Chapter 2


AT FIRST, I thought everything had returned to normal. The bar seemed a little calmer the next night. Sam was back in place, relaxed and cheerful. Nothing seemed to rile him, and when I told him what had happened with the dealer the night before, he complimented me on my finesse.

Tara didn't come in, so I couldn't ask her about Mickey. But was it really any of my business? Probably not my business - but my concern, definitely.

Jeff LaBeff was back and sheepish about getting riled by the college kid the night before. Sam had learned about the incident thr ough a phone call fr om Terry, and he gave Jeff a word of warning.

Andy Bellefleur, a detective on the Renard parish force and Portia's brother, came in with the young woman he was dating, Halleigh Robinson. Andy was older than me, and I'm twenty-six. Halleigh was twenty-one - just old enoughto be in Merlotte's. Halleigh taught at the elementary school, she was right out of college, and she was real attractive, with short earlobe-length brown hair and huge brown eyes and a nicely rounded figure. Andy had been dating Halleigh for about two months, and from the little I saw of the couple, they seemed to be progressing in their relationship at a predictable rate.

Andy's true thoughts were that he liked Halleigh very much (though she was a tad boring), and he was really ready for her to give it up. Halleigh thought Andy was sexy and a real man of the world, and she really loved the newly restored Bellefleur family mansion, but she didn't believe he'd hang around long after she slept with him. I hate knowing more about relationships than the people in them know - but no matter how battened down I am, I pick up a trickle of stuff.

Claudine came in the bar that night, toward closing time. Claudine is six feet tall, with black hair that ripples down her back and bruised-looking white skin that looks thin and glossy like a plum's. Claudine dresses for attention. Tonight she was wearing a terra-cotta pants suit, cut very snug on her Amazonian body. She works in the complaint department of a big store at the mall in Ruston during the day. I wished she'd brought her brother, Claude, with her. He doesn't swing in my direction, but he's a treat for the eyes.

He's a fairy. I mean, literally. So's Claudine, of course.

She waved at me across the heads of the crowd. I waved back smiling. Everyone's happy around Claudine, who is always cheerful when there are no vampires in her vicinity. Claudine is unpredictable and a lot of fun, though like all fairies, she's as dangerous as a tiger when she's angry. Fortunately, that doesn't happen often.

Fairies occupy a special place in the hierarchy of magical creatures. I haven't figured out exactly what it is yet, but sooner or later I'll piece it together.

Every man in the bar was drooling over Claudine, and she was eating it up. She gave Andy Bellefleur a long, bigeyed look, and Halleigh Robinson glared, mad enough to spit, until she remembered she was a sweet southern girl. But Claudine abandoned all interest in Andy when she saw he was drinking ice tea with lemon. Fairies are even more violently allergic to lemon than vampires are to garlic.

Claudine worked her way over to me, and she gave me a big hug, to the envy of every male in the bar. She took my hand to pull me into Sam's office. I went with her out of sheer curiosity.

"Dear friend," Claudine said, "I have bad news for you."

"What?" I'd gone from bemused to scared in a heartbeat.

"There was a shooting early this morning. One of the werepanthers was hit."

"Oh, no! Jason!" But surely one of his friends would've called if he hadn't gone into work today?

"No, your brother is fine, Sookie. But Calvin Norris was shot."

I was stunned. Jason hadn't called to tell me this? I had to find out from someone else?

"Shot dead?" I asked, hearing my voice shake. Not that Calvin and I were close - far from it - but I was shocked. Heather Kinman, a teenager, had been fatally shot the week before. What was happening in Bon Temps?

"Shot in the chest. He's alive, but he's bad hurt."

"Is he in the hospital?"

"Yes, his nieces took him to Grainger Memorial."

Grainger was a town farther southeast than Hotshot, and a shorter drive from there than the parish hospital in Clarice.

"Who did it?"

"No one knows. Someone shot him early this morning, when Calvin was on his way to work. He'd come home from his, um, time of the month, changed, and started into town for his shift." Calvin worked at Norcross.

"How'd you come to know all this?"

"One of his cousins came into the store to buy some pajamas, since Calvin didn't have any. Guess he sleeps in the buff," Claudette said. "I don't know how they think they're going to get a pajama top on over the bandages. Maybe they just needed the pants? Calvin wouldn't like to be shuffling around the hospital with only one of those nasty gowns between him and the world."

Claudine often took long side trails in her conversation.

"Thanks for telling me," I said. I wondered how the cousin had known Claudine, but I wasn't going to ask.

"That's okay. I knew you'd want to know. Heather Kinman was a shape-shifter, too. Bet you didn't know that. Think about it."

Claudine gave me a kiss on the forehead - fairies are very touchy-feely - and we went back into the bar area. She'd stunned me into silence. Claudine herself was back to business as usual. The fairy ordered a 7-and-7 and was surrounded by suitors in about two minutes flat. She never left with anyone, but the men seemed to enjoy trying. I'd decided that Claudine fed off this admiration and attention.

Even Sam was beaming at her, and she didn't tip.

By the time we were closing the bar, Claudine had left to go back to Monroe, and I'd passed along her news to Sam. He was as appalled by the story as I was. Though Calvin Norris was the leader of the small shifter community of Hotshot, the rest of the world knew him as a steady, quiet bachelor who owned his own home and had a good job as crew foreman at the local lumber mill. It was hard to imagine either of his personas leading to an assassination attempt. Sam decided to send some flowers from the bar's staff.

I pulled on my coat and went out the bar's back door just ahead of Sam. I heard him locking the door behind me. Suddenly I remembered that we were getting low on bottled blood, and I turned to tell Sam this. He caught my movement and stopped, waiting for me to speak, his face expectant. In the length of time it takes to blink, his expression changed from expectant to shocked, dark red began to spread on his left leg, and I heard the sound of a shot.

Then blood was everywhere, Sam crumpled to the ground, and I began to scream.

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