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Dead until dark, p.26
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       Dead Until Dark, p.26

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
 
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  “He was set up,” I said firmly, thinking I sounded exactly like a bad made-for-TV movie.

  “Of course.” Sid Matt’s eyes were as steady and assured as if he’d been at Amy Burley’s place last night.

  Hell, maybe he had.

  “Listen, Sid Matt.” I leaned forward and made him meet my eyes. “Even if I could somehow believe that Jason had killed Amy, and Dawn, and Maudette, I could never believe he would raise his finger to hurt my grandmother.”

  “All right, then.” Sid Matt prepared to meet my thoughts, fair and square, his entire body proclaimed it. “Miss Sookie, let’s just assume for a minute that Jason did have some kind of involvement in those deaths. Perhaps, the police might think, your friend Bill Compton killed your grandmother since she was keeping you two apart.”

  I tried to give the appearance of considering this piece of idiocy. “Well, Sid Matt, my grandmother liked Bill, and she was pleased I was seeing him.”

  Until he put his game face back on, I saw stark disbelief in the lawyer’s eyes. He wouldn’t be at all happy if his daughter was seeing a vampire. He couldn’t imagine a responsible parent being anything but appalled. And he couldn’t imagine trying to convince a jury that my grandmother had been pleased I was dating a guy who wasn’t even alive, and furthermore was over a hundred years older than me.

  Those were Sid Matt’s thoughts.

  “Have you met Bill?” I asked.

  He was taken aback. “No,” he admitted. “You know, Miss Sookie, I’m not for this vampire stuff. I think it’s taking a chink out of a wall we should keep built up, a wall between us and the so-called virus-infected. I think God intended that wall to be there, and I for one will hold up my section.”

  “The problem with that, Sid Matt, is that I personally was created straddling that wall.” After a lifetime of keeping my mouth shut about my “gift,” I found that if it would help Jason, I’d shake it in anybody’s face.

  “Well,” Sid Matt said bravely, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his sharp nose, “I am sure the Good Lord gave you this problem I’ve heard about for a reason. You have to learn how to use it for his glory.”

  No one had ever quite put it that way. That was an idea to chew over when I had time.

  “I’ve made us stray from the subject, I’m afraid, and I know your time is valuable.” I gathered my thoughts. “I want Jason out on bail. There is nothing but circumstantial evidence tying him to Amy’s murder, am I right?”

  “He’s admitted to being with the victim right before the murder, and the videotape, one of the cops hinted to me pretty strongly, shows your brother having sex with the victim. The time and date on the film indicate it was made in the hours before her death, if not minutes.”

  Damn Jason’s peculiar bedroom preferences. “Jason doesn’t drink much at all. He smelled of liquor in the truck. I think it was just spilled over him. I think a test will prove that. Maybe Amy gave him some narcotic in the drink she fixed him.”

  “Why would she do that?”

  “Because, like so many women, she was mad at Jason because she wanted him so much. My brother is able to date almost anyone he wants. No, I’m using that euphemism.”

  Sid Matt looked surprised I knew the word.

  “He could go to bed with almost anyone he wanted. A dream life, most guys would think.” Weariness descended on me like fog. “Now there he sits in the jail.”

  “You think another man did this to him? Framed him for this murder?”

  “Yes, I do.” I leaned forward, trying to persuade this skeptical lawyer by the force of my own belief. “Someone envious of him. Someone who knows his schedule, who kills these women when Jason’s off work. Someone who knows Jason had had sex with these gals. Someone who knows he likes to make tapes.”

  “Could be almost anyone,” Jason’s lawyer said practically.

  “Yep,” I said sadly. “Even if Jason was nice enough to keep quiet about exactly who he’d been with, all anyone’d have to do is see who he left a bar with at closing time. Just being observant, maybe having asked about the tapes on a visit to his house . . .” My brother might be somewhat immoral, but I didn’t think he’d show those videos to anyone else. He might tell another man that he liked to make the videos, though. “So this man, whoever he is, made some kind of deal with Amy, knowing she was mad at Jason. Maybe he told her he was going to play a practical joke on Jason or something.”

  “Your brother’s never been arrested before,” Sid Matt observed.

  “No.” Though it had been a near thing, a couple of times, to hear Jason tell it.

  “No record, upstanding member of the community, steady job. There may be a chance I can get him out on bail. But if he runs, you’ll lose everything.”

  It truly had never occurred to me that Jason might skip bail. I didn’t know anything about arranging for bail, and I didn’t know what I’d have to do, but I wanted Jason out of that jail. Somehow, staying in jail until the legal processes had been gone through before the trial. . . somehow, that would make him look guiltier.

  “You find out about it and let me know what I have to do,” I said. “In the meantime, can I go see him?”

  “He’d rather you didn’t,” Sid Matt said.

  That hurt dreadfully. “Why?” I asked, trying really hard not to tear up again.

  “He’s ashamed,” said the lawyer.

  The thought of Jason feeling shame was fascinating.

  “So,” I said, trying to move along, suddenly tired of this unsatisfactory meeting. “You’ll call me when I can actually do something?”

  Sid Matt nodded, his jowls trembling slightly with the movement. I made him uneasy. He sure was glad to be leaving me.

  The lawyer drove off in his pickup, clapping a cowboy hat on his head when he was still in sight.

  When it was full dark, I went out to check on Bubba. He was sitting under a pin oak, bottles of blood lined up beside him, empties on one side, fulls on the other.

  I had a flashlight, and though I knew Bubba was there, it was still a shock to see him in the beam of light. I shook my head. Something really had gone wrong when Bubba “came over,” no doubt about it. I was sincerely glad I couldn’t read Bubba’s thoughts. His eyes were crazy as hell.

  “Hey, sugar,” he said, his Southern accent as thick as syrup. “How you doing? You come to keep me company?”

  “I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable,” I said.

  “Well, I could think of places I’d be more comfortable, but since you’re Bill’s girl, I ain’t about to talk about them.”

  “Good,” I said firmly.

  “Any cats around here? I’m getting mighty tired of this bottled stuff.”

  “No cats. I’m sure Bill will be back soon, and then you can go home.” I started back toward the house, not feeling comfortable enough in Bubba’s presence to prolong the conversation, if you could call it that. I wondered what thoughts Bubba had during his long watchful nights; I wondered if he remembered his past.

  “What about that dog?” he called after me.

  “He went home,” I called back over my shoulder.

  “Too bad,” Bubba said to himself, so softly I almost didn’t hear him.

  I got ready for bed. I watched television. I ate some ice cream, and I even chopped up a Heath Bar for a topping. None of my usual comfort things seemed to work tonight. My brother was in jail, my boyfriend was in New Orleans, my grandmother was dead, and someone had murdered my cat. I felt lonely and sorry for myself all the way around.

  Sometimes you just have to roll in it.

  Bill didn’t return my call.

  That added fuel to the flame of my misery. He’d probably found some accommodating whore in New Orleans, or some fang-banger, like the ones who hung around Blood in the Quarter every night, hoping for a vampire “date.”

  If I were a drinking woman, I would have gotten drunk. If I’d been a casual woman, I would have called lovely JB du Rone and had sex with h
im. But I’m not anything so dramatic or drastic, so I just ate ice cream and watched old movies on TV. By an eerie coincidence, Blue Hawaii was on.

  I finally went to bed about midnight.

  A shriek outside my bedroom window woke me up. I sat up straight in bed. I heard thumps, and thuds, and finally a voice I was sure was Bubba’s shouting, “Come back here, sucker!”

  When I hadn’t heard anything in a couple of minutes, I pulled on a bathrobe and went to the front door. The yard, lit by the security light, was empty. Then I glimpsed movement to the left, and when I stuck my head out the door, I saw Bubba, trudging back to his hideout.

  “What happened?” I called softly.

  Bubba changed direction and slouched over to the porch.

  “Sure enough, some sumbitch, scuse me, was sneaking around the house,” Bubba said. His brown eyes were glowing, and he looked more like his former self. “I heard him minutes before he got here, and I thought I’d catch ahold of him. But he cut through the woods to the road, and he had a truck parked there.”

  “Did you get a look?”

  “Not enough of one to describe him,” Bubba said shamefacedly. “He was driving a pickup, but I couldn’t even tell what color it was. Dark.”

  “You saved me, though,” I said, hoping my very real gratitude showed in my voice. I felt a swell of love for Bill, who had arranged my protection. Even Bubba looked better than he had before. “Thanks, Bubba.”

  “Aw, think nothing of it,” he said graciously, and for that moment he stood up straight, kind of tossed his head back, had that sleepy smile on his face. . . it was him, and I’d opened my mouth to say his name, when Bill’s warning came back to shut my mouth.

  JASON MADE BAIL the next day.

  It cost a fortune. I signed what Sid Matt told me to, though mostly the collateral was Jason’s house and truck and his fishing boat. If Jason had ever been arrested before, even for jaywalking, I don’t think he would have been permitted to post bond.

  I was standing on the courthouse steps wearing my horrible, sober, navy blue suit in the heat of the late morning. Sweat trickled down my face and ran between my lips in that nasty way that makes you want to go jump in the shower. Jason stopped in front of me. I hadn’t been sure he would speak. His face was years older. Real trouble had come to sit on his shoulder, real trouble that would not go away or ease up, like grief did.

  “I can’t talk to you about this,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him. “You know it wasn’t me. I’ve never been violent beyond a fight or two in a parking lot over some woman.”

  I touched his shoulder, let my hand drop when he didn’t respond. “I never thought it was you. I never will. I’m sorry I was fool enough to call 911 yesterday. If I’d realized that wasn’t your blood, I’d have taken you into Sam’s trailer and cleaned you up and burned the tape. I was just so scared that was your blood.” And I felt my eyes fill. This was no time to cry, though, and I tightened up all over, feeling my face tense. Jason’s mind was a mess, like a mental pigsty. In it bubbled an unhealthy brew compounded of regrets, shame at his sexual habits being made public, guilt that he didn’t feel worse about Amy being killed, horror that anyone in the town would think he’d killed his own grandmother while lying in wait for his sister.

  “We’ll get through this,” I said helplessly.

  “We’ll get through this,” he repeated, trying to make his voice sound strong and assured. But I thought it would be awhile, a long while, before Jason’s assurance, that golden certainty that had made him irresistible, returned to his posture and his face and his speech.

  Maybe it never would.

  We parted there, at the courthouse. We had nothing more to say.

  I sat in the bar all day, looking at the men who came in, reading their minds. Not one of them was thinking of how he’d killed four women and gotten away with it so far. At lunchtime Hoyt and Rene walked in the door and walked back out when they saw me sitting. Too embarrassing for them, I guess.

  Finally, Sam made me leave. He said I was so creepy that I was driving away any customers who might give me useful information.

  I trudged out the door and into the glaring sun. It was about to set. I thought about Bubba, about Bill, about all those creatures that were coming out of their deep sleep to walk the surface of the earth.

  I stopped at the Grabbit Kwik to buy some milk for my morning cereal. The new clerk was a kid with pimples and a huge Adam’s apple, who stared at me eagerly as if he was trying to make a print in his head of how I looked, the sister of a murderer. I could tell he could hardly wait for me to leave the store so he could use the phone to call his girlfriend. He was wishing he could see the puncture marks on my neck. He was wondering if there was any way he could find out how vampires did it.

  This was the kind of trash I had to listen to, day in, day out. No matter how hard I concentrated on something else, no matter how high I kept my guard, how broad I kept my smile, it seeped through.

  I reached home just when it was getting dark. After putting away the milk and taking off my suit, I put on a pair of shorts and a black Garth Brooks T-shirt and tried to think of some goal for the evening. I couldn’t settle down enough to read; and I needed to go to the library and change my books anyway, which would be a real ordeal under the circumstances. Nothing on TV was good, at least tonight. I thought I might watch Braveheart again: Mel Gibson in a kilt is always a mood raiser. But it was just too bloody for my frame of mind. I couldn’t bear for that gal get her throat cut again, even though I knew when to cover my eyes.

  I’d gone into the bathroom to wash off my sweaty makeup when, over the sound of the running water, I thought I heard a yowl outside.

  I turned the faucets off. I stood still, almost feeling my antenna twitch, I was listening so intently. What . . . ? Water from my wet face trickled onto my T-shirt.

  No sound. No sound at all.

  I crept toward the front door because it was closest to Bubba’s watch point in the woods.

  I opened the door a little. I yelled, “Bubba?”

  No answer.

  I tried again.

  It seemed to me even the locusts and toads were holding their breaths. The night was so silent it might hold anything. Something was prowling out there, in the darkness.

  I tried to think, but my heart was hammering so hard it interfered with the process.

  Call the police, first.

  I found that was not an option. The phone was dead.

  So I could either wait in this house for trouble to come to me, or I could go out into the woods.

  That was a tough one. I bit into my lower lip while I went around the house turning out the lamps, trying to map out a course of action. The house provided some protection: locks, walls, nooks, and crannies. But I knew any really determined person could get in, and then I would be trapped.

  Okay. How could I get outside without being seen? I turned off the outside lights, for a start. The back door was closer to the woods, so that was the better choice. I knew the woods pretty well. I should be able to hide in them until daylight. I could go over to Bill’s house, maybe; surely his phone was working, and I had a key.

  Or I could try to get to my car and start it. But that pinned me down to a particular place for particular seconds.

  No, the woods seemed the better choice to me.

  In one of my pockets I tucked Bill’s key and a pocketknife of my grandfather’s that Gran had kept in the living-room table drawer, handy for opening packages. I tucked a tiny flashlight in the other pocket. Gran kept an old rifle in the coat closet by the front door. It had been my dad’s when he was little, and she mostly had used it for shooting snakes; well, I had me a snake to shoot. I hated the damn rifle, hated the thought of using it, but now seemed to be the time.

  It wasn’t there.

  I could hardly believe my senses. I felt all through the closet.

  He’d been in my house!

  But it hadn’t been broken into.
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  Someone I’d invited in. Who’d been here? I tried to list them all as I went to the back door, my sneakers retied so they wouldn’t have any spare shoelaces to step on. I skinned my hair into a ponytail sloppily, almost one handed, so it wouldn’t get in my face, and twisted a rubber band around it. But all the time I thought about the stolen rifle.

  Who’d been in my house? Bill, Jason, Arlene, Rene, the kids, Andy Bellefleur, Sam, Sid Matt; I was sure I’d left them all alone for a minute or two, perhaps long enough to stick the rifle outside to retrieve later.

  Then I remembered the day of the funeral. Almost everyone I knew had been in and out of the house when Gran had died, and I couldn’t remember if I’d seen the rifle since then. But it would have been hard to have casually strolled out of the crowded, busy house with a rifle. And if it had vanished then, I thought I would have noticed its absence by now. In fact, I was almost sure I would have.

  I had to shove that aside now and concentrate on outwitting whatever was out there in the dark.

  I opened the back door. I duckwalked out, keeping as low as I could, and gently eased the door nearly shut behind me. Rather than use the steps, I straightened one leg and tapped the ground while squatting on the porch; I shifted my weight to it, pulled the other leg behind me. I crouched again. This was a lot like playing hide and seek with Jason in the woods when we were kids.

  I prayed I was not playing hide and seek with Jason again.

  I used the tub full of flowers that Gran had planted as cover first, then I crept to her car, my second goal. I looked up in the sky. The moon was new, and since the night was clear the stars were out. The air was heavy with humidity, and it was still hot. My arms were slick with sweat in minutes.

  Next step, from the car to the mimosa tree.

  I wasn’t as quiet this time. I tripped over a stump and hit the ground hard. I bit the inside of my mouth to keep from crying out. Pain shot through my leg and hip, and I knew the edges of the ragged stump had scraped my thigh pretty severely. Why hadn’t I come out and sawed that stump off clean? Gran had asked Jason to do it, but he’d never found the time.

 
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