Dead to the world, p.13
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       Dead to the World, p.13
 

         Part #4 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris  
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Chapter 12

  12

  "Who are you?" asked a thin voice.

  Since she had one hand clapped over my mouth and the other was holding a knife to my neck, I couldn't answer. She seemed to grasp that after a second, because she told me, "We're going in," and began to push me toward the back of the building.

  I couldn't have that. If she'd been one of the witches in the building, one of the blood-drinking witches, I couldn't have gotten away with this, but she was a plain old witch, and she hadn't watched Sam break up as many bar fights as I had. With both hands, I reached up and grabbed her knife wrist, and I twisted it as hard as I could while I hit her hard with my lower body. Over she went, onto the filthy cold pavement, and I landed right on top of her, pounding her hand against the ground until she released the knife. She was sobbing, the will seeping out of her.

  "You're a lousy lookout," I said to Holly, keeping my voice low.

  "Sookie?" Holly's big eyes peered out from under a knit watch cap. She'd dressed for utility tonight, but she still had on bright pink lipstick.

  "What the hell are you doing here?"

  "They told me they'd get my boy if I didn't help them. "

  I felt sick. "How long have you been helping them? Before I came to your apartment, asking for help? How long?" I shook her as hard as I could.

  "When she came to the bar with her brother, she knew there was another witch there. And she knew it wasn't you or Sam, after she'd talked to you. Hallow can do anything. She knows everything. Late that night, she and Mark came to my apartment. They'd been in a fight; they were all messed up, and they were mad. Mark held me down while Hallow punched me. She liked that. She saw my picture of my son; she took it and said she could curse him long distance, all the way from Shreveport - make him run out in the traffic or load his daddy's gun. . . . " Holly was crying by now. I didn't blame her. It made me sick to think of it, and he wasn't even my child. "I had to say I'd help her," Holly whimpered.

  "Are there others like you in there?"

  "Forced to do this? A few of them. "

  That made some thoughts I'd heard more understandable.

  "And Jason? He in there?" Though I'd looked at all three of the male brains in the building, I still had to ask.

  "Jason is a Wiccan? For real?" She pulled off the watch cap and ran her fingers through her hair.

  "No, no, no. Is she holding him hostage?"

  "I haven't seen him. Why on earth would Hallow have Jason?"

  I'd been fooling myself all along. A hunter would find my brother's remains someday: it's always hunters, or people walking their dogs, isn't it? I felt a falling away beneath my feet, as if the ground had literally dropped out from under me, but I called myself back to the here and now, away from emotions I couldn't afford to feel until I was in a safer place.

  "You have to get out of here," I said in the lowest voice I could manage. "You have to get out of this area now. "

  "She'll get my son!"

  "I guarantee she won't. "

  Holly seemed to read something in the dim view she had of my face. "I hope you kill them all," she said as passionately as you can in a whisper. "The only ones worth saving are Parton and Chelsea and Jane. They got blackmailed into this just like I did. Normally, they're just Wiccans who like to live real quiet, like me. We don't want to do no one no harm. "

  "What do they look like?"

  "Parton's a guy about twenty-five, brown hair, short, birthmark on his cheek. Chelsea is about seventeen, her hair's dyed that bright red. Jane, um, well - Jane's just an old woman, you know? White hair, pants, blouse with flowers on it. Glasses. " My grandmother would have reamed Holly for lumping all old women together, but God bless her, she wasn't around anymore, and I didn't have the time.

  "Why didn't Hallow put one of her toughest people out here on guard duty?" I asked, out of sheer curiosity.

  "They got a big ritual spell thing set up for tonight. I can't believe the stay-away spell didn't work on you. You must be resistant. " Then Holly whispered, with a little rill of laughter in her voice, "Plus, none of 'em wanted to get cold. "

  "Go on, get out of here," I said almost inaudibly, and helped her up. "It doesn't matter where you parked your car, go north out of here. " In case she didn't know which direction was north, I pointed.

  Holly took off, her Nikes making almost no sound on the cracked sidewalk. Her dull dyed black hair seemed to soak up the light from the streetlamp as she passed beneath it. The smell around the house, the smell of magic, seemed to intensify. I wondered what to do now. Somehow I had to make sure that the three local Wiccans within the dilapidated building, the ones who'd been forced to serve Hallow, wouldn't be harmed. I couldn't think of a way in hell to do that. Could I even save one of them?

  I had a whole collection of half thoughts and abortive impulses in the next sixty seconds. They all led to a dead end.

  If I ran inside and yelled, "Parton, Chelsea, Jane - out!" that would alert the coven to the impending attack. Some of my friends - or at least my allies - would die.

  If I hung around and tried to tell the vampires that three of the people in the building were innocent, they would (most likely) ignore me. Or, if a bolt of mercy struck them, they'd have to save all the witches and then cull the innocent ones out, which would give the coven witches time to counterattack. Witches didn't need physical weapons.

  Too late, I realized I should have kept a hold of Holly and used her as my entree into the building. But endangering a frightened mother was not a good option, either.

  Something large and warm pressed against my side. Eyes and teeth gleamed in the city's night light. I almost screamed until I recognized the wolf as Alcide. He was very large. The silver fur around his eyes made the rest of his coat seem even darker.

  I put an arm across his back. "There are three in there who mustn't die," I said. "I don't know what to do. "

  Since he was a wolf, Alcide didn't know what to do, either. He looked into my face. He whined, just a little. I was supposed to be back at the cars by now; but here I was, smack in the danger zone. I could feel movement in the dark all around me. Alcide slunk away to his appointed position at the rear door of the building.

  "What are you doing here?" Bill said furiously, though it sounded strange corning out in a tiny thread of a whisper. "Pam told you to leave once you'd counted. "

  "Three in there are innocent," I whispered back. "They're locals. They were forced. "

  Bill said something under his breath, and it wasn't a happy something.

  I passed along the sketchy descriptions Holly had given me.

  I could feel the tension in Bill's body, and then Debbie joined us in our foxhole. What was she thinking, to pack herself in so closely with the vampire and the human who hated her most?

  "I told you to stay back," Bill said, and his voice was frightening.

  "Alcide abjured me," she told me, just as if I hadn't been there when it happened.

  "What did you expect?" I was exasperated at her timing and her wounded attitude. Hadn't she ever heard of consequences?

  "I have to do something to earn back his trust. "

  She'd come to the wrong shop, if she wanted to buy some self-respect.

  "Then help me save the three in there who are innocent. " I recounted my problem again. "Why haven't you changed into your animal?"

  "Oh, I can't," she said bitterly. "I've been abjured. I can't change with Alcide's pack anymore. They have license to kill me, if I do. "

  "What did you shift into, anyway?"

  "Lynx. "

  That was appropriate.

  "Come on," I said. I began to wriggle toward the building. I loathed this woman, but if she could be of use to me, I had to ally with her.

  "Wait, I'm supposed to go to the back door with the Were," Bill hissed. "Eric's alread
y back there. "

  "So go!"

  I sensed that someone else was at my back and risked a quick glance to see that it was Pam. She smiled at me, and her fangs were out, so that was a little unnerving.

  Maybe if the witches inside hadn't been involved in a ritual, and hadn't been relying on their less-than-dedicated sentry and their magic, we wouldn't have made it to the door undetected. But fortune favored us for those few minutes. We got to the front door of the building, Pam and Debbie and I, and there met up with the young Were, Sid. I could recognize him even in his wolf body. Bubba was with him.

  I was struck with a sudden inspiration. I moved a few feet away with Bubba.

  "Can you run back to the Wiccans, the ones on our side? You know where they are?" I whispered.

  Bubba nodded his head vigorously.

  "You tell them there are three local Wiccans inside who're being forced into this. Ask if they can make up some spell to get the three innocent ones to stand out. "

  "I'll tell them, Miss Sookie. They're real sweet to me. "

  "Good fella. Be quick, be quiet. "

  He nodded, and was gone into the darkness.

  The smell around the building was intensifying to such a degree that I was having trouble breathing. The air was so permeated with scent, I was reminded of passing a candle shop in a mall.

  Pam said, "Where have you sent Bubba?"

  "Back to our Wiccans. They need to make three innocent people stand out somehow so we won't kill "em. "

  "But he has to come back now. He has to break down the door for me!"

  "But. . . " I was disconcerted at Pam's reaction. "He can't go in without an invitation, like you. "

  "Bubba is brain damaged, degraded. He's not altogether a true vampire. He can enter without an express invitation. "

  I gaped at Pam. "Why didn't you tell me?" She just raised her eyebrows. When I thought back, it was true that I could remember at least twice that Bubba had entered dwellings without an invitation. I'd never put two and two together.

  "So I'll have to be the first through the door," I said, more matter-of-factly than I was really feeling. "Then I invite you all in?"

  "Yes. Your invitation will be enough. The building doesn't belong to them. "

  "Should we do this now?"

  Pam gave an almost inaudible snort. She was smiling in the glow of the streetlight, suddenly exhilarated. "You waiting for an engraved invite?"

  Lord save me from sarcastic vampires. "You think Bubba's had enough time to get to the Wiccans?"

  "Sure. Let's nail some witch butt," she said happily. I could tell the fate of the local Wiccans was very low on her list of priorities. Everyone seemed to be looking forward to this but me. Even the young Were was showing a lot of fang.

  "I kick, you go in," Pam said. She gave me a quick peck on the cheek, utterly surprising me.

  I thought, I so don't want to be here.

  Then I got up from my crouch, stood behind Pam, and watched in awe while she cocked a leg and kicked with the force of four or five mules. The lock shattered, the door sprang inward while the old wood nailed over it splintered and cracked, and I leaped inside and screamed "Come in!" to the vampire behind me and the ones at the back door. For an odd moment, I was in the lair of the witches by myself, and they'd all turned to look at me in utter astonishment.

  The room was full of candles and people sitting on cushions on the floor; during the time we'd waited outside, all the others in the building seemed to have come into this front room, and they were sitting cross-legged in a circle, each with a candle burning before her, and a bowl, and a knife.

  Of the three I'd try to save, "old woman" was easiest to recognize. There was only one white-haired woman in the circle. She was wearing bright pink lipstick, a little skewed and smeared, and there was dried blood on her cheek. I grabbed her arm and pushed her into a corner, while all about me was chaos. There were only three human men in the room. Hallow's brother, Mark, now being attacked by a pack of wolves, was one of them. The second male was a middle-aged man with concave cheeks and suspicious black hair, and he not only was muttering some kind of spell but pulling a switchblade from the jacket lying on the floor to his right. He was too far away for me to do anything about it; I had to rely on the others to protect themselves. Then I spotted the third man, birthmark on cheek - must be Parton. He was cowering with his hands over his head. I knew how he felt.

  I grabbed his arm and pulled up, and he came up punching, of course. But I wasn't having any of that, no one was going to hit me, so I aimed my fist through his ineffectually flailing arms and got him right on the nose. He shrieked, adding another layer of noise to the already cacophonous room, and I yanked him over to the same corner where I'd stashed Jane. Then I saw that the older woman and the young man were both shining. Okay, the Wiccans had come through with a spell and it was working, though just a tad late. Now I had to find a shining young woman with dyed red hair, the third local.

  But my luck ran out then; hers already had. She was shining, but she was dead. Her throat had been torn out by one of the wolves: one of ours, or one of theirs, it didn't really matter.

  I scrambled though the melee back to the corner and seized both of the surviving Wiccans by the arm. Debbie Pelt came rushing up. "Get out of here," I said to them. "Find the other Wiccans out there, or go home now. Walk, get a cab, whatever. "

  "It's a bad neighborhood out there," quavered Jane.

  I stared at her. "And this isn't?" The last I saw of the two, Debbie was pointing and giving them instructions. She had stepped out the doorway with them. I was about to take off after them, since I wasn't supposed to be here anyway, when one of the Were witches snapped at my leg. Its teeth missed flesh but snagged my pants leg, and that was enough to yank me back. I stumbled and nearly fell to the floor, but managed to grasp the doorjamb in time to regain my feet. At that moment, the second wave of Weres and vamps came through from the back room, and the wolf darted off to meet the new assault from the rear.

  The room was full of flying bodies and spraying blood and screams.

  The witches were fighting for all they were worth, and the ones who could shift had done so. Hallow had changed, and she was a snarling mass of snapping teeth. Her brother was trying to work some kind of magic, which required him to be in his human form, and he was trying to hold off the Weres and the vampires long enough to complete the spell.

  He was chanting something, he and the concave-cheeked man, even as Mark Stonebrook drove a fist into Eric's stomach.

  A heavy mist began to crawl through the room. The witches, who were fighting with knives or wolf teeth, got the idea, and those who could speak began to add to whatever Mark was saying. The cloud of mist in the room began to get thicker and thicker, until it was impossible to tell friend from foe.

  I leaped for the door to escape from the suffocating cloud. This stuff made breathing a real effort. It was like trying to inhale and exhale cotton balls. I extended my hand, but the bit of wall I touched didn't include a door. It had been right there! I felt a curl of panic in my stomach as I patted frantically, trying to trace the outline of the exit.

  Not only did I fail to find the doorjamb, I lost touch with the wall altogether on my next sideways step. I stumbled over a wolf's body. I couldn't see a wound, so I got hold of its shoulders and dragged, trying to rescue it from the thick smoke.

  The wolf began to writhe and change under my hands, which was pretty disconcerting. Even worse, it changed into a naked Hallow. I didn't know anyone could change that fast. Terrified, I let go of her immediately and backed away into the cloud. I'd been trying to be a good Samaritan with the wrong victim. A nameless woman, one of the witches, grabbed me from behind with superhuman strength. She tried to grip my neck with one hand while holding my arm with the other, but her hand kept slipping, and I bit her as hard as I could. She might be a witch, and s
he might be a Were, and she might have drunk a gallon of vamp blood, but she was no warrior. She screamed and released me.

  By now I was completely disoriented. Which way was out? I was coughing and my eyes were streaming. The only sense I was sure of was gravity. Sight, hearing, touch: all were affected by the thick white billows, which were getting ever denser. The vampires had an advantage in this situation; they didn't need to breathe. All the rest of us did. Compared to the thickening atmosphere in the old bakery, the polluted city air outside had been pure and delicious.

  Gasping and weeping, I flung my arms out in front of me and tried to find a wall or a doorway, any sort of landmark. A room that had not seemed so large now seemed cavernous. I felt I'd stumbled through yards of nothingness, but that wasn't possible unless the witches had changed the dimensions of the room, and my prosaic mind just couldn't accept the possibility. From around me I heard screams and sounds that were muffled in the cloud, but no less frightening. A spray of blood suddenly appeared down the front of my coat. I felt the spatter hit my face. I made a noise of distress that I couldn't form into words. I knew it wasn't my blood, and I knew I hadn't been hurt, but somehow that was hard for me to believe.

  Then something fell past me, and as it was on its way to the floor I glimpsed a face. It was the face of Mark Stonebrook, and he was in the process of dying. The smoke closed in around him, and he might as well have been in another city.

  Maybe I should crouch, too? The air might be better close to the floor. But Mark's body was down there, and other things. So much for Mark removing the spell on Eric, I thought wildly. Now we'll need Hallow. "The best-laid plans of mice and men. . . " Where'd my grandmother gotten that quote? Gerald knocked me sideways as he pushed past in pursuit of something I couldn't see.

  I told myself I was brave and resourceful, but the words rang hollow. I blundered ahead, trying not trip over the debris on the floor. The witches' paraphernalia, bowls and knives and bits of bone and vegetation that I couldn't identify, had been scattered in the scuffle. A clear spot opened up unexpectedly, and I could see an overturned bowl and one of the knives on the floor at my feet. I scooped up the knife just before the cloud rolled back over it. I was sure the knife was supposed to be used for some ritual - but I wasn't a witch, and I needed it to defend myself. I felt better when I had the knife, which was real pretty and felt very sharp.

  I wondered what our Wiccans were doing. Could they be responsible for the cloud? I wished I'd gotten to vote.

  Our witches, as it turned out, were getting a live feed from the scene of the fight from one of their coven sisters, who was a scryer. (Though she was physically with them, she could see what was happening on the surface of a bowl of water, I learned later. ) She could make out more using that method than we could, though why she didn't see just a bunch of white smoke billowing on the surface of that water, I don't know.

  Anyway, our witches made it rain. . . in the building. Somehow the rain slowly cut back on the cloud cover, and though I felt damp and extremely cold, I also discovered I was close to the inner door, the one leading into the second, large room. Gradually, I became aware that I could see; the room had started to glow with light, and I could discern shapes. One bounded toward me on legs that seemed not-quite-human, and Debbie Pelt's face snarled at me. What was she doing here? She'd stepped out the door to show the Wiccans which way to find safety, and now she was back in the room.

  I don't know if she could help it or not, or if she'd just gotten swept up in the madness of battle, but Debbie had partially changed. Her face was sprouting fur, and her teeth had begun to lengthen and sharpen. She snapped at my throat, but a convulsion caused by the change made her teeth fall short. I tried to step back, but I stumbled over something on the floor and took a precious second or two to regain my footing. She began to lunge again, her intent unmistakable, and I recalled that I had a knife in my hand. I slashed at her, and she hesitated, snarling.

  She was going to use the confusion to settle our score. I wasn't strong enough to fight a shape-shifter. I'd have to use the knife, though something inside me cringed at the thought.

  Then from the tags and tatters of the mist came a big hand stained with blood, and that big hand grabbed Debbie Pelt's throat and squeezed. And squeezed. Before I could track the hand up the arm to the face of its owner, a wolf leaped from the floor to knock me down.

  And sniff my face.

  Okay, that was. . . then the wolf on top of me was knocked off and rolling on the floor, snarling and snapping at another wolf. I couldn't help, because the two were moving so quickly I couldn't be sure I'd help the right party.

  The mist was dispersing at a good rate now, and I could see the room as a whole, though there were still patches of opaque fog. Though I'd been desperate for this moment, I was almost sorry now that it'd arrived. Bodies, both dead and wounded, littered the floor among the paraphernalia of the coven, and blood spattered the walls. Portugal, the handsome young Were from the air force base, lay sprawled in front of me. He was dead. Culpepper crouched beside him, keening. This was a small piece of war, and I hated it.

  Hallow was still standing and completely in her human form, bare and smeared with blood. She picked up a wolf and slung it at the wall as I watched. She was magnificent and horrible. Pam was creeping up behind her, and Pam was disheveled and dirty. I'd never seen the vampire so much as ruffled, and I almost didn't recognize her. Pam launched herself, catching Hallow at the hips and knocking her to the floor. It was as good a tackle as I'd ever seen in years of Friday night football, and if Pam had caught Hallow a little higher up and could have gotten a grip on her, it would have been all over. But Hallow was slippery with the misty rain and with blood, and her arms were free. She twisted in Pam's grasp and seized Pam's long straight hair in both hands and pulled, and clumps of the hair came off, attached to a good bit of scalp.

  Pam shrieked like a giant teakettle. I'd never heard a noise that loud come out of a throat - in this case not a human throat, but a throat nonetheless. Since Pam was definitely of the "get even" school, she pinned Hallow to the floor by gripping both her upper arms and pressing, pressing, until Hallow was flattened. Since the witch was so strong, it was a terrible struggle, and Pam was hampered by the blood streaming down her face. But Hallow was human, and Pam was not. Pam was winning until one of the witches, the hollow-cheeked man, crawled over to the two woman and bit into Pam's neck. Both her arms were occupied, and she couldn't stop him. He didn't just bite, he drank, and as he drank, his strength increased, as if his battery was getting charged. He was draining right from the source. No one seemed to be watching but me. I scrambled across the limp, furry body of a wolf and one of the vampires to pummel on the hollow-cheeked man, who simply ignored me.

  I would have to use the knife. I'd never done something like this; when I'd struck back at someone, it had always been a life-or-death situation, and the life and the death had been mine. This was different. I hesitated, but I had to do something quick. Pam was weakening before my eyes, and she would not be able to restrain Hallow much longer. I took the black-bladed knife with its black handle, and I held it to his throat; I jabbed him, a little.

  "Let go of her," I said. He ignored me.

  I jabbed harder, and a stream of scarlet ran down the skin of his neck. He let go of Pam then. His mouth was all covered in her blood. But before I could rejoice that he'd freed her, he spun over while he was still underneath me and came after me, his eyes absolutely insane and his mouth open to drink from me, too. I could feel the yearning in his brain, the want, want, want. I put the knife to his neck again, and just as I was steeling myself, he lunged forward and pushed the blade into his own neck.

  His eyes went dull almost instantly.

  He'd killed himself by way of me. I don't think he'd ever realized the knife was there.

  This was a close killing, a right-in-my-face killing, and I'd been the instrument
of death, however inadvertently.

  When I could look up, Pam was sitting on Hallow's chest, her knees pinning Hallow's arms, and she was smiling. This was so bizarre that I looked around the room to find the reason, and I saw that the battle appeared to be over. I couldn't imagine how long it had lasted, that loud but invisible struggle in the thick mist, but now I could see the results all too clearly.

  Vampires don't kill neat, they kill messy. Wolves, too, are not known for their table manners. Witches seemed to manage to splash a little less blood, but the end result was really horrible, like a very bad movie, the kind you were ashamed you'd paid to see.

  We appeared to have won.

  At the moment, I hardly cared. I was really tired, mentally and physically, and that meant all the thoughts of the humans, and some of the thoughts of the Weres, rolled around in my brain like clothes in a dryer. There was nothing I could do about it, so I let the tag ends drift around in my head while, using the last of my strength, I pushed off of the corpse. I lay on my back and stared up at the ceiling. Since I had no thoughts, I filled up with everyone else's. Almost everyone was thinking the same kind of thing I was: how tired they were, how bloody the room was, how hard it was to believe they'd gone through a fight like this and survived. The spiky-haired boy had reverted to his human form, and he was thinking how much more he'd enjoyed it than he thought he should. In fact, his unclothed body was showing visible evidence of how much he'd enjoyed it, and he was trying to feel embarrassed about that. Mostly, he wanted to track down that cute young Wiccan and find a quiet corner. Hallow was hating Pam, she was hating me, she was hating Eric, she was hating everyone. She began to try to mumble a spell to make us all sick, but Pam gave her an elbow in the neck, and that shut her right up.

  Debbie Pelt got up from the floor in the door and surveyed the scene. She looked amazingly pristine and energetic, as if she'd never had a furry face and wouldn't even begin to know how to kill someone. She picked her way through the bodies strewn on the floor, some living and some not, until she found Alcide, still in his wolf form. She squatted down to check him over for wounds, and he growled at her in clear warning. Maybe she didn't believe he would attack, or maybe she just fooled herself into believing it, but she laid her hand on his shoulder, and he bit her savagely enough to draw blood. She shrieked and scrambled back. For a few seconds, she crouched there, cradling her bleeding hand and crying. Her eyes met mine and almost glowed with hatred. She would never forgive me. She would blame me the rest of her life for Alcide's discovery of her dark nature. She'd toyed with him for two years, pulling him to her, pushing him back, concealing from him the elements of her nature he would never accept, but wanting him with her nonetheless. Now it was all over.

  And this was my fault?

  But I wasn't thinking in Debbie terms, I was thinking like a rational human being, and of course Debbie Pelt was not. I wished the hand that had caught her neck during the struggle in the cloud had choked her to death. I watched her back as she pushed open the door and strode into the night, and at that moment I knew Debbie Pelt would be out to get me for the rest of her life. Maybe Alcide's bite would get infected and she'd get blood poisoning?

  In reflex action, I chastised myself: That was an evil thought; God didn't want us to wish ill on anyone. I just hoped He was listening in to Debbie, too, the way you hope the highway patrolman who stopped you for a ticket is also going to stop the guy behind you who was trying to pass you on the double yellow line.

  The redheaded Were, Amanda, came over to me. She was bitten here and there, and she had a swollen lump on her forehead, but she was quietly beaming. "While I'm in a good mood, I want to apologize for insulting you," she said directly. "You came through in this fight. Even if you can tolerate vamps, I won't hold that against you anymore. Maybe you'll see the light. " I nodded, and she strolled away to check on her packmates.

  Pam had tied up Hallow, and Pam, Eric, and Gerald had gone to kneel beside someone on the other side of the room. I wondered vaguely what was happening over there, but Alcide was shimmering back into human form, and when he'd oriented himself, he crawled over to me. I was too exhausted to care that he was naked, but I had a floating idea that I should try to remember the sight, since I'd want to recall it at my leisure later.

  He had some grazes and bloody spots, and one deep laceration, but overall he looked pretty good.

  "There's blood on your face," he said, with an effort.

  "Not mine. "

  "Thank God," he said, and he lay on the floor beside me. "How bad are you hurt?"

  "I'm not hurt, not really," I said. "I mean, I got shoved around a lot, and choked a little maybe, and snapped at, but no one hit me!" By golly, I was going to make my New Year's resolution come true, after all.

  "I'm sorry we didn't find Jason here," he said.

  "Eric asked Pam and Gerald if the vampires were holding him, and they said no," I remarked. "He'd thought of a real good reason for the vamps to have him. But they didn't. "

  "Chow is dead. "

  "How?" I asked, sounding as calm as if it hardly mattered. Truthfully, I had never been very partial to the bartender, but I would have shown a decent concern if I hadn't been so tired.

  "One of Hallow's group had a wooden knife. "

  "I never saw one before," I said after a moment, and that was all I could think to say about the death of Chow.

  "Me, neither. "

  After a long moment, I said, "I'm sorry about Debbie. " What I meant was, I was sorry Debbie had hurt him so badly, had proved to be such a dreadful person that he'd had to take a drastic step to get her out of his life.

  "Debbie who?" he asked, and rolled to his feet and padded away across the filthy floor strewn with blood, bodies, and supernatural debris.
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