Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(13)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(13)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I shook my head. My mind was wandering too far afield. All that might happen. A serial killer might be thinking of where his victims were buried just at the moment I was listening to his thoughts. But in my extensive experience, people seldom thought, "Yes, I buried that body at 1218 Clover Drive under the rosebush," or, "That money I stole sure is safe in my bank account numbered 12345 in the Switzerland National Bank." Much less, "I'm plotting to blow up the XYZ building on May 4, and my six confederates are ..."

Yes, there would be some good I could do. But whatever I could achieve would never reach the expectations of the government. And I'd never be free again. I didn't think they'd hold me in a cell or anything - I'm not that paranoid. But I didn't think I'd ever get to live my own life as I wanted.

So once again, I decided that maybe I was being a bad Christian, or at least a bad American. But I knew that unless I was forced to do so, I wasn't going to leave Bon Temps with Agent Weiss or Special Agent Lattesta. Being married to a vampire was way better.

Chapter 8

I was mad at almost everybody when I drove home that night.Every now and then, I had spells like that; maybe everyone does. It's hormonal or cyclical in some other way. Or maybe it's just the chance alignment of the stars.

I was angry with Jason because I'd been angry with him for months. I was angry with Sam in a kind of hurt way. I was pissed at the FBI agents because they were here to put pressure on me - though in truth they hadn't done that yet. I was outraged at Eric's stunt with the knife and his high-handed banishment of Quinn, though I had to admit Eric had spoken the truth when he said I'd given Quinn the heave-ho first. That didn't mean I never wanted to see him again. (Or did it?) It sure didn't mean that Eric could dictate to me who I saw and who I didn't.

And maybe I was angry with myself, because when I'd had the chance to confront Eric about all kinds of stuff, I'd gone all goopy and listened to his reminiscences. Like the flashbacks on Lost , Eric's Viking memories had broken into the flow of the current story.

To make me even angrier, there was a car I didn't recognize parked at the front door, where only visitors parked. I went to the back door and up the porch steps, frowning and feeling totally contrary. I didn't want company. All I wanted to do was put on my pajamas, wash my face, and get into bed with a book.

Octavia was sitting at the kitchen table with a man I'd never met. He was one of the blackest men I'd ever seen, and his face was tattooed with circles around the eyes. Despite his fearsome decorations, he looked calm and agreeable. He rose to his feet when I came in.

"Sookie," Octavia said in a trembling voice, "this is my friend Louis."

"Nice to meet you," I said, and extended my hand for him to shake. He gave mine a carefully gentle grip, and I sat down so he would. Then I noticed the suitcases sitting in the hall. "Octavia?" I said, pointing at them.

"Well, Sookie, even us old ladies have some romance in our lives," Octavia said, smiling. "Louis and I were close friends before Katrina. He lived about ten minutes' drive away from me in New Orleans. After it happened, I looked for him. I gave up, finally."

"I spent a lot of time trying to find Octavia," Louis said, his eyes on her face. "I finally tracked down her niece two days ago, and her niece had the phone number here. I couldn't believe I'd finally found her."

"Did your house survive the ... ?" Incident, catastrophe, disaster, apocalypse; pick your word, they all would serve.

"Yes, praise the gods, it did. And I have electricity. There's a lot to do, but I have light and heat. I can cook again. My refrigerator's humming and my street's almost clean. I put my own roof back on. Now Octavia can come home with me to a place fit for her."

"Sookie," she said very gently, "you've been so kind, letting me stay with you. But I want to be with Louis, and I need to be back in New Orleans. There'll be something I can do to help rebuild the city. It's home to me."

Octavia obviously felt she was delivering a heavy blow. I tried to look chagrined. "You have to do what's best for you, Octavia. I've loved having you in my house." I was so grateful Octavia wasn't telepathic. "Is Amelia here?"

"Yes, she's upstairs getting something for me. Bless her heart, she got me a good-bye present somehow."

"Awww," I said, trying not to overdo it. I got a sharp look from Louis, but Octavia beamed at me. I'd never seen Octavia beam before, and I liked the look on her.

"I'm just glad I was able to be a help to you," she said, nodding wisely.

It was a little trouble to maintain my slightly-sad-but-brave smile, but I managed. Thank goodness Amelia clattered down the stairs at that moment with a wrapped package in her hands, a thin, flimsy red scarf tied around it and secured with a big bow. Without looking at me, Amelia said, "Here's a little something from Sookie and me. I hope you enjoy it."

"Oh, you're so sweet. I'm sorry I ever doubted your skill, Amelia. You're one heck of a witch."

"Octavia, it means so much to me to hear you say that!" Amelia was genuinely touched and tearful.

Thank goodness Louis and Octavia got up then. Though I liked and respected the older witch, she had provided a series of speed bumps in the smooth running of the household Amelia and I had formed.

I actually found myself breathing a profound sigh of relief when the front door shut on her and her partner. We'd all said good-bye to one another over and over, and Octavia had thanked both of us for various things repeatedly, and she'd also found ways to remind us of all sorts of mysterious things she'd done for us that we were having a hard time recalling.

"Heavens be praised," said Amelia, collapsing on the stairs. Amelia was not a religious woman, or at least she wasn't a conventional Christian religious woman, so this was a quite a demonstration from her.

I sat on the edge of the couch. "I hope they're very happy," I said.

"You don't think we should have checked up on him somehow?"

"A witch as strong as Octavia can't take care of herself?"

"Good point. But did you see those tattoos?"

"They were something, weren't they? I guess he's some kind of sorcerer."

Amelia nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure he practices some form of African magic," she said. "I don't think we need to worry about the high crime rate in New Orleans affecting Octavia and Louis. I don't think anyone's going to be mugging them."

"What was the present we gave her?"

"I called my dad, and he faxed me a gift certificate to his home supplies store."

"Hey, good idea. What do I owe you?"

"Not a dime. He insisted it be on him."

At least this happy incident took the edge off my generalized anger. I felt more companionable with Amelia, too, now that I no longer harbored a vague resentment for her bringing Octavia into my house. We sat in the kitchen and chatted for about an hour before I turned in, though I was too exhausted to try to explain the saga of what had been happening lately. We went to bed better friends than we'd been in weeks.

As I was getting ready for bed, I was thinking about our practical gift to Octavia, and that reminded me of the card Bobby Burnham had handed me. I got it out of my purse and slit the envelope with my nail file. I pulled out the card inside. Enclosed in it was a picture I'd never seen, clearly taken during Eric's photo shoot for the calendar you could buy in the gift shop at Fangtasia. In the calendar shot, Eric (Mr. January) stood by a huge bed made up all in white. The background was gray, with glittering snowflakes hanging down all around. Eric had one foot on the floor, the other knee bent and resting on the bed. He was holding a white fur robe in a strategic position. In the picture Eric had given me today, he was in somewhat the same pose, but he was holding a hand out to the camera as if he was inviting the viewer to come join him on the bed. And the white fur wasn't covering quite everything. "I wait for the night you join me," he'd written on the otherwise blank card in his crabbed handwriting.

Faintly cheesy? Yes. Gulp inducing? Oh, you betcha. I could practically feel my blood heat up. I was sorry I'd opened it right before I climbed in the bed. It definitely took me a long time to drift off to sleep.

It felt funny not to hear Octavia buzzing around the house when I woke up the next morning. She'd vanished from my life as quickly as she'd entered it. I hoped that in some of their time together, Octavia and Amelia had discussed Amelia's status with what remained of her New Orleans coven. It was hard to believe Amelia could turn a young man into a cat (during the course of some very adventurous sex), I thought, as I watched my roommate hurry out the back door to get to the insurance office. Amelia, dressed in navy pants and a tan and navy sweater, looked like she was ready to sell Girl Scout cookies. When the door slammed behind her, I drew a long breath. I was alone in the house for the first morning in ages.

The solitude didn't last long. I was drinking a second cup of coffee and eating a toasted biscuit when Andy Bellefleur and Special Agent Lattesta came to the front door. I hastily pulled on some jeans and a T-shirt to answer the door.

"Andy, Special Agent Lattesta," I said. "Come on in." I led the way back to the kitchen. I wasn't going to let them keep me away from my coffeepot. "Do you want a cup?" I asked them, but they both shook their heads.

"Sookie," Andy said, his face serious, "we're here about Crystal."

"Sure." I bit off some biscuit, chewed, and swallowed. I wondered if Lattesta was on a diet or something. He followed my every move. I dipped into his brain. He wasn't happy that I wasn't wearing a bra, because my boobs distracted him. He was thinking I was a bit too curvy for his taste. He was thinking he'd better not think about me that way anymore. He was missing his wife. "I figured that would take priority over the other thing," I said, forcing my attention back to Andy.

I couldn't tell how much Andy knew - how much Lattesta had shared - about what had happened in Rhodes, but Andy nodded. "We think," he said, after glancing from me to Lattesta, "that Crystal died three nights ago, sometime between one a.m. and three or four a.m."

"Sure," I said again.

"You knew that?" Lattesta went practically on point, like a bird dog.

"It stands to reason. There's always someone around the bar until one or two, and then normally Terry comes in to clean the floors sometime between six and eight a.m. Terry wasn't coming so early that day because he'd been tending bar and needed to sleep late, but most people wouldn't think of that, right?"

"Right," Andy said after an appreciable pause.

"So," I said, my point made, and poured myself some more coffee.

"How well do you know Tray Dawson?" Andy asked.

That was a loaded question. The accurate answer was, "Not as well as you think." I'd once been caught in an alley with Tray Dawson and he'd been na**d, but it wasn't what people thought. (I'd been aware they'd thought quite a bit.) "He's been dating Amelia," I said, which was pretty safe to say. "She's my roommate," I reminded Lattesta, who was looking a little blank. "You met her two days ago. She's at work right now. And of course, Tray's a werewolf."

Lattesta blinked. It would take a while for him to get used to people saying that with straight faces. Andy's own expression didn't change.

"Right," Andy said. "Was Amelia out with Tray the night Crystal died?"

"I don't remember. Ask her."

"We will. Has Tray ever said anything to you about your sister-in-law?"

"I don't recall anything. Of course, they knew each other, at least a little bit, since they were both wereanimals."

"How long have you known about ... werewolves? And the other wereanimals?" Andy asked, as though he just couldn't help himself.

"Oh, for a while," I said. "Sam first, and then others."

"And you didn't tell anyone?" Andy asked incredulously.

"Of course not," I said. "People think I'm weird enough as it is. Besides, it wasn't my secret to tell." It was my turn to give him a look. "Andy, you knew, too." After that night in the alley when we'd been attacked by a were-hater, Andy had at least heard Tray in his animal form and then seen him as a na**d human. Any basic connect-the-dots would draw a picture of a werewolf.

Andy looked down at the notepad he'd taken out of his pocket. He didn't write anything down. He took a deep breath. "So that time I saw Tray in the alley, he had just changed back? I'm kind of glad. I never figured you for the kind of woman who'd have sex in public places with someone she scarcely knew." (That surprised me; I'd always thought Andy believed just about anything bad about me.) "What about that blood-hound that was with you?"

"That was Sam," I said, rising to rinse out my coffee cup.

"But at the bar he changed into a collie."

"Collies are cute," I said. "He figured more people would relate. It's his usual form."

Lattesta's eyes were bugging out. He was one tightly wound guy. "Let's get back on topic," he said.

"Your brother's alibi seems to be true," Andy said. "We've talked to Jason two or three times, and we've talked to Michele twice, and she's adamant that she was with him the whole time. She told us everything that happened that night in detail." Andy half smiled. "Too much detail."

That was Michele. She was forthright and downright. Her mom was the same way. I'd gone to vacation Bible school one summer when Mrs. Schubert was teaching my age group. "Tell the truth and shame the devil," she'd advised us. Michele had taken that adage to heart, though maybe not in the way her mother had intended it.

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