Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(16)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(16)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I put the note aside, trying not to worry about Eric's urgent need to talk to me. I started the coffee to perking, and then I pulled out the griddle and plugged it in. "I hope you like pancakes," I told Hunter, and his face lit up. He put his orange juice cup down on the table with a happy bang, and juice slopped over the edge. Just as I was about to give him a long look, he jumped up and fetched a paper towel. He took care of the spill with more vigor than attention to detail, but I appreciated the gesture.

"I love pancakes," he said. "You can make 'em? They don't come out of the freezer?"

I hid a smile. "Nope. I can make 'em." It took about five minutes to mix up a batch, and by then the griddle was hot. I put on some bacon first, and Hunter's expression was ecstatic. "I don't like it floppy," he said, and I promised him it would be crisp. That was the way I liked it, too.

"That smells wonderful, Cousin," said Claude. He was standing in the doorway, his arms spread wide, looking as good as anyone can look that early in the morning. He was wearing a maroon University of Louisiana at Monroe T-shirt and some black workout shorts.

"Who are you?" Hunter asked.

"I'm Sookie's cousin Claude."

He has long hair like a lady, too, Hunter said.

He's a man, though, just like the other man. "Claude, this is another cousin of mine, Hunter," I said. "Remember, I told you he was coming to visit?"

"His mother was - " Claude began, and I shook my head at him.

Claude might have been about to say any number of things. He might have said, "the bisexual" or "the one the albino, Waldo, killed in the cemetery in New Orleans." These would both have been true, and Hunter needed to hear neither of them.

"So we're all cousins," I said. "Were you hinting around that you wanted to eat some breakfast with us, Claude?"

"Yes, I was," he said gracefully, pouring himself some coffee from the pot without asking me. "If there's enough for me, too. This young man looks like he could eat a lot of pancakes."

Hunter was delighted with this idea, and he and Claude began topping each other on the number of pancakes they could consume. I was surprised that Claude was so at ease with Hunter, though the fact that he was charming the child effortlessly was no surprise to me. Claude was a professional at charming.

"Do you live here in Bon Temps, Hunter?" Claude was asking.

"No," said Hunter, laughing at the absurdity of such an idea. "I live with my daddy."

Okay, that was enough sharing. I didn't want anyone supernatural knowing about Hunter, understanding what made him special.

"Claude, would you get out the syrup and the molasses?" I said. "It's in the pantry over there."

Claude located the pantry and brought out the Log Cabin and the Brer Rabbit. He even opened both bottles so Hunter could smell them and pick which one he wanted on his pancakes. I got the pancakes on the griddle and made some more coffee, pulling some plates out of the cabinets and showing Hunter where the forks and knives were so he could set the table.

We were a strange little family grouping: two telepaths and a fairy. During our breakfast conversation, I had to keep each male from knowing what the other was, and that was a real challenge. Hunter told me silently that Claude must be a vampire, because he couldn't hear Claude's thoughts, and I had to tell Hunter that there were some other people we couldn't hear, too. I pointed out that Claude couldn't be a vampire because it was daytime, and vampires couldn't come out in the daytime.

"There's a vampire in the closet," Hunter told Claude. "He can't come out in the daytime."

"Which closet would that be?" Claude asked Hunter.

"The one in my room. You want to come see?"

"Hunter," I said, "the last thing any vampire wants is to be disturbed in the daytime. I'd leave him alone."

"Your Eric?" Claude asked. He was excited by the idea of Eric being in the house. Damn.

"Yes," I said. "You know better than to go in there, right? I mean, I don't have to get tough with you, right?"

He smiled at me. "You, tough with me?" he said, mockingly. "Ha. I'm fae. I am stronger than any human."

I started to say, "So how come I survived the war between the fae and so many fairies didn't?" Thank God I didn't. The minute after, I knew how good it was that I'd choked on those words, because I could see by Claude's face that he remembered who'd died all too well. I missed Claudine, too, and I told him so.

"You're sad," Hunter said accurately. And he was picking up on all this, which shouldn't be thought of in his hearing.

"Yes, we're remembering his sister," I said. "She died and we miss her."

"Like my mom," he said. "What's a fay?"

"Yes, like your mom." Sort of. Only in the sense that they were both dead. "And a fae is a special person, but we're not going to talk about that right now."

It didn't take a telepath to pick up on Claude's interest and curiosity, and when he sauntered back down the hall to use the bathroom, I followed him. Sure enough, Claude's steps slowed and stopped at the open door to the bedroom Hunter had used.

"Keep right on walking," I said.

"I can't take a peek? He'll never know. I've heard how handsome he is. Just a peek?"

"No," I said, knowing I'd better stay in sight of that door until Claude was out of the house. Just a peek, my round rosy ass.

"What about your ass, Aunt Sookie?"

"Oops! Sorry, Hunter. I said a bad word." Didn't want Claude to know I'd only thought it. I heard him laughing as he shut the bathroom door.

Claude stayed in the bathroom so long that I had to let Hunter brush his teeth in mine. After I heard the squeak of the stairs and the sound of the television overhead, I was able to relax. I helped Hunter get dressed, and then I got dressed myself and put on some makeup under Hunter's unwavering attention to the process. Evidently, Kristen had never let Hunter watch what he considered to be a fascinating procedure.

"You should come to live with us, Aunt Sookie," he said.

Thanks, Hunter, but I like to live here. I have a job.

You can get another one.

"It wouldn't be the same. This is my house, and I love it here. I don't want to leave."

There was a knock on the front door. Could Remy be arriving this early to collect Hunter?

But it was another surprise altogether, an unpleasant one. Special Agent Tom Lattesta stood on the front porch.

Hunter, naturally, had run to the door as fast as he could. Don't all kids? He hadn't thought it was his dad, because he didn't know exactly when Remy was supposed to show up. He just liked to find out who was visiting.

"Hunter," I said, picking him up, "this is an FBI agent. His name is Tom Lattesta. Can you remember that?"

Hunter looked doubtful. He tried a couple of times to say the unfamiliar name and finally got it right.

"Good job, Hunter!" Lattesta said. He was trying to be friendly, but he wasn't good with kids and he sounded fake. "Ms. Stackhouse, can I come in for a minute?" I looked behind him. No one else. I thought they always traveled in pairs.

"I guess so," I said, without enthusiasm. I didn't explain who Hunter was, because it was none of Lattesta's business, though I could tell he was curious. He'd also noticed there was another car parked outside.

"Claude," I called up the stairs. "The FBI is here." It's good to inform unexpected company that someone else is in the house with you.

The television fell silent, and Claude came gliding down the stairs. Now he was wearing a golden brown silk T-shirt and khakis, and he looked like a poster for a wet dream. Even Lattesta's heterosexual orientation wasn't proof against a surge of startled admiration. "Agent Lattesta, my cousin Claude Crane," I said, trying not to smile.

Hunter and Claude and I sat on the couch while Lattesta took the La-Z-Boy. I didn't offer him anything to drink.

"How's Agent Weiss?" I asked. The New Orleans-based agent had brought Lattesta, based in Rhodes, out to my house last time, and in the course of many terrible events, she'd been shot.

"She's back at work," Lattesta said. "Still on a desk job. Mr. Crane, I don't believe I've met you before?"

No one forgot Claude. Of course, my cousin knew that very well. "You haven't had the pleasure," he told the FBI man.

Lattesta spent a moment trying to figure that out before he smiled. "Right," he said. "Listen, Ms. Stackhouse, I came up here today to tell you that you're no longer a subject for investigation."

I was stunned with the relief that swept over me. I exchanged glances with Claude. God bless my great-grandfather. I wondered how much he'd spent, how many strings he'd pulled, to make this come true.

"How come?" I asked. "Not that I'm going to miss it, you understand, but I have to wonder what's changed."

"You seem to know people who are powerful," Lattesta said, with an unexpected depth of bitterness. "Someone in our government doesn't want your name to come up in public."

"And you flew all the way to Louisiana to tell me that," I said, putting enough disbelief into my voice to let him know I thought that was bullshit.

"No, I flew all the way down here to go to a hearing about the shooting."

Okay. That made more sense. "And you didn't have my phone number? To call me? You had to come here to tell me you weren't going to investigate me, in person?"

"There's something wrong about you," he said, and the façade was gone. It was a relief. Now his outside matched his inside. "Sara Weiss has undergone some kind of ... spiritual upheaval since she met you. She goes to séances. She's reading books about the paranormal. Her husband is worried about her. The bureau is worried about her. Her boss is having doubts about putting her back out in the field."

"I'm sorry to hear that. But I don't see that there's anything I can do about it." I thought for a minute, while Tom Lattesta stared at me with angry eyes. He was thinking angry thoughts, too. "Even if I went to her and told her that I can't do what she thinks I can do, it wouldn't help. She believes what she believes. I am what I am."

"So you admit it."

Even though I didn't want the FBI noticing me, that hurt, oddly enough. I wondered if Lattesta was taping our conversation.

"Admit what?" I asked. I was genuinely curious to hear what he'd say. The first time he'd been on my doorstep, he'd been a believer. He'd thought I was his key to a quick rise in the bureau.

"Admit you're not even a human being."

Aha. He really believed that. I disgusted and repelled him. I had more insight into what Sam was feeling.

"I've been watching you, Ms. Stackhouse. I've been called off, but if I can tie you in to any investigation that will lead back to you, I'll do it. You're wrong. I'm leaving now, and I hope you - " He didn't get a chance to finish.

"Don't think bad things about my aunt Sookie," Hunter said furiously. "You're a bad man."

I couldn't have put it better myself, but I wished for Hunter's own sake that he had kept his mouth shut. Lattesta turned white as a sheet.

Claude laughed. "He's scared of you," he told Hunter. Claude thought it was a great joke, and I had a feeling he'd known what Hunter was all along.

I thought Lattesta's grudge might constitute a real danger to me.

"Thanks for coming to give me the good news, Special Agent Lattesta," I said, in as mild a voice as I could manage. "You have a safe drive back to Baton Rouge, or New Orleans, or wherever you flew in."

Lattesta was on his feet and out the door before I could say another word, and I handed Hunter to Claude and followed him. Lattesta was down the steps and at his car, fumbling around in his pocket, before he realized I was behind him. He was turning off a pocket recording device. He wheeled around to give me an angry look.

"You'd use a kid," he said. "That's low."

I looked at him sharply for a minute. Then I said, "You're worried that your little boy, who's Hunter's age, has autism. You're scared this hearing you came to attend will go badly for you and maybe for Agent Weiss. You're scared because you reacted to Claude. You're thinking of asking to transfer into the BVA in Louisiana. You're mad that I know people who can make you back off."

If Lattesta could have pressed himself into the metal of the car, he would've. I'd been a fool because I'd been proud. I should have let him go without a word.

"I wish I could tell you who it was who put me off-limits to the FBI," I said. "It would scare your pants off." In for a penny, in for a pound, right? I turned and went back up the front steps and into the house. A moment later, I heard his car tear down my driveway, probably scattering my beautiful gravel as it went.

Hunter and Claude were laughing in the kitchen, and I found them blowing with straws into the dishwashing water in the sink, which still had some soap bubbles. Hunter was standing on a stool I used to reach the top shelves of the cabinets. It was an unexpectedly happy picture.

"So, Cousin, he's gone?" Claude asked. "Good job, Hunter. I think there's a lake monster under that water!"

Hunter blew even harder, and water drops spattered the curtains. He laughed a little too wildly.

"Okay, kids, enough," I said. This was getting out of hand. Leave a fairy alone with a child for a few minutes, and this was what happened. I glanced at the clock. Thanks to Hunter's early wake-up call, it was only nine. I didn't expect Remy to come to collect Hunter until late afternoon.

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