Definitely Dead

Page 13

There were moments on the drive south when I felt like sharing all my thoughts with my companions. Mr. Cataliades drove for a couple of hours, and then Diantha took the wheel. Bill and the lawyer didn't have a lot of small talk, and I had too many things on my mind for social chitchat, so we were a silent bunch.

I was as comfortable as I'd ever been in a vehicle. I had the rear-facing seat all to myself, while Bill and the lawyer sat opposite me. The limo was the last word in automotive luxury, at least in my eyes. Upholstered in leather and padded to the nth degree, the limo boasted lots of leg room, bottles of water and synthetic blood, and a little basket of snacks. Mr. Cataliades was real fond of Cheetos.

I closed my eyes and thought for a while. Bill's brain, naturally, was a null to me, and Mr. Cataliades's brain was very nearly so. His brain emitted a low-level buzz that was almost soothing, while the same emanation, from Diantha's brain, vibrated at a higher pitch. I'd been on the edge of a thought when I'd been talking with Sam, and I wanted to pursue it while I could still catch hold of its tail. Once I'd worked it through, I decided to share it.

"Mr. Cataliades," I said, and the big man opened his eyes. Bill was already looking at me. Something was going on in Bill's head, something weird. "You know that Wednesday, the night your girl was supposed to appear on my doorstep, I heard something in the woods."

The lawyer nodded. Bill nodded.

"So we assume that was the night she was killed."

Again with the double nods.

"But why? Whoever did it had to know that sooner or later you would contact me, or come to see me, to find out what had happened. Even if the killer didn't know the message Gladiola was bringing, they'd figure that she'd be missed sooner rather than later."

"That's reasonable," Mr. Cataliades said.

"But on Friday night, I was attacked in a parking lot in Shreveport."

I got my money's worth out of that statement, I can tell you. If I'd hooked both the men up to electroshock machines and given them a jolt, the reaction couldn't have been more dynamic.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Bill demanded. His eyes were glowing with anger, and his fangs were out.

"Why should I? We don't date any more. We don't see each other regularly."

"So this is your punishment for my dating someone else, keeping something so serious from me?"

Even in my wildest fantasies (which had included such scenes as Bill breaking up with Selah in Merlotte's, and his subsequent public confession to me that Selah had never measured up to my charms), I'd never envisioned such a reaction. Though it was very dark in the car's interior, I thought I saw Mr. Cataliades roll his eyes. Maybe he thought that was over the top, too.

"Bill, I never set out to punish you," I said. At least I didn't think I had. "We just don't share details of our lives any more. Actually, I was out on a date when the attack occurred. I believe I'm used to us not being part of the scenery."

"Who was your date?"

"Not that it's actually your business, but it is pertinent to the rest of the story. I'm dating Quinn." We'd had one date and planned another. That counted as "dating," right?

"Quinn the tiger," Bill said expressionlessly.

"Hats off to you, young lady!" Mr. Cataliades said. "You are courageous and discerning."

"I'm not really asking for approval," I said as neutrally as I could manage. "Or disapproval, for that matter." I waved my hand to show that topic was off the table. "Here's what I want you to know. The attackers were very young Weres."

"Weres," Mr. Cataliades said. As we sped through the darkness, I couldn't decipher his expression or his voice. "What kind of Weres?"

Good question. The lawyer was on the ball. "Bitten Weres," I said. "And I believe they were on drugs, as well." That gave them pause.

"What happened during the attack and afterward?" Bill said, breaking a long silence.

I described the attack and its aftermath.

"So Quinn took you to the Hair of the Dog," Bill said. "He thought that was an appropriate response?"

I could tell Bill was furious, but as usual, I didn't know why.

"It may have worked," Cataliades said. "Consider. Nothing else has happened to her, so apparently Quinn's threat took root."

I tried not to say "Huh?" but I guess Bill's vampire eyes could see it on my face.

"He challenged them," Bill said, sounding even colder than usual. "He told them you were under his protection, and that they harmed you at their peril. He accused them of being behind the attack, but at the same time reminded them that even if they didn't know of it, they were responsible for bringing the one who planned it to justice."

"I got all that on the spot," I said patiently. "And I think Quinn was warning them, not challenging them. Big difference. What I didn't get was... nothing should happen in the pack without Patrick Furnan's knowledge, right? Since he's the grand high poobah now. So why not go straight to Patrick? Why go to the local watering hole?"

"What a very interesting question," Cataliades said. "What would your answer be, Compton?"

"The one that springs to mind... Quinn might know there's a rebellion fomenting against Furnan already. He's added fuel to it by letting the rebels know that Furnan is trying to kill a friend of the pack."

We're not talking armies here. There might be thirty-five members of the pack, maybe a little more with servicemen from Barksdale Air Force Base added in. It would take only five people to make a rebellion.

"Why don't they just take him out?" I asked. I'm not politically minded, as I guess you can tell.

Mr. Cataliades was smiling at me. It was dark in the car, but I just knew it. "So direct, so classic," he said. "So American. Well, Miss Stackhouse, it's like this. The Weres can be savage, oh yes! But they do have rules. The penalty for killing the packleader, except by open challenge, is death."

"But who would, ah, enact that penalty, if the pack kept the killing secret?"

"Unless the pack is willing to kill the whole Furnan family, I think the Furnan family would be delighted to inform the Were hierarchy of Patrick's murder. Now maybe you know the Shreveport Weres better than most. Are there ruthless killers among them who wouldn't mind slaughtering Furnan's wife and children?"

I thought about Amanda, Alcide, and Maria-Star. "That's a whole different kettle offish. I see that."

"Now vampires, you'd find many more who were up for that kind of treachery," the lawyer said. "Don't you think so, Mr. Compton?"

There was a curious silence. "Vampires have to pay a price if they kill another vampire," Bill said stiffly.

"If they're affiliated with a clan," Mr. Cataliades said mildly.

"I didn't know vampires had clans," I said. Learning something new all the time, that was me.

"It's a fairly new concept. It's an attempt to regularize the vampire world so it looks more palatable to humans. If the American model catches on, the vampire world will resemble a huge multinational corporation more than a loosely ruled collection of vicious bloodsuckers."

"Lose some of the color and tradition, gain some of the profits," I murmured. "Like Wal-Mart versus Dad's Downtown Hardware." Mr. Cataliades laughed.

"You're right, Miss Stackhouse. Exactly. There are those in both camps, and the summit we'll attend in a few weeks will have this item high on the agenda."

"To get from what's going to take place weeks from now and get back to something a little more on topic, why would Patrick Furnan try to kill me? He doesn't like me, and he knows I'd stand with Alcide if I had to make a choice between 'em, but so what? I'm not important. Why would he plan all this - find the two boys who would do it, bite them, send them out to get me and Quinn - if there wasn't some big payoff?"

"You have a knack for asking good questions, Miss Stackhouse. I wish my answers were as good."

Well, I might as well keep my thoughts to myself if I wasn't going to get any information out of my companions.

The only reason to kill Gladiola, at least the only reason that this direct human could see, was to delay my getting the message that I needed to be ready to leave for New Orleans. Also, Gladiola would have provided some buffer between me and anything that came after me, or at the least she would have been more alert to the attack.

As it was, she'd been lying dead in the woods when I'd gone on my date with Quinn. Whoa. How had the young wolves known where to find me? Shreveport isn't that big, but you couldn't guard every road into town on the off chance I'd show up. On the other hand, if a Were had spotted Quinn and me going into the theater, they'd have known I'd be there for a couple of hours, and that was time enough to arrange something.

If this mastermind had known even earlier, it would have been even easier... if someone, say, had known beforehand that Quinn had asked me to go the theater. Who'd known I had a date with Quinn? Well, Tara: I'd told her when I bought my outfit. And I'd mentioned it to Jason, I thought, when I'd called him to inquire after Crystal. I'd told Pam I had a date, but I didn't remember telling her where I was going.

And then there was Quinn himself.

I was so grieved by this idea that I had to suppress tears. It was not like I knew Quinn that well or could judge his character based on the time I'd spent with him... I'd learned over the past few months that you couldn't really know someone that quickly, that learning a person's true character might take years. It had shaken me profoundly, since I'm used to knowing people very well, very quickly. I know them better than they ever suspect. But making mistakes about the character of a few supernaturals had caught me flatfooted, emotionally. Used to the quick assessment my telepathy made possible, I'd been naive and careless.

Now I was surrounded by such creatures.

I snuggled into a corner of the broad seat and shut my eyes. I had to be in my own world for a while, with no one else allowed inside. I fell asleep in the dark car, with a semidemon and a vampire sitting across from me and a half demon in the driver's seat.

When I woke up, I had my head in Bill's lap. His hand was gently stroking my hair, and the familiar touch of his fingers brought me peace and a stirring of that sensual feeling that Bill had always been able to rouse in me.

It took a second for me to remember where we were and what we were doing, and then I sat up, blinking and tousled. Mr. Cataliades was quite still on the opposite seat, and I thought he was asleep, but it was impossible to be sure. If he'd been human, I would've known.

"Where are we?" I asked.

"Almost there," Bill said. "Sookie..."

"Hmm?" I stretched and yawned and longed for a toothbrush.

"I'll help you go through Hadley's apartment if you want me to."

I had a feeling he'd changed his mind about what he was going to say, at the last minute.

"If I need help, I know where to go," I answered. That should be ambiguous enough. I was beginning to get a mighty bad feeling about Hadley's apartment. Maybe Hadley's legacy to me was more in the nature of a curse than a blessing. And yet she'd pointedly excluded Jason, because he had failed her when she'd needed help, so Hadley presumably had meant her bequest to be a boon. On the other hand, Hadley had been a vampire, no longer human, and that would have changed her. Oh, yeah.

Looking out the window, I could see streetlights and a few other cars moving through the gloom. It was raining, and it was four in the morning. I wondered if there was an IHOP anywhere nearby. I'd been to one, once. It had been wonderful. That had been on my only previous trip to New Orleans, when I'd been in high school. We'd been to the aquarium and the slave museum and the church on Jackson Square, the St. Louis Cathedral. It had been wonderful to see something new, to think about all the people who had passed through the same area, what they must have looked like in the clothes of their time. On the other hand, a telepath with poor shielding is not going to have a great time with a bunch of teenagers.

Now my companions were much less easy to read, and quite a bit more dangerous.

We were on a quiet residential street when the limousine pulled to a curb and stopped.

"Your cousin's apartment," Mr. Cataliades said as Diantha opened the door. I was out and on the sidewalk while Mr. Cataliades maneuvered himself into the right position to exit, and Bill was stuck behind him.

I was facing a six-foot wall with an opening for the driveway. It was hard to tell, in the uncertain glow of a streetlight, what lay within, but it seemed to be a small courtyard with a very tight circular drive. In the middle of the drive was an explosion of greenery, though I couldn't discern the individual plants. In the right front corner was a tool shed. There was a two-story building forming an L. To take advantage of the depth of the lot, the building was oriented with the L inverted. Right next door was a similar building, at least as far as I could tell. Hadley's was painted white, with dark green shutters.

"How many apartments are here, and which one is Hadley's?" I asked Mr. Cataliades, who was steaming along behind me.

"There's the bottom floor, where the owner lives, and the top floor, which is yours now for as long as you want it. The queen has been paying the rent until the estate was probated. She didn't think it fair that Hadley's estate should do so." Even for Mr. Cataliades, this was a formal speech.

My reaction was muted by my exhaustion, and I could only say, "I can't think why she didn't just put Hadley's stuff into storage. I could have gone through it all at one of the rental places."

"You'll get used to way the queen does things," he said.

Not if I had anything to say about it. "For right now, can you just show me how to get into Hadley's apartment, so I can unpack and get some sleep?"

"Of course, of course. And dawn is coming, so Mr. Compton needs to go to the queen's headquarters to gain shelter for the day." Diantha had already started up the stairs, which I could just make out. They curved up the short part of the L, which lay to the back of the lot. "Here is your key, Miss Stackhouse. As soon as Diantha comes down, we'll leave you to it. You can meet the owner tomorrow."

"Sure," I said, and trudged up the stairs, holding to the wrought-iron handrail. This wasn't what I had envisioned at all. I thought Hadley would have a place like one of the apartments at the Kingfisher Arms, the only apartment building in Bon Temps. This was like a little bitty mansion.

Diantha had put my sports bag and my big carryall by one of two doors on the second floor. There was a broad roofed gallery running below the windows and doors of the second floor, which would provide shade for people sitting inside on the ground floor. Magic trembled around all those French windows and the doors. I recognized the smell and feel of it, now. The apartment had been sealed with more than locks.

I hesitated, the key in my hand.

"It will recognize you," called the lawyer from the courtyard. So I unlocked the door with clumsy hands, and pushed the door open. Warm air rushed out to meet me. This apartment had been closed for weeks. I wondered if anyone had come in to air it out. It didn't smell actively bad, just stale, so I knew the climate control system had been left on. I fumbled around for the switch of the nearest light, a lamp on a marble-topped pedestal to the right of the door. It cast a pool of golden light on the gleaming hardwood floors and some faux antique furniture (at least I was assuming it was faux). I took another step inside the apartment, trying to imagine Hadley here, Hadley who'd worn black lipstick to have her senior picture made and bought her shoes at Payless.

"Sookie," Bill said behind me, by way of letting me know that he was standing right outside the doorway. I didn't tell him he could come in.

"I have to get to bed now, Bill. I'll see you tomorrow. Do I have the queen's phone number?"

"Cataliades stuck a card in your purse while you were sleeping."

"Oh, good. Well, night."

And I shut the door in his face. I was rude, but he was hovering, and I just wasn't up for talking to him. It had shaken me, finding my head in his lap when I woke; it was like we were still a couple.

After a minute I heard his footsteps going back down the stairs. I was never more relieved to be alone in my life. Thanks to the night spent in a car and the brief sleep I'd had, I felt disoriented, rumpled, and desperately in need of a toothbrush. Time to scope out the place, with emphasis on bathroom discovery.

I looked around carefully. The shorter segment of the upside-down L was the living room, where I now stood. Its open plan included a kitchen against the far right wall. On my left, forming the long side of the L, was a hall lined with French windows that opened directly onto the gallery. The wall that formed the other side of the hall was punctuated with doors.

Bags in hand, I started down the hall, peering into each open door. I didn't find the light switch that would illumine the hall, though there must be one, since there were fixtures at regular intervals on the ceiling.

But enough moonlight streamed through the windows of the rooms to enable me to see as much as I needed. The first room was a bathroom, thank God, though after a second I realized it wasn't Hadley's. It was very small and very clean, with a narrow shower stall, a toilet and sink; no toiletries, no personal clutter. I passed it by and glanced in the next doorway, discovering that it opened into a small room that had probably been intended as the guest bedroom. Hadley had set up a computer desk loaded with computer gear, not items of great interest to me.

In addition to a narrow daybed, there was a bookshelf crammed full with boxes and books, and I promised myself I'd go through that tomorrow. The next door was shut, but I cracked it open to peer inside for a second. It was the door to a narrow, deep, walk-in closet lined with shelves full of items that I didn't take the time to identify.

To my relief, the next door was that of the main bathroom, the one with the shower and the tub and a large sink with a dressing table built in. The surface of the surround was littered with cosmetics and an electric curler, still plugged in. Five or six bottles of perfume were lined up on a shelf, and there were crumpled towels in the hamper, spotted with dark blotches. I put my face right down to them; at that range, they emitted an alarming reek. I couldn't understand why the smell hadn't pervaded the entire apartment. I picked up the whole hamper, unlocked the French window on the other side of the hall, and set it outside. I left the light on in the bathroom, because I intended to revisit it shortly.

The last door, set at right angles to all the others and forming the end of the hall, led into Hadley's bedroom. It was big enough, though not as big as my bedroom at home. It held another large closet, crammed full with clothes. The bed was made, not a Hadley trademark, and I wondered who'd been in the apartment since Hadley had been killed. Someone had entered before the place had been sealed by magic. The bedroom, of course, was completely darkened. The windows had been covered by beautifully painted wood panels, and there were two doors to the room. There was just enough space between them for a person to stand.

I set my bags on the floor by Hadley's chest of drawers, and I rooted around until I found my cosmetics bag and my tampons. Trudging back into the bathroom, I extricated my toothbrush and toothpaste from the small bag and had the delight of brushing my teeth and washing my face. I felt a little more human after that, but not much. I switched out the bathroom light and pulled back the covers on the bed, which was low and broad. The sheets startled me so much that I stood there with my lips curled. They were disgusting: black satin, for God's sake! And not even real satin, but some synthetic. Give me percale or 100% cotton, any day. However, I wasn't going to hunt down another set of sheets at this hour of the morning. Besides, what if this was all she had?

I climbed into the king-size bed - well, I slithered into the king-size bed - and after an uneasy wiggle or two to get used to the feel of them, I managed to fall asleep between those sheets just fine.