Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(12)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(12)
Author: Charlaine Harris

When I came in Merlotte's back door, full of plans to reconcile with Sam, I found my boss having an argument with Bobby Burnham. It was almost dark now, and Bobby should be off the clock. Instead, he was standing in the hall outside of Sam's office. He was red in the face and fit to be tied.

"What's up?" I said. "Bobby, did you need to talk to me?"

"Yeah. This guy wouldn't tell me when you were going to get here," Bobby said.

"This guy is my boss, and he isn't obliged to tell you anything," I said. "Here I am. What do you need to say to me?"

"Eric sent you this card, and he ordered me to tell you I'm at your disposal whenever you need me. I'm supposed to wash your car if you want me to." Bobby's face went even redder as he said this.

If Eric had thought Bobby would be made humble and compliant after a public humiliation, he was nuts. Now Bobby would hate me for a hundred years, if he lived that long. I took the card Bobby handed me and said, "Thanks, Bobby. Go back to Shreveport."

Before the last syllable left my mouth, Bobby was out the back door. I examined the plain white envelope and then stuck it in my purse. I looked up to meet Sam's eyes.

"Like you needed another enemy," he said, and stomped into his office.

Like I needed another friend acting like an a**hole,I thought. So much for us having a good laugh over our disagreement. I followed Sam in to drop my purse in the drawer he kept empty for the barmaids. We didn't say a word to each other. I went to the storeroom to get an apron. Antoine was changing his stained apron for a clean one.

"D'Eriq bumped into me with a jar full of jalape?os, and the juice slopped out," he said. "I can't stand the smell of 'em."

"Whoo," I said, catching a whiff. "I don't blame you."

"Sam's mama doing okay?"

"Yeah, she's out of the hospital," I said.

"Good news."

As I tied the strings around my waist, I thought Antoine was about to say something else, but if he was, he changed his mind. He crossed the hall to knock on the kitchen door, and D'Eriq opened it from the inside and let him in. People had wandered into the kitchen by mistake too often, and the door was kept locked all the time. There was another door from the kitchen that led directly out back, and the Dumpster was right outside.

I walked past Sam's office without looking in. He didn't want to talk to me; okay, I wouldn't talk to him. I realized I was being childish.

The FBI agents were still in Bon Temps, which shouldn't have surprised me. Tonight, they came into the bar. Weiss and Lattesta were sitting opposite each another in a booth, a pitcher of beer and a basket of French-fried pickles between them, and they were talking intently. And at a table close to them, looking regal and beautiful and remote, was my great-grandfather Niall Brigant.

This day was going to win a prize for most peculiar. I blew out a puff of air and went to wait on my great-grandfather first. He stood as I approached. His pale straight hair was tied back at the nape of his neck. He was wearing a black suit and a white shirt, as he always did. Tonight, instead of the solid black tie he usually wore, he had on a tie I'd given him for Christmas. It was red, gold, and black striped, and he looked spectacular. Everything about him gleamed and shone. The shirt wasn't simply white - it was snowy and starched; and his coat wasn't just black - it was spotlessly inky. His shoes showed not a speck of dust, and the myriad of fine, fine wrinkles in his handsome face only set off its perfection and his brilliant green eyes. His age enhanced rather than diminished his looks. It almost hurt to look at him. Niall put his arms around me and kissed my cheek.

"Blood of my blood," he said, and I smiled into his chest. He was so dramatic. And he had such a hard time looking human. I'd had one glimpse of him in his true form, and it had been nearly blinding. Since no one else in the bar was gasping at the sight of him, I knew they weren't seeing him the same way I did.

"Niall," I said. "I'm so happy to see you." I always felt pleased and flattered when he visited. Being Niall's great-granddaughter was like being kin to a rock star; he lived a life I couldn't imagine, went places I would never go, and had power I couldn't fathom. But every now and then he spent time with me, and that time was always like Christmas.

He said very quietly, "These people opposite me, they do nothing but talk of you."

"Do you know what the FBI is?" Niall's fund of knowledge was incredible, since he was so old he'd stopped counting at a thousand and sometimes missed accurate dates by more than a century, but I didn't know how specific his information about the modern day might be.

"Yes," he said. "FBI. A government agency that collects data about law breakers and terrorists inside the United States."

I nodded.

"But you're such a good person. You're not a killer or terrorist," Niall said, though he didn't sound as if he believed my innocence would protect me.

"Thank you," I said. "But I don't think they want to arrest me. I suspect they want to find out how I get results with my little mental condition, and if they decide I'm not nuts, they probably want me to work for them. That's why they came to Bon Temps ... but they got sidetracked." And that brought me to the painful subject. "Do you know what happened to Crystal?"

But some other customers called me then, and it was a while before I got back to Niall, who was waiting patiently. He somehow made the scarred chair look like a throne. He picked the conversation up right where we'd left off.

"Yes, I know what happened to her." His face didn't seem to change, but I felt the chill rolling off of him. If I'd had anything to do with Crystal's death, I would have felt very afraid.

"How come you care?" I asked. He'd never paid any attention to Jason; in fact, Niall seemed to dislike my brother.

Niall said, "I'm always interested in finding out why someone connected to me has died." Niall had sounded totally impersonal when he spoke of Crystal's death, but if he was interested, maybe he would help. You'd think he'd want to clear Jason, since Jason was his great-grandson just as surely as I was his great-granddaughter, but Niall had never shown any sign of wanting to meet Jason, much less get to know him.

Antoine rang the bell in the kitchen to tell me one of my orders was up, and I scurried off to serve Sid Matt Lancaster and Bud Dearborn their cheesy chili bacon fries. The recently widowed Sid Matt was so old I guess he figured his arteries couldn't harden much more than they already had, and Bud had never been one for health food.

When I could return to Niall, I said, "Do you have any idea who did it? The werepanthers are searching, too." I put down an extra napkin on the table in front of him so I'd look busy.

Niall didn't disdain the panthers. In fact, though fairies seemed to consider themselves apart and superior to all other species of supernaturals, Niall (at least) had respect for all shapechangers, unlike the vampires, who regarded them as second-rate citizens. "I'll look a little. I've been preoccupied, and that is why I haven't visited. There is trouble." I saw that Niall's expression was even more serious than usual.

Oh, shit. More trouble.

"But you need not concern yourself," he added regally. "I will take care of it."

Did I mention Niall is a little proud? But I couldn't help but feel concerned. In a minute I'd have to go get someone else another drink, and I wanted to be sure I understood him. Niall didn't come around often, and when he did, he seldom dallied. I might not get another chance to talk to him. "What's up, Niall?" I asked directly.

"I want you to take special care of yourself. If you see any fairies other than myself or Claude and Claudine, call me at once."

"Why would I worry about other fairies?" The other shoe dropped. "Why would other fairies want to hurt me?"

"Because you are my great-granddaughter." He stood, and I knew I'd get no more explanation than that.

Niall hugged me again, kissed me again (fairies are very touchy-feely), and left the bar, his cane in his hand. I'd never seen him use it as an aid to walking, but he always had it with him. As I stared after him, I wondered if it had a knife concealed inside. Or maybe it might be an extra-long magic wand. Or both. I wished he could've stuck around for a while, or at least issued a more specific danger bulletin.

"Ms. Stackhouse," said a polite male voice, "could you bring us another pitcher of beer and another basket of pickles?"

I turned to Special Agent Lattesta. "Sure, be glad to," I said, smiling automatically.

"That was a very handsome man," Sara Weiss said. Sara was feeling the effects of the two glasses of beer she'd already had. "He sure looked different. Is he from Europe?"

"He does look foreign," I agreed, and took the empty pitcher and fetched them a full one, smiling all the while. Then Catfish, my brother's boss, knocked over a rum and Coke with his elbow, and I had to call D'Eriq to come with a washcloth for the table and a mop for the floor.

After that, two idiots who'd been in my high school class got into a fight about whose hunting dog was better. Sam had to break that up. They were actually quicker to come to their senses now that they knew what Sam was, which was an unexpected bonus.

A lot of the discussion in the bar that evening dealt with Crystal's death, naturally. The fact that she'd been a werepanther had seeped into the town's consciousness. About half of the bar patrons believed she'd been killed by someone who hated the newly revealed underworld. The other half wasn't so sure that she'd been killed because she was a werepanther. That half thought her promiscuity was enough motivation. Most of them assumed Jason was guilty. Some of them felt sympathy for him. Some of them had known Crystal or her reputation, and they felt Jason's actions were justifiable. Almost all of these people thought of Crystal only in terms of Jason's guilt or innocence. I found it real sad that most people would only remember her for the manner of her death.

I should go see Jason or call him, but I couldn't find it in my heart. Jason's actions over the past few months had killed something in me. Though Jason was my brother, and I loved him, and he was showing signs of finally growing up, I no longer felt that I had to support him through all the trials his life had brought him. That made me a bad Christian, I realized. Though I knew I wasn't a deep theological thinker, I sometimes wondered if crisis moments in my life hadn't come down to two choices: be a bad Christian or die.

I'd chosen life every time.

Was I looking at this right? Was there another point of view that would enlighten me? I couldn't think of anyone to ask. I tried to imagine the Methodist minister's face if I asked him, "Would it be better to stab someone to keep yourself safe, or let them go on and kill you? Would it be better to break a vow I made in front of God, or refuse to break my friend's hand to bits?" These were choices I had faced. Maybe I owed God a big debt. Or maybe I was protecting myself like he wanted me to. I just didn't know, and I couldn't think deep enough to figure out the Ultimate Right Answer.

Would the people I was serving laugh, if they knew what I was thinking? Would my anxiety over the state of my soul amuse them? Lots of them would probably tell me that all situations are covered in the Bible, and that if I read the Book more, I'd find my answers there.

That hadn't worked for me so far, but I wasn't giving up. I abandoned my circular thoughts and listened in on the people around me to give my brain a rest.

Sara Weiss thought that I seemed like a simple young woman, and she decided I was incredibly lucky to have been given a gift, as she considered it. She believed everything Lattesta had told her about what had happened at the Pyramid, because underneath her practical approach to life there was a streak of mysticism. Lattesta, too, thought it was almost possible I was psychic; he'd listened to accounts of the Rhodes first responders with great interest, and now that he'd met me, he'd come to think they were speaking the truth. He wanted to know what I could do for my country and his career. He wondered if he'd get a promotion if he could get me to trust him enough to be my handler throughout my time of helping the FBI. If he could acquire my male accomplice, as well, his upward trajectory would be assured. He would be stationed at FBI headquarters in Washington. He would be launched up the ladder.

I considered asking Amelia to lay a spell on the FBI agents, but that seemed like cheating somehow. They weren't supes. They were just doing what they'd been told to do. They didn't bear me any ill will; in fact, Lattesta believed he was doing me a favor, because he could get me out of this parish backwater and into the national limelight, or at least high in the esteem of the FBI.

As if that mattered to me.

As I went about my duties, smiling and exchanging chitchat with the regular customers, I tried to imagine leaving Bon Temps with Lattesta. They'd devise some test to measure my accuracy. They'd finally believe I wasn't psychic but telepathic. When they found out what the limits of my talent were, they'd take me places where awful things had happened so I could find survivors. They'd put me in rooms with the intelligence agents of other countries or with Americans they suspected of awful things. I'd have to tell the FBI whether or not those people were guilty of whatever crime the FBI imagined they might have committed. I'd have to be close to mass murderers, maybe. I imagined what I might see in the mind of such a person, and I felt sick.

But wouldn't the knowledge I gained be a great help to the living? Maybe I'd learn about plots far enough in advance to prevent deaths.

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