Dead and gone, p.1
Dead and Gone,
"Caucasian vampires should never wear white," the television announcer intoned. "We've been secretly filming Devon Dawn, who's been a vampire for only a decade, as she gets dressed for a night on the town. Look at that outfit! It's all wrong for her!"
"What was she thinking?" said an acidic female voice. "Talk about stuck in the nineties! Look at that blouse, if that's what you call it. Her skin just cries out for contrasting color, and what is she putting on? Ivory! It makes her skin look like a Hefty bag. "
I paused in the act of tying my shoe to watch what happened next as the two vampire fashionistas burst in on the hapless victim - oh, excuse me, the lucky vampire - who was about to get an unsolicited makeover. She'd have the additional pleasure of realizing her friends had turned her in to the fashion police.
"I don't think this is going to end well," Octavia Fant said. Though my housemate Amelia Broadway had sort of slid Octavia into my house - based on a casual invitation I'd issued in a weak moment - the arrangement was working out okay.
"Devon Dawn, here's Bev Leveto from The Best Dressed Vamp , and I'm Todd Seabrook. Your friend Tessa called to tell us you needed fashion help! We've been secretly filming you for the past two nights, and - AAACKK!" A white hand flashed at Todd's throat, which vanished, leaving a gaping reddish hole. The camera lingered, fascinated, as Todd crumpled to the floor, before it rose to follow the fight between Devon Dawn and Bev.
"Gosh," said Amelia. "Looks like Bev's gonna win. "
"Better strategic sense," I said. "Did you notice she let Todd go through the door first?"
"I've got her pinned," Bev said triumphantly on the screen. "Devon Dawn, while Todd recovers his speech, we're going to go through your closet. A girl who's going to live for eternity can't afford to be tacky. Vampires can't get stuck in their pasts. We've got to be fashion forward!"
Devon Dawn whimpered, "But I like my clothes! They're part of who I am! You've broken my arm. "
"It'll heal. Listen, you don't want to be known as the little vampire who couldn't, do you? You don't want to have your head stuck in the past!"
"Well, I guess not . . . "
"Good! I'll let you up now. And I can tell from the coughing that Todd's feeling better. "
I switched off the television and tied my other shoe, shaking my head at America's new addiction to vampire "reality" shows. I got my red coat out of the closet. The sight of it reminded me that I myself had some absolutely real problems with a vampire; in the two and a half months since the takeover of the Louisiana vampire kingdom by the vampires of Nevada, Eric Northman had been fully occupied with consolidating his position within the new regime and evaluating what was left of the old.
We were way overdue for a chitchat about Eric's newly recovered memories of our strange and intense time together when he'd temporarily misplaced his memory due to a spell.
"What are you going to do tonight while I'm at work?" I asked Amelia and Octavia, since I didn't need to go another round of imaginary conversations. I pulled on the coat. Northern Louisiana doesn't get the horrific temperatures of the real north, but it was in the forties tonight and would be colder when I got off work.
"My niece and her kids are taking me out to dinner," Octavia said.
Amelia and I gave each other surprised looks while the older woman's head was bent over the blouse she was mending. It was the first time Octavia had seen her niece since she'd moved from the niece's house to mine.
"I think Tray and I are coming to the bar tonight," Amelia said hastily, to cover the little pause.
"So I'll see you at Merlotte's. " I'd been a barmaid there for years.
Octavia said, "Oh, I've got the wrong color thread," and went down the hall to her room.
"I guess you aren't seeing Pam anymore?" I asked Amelia. "You and Tray are getting to be a regular thing. " I tucked my white T-shirt into my black pants more securely. I glanced in the old mirror over the mantel. My hair was pulled up into its usual ponytail for work. I spotted a stray long blond hair against the red of the coat, and I plucked it off.
"Pam was just a wild hair, and I'm sure she felt the same way about me. I really like Tray," Amelia was saying. "He doesn't seem to care about Daddy's money, and he's not worried about me being a witch. And he can rock my world in the bedroom. So we're getting along great. " Amelia gave me a cat-eating-the-canary grin. She might look like a well-toned soccer mom - short, gleaming hair, beautiful white smile, clear eyes - but she was very interested in sex and (by my standards) diverse in those interests.
"He's a good guy," I said. "Have you seen him as a wolf yet?"
"Nope. But I'm looking forward to it. "
I picked up something from Amelia's transparent head that startled me. "It's soon? The revelation?"
"Would you not do that?" Amelia was normally matter-of-fact about my mind-reading ability, but not today. "I've got to keep other people's secrets, you know!"
"Sorry," I said. And I was, but at the same time I was mildly aggrieved. You'd think that I could relax in my own house and loosen the tight wrappings I tried to keep on my ability. After all, I had to struggle every single day at work.
Amelia said instantly, "I'm sorry, too. Listen, I've got to go get ready. See you later. " She went lightly up the stairs to the second floor, which had been largely unused until she'd come back from New Orleans with me a few months before. She'd missed Katrina, unlike poor Octavia.
"Good-bye, Octavia. Have a good time!" I called, and went out the back door to my car.
As I steered down the long driveway that led through the woods to Hummingbird Road, I wondered about the chances of Amelia and Tray Dawson sticking together. Tray, a werewolf, worked as a motorcycle repairman and as muscle for hire. Amelia was an up-and-coming witch, and her dad was immensely wealthy, even after Katrina. The hurricane had spared most of the materials at his contracting warehouse and provided him with enough work to last for decades.
According to Amelia's brain, tonight was the night - not the night Tray asked Amelia to marry him, but the night Tray came out. Tray's dual nature was a plus to my roommate, who was attracted by the exotic.
I went in the employee entrance and right to Sam's office. "Hey, boss," I said when I saw him behind his desk. Sam hated to work on the books, but that was what he was doing. Maybe it was providing a needed distraction. Sam looked worried. His hair was even more tangled than usual, its strawberry waves standing out in a halo around his narrow face.
"Brace yourself. Tonight's the night," he said.
I was so proud he'd told me, and he'd echoed my own thoughts so closely, I couldn't help but smile. "I'm ready. I'll be right here. " I dropped my purse in the deep drawer in his desk and went to tie on my apron. I was relieving Holly, but after I'd had a talk with her about the customers at our tables, I said, "You oughta stick around tonight. "
She looked at me sharply. Holly had recently been letting her hair grow out, so the dyed black ends looked like they'd been dipped in tar. Her natural color, now showing about an inch at the roots, turned out to be a pleasant light brown. She'd colored it for so long that I'd clean forgotten. "This going to be good enough for me to keep Hoyt waiting?" she asked. "Him and Cody get along like a house on fire, but I am Cody's mama. " Hoyt, my brother Jason's best buddy, had been co-opted by Holly. Now he was her follower.
"You should stay awhile. " I gave her a significant lift of my eyebrows.
Holly said, "The Weres?" I nodded, and her face brightened with a grin. "Oh, boy! Arlene's going to have a shit fit. "
Arlene, our coworker and
My brother, Jason, was at a table, too, with Mel Hart. Mel worked at Bon Temps Auto Parts, and he was about Jason's age, maybe thirty-one. Slim and hard-bodied, Mel had longish light brown hair, a mustache and beard, and a pleasant face. I'd been seeing Jason with Mel a lot lately. Jason had had to fill the gap Hoyt had left, I assumed. Jason wasn't happy without a sidekick. Tonight both men had dates. Mel was divorced, but Jason was still nominally married, so he had no business being out in public with another woman. Not that anyone here would blame him. Jason's wife, Crystal, had been caught cheating with a local guy.
I'd heard Crystal had moved her pregnant self back to the little community of Hotshot to stay with relatives. (She could find a room in any house in Hotshot and be with relatives. It's that kind of place. ) Mel Hart had been born in Hotshot, too, but he was the rare member of the tribe who'd chosen to live elsewhere.
To my surprise Bill, my ex-boyfriend, was sitting with another vampire, named Clancy. Clancy wasn't my favorite guy regardless of his nonliving status. They both had bottles of TrueBlood on the table in front of them. I didn't think Clancy had ever dropped in to Merlotte's for a casual drink before, and certainly never with Bill.
"Hey, guys, need a refill?" I asked, smiling for all I was worth. I'm a little nervous around Bill.
"Please," Bill said politely, and Clancy shoved his empty bottle toward me.
I stepped behind the bar to get two more TrueBloods out of the refrigerator, and I uncapped them and popped them in the microwave. (Fifteen seconds works best. ) I shook the bottles gently and put the warm drinks on the tray with some fresh napkins. Bill's cold hand touched mine as I placed his drink in front of him.
He said, "If you need any help at your place, please call me. "
I knew he meant it kindly, but it sort of emphasized my current manless status. Bill's house was right across the cemetery from mine, and the way he roamed around at night, I figured he was well aware I wasn't entertaining company.
"Thanks, Bill," I said, making myself smile at him. Clancy just sneered.
Tray and Amelia came in, and after depositing Amelia at a table, Tray went up to the bar, greeting everyone in the place along the way. Sam came out of his office to join the burly man, who was at least five inches taller than my boss and almost twice as big around. They grinned at each other. Bill and Clancy went on alert.
The televisions mounted at intervals around the room cut away from the sports event they'd been showing. A series of beeps alerted the bar patrons to the fact that something was happening on-screen. The bar gradually hushed to a few scattered conversations. "Special Report" flashed on the screen, superimposed on a newscaster with clipped, gelled hair and a sternly serious face. In solemn tones he said, "I'm Matthew Harrow. Tonight we bring you a special report. Like newsrooms all across the country, here in Shreveport we have a visitor in the studio. "
The camera moved away to broaden the picture, and a pretty woman came into view. Her face was slightly familiar. She gave the camera a practiced little wave. She was wearing a sort of muumuu, an odd choice for a television appearance.
"This is Patricia Crimmins, who moved to Shreveport a few weeks ago. Patty - may I call you Patty?"
"Actually, it's Patricia," the brunette said. She was one of the members of the pack that had been absorbed by Alcide's, I remembered. She was pretty as a picture, and the part of her not swathed in the muumuu looked fit and toned. She smiled at Matthew Harrow. "I'm here tonight as the representative of a people who have lived among you for many years. Since the vampires have been so successful out in the open, we've decided the time's come for us to tell you about ourselves. After all, vampires are dead. They're not even human. But we're regular people just like you-all, with a difference. " Sam turned the volume up. People in the bar began to swivel in their seats to see what was happening.
The newsman's smile had gotten as rigid as a smile could be, and he was visibly nervous. "How interesting, Patricia! What - what are you?"
"Thanks for asking, Matthew! I'm a werewolf. " Patricia had her hands clasped around her knee. Her legs were crossed. She looked perky enough to sell used cars. Alcide had made a good choice. Plus, if someone killed her right away, well . . . she was the new girl.
By now Merlotte's was silent as the word went from table to table. Bill and Clancy had risen to stand by the bar. I realized now that they were there to keep the peace if they were needed; Sam must have asked them to come in. Tray began unbuttoning his shirt. Sam was wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, and he pulled it over his head.
"You're saying you turn into a wolf at the full moon?" Matthew Harrow quavered, trying hard to keep his smile level and his face simply interested. He didn't succeed very well.
"And at other times," Patricia explained. "During the full moon, most of us have to turn, but if we're pure-blooded wereanimals, we can change at other times as well. There are many kinds of wereanimals, but I turn into a wolf. We're the more numerous of all the two-natured. Now I'm going to show you-all what an amazing process this is. Don't be scared. I'll be fine. " She shucked her shoes, but not the muumuu. I suddenly understood she'd worn it so she wouldn't have to undress on camera. Patricia knelt on the floor, smiled at the camera one last time, and began to contort. The air around her shivered with the magic of it, and everyone in Merlotte's went"Ooooooo" in unison.
Right after Patricia committed herself to the change on the television screen, Sam and Tray did, too, right then and there. They'd worn underthings they didn't mind ripping to shreds. Everyone in Merlotte's was torn between watching the pretty woman change into a creature with long white teeth, and the spectacle of two people they knew doing the same. There were exclamations all over the bar, most of them not repeatable in polite society. Jason's date, Michele Schubert, actually stood up to get a better view.
I was so proud of Sam. This took a lot of courage, since he had a business that depended to some extent on his likability.
In another minute, it was all over. Sam, a rare pure shapeshifter, turned into his most familiar form, that of a collie. He went to sit in front of me and gave a happy yip. I bent over to pat his head. His tongue lolled out, and he grinned at me. Tray's animal manifestation was much more dramatic. Huge wolves are not often seen in rural northern Louisiana; let's face it, they're scary. People shifted uneasily and might have gotten up to flee from the building if Amelia hadn't squatted by Tray and put her arm around his neck.
"He knows what you're saying," she told the people at the nearest table encouragingly. Amelia had a great smile, big and genuine. "Hey, Tray, take them this coaster. " She handed him one of the bar coasters, and Tray Dawson, one of the most implacable fighters both in and out of his wolf form, trotted over to lay the coaster on the lap of the female customer. She blinked, wavered, and finally came down on the side of laughing.
Sam licked my hand.
"Oh, my lord Jesus," Arlene exclaimed loudly. Whit Spradlin and his buddy were on their feet. But though a few other patrons looked nervous, none of them had such a violent reaction.
Bill and Clancy watched with expressionless faces. They were obviously ready to handle trouble, but all seemed to be going well at the Great Reveal. The vampires' Great Revelation night hadn't gone so smoothly, because it was the first in
Sam and Tray wandered among the regulars, allowing themselves to be petted as if they were regular tame animals. While they were doing that, the newscaster on television was visibly trembling as he faced the beautiful white wolf Patricia had become.
"Look, he so scared, he shaking!" D'Eriq, the busboy and kitchen helper, said. He laughed out loud. The drinkers in Merlotte's relaxed enough to feel superior. After all, they'd handled this with aplomb.
Jason's new buddy Mel said, "Ain't nobody got to be scared of a lady that pretty, even if she does shed some," and the laughter and relaxation in the bar spread. I was relieved, though I thought it was a little ironic that people might not be so quick to laugh if Jason and Mel had changed; they were werepanthers, though Jason couldn't change completely.
But after the laughter, I felt that everything was going to be all right. Bill and Clancy, after a careful look around, went back to their table.
Whit and Arlene, surrounded by citizens taking a huge chunk of knowledge in their stride, looked stunned. I could hear Arlene being extra confused about how to react. After all, Sam had been our boss for a good many years. Unless she wanted to lose her job, she couldn't cut up. But I could also read her fear and the mounting anger that followed close behind. Whit had one reaction, always, to anything he didn't understand. He hated it, and hate is infectious. He looked at his drinking companion, and they exchanged dark looks.
Thoughts were churning around in Arlene's brain like lottery balls in the popper. It was hard to tell which one would surface first.
"Jesus, strike him dead!" said Arlene, boiling over. The hate ball had landed on top.
A few people said, "Oh, Arlene!" . . . but they were all listening.
"This goes against God and nature," Arlene said in a loud, angry voice. Her dyed red hair shook with her vehemence. "You-all want your kids around this kind of thing?"
"Our kids have always been around this kind of thing," Holly said equally loudly. "We just didn't know it. And they ain't come to any harm. " She rose to her feet, too.
"God will get us if we don't strike them down," Arlene said, pointing to Tray dramatically. By now, her face was almost as red as her hair. Whit was looking at her approvingly. "You don't understand! We're all going to hell if we don't take the world back from them! Look who they got standing there to keep us humans in line!" Her finger swung around to indicate Bill and Clancy, though since they'd resumed their chairs she lost a few points.
I set my tray on the bar and took a step away, my hands clenched in fists. "We all get along here in Bon Temps," I said, keeping my voice calm and level. "You seem to be the only one upset, Arlene. "
She glared around the bar, trying to catch the eyes of various patrons. She knew every one of them. Arlene was genuinely shocked to realize more people weren't sharing her reaction. Sam came to sit in front of her. He looked up at her face with his beautiful doggy eyes.
I took another step closer to Whit, just in case. Whit was deciding what to do, considering jumping Sam. But who would join him in beating up a collie? Even Whit could see the absurdity, and that made him hate Sam all the more.
"How could you?" Arlene screamed at Sam. "You been lying to me all these years! I thought you were human, not a damn supe!"
"He is human," I said. "He's just got another face, is all. "
"And you," she said, spitting out the words. "You're the weirdest, the most inhuman, of them all. "
"Hey, now," Jason said. He leaped to his feet, and after a moment's hesitation, Mel joined him. His date looked alarmed, though Jason's lady friend just smiled. "You leave my sister alone. She babysat your kids and she cleaned your trailer and she put up with your shit for years. What kind of friend are you?"
Jason didn't look at me. I was frozen in astonishment. This was a very un-Jason gesture. Could he have grown up a little bit?
"The kind that don't want to hang around with unnatural creatures like your sister," Arlene said. She tore off her apron, said, "I quit this place!" to the collie, and stomped back to Sam's office to retrieve her purse. Maybe a fourth of the people in the bar looked alarmed and upset. Half of them were fascinated with the drama. That left a quarter on the fence. Sam whined like a sad dog and put his nose between his paws. After that got a big laugh, the discomfort of the moment passed. I watched Whit and his buddy ease out the front door, and I relaxed when they were gone.
Just on the off chance Whit might be fetching a rifle from his truck, I glanced over at Bill, who glided out the door after him. In a moment he was back, nodding at me to indicate the FotS guys had driven away.
Once the back door thunked closed behind Arlene, the rest of the evening went pretty well. Sam and Tray retired to Sam's office to change back and get dressed. Sam returned to his place behind the bar afterward as if nothing had happened, and Tray went to sit at the table with Amelia, who kissed him. For a while, people steered a little clear of them, and there were lots of surreptitious glances; but after an hour, the atmosphere of Merlotte's seemed just about back to normal. I pitched in to serve Arlene's tables, and I made sure to be especially nice to the people still undecided about the night's events.
People seemed to drink heartily that night. Maybe they had misgivings about Sam's other persona, but they didn't have any problem adding to his profits. Bill caught my eye and raised his hand in good-bye. He and Clancy drifted out of the bar.
Jason tried to get my attention once or twice, and his buddy Mel sent big smiles my way. Mel was taller and thinner than my brother, but they both had that bright, eager look of unthinking men who operate on their instincts. In his favor, Mel didn't seem to agree with everything Jason said, not the way Hoyt always had. Mel seemed to be an okay guy, at least from our brief acquaintance; that he was one of the few werepanthers who didn't live in Hotshot was also a fact in his favor, and it may even have been why he and Jason were such big buddies. They were like other werepanthers, but separate, too.
If I ever began speaking to Jason again, I had a question for him. On this major evening for all Weres and shifters, how come he hadn't taken the chance to grab a little of the spotlight for himself? Jason was very full of his altered status as a werepanther. He'd been bitten, not born. That is, he'd contracted the virus (or whatever it was) by being bitten by another werepanther, rather than being born with the ability to change as Mel had been. Jason's changed form was manlike, with hair all over and a pantherish face and claws: really scary, he'd told me. But he wasn't a beautiful animal, and that griped my brother. Mel was a purebred, and he would be gorgeous and frightening when he transformed.
Maybe the werepanthers had been asked to lie low because panthers were simply too scary. If something as big and lethal as a panther had appeared in the bar, the reaction of the patrons almost certainly would have been a lot more hysterical. Though wereanimal brains are very difficult to read, I could sense the disappointment the two panthers were sharing. I was sure the decision had been Calvin Norris's, as the panther leader. Good move, Calvin, I thought.
After I'd helped close down the bar, I gave Sam a hug when I stopped by his office to pick up my purse. He was looking tired but happy.
"You feeling as good as you look?" I asked.
"Yep. My true nature's out in the open now. It's liberating. My mom swore she was going to tell my stepdad tonight. I'm waiting to hear from her. "
Right on cue, the phone rang. Sam picked it up, still smiling. "Mom?" he said. Then his face changed as if a hand had wiped off the previous expression. "Don? What have you done?"
I sank into the chair by the desk and waited. Tray had come to have a last word with Sam, and Amelia was with him. They both stood stiffly in the doorway, anxious to hear what had happened.
"Oh, my God," Sam said. "I'll come as soon as I can. I'll get on the road tonight. " He hung up the phone very gently. "Don shot my mom," he said. "When she changed, he shot her. " I'd never seen Sam look so upset.
"Is she dead?" I asked, fearing the answer.
"No," he said. "No, but she's in the hospital with a shattered collarbone and a gunshot wound to her upper left shoulder. He almost killed her. If she hadn't jumped . . . "
"I'm so sorry," Amelia said.
"What can I do to help?" I asked.
"Keep the bar open while I'm gone," he said, shaking off the shock. "Call Terry. Terry and Tray can work out a bartending schedule between them. Tray, you know I'll pay you when I get back. Sookie, the waitress schedule is on the wall behind the bar. Find someone to cover Arlene's shifts, please. "
"Sure, Sam," I said. "You need any help packing? Can I gas up your truck or something?"
"Nope, I'm good. You've got the key to my trailer, so can you water my plants? I don't think I'll be gone but a couple of days, but you never know. "
"Of course, Sam. Don't worry. Keep us posted. "
We all cleared out so Sam could get over to his trailer to pack. It was in the lot right behind the bar, so at least he could get everything ready in a hurry.
As I drove home, I tried to imagine how Sam's stepdad had come to do such a thing. Had he been so horrified at the discovery of his wife's second life that he'd flipped? Had she changed out of his sight and walked up to him and startled him? I simply couldn't believe you could shoot someone you loved, someone you lived with, just because they had more to them than you'd thought. Maybe Don had seen her second self as a betrayal. Or maybe it was the fact that she'd concealed it. I could kind of understand his reaction, if I looked at it that way.
People all had secrets, and I was in a position to know most of them. Being a telepath is not any fun. You hear the tawdry, the sad, the disgusting, the petty . . . the things we all want to keep hidden from our fellow humans, so they'll keep their image of us intact.
The secrets I know least about are my own.
The one I was thinking of tonight was the unusual genetic inheritance my brother and I share, which had come through my father. My father had never known that his mother, Adele, had had a whopper of a secret, one disclosed to me only the past October. My grandmother's two children - my dad and his sister, Linda - were not the products of her long marriage with my grandfather. Both had been conceived through her liaison with a half fairy, half human named Fintan. According to Fintan's father, Niall, the fairy part of my dad's genetic heritage had been responsible for my mother's infatuation with him, an infatuation that had excluded her children from all but the fringes of her attention and affection. This genetic legacy hadn't seemed to change anything for my dad's sister, Linda; it certainly hadn't helped her dodge the cancer bullet that had ended her life or kept her husband on-site, much less infatuated. However, Linda's grandson Hunter was a telepath like me.
I still struggled with parts of this story. I believed the history Niall had related to be true, but I couldn't understand my grandmother's desire for children being strong enough to lead her to cheat on my grandfather. That simply didn't jibe with her character, and I couldn't understand why I hadn't read it in her brain during all the years that we'd lived together. She must have thought about the circumstances of her children's conceptions from time to time. There was just no way she could've packed those events away for good in some attic of her mind.
But my grandmother had been dead for over a year now, and I'd never be able to ask her about it. Her husband had passed away years before. Niall had told me that my biological grandfather Fintan, too, was dead and gone. It had crossed my mind to go through my grandmother's things in search of some clue to her thinking, to her reaction to this extraordinary passage in her life, and then I would think . . . Why bother?
I had to deal with the consequences here and now.
The trace of fairy blood I carried made me more attractive to supes, at least to some vampires. Not all of them could detect the little trace of fairy in my genes, but they tended to at least be interested in me, though occasionally that had negative results. Or maybe this fairy-blood thing was bull, and vampires were interested in any fairly attractive young woman who would treat them with respect and tolerance.
As to the relationship between the telepathy and the fairy blood, who knew? It wasn't like I had a lot of people to ask or any literature to check, or like I could ask a lab to test for it. Maybe little Hunter and I had both developed the condition through a coincidence - yeah, right. Maybe the trait was genetic but separate from the fairy genes.
Maybe I'd just gotten lucky.
by Charlaine Harris / Urban Fantasy / Mystery & Thrillers / Horror have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on20 votes