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Dead until dark, p.2
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       Dead Until Dark, p.2

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 

  As I heard the engine roar into life, suddenly I realized that the Rats now had another weapon. Faster than I’ve ever moved, I ran to the vampire’s head and panted, “Push with your feet!” I grabbed him under the arms and yanked back with all my might, and he caught on and braced his feet and shoved. We were just inside the tree line when the red car came roaring down at us. Denise missed us by less than a yard when she had to swerve to avoid hitting a pine. Then I heard the big motor of the Rats’ car receding in the distance.

  “Oh, wow,” I breathed, and knelt by the vampire because my knees wouldn’t hold me up any more. I breathed heavily for just a minute, trying to get hold of myself. The vampire moved a little, and I looked over. To my horror, I saw wisps of smoke coming up from his wrists where the silver touched them.

  “Oh, you poor thing,” I said, angry at myself for not caring for him instantly. Still trying to catch my breath, I began to unwind the thin bands of silver, which all seemed to be part of one very long chain. “Poor baby,” I whispered, never thinking until later how incongruous that sounded. I have agile fingers, and I released his wrists pretty quickly. I wondered how the Rats had distracted him while they got into position to put them on, and I could feel myself reddening as I pictured it.

  The vampire cradled his arms to his chest while I worked on the silver wrapped around his legs. His ankles had fared better since the drainers hadn’t troubled to pull up his jeans legs and put the silver against his bare skin.

  “I’m sorry I didn’t get here faster,” I said apologetically. “You’ll feel better in a minute, right? Do you want me to leave?”

  “No.”

  That made me feel pretty good until he added, “They might come back, and I can’t fight yet.” His cool voice was uneven, but I couldn’t exactly say I’d heard him panting.

  I made a sour face at him, and while he was recovering, I took a few precautions. I sat with my back to him, giving him some privacy. I know how unpleasant it is to be stared at when you’re hurting. I hunkered down on the pavement, keeping watch on the parking lot. Several cars left, and others came in, but none came down to our end by the woods. By the movement of the air around me, I knew when the vampire had sat up.

  He didn’t speak right away. I turned my head to the left to look at him. He was closer than I’d thought. His big dark eyes looked into mine. His fangs had retracted; I was a little disappointed about that.

  “Thank you,” he said stiffly.

  So he wasn’t thrilled about being rescued by a woman. Typical guy.

  Since he was being so ungracious, I felt I could do something rude, too, and I listened to him, opening my mind completely.

  And I heard . . . nothing.

  “Oh,” I said, hearing the shock in my own voice, hardly knowing what I was saying. “I can’t hear you.”

  “Thank you!” the vampire said, moving his lips exaggeratedly.

  “No, no . . . I can hear you speak, but . . .” and in my excitement, I did something I ordinarily would never do, because it was pushy, and personal, and revealed I was disabled. I turned fully to him and put my hands on both sides of his white face, and I looked at him intently. I focused with all my energy. Nothing. It was like having to listen to the radio all the time, to stations you didn’t get to select, and then suddenly tuning in to a wavelength you couldn’t receive.

  It was heaven.

  His eyes were getting wider and darker, though he was holding absolutely still.

  “Oh, excuse me,” I said with a gasp of embarrassment. I snatched my hands away and resumed staring at the parking lot. I began babbling about Mack and Denise, all the time thinking how marvelous it would be to have a companion I could not hear unless he chose to speak out loud. How beautiful his silence was.

  “. . . so I figured I better come out here to see how you were,” I concluded, and had no idea what I’d been saying.

  “You came out here to rescue me. It was brave,” he said in a voice so seductive it would have shivered DeeAnne right out of her red nylon panties.

  “Now you cut that out,” I said tartly, coming right down to earth with a thud.

  He looked astonished for a whole second before his face returned to its white smoothness.

  “Aren’t you afraid to be alone with a hungry vampire?” he asked, something arch and yet dangerous running beneath the words.

  “Nope.”

  “Are you assuming that since you came to my rescue that you’re safe, that I harbor an ounce of sentimental feeling after all these years? Vampires often turn on those who trust them. We don’t have human values, you know.”

  “A lot of humans turn on those who trust them,” I pointed out. I can be practical. “I’m not a total fool.” I held out my arm and turned my neck. While he’d been recovering, I’d been wrapping the Rats’ chains around my neck and arms.

  He shivered visibly.

  “But there’s a juicy artery in your groin,” he said after a pause to regroup, his voice as slithery as a snake on a slide.

  “Don’t you talk dirty,” I told him. “I won’t listen to that.”

  Once again we looked at each other in silence. I was afraid I’d never see him again; after all, his first visit to Merlotte’s hadn’t exactly been a success. So I was trying to absorb every detail I could; I would treasure this encounter and rehash it for a long, long time. It was rare, a prize. I wanted to touch his skin again. I couldn’t remember how it felt. But that would be going beyond some boundary of manners, and also maybe start him going on the seductive crap again.

  “Would you like to drink the blood they collected?” he asked unexpectedly. “It would be a way for me to show my gratitude.” He gestured at the stoppered vials lying on the blacktop. “My blood is supposed to improve your sex life and your health.”

  “I’m healthy as a horse,” I told him honestly. “And I have no sex life to speak of. You do what you want with it.”

  “You could sell it,” he suggested, but I thought he was just waiting to see what I’d say about that.

  “I wouldn’t touch it,” I said, insulted.

  “You’re different,” he said. “What are you?” He seemed to be going through a list of possibilities in his head from the way he was looking at me. To my pleasure, I could not hear a one of them.

  “Well. I’m Sookie Stackhouse, and I’m a waitress,” I told him. “What’s your name?” I thought I could at least ask that without being presuming.

  “Bill,” he said.

  Before I could stop myself, I rocked back onto my butt with laughter. “The vampire Bill!” I said. “I thought it might be Antoine, or Basil, or Langford! Bill!” I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. “Well, see ya, Bill. I got to get back to work.” I could feel the tense grin snap back into place when I thought of Merlotte’s. I put my hand on Bill’s shoulder and pushed up. It was rock hard, and I was on my feet so fast I had to stop myself from stumbling. I examined my socks to make sure their cuffs were exactly even, and I looked up and down my outfit to check for wear and tear during the fight with the Rats. I dusted off my bottom since I’d been sitting on the dirty pavement and gave Bill a wave as I started off across the parking lot.

  It had been a stimulating evening, one with a lot of food for thought. I felt almost as cheerful as my smile when I considered it.

  But Jason was going to be mighty angry about the chain.

  AFTER WORK THAT night, I drove home, which is only about four miles south from the bar. Jason had been gone (and so had DeeAnne) when I got back to work, and that had been another good thing. I was reviewing the evening as I drove to my grandmother’s house, where I lived. It’s right before Tall Pines cemetery, which lies off a narrow two-lane parish road. My great-great-great grandfather had started the house, and he’d had ideas about privacy, so to reach it you had to turn off the parish road into the driveway, go through some woods, and then you arrived at the clearing in which the house stood.

  It’s sure not any historic landmar
k, since most of the oldest parts have been ripped down and replaced over the years, and of course it’s got electricity and plumbing and insulation, all that good modern stuff. But it still has a tin roof that gleams blindingly on sunny days. When the roof needed to be replaced, I wanted to put regular roofing tiles on it, but my grandmother said no. Though I was paying, it’s her house; so naturally, tin it was.

  Historical or not, I’d lived in this house since I was about seven, and I’d visited it often before then, so I loved it. It was just a big old family home, too big for Granny and me, I guess. It had a broad front covered by a screened-in porch, and it was painted white, Granny being a traditionalist all the way. I went through the big living room, strewn with battered furniture arranged to suit us, and down the hall to the first bedroom on the left, the biggest.

  Adele Hale Stackhouse, my grandmother, was propped up in her high bed, about a million pillows padding her skinny shoulders. She was wearing a long-sleeved cotton nightgown even in the warmth of this spring night, and her bedside lamp was still on. There was a book propped in her lap.

  “Hey,” I said.

  “Hi, honey.”

  My grandmother is very small and very old, but her hair is still thick, and so white it almost has the very faintest of green tinges. She wears it kind of rolled against her neck during the day, but at night it’s loose or braided. I looked at the cover of her book.

  “You reading Danielle Steele again?”

  “Oh, that woman can sure tell a story.” My grandmother’s great pleasures were reading Danielle Steele, watching her soap operas (which she called her “stories”) and attending meetings of the myriad clubs she’d belonged to all her adult life, it seemed. Her favorites were the Descendants of the Glorious Dead and the Bon Temps Gardening Society.

  “Guess what happened tonight?” I asked her.

  “What? You got a date?”

  “No,” I said, working to keep a smile on my face. “A vampire came into the bar.”

  “Ooh, did he have fangs?”

  I’d seen them glisten in the parking lot lights when the Rats were draining him, but there was no need to describe that to Gran. “Sure, but they were retracted.”

  “A vampire right here in Bon Temps.” Granny was as pleased as punch. “Did he bite anybody in the bar?”

  “Oh, no, Gran! He just sat and had a glass of red wine. Well, he ordered it, but he didn’t drink it. I think he just wanted some company.”

  “Wonder where he stays.”

  “He wouldn’t be too likely to tell anyone that.”

  “No,” Gran said, thinking about it a moment. “I guess not. Did you like him?”

  Now that was kind of a hard question. I mulled it over. “I don’t know. He was real interesting,” I said cautiously.

  “I’d surely love to meet him.” I wasn’t surprised Gran said this because she enjoyed new things almost as much as I did. She wasn’t one of those reactionaries who’d decided vampires were damned right off the bat. “But I better go to sleep now. I was just waiting for you to come home before I turned out my light.”

  I bent over to give Gran a kiss, and said, “Night night.”

  I half-closed her door on my way out and heard the click of the lamp as she turned it off. My cat, Tina, came from wherever she’d been sleeping to rub against my legs, and I picked her up and cuddled her for a while before putting her out for the night. I glanced at the clock. It was almost two o’clock, and my bed was calling me.

  My room was right across the hall from Gran’s. When I first used this room, after my folks had died, Gran had moved my bedroom furniture from their house so I’d feel more homey. And here it was still, the single bed and vanity in white-painted wood, the small chest of drawers.

  I turned on my own light and shut the door and began taking off my clothes. I had at least five pair of black shorts and many, many white T-shirts, since those tended to get stained so easily. No telling how many pairs of white socks were rolled up in my drawer. So I didn’t have to do the wash tonight. I was too tired for a shower. I did brush my teeth and wash the makeup off my face, slap on some moisturizer, and take the band out of my hair.

  I crawled into bed in my favorite Mickey Mouse sleep T-shirt, which came almost to my knees. I turned on my side, like I always do, and I relished the silence of the room. Almost everyone’s brain is turned off in the wee hours of the night, and the vibrations are gone, the intrusions do not have to be repelled. With such peace, I only had time to think of the vampire’s dark eyes, and then I fell into the deep sleep of exhaustion.

  BY LUNCHTIME THE next day I was in my folding aluminum chaise out in the front yard, getting browner by the second. I was in my favorite white strapless two-piece, and it was a little roomier than last summer, so I was pleased as punch.

  Then I heard a vehicle coming down the drive, and Jason’s black truck with its pink and aqua blazons pulled up to within a yard of my feet.

  Jason climbed down—did I mention the truck sports those high tires?—to stalk toward me. He was wearing his usual work clothes, a khaki shirt and pants, and he had his sheathed knife clipped to his belt, like most of the county road workers did. Just by the way he walked, I knew he was in a huff.

  I put my dark glasses on.

  “Why didn’t you tell me you beat up the Rattrays last night?” My brother threw himself into the aluminum yard chair by my chaise. “Where’s Gran?” he asked belatedly.

  “Hanging out the laundry,” I said. Gran used the dryer in a pinch, but she really liked hanging the wet clothes out in the sun. Of course the clothesline was in the backyard, where clotheslines should be. “She’s fixing country-fried steak and sweet potatoes and green beans she put up last year, for lunch,” I added, knowing that would distract Jason a little bit. I hoped Gran stayed out back. I didn’t want her to hear this conversation. “Keep your voice low,” I reminded him.

  “Rene Lenier couldn’t wait till I got to work this morning to tell me all about it. He was over to the Rattrays’ trailer last night to buy him some weed, and Denise drove up like she wanted to kill someone. Rene said he liked to have gotten killed, she was so mad. It took both Rene and Denise to get Mack into the trailer, and then they took him to the hospital in Monroe.” Jason glared at me accusingly.

  “Did Rene tell you that Mack came after me with a knife?” I asked, deciding attacking was the best way of handling this. I could tell Jason’s pique was due in large part to the fact that he had heard about this from someone else.

  “If Denise told Rene, he didn’t mention it to me,” Jason said slowly, and I saw his handsome face darken with rage. “He came after you with a knife?”

  “So I had to defend myself,” I said, as if it were matter-of-fact. “And he took your chain.” This was all true, if a little skewed.

  “I came in to tell you,” I continued, “but by the time I got back in the bar, you were gone with DeeAnne, and since I was fine, it just didn’t seem worth tracking you down. I knew you’d feel obliged to go after him if I told you about the knife,” I added diplomatically. There was a lot more truth in that, since Jason dearly loves a fight.

  “What the hell were you doing out there anyway?” he asked, but he had relaxed, and I knew he was accepting this.

  “Did you know that, in addition to selling drugs, the Rats are vampire drainers?”

  Now he was fascinated. “No . . . so?”

  “Well, one of my customers last night was a vampire, and they were draining him out in Merlotte’s parking lot! I couldn’t have that.”

  “There’s a vampire here in Bon Temps?”

  “Yep. Even if you don’t want a vampire for your best friend, you can’t let trash like the Rats drain them. It’s not like siphoning gas out of a car. And they would have left him out in the woods to die.” Though the Rats hadn’t told me their intentions, that was my bet. Even if they’d put him under cover so he could survive the day, a drained vampire took at least twenty years to recover, at least tha
t’s what one had said on Oprah. And that’s if another vampire took care of him.

  “The vampire was in the bar when I was there?” Jason asked, dazzled.

  “Uh-huh. The dark-haired guy sitting with the Rats.”

  Jason grinned at my epithet for the Rattrays. But he hadn’t let go of the night before, yet. “How’d you know he was a vampire?” he asked, but when he looked at me, I could tell he was wishing he had bitten his tongue.

  “I just knew,” I said in my flattest voice.

  “Right.” And we shared a whole unspoken conversation.

  “Homulka doesn’t have a vampire,” Jason said thoughtfully. He tilted his face back to catch the sun, and I knew we were off dangerous ground.

  “True,” I agreed. Homulka was the town Bon Temps loved to hate. We’d been rivals in football, basketball, and historical significance for generations.

  “Neither does Roedale,” Gran said from behind us, and Jason and I both jumped. I give Jason credit, he jumps up and gives Gran a hug everytime he sees her.

  “Gran, you got enough food in the oven for me?”

  “You and two others,” Gran said. Our grandmother smiled up at Jason. She was not blind to his faults (or mine), but she loved him. “I just got a phone call from Everlee Mason. She was telling me you hooked up with DeeAnne last night.”

  “Boy oh boy, can’t do anything in this town without getting caught,” Jason said, but he wasn’t really angry.

  “That DeeAnne,” Gran said warningly as we all started into the house, “she’s been pregnant one time I know of. You just take care she doesn’t have one of yours, you’ll be paying the rest of your life. Course, that may be the only way I get great-grandchildren!”

  Gran had the food ready on the table, so after Jason hung up his hat we sat down and said grace. Then Gran and Jason began gossiping with each other (though they called it “catching up”) about people in our little town and parish. My brother worked for the state, supervising road crews. It seemed to me like Jason’s day consisted of driving around in a state pickup, clocking off work, and then driving around all night in his own pickup. Rene was on one of the work crews Jason oversaw, and they’d been to high school together. They hung around with Hoyt Fortenberry a lot.

 
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