Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(6)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(6)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"How did the two of you search for survivors?" Lattesta asked.

That was a very tricky question. At that time, Barry was the only other telepath I'd ever met. We'd experimented by holding hands to increase our "wattage," and we'd looked for brain signatures in the piles of debris. I took a deep breath. "I'm good at finding things," I said. "It seemed important to help. So many people hurt so bad."

"The fire chief on-site said you seemed to have some psychic ability," Lattesta said. Weiss looked down at her tea glass to hide her expression.

"I'm not a psychic," I said truthfully, and Weiss immediately felt disappointed. She felt she could be in the presence of a poseur or a nut job, but she had hoped I'd admit I was the real thing.

"Chief Trochek said you told them where to find survivors. He said you actually steered the rescue crews to the living."

Amelia came down the stairs then, looking very respectable in a bright red sweater and designer jeans. I met her eyes, hoping she'd see I was silently asking for help. I hadn't been able to turn my back on a situation where I could actually save lives. When I'd realized I could find people - that teaming up with Barry would result in saving lives - I couldn't turn away from the task, though I was scared of being exposed to the world as a freak.

It's hard to explain what I see. I guess it's like looking through infrared goggles or something. I see the heat of the brain; I can count the living people in a building, if I have time. Vampire brains leave a hole, a negative spot; I can usually count those, too. Plain old dead people don't register with me at all. That day when Barry and I had held hands, the joining had magnified our abilities. We could find the living, and we could hear the last thoughts of the dying. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. And I didn't want to experience it again, ever.

"We just had good luck," I said. That wouldn't convince a toad to hop.

Amelia came forward with her hand extended. "I'm Amelia Broadway," she said, as if she expected them to know who she was.

They did.

"You're Copley's daughter, right?" Weiss asked. "I met him a couple of weeks ago in connection with a community program."

"He's so involved in the city," Amelia said with a dazzling smile. "He's got his fingers in a dozen pies, I guess. Dad's real fond of the Sook, here." Not so subtle, but hopefully effective.Leave my roommate alone. My father's powerful .

Weiss nodded pleasantly. "How'd you end up here in Bon Temps, Ms. Broadway?" she asked. "It must seem real quiet here, after New Orleans."What's a rich bitch like you doing in this backwater? By the way, your dad's not around to run interference for you .

"My house got damaged during Katrina," Amelia said. She left it at that. She didn't tell them that she'd been in Bon Temps already when Katrina happened.

"And you, Ms. Fant?" Lattesta asked. "Were you an evacuee also?" He'd by no means abandoned the subject of my ability, but he was willing to go along with the social flow.

"Yes," Octavia said. "I was living with my niece under cramped circumstances, and Sookie very kindly offered me her spare bedroom."

"How'd you know each other?" Weiss asked, as if she was expecting to hear a delightful story.

"Through Amelia," I said, smiling just as happily back at her.

"And you and Amelia met - ?"

"In New Orleans," Amelia said, firmly cutting off that line of questioning.

"Did you want some more iced tea?" Octavia asked Lattesta.

"No, thank you," he said, almost shuddering. It had been Octavia's turn to make the tea, and she did have a heavy hand with the sugar. "Ms. Stackhouse, you don't have any idea how to contact this young man?" He indicated the picture.

I shrugged. "We both helped to look for bodies," I said. "It was a terrible day. I don't remember what name he gave."

"That seems strange," Lattesta said, and I thought,Oh, shit . "Since someone answering your description and a young man answering his description checked into a motel some distance from the explosion that night and shared a room."

"Well, you don't have to know someone's name to spend the night with them," Amelia said reasonably.

I shrugged and tried to look embarrassed, which wasn't too hard. I'd rather they think me sexually easy than decide I was worthy of more attention. "We'd shared a horrible, stressful event. Afterward, we felt really close. That's the way we reacted." Actually, Barry had collapsed in sleep almost instantly, and I had followed soon afterward. Hanky-panky had been the furthest thing from our minds.

The two agents stared at me doubtfully. Weiss was thinking I was lying for sure, and Lattesta suspected it. He thought I knew Barry very well.

The phone rang, and Amelia hurried to the kitchen to answer it. She came back looking green.

"Sookie, that was Antoine on his cell phone. They need you at the bar," she said. And then she turned to the FBI agents. "Probably you should go with her."

"Why?" Weiss asked. "What's up?" She was already on her feet. Lattesta was stuffing the picture back into his briefcase.

"A body," Amelia said. "A woman's been crucified behind the bar."

Chapter 5

The agents followed me to Merlotte's. There were five or six cars parked across the spot where the front parking lot ended and the back parking began, effectively blocking access to the back. But I leaped out of my car and picked a path between them, and the FBI agents were right on my heels.

I had hardly been able to believe it, but it was true. There was a traditional cross erected in the employee parking lot, back by the trees where the gravel gave way to dirt. A body was nailed to it. My eyes scanned it, took in the distorted body, the streaks of dried blood, came back up to the face.

"Oh, no," I said, and my knees folded.

Antoine, the cook, and D'Eriq, the busboy, were suddenly on either side of me, pulling me up. D'Eriq's face was tearstained, and Antoine looked grim, but the cook had his head together. He'd been in Iraq and in New Orleans during Katrina. He'd seen things that were worse.

"I'm sorry, Sookie," he said.

Andy Bellefleur was there, and Sheriff Dearborn. They walked over to me, looking bigger and bulkier in their waterproof quilted coats. Their faces were hard with suppressed shock.

"Sorry about your sister-in-law," Bud Dearborn said, but I could barely pay attention to the words.

"She was pregnant," I said. "She was pregnant." That was all I could think about. I wasn't amazed that someone would want to kill Crystal, but I was really horrified about the baby.

I took a deep breath and managed to look again. Crystal's bloody hands were panther paws. The lower part of her legs had changed, too. The effect was even more shocking and grotesque than the crucifixion of a regular human woman and, if possible, more pitiful.

Thoughts raced through my head with no logical sequence. I thought of who needed to know that Crystal had died. Calvin, not only head of her clan but also her uncle. Crystal's husband, my brother. Why was Crystal left here, of all places? Who could have done this?

"Have you called Jason yet?" I said through numb lips. I tried to blame that on the cold, but I knew it was shock. "He would be at work this time of day."

Bud Dearborn said, "We called him."

"Please don't make him look at her," I said. There was a bloody mess trailing down the wood of the cross to the ground at its base. I gagged, got myself under control.

"I understand she cheated on him, and that their breakup was pretty public." Bud was trying to be dispassionate, but the effort was costing him. Rage was in the back of his eyes.

"You can ask Dove Beck about that," I said, instantly on the defensive. Alcee Beck was a detective for the Bon Temps police department, and the man Crystal had chosen to cheat with was Alcee's cousin Dove. "Yeah, Crystal and Jason had separated. But he would never do anything to his baby." I knew Jason would not have done such a horrific thing to Crystal no matter what the provocation, but I didn't expect anyone else to believe me.

Lattesta walked over to us, Agent Weiss following close behind. She looked a little white around the mouth, but her voice was steady. "From the condition of the body, I believe this woman was a ... werepanther." She said the word as if it was hard to get it through her lips.

I nodded. "Yes, ma'am, she was." I was still fighting to gain control of my stomach.

"Then this could be a hate crime," Lattesta said. His face was locked down tight, and his thoughts were orderly. He was composing a mental list of phone calls he should make, and he was trying to figure out if there was any way he could take charge of the case. If the murder had been a hate crime, he had a good shot at being in on the investigation.

"And who might you be?" Bud Dearborn asked. He had his hands on his belt, and he was looking at Weiss and Lattesta as if they were pre-need burial plot salesmen.

While the law enforcement types were all introducing themselves and saying profound things about the crime scene, Antoine said, "I'm sorry, Sookie. We had to call 'em. But we called your house right after."

"Of course you had to call them," I said. "I just wish Sam was here." Oh, gosh. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and pressed his speed-dial number.

"Sam," I said when he picked up. "Can you talk?"

"Yes," he said, sounding apprehensive. He could already tell something was wrong.

"Where are you?"

"I'm in my car."

"I have bad news."

"What's happened? Did the bar burn down?"

"No, but Crystal's been murdered in the parking lot. Out back by your trailer."

"Oh, shit. Where's Jason?"

"He's on his way here, near as I can find out."

"I'm sorry, Sookie." He sounded exhausted. "This is going to be bad."

"The FBI is here. They're thinking it might be a hate crime." I skipped the explanation of why they'd happened to be in Bon Temps.

"Well, a lot of people didn't like Crystal," Sam said cautiously, surprise in his voice.

"She was crucified."

"Dammit to hell ." A long pause. "Sook, if my mom is still stable and nothing's happening legally with my stepfather, I'll start back later today or early tomorrow."

"Good." I couldn't begin to pack enough relief into that one word. And it was no use pretending I had everything under control.

"I'm sorry,cher ," he said again. "Sorry you're having to handle it, sorry Jason will be suspected, sorry about the whole thing. Sorry for Crystal, too."

"I'll be glad to see you," I said, and my voice was shaky with incipient tears.

"I'll be there." And he hung up.

Lattesta said, "Ms. Stackhouse, are these men other bar employees?"

I introduced Antoine and D'Eriq to Lattesta. Antoine's expression didn't change, but D'Eriq was completely impressed that he'd met an FBI agent.

"Both of you knew this Crystal Norris, right?" Lattesta said mildly.

Antoine said, "Just by sight. She come in the bar some."

D'Eriq nodded.

"Crystal Norris Stackhouse," I said. "She's my sister-in-law. The sheriff's called my brother. But you need to call her uncle, Calvin Norris. He works at Norcross."

"He her nearest living relative? Besides the husband?"

"She's got a sister. But Calvin's the leader of - " I stopped, not sure if Calvin had endorsed the Great Reveal. "He raised her," I said. Close enough.

Lattesta and Weiss huddled with Bud Dearborn. They were deep in conversation, probably about Calvin and the tiny community out at the bleak crossroads. Hotshot was a group of small houses containing lots of secrets. Crystal had wanted to escape from Hotshot, but she also felt most secure there.

My eyes returned to the tortured figure on the cross. Crystal was dressed, but her clothes had ripped when her arms and legs had changed to panther limbs, and there was blood everywhere. Her hands and feet, impaled with nails, were crusted with it. Ropes did the work of holding her to the crossbar, kept the flesh from ripping free of the nails.

I'd seen a lot of awful things, but this was maybe the most pathetic. "Poor Crystal," I said, and found tears were rolling down my cheeks.

"You didn't like her," Andy Bellefleur said. I wondered how long he'd been out here, looking at the ruin of what had once been a living, breathing, healthy woman. Andy's cheeks were patched with stubble, and his nose was red. Andy had a cold. He sneezed and excused himself to use a handkerchief.

D'Eriq and Antoine were talking to Alcee Beck. Alcee was the other Bon Temps police detective, and that didn't make the investigation look too promising. He wouldn't be too regretful about Crystal's death.

Andy faced me again after he'd stuffed his handkerchief in his pocket. I looked at his weary, broad face. I knew he'd do his best to find out who'd done this. I trusted Andy. Square-built Andy, some years my senior, had never been a smiley kind of guy. He was serious and suspicious. I didn't know if he'd chosen his occupation because it suited him, or if his character had altered in response to his occupation.

"I hear she and Jason had split," he said.

"Yes. She cheated on him." This was common knowledge. I wasn't going to pretend otherwise.

"Pregnant and all, like she was?" Andy shook his head.

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