Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(2)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(2)
Author: Charlaine Harris

Right after Patricia committed herself to the change on the television screen, Sam and Tray did, too, right then and there. They'd worn underthings they didn't mind ripping to shreds. Everyone in Merlotte's was torn between watching the pretty woman change into a creature with long white teeth, and the spectacle of two people they knew doing the same. There were exclamations all over the bar, most of them not repeatable in polite society. Jason's date, Michele Schubert, actually stood up to get a better view.

I was so proud of Sam. This took a lot of courage, since he had a business that depended to some extent on his likability.

In another minute, it was all over. Sam, a rare pure shapeshifter, turned into his most familiar form, that of a collie. He went to sit in front of me and gave a happy yip. I bent over to pat his head. His tongue lolled out, and he grinned at me. Tray's animal manifestation was much more dramatic. Huge wolves are not often seen in rural northern Louisiana; let's face it, they're scary. People shifted uneasily and might have gotten up to flee from the building if Amelia hadn't squatted by Tray and put her arm around his neck.

"He knows what you're saying," she told the people at the nearest table encouragingly. Amelia had a great smile, big and genuine. "Hey, Tray, take them this coaster." She handed him one of the bar coasters, and Tray Dawson, one of the most implacable fighters both in and out of his wolf form, trotted over to lay the coaster on the lap of the female customer. She blinked, wavered, and finally came down on the side of laughing.

Sam licked my hand.

"Oh, my lord Jesus," Arlene exclaimed loudly. Whit Spradlin and his buddy were on their feet. But though a few other patrons looked nervous, none of them had such a violent reaction.

Bill and Clancy watched with expressionless faces. They were obviously ready to handle trouble, but all seemed to be going well at the Great Reveal. The vampires' Great Revelation night hadn't gone so smoothly, because it was the first in the series of shocks mainstream society would feel in the years to come. Gradually vampires had come to be a recognized part of America, though their citizenship still had certain limitations.

Sam and Tray wandered among the regulars, allowing themselves to be petted as if they were regular tame animals. While they were doing that, the newscaster on television was visibly trembling as he faced the beautiful white wolf Patricia had become.

"Look, he so scared, he shaking!" D'Eriq, the busboy and kitchen helper, said. He laughed out loud. The drinkers in Merlotte's relaxed enough to feel superior. After all, they'd handled this with aplomb.

Jason's new buddy Mel said, "Ain't nobody got to be scared of a lady that pretty, even if she does shed some," and the laughter and relaxation in the bar spread. I was relieved, though I thought it was a little ironic that people might not be so quick to laugh if Jason and Mel had changed; they were werepanthers, though Jason couldn't change completely.

But after the laughter, I felt that everything was going to be all right. Bill and Clancy, after a careful look around, went back to their table.

Whit and Arlene, surrounded by citizens taking a huge chunk of knowledge in their stride, looked stunned. I could hear Arlene being extra confused about how to react. After all, Sam had been our boss for a good many years. Unless she wanted to lose her job, she couldn't cut up. But I could also read her fear and the mounting anger that followed close behind. Whit had one reaction, always, to anything he didn't understand. He hated it, and hate is infectious. He looked at his drinking companion, and they exchanged dark looks.

Thoughts were churning around in Arlene's brain like lottery balls in the popper. It was hard to tell which one would surface first.

"Jesus, strike him dead!" said Arlene, boiling over. The hate ball had landed on top.

A few people said, "Oh, Arlene!" ... but they were all listening.

"This goes against God and nature," Arlene said in a loud, angry voice. Her dyed red hair shook with her vehemence. "You-all want your kids around this kind of thing?"

"Our kids have always been around this kind of thing," Holly said equally loudly. "We just didn't know it. And they ain't come to any harm." She rose to her feet, too.

"God will get us if we don't strike them down," Arlene said, pointing to Tray dramatically. By now, her face was almost as red as her hair. Whit was looking at her approvingly. "You don't understand! We're all going to hell if we don't take the world back from them! Look who they got standing there to keep us humans in line!" Her finger swung around to indicate Bill and Clancy, though since they'd resumed their chairs she lost a few points.

I set my tray on the bar and took a step away, my hands clenched in fists. "We all get along here in Bon Temps," I said, keeping my voice calm and level. "You seem to be the only one upset, Arlene."

She glared around the bar, trying to catch the eyes of various patrons. She knew every one of them. Arlene was genuinely shocked to realize more people weren't sharing her reaction. Sam came to sit in front of her. He looked up at her face with his beautiful doggy eyes.

I took another step closer to Whit, just in case. Whit was deciding what to do, considering jumping Sam. But who would join him in beating up a collie? Even Whit could see the absurdity, and that made him hate Sam all the more.

"How could you?" Arlene screamed at Sam. "You been lying to me all these years! I thought you were human, not a damn supe!"

"He is human," I said. "He's just got another face, is all."

"And you," she said, spitting out the words. "You're the weirdest, the most inhuman, of them all."

"Hey, now," Jason said. He leaped to his feet, and after a moment's hesitation, Mel joined him. His date looked alarmed, though Jason's lady friend just smiled. "You leave my sister alone. She babysat your kids and she cleaned your trailer and she put up with your shit for years. What kind of friend are you?"

Jason didn't look at me. I was frozen in astonishment. This was a very un-Jason gesture. Could he have grown up a little bit?

"The kind that don't want to hang around with unnatural creatures like your sister," Arlene said. She tore off her apron, said, "I quit this place!" to the collie, and stomped back to Sam's office to retrieve her purse. Maybe a fourth of the people in the bar looked alarmed and upset. Half of them were fascinated with the drama. That left a quarter on the fence. Sam whined like a sad dog and put his nose between his paws. After that got a big laugh, the discomfort of the moment passed. I watched Whit and his buddy ease out the front door, and I relaxed when they were gone.

Just on the off chance Whit might be fetching a rifle from his truck, I glanced over at Bill, who glided out the door after him. In a moment he was back, nodding at me to indicate the FotS guys had driven away.

Once the back door thunked closed behind Arlene, the rest of the evening went pretty well. Sam and Tray retired to Sam's office to change back and get dressed. Sam returned to his place behind the bar afterward as if nothing had happened, and Tray went to sit at the table with Amelia, who kissed him. For a while, people steered a little clear of them, and there were lots of surreptitious glances; but after an hour, the atmosphere of Merlotte's seemed just about back to normal. I pitched in to serve Arlene's tables, and I made sure to be especially nice to the people still undecided about the night's events.

People seemed to drink heartily that night. Maybe they had misgivings about Sam's other persona, but they didn't have any problem adding to his profits. Bill caught my eye and raised his hand in good-bye. He and Clancy drifted out of the bar.

Jason tried to get my attention once or twice, and his buddy Mel sent big smiles my way. Mel was taller and thinner than my brother, but they both had that bright, eager look of unthinking men who operate on their instincts. In his favor, Mel didn't seem to agree with everything Jason said, not the way Hoyt always had. Mel seemed to be an okay guy, at least from our brief acquaintance; that he was one of the few werepanthers who didn't live in Hotshot was also a fact in his favor, and it may even have been why he and Jason were such big buddies. They were like other werepanthers, but separate, too.

If I ever began speaking to Jason again, I had a question for him. On this major evening for all Weres and shifters, how come he hadn't taken the chance to grab a little of the spotlight for himself? Jason was very full of his altered status as a werepanther. He'd been bitten, not born. That is, he'd contracted the virus (or whatever it was) by being bitten by another werepanther, rather than being born with the ability to change as Mel had been. Jason's changed form was manlike, with hair all over and a pantherish face and claws: really scary, he'd told me. But he wasn't a beautiful animal, and that griped my brother. Mel was a purebred, and he would be gorgeous and frightening when he transformed.

Maybe the werepanthers had been asked to lie low because panthers were simply too scary. If something as big and lethal as a panther had appeared in the bar, the reaction of the patrons almost certainly would have been a lot more hysterical. Though wereanimal brains are very difficult to read, I could sense the disappointment the two panthers were sharing. I was sure the decision had been Calvin Norris's, as the panther leader.Good move, Calvin, I thought.

After I'd helped close down the bar, I gave Sam a hug when I stopped by his office to pick up my purse. He was looking tired but happy.

"You feeling as good as you look?" I asked.

"Yep. My true nature's out in the open now. It's liberating. My mom swore she was going to tell my stepdad tonight. I'm waiting to hear from her."

Right on cue, the phone rang. Sam picked it up, still smiling. "Mom?" he said. Then his face changed as if a hand had wiped off the previous expression. "Don? What have you done?"

I sank into the chair by the desk and waited. Tray had come to have a last word with Sam, and Amelia was with him. They both stood stiffly in the doorway, anxious to hear what had happened.

"Oh, my God," Sam said. "I'll come as soon as I can. I'll get on the road tonight." He hung up the phone very gently. "Don shot my mom," he said. "When she changed, he shot her." I'd never seen Sam look so upset.

"Is she dead?" I asked, fearing the answer.

"No," he said. "No, but she's in the hospital with a shattered collarbone and a gunshot wound to her upper left shoulder. He almost killed her. If she hadn't jumped ..."

"I'm so sorry," Amelia said.

"What can I do to help?" I asked.

"Keep the bar open while I'm gone," he said, shaking off the shock. "Call Terry. Terry and Tray can work out a bartending schedule between them. Tray, you know I'll pay you when I get back. Sookie, the waitress schedule is on the wall behind the bar. Find someone to cover Arlene's shifts, please."

"Sure, Sam," I said. "You need any help packing? Can I gas up your truck or something?"

"Nope, I'm good. You've got the key to my trailer, so can you water my plants? I don't think I'll be gone but a couple of days, but you never know."

"Of course, Sam. Don't worry. Keep us posted."

We all cleared out so Sam could get over to his trailer to pack. It was in the lot right behind the bar, so at least he could get everything ready in a hurry.

As I drove home, I tried to imagine how Sam's stepdad had come to do such a thing. Had he been so horrified at the discovery of his wife's second life that he'd flipped? Had she changed out of his sight and walked up to him and startled him? I simply couldn't believe you could shoot someone you loved, someone you lived with, just because they had more to them than you'd thought. Maybe Don had seen her second self as a betrayal. Or maybe it was the fact that she'd concealed it. I could kind of understand his reaction, if I looked at it that way.

People all had secrets, and I was in a position to know most of them. Being a telepath is not any fun. You hear the tawdry, the sad, the disgusting, the petty ... the things we all want to keep hidden from our fellow humans, so they'll keep their image of us intact.

The secrets I know least about are my own.

The one I was thinking of tonight was the unusual genetic inheritance my brother and I share, which had come through my father. My father had never known that his mother, Adele, had had a whopper of a secret, one disclosed to me only the past October. My grandmother's two children - my dad and his sister, Linda - were not the products of her long marriage with my grandfather.Both had been conceived through her liaison with a half fairy, half human named Fintan. According to Fintan's father, Niall, the fairy part of my dad's genetic heritage had been responsible for my mother's infatuation with him, an infatuation that had excluded her children from all but the fringes of her attention and affection. This genetic legacy hadn't seemed to change anything for my dad's sister, Linda; it certainly hadn't helped her dodge the cancer bullet that had ended her life or kept her husband on-site, much less infatuated. However, Linda's grandson Hunter was a telepath like me.

I still struggled with parts of this story. I believed the history Niall had related to be true, but I couldn't understand my grandmother's desire for children being strong enough to lead her to cheat on my grandfather. That simply didn't jibe with her character, and I couldn't understand why I hadn't read it in her brain during all the years that we'd lived together. She must have thought about the circumstances of her children's conceptions from time to time. There was just no way she could've packed those events away for good in some attic of her mind.

But my grandmother had been dead for over a year now, and I'd never be able to ask her about it. Her husband had passed away years before. Niall had told me that my biological grandfather Fintan, too, was dead and gone. It had crossed my mind to go through my grandmother's things in search of some clue to her thinking, to her reaction to this extraordinary passage in her life, and then I would think ...Why bother?

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