Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(8)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(8)
Author: Charlaine Harris

Jason said, "She's dead, Mel."

Mel patted Jason's shoulder in the awkward way men have when they have to comfort other men. "Come on, Jason. You don't need to be around here. Let's go to your house. We'll have a drink, buddy."

Jason nodded, looking dazed. "Okay, let's go." After Jason left for home with Mel following right behind, I climbed back in my own vehicle and fished the newspapers for the past few days from the backseat. I often picked them up from the driveway when I came out to go to work, tossed them in the back, and tried to read at least the front page within a reasonable length of time. What with Sam leaving and my business with the bar, I hadn't caught a glimpse of the news since the weres went public.

I arranged the papers in order and began to read.

The public reaction had ranged from the panicked to the calm. Many people claimed they'd had a suspicion that the world contained more than humans and vampires. The vampires themselves were 100 percent behind their furry brethren, at least in public. In my experience, the two major supernatural groups had had a very bumpy relationship. The shifters and Weres mocked the vampires, and the vampires jeered right back. But it looked like the supernaturals had agreed to present a united front, at least for a while.

The reactions of governments varied wildly. I think the U.S. policy had been formed by werewolves in place within the system, because it was overwhelmingly favorable. There was a huge tendency to accept the weres as if they were completely human, to keep their rights as Americans exactly on a par with their previous status when no one knew they were two-natured. The vampires couldn't be too pleased about that, because they hadn't yet obtained full rights and privileges under the law. Legal marriage and inheritance of property were still forbidden in a few states, and vampires were barred from owning certain businesses. The human casino lobby had been successful in banning the vamps from direct ownership of gambling establishments, which I still couldn't understand, and though vampires could be police officers and firefighters, vampire doctors were not accepted in any field that included treating patients with open wounds. Vampires weren't allowed in competition sports, either. That I could understand; they were too strong. But there were already lots of athletes whose ancestry included full- and part-weres, because sports were a natural bent for them. The military ranks, too, were filled with men and women whose grandparents had bayed under the full moon. There were even some full-blooded Weres in the armed services, though it was a very tricky occupation for people who had to find somewhere private to be three nights a month.

The sports pages were full of pictures of some part- and whole-weres who'd become famous. A running back for the New England Patriots, a fielder for the Cardinals, a marathon runner ... they'd all confessed to being wereanimals of one kind or another. An Olympic champion swimmer had just discovered that his dad was a wereseal, and the number-one ranked women's tennis player in Britain had gone on record as saying that her mother was a wereleopard. The sports world hadn't been in such a tumult since the last drug scandal. Did these athletes' heritage give them an unfair advantage over other players? Should their trophies be taken away from them? Should their records be allowed to stand? Another day, I might enjoy debating this with someone, but right now I just didn't care.

I began to see an overall picture. The outing of the two-natured was a much different revelation than the vampires' announcement. The vampires had been completely off the human grid, except in legend and lore. They'd lived apart. Since they could subsist on the Japanese synthetic blood, they had presented themselves as absolutely nonthreatening. But wereanimals had been living among us all the time, integrated into our society yet maintaining their secret lives and alliances. Sometimes even their children (those who weren't firstborn and therefore not weres) didn't know what their parents were, especially if they were not wolves.

"I feel betrayed," one woman was quoted as saying. "My granddad turns into a lynx every month. He runs around and kills things. My beautician, I've been going to her for fifteen years, and she's a coyote. I didn't know! I feel I've been deceived in an ugly way."

Some people thought it was fascinating. "Our principal is a werewolf," said a kid in Springfield, Missouri. "How cool is that?"

The very fact of the existence of wereanimals frightened some people. "I'm scared I'll shoot my neighbor by accident if I see him trotting down the road," said a farmer in Kansas. "What if he gets after my chickens?"

Various churches were thrashing out their policy on weres. "We don't know what to think," a Vatican official confessed. "They're alive, they're among us, they must have souls. Even some priests are wereanimals." The fundamentalists were equally stymied. "We were worried about Adam and Steve," a Baptist minister said. "Should we have been more worried about Rover and Fluffy?"

While my head had been in the sand, all hell had broken loose.

Suddenly it was easier to see how my werepanther sister-in-law had ended up on a cross at a bar owned by a shifter.

Chapter 6

The moment the nails came out of her hands and feet, Crystal's body reverted to looking completely human. I watched from behind the crime scene tape. This process drew the horrified attention of everyone on the site. Even Alcee Beck flinched back. I'd been waiting for hours by then; I'd read all the newspapers twice, found a paperback in the glove compartment and gotten about a third of the way through it, and had a limp conversation with Tanya about Sam's mother. After we'd rehashed that news, she mostly talked about Calvin. I gathered that she had moved in with him. She'd gotten a part-time job at Norcross in the main office, doing something clerical. She loved the regular hours. "And I don't have to stand up all day," she said.

"Sounds good," I said politely, though I'd hate that kind of job. Working with the same people every day? I'd get to know them all too well. I wouldn't be able to stay out of their thoughts, and I'd reach the point of wanting to get away from them because I knew too much about them. At the bar, there were always different people coming in to keep me distracted.

"How'd the Great Reveal go for you?" I asked.

"I told 'em at Norcross the next day," she said. "When they found out I was a werefox, they thought that was funny." She looked disgusted. "Why do the big animals get all the press? Calvin got huge respect out in the plant from his crew. I get jokes about bushy tails."

"Not fair," I agreed, trying not to smile.

"Calvin is completely wiped out about Crystal," Tanya said abruptly. "She was his favorite niece. He felt awful bad for her when it turned out she was such a poor shifter. And about the babies." Crystal, the product of a lot of inbreeding, had taken forever to change into her panther form and had had a hard time reversing the process when she wanted to become a human again. She'd miscarried several times, too. The only reason she'd been allowed to marry Jason was that it had become obvious she would probably never carry a pureblood baby to term.

"Could be this baby was lost before the murder, or she aborted during the murder," I said. "Maybe the - whoever did this - didn't know."

"She was showing, but not a whole lot," Tanya said, nodding. "She was real picky about her food, 'cause she was determined to keep her figure." She shook her head, her face bitter. "But really, Sookie, does it really make any difference if the killer knew or not? The end is the same. The baby is dead, and so is Crystal, and she died afraid and alone."

Tanya was absolutely right.

"Do you think Calvin can track whoever did this from the smell?" I asked.

Tanya looked uneasy. "There were lots of scents," she said. "I don't know how he can tell which one's the scent. And look, they're all touching her. Some of 'em are wearing rubber gloves, but those have an odor, you know. See, there's Mitch Norris helping take her down, and he's one of us. So how will Calvin know?"

"Besides, it might be one of them," I said, nodding toward the group gathered around the dead woman. Tanya looked at me sharply.

"You mean law enforcement might be in on it?" she said. "Do you know something?"

"No," I said, sorry I'd opened my big mouth. "It's just ... we don't know anything for sure. I guess I was thinking about Dove Beck."

"He's the one she was in bed with that day?"

I nodded. "That big guy, there - the black guy in the suit? That's his cousin Alcee."

"Think he might have had something to do with it?"

"Not really," I said. "I was just ... speculating."

"I'll bet Calvin's thought of that, too," she said. "Calvin's very sharp."

I nodded. There was nothing flashy about Calvin, and he hadn't managed to go to college (I hadn't either), but there was nothing wrong with his brain.

Bud beckoned to Calvin then, and he got out of his truck and went over to the body, which had been laid on a gurney spread with an open body bag. Calvin approached the body carefully, his hands behind his back so he wouldn't touch Crystal.

We all watched, some with loathing and distaste, some with indifference or interest, until he'd finished.

He straightened, turned, and walked back in the direction of his truck. Tanya got out of my car to meet him. She put her arms around him and looked up at him. He shook his head. I'd lowered my window so I could hear. "I couldn't make out much on the rest of her," he said. "Too many other smells. She just smelled like a dead panther."

"Let's go home, Calvin," Tanya said.

"Okay." They each raised a hand to me to let me know they were leaving, and then I was by myself in the front parking lot, still waiting. Bud asked me to open the employee entrance to the bar. I handed him the keys. He returned after a few minutes to tell me that the door had been securely locked and that there was no sign anyone had been inside the bar since it had closed. He handed the keys to me.

"So we can open up?" I asked. A few police vehicles had left, the body was gone, and it seemed to me that the whole process was winding down. I was willing to wait there if I could get into the building soon.

But after Bud told me it might be two or three more hours, I decided I'd go home. I'd spoken to every employee I could reach, and any customers could clearly see from the tape put across the parking lot that the bar was closed. I was wasting my time. My FBI agents, who'd spent hours with their cell phones clamped to their ears, seemed now to be more concerned about this crime than about me, which was great. Maybe they'd forget all about me.

Since no one seemed to be watching me or to care what I was doing, I started my car up and left. I didn't have the heart to run any errands. I went straight back to the house.

Amelia had long ago left for work at the insurance agency, but Octavia was home. She had set up the ironing board in her room. She was pressing the hem on a pair of pants she'd just shortened, and she had a pile of her blouses ready to iron. I guess there wasn't any magic spell to get the wrinkles out. I offered to drive her into town, but she said her trip with Amelia the day before had taken care of all her needs. She invited me to sit on the wooden chair by the bed while she worked. "Ironing goes faster when you have someone to talk to," she said, and she sounded so lonely I felt guilty.

I told her about the morning I'd had, about the circumstances of Crystal's death. Octavia had seen some bad stuff in her time, so she didn't freak out. She made the appropriate answers and expressed the shock almost anyone would feel, but she hadn't really known Crystal. I could tell there was something on her mind.

Octavia put down the iron and moved to face me directly. "Sookie," she said, "I need to get a job. I know I'm a burden to you and Amelia. I used to borrow my niece's car during the day when she was working the night shift, but since I've moved out here, I've been having to ask you-all for rides. I know that gets old. I cleaned my niece's house and cooked and helped to watch the kids to pay her for my room and board, but you and Amelia are such cleaners that my two cents wouldn't really be a help."

"I'm glad to have you, Octavia," I said, not entirely truthfully. "You've helped me in a lot of ways. Remember that you got Tanya off my back? And now she seems to be in love with Calvin. So she won't be pestering me anymore. I know you'd feel better if you could get a job, and maybe something will come up. In the meantime, you're fine here. We'll think of something."

"I called my brother in New Orleans," she said to my astonishment. I hadn't even known she had a living brother. "He says the insurance company has decided to give me a payment. It's not much, considering I lost almost everything, but it'll be enough to buy a good secondhand car. There won't be anything there for me to go back to, though. I'm not going to rebuild, and there aren't too many places I could afford on my own."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I wish there was something I could do about it, Octavia. Make things better for you."

"You've already made things better for me," she said. "I'm grateful."

"Oh, please," I said miserably. "Don't. Thank Amelia."

"All I know how to do is magic," Octavia said. "I was so glad to help you out with Tanya. Does she seem to remember?"

"No," I said. "I don't think she remembers anything about Calvin bringing her over here, or the spell casting. I'll never be her favorite person, but at least she's not trying to make my life miserable anymore."

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Drawn into Love (Fluke My Life #4)
» Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
» Right Where I Want You
» Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
» Be the Girl
» Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)
» If I Only Knew
» Vengeance Road (Torpedo Ink #2)
» 99 Percent Mine
» Free (Chaos #6)
» Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3
» Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)