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Dead until dark, p.10
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       Dead Until Dark, p.10

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
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“Dawn was murdered. Just like Maudette Pickens.”


  Suddenly I felt a little better. “The other waitress at the bar.”

  “The redheaded one, the one who’s been married so often?”

  I felt a lot better. “No, the dark-haired one, the one who kept bumping into your chair with her hips to get you to notice her.”

  “Oh, that one. She came to my house.”

  “Dawn? When?”

  “After you left the other night. The night the other vampires were there. She’s lucky she missed them. She was very confident of her ability to handle anything.”

  I looked up at him. “Why is she so lucky? Wouldn’t you have protected her?”

  Bill’s eyes were totally dark in the moonlight. “I don’t think so,” he said.

  “You are . . .”

  “I’m a vampire, Sookie. I don’t think like you. I don’t care about people automatically.”

  “You protected me.”

  “You’re different.”

  “Yeah? I’m a waitress, like Dawn. I come from a plain family, like Maudette. What’s so different?”

  I was in a sudden rage. I knew what was coming.

  His cool finger touched the middle of my forehead. “Different,” he said. “You’re not like us. But you’re not like them, either.”

  I felt a flare of rage so intense it was almost divine. I hauled off and hit him, an insane thing to do. It was like hitting a Brink’s armored truck. In a flash, he had me off the car and pinned to him, my arms bound to my sides by one of his arms.

  “No!” I screamed. I kicked and fought, but I might as well have saved the energy. Finally I sagged against him.

  My breathing was ragged, and so was his. But I didn’t think it was for the same reason.

  “Why did you think I needed to know about Dawn?” He sounded so reasonable, you’d think the struggle hadn’t happened.

  “Well, Mr. Lord of Darkness,” I said furiously, “Maudette had old bite marks on her thighs, and the police told Sam that Dawn had bite marks, too.”

  If silence can be characterized, his was thoughtful. While he was mulling, or whatever vampires do, his embrace loosened. One hand began rubbing my back absently, as if I was a puppy who had whimpered.

  “You imply they didn’t die from these bites.”

  “No. From strangulation.”

  “Not a vampire, then.” His tone put it beyond question.

  “Why not?”

  “If a vampire had been feeding from these women, they would have been drained instead of strangled. They wouldn’t have been wasted like that.”

  Just when I was beginning to be comfortable with Bill, he’d say something so cold, so vampirey, I had to start all over again.

  “Then,” I said wearily, “either you have a crafty vampire with great self-control, or you have someone who’s determined to kill women who’ve been with vampires.”


  I didn’t feel very good about either of those choices.

  “Do you think I’d do that?” he asked.

  The question was unexpected. I wriggled in his pinioning embrace to look up at him.

  “You’ve taken great care to point out how heartless you are,” I reminded him. “What do you really want me to believe?”

  And it was so wonderful not to know. I almost smiled.

  “I could have killed them, but I wouldn’t do it here, or now,” Bill said. He had no color in the moonlight except for the dark pools of his eyes and the dark arches of his brows. “This is where I want to stay. I want a home.”

  A vampire, yearning for home.

  Bill read my face. “Don’t pity me, Sookie. That would be a mistake.” He seemed willing me to stare into his eyes.

  “Bill, you can’t glamor me, or whatever you do. You can’t enchant me into pulling my T-shirt down for you to bite me, you can’t convince me you weren’t ever here, you can’t do any of your usual stuff. You have to be regular with me, or just force me.”

  “No,” he said, his mouth almost on mine. “I won’t force you.”

  I fought the urge to kiss him. But at least I knew it was my very own urge, not a manufactured one.

  “So, if it wasn’t you,” I said, struggling to keep on course, “then Maudette and Dawn knew another vampire. Maudette went to the vampire bar in Shreveport. Maybe Dawn did, too. Will you take me there?”

  “Why?” he asked, sounding no more than curious.

  I just couldn’t explain being in danger to someone who was so used to being beyond it. At least at night. “I’m not sure Andy Bellefleur will go to the trouble,” I lied.

  “There are still Bellefleurs here,” he said, and there was something different in his voice. His arms hardened around me to the point of pain.

  “Yes,” I said. “Lots of them. Andy is a police detective. His sister, Portia, is a lawyer. His cousin Terry is a veteran and a bartender. He substitutes for Sam. There are lots of others.”

  “Bellefleur . . .”

  I was getting crushed.

  “Bill,” I said, my voice squeaky with panic.

  He loosened his grip immediately. “Excuse me,” he said formally.

  “I have to go to bed,” I said. “I’m really tired, Bill.”

  He set me down on the gravel with scarcely a bump. He looked down at me.

  “You told those other vampires that I belonged to you,” I said.


  “What exactly did that mean?”

  “That means that if they try to feed on you, I’ll kill them,” he said. “It means you are my human.”

  “I have to say I’m glad you did that, but I’m not really sure what being your human entails,” I said cautiously. “And I don’t recall being asked if that was okay with me.”

  “Whatever it is, it’s probably better than partying with Malcolm, Liam, and Diane.”

  He wasn’t going to answer me directly.

  “Are you going to take me to the bar?”

  “What’s your next night off?”

  “Two nights from now.”

  “Then, at sunset. I’ll drive.”

  “You have a car?”

  “How do you think I get places?” There might have been a smile on his shining face. He turned to melt into the woods. Over his shoulder he said, “Sookie. Do me proud.”

  I was left standing with my mouth open.

  Do him proud indeed.

  Chapter 4

  HALF THE PATRONS of Merlotte’s thought Bill had had a hand in the markings on the women’s bodies. The other 50 percent thought that some of the vampires from bigger towns or cities had bitten Maudette and Dawn when they were out barhopping, and they deserved what they got if they wanted to go to bed with vampires. Some thought the girls had been strangled by a vampire, some thought they had just continued their promiscuous ways into disaster.

  But everyone who came into Merlotte’s was worried that some other woman would be killed, too. I couldn’t count the times I was told to be careful, told to watch my friend Bill Compton, told to lock my doors and not let anyone in my house. . . . As if those were things I wouldn’t do, normally.

  Jason came in for both commiseration and suspicion as a man who’d “dated” both women. He came by the house one day and held forth for a whole hour, while Gran and I tried to encourage him to keep going with his work like an innocent man would. But for the first time in my memory, my handsome brother was really worried. I wasn’t exactly glad he was in trouble, but I wasn’t exactly sorry, either. I know that was small and petty of me.

  I am not perfect.

  I am so not-perfect that despite the deaths of two women I knew, I spent a substantial amount of time wondering what Bill meant about doing him proud. I had no idea what constituted appropriate dress for visiting a vampire bar. I wasn’t about to dress in some kind of stupid costume, as I’d heard some bar visitors did.

  I sure didn’t know anyone to ask.

  I wasn’t t
all enough or bony enough to dress in the sort of spandex outfit the vampire Diane had worn.

  Finally I pulled a dress from the back of my closet, one I’d had little occasion to wear. It was a Nice Date dress, if you wanted the personal interest of whoever was your escort. It was cut square and low in the neck and it was sleeveless. It was tight and white. The fabric was thinly scattered with bright red flowers with long green stems. My tan glowed and my boobs showed. I wore red enamel earrings and red high-heeled screw-me shoes. I had a little red straw purse. I put on light makeup and wore my wavy hair loose down my back.

  Gran’s eyes opened wide when I came out of my room.

  “Honey, you look beautiful,” she said. “Aren’t you going to be a little cold in that dress?”

  I grinned. “No, ma’am, I don’t think so. It’s pretty warm outside.”

  “Wouldn’t you like to wear a nice white sweater over that?”

  “No, I don’t think so.” I laughed. I had pushed the other vampires far enough back in my mind to where looking sexy was okay again. I was pretty excited about having a date, though I had kind of asked Bill myself and it was more of a fact-finding mission. That, too, I tried to forget, so I could just enjoy myself.

  Sam called me to tell me my paycheck was ready. He asked if I’d come in and pick it up, which I usually did if I wasn’t going to work the next day.

  I drove to Merlotte’s feeling a little anxious at walking in dressed up.

  But when I came in the door, I got the tribute of a moment of stunned silence. Sam’s back was to me, but Lafayette was looking through the hatch and Rene and JB were at the bar. Unfortunately, so was my brother, Jason, whose eyes opened wide when he turned to see what Rene was staring at.

  “You lookin’ good, girl!” called Lafayette enthusiastically. “Where you get that dress?”

  “Oh, I’ve had this old thing forever,” I said mockingly, and he laughed.

  Sam turned to see what Lafayette was gawking at, and his eyes got wide, too.

  “God almighty,” he breathed. I walked over to ask for my check, feeling very self-conscious.

  “Come in the office, Sookie,” he said, and I followed him to his small cubicle by the storeroom. Rene gave me a half-hug on my way by him, and JB kissed my cheek.

  Sam rummaged through the piles of paper on top of his desk, and finally came up with my check. He didn’t hand it to me, though.

  “Are you going somewhere special?” Sam asked, almost unwillingly.

  “I have a date,” I said, trying to sound matter-of-fact.

  “You look great,” Sam said, and I saw him swallow. His eyes were hot.

  “Thank you. Um, Sam, can I have my check?”

  “Sure.” He handed it to me, and I popped it in my purse.

  “Good-bye, then.”

  “Good-bye.” But instead of indicating I should leave, Sam stepped over and smelled me. He put his face close to my neck and inhaled. His brilliant blue eyes closed briefly, as if to evaluate my odor. He exhaled gently, his breath hot on my bare skin.

  I stepped out of the door and left the bar, puzzled and interested in Sam’s behavior.

  When I got home a strange car was parked in front of the house. It was a black Cadillac, and it shone like glass. Bill’s. Where did they get the money to buy these cars? Shaking my head, I went up the steps to the porch and walked in. Bill turned to the door expectantly; he was sitting on the couch talking to Gran, who was perched on one arm of an old overstuffed chair.

  When he saw me, I was sure I’d overdone it, and he was really angry. His face went quite still. His eyes flared. His fingers curved as if he were scooping something up with them.

  “Is this all right?” I asked anxiously. I felt the blood surge up into my cheeks.

  “Yes,” he said finally. But his pause had been long enough to anger my grandmother.

  “Anyone with a brain in his head has got to admit that Sookie is one of the prettiest girls around,” she said, her voice friendly on the surface but steel underneath.

  “Oh, yes,” he agreed, but there was a curious lack of inflection in his voice.

  Well, screw him. I’d tried my best. I stiffened my back, and said, “Shall we go, then?”

  “Yes,” he said again, and stood. “Good-bye, Mrs. Stackhouse. It was a pleasure seeing you again.”

  “Well, you two have a good time,” she said, mollified. “Drive careful, Bill, and don’t drink too much.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “No, ma’am.”

  Gran let that sail right on past.

  Bill held my car door open as I got in, a carefully calculated series of maneuvers to keep as much of me as possible in the dress. He shut the door and got in on the driver’s side. I wondered who had taught him to drive a car. Henry Ford, probably.

  “I’m sorry I’m not dressed correctly,” I said, looking straight ahead of me.

  We’d been going slowly on the bumpy driveway through the woods. The car lurched to a halt.

  “Who said that?” Bill asked, his voice very gentle.

  “You looked at me as though I’d done something wrong,” I snapped.

  “I’m just doubting my ability to get you in and out without having to kill someone who wants you.”

  “You’re being sarcastic.” I still wouldn’t look.

  His hand gripped the back of my neck, forced me to turn to him.

  “Do I look like I am?” he asked.

  His dark eyes were wide and unblinking.

  “Ah . . . no,” I admitted.

  “Then accept what I say.”

  The ride to Shreveport was mostly silent, but not uncomfortably so. Bill played tapes most of the way. He was partial to Kenny G.

  Fangtasia, the vampire bar, was located in a suburban shopping area of Shreveport, close to a Sam’s and a Toys ’R’ Us. It was in a shopping strip, which was all closed down at this hour except for the bar. The name of the place was spelled out in jazzy red neon above the door, and the facade was painted steel gray, a red door providing color contrast. Whoever owned the place must have thought gray was less obvious than black because the interior was decorated in the same colors.

  I was carded at the door by a vampire. Of course, she recognized Bill as one of her own kind and acknowledged him with a cool nod, but she scanned me intently. Chalky pale, as all Caucasian vampires are, she was eerily striking in her long black dress with its trailing sleeves. I wondered if the overdone “vampire” look was her own inclination, or if she’d just adopted it because the human patrons thought it appropriate.

  “I haven’t been carded in years,” I said, fishing in my red purse for my driver’s license. We were standing in a little boxy entrance hall.

  “I can no longer tell human ages, and we must be very careful we serve no minors. In any capacity,” she said with what was probably meant to be a genial smile. She cast a sideways look at Bill, her eyes flicking up and down him with an offensive interest. Offensive to me, at least.

  “I haven’t seen you in a few months,” she said to him, her voice as cool and sweet as his could be.

  “I’m mainstreaming,” he explained, and she nodded.

  “WHAT WERE YOU telling her?” I whispered as we walked down the short hall and through the red double doors into the main room.

  “That I’m trying to live among humans.”

  I wanted to hear more, but then I got my first comprehensive look at Fangtasia’s interior. Everything was in gray, black, and red. The walls were lined with framed pictures of every movie vampire who had shown fangs on the silver screen, from Bela Lugosi to George Hamilton to Gary Old-man, from famous to obscure. The lighting was dim, of course, nothing unusual about that; what was unusual was the clientele. And the posted signs.

  The bar was full. The human clients were divided among vampire groupies and tourists. The groupies (fang-bangers, they were called) were dressed in their best finery. It ranged from the traditional capes and tuxes for the men to many Morticia Adams ripoffs amo
ng the females. The clothes ranged from reproductions of those worn by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire to some modern outfits that I thought were influenced by The Hunger. Some of the fang-bangers were wearing false fangs, some had painted trickles of blood from the corners of their mouths or puncture marks on their necks. They were extraordinary, and extraordinarily pathetic.

  The tourists looked like tourists anywhere, maybe more adventurous than most. But to enter into the spirit of the bar, they were nearly all dressed in black like the fang-bangers. Maybe it was part of a tour package? “Bring some black for your exciting visit to a real vampire bar! Follow the rules, and you’ll be fine, catching a glimpse of this exotic underworld.”

  Strewn among this human assortment, like real jewels in a bin of rhinestones, were the vampires, perhaps fifteen of them. They mostly favored dark clothes, too.

  I stood in the middle of the floor, looking around me with interest and amazement and some distaste, and Bill whispered, “You look like a white candle in a coal mine.”

  I laughed, and we strolled through the scattered tables to the bar. It was the only bar I’d ever seen that had a case of warmed bottled blood on display. Bill, naturally, ordered one, and I took a deep breath and ordered a gin and tonic. The bartender smiled at me, showing me that his fangs had shot out a little at the pleasure of serving me. I tried to smile back and look modest at the same time. He was an American Indian, with long coal black straight hair and a craggy nose, a straight line of a mouth, and a whippy build.

  “How’s it going, Bill?” the bartender asked. “Long time, no see. This your meal for the night?” He nodded toward me as he put our drinks on the bar before us.

  “This is my friend Sookie. She has some questions to ask.”

  “Anything, beautiful woman,” said the bartender, smiling once again. I liked him better when his mouth was the straight line.

  “Have you seen this woman, or this one, in the bar?” I asked, drawing the newspaper photos of Maudette and Dawn from my purse. “Or this man?” With a jolt of misgiving, I pulled out my brother’s picture.

  “Yes to the women, no to the man, though he looks delicious,” said the bartender, smiling at me again. “Your brother, perhaps?”

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