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Dead until dark, p.8
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       Dead Until Dark, p.8

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris

  Malcolm picked up Jerry and carried him out the front door without a word. If drinking from Jerry had given him the virus, Malcolm was not yet impaired. Diane went last, slinging a purse over her shoulder and casting a bright-eyed glance behind her.

  “I’ll leave you two lovebirds on your own, then. It’s been fun, honey,” she said lightly, and she slammed the door behind her.

  The minute I heard the car start up outside, I fainted.

  I’d never done so in my life, and I hoped never to again, but I felt I had some excuse.

  I seemed to spend a lot of time around Bill unconscious. That was a crucial thought, and I knew it deserved a lot of pondering, but not just at that moment. When I came to, everything I’d seen and heard rushed back, and I gagged for real. Immediately Bill bent me over the edge of the couch. But I managed to keep my food down, maybe because there wasn’t much in my stomach.

  “Do vampires act like that?” I whispered. My throat was sore and bruised where Jerry had squeezed it. “They were horrible.”

  “I tried to catch you at the bar when I found out you weren’t at home,” Bill said. His voice was empty. “But you’d left.”

  Though I knew it wouldn’t help a thing, I began crying. I was sure Jerry was dead by now, and I felt I should have done something about that, but I couldn’t have kept silent when he was about to infect Bill. So many things about this short episode had upset me so deeply that I didn’t know where to begin being upset. In maybe fifteen minutes I’d been in fear of my life, in fear for Bill’s life (well—existence), made to witness sex acts that should be strictly private, seen my potential sweetie in the throes of blood lust (emphasis on lust), and nearly been choked to death by a diseased hustler.

  On second thought, I gave myself full permission to cry. I sat up and wept and mopped my face with a handkerchief Bill handed me. My curiosity about why a vampire would need a handkerchief was just a little flicker of normality, drenched by the flood of my nervous tears.

  Bill had enough sense not to put his arms around me. He sat on the floor, and had the grace to keep his eyes averted while I mopped myself dry.

  “When vampires live in nests,” he said suddenly, “they often become more cruel because they egg each other on. They see others like themselves constantly, and so they are reminded of how far from being human they are. They become laws unto themselves. Vampires like me, who live alone, are a little better reminded of their former humanity.”

  I listened to his soft voice, going slowly through his thoughts as he made an attempt to explain the unexplainable to me.

  “Sookie, our life is seducing and taking and has been for centuries, for some of us. Synthetic blood and grudging human acceptance isn’t going to change that overnight—or over a decade. Diane and Liam and Malcolm have been together for fifty years.”

  “How sweet,” I said, and my voice held something I’d never heard from myself before: bitterness. “Their golden wedding anniversary.”

  “Can you forget about this?” Bill asked. His huge dark eyes came closer and closer. His mouth was about two inches from mine.

  “I don’t know.” The words jerked out of me. “Do you know, I didn’t know if you could do it?”

  His eyebrows rose interrogatively. “Do . . . ?”

  “Get—” and I stopped, trying to think of a pleasant way to put it. I’d seen more crudity this evening than I’d seen in my lifetime, and I didn’t want to add to it. “An erection,” I said, avoiding his eyes.

  “You know better now.” He sounded like he was trying not to be amused. “We can have sex, but we can’t make children or have them. Doesn’t it make you feel better, that Diane can’t have a baby?”

  My fuses blew. I opened my eyes and looked at him steadily. “Don’t—you—laugh—at—me.”

  “Oh, Sookie,” he said, and his hand rose to touch my cheek.

  I dodged his hand and struggled to my feet. He didn’t help me, which was a good thing, but he sat on the floor watching me with a still, unreadable face. Bill’s fangs had retracted, but I knew he was still suffering from hunger. Too bad.

  My purse was on the floor by the front door. I wasn’t walking very steadily, but I was walking. I pulled the list of electricians out of a pocket and lay it on a table.

  “I have to go.”

  He was in front of me suddenly. He’d done one of those vampire things again. “Can I kiss you good-bye?” he asked, his hands down at his sides, making it so obvious he wouldn’t touch me until I said green light.

  “No,” I said vehemently. “I can’t stand it after them.”

  “I’ll come see you.”

  “Yes. Maybe.”

  He reached past me to open the door, but I thought he was reaching for me, and I flinched.

  I spun on my heel and almost ran to my car, tears blurring my vision again. I was glad the drive home was so short.

  Chapter 3

  THE PHONE WAS ringing. I pulled my pillow over my head. Surely Gran would get it? As the irritating noise persisted, I realized Gran must be gone shopping or outside working in the yard. I began squirming to the bed table, not happy but resigned. With the headache and regrets of someone who has a terrible hangover (though mine was emotional rather than alcohol induced) I stretched out a shaky hand and grabbed the receiver.

  “Yes?” I asked. It didn’t come out quite right. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Hello?”


  “Um-hum. Sam?”

  “Yeah. Listen, cher, do me a favor?”

  “What?” I was due to work today anyway, and I didn’t want to hold down Dawn’s shift and mine, too.

  “Go by Dawn’s place, and see what she’s up to, would you? She won’t answer her phone, and she hasn’t come in. The delivery truck just pulled up, and I got to tell these guys where to put stuff.”

  “Now? You want me to go now?” My old bed had never held on to me harder.

  “Could you?” For the first time, he seemed to grasp my unusual mood. I had never refused Sam anything.

  “I guess so,” I said, feeling tired all over again at the very idea. I wasn’t too crazy about Dawn, and she wasn’t too crazy about me. She was convinced I’d read her mind and told Jason something she’d been thinking about him, which had cause him to break up with her. If I took that kind of interest in Jason’s romances, I’d never have time to eat or sleep.

  I showered and pulled on my work clothes, moving sluggishly. All my bounce had gone flat, like soda with the top left off. I ate cereal and brushed my teeth and told Gran where I was going when I tracked her down; she’d been outside planting petunias in a tub by the back door. She didn’t seem to understand exactly what I meant, but smiled and waved anyway. Gran was getting a little more deaf every week, but I realized that was no great wonder since she was seventy-eight. It was marvelous that she was so strong and healthy, and her brain was sound as a bell.

  As I went on my unwelcome errand, I thought about how hard it must have been for Gran to raise two more children after she’d already raised her own. My father, her son, had died when I was seven and Jason ten. When I’d been twenty-three, Gran’s daughter, my Aunt Linda, had died of uterine cancer. Aunt Linda’s girl, Hadley, had vanished into the same subculture that had spawned the Rattrays even before Aunt Linda had passed away, and to this day we didn’t know if Hadley realizes her mother is dead. That was a lot of grief to get through, yet Gran had always been strong for us.

  I peered through my windshield at the three small duplexes on one side of Berry Street, a run-down block or two that ran behind the oldest part of downtown Bon Temps. Dawn lived in one of them. I spotted her car, a green compact, in the driveway of one of the better-kept houses, and pulled in behind it. Dawn had already put a hanging basket of begonias by her front door, but they looked dry. I knocked.

  I waited for a minute or two. I knocked again.

  “Sookie, you need some help?” The voice sounded familiar. I turned around and shielded my e
yes from the morning sun. Rene Lenier was standing by his pickup, parked across the street at one of the small frame houses that populated the rest of the neighborhood.

  “Well,” I began, not sure if I needed help or not, or if I did that Rene could supply it. “Have you seen Dawn? She didn’t come to work today, and she never called in yesterday. Sam asked me to stop by.”

  “Sam should come do his own dirty work,” Rene said, which perversely made me defend my boss.

  “Truck came in, had to be unloaded.” I turned and knocked again. “Dawn,” I yelled. “Come let me in.” I looked down at the concrete porch. The pine pollen had begun falling two days ago. Dawn’s porch was solid yellow. Mine were the only footprints. My scalp began to prickle.

  I barely registered the fact that Rene stood awkwardly by the door to his pickup, unsure whether to stay or go.

  Dawn’s duplex was a one-story, quite small, and the door to the other half was just feet away from Dawn’s. Its little driveway was empty, and there were no curtains at the windows. It looked as though Dawn was temporarily out of a neighbor. Dawn had been proud enough to hang curtains, white with dark gold flowers. They were drawn, but the fabric was thin and unlined, and Dawn hadn’t shut the cheap one-inch aluminum blinds. I peered in and discovered the living room held only some flea-market furniture. A coffee mug sat on the table by a lumpy recliner and an old couch covered with a hand-crocheted afghan was pushed against the wall.

  “I think I’ll go around back,” I called to Rene. He started across the street as though I’d given him a signal, and I stepped off the front porch. My feet brushed the dusty grass, yellow with pine pollen, and I knew I’d have to dust off my shoes and maybe change my socks before work. During pine pollen season, everything turns yellow. Cars, plants, roofs, windows, all are powdered with a golden haze. The ponds and pools of rainwater have yellow scum around the edges.

  Dawn’s bathroom window was so discreetly high that I couldn’t see in. She’d lowered the blinds in the bedroom, but hadn’t closed them tightly. I could see a little through the slats. Dawn was in bed on her back. The bedclothes were tossed around wildly. Her legs were spraddled. Her face was swollen and discolored, and her tongue protruded from her mouth. There were flies crawling on it.

  I could hear Rene coming up behind me.

  “Go call the police,” I said.

  “What you say, Sookie? You see her?”

  “Go call the police!”

  “Okay, okay!” Rene beat a hasty retreat.

  Some female solidarity had made me not want Rene to see Dawn like that, without Dawn’s consent. And my fellow waitress was far beyond consenting.

  I stood with my back to the window, horribly tempted to look again in the futile hope I’d made a mistake the first time. Staring at the duplex next door to Dawn’s, maybe a scant six feet away, I wondered how its tenants could have avoided hearing Dawn’s death, which had been violent.

  Here came Rene again. His weatherbeaten face was puckered into an expression of deep concern, and his bright brown eyes looked suspiciously shiney.

  “Would you call Sam, too?” I asked. Without a word, he turned and trudged back to his place. He was being mighty good. Despite his tendency to gossip, Rene had always been one to help where he saw a need. I remembered him coming out to the house to help Jason hang Gran’s porch swing, a random memory of a day far different from this.

  The duplex next door was just like Dawn’s, so I was looking directly at its bedroom window. Now a face appeared, and the window was raised. A tousled head poked out. “What you doing, Sookie Stackhouse?” asked a slow, deep, male voice. I peered at him for a minute, finally placing the face, while trying not to look too closely at the fine, bare chest underneath.


  “Sure thing.”

  I’d gone to high school with JB du Rone. In fact, some of my few dates had been with JB, who was lovely but so simple that he didn’t care if I read his mind or not. Even under today’s circumstances, I could appreciate JB’s beauty. When your hormones have been held in check as long as mine, it doesn’t take much to set them off. I heaved a sigh at the sight of JB’s muscular arms and pectorals.

  “What you doing out here?” he asked again.

  “Something bad seems to have happened to Dawn,” I said, not knowing if I should tell him or not. “My boss sent me here to look for her when she didn’t come to work.”

  “She in there?” JB simply scrambled out of the window. He had some shorts on, cut-offs.

  “Please don’t look,” I asked, holding up my hand and without warning I began crying. I was doing that a lot lately, too. “She looks so awful, JB.”

  “Aw, honey,” he said, and bless his country heart, he put an arm around me and patted me on the shoulder. If there was a female around who needed comforting, by God, that was a priority to JB du Rone.

  “Dawn liked ’em rough,” he said consolingly, as if that would explain everything.

  It might to some people, but not to unworldly me.

  “What, rough?” I asked, hoping I had a tissue in my shorts pocket.

  I looked up at JB to see him turn a little red.

  “Honey, she liked . . . aw, Sookie, you don’t need to hear this.”

  I had a widespread reputation for virtue, which I found somewhat ironic. At the moment, it was inconvenient.

  “You can tell me, I worked with her,” I said, and JB nodded solemnly, as if that made sense.

  “Well, honey, she liked men to—like, bite and hit her.” JB looked weirded out by this preference of Dawn’s. I must have made a face because he said, “I know, I can’t understand why some people like that, either.” JB, never one to ignore an opportunity to make hay, put both arms around me and kept up the patting, but it seemed to concentrate on the middle of my back (checking to see if I was wearing a bra) and then quite a bit lower (JB liked firm rear ends, I remembered.)

  A lot of questions hovered on the edge of my tongue, but they remained shut inside my mouth. The police got there, in the persons of Kenya Jones and Kevin Prior. When the town police chief had partnered Kenya and Kevin, he’d been indulging his sense of humor, the town figured, for Kenya was at least five foot eleven, the color of bitter chocolate, and built to weather hurricanes. Kevin possibly made it up to five foot eight, had freckles over every visible inch of his pale body, and had the narrow, fatless build of a runner. Oddly enough, the two K’s got along very well, though they’d had some memorable quarrels.

  Now they both looked like cops.

  “What’s this about, Miss Stackhouse?” Kenya asked. “Rene says something happened to Dawn Green?” She’d scanned JB while she talked, and Kevin was looking at the ground all around us. I had no idea why, but I was sure there was a good police reason.

  “My boss sent me here to find out why Dawn missed work yesterday and hadn’t shown up today,” I said. “I knocked on her door, and she didn’t answer, but her car was here. I was worried about her, so I started around the house looking in the windows, and she’s in there.” I pointed behind them, and the two officers turned to look at the window. Then they looked at each other and nodded as if they’d had a whole conversation. While Kenya went over to the window, Kevin went around to the back door.

  JB had forgotten to pat while he watched the officers work. In fact, his mouth was a little open, revealing perfect teeth. He wanted to go look through the window more than anything, but he couldn’t shoulder past Kenya, who pretty much took up whatever space was available.

  I didn’t want my own thoughts any more. I relaxed, dropping my guard, and listened to the thoughts of others. Out of the clamor, I picked one thread and concentrated on it.

  Kenya Jones turned back to stare through us without seeing us. She was thinking of everything she and Kevin needed to do to keep the investigation as textbook perfect as Bon Temps patrol officers could. She was thinking she’d heard bad things about Dawn and her liking for rough sex. She was thinking that it was no surprise
Dawn had met a bad end, though she felt sorry for anyone who ended up with flies crawling on her face. Kenya was thinking she was sorry she’d eaten that extra doughnut that morning at the Nut Hut because it might come back up and that would shame her as a black woman police officer.

  I tuned in to another channel.

  JB was thinking about Dawn getting killed during rough sex just a few feet away from him, and while it was awful it was also a little exciting and Sookie was still built wonderful. He wished he could screw her right now. She was so sweet and nice. He was pushing away the humiliation he’d felt when Dawn had wanted him to hit her, and he couldn’t, and it was an old humiliation.

  I switched.

  Kevin came around the corner thinking that he and Kenya better not botch any evidence and that he was glad no one knew he’d ever slept with Dawn Green. He was furious that someone had killed a woman he knew, and he was hoping it wasn’t a black man because that would make his relationship with Kenya even more tense.

  I switched.

  Rene Lenier was wishing someone would come and get the body out of the house. He was hoping no one knew he’d slept with Dawn Green. I couldn’t spell out his thoughts exactly, they were very black and snarled. Some people I can’t get a clear reading on. He was very agitated.

  Sam came hurrying toward me, slowing down when he saw JB was touching me. I could not read Sam’s thoughts. I could feel his emotions (right now a mix of worry, concern, and anger) but I could not spell out one single thought. This was so fascinating and unexpected that I stepped out of JB’s embrace, wanting to go up to Sam and grab his arms and look into his eyes and really probe around in his head. I remembered when he’d touched me, and I’d shied away. Now he felt me in his head and though he kept on walking toward me, his mind flinched back. Despite his invitation to me, he hadn’t known I would see he was different from others: I picked up on that until he shut me down.

  I’d never felt anything like it. It was like an iron door slamming. In my face.

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