Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(12)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(12)
Author: Charlaine Harris

By that time, people were coming in for lunch, and I had to get busy. "I never did get around to asking you some questions," I said to Sam. "Maybe before I leave work?"

"Sure, Sook," he said, and began filling glasses with iced tea. It was a warm day.

After I'd served drinks and food for about an hour, I was surprised to see Claude coming through the door. Even in rumpled clothes he'd obviously picked up off the floor to pull on, he looked breathtakingly gorgeous. He'd pulled his hair back into a messy ponytail ... and it didn't detract.

It was almost enough to make you hate him, really.

Claude slouched over to me as if he were in Merlotte's every day ... and as if his kind and tactful moment last night had never been. "The water heater's not working," he said.

"Hi, Claude. Good to see you," I said. "Did you sleep well? I'm so glad. I slept well, too. I guess you better do something about the water heater, huh? If you want to shower and wash your clothes. Remember me asking you to help me out by handling some things I can't? You could call Hank Clearwater. He's come out to the house before."

"I can go have a look," a voice said. I turned to see Terry Bellefleur standing behind me. Terry is a Vietnam War vet, and he's got some awful scars - both the kind you can see and the kind you can't. He'd been very young when he'd gone to war. He'd been very old when he returned. His auburn hair was graying, but it was still thick, and long enough to braid. I'd always gotten along real well with Terry, who could do just about anything around the yard or in the house, by way of repairs.

"I would sure appreciate it," I said. "But I don't want to take advantage, Terry." He'd always been kind to me. He'd cleared away the debris of my burned kitchen so the builders could start working on the new one, and I'd had to insist he take a fair wage for it.

"No problem," he muttered, his eyes on his old work boots. Terry survived on a monthly government check and on several odd jobs. For example, he came into Merlotte's either very late at night or early in the morning to clean the tables and the bathrooms, and to mop the floors. He always said keeping busy kept him fit, and it was true that Terry was still built.

"I'm Claude Crane, Sookie's cousin." Claude held out his hand to Terry.

Terry muttered his own name and took Claude's hand. His eyes came up to meet Claude's. Terry's eyes were unexpectedly beautiful, a rich golden brown and heavily lashed. I'd never noticed before. I realized I'd never thought about Terry as a man before.

After the handshake, Terry looked startled. When he was faced with something out of his normal path, usually Terry reacted badly; the only question was of degree. But at the moment, Terry seemed more puzzled than frightened or angry.

"Ah, did you want me to come look at it now?" Terry asked. "I have a couple of hours free."

"That would be wonderful," Claude said. "I want my shower, and I want a hot one." He smiled at Terry.

"Dude, I'm not gay," Terry said, and the expression on Claude's face was priceless. I'd never seen Claude nonplussed before.

"Thanks, Terry, I'd sure appreciate it," I said briskly. "Claude's got a key, and he'll let you in. If you have to buy some parts, just give me the receipts. You know I'm good for it." I might have to transfer some money from my savings to my checking, but I still had what I thought of as my "vampire money" safely stashed at the bank. And Mr. Cataliades would be sending me poor Claudine's money, too. Something relaxed inside me every time I thought about that bit of money. I'd been balanced on the fine edge of poverty so many times that I was used to it, and the knowledge of that money I'd be able to sock in the bank was a huge relief to me.

Terry nodded and then went out the back door to get his pickup. I speared Claude with a scowl. "That man is very fragile," I said. "He had a bad war. Just remember that."

Claude's face was slightly flushed. "I'll remember," he said. "I've been in wars myself." He gave me another quick graze on the cheek, to show me he'd recovered from the blow to his pride. I could feel the envy of every woman in the bar beating against me. "I'll be gone to Monroe by the time you get home, I suppose. Thanks, Cousin."

Sam came to stand beside me as Claude went out the door. "Elvis has left the building," he said dryly.

"No, I haven't seen him in a while," I said, definitely on auto-mouth. Then I shook myself. "Sorry, Sam. Claude's one of a kind, isn't he?"

"I haven't seen Claudine in a while. She's a lot of fun," Sam said. "Claude seems to be ... more typical of the general run of fairies." There was a question in his voice.

"We won't be seeing Claudine anymore," I said. "As far as I know, we won't be seeing any fairies but Claude. The doors are shut. However that works. Though I understand there's still one or two lurking around my house."

"There's a lot you haven't told me," he said.

"We need to catch up," I agreed.

"What about this evening? After you get off? Terry's supposed to come back and do some repairs that have piled up around here, but Kennedy is scheduled to take the bar." Sam looked a little worried. "I hope Claude doesn't make another pass at Terry. Claude's ego is as big as a barn, and Terry's so ... You never know how he's going to take stuff."

"Terry's a grown man," I reminded Sam. Of course, I was trying to reassure myself. "They both are."

"Claude isn't a man at all," Sam said. "Though he's a male."

It was a huge relief when I noticed Terry'd returned an hour later. He seemed absolutely normal, not flustered, angry, or anything else.

I had always tried to keep out of Terry's head, because it could be a very frightening place. Terry did well as long as he kept his focus on one thing at a time. He thought about his dogs a lot. He'd kept one of the puppies from his bitch's last litter, and he was training the youngster. (In fact, if ever a dog was taught to read, Terry would be the man who'd done it.)

After he'd worked on a loose doorknob in Sam's office, Terry sat at one of my tables and ordered a salad and some sweet tea. After I took his order, Terry silently handed me a receipt. He'd had to get a new element for the water heater. "It's all fi xed now," he said. "Your cousin was able to get his hot shower."

"Thanks, Terry," I said. "I'm going to give you something for your time and labor."

"Not a problem," Terry said. "Your cousin took care of that." He turned his attention to his magazine. He'd brought a copy of Louisiana Hunting and Fishing to read while he waited for his food.

I wrote Terry a check for the element and gave it to him when I brought his food. He nodded and slipped it in his pocket. Since Terry's schedule meant he wasn't always available to fill in, Sam had hired another bartender so he could have some regular evenings off. The new bartender, who'd been at work for a couple of weeks, was really pretty in a supersized way. Kennedy Keyes was five-eleven, easy; taller than Sam, for sure. She had the kind of good looks you associate with traditional beauty queens: shoulder-length chestnut hair with discreet blond highlights, wide brown eyes, a white and even smile that was an orthodontist's wet dream. Her skin was perfect, her back straight, and she'd graduated from Southern Arkansas University with a degree in psychology.

She'd also done time.

Sam had asked her if she wanted a job when she'd drifted in for lunch the day after she'd gotten out of jail. She hadn't even asked what she'd be doing before she'd said yes. He'd given her a basic bartender's guide, and she'd studied every spare moment until she'd mastered an amazing number of drinks.

"Sookie!" she said, as if we'd been best friends since childhood. That was Kennedy's way. "How you doing?"

"Good, thank you. Yourself?"

"Happy as a clam." She bent to check the number of sodas in the glass-fronted refrigerator behind the bar. "We need us some A&W," she said.

"Coming right up." I got the keys from Sam, then went back to the stockroom to find a case of root beer. I got two six-packs.

"I didn't mean you to get that. I coulda gotten them!" Kennedy smiled at me. Her smile was kind of perpetual. "I appreciate it."

"No problem."

"Do I look any smaller, Sookie?" she said hopefully. She half turned to show me her butt and looked at me over her own shoulder.

Kennedy's issue didn't seem to be that she had been in jail, but that she had put on weight in jail. The food had been crappy, she'd told me, and it had been high on the carbohydrate count. "But I'm an emotional eater," she'd said, as if that were a terrible thing. "And I was real emotional in jail." Ever since she'd gotten back to Bon Temps, she'd been anxious to return to her beauty queen measurements.

She was still beautiful. There was just more of her to look good.

"You're gorgeous, as always," I said. I looked around for Danny Prideaux. Sam had asked Danny to come in when Kennedy was working at night. This arrangement was supposed to last for a month, until Sam was sure people wouldn't take advantage of Kennedy.

"You know," she said, interpreting my glance, "I can handle myself."

Everyone in Bon Temps knew that Kennedy could handle herself, and that was the problem. Her reputation might constitute a challenge to certain men (certain men who were a**holes). "I know you can," I said mildly. Danny Prideaux was insurance.

And there he came through the door. He was taller than Kennedy by a couple of inches, and he was of some racial mixture that I hadn't figured out. Danny had deep olive skin, short brown hair, and a broad face. He'd been out of the army for a month, and he hadn't yet settled into a career of any sort. He worked part-time at the home builders' supply store. He was willing enough to be a bouncer for a few nights a week, especially since he got to look at Kennedy the whole time.

Sam drifted out of his office to say good night and brief Kennedy on a customer whose check had bounced, and then he and I went out the back door together. "Let's go to Crawdad Diner," he suggested. That sounded good to me. It was an old restaurant just off the square around the courthouse. Like all the businesses in the area around the square, the oldest part of Bon Temps, the diner had a history. The original owners had been Perdita and Crawdad Jones, who'd opened the restaurant in the forties. When Perdita had retired, she'd sold the business to Charlsie Tooten's husband, Ralph, who'd quit his job at the chicken processing plant to take over. Their deal was that Perdita would give Ralph all her recipes if he'd agree to keep the name Crawdad Diner. When Ralph's arthritis had forced him to retire, he'd sold Crawdad Diner to Pinkie Arnett with the same condition. So generations of Bon Temps diners were ensured of getting the best bread pudding in the state, and the heirs of Perdita and Crawdad Jones were able to point with pride.

I told Sam this bit of local history after we'd ordered country-fried steak with green beans and rice.

"Thank God Pinkie got the bread pudding recipe, and when the green tomatoes are in season, I want to come in every other night to have 'em fried," Sam said. "How's living with your cousin?" He squeezed his lemon slice into his tea.

"I hardly know yet. He just moved in some stuff, and we haven't had a lot of overlap."

"Have you seen him strip?" Sam laughed. "I mean, professionally? I sure couldn't do that on a stage with people watching."

Physically, there sure wouldn't be anything stopping him. I'd seen Sam na**d when he changed from a shifter form into human. Yum. "No, I always planned on going with Amelia, but since she went back to New Orleans I haven't been in a strip-club kind of mood. You should ask Claude for a job on your nights off," I said, grinning.

"Oh, sure," he said sarcastically, but he looked pleased.

We talked about Amelia's departure for a while, and then I asked Sam about his family in Texas. "My mom's divorce came through," he said. "Of course, my stepdad's been in jail since he shot her, so she hasn't seen him in months. At this point, I'm guessing the main difference to her is going to be financial. She's getting my dad's military pension, but she doesn't know if her job at the school will be waiting for her or not when the summer's over. They hired a substitute for the rest of the school year after she got shot, and they're waffling over having Mom back."

Before she'd gotten shot, Sam's mom had been the receptionist/ secretary at an elementary school. Not everyone was calm about having a woman who turned into an animal working in the same office as them, though Sam's mom was the same woman she'd been before. I was baffled by this attitude.

The waitress brought our plates and a basket of rolls. I sighed with anticipated pleasure. This was much nicer than cooking for myself.

"Any news on Craig's wedding?" I asked, when I could yank myself away from my country-fried steak.

"They finished couples counseling," he said with a shrug. "Now her parents want them to have genetics counseling, whatever that is."

"That's nuts."

"Some people just think anything different is bad," Sam said as he buttered his second roll. "And it's not like Craig could change." As the firstborn of a pure shifter couple, only Sam felt the call of the moon.

"I'm sorry." I shook my head. "I know the situation's hard on everyone in your family."

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