since you'd never heard of the guy whose guest he said he was."

"I'm going to call Eric - if not tonight, then tomorrow night."

"Too bad you didn't buy a copy of that database Bill is peddling. I saw an ad for it on the Internet yesterday, on a vampire site." This might seem like a sudden change of subject, but Bill's database contained pictures and/or biographies of all the vampires he'd been able to locate all over the world, and a few he'd just heard about. Bill's little CD was making more money for his boss, the queen, than I could ever have imagined. But you had to be a vampire to purchase a copy, and they had ways of checking.

"Well, since Bill is charging five hundred dollars a pop, and impersonating a vampire is a dangerous risk..." I said.

Amelia waved her hand. "It'd be worth it," she said.

Amelia is a lot more sophisticated than I am... at least in some ways. She grew up in New Orleans, and she'd lived there most of her life. Now she was living with me because she'd made a giant mistake. She'd needed to leave New Orleans after her inexperience had caused a magical catastrophe. It was lucky she'd departed when she had, because Katrina followed soon after. Since the hurricane, her tenant was living in the top-floor apartment of Amelia's house. Amelia's own apartment on the bottom floor had sustained some damage. She wasn't charging the tenant rent because he was overseeing the repair of the house.

And here came the reason Amelia wasn't moving back to New Orleans any time soon. Bob padded into the kitchen to say hello, rubbing himself affectionately against my legs.

"Hey, my little honey bunny," I said, picking up the long-haired black-and-white cat. "How's my precious? I wuv him!"

"I'm gonna barf," Amelia said. But I knew that she talked just as disgustingly to Bob when I wasn't around.

"Any progress?" I said, raising my head from Bob's fur. He'd had a bath this afternoon - I could tell from his fluffy factor.

"No," she said, her voice flat with discouragement. "I worked on him for an hour today, and I only gave him a lizard tail. Took everything I had to get it changed back."

Bob was really a guy, that is, a man. A sort of nerdy-looking man with dark hair and glasses, though Amelia had confided he had some outstanding attributes that weren't apparent when he was dressed for the street. Amelia wasn't supposed to be practicing transformational magic when she turned Bob into a cat; they were having what must have been very adventurous sex. I'd never had the nerve to ask her what she'd been trying to do. It was clear that it was something pretty exotic.

"The deal is," Amelia said suddenly, and I went on the alert. The real reason she'd stayed up to see me was about to be revealed. Amelia was a very clear broadcaster, so I picked it right up from her brain. But I let her go on and speak, because people really don't like it if you tell them they don't have to actually speak to you, especially when the topic is something they've had to build up to. "My dad is going to be in Shreveport tomorrow, and he wants to come by Bon Temps to see me," she said in a rush. "It'll be him and his chauffeur, Marley. He wants to come for supper."

The next day would be Sunday. Merlotte's would be open only in the afternoon, but I wasn't scheduled to work anyway, I saw with a glance at my calendar. "So I'll just go out," I said. "I could go visit JB and Tara. No big."

"Please be here," she said, and her face was na**d with pleading. She didn't spell out why. But I could read the reason easy enough. Amelia had a very conflicted relationship with her dad; in fact, she'd taken her mother's last name, Broadway, though in part that was because her father was so well-known. Copley Carmichael had lots of political clout and he was rich, though I didn't know how Katrina had affected his income. Carmichael owned huge lumberyards and was a builder, and Katrina might have wiped out his businesses. On the other hand, the whole area needed lumber and rebuilding.

"What time's he coming?" I asked.

"Five."

"Does the chauffeur eat at the same table as him?" I'd never dealt with employees. We just had the one table here in the kitchen. I sure wasn't going to make the man sit on the back steps.

"Oh, God," she said. This had clearly never occurred to her. "What will we do about Marley?"

"That's what I'm asking you." I may have sounded a little too patient.

"Listen," Amelia said. "You don't know my dad. You don't know how he is."

I knew from Amelia's brain that her feelings about her father were really mixed. It was very difficult to pick through the love, fear, and anxiety to get to Amelia's true basic attitude. I knew few rich people, and even fewer rich people who employed full-time chauffeurs.

This visit was going to be interesting.

I said good night to Amelia and went to bed, and though there was a lot to think about, my body was tired and I was soon asleep.

Sunday was another beautiful day. I thought of the newlyweds, safely launched on their new lives, and I thought of old Miss Caroline, who was enjoying the company of a couple of her cousins (youngsters in their sixties) by way of watchdogs and companions. When Portia and Glen returned, the cousins would go back to their more humble home, probably with some relief. Halleigh and Andy would move into their own small house.

I wondered about Jonathan and the beautiful withered man.

I reminded myself to call Eric the next night when he was up.

I thought about Bill's unexpected words.

For the millionth time, I speculated about Quinn's silence.

But before I could get too broody, I was caught up in Hurricane Amelia.

There are lots of things I've come to enjoy, even love, about Amelia. She's straightforward, enthusiastic, and talented. She knows all about the supernatural world, and my place in it. She thinks my weird "talent" is really cool. I can talk to her about anything. She's never going to react with disgust or horror. On the other hand, Amelia is impulsive and headstrong, but you have to take people like they are. I've really enjoyed having Amelia living with me.

On the practical side, she's a decent cook, she's careful about keeping our property separate, and God knows she's tidy. What Amelia really does well is clean. She cleans when she's bored, she cleans when she's nervous, and she cleans when she feels guilty. I am no slouch in the housekeeping department, but Amelia is world-class. The day she had a near-miss auto accident, she cleaned my living room furniture, upholstery and all. When her tenant called her to tell her the roof had to be replaced, she went down to EZ Rent and brought home a machine to polish and buff the wooden floors upstairs and downstairs.

When I got up at nine, Amelia was already deep in a cleaning frenzy because of her father's impending visit. By the time I left for church at about ten forty-five, Amelia was on her hands and knees in the downstairs hall bathroom, which admittedly is very old-fashioned looking with its tiny octagonal black-and-white tiles and a huge old claw-footed bathtub; but (thanks to my brother, Jason) it has a more modern toilet. This was the bathroom Amelia used, since there wasn't one upstairs. I had a small, private one off my bedroom, added in the fifties. In my house, you could see several major decorating trends over the past few decades all in one building.

"You really think it was that dirty?" I said, standing in the doorway. I was talking to Amelia's rump.

She raised her head and passed a rubber-gloved hand over her forehead to push her short hair out of the way.

"No, it wasn't bad, but I want it to be great."

"My house is just an old house, Amelia. I don't think it can look great." There was no point in my apologizing for the age and wear of the house and its furnishings. This was the best I could do, and I loved it.

"This is a wonderful old home, Sookie," Amelia said fiercely. "But I have to be busy."

"Okay," I said. "Well, I'm going to church. I'll be home by twelve thirty."

"Can you go to the store after church? The list is on the counter."

I agreed, glad to have something to do that would keep me out of the house longer.

The morning felt more like March (March in the south, that is) than October. When I got out of my car at the Methodist church, I raised my face to the slight breeze. There was a touch of winter in the air, a little taste of it. The windows in the modest church were open. When we sang, our combined voices floated out over the grass and trees. But I saw some leaves blow past as the pastor preached.

Frankly, I don't always listen to the sermon. Sometimes the hour in church is just a time to think, a time to consider where my life is going. But at least those thoughts are in a context. And when you watch leaves falling off trees, your context gets pretty narrow.

Today I listened. Reverend Collins talked about giving God the things that were due him while giving Caesar the things due him. That seemed like an April fifteenth type sermon to me, and I caught myself wondering if Reverend Collins paid his taxes quarterly. But after a while, I figured he was talking about the laws we break all the time without feeling guilty - like the speed limit, or sticking a letter in with some presents in a box you're mailing at the post office, without paying the extra postage.

I smiled at Reverend Collins on my way out of the church. He always looks a little troubled when he sees me.

I said hello to Maxine Fortenberry and her husband, Ed, as I reached the parking lot. Maxine was large and formidable, and Ed was so shy and quiet he was almost invisible. Their son, Hoyt, was my brother Jason's best friend. Hoyt was standing behind his mother. He was wearing a nice suit, and his hair had been trimmed. Interesting signs.

"Sugar, you give me a hug!" Maxine said, and of course I did. Maxine had been a good friend to my grandmother, though she was more the age my dad would have been. I smiled at Ed and gave Hoyt a little wave.

"You're looking nice," I told him, and he smiled. I didn't think I'd ever seen Hoyt smile like that, and I glanced at Maxine. She was grinning.

"Hoyt, he's dating that Holly you work with," Maxine said. "She's got a little one, and that's a thing to think about, but he's always liked kids."

"I didn't know," I said. I really had been out of it lately. "That's just great, Hoyt. Holly's a real nice girl."

I wasn't sure I would have put it quite that way if I'd had time to think, so maybe it was lucky I didn't. There were some big positives about Holly (devoted to her son, Cody; loyal to her friends; a competent worker). She'd been divorced for several years, so Hoyt wasn't a rebound. I wondered if Holly had told Hoyt she was a Wiccan. Nope, she hadn't, or Maxine wouldn't be smiling so broadly.

"We're meeting her for lunch at the Sizzler," she said, referring to the steakhouse up by the interstate. "Holly's not much of a churchgoer, but we're working on getting her to come with us and bring Cody. We better get moving if we're gonna be on time."

"Way to go, Hoyt," I said, patting his arm as he went by me. He gave me a pleased look.

Everyone was getting married or falling in love. I was happy for them. Happy, happy, happy. I pasted a smile on my face and went to Piggly Wiggly. I fished Amelia's list out of my purse. It was pretty long, but I was sure there'd be additions by now. I called her on my cell phone, and she had already thought of three more items to add, so I was some little while in the store.

My arms were weighed down with plastic bags as I struggled up the steps to the back porch. Amelia shot out to the car to grab the other bags. "Where have you been?" she asked, as if she'd been standing by the door tapping her toe.

I looked at my watch. "I got out of church and went to the store," I said defensively. "It's only one."

Amelia passed me again, heavily laden. She shook her head in exasperation as she went by, making a noise that could only be described as "Urrrrrrgh."

The rest of the afternoon was like that, as though Amelia were getting ready for the date of her life.

I'm not a bad cook, but Amelia would let me do only the most menial chores in fixing the dinner. I got to chop onions and tomatoes. Oh, yeah, she let me wash the preparation dishes. I'd always wondered if she could do the dishes like the fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty, but she just snorted when I brought it up.

The house was spanky clean, and though I tried not to mind, I noticed that Amelia had even given the floor of my bedroom a once-over. As a rule, we didn't go into each other's space.

"Sorry I went in your room," Amelia said suddenly, and I jumped - me, the telepath. Amelia had beaten me at my own game. "It was one of those crazy impulses I get. I was vacuuming, and I just thought I'd get your floor, too. And before I thought about it, I was done. I put your slippers up under your bed."

"Okay," I said, trying to sound neutral.

"Hey, I am sorry."

I nodded and went back to drying the dishes and putting them away. The menu, as decided by Amelia, was tossed green salad with tomatoes and slivered carrots, lasagna, hot garlic bread, and steamed fresh mixed vegetables. I don't know diddly-squat about steamed vegetables, but I had prepared all the raw materials - the zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower. Late in the afternoon, I was deemed capable of tossing the salad, and I got to put the cloth and the little bouquet of flowers on the table and arrange the place settings. Four place settings.

I'd offered to take Mr. Marley into the living room with me, where we could eat on TV trays, but you would have thought I'd offered to wash his feet, Amelia was so horrified.

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