Dead as a Doornail

Page 27

"I'll let her go when you let me in," Mickey yelled. He looked like a demon out there in the rain. "How's your tame vamp doing?"

"He's still out," I lied. "You hurt him bad." It didn't take any effort at all to make my voice crack as if I were on the verge of tears. "I can see his skull," I wailed, looking down at Eric to see that he was still feeding as greedily as a hungry baby. His head was mending as I watched. I'd seen vamps heal before, but it was still amazing. "He can't even open his eyes," I added in a heartbroken way, and just then Eric's blue eyes blazed up at me. I didn't know if he was in fighting trim yet, but I could not watch Tara being choked. "Not yet," Eric said urgently, but I had already told Mickey to come in.

"Oops," I said, and then Mickey slithered through the window in an oddly boneless movement. He knocked the broken glass out of the way carelessly, like it didn't hurt him to get cut. He dragged Tara through after him, though at least he'd switched his grip from her neck to her arm. Then he dropped her on the floor, and the rain coming in the window pelted down on her, though she couldn't be any wetter than she already was. I wasn't even sure she was conscious. Her eyes were closed in her bloody face, and her bruises were turning dark. I stood, swaying with the blood loss, but keeping my wrist concealed by resting it on the back of the armchair. I'd felt Eric lick it, but it would take a few minutes to heal.

"What do you want?" I asked Mickey. As if I didn't know.

"Your head, bitch," he said, his narrow features twisted with hatred, his fangs completely out. They were white and glistening and sharp in the bright overhead light. "Get down on your knees to your betters!" Before I could react in any way - in fact before I could blink - the vampire backhanded me, and I stumbled across the small room, landing half on the couch before I slid to the floor. The air went out of me in a big whoosh, and I simply couldn't move, couldn't even gasp for air, for an agonizingly long minute. In the meantime, Mickey was on top of me, his intentions completely clear when he reached down to unzip his pants. "This is all you're good for!" he said, contempt making him even uglier. He tried to push his way into my head, too, forcing the fear of him into my brain to cow me.

And my lungs inflated. The relief of breathing was exquisite, even under the circumstances. With air came rage, as if I'd inhaled it along with oxygen. This was the trump card male bullies played, always. I was sick of it - sick of being scared of the bogeyman's dick.

"No!" I screamed up at him. "No!" And finally I could think again; finally the fear let loose of me. "Your invitation is rescinded!" I yelled, and it was his turn to panic. He reared up off of me, looking ridiculous with his pants open, and he went backward out of the window, stepping on poor Tara as he went. He tried to bend, to grip her so he could yank her with him, but I lunged across the little room to grab her ankles, and her arms were too slick with rain to give him purchase, and the magic that had hold of him was too strong. In a second, he was outside looking in, screaming with rage. Then he looked east, as if he heard someone calling, and he vanished into the darkness.

Eric pushed himself to his feat, looking almost as startled as Mickey. "That was clearer thinking than most humans can manage," he said mildly into the sudden silence. "How are you, Sookie?" He reached down a hand and pulled me to my feet. "I myself am feeling much better. I've had your blood without having to talk you into it, and I didn't have to fight Mickey. You did all the work."

"You got hit in the head with a rock," I pointed out, content just to stand for a minute, though I knew I had to call an ambulance for Tara. I was feeling a little on the weak side myself.

"A small price to pay," Eric told me. He brought out his cell phone, flipped it open, and pressed the REDIAL button. "Salome," Eric said, "glad you answered the phone. He's trying to run...."

I heard the gleeful laughter coming from the other end of the phone. It was chilling. I couldn't feel the least bit sorry for Mickey, but I was glad I wouldn't have to witness his punishment.

"Salome'll catch him?" I asked.

Eric nodded happily as he returned his phone to his pocket. "And she can do things to him more painful than anything I could imagine," he said. "Though I can imagine plenty right now."

"She's that, ah, creative?"

"He's hers. She's his sire. She can do with him what she wishes. He can't disobey her and go unpunished. He has to go to her when she calls him, and she's calling."

"Not on the phone, I take it," I ventured.

His eyes glinted down at me. "No, she won't need a phone. He's trying to run away, but he'll go to her eventually. The longer he holds out, the more severe his torture will be. Of course," he added, in case I missed the point, "that's as it should be."

"Pam is yours, right?" I asked, falling to my knees and putting my fingers to Tara's cold neck. I didn't want to look at her.

"Yes," Eric said. "She's free to leave when she wants, but she comes back when I let her know I need her help."

I didn't know how I felt about that, but it didn't really make a hell of a lot of difference. Tara gasped and moaned. "Wake up, girl," I said. "Tara! I'm gonna call an ambulance for you.

"No," she said sharply. "No." There was a lot of that word going around tonight.

"But you're bad hurt."

"I can't go to the hospital. Everyone will know."

"Everyone will know someone beat the shit out of you when you can't go to work for a couple of weeks, you idiot."

"You can have some of my blood," Eric offered. He was looking down at Tara without any obvious emotion.

"No," she said. "I'd rather die."

"You might," I said, looking her over. "Oh, but you've had blood from Franklin or Mickey." I was assuming some tit-for-tat in their lovemaking.

"Of course not," she said, shocked. The horror in her voice took me aback. I'd had vampire blood when I'd needed it. The first time, I'd have died without it.

"Then you have to go to the hospital." I was really concerned that Tara might have internal injuries. "I'm scared for you to move," I protested, when she tried to push herself to a seated position. Mr. Super Strength didn't help, which irritated me, since he could have shifted her easily.

But at last Tara managed to sit with her back against the wall, the empty window allowing the chilly wind to gust in and blow the curtains to and fro. The rain had abated until only a drop or two was coming in. The linoleum in front of the window was wet with water and blood, and the glass lay in glittering sharp fragments, some stuck to Tara's damp clothes and skin.

"Tara, listen to me," Eric said. She looked up at him. Since he was close to the fluorescent light, she had to squint. I thought she looked pitiful, but Eric didn't seem to see the same person I was seeing. "Your greed and selfishness put my - my friend Sookie in danger. You say you're her friend, too, but you don't act like it."

Hadn't Tara loaned me a suit when I needed one? Hadn't she loaned me her car when mine burned? Hadn't she helped me on other occasions when I needed it? "Eric, this isn't any of your business," I said.

"You called me and asked me for my help. That makes it my business. I called Salome and told her what her child was doing, and she's taken him away and to punish him for it. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Yes," I said, and I'm ashamed to say I sounded sullen.

"Then I'm going to make my point with Tara." He looked back down at her. "Do you understand me?"

Tara nodded painfully. The bruises on her face and throat seemed to be darkening more every minute.

"I'm getting some ice for your throat," I told her, and ran into the kitchen to dump ice from the plastic trays into a Ziploc bag. I didn't want to listen to Eric scold her; she seemed so pitiful.

When I came back less than a minute later, Eric had finished whatever he was going to say to Tara. She was touching her neck gingerly, and she took the bag from me and held it to her throat. While I was leaning over her, anxious and scared, Eric was back on his cell phone.

I twitched with worry. "You need a doctor," I urged her.

"No," she said.

I looked up at Eric, who was just finishing his phone call. He was the injury expert.

"She'll heal without going to the hospital," he said briefly. His indifference made a chill run down my spine. Just when I thought I was used to them, vampires would show me their true face, and I would have to remind myself all over again that they were a different race. Or maybe it was centuries of conditioning that made the difference; decades of disposing of people as they chose, taking what they wanted, enduring the dichotomy of being the most powerful beings on earth in the darkness, and yet completely helpless and vulnerable during the hours of light.

"But will she have some permanent damage? Something doctors could fix if she got to them quick?"

"I'm fairly certain that her throat is only badly bruised. She has some broken ribs from the beating, possibly some loose teeth. Mickey could have broken her jaw and her neck very easily, you know. He probably wanted her to be able to talk to you when he brought her here, so he held back a little. He counted on you panicking and letting him in. He didn't think you could gather your thoughts so quickly. If I'd been him, my first move would have been to damage your mouth or neck so you couldn't rescind my entrance."

That possibility hadn't occurred to me, and I blanched.

"When he backhanded you, I think that was what he was aiming for," Eric continued dispassionately.

I'd heard enough. I thrust a broom and dustpan into his hands. He looked at them as if they were ancient artifacts and he could not fathom their use.

"Sweep up," I said, using a wet washcloth to clean the blood and dirt off my friend. I didn't know how much of this conversation Tara was absorbing, but her eyes were open and her mouth was shut, so maybe she was listening. Maybe she was just working through the pain.

Eric moved the broom experimentally and made an attempt to sweep the glass into the pan while it lay in the middle of the floor. Of course, the pan slid away. Eric scowled.

I'd finally found something Eric did poorly.

"Can you stand?" I asked Tara. She focused on my face and nodded very slightly. I squatted and took her hands. Slowly and painfully, she drew her knees up, and then she pushed as I pulled. Though the window had broken mostly in big pieces, a few bits of glass fell from her as she rose, and I flicked an eye at Eric to make sure he understood he should clean them up. He had a truculent set to his mouth.

I tried to put my arm around Tara to help her into my bedroom, but my wounded shoulder gave a throb of pain so unexpected that I flinched. Eric tossed down the dustpan. He picked up Tara in one smooth gesture and put her on the couch instead of my bed. I opened my mouth to protest and he looked at me. I shut my mouth. I went into the kitchen and fetched one of my pain pills, and I got Tara to swallow one, which took some coaxing. The medicine seemed to knock her out, or maybe she just didn't want to acknowledge Eric anymore. Anyway, she kept her eyes closed and her body slack, and gradually her breathing grew even and deep.

Eric handed me the broom with a triumphant smile. Since he'd lifted Tara, clearly I was stuck with his task. I was awkward because of my bad shoulder, but I finished sweeping up the glass and disposing of it in a garbage bag. Eric turned toward the door. I hadn't heard anyone arrive, but Eric opened the door to Bill before Bill even knocked. Eric's earlier phone conversation must have been with Bill. In a way, that made sense; Bill lived in Eric's fiefdom, or whatever they called it. Eric needed help, so Bill was obliged to supply it. My ex was burdened with a large piece of plywood, a hammer, and a box of nails.

"Come in," I said when Bill halted in the doorway, and without speaking a word to each other, the two vampires nailed the wood across the window. To say I felt awkward would be an understatement, though thanks to the events of the evening I wasn't as sensitive as I would've been at another time. I was mostly preoccupied with the pain in my shoulder, and Tara's recovery, and the current whereabouts of Mickey. In the extra space I had left over after worrying about those items, I crammed in some anxiety about replacing Sam's window, and whether the neighbors had heard enough of this fracas to call the police. On the whole, I thought they hadn't; someone would be here by now.

After Bill and Eric finished their temporary repair, they both watched me mopping up the water and blood on the linoleum. The silence began to weigh heavily on all three of us: at least, on my third of the three of us. Bill's tenderness in caring for me the night before had touched me. But Eric's just acquired knowledge of our intimacy raised my self-consciousness to a whole new level. I was in the same room with two guys who both knew I'd slept with the other.

I wanted to dig a hole and lie down in it and pull the opening inside with me, like a character in a cartoon. I couldn't look either of them in the face.

If I rescinded both their invitations, they'd have to walk outside without a word; but in view of the fact that they'd both just helped me, such a procedure would be rude. I'd solved my problems with them before in exactly that way. Though I was tempted to repeat it to ease my personal embarrassment, I simply couldn't. So what did we do next?

Should I pick a fight? Yelling at one another might clear the air. Or maybe a frank acknowledgment of the situation... no.