Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)
Author: Charlaine Harris

Chapter 1

"Caucasian vampires should never wear white," the television announcer intoned. "We've been secretly filming Devon Dawn, who's been a vampire for only a decade, as she gets dressed for a night on the town. Look at that outfit! It's all wrong for her!"

"What was she thinking?" said an acidic female voice. "Talk about stuck in the nineties! Look at that blouse, if that's what you call it. Her skin just cries out for contrasting color, and what is she putting on? Ivory! It makes her skin look like a Hefty bag."

I paused in the act of tying my shoe to watch what happened next as the two vampire fashionistas burst in on the hapless victim - oh, excuse me, the lucky vampire - who was about to get an unsolicited makeover. She'd have the additional pleasure of realizing her friends had turned her in to the fashion police.

"I don't think this is going to end well," Octavia Fant said. Though my housemate Amelia Broadway had sort of slid Octavia into my house - based on a casual invitation I'd issued in a weak moment - the arrangement was working out okay.

"Devon Dawn, here's Bev Leveto from The Best Dressed Vamp , and I'm Todd Seabrook. Your friend Tessa called to tell us you needed fashion help! We've been secretly filming you for the past two nights, and - AAACKK!" A white hand flashed at Todd's throat, which vanished, leaving a gaping reddish hole. The camera lingered, fascinated, as Todd crumpled to the floor, before it rose to follow the fight between Devon Dawn and Bev.

"Gosh," said Amelia. "Looks like Bev's gonna win."

"Better strategic sense," I said. "Did you notice she let Todd go through the door first?"

"I've got her pinned," Bev said triumphantly on the screen. "Devon Dawn, while Todd recovers his speech, we're going to go through your closet. A girl who's going to live for eternity can't afford to be tacky. Vampires can't get stuck in their pasts. We've got to be fashion forward!"

Devon Dawn whimpered, "But I like my clothes! They're part of who I am! You've broken my arm."

"It'll heal. Listen, you don't want to be known as the little vampire who couldn't, do you? You don't want to have your head stuck in the past!"

"Well, I guess not ..."

"Good! I'll let you up now. And I can tell from the coughing that Todd's feeling better."

I switched off the television and tied my other shoe, shaking my head at America's new addiction to vampire "reality" shows. I got my red coat out of the closet. The sight of it reminded me that I myself had some absolutely real problems with a vampire; in the two and a half months since the takeover of the Louisiana vampire kingdom by the vampires of Nevada, Eric Northman had been fully occupied with consolidating his position within the new regime and evaluating what was left of the old.

We were way overdue for a chitchat about Eric's newly recovered memories of our strange and intense time together when he'd temporarily misplaced his memory due to a spell.

"What are you going to do tonight while I'm at work?" I asked Amelia and Octavia, since I didn't need to go another round of imaginary conversations. I pulled on the coat. Northern Louisiana doesn't get the horrific temperatures of the real north, but it was in the forties tonight and would be colder when I got off work.

"My niece and her kids are taking me out to dinner," Octavia said.

Amelia and I gave each other surprised looks while the older woman's head was bent over the blouse she was mending. It was the first time Octavia had seen her niece since she'd moved from the niece's house to mine.

"I think Tray and I are coming to the bar tonight," Amelia said hastily, to cover the little pause.

"So I'll see you at Merlotte's." I'd been a barmaid there for years.

Octavia said, "Oh, I've got the wrong color thread," and went down the hall to her room.

"I guess you aren't seeing Pam anymore?" I asked Amelia. "You and Tray are getting to be a regular thing." I tucked my white T-shirt into my black pants more securely. I glanced in the old mirror over the mantel. My hair was pulled up into its usual ponytail for work. I spotted a stray long blond hair against the red of the coat, and I plucked it off.

"Pam was just a wild hair, and I'm sure she felt the same way about me. I really like Tray," Amelia was saying. "He doesn't seem to care about Daddy's money, and he's not worried about me being a witch. And he can rock my world in the bedroom. So we're getting along great." Amelia gave me a cat-eating-the-canary grin. She might look like a well-toned soccer mom - short, gleaming hair, beautiful white smile, clear eyes - but she was very interested in sex and (by my standards) diverse in those interests.

"He's a good guy," I said. "Have you seen him as a wolf yet?"

"Nope. But I'm looking forward to it."

I picked up something from Amelia's transparent head that startled me. "It's soon? The revelation?"

"Would you not do that?" Amelia was normally matter-of-fact about my mind-reading ability, but not today. "I've got to keep other people's secrets, you know!"

"Sorry," I said. And I was, but at the same time I was mildly aggrieved. You'd think that I could relax in my own house and loosen the tight wrappings I tried to keep on my ability. After all, I had to struggle every single day at work.

Amelia said instantly, "I'm sorry, too. Listen, I've got to go get ready. See you later." She went lightly up the stairs to the second floor, which had been largely unused until she'd come back from New Orleans with me a few months before. She'd missed Katrina, unlike poor Octavia.

"Good-bye, Octavia. Have a good time!" I called, and went out the back door to my car.

As I steered down the long driveway that led through the woods to Hummingbird Road, I wondered about the chances of Amelia and Tray Dawson sticking together. Tray, a werewolf, worked as a motorcycle repairman and as muscle for hire. Amelia was an up-and-coming witch, and her dad was immensely wealthy, even after Katrina. The hurricane had spared most of the materials at his contracting warehouse and provided him with enough work to last for decades.

According to Amelia's brain, tonight was the night - not the night Tray asked Amelia to marry him, but the night Tray came out. Tray's dual nature was a plus to my roommate, who was attracted by the exotic.

I went in the employee entrance and right to Sam's office. "Hey, boss," I said when I saw him behind his desk. Sam hated to work on the books, but that was what he was doing. Maybe it was providing a needed distraction. Sam looked worried. His hair was even more tangled than usual, its strawberry waves standing out in a halo around his narrow face.

"Brace yourself. Tonight's the night," he said.

I was so proud he'd told me, and he'd echoed my own thoughts so closely, I couldn't help but smile. "I'm ready. I'll be right here." I dropped my purse in the deep drawer in his desk and went to tie on my apron. I was relieving Holly, but after I'd had a talk with her about the customers at our tables, I said, "You oughta stick around tonight."

She looked at me sharply. Holly had recently been letting her hair grow out, so the dyed black ends looked like they'd been dipped in tar. Her natural color, now showing about an inch at the roots, turned out to be a pleasant light brown. She'd colored it for so long that I'd clean forgotten. "This going to be good enough for me to keep Hoyt waiting?" she asked. "Him and Cody get along like a house on fire, but I am Cody's mama." Hoyt, my brother Jason's best buddy, had been co-opted by Holly. Now he was her follower.

"You should stay awhile." I gave her a significant lift of my eyebrows.

Holly said, "The Weres?" I nodded, and her face brightened with a grin. "Oh, boy! Arlene's going to have a shit fit."

Arlene, our coworker and former friend, had become politically sensitized a few months before by one of her string of man friends. Now she was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, especially on vampire issues. She'd even joined the Fellowship of the Sun, a church in all but name. She was standing at one of her tables now, having a serious conversation with her man, Whit Spradlin, a FotS official of some sort who had a day job at one of the Shreveport Home Depots. He had a sizeable bald patch and a little paunch, but that didn't make any never mind to me. His politics did. He had a buddy with him, of course. The FotS people seemed to run in packs - just like another minority group they were about to meet.

My brother, Jason, was at a table, too, with Mel Hart. Mel worked at Bon Temps Auto Parts, and he was about Jason's age, maybe thirty-one. Slim and hard-bodied, Mel had longish light brown hair, a mustache and beard, and a pleasant face. I'd been seeing Jason with Mel a lot lately. Jason had had to fill the gap Hoyt had left, I assumed. Jason wasn't happy without a sidekick. Tonight both men had dates. Mel was divorced, but Jason was still nominally married, so he had no business being out in public with another woman. Not that anyone here would blame him. Jason's wife, Crystal, had been caught cheating with a local guy.

I'd heard Crystal had moved her pregnant self back to the little community of Hotshot to stay with relatives. (She could find a room in any house in Hotshot and be with relatives. It's that kind of place.) Mel Hart had been born in Hotshot, too, but he was the rare member of the tribe who'd chosen to live elsewhere.

To my surprise Bill, my ex-boyfriend, was sitting with another vampire, named Clancy. Clancy wasn't my favorite guy regardless of his nonliving status. They both had bottles of TrueBlood on the table in front of them. I didn't think Clancy had ever dropped in to Merlotte's for a casual drink before, and certainly never with Bill.

"Hey, guys, need a refill?" I asked, smiling for all I was worth. I'm a little nervous around Bill.

"Please," Bill said politely, and Clancy shoved his empty bottle toward me.

I stepped behind the bar to get two more TrueBloods out of the refrigerator, and I uncapped them and popped them in the microwave. (Fifteen seconds works best.) I shook the bottles gently and put the warm drinks on the tray with some fresh napkins. Bill's cold hand touched mine as I placed his drink in front of him.

He said, "If you need any help at your place, please call me."

I knew he meant it kindly, but it sort of emphasized my current manless status. Bill's house was right across the cemetery from mine, and the way he roamed around at night, I figured he was well aware I wasn't entertaining company.

"Thanks, Bill," I said, making myself smile at him. Clancy just sneered.

Tray and Amelia came in, and after depositing Amelia at a table, Tray went up to the bar, greeting everyone in the place along the way. Sam came out of his office to join the burly man, who was at least five inches taller than my boss and almost twice as big around. They grinned at each other. Bill and Clancy went on alert.

The televisions mounted at intervals around the room cut away from the sports event they'd been showing. A series of beeps alerted the bar patrons to the fact that something was happening on-screen. The bar gradually hushed to a few scattered conversations. "Special Report" flashed on the screen, superimposed on a newscaster with clipped, gelled hair and a sternly serious face. In solemn tones he said, "I'm Matthew Harrow. Tonight we bring you a special report. Like newsrooms all across the country, here in Shreveport we have a visitor in the studio."

The camera moved away to broaden the picture, and a pretty woman came into view. Her face was slightly familiar. She gave the camera a practiced little wave. She was wearing a sort of muumuu, an odd choice for a television appearance.

"This is Patricia Crimmins, who moved to Shreveport a few weeks ago. Patty - may I call you Patty?"

"Actually, it's Patricia," the brunette said. She was one of the members of the pack that had been absorbed by Alcide's, I remembered. She was pretty as a picture, and the part of her not swathed in the muumuu looked fit and toned. She smiled at Matthew Harrow. "I'm here tonight as the representative of a people who have lived among you for many years. Since the vampires have been so successful out in the open, we've decided the time's come for us to tell you about ourselves. After all, vampires are dead. They're not even human. But we're regular people just like you-all, with a difference." Sam turned the volume up. People in the bar began to swivel in their seats to see what was happening.

The newsman's smile had gotten as rigid as a smile could be, and he was visibly nervous. "How interesting, Patricia! What - what are you?"

"Thanks for asking, Matthew! I'm a werewolf." Patricia had her hands clasped around her knee. Her legs were crossed. She looked perky enough to sell used cars. Alcide had made a good choice. Plus, if someone killed her right away, well ... she was the new girl.

By now Merlotte's was silent as the word went from table to table. Bill and Clancy had risen to stand by the bar. I realized now that they were there to keep the peace if they were needed; Sam must have asked them to come in. Tray began unbuttoning his shirt. Sam was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, and he pulled it over his head.

"You're saying you turn into a wolf at the full moon?" Matthew Harrow quavered, trying hard to keep his smile level and his face simply interested. He didn't succeed very well.

"And at other times," Patricia explained. "During the full moon, most of us have to turn, but if we're pure-blooded wereanimals, we can change at other times as well. There are many kinds of wereanimals, but I turn into a wolf. We're the more numerous of all the two-natured. Now I'm going to show you-all what an amazing process this is. Don't be scared. I'll be fine." She shucked her shoes, but not the muumuu. I suddenly understood she'd worn it so she wouldn't have to undress on camera. Patricia knelt on the floor, smiled at the camera one last time, and began to contort. The air around her shivered with the magic of it, and everyone in Merlotte's went"Ooooooo" in unison.

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