Dead Until Dark, p.12Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
“Now, I can tell you been messing around a little, and I got nothing against that, but you two need to go home and do this kind of thing.”
“We will.” I nodded eagerly, and Bill managed a stiff inclination of his head.
“We’re raiding a bar a few blocks back,” the patrolman said casually. I could see only a little of his face, but he seemed burly and middle-aged. “You two coming from there, by any chance?”
“No,” I said.
“Vampire bar,” the cop remarked.
“Nope. Not us.”
“Let me just shine this light on your neck, miss, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
And by golly, he shone that old flashlight on my neck and then on Bill’s.
“Okay, just checking. You two move on now.”
“Yes, we will.”
Bill’s nod was even more curt. While the patrolman waited, I slid back over to my side and clipped my seat belt, and Bill put the car in gear and backed up.
Bill was just infuriated. All the way home he kept a sullen (I guess) silence, whereas I was inclined to view the whole thing as funny.
I was cheerful at finding Bill wasn’t indifferent to my personal attractions, such as they were. I began to hope that someday he would want to kiss me again, maybe longer and harder, and maybe even—we could go further? I was trying not to get my hopes up. Actually, there was a thing or two that Bill didn’t know about me, that no one knew, and I was very careful to try to keep my expectations modest.
When he got me back to Gran’s, he came around and opened my door, which made me raise my eyebrows; but I am not one to stop a courteous act. I assumed Bill did realize I had functioning arms and the mental ability to figure out the door-opening mechanism. When I stepped out, he backed up.
I was hurt. He didn’t want to kiss me again; he was regretting our earlier episode. Probably pining after that damn Pam. Or maybe even Long Shadow. I was beginning to see that the ability to have sex for several centuries leaves room for lots of experimentation. Would a telepath be so bad to add to his list?
I kind of hunched my shoulders together and wrapped my arms across my chest.
“Are you cold?” Bill asked instantly, putting his arm around me. But it was the physical equivalent of a coat, he seemed to be trying to stay as far away from me as the arm made possible.
“I am sorry I have pestered you. I won’t ask you for any more,” I said, keeping my voice even. Even as I spoke I realized that Gran hadn’t set up a date for Bill to speak to the Descendants, but she and Bill would just have to work that out.
He stood still. Finally he said, “You—are—incredibly—naive.” And he didn’t even add that codicil about shrewdness, like he had earlier.
“Well,” I said blankly. “I am?”
“Or maybe one of God’s fools,” he said, and that sounded a lot less pleasant, like Quasimodo or something.
“I guess,” I said tartly, “you’ll just have to find out.”
“It had better be me that finds out,” he said darkly, which I didn’t understand at all. He walked me up to the door, and I was sure hoping for another kiss, but he gave me a little peck on the forehead. “Good night, Sookie,” he whispered.
I rested my cheek against his for a moment. “Thanks for taking me,” I said, and moved away quickly before he thought I was asking for something else. “I’m not calling you again.” And before I could lose my determination, I slipped into the dark house and shut the door in Bill’s face.
I CERTAINLY HAD a lot to think about the next couple of days. For someone who was always hoarding new things to keep from being bored, I’d stored enough up to last me for weeks. The people in Fangtasia, alone, were food for examination, to say nothing of the vampires. From longing to meet one vampire, now I’d met more than I cared to know.
A lot of men from Bon Temps and the surrounding area had been called in to the police station to answer a few questions about Dawn Green and her habits. Embarrassingly enough, Detective Bellefleur took to hanging around the bar on his off-hours, never drinking more alcohol than one beer, but observing everything that took place around him. Since Merlotte’s was not exactly a hotbed of illegal activity, no one minded too much once they got used to Andy being there.
He always seemed to pick a table in my section. And he began to play a silent game with me. When I came to his table, he’d be thinking something provocative, trying to get me to say something. He didn’t seem to understand how indecent that was. The provocation was the point, not the insult. He just wanted me to read his mind again. I couldn’t figure out why.
Then, maybe the fifth or sixth time I had to get him something, I guess it was a Diet Coke, he pictured me cavorting with my brother. I was so nervous when I went to the table (knowing to expect something, but not knowing exactly what) that I was beyond getting angry and into the realm of tears. It reminded me of the less sophisticated tormenting I’d taken when I was in grade school.
Andy had looked up with an expectant face, and when he saw tears an amazing range of things ran across his face in quick succession: triumph, chagrin, then scalding shame.
I poured the damn coke down his shirt.
I walked right past the bar and out the back door.
“What’s the matter?” Sam asked sharply. He was right on my heels.
I shook my head, not wanting to explain, and pulled an aging tissue out of my shorts pocket to mop my eyes with.
“Has he been saying ugly things to you?” Sam asked, his voice lower and angrier.
“He’s been thinking them,” I said helplessly, “to get a rise out of me. He knows.”
“Son of a bitch,” Sam said, which almost shocked me back to normal. Sam didn’t curse.
Once I started crying, it seemed like I couldn’t stop. I was getting my crying time done for a number of little unhappinesses.
“Just go on back in,” I said, embarrassed at my waterworks. “I’ll be okay in just a minute.”
I heard the back door of the bar open and shut. I figured Sam had taken me at my word. But instead, Andy Bellefleur said, “I apologize, Sookie.”
“That’s Miss Stackhouse to you, Andy Bellefleur,” I said. “It seems to me like you better be out finding who killed Maudette and Dawn instead of playing nasty mind games with me.”
I turned around and looked at the policeman. He was looking horribly embarrassed. I thought he was sincere in his shame.
Sam was swinging his arms, full of the energy of anger.
“Bellefleur, sit in someone else’s area if you come back,” he said, but his voice held a lot of suppressed violence.
Andy looked at Sam. He was twice as thick in the body, taller by two inches. But I would have put my money on Sam at that moment, and it seemed Andy didn’t want to risk the challenge either, if only from good sense. He just nodded and walked across the parking lot to his car. The sun glinted on the blond highlights in his brown hair.
“Sookie, I’m sorry,” Sam said.
“Not your fault.”
“Do you want to take some time off? We’re not so busy today.”
“Nope. I’ll finish my shift.” Charlsie Tooten was getting into the swing of things, but I wouldn’t feel good about leaving. It was Arlene’s day off.
We went back into the bar, and though several people looked at us curiously as we entered, no one asked us what had happened. There was only one couple sitting in my area, and they were busy eating and had glasses full of liquid, so they wouldn’t be needing me. I began putting up wine-glasses. Sam leaned against the workspace beside me.
“Is it true that Bill Compton is going to speak to the Descendants of the Glorious Dead tonight?”
“According to my grandmother.”
“Are you going?”
“I hadn’t planned on it.” I didn’t want to see Bill until he called me and made an appointment to see me.
Like Andy Bellefleur. He could just have asked me about my disability, instead of playing games with me.
Like Bill. He could just have stated his intentions, instead of this strange hot-cold thing.
“So?” I said, more sharply than I’d intended.
He flushed under my gaze.
“I wondered if you’d like to go to the Descendants meeting with me and have a cup of coffee afterward.”
I was flabbergasted. My brush stopped in midswoop. A number of things ran through my mind, the feel of his hand when I’d held it in front of Dawn Green’s duplex, the wall I’d met in his mind, the unwisdom of dating your boss.
“Sure,” I said, after a notable pause.
He seemed to exhale. “Good. Then I’ll pick you up at your house at seven-twenty or so. The meeting starts at seven-thirty.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then.”
Afraid I’d do something peculiar if I stayed longer, I grabbed my purse and strode out to my car. I couldn’t decide whether to giggle with glee or groan at my own idiocy.
It was five-forty-five by the time I got home. Gran already had supper on the table since she had to leave early to carry refreshments to the Descendants meeting, which was held at the Community Building.
“Wonder if he could have come if we’d had it in the fellowship hall of Good Faith Baptist?” Gran said out of the blue. But I didn’t have a problem latching on to her train of thought.
“Oh, I think so,” I said. “I think that idea about vampires being scared of religious items isn’t true. But I haven’t asked him.”
“They do have a big cross hung up in there,” Gran went on.
“I’ll be at the meeting after all,” I said. “I’m going with Sam Merlotte.”
“Your boss, Sam?” Gran was very surprised.
“Hmmm. Well, well.” Gran began smiling while she put the plates on the table. I was trying to think of what to wear while we ate our sandwiches and fruit salad. Gran was excited about the meeting, about listening to Bill and introducing him to her friends, and now she was in outer space somewhere (probably around Venus) since I actually had a date. With a human.
“We’ll be going out afterward,” I said, “so I guess I’ll get home maybe an hour after the meeting’s over.” There weren’t that many places to have coffee in Bon Temps. And those restaurants weren’t exactly places you’d want to linger.
“Okay, honey. You just take your time.” Gran was already dressed, and after supper I helped her load up the cookie trays and the big coffee urn she’d bought for just such events. Gran had pulled her car around to the back door, which saved us a lot of steps. She was happy as she could be and fussed and chattered the whole time we were loading. This was her kind of night.
I shed my waitress clothes and got into the shower lickety-split. While I soaped up, I tried to think of what to wear. Nothing black and white, that was for sure; I had gotten pretty sick of the Merlotte’s waitress colors. I shaved my legs again, didn’t have time to wash my hair and dry it, but I’d done it the night before. I flung open my closet and stared. Sam had seen the white flowered dress. The denim jumper wasn’t nice enough for Gran’s friends. Finally I yanked out some khaki slacks and a bronze silk blouse with short sleeves. I had brown leather sandals and a brown leather belt that would look good. I hung a chain around my neck, stuck in some big gold earrings, and I was ready. As if he’d timed it, Sam rang the doorbell.
There was a moment of awkwardness as I opened the door.
“You’re welcome to come in, but I think we just have time—”
“I’d like to sit and visit, but I think we just have time—”
We both laughed.
I locked the door and pulled it to, and Sam hurried to open the door of his pickup. I was glad I’d worn pants, as I pictured trying to get up in the high cab in one of my shorter skirts.
“Need a boost?” he asked hopefully.
“I think I got it,” I said, trying not to smile.
We were silent on the way to the Community Building, which was in the older part of Bon Temps; the part that predated the War. The structure was not antebellum, but there had actually been a building on that site that had gotten destroyed during the War, though no one seemed to have a record of what it had been.
The Descendants of the Glorious Dead were a mixed bunch. There were some very old, very fragile members, and some not quite so old and very lively members, and there were even a scattering of middle-aged men and women. But there were no young members, which Gran had often lamented, with many significant glances at me.
Mr. Sterling Norris, a longtime friend of my grandmother’s and the mayor of Bon Temps, was the greeter that night, and he stood at the door shaking hands and having a little conversation with everyone who entered.
“Miss Sookie, you look prettier every day,” Mr. Norris said. “And Sam, we haven’t seen you in a coon’s age! Sookie, is it true this vampire is a friend of yours?”
“Can you say for sure that we’re all safe?”
“Yes, I’m sure you are. He’s a very nice . . . person.” Being? Entity? If you like the living dead, he’s pretty neat?
“If you say so,” Mr. Norris said dubiously. “In my time, such a thing was just a fairy tale.”
“Oh, Mr. Norris, it’s still your time,” I said with the cheerful smile expected of me, and he laughed and motioned us on in, which was what was expected of him. Sam took my hand and sort of steered me to the next to last row of metal chairs, and I waved at my grandmother as we took our seats. It was just time for the meeting to start, and the room held maybe forty people, quite a gathering for Bon Temps. But Bill wasn’t there.
Just then the president of Descendants, a massive, solid woman by the name of Maxine Fortenberry, came to the podium.
“Good evening! Good evening!” she boomed. “Our guest of honor has just called to say he’s having car trouble and will be a few minutes late. So let’s go on and have our business meeting while we’re waiting for him.”
The group settled down, and we got through all the boring stuff, Sam sitting beside me with his arms crossed over his chest, his right leg crossed over the left at the ankle. I was being especially careful to keep my mind guarded and face smiling, and I was a little deflated when Sam leaned slightly to me and whispered, “It’s okay to relax.”
“I thought I was,” I whispered back.
“I don’t think you know how.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. I was going to have a few things to say to Mr. Merlotte after the meeting.
Just then Bill came in, and there was a moment of sheer silence as those who hadn’t seen him before adjusted to his presence. If you’ve never been in the company of a vampire before, it’s a thing you really have to get used to. Under the flourescent lighting, Bill really looked much more unhuman than he did under the dim lighting in Merlotte’s, or the equally dim lighting in his own home. There was no way he could pass for a regular guy. His pallor was very marked, of course, and the deep pools of his eyes looked darker and colder. He was wearing a lightweight medium-blue suit, and I was willing to bet that had been Gran’s advice. He looked great. The dominant line of the arch of his eyebrow, the curve of his bold nose, the chiseled lips, the white hands with their long fingers and carefully trimmed nails . . . He was having an exchange with the president, and she was charmed out of her support hose by Bill’s close-lipped smile.
I didn’t know if Bill was casting a glamor over the whole room, or if these people were just predisposed to be interested, but the whole group hushed expectantly.<
Then Bill saw me. I swear his eyebrows twitched. He gave me a little bow, and I nodded back, finding no smile in me to give him. Even in the crowd, I stood at the edge of the deep pool of his silence.
Mrs. Fortenberry introduced Bill, but I don’t remember what she said or how she skirted the fact that Bill was a different kind of creature.
Then Bill began speaking. He had notes, I saw with some surprise. Beside me, Sam leaned forward, his eyes fixed on Bill’s face.
“. . . we didn’t have any blankets and very little food,” Bill was saying calmly. “There were many deserters.”
That was not a favorite fact of the Descendants, but a few of them were nodding in agreement. This account must match what they’d learned in their studies.
An ancient man in the first row raised his hand.
“Sir, did you by chance know my great-grandfather, Tolliver Humphries?”
“Yes,” Bill said, after a moment. His face was unreadable. “Tolliver was my friend.”
And just for a moment, there was something so tragic in his voice that I had to close my eyes.
“What was he like?” quavered the old man.
“Well, he was foolhardy, which led to his death,” said Bill with a wry smile. “He was brave. He never made a cent in his life that he didn’t waste.”
“How did he die? Were you there?”
“Yes, I was there,” said Bill wearily. “I saw him get shot by a Northern sniper in the woods about twenty miles from here. He was slow because he was starved. We all were. About the middle of the morning, a cold morning, Tolliver saw a boy in our troop get shot as he lay in poor cover in the middle of a field. The boy was not dead, but painfully wounded. But he could call to us, and he did, all morning. He called to us to help him. He knew he would die if someone didn’t.”
The whole room had grown so silent you could hear a pin drop.
“He screamed and he moaned. I almost shot him myself, to shut him up, because I knew to venture out to rescue him was suicide. But I could not quite bring myself to kill him. That would be murder, not war, I told myself. But later I wished I had shot him, for Tolliver was less able than I to withstand the boy’s pleading. After two hours of it, he told me he planned to try to rescue the boy. I argued with him. But Tolliver told me that God wanted him to attempt it. He had been praying as we lay in the woods.
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes