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Dead until dark, p.25
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       Dead Until Dark, p.25

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
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  “Then what is it about?”

  “This is about keeping you alive until the murderer is caught.”

  “So that’s why you woke up naked in my bed? For my protection?”

  He had the grace to look ashamed. “Well, maybe I could have planned it better. But I did think you needed someone with you, since Arlene told me Bill was out of town. I knew you wouldn’t let me spend the night here as a human.”

  “Will you rest easy now that you know Bubba is watching the house at night?”

  “Vampires are strong, and ferocious,” Sam conceded. “I guess this Bubba owes Bill something, or he wouldn’t be doing him a favor. Vampires aren’t big on doing each other favors. They have a lot of structure in their world.”

  I should have paid more attention to what Sam was saying, but I was thinking I’d better not explain about Bubba’s origins.

  “If there’s you, and Bill, I guess there must be lots of other things outside of nature,” I said, realizing what a treasure trove of thought awaited me. Since I’d met Bill, I hadn’t felt so much need to hoard neat things up for future contemplation, but it never hurt to be prepared. “You’ll have to tell me sometime.” Big Foot? The Loch Ness Monster? I’d always believed in the Loch Ness monster.

  “Well, I guess I better be getting back home,” Sam said. He looked at me hopefully. He was still naked.

  “Yes, I think you better. But—oh, dang it—you . . . oh, hell.” I stomped upstairs to look for some clothes. It seemed to me Jason had a couple of things in an upstairs closet he kept here for some emergency.

  Sure enough, there was a pair of blue jeans and a work shirt in the first upstairs bedroom. It was already hot up there, under the tin roof, because the upstairs was on a separate thermostat. I came back down, grateful to feel the cool conditioned air.

  “Here,” I said, handing Sam the clothes. “I hope they fit well enough.” He looked as though he wanted to start our conversation back up, but I was too aware now that I was clad in a thin nylon nightgown and he was clad in nothing at all.

  “On with the clothes,” I said firmly. “And you get dressed out in the living room.” I shooed him out and shut the door behind him. I thought it would be insulting to lock the door, so I didn’t. I did get dressed in record time, pulling on clean underwear and the denim skirt and yellow shirt I’d had on the night before. I dabbed on my makeup, put on some earrings, and brushed my hair up into a ponytail, putting a yellow squnchy over the elastic band. My morale rose as I looked in the mirror. My smile turned into a frown when I thought I heard a truck pulling into the front yard.

  I came out of the bedroom like I’d been fired from a cannon, hoping like hell Sam was dressed and hiding. He’d done one better. He’d changed back into a dog. The clothes were scattered on the floor, and I swept them up and stuffed them into the closet in the hall.

  “Good boy!” I said enthusiastically and scratched behind his ears. Dean responded by sticking his cold black nose up my skirt. “Now you cut that out,” I said, and looked through the front window. “It’s Andy Bellefleur,” I told the dog.

  Andy jumped out of his Dodge Ram, stretched for a long second, and headed for my front door. I opened it, Dean by my side.

  I eyed Andy quizzically. “You look like you been up all night long, Andy. Can I make you some coffee?”

  The dog stirred restlessly beside me.

  “That would be great,” he said. “Can I come in?”

  “Sure.” I stood aside. Dean growled.

  “You got a good guard dog, there. Here, fella. Come here.” Andy squatted to hold out a hand to the collie, whom I simply could not think of as Sam. Dean sniffed Andy’s hand, but wouldn’t give it a lick. Instead, he kept between me and Andy.

  “Come on back to the kitchen,” I said, and Andy stood and followed me. I had the coffee on in a jiffy and put some bread in the toaster. Assembling the cream and sugar and spoons and mugs took a few more minutes, but then I had to face why Andy was here. His face was drawn; he looked ten years older than I knew him to be. This was no courtesy call.

  “Sookie, were you here last night? You didn’t work?”

  “No, I didn’t. I was here except for a quick trip in to Merlotte’s.”

  “Was Bill here any of that time?”

  “No, he’s in New Orleans. He’s staying in that new hotel in the French Quarter, the one just for vampires.”

  “You’re sure that’s where he is.”

  “Yes.” I could feel my face tighten. The bad thing was coming.

  “I’ve been up all night,” Andy said.


  “I’ve just come from another crime scene.”

  “Yes.” I went into his mind. “Amy Burley?” I stared at his eyes, trying to make sure. “Amy who worked at the Good Times Bar?” The name at the top of yesterday’s pile of prospective barmaids, the name I’d left for Sam. I looked down at the dog. He lay on the floor with his muzzle between his paws, looking as sad and stunned as I felt. He whined pathetically.

  Andy’s brown eyes were boring a hole in me. “How’d you know?”

  “Cut the crap, Andy, you know I can read minds. I feel awful. Poor Amy. Was it like the others?”

  “Yes,” he said. “Yes, it was like the others. But the puncture marks were fresher.”

  I thought of the night Bill and I had had to go to Shreveport to answer Eric’s summons. Had Amy given Bill blood that night? I couldn’t even count how many days ago that had been, my schedule had been so thrown off by all the strange and terrible events of the past few weeks.

  I sat down heavily in a wooden kitchen chair, shaking my head absently for a few minutes, amazed at the turn my life had taken.

  Amy Burley’s life had no more turns to take. I shook the odd spell of apathy off, rose and poured the coffee.

  “Bill hasn’t been here since night before last,” I said.

  “And you were here all night?”

  “Yes, I was. My dog can tell you,” and I smiled down at Dean, who whined at being noticed. He came over to lay his fuzzy head on my knees while I drank my coffee. I smoothed his ears.

  “Did you hear from your brother?”

  “No, but I got a funny phone call, from someone who said he was at Merlotte’s.” After the words left my mouth I realized the caller must have been Sam, luring me over to Merlotte’s so he could maneuver himself into accompanying me home. Dean yawned, a big jaw-cracking yawn that let us see every one of his white sharp teeth.

  I wished I’d kept my mouth shut.

  But now I had to explain the whole thing to Andy, who was slumped only half-awake in my kitchen chair, his plaid shirt wrinkled and blotched with coffee stains, his khakis shapeless through long wear. Andy was longing for bed the way a horse longs for his own stall.

  “You need to get some rest,” I said gently. There was something sad about Andy Bellefleur, something daunted.

  “It’s these murders,” he said, his voice unsteady from exhaustion. “These poor women. And they were all the same in so many ways.”

  “Uneducated, blue-collar women who worked in bars? Didn’t mind having a vampire lover from time to time?”

  He nodded, his eyes drooping shut.

  “Women just like me, in other words.”

  His eyes opened then. He was aghast at his error. “Sookie . . .”

  “I understand, Andy,” I said. “In some respects, we are all alike, and if you accept the attack on my grandmother as intended for me, well, I guess then I’m the only survivor.”

  I wondered who the murderer had left to kill. Was I the only one alive who met his criteria? That was the scariest thought I’d had all day.

  Andy was practically nodding over his coffee cup.

  “Why don’t you go lie down in the other bedroom?” I suggested quietly. “You have to have some sleep. You’re not safe to drive, I wouldn’t think.”

  “That’s kind of you,” Andy said, his voice dragging. He sounded a little surprised,
like kindness wasn’t something he expected from me. “But I have to get home, set my alarm. I can sleep for maybe three hours.”

  “I promise I’ll wake you up,” I said. I didn’t want Andy sleeping in my house, but I didn’t want him to have a wreck on the way to his house, either. Old Mrs. Bellefleur would never forgive me, and probably Portia wouldn’t either. “You come lie down in this room.” I led him to my old bedroom. My single bed was neatly made up. “You just lie down on top of the bed, and I’ll set the alarm.” I did, while he watched. “Now, get a little sleep. I have one errand to run, and I’ll be right back.” Andy didn’t offer any more resistance, but sat heavily on the bed even as I shut the door.

  The dog had been padding after me while I got Andy situated, and now I said to him, in a quite different tone, “You go get dressed right now!”

  Andy stuck his head out the bedroom door. “Sookie, who are you talking to?”

  “The dog,” I answered instantly. “He always gets his collar, and I put it on every day.”

  “Why do you ever take it off?”

  “It jingles at night, keeps me up. You go to bed, now.”

  “All right.” Looking satisfied at my explanation, Andy shut the door again.

  I retrieved Jason’s clothes from the closet, put them on the couch in front of the dog, and sat with my back turned. But I realized I could see in the mirror over the mantel.

  The air grew hazy around the collie, seemed to hum and vibrate with energy, and then the form began to change within that electric concentration. When the haze cleared, there was Sam kneeling on the floor, buck-naked. Wow, what a bottom. I had to make myself close my eyes, tell myself repeatedly that I had not been unfaithful to Bill. Bill’s butt, I told myself staunchly, was every bit as neat.

  “I’m ready,” Sam’s voice said, so close behind me that I jumped. I stood up quickly and turned to face him, and found his face about six inches from mine.

  “Sookie,” he said hopefully, his hand landing on my shoulder, rubbing and caressing it.

  I was angry because half of me wanted to respond.

  “Listen here, buddy, you could have told me about yourself any time in the past few years. We’ve known each other what, four years? Or even more! And yet, Sam, despite the fact that I see you almost daily, you wait until Bill is interested in me, before you even . . .” and unable to think how to finish, I threw my hands up in the air.

  Sam drew back, which was a good thing.

  “I didn’t see what was in front of me until I thought it might be taken away,” he said, his voice quiet.

  I had nothing to say to that. “Time to go home,” I told him. “And we better get you there without anyone seeing you. I mean it.”

  This was chancy enough without some mischievous person like Rene seeing Sam in my car in the early morning and drawing wrong conclusions. And passing them on to Bill.

  So off we went, Sam hunched down in the backseat. I pulled cautiously behind Merlotte’s. There was a truck there; black, with pink and aqua flames down the sides. Jason’s.

  “Uh-oh,” I said.

  “What?” Sam’s voice was somewhat muffled by his position.

  “Let me go look,” I said, beginning to be anxious. Why would Jason park over here in the employees’ parking area? And it seemed to me there was a shape in the truck.

  I opened my door. I waited for the sound to alert the figure in the truck. I watched for evidence of movement. When nothing happened, I began to walk across the gravel, as frightened as I’d ever been in the light of day.

  When I got closer to the window, I could see that the figure inside was Jason. He was slumped behind the wheel. I could see that his shirt was stained, that his chin was resting on his chest, that his hands were limp on the seat on either side of him, that the mark on his handsome face was a long red scratch. I could see a videotape resting on the truck dashboard, unlabelled.

  “Sam,” I said, hating the fear in my voice. “Please come here.”

  Quicker than I could believe, Sam was beside me, then reaching past me to unlatch the truck door. Since the truck had apparently been sitting there for several hours—there was dew on its hood—with the windows closed, in the early summer, the smell that rolled out was pretty strong and compounded of at least three elements: blood, sex, and liquor.

  “Call the ambulance!” I said urgently as Sam reached in to feel for Jason’s pulse. Sam looked at me doubtfully. “Are you sure you want to do that?” he asked.

  “Of course! He’s unconscious!”

  “Wait, Sookie. Think about this.”

  And I might have reconsidered in just a minute, but at that moment Arlene pulled up in her beat-up blue Ford, and Sam sighed and went into his trailer to phone.

  I was so naive. That’s what comes of being a law-abiding citizen for nearly every day of my life.

  I rode with Jason to the tiny local hospital, oblivious to the police looking very carefully at Jason’s truck, blind to the squad car following the ambulance, totally trusting when the emergency room doctor sent me home, telling me he’d call me when Jason regained consciousness. The doctor told me, eyeing me curiously, that Jason was apparently sleeping off the effects of alcohol or drugs. But Jason had never drunk that much before, and Jason didn’t use drugs: our cousin Hadley’s descent into the life of the streets had made a profound impression on both of us. I told the doctor all that, and he listened, and he shooed me off.

  Not knowing what to think, I went home to find that Andy Bellefleur had been roused by his pager. He’d left me a note telling me that, and nothing else. Later on, I found that he’d actually been in the hospital while I was there, and waited until I was gone out of consideration for me before he’d handcuffed Jason to the bed.

  Chapter 12

  SAM CAME TO give me the news about eleven o’clock. “They’re going to arrest Jason as soon as he comes to, Sookie, which looks like being soon.” Sam didn’t tell me how he came to know this, and I didn’t ask.

  I stared at him, tears running down my face. Any other day, I might have thought of how plain I look when I cry, but today was not a day I cared about my outsides. I was all in a knot, frightened for Jason, sad about Amy Burley, full of anger the police were making such a stupid mistake, and underneath it all, missing my Bill.

  “They think it looks like Amy Burley put up a fight. They think he got drunk after he killed her.”

  “Thanks, Sam, for warning me.” My voice came from way faraway. “You better go to work, now.”

  After Sam had seen that I needed to be alone, I called information and got the number of Blood in the Quarter. I punched in the numbers, feeling somehow I was doing a bad thing, but I couldn’t think how or why.

  “Bloooooood . . . in the Quarter,” announced a deep voice dramatically. “Your coffin away from home.”

  Geez. “Good morning. This is Sookie Stackhouse calling from Bon Temps,” I said politely. “I need to leave a message for Bill Compton. He’s a guest there.”

  “Fang or human?”

  “Ah . . . fang.”

  “Just one minute, please.”

  The deep voice came back on the line after a moment. “What is the message, madam?”

  That gave me pause.

  “Please tell Mr. Compton that . . . my brother has been arrested, and I would appreciate it if he could come home as soon as his business is completed.”

  “I have that down.” The sound of scribbling. “And your name again?”

  “Stackhouse. Sookie Stackhouse.”

  “All right, miss. I’ll see to it that he gets your message.”


  And that was the only action I could think of to take, until I realized it would be much more practical to call Sid Matt Lancaster. He did his best to sound appalled to hear Jason was going to be arrested, said he’d hurry over to the hospital as soon as he got out of court that afternoon, and that he’d report back to me.

  I drove back to the hospital to see i
f they’d let me sit with Jason until he became conscious. They wouldn’t. I wondered if he was already conscious, and they weren’t telling me. I saw Andy Bellefleur at the other end of the hall, and he turned and walked the other way.

  Damn coward.

  I went home because I couldn’t think of anything to do. I realized it wasn’t a workday for me anyway, and that was a good thing, though I didn’t really care too much at that point. It occurred to me that I wasn’t handling this as well as I ought, that I had been much steadier when Gran had died.

  But that had been a finite situation. We would bury Gran, her killer would be arrested, we would go on. If the police seriously believed that Jason had killed Gran in addition to the other women, then the world was such a bad and chancy place that I wanted no part of it.

  But I realized, as I sat and looked in front of me that long, long afternoon, that it was naivete like that that had led to Jason’s arrest. If I’d just gotten him into Sam’s trailer and cleaned him up, hidden the film until I found out what it contained, above all not called the ambulance . . . that had been what Sam had been thinking when he’d looked at me so doubtfully. However, Arlene’s arrival had kind of wiped out my options.

  I thought the phone would start ringing as soon as people heard.

  But no one called.

  They didn’t know what to say.

  Sid Matt Lancaster came about four-thirty.

  Without any preliminary, he told me, “They’ve arrested him. For first-degree murder.”

  I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Sid was regarding me with a shrewd expression on his mild face. His conservative black-framed glasses magnified his muddy brown eyes, and his jowls and sharp nose made him look a little like a bloodhound.

  “What does he say?” I asked.

  “He says that he was with Amy last night.”

  I sighed.

  “He says they went to bed together, that he had been with Amy before. He says he hadn’t seen Amy in a long time, that the last time they were together Amy was acting jealous about the other women he was seeing, really angry. So he was surprised when she approached him last night in Good Times. Jason says Amy acted funny all night, like she had an agenda he didn’t know about. He remembers having sex with her, he remembers them lying in bed having a drink afterward, then he remembers nothing until he woke up in the hospital.”

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