Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(7)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(7)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Yeah." I spread my hands.That was the way she was .

"That's sick," Andy said.

"Yeah, it is. Cheating with your husband's baby in your stomach between you ... that's just specially icky." It was a thought I'd had but never voiced.

"So, who was the other man?" Andy asked casually. "Or men?"

"You're the only guy in Bon Temps who doesn't know she was screwing Dove Beck," I said.

This time it registered. Andy glanced over at Alcee Beck and back to me. "I know now," he said. "Who hated her that much, Sookie?"

"If you're thinking Jason, you can just think again. He would never do that to his baby."

"If she was so free with herself, maybe it wasn't his baby," Andy said. "Maybe he found that out."

"It was his," I said with a firmness I wasn't sure I felt. "But even if it wasn't, if some blood test says it wasn't, he wouldn't kill anybody's baby. Anyway, they weren't living together. She'd moved back in with her sister. Why would he even go to the trouble?"

"Why were the FBI at your house?"

Okay, so this questioning thing was going to go one way. "Some questions about the explosion in Rhodes," I said. "I found out about Crystal while they were there. They came along out of professional curiosity, I guess. Lattesta, the guy, thinks this might be a hate crime."

"That's an interesting idea," he said. "This is undoubtedly a hate crime, but whether or not it's the kind of thing they should investigate, I don't know yet." He strode off to talk to Weiss. Lattesta was looking up at the body, shaking his head, as if he was noting a level of awfulness he'd thought couldn't be reached.

I didn't know what to do with myself. I was in charge of the bar, and the crime scene was on bar property, so I was determined to stay.

Alcee Beck called, "All people on the scene who are not police officers, leave the area! All police officers who are nones sential to the crime scene, step into the front parking lot!" His gaze fell on me, and he jabbed a finger toward the front. So I went back to lean against my car. Though it was cold enough, it was lucky for all of us that the day was bright and the wind wasn't blowing. I pulled my coat collar up around my ears and reached into the car to get my black gloves. I tugged them on and waited.

Time passed. I watched various police officers come and go. When Holly showed up for her shift, I explained what had happened and sent her home, telling her I'd call when I'd gotten permission to reopen. I couldn't think of any other course of action. Antoine and D'Eriq had left long ago, after I'd entered their cell numbers on my phone.

Jason's truck screeched to a halt beside my car, and he leaped out to stand in front of me. We hadn't spoken in weeks, but this was no time to talk about our differences. "Is it true?" my brother asked.

"I'm sorry. It's true."

"The baby, too?"

"Yeah."

"Alcee come out to the job site," he said numbly. "He come asking how long it had been since I'd seen her. I haven't talked to her in four or five weeks, except to send her some money for the doctor visits and her vitamins. I saw her once at Dairy Queen."

"Who was she with?"

"Her sister." He took a long, shuddering breath. "You think ... was it bad?"

No point beating around the bush. "Yes," I said.

"Then I'm sorry she had to go that way," he said. He wasn't used to expressing complex emotions, and it sat awkwardly on him, this combination of grief and regret and loss. He looked five years older. "I was so hurt by her and mad at her, but I wouldn't want her to suffer and be afraid. God knows we probably wouldn't have been good as parents, but we didn't get a chance to try."

I agreed with every part of what he'd said.

"Did you have company last night?" I said finally.

"Yeah, I took Michele Schubert home from the Bayou," he said. The Bayou was a bar in Clarice, only a few miles away.

"She stay all night?"

"I made her scrambled eggs this morning."

"Good." For once my brother's promiscuity paid off - Michele was a single divorcée without children and forthright to boot. If anyone would be willing to tell the police exactly where she'd been and what she'd done, Michele was the woman. I said as much.

"The police have already talked to her," Jason told me.

"That was fast."

"Bud was in the Bayou last night."

So the sheriff would have seen Jason leave and would have noted whom he'd left with. Bud hadn't kept the job of sheriff this long without being shrewd. "Well, that's good," I said, and couldn't think of anything else to say.

"You think maybe she was killed because she was a panther?" Jason asked hesitantly.

"Maybe. She was partially changed when she was killed."

"Poor Crystal," he said. "She would have hated anyone to see her like that." And to my amazement, tears ran down his face.

I didn't have the slightest idea how to react. All I could do was fetch a Kleenex from the box in my car and shove it in his hand. I hadn't seen Jason cry in years. Had he even cried when Gran had died? Maybe he really had loved Crystal. Maybe it hadn't been solely wounded pride that had caused him to set up her exposure as an adulteress. He'd fixed it so both her uncle Calvin and I would catch her in the act. I'd been so disgusted and furious with being forced to be a witness - and with the consequences - that I'd avoided Jason for weeks. Crystal's death had shunted aside that anger, at least for the moment.

"She's beyond that now," I said.

Calvin's battered truck pulled up on the other side of my car. Quicker than my eye could track, he stood in front of me, while Tanya Grissom scrambled out the other side. A stranger looked out of Calvin's eyes. Normally a peculiar yellowish color, those eyes were now almost golden, and the irises were so large that there was almost no visible white. His pupils had elongated. He was not even wearing a light jacket. It made me cold to look at him in more ways than one.

I held up my hands. "I'm so sorry, Calvin," I said. "You need to know Jason did not do this." I looked up, not too far, to meet his eerie eyes. Calvin was a little grayer now than he'd been when I'd first met him several years ago, and a little stockier. He still looked solid and dependable and tough.

"I need to smell her," he said, ignoring my words. "They have to let me back there to smell her. I'll know."

"Come on then; we'll go tell them that," I said, because not only was that a good idea, but also I wanted to keep him away from Jason. At least Jason was smart enough to stay on the far side of my car. I took Calvin's arm and we began to walk around the building, only to be stopped by the crime scene tape.

Bud Dearborn moved over to the other side of the tape when he saw us. "Calvin, I know you're rattled, and I'm real sorry about your niece," he began, and with a flash of claw Calvin ripped down the tape and began walking over to the cross.

Before he'd gotten three steps, the two FBI agents moved to intercept him. Suddenly they were on the ground. There was a lot of shouting and tumult, and then Calvin was being held back by Bud, Andy, and Alcee, with Lattesta and Weiss trying to assist from their undignified positions.

"Calvin," Bud Dearborn wheezed. Bud was not a young man, and it was clear that holding Calvin back was taking every bit of strength he possessed. "You gotta stay away, Calvin. Any evidence we collect is gonna be tainted if you don't stay away from the body." I was astonished at Bud's restraint. I would have expected him to crack Calvin in the head with his baton or a flashlight. Instead, he seemed as sympathetic as a strained and taxed man could be. For the first time, I understood that I wasn't the only one who'd known about the secret of the Hotshot community. Bud's wrinkled hand patted Calvin's arm in a gesture of consolation. Bud took care to avoid touching Calvin's claws. Special Agent Lattesta noticed them, and he drew in a harsh breath, making an incoherent warning noise.

"Bud," Calvin said, and his voice came out in a growl, "if you can't let me over there now, I have to smell her when they take her down. I'm trying to catch the scent of the ones who did this."

"I'll see if you can do that," Bud said steadily. "For right now, buddy, we got to get you out of here because they gotta pick up all this evidence around here, evidence that'll stand up in court. You got to stay away from her. Okay?"

Bud had never cared for me, nor I for him, but at that moment I sure thought well of him.

After a long moment, Calvin nodded. Some of the tension went out of his shoulders. Everyone who was holding on to him eased up on their grip.

Bud said, "You stay out front; we'll call you. You got my word."

"All right," Calvin said. The law enforcement crowd let go. Calvin let me put my arm around him. Together, we turned to make for the front parking lot. Tanya was waiting for him, tension in every line of her body. She'd had the same expectations I'd had: that Calvin was going to get a good beating.

"Jason didn't do this," I said again.

"I don't care about your brother," he said, turning those strange eyes on me. "He doesn't matter to me. I don't think he killed her."

It was clear that he thought my anxiety about Jason was blocking my concern about the real problem, the death of his niece. It was clear he didn't appreciate that. I had to respect his feelings, so I shut my mouth.

Tanya took his hands, claws and all. "Will they let you go over her?" she asked. Her eyes never left Calvin's face. I might as well not have been there.

"When they take the body down," he said.

It would be so great if Calvin could identify the culprit. Thank God the werecreatures had come out. But ... that might have been why Crystal had been killed.

"You think you'll be able to get a scent?" Tanya said. Her voice was quiet, intent. She was more serious than I'd ever seen her in our spotty acquaintance. She put her arms around Calvin, and though he was not a tall man, she only reached his upper sternum. She looked up at him.

"I'll get a score of scents after all these folks have touched her. I can only try to match them all. I wish I'd been here first." He held Tanya as if he needed to lean on someone.

Jason was standing a yard away, waiting for Calvin to notice him. His back was stiff, his face frozen. There was an awful moment of silence when Calvin looked over Tanya's shoulder and noted Jason's presence.

I don't know how Tanya reacted, but every muscle in my body twanged from the tension. Slowly Calvin held out a hand to Jason. Though it was a human hand again, it was obviously battered. The skin was freshly scarred and one of the fingers was slightly bent.

I had done that. I'd stood up for Jason at his wedding, and Calvin had stood up for Crystal. After Jason had made us witness Crystal's infidelity, we'd had to stand in for them when the penalty had been pronounced: the maiming of a hand or paw. I'd had to bring a brick down on my friend's hand. I hadn't felt the same about Jason since then.

Jason bent and licked the back of the hand, emphasizing how subservient he was. He did it awkwardly, because he was still new to the ritual. I held my breath. Jason's eyes were rolled up to keep Calvin's face in sight. When Calvin nodded, we all relaxed. Calvin accepted Jason's obeisance.

"You'll be in at the kill," Calvin said, as if Jason had asked him something.

"Thanks," Jason said, and then backed away. He stopped when he'd gone a couple of feet. "I want to bury her," he said.

"We'll all bury her," Calvin said. "When they let us have her back." There was not a particle of concession in his voice.

Jason hesitated a moment and then nodded.

Calvin and Tanya got back in Calvin's truck. They settled in. Clearly they planned to wait there until the body was brought down from the cross. Jason said, "I'm going home. I can't stay here." He seemed almost dazed.

"Okay," I said.

"Are you ... do you plan on staying here?"

"Yes, I'm in charge of the bar while Sam is gone."

"That's a lot of trust he has in you," Jason said.

I nodded. I should feel honored. I did feel honored.

"Is it true his stepdad shot his mom? That's what I heard at the Bayou last night."

"Yes," I said. "He didn't know that Sam's mom was, you know, a shapeshifter."

Jason shook his head. "This coming-out thing," he said. "I don't know that's it been such a good idea after all. Sam's mom got shot. Crystal is dead. Someone who knew what she was put her up there, Sookie. Maybe they'll come after me next. Or Calvin. Or Tray Dawson. Or Alcide. Maybe they'll try to kill us all."

I started to say that couldn't happen, that the people I knew wouldn't turn on their friends and neighbors because of an accident of birth. But in the end, I didn't say that, because I wondered if it was the truth.

"Maybe they will," I said, feeling an icy tingle run down my back. I took a deep breath. "But since they didn't go after the vampires - for the most part - I'm thinking they'll be able to accept weres of all sorts. At least, I hope so."

Mel, wearing the slacks and sports shirt he wore daily at the auto parts place, got out of his car and walked over. I noticed that he was carefully not looking at Calvin, though Jason was still standing right beside the panther's pickup. "It's true, then," Mel said.

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