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

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

Tanya had been sent to sabotage me by a woman named Sandra Pelt, who bore me a grudge. Since Calvin had clearly taken a shine to Tanya, Amelia and Octavia had worked a little magic on her to cut her free from Sandra's influence. Tanya still seemed abrasive, but that was just her nature, I figured.

"Do you think we should do a reconstruction to find out who Crystal's killer was?" Octavia offered.

I thought it over. I tried to imagine staging an ectoplasmic reconstruction in the parking lot of Merlotte's. We'd have to find at least one more witch, I thought, because that was a large area, and I wasn't sure Octavia and Amelia could handle it by themselves. They'd probably think they could, though.

"I'm afraid we'd be seen," I said finally. "And that would be bad for you and Amelia. Besides, we don't know where the actual death took place. And you have to have that, right? The death site?"

Octavia said, "Yes. If she didn't die there in the parking lot, it wouldn't do a bit of good." She sounded a bit relieved.

"I guess we won't know until the autopsy if she died there or before they put up the cross." I didn't think I could stand to witness another ectoplasmic reconstruction, anyway. I'd seen two. Watching the dead - in a watery but recognizable form - reenact the last minutes of their lives was an indescribably eerie and depressing experience.

Octavia went back to her ironing, and I wandered into the kitchen and heated up some soup. I had to eat something, and opening a can was about as much effort as I could expend.

The dragging hours were absolutely negative. I didn't hear from Sam. I didn't hear from the police about opening Merlotte's. The FBI agents didn't return to ask me more questions. Finally I decided to drive to Shreveport. Amelia had returned from work, and she and Octavia were cooking supper together when I left the house. It was a homey scene; I was simply too restless to join in.

For the second time in as many days, I found myself on the way to Fangtasia. I didn't let myself think. I listened to a black gospel station all the way over, and the preaching helped me feel better about the awful events of the day.

By the time I arrived, it was full night, though it was too early for the bar to be crowded. Eric was sitting at one of the tables in the main room, his back to me. He was drinking some TrueBlood and talking to Clancy, who ranked under Pam, I thought. Clancy was facing me, and he sneered when he saw me walking toward the table. Clancy was no Sookie Stackhouse fan. Since he was a vampire, I couldn't discover why, but I thought he simply didn't like me.

Eric turned to see me approaching, and his eyebrows rose. He said something to Clancy, who got up and stalked back to the office. Eric waited for me to sit down at his table. "Hello, Sookie," he said. "Are you here to tell me how angry you are at me about our pledging? Or are you ready to have that long talk we must have sooner or later?"

"No," I said. We sat for a while in silence. I felt exhausted but oddly peaceful. I should be giving Eric hell about his high-handed handling of Quinn's request and the knife presentation. I should be asking him all kinds of questions ... but I couldn't summon up the necessary fire.

I just wanted to sit beside him.

There was music playing; someone had turned on the all-vampire radio station, KDED. The Animals were singing "The Night." After he finished his drink and there was only a red residue staining the sides of the bottle, Eric lay his cold white hand on top of mine. "What happened today?" he asked, his voice calm.

I began to tell him, starting with the FBI visit. He didn't interrupt to exclaim or to ask questions. Even when I ended my tale with the removal of Crystal's body, he didn't speak for a while. "Even for you, that's a busy day, Sookie," he said finally. "As for Crystal, I don't think I ever met her, but she sounds worthless."

Eric never waffled around to be polite. Though I actually enjoyed that, I was also glad it wasn't a widely held trait. "I don't know that anyone is worthless," I said. "Though I have to admit, if I had to pick one person to get in a lifeboat with me, she wouldn't have made even my long list."

Eric's mouth quirked up in a smile.

"But," I added, "she was pregnant, that's the thing, and the baby was my brother's."

"Pregnant women were worth twice as much if they were killed in my time," Eric said.

He'd never volunteered much information about his life before he'd been turned. "What do you mean, worth?" I asked.

"In war, or with foreigners, we could kill whom we pleased," he said. "But in disputes between our own people, we had to pay silver when we killed one of our own." He looked like he was dredging up the memory with an effort. "If the person killed was a woman with child, the price was double."

"How old were you when you got married? Did you have children?" I knew Eric had been married, but I didn't know anything else about his life.

"I was counted a man at twelve," he said. "I married at sixteen. My wife's name was Aude. Aude had ... we had ... six children."

I held my breath. I could tell he was looking down the immense swell of time that had passed between his present - a bar in Shreveport, Louisiana - and his past - a woman dead for a thousand years.

"Did they live?" I asked very quietly.

"Three lived," he said, and he smiled. "Two boys and a girl. Two died at birth. And with the sixth child, Aude died, too."

"Of what?"

He shrugged. "She and the baby caught a fever. I suppose it was from some sort of an infection. Then, if people got sick, they mostly died. Aude and the baby perished within hours of each other. I buried them in a beautiful tomb," he said proudly. "My wife had her best brooch on her dress, and I laid the baby on her breast."

He had never sounded less like a modern man. "How old were you?"

He considered. "I was in my early twenties," he said. "Perhaps twenty-three. Aude was older. She had been my elder brother's wife, and when he was killed in battle, it fell to me to marry her so our families would still be bonded. But I'd always liked her, and she was willing. She wasn't a silly girl; she'd lost two babies of my brother's, and she was glad to have more that lived."

"What happened to your children?"

"When I became a vampire?"

I nodded. "They can't have been very old."

"No, they were small. It happened not long after Aude's death," he said. "I missed her, you see, and I needed someone to raise the children. No such thing as a househusband then." He laughed. "I had to go raiding. I had to be sure the slaves were doing what they ought in the fields. So I needed another wife. One night I went to visit the family of a young woman I hoped would marry me. She lived a mile or two away. I had some worldly goods, and my father was a chief, and I was thought a handsome man and was a noted fighter, so I was a good prospect. Her brothers and her father were glad to greet me, and she seemed ... agreeable. I was trying to get to know her a bit. It was a good evening. I had high hopes. But I had a lot to drink there, and on my way home that night ..." Eric paused, and I saw his chest move. In remembering his last moments as a human, he had actually taken a deep breath. "It was the full moon. I saw a man lying hurt by the side of the road. Ordinarily I would have looked around to find those who had attacked him, but I was drunk. I went over to help him; you can probably guess what happened after that."

"He wasn't really hurt."

"No. But I was, soon after. He was very hungry. His name was Appius Livius Ocella." Eric actually smiled, though without much humor. "He taught me many things, and the first was not to call him Appius. He said I didn't know him well enough."

"The second thing?"

"How to get to know him."

"Oh." I figured I understood what that meant.

Eric shrugged. "It was not so bad ... once we left the area I knew. In time, I stopped pining after my children and my home. I had never been away from my people. My father and mother were still alive. I knew my brothers and my sisters would make sure the children were brought up to be as they ought, and I had left enough to keep them from being a burden. I worried, of course, but there was no helping it. I had to stay away. In those days, in small villages, any stranger was instantly noticed, and if I ventured anywhere close to where I'd lived, I'd be recognized and hunted. They would know what I was, or at least know I was ... wrong."

"Where did you and Appius go?"

"We went to the biggest cities we could find, which were few enough then. We traveled all the time, parallel to the roads so we could prey on travelers."

I shuddered. It was painful to imagine Eric, so flamboyant and quick-witted, skulking through the woods in search of easy blood. It was awful to think of the unfortunates he'd ambushed.

"There were not so many people," he said. "Villagers would miss their neighbors immediately. We had to keep moving. Young vampires are so hungry; at first, I killed even when I didn't mean to."

I took a deep breath. This was what vampires did; when they were young, they killed. There had been no substitute for fresh blood then. It was kill, or die. "Was he good to you? Appius Livius Ocella?" How much worse could you have it than to be the constant companion of the man who had murdered you?

"He taught me all he knew. He had been in the legions, and he was a fighter, as I was, so we had that in common. He liked men, of course, and that took some getting used to. I had never done that. But when you're a new vampire, anything sexual seems exciting, so even that I enjoyed ... eventually."

"You had to comply," I said.

"Oh, he was much stronger ... though I was a bigger man than him - taller, longer arms. He had been vampire for so many centuries, he'd lost count. And of course, he was my sire. I had to obey." Eric shrugged.

"Is that a mystical thing or a made-up rule?" I asked, curiosity finally getting the better of me.

"It's both," Eric said. "It's a compulsion. It's impossible to resist, even when you want to ... even when you're desperate to get away." His white face was closed and brooding.

I couldn't imagine Eric doing something he didn't want to do, being in a subservient position. Of course, he had a boss now; he wasn't autonomous. But he didn't have to bow and scrape, and he made most of his own decisions.

"I can't imagine it," I said.

"I wouldn't want you to." His mouth pulled down at one corner, a wry expression. Just when I began to ponder the irony of that, since he'd perhaps married me vampire-style without asking me, Eric changed the subject, slamming shut the door on his past. "The world has changed a great deal since I was human. The past hundred years have been especially exciting. And now the Weres are out, and all the other two-natured. Who knows? Maybe the witches or the fae will step forward next." He smiled at me, though it was a little stiff.

His idea gave me a happy fantasy of seeing my great-grandfather Niall every day. I'd only learned of his existence a few months before, and we hadn't spent much time together, but learning I had a living ancestor had been very important to me. I had so few blood kin. "That would be wonderful," I said wistfully.

"My lover, it will never happen," Eric said. "The creatures that make up the fae are the most secret of all the supernatural beings. There are not many remaining in this country. In fact, there are not so many remaining in the world. The number of their females, and the fertility of those females, is dropping every year. Your great-grandfather is one of the few survivors with royal blood. He would never condescend to treat with humans."

"He talks to me," I said, because I wasn't sure what "treat" meant.

"You share his blood." Eric waved his free hand. "If you didn't, you would never have seen him."

Well, no, Niall wasn't going to stop in at Merlotte's for a brew and a chicken basket and shake hands all around. I looked at Eric unhappily. "I wish he'd help Jason out," I said, "and I never thought I'd say that. Niall doesn't seem to like Jason at all, but Jason's going to be in a lot of trouble about Crystal's death."

"Sookie, if you're asking for my thoughts, I have no idea why Crystal was killed." And he really didn't care much. At least with Eric, you could tell where you stood.

In the background the KDED DJ said, "Next, Thom Yorke's 'And It Rained All Night.'" While Eric and I had been having our one-on-one, the bar sounds had seemed muted, far-away. Now they came back with a rush.

"The police and the werepanthers, they'll track whoever did it," he said. "I'm more concerned about these FBI agents. What is their goal? Do they want to take you away? Can they do that in this country?"

"They wanted to identify Barry. Then they wanted to find out what Barry and I could do, and how we could do it. Maybe they were supposed to ask if we'd work for them, and Crystal's death interrupted our conversation before they could say anything."

"And you don't want to work for them." Eric's bright blue eyes were intent on my face. "You don't want to leave."

I pulled my hand out from under his. I watched my hands clasp each other, twist. "I don't want people to die because I wouldn't help them," I said. I felt my eyes brim with tears. "But I'm selfish enough that I don't want to go wherever they send me, trying to find dying people. I couldn't stand the wear and tear of seeing disaster every day. I don't want to leave home. I've been trying to imagine what it would be like, what they might have me do. And it scares me to death."

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