Claude hadn't come home the night before. His car wasn't by the back door. I was glad someone had gotten lucky. Then I told myself not to be so pitiful.
"You're doing okay," I said, looking in the mirror so I'd believe it. "Look at you! Great tan, Sook!" I had to be in for the lunch shift, so I got dressed right after I'd eaten breakfast. I retrieved the purloined CD from under the towels. I'd either pay Bill for it or return it, I told myself virtuously. I hadn't really stolen it if I planned to pay for it. Someday. I looked at the clear plastic case in my hands. I wondered how much the FBI would pay for it. Despite all Bill's attempts to make sure only vampires bought the CD, it would be truly amazing if no one else had it.
So I opened it and popped it into my computer. After a preliminary whir, the screen popped up. "The Vampire Directory," it said in Gothic lettering, red on a black screen. Stereotype, anyone?
"Enter your code number," prompted the screen.
Then I remembered there'd been a little Post-it on top of the case, and I dug it out of the wastebasket. Yep, this was surely a code. Bill would never have attached the code to the box if he hadn't believed his house was secure, and I felt a pang of guilt. I didn't know what procedure he'd established, but I assumed he put the code in a directory when he mailed out the disc to a happy customer. Or maybe he'd put a "destruct" code on the paper for fools like me, and the whole thing would blow up in my face. I was glad no one else was in the house after I typed in the code and hit Enter, because I dropped to my knees under the desk.
Nothing happened, except some more whirring, and I figured I was safe. I scrambled back into my chair.
The screen was showing me my options. I could search by country of residence, country of origin, name, or last sighting. I clicked on "Residence," and I was prompted: "Which country?" I could pick from a list. After I clicked on "USA," I got another prompt: "What state?" And another list. I clicked on "Louisiana" and then on "Compton." There he was, in a modern picture taken at his house. I recognized the paint color. Bill was smiling stiffly, and he didn't look like a party animal, that's for sure. I wondered how he'd fare with a dating service. I began to read his biography. And sure enough, there at the bottom, I read, "Sired by Lorena Ball of Louisiana, 1870."
But there was no listing for "brothers" or "sisters."
Okay, it wasn't going to be that easy. I clicked on the boldfaced name of Bill's sire, the late, unlamented Lorena. I was curious as to what her entry would say, since Lorena had met the ultimate death, at least until they learned how to resuscitate ashes.
"Lorena Ball," her entry read, with only a drawing. It was a pretty good likeness, I thought, cocking my head as I looked it over. Turned in 1788 in New Orleans ... lived all across the South but returned to Louisiana after the Civil War ... had "met the sun," murder by person or persons "unknown." Huh. Bill knew perfectly well who'd killed Lorena, and I could only be glad he hadn't put my name in the directory. I wondered what would have happened to me if he had. See, you think you have enough to worry about, but then you think of a possibility you'd never imagined and you realize you have even more problems.
Okay, here we go... . "Sired Bill Compton (1870) and Judith Vardamon (1902)."
Judith. So this was Bill's "sister."
After some more clicking and reading, I discovered that Judith Vardamon was still "alive," or at least she had been when Bill had been compiling his database. She lived in Little Rock.
I further discovered I could send her an e-mail. Naturally, she wasn't obliged to answer it.
I stared down at my hands, and I thought hard. I thought about how awful Bill looked. I thought about his pride, and the fact that he hadn't yet contacted this Judith, though he suspected her blood would cure him. Bill wasn't a fool, so there was some good reason he hadn't called this other child of Lorena. I just didn't know that reason. But if Bill had decided she shouldn't be contacted, he knew what he was doing, right? Oh, to hell with it.
I typed in her e-mail address. And moved the cursor down to the topic. Typed "Bill's ill." Thought that looked almost funny. Almost changed it, but didn't. Moved the cursor down to the body of the e-mail, clicked again. Hesitated. Then I typed, "I'm Bill Compton's neighbor. I don't know how long it's been since you heard from him, but he lives at his old home place in Bon Temps, Louisiana, now. Bill's got silver poisoning. He can't heal without your blood. He doesn't know I'm sending this. We used to date, and we're still friends. I want him to get better." I signed it, because anonymous is not my style.
I clenched my teeth really hard together. I clicked on Send.
As much as I wanted to keep the CD and browse through it, my little code of honor told me I had to return it without enjoying it, because I hadn't paid. So I got Bill's key and put the disc back in its plastic case and started across the cemetery.
I slowed as I drew near to the Bellefleur plot. The flowers were still piled on Miss Caroline's grave. Andy was standing there, staring at a cross made out of red carnations. I thought it was pretty awful, but this was definitely an occasion for the thought to count more than the deed. I didn't think Andy was registering what was right in front of him anyway.
I felt as though "Thief" were burned onto my forehead. I knew Andy wouldn't care if I backed up a truck to Bill's house and loaded up all the furniture and drove off with it. It was my own sense of guilt that was plaguing me.
"Sookie," Andy said. I hadn't realized he'd noticed me.
"Andy," I said cautiously. I wasn't sure where this conversation would go, and I had to leave for work soon. "You still have relatives in town? Or have they left?"
"They're leaving after lunch," he said. "Halleigh had to work on some class preparations this morning, and Glen had to run into his office to catch up on paperwork. This has been hardest on Portia."
"I guess she'll be glad when things get back to normal." That seemed safe enough.
"Yeah. She's got a law practice to run."
"Did the lady who was taking care of Miss Caroline have another job to go to?" Reliable caregivers were as scarce as hens' teeth and far more valuable.
"Doreen? Yeah, she moved right across the garden to Mr. DeWitt's." After an uncomfortable pause, he said, "She kind of got on to me that night, after you-all left. I know I wasn't polite to ... Bill."
"It's been a hard time for you-all."
"I just ... It makes me mad that we were getting charity."
"You weren't, Andy. Bill is your family. I know it must feel weird, and I know you don't think much of vampires in general, but he's your great-great-great-grandfather, and he wanted to help out his people. It wouldn't make you feel funny if he'd left you money and he was out here with Miss Caroline under the ground, would it? It's just that Bill's still walking around."
Andy shook his head, as if flies were buzzing around it. His hair was thinning, I noticed. "You know what my grandmother's last request was?"
I couldn't imagine. "No," I said.
"She left her chocolate cake recipe to the town," he said, and he smiled. "A damn recipe. And you know what, they were as excited at the newspaper when I took that recipe in as if it were Christmas and I'd brought them a map to Jimmy Hoffa's body."
"It's going to be in the paper?" I sounded as thrilled as I felt. I bet there would be at least a hundred chocolate cakes in the oven the day the paper came out.
"See, you're all excited, too," Andy said, sounding five years younger.
"Andy, that's big news," I assured him. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go return something." And I hurried through the rest of the cemetery to Bill's house. I put the CD, complete with its little sticky note, on top of the pile from which I'd taken it, and I skedaddled.
I second-guessed myself, and third-, fourth-, and fi fth-guessed, too. At Merlotte's I worked in a kind of haze, concentrating fiercely on getting lunch orders right, being quick, and responding instantly to any request. My other sense told me that despite my efficiency, people weren't glad to see me coming, and really I couldn't blame them.
Tips were low. People were ready to forgive inefficiency, as long as you smiled while you were sloppy. They didn't like the unsmiling, quick-handed me.
I could tell (simply because he thought it so often) that Sam was assuming I'd had a fight with Eric. Holly thought that I was having my period.
And Antoine was an informant.
Our cook had been lost in his own broody mood. I realized how resistant he normally was to my telepathy only when he forgot to be. I was waiting on an order to be up at the hatch, and I was looking at Antoine while he flipped a burger, and I heard directly from him, Not getting off work to meet that asshole again, he can just stuff it up his butt. I'm not telling him nothing else. Then Antoine, whom I'd come to respect and admire, flipped the burger onto its waiting bun and turned to the hatch with the plate in his hand. He met my eyes squarely.
Oh shit, he thought.
"Let me talk to you before you do anything," he said, and I knew for sure that he was a traitor.
"No," I said, and turned away, going right to Sam, who was behind the bar washing glasses. "Sam, Antoine is some kind of agent for the government," I said, very quietly.
Sam didn't ask me how I knew, and he didn't question my statement. His mouth pressed into a hard line. "We'll talk to him later," he said. "Thanks, Sook." I regretted now that I hadn't told Sam about the Were buried on my land. I was always sorry when I didn't tell Sam something, it seemed.
I got the plate and took it to the right table without meeting Antoine's eyes.
Some days I hated my ability more than others. Today was one of those days. I had been much happier (though in retrospect, it had been a foolish happiness) when I'd assumed Antoine was a new friend. I wondered if any of the stories he'd told about going through Katrina in the Superdome had been true, or if those had been lies, too. I'd felt such sympathy for him. And I'd never had a hint until now that his persona was false. How could that be?
First, I don't monitor every single thought of every person. I block a lot of it out, in general, and I try especially hard to stay out of the heads of my co-workers. Second, people don't always think about critical stuff in explicit terms. A guy might not think, I believe I'll get the pistol from under the seat of my truck and shoot Jerry in the head for screwing my wife. I was much more likely to get an impression of sullen anger, with overtones of violence. Or even a projection of how it might feel to shoot Jerry. But the shooting of Jerry might not have reached the specific planning stage at the moment the shooter was in the bar, when I was privy to his thoughts.
And mostly people didn't act on their violent impulses, something I didn't learn until after some very painful incidents as I grew up.
If I spent my life trying to figure out the background of every single thought I heard, I wouldn't have my own life.
At least I had something to think about besides wondering what the hell was happening with Eric and the Long Tooth pack. At the end of my shift, I found myself in Sam's office with Sam and Antoine.
Sam shut the door behind me. He was furious. I didn't blame him. Antoine was mad at himself, mad at me, and defensive with Sam. The atmosphere in the room was choking with anger and frustration and fear.
"Listen, man," Antoine said. He was standing facing Sam. He made Sam look small. "Just listen, okay? After Katrina, I didn't have no place to live and nothing to do. I was trying to find work and keep myself going. I couldn't even get a damn FEMA trailer. Things were going bad. So I ... I borrowed a car, to get to Texas to some relatives. I was gonna dump it where the cops could find it, get it back to the owner. I know it was stupid. I know I shouldn'ta done it. But I was desperate, and I did something dumb."
"Yet you're not in jail," Sam observed. His words were like a whip that barely flicked Antoine, drew a little bit of blood.
Antoine breathed out heavily. "No, I'm not, and I'll tell you why. My uncle is a werewolf, in one of the New Orleans packs. So I knew something about 'em. An FBI agent named Sara Weiss came to talk to me in jail. She was okay. But after she spoke with me once, she brought this guy Lattesta, Tom Lattesta. He said he was based in Rhodes, and I couldn't figure out what he was doing in New Orleans. But he told me that he knew all about my uncle, and he figured that you-all were coming out sooner or later since the vamps did. He knew what you were, that there were other things besides wolves. He knew there'd be a lot of people didn't like hearing that people who were part animal lived in with the rest of us. He described Sookie to me. He said she was something strange, too, and he didn't know what. He sent me here to watch, to see what happened."
Sam and I exchanged glances. I don't know what Sam had anticipated, but this was way more serious than I'd imagined. I figured back. "Tom Lattesta has known all along?" I said. "When did he start thinking there was something wrong with me?" Had it been before he saw the footage from the hotel explosion in Rhodes, which he'd used as the reason for approaching me a few months ago?
"Half the time he's sure you're a fraud. Half the time he thinks you're the real deal."
I turned to my boss. "Sam, he came to my house the other day. Lattesta. He told me that someone close to me, one of the great relatives" - I didn't want to get more specific in front of Antoine - "had fixed it so he had to back off."
"That explains why he was so mad," Antoine said, and his face hardened. "That explains a lot."
"What did he tell you to do?" Sam asked.
"Lattesta said the car theft thing was forgotten as long as I kept an eye on Sam and any other people who weren't all the way human who came into the bar. He said he couldn't touch Sookie now, and he was mighty pissed."
Sam looked at me, a question on his face.
"He's sincere," I said.
"Thank you, Sookie," Antoine said. He looked abjectly miserable.
"Okay," Sam said, after looking at Antoine for a few more seconds. "You still have a job."
"No ... conditions?" Antoine was looking at Sam unbelievingly. "He expects me to keep watching you."
"Not a condition, but a warning. If you tell him one thing more besides the fact that I'm here and running this business, you're outta here, and if I can think of something else to do to you, I will."
Antoine seemed weak with relief. "I'll do my best for you, Sam," he said. "Tell the truth, I'm glad it all came out. It's been sitting heavy on my conscience."
"There'll be a backlash," I said when Sam and I were alone.
"I know. Lattesta will come down on him hard, and Antoine will be tempted to make something up to tell him."
"I think Antoine is a good guy. I hope I'm not wrong." I'd been wrong about people before. In major ways.
"Yeah, I hope he lives up to our expectations." Sam smiled at me suddenly. He has a great smile, and I couldn't help but smile back. "It's good to have faith in people sometimes, give them another chance. And we'll both keep our eyes on him."
I nodded. "Okay. Well, I better get home." I wanted to check my cell phone for messages and my landline, too. And my computer. I was dying for someone to reach out and touch me.
"Is something the matter?" Sam asked. He reached out to give me a tentative pat on the shoulder. "Anything I can do?"
"You're the greatest," I said. "But I'm just trying to get through a bad situation."
"Eric's out of touch?" he said, proving that Sam is one shrewd guesser.
"Yeah," I admitted. "And he's got ... relatives in town. I don't know what the hell's going on." The word "relatives" jogged my brain. "How are things going in your family, Sam?"
"The divorce is no-fault, and it's going through," he said. "My mom is pretty miserable, but she'll be better as time goes on, I hope. Some of the people in Wright are giving her the cold shoulder. She let Mindy and Craig watch her change."
"What form did she pick?" I'd rather be a shapeshifter than a wereanimal, so I'd have a choice.
"A Scottie, I think. My sister took it real well. Mindy's always been more flexible than Craig."
I thought women were almost always more flexible than men, but I didn't think I needed to say that out loud. Generalizations like that can come back to bite you in the ass. "Deidra's family settled down?"
"It looks like the wedding's back on, as of two nights ago," Sam said. "Her mom and dad finally got that the 'contamination' couldn't spread to Deidra and Craig and their kids, if they have any."
"So you think the wedding will take place?"
"Yeah, I do. You still going to go to Wright with me?"
I started to say, "You still want me to?" but that would have been unduly coy, since he'd just asked me. "When the date is set, you'll have to ask my boss if I can get off work," I told him. "Sam, it may be tacky of me to persist in asking, but why aren't you taking Jannalynn?"
I wasn't imagining the discomfort that emanated from Sam. "She's ... Well, ah ... She's ... I can just tell that she and my mom wouldn't get along. If I do introduce her to my family, I think I better wait until the tension of the wedding isn't part of the picture. My mom's still jangled from the shooting and the divorce, and Jannalynn is ... not a calm person." In my opinion, if you were dating someone you were clearly embarrassed to introduce to your family, you were probably dating the wrong person. But Sam hadn't asked me for my opinion.
"No, she certainly isn't a calm individual," I said. "And now that she's got those new responsibilities, she's got to be pretty focused on the pack, I guess."
"What? What new responsibilities?"
Uh-oh. "I'm sure she'll tell you all about it," I said. "I guess you haven't seen her in a couple of days, huh?"
"Nope. So we're both down in the dumps," he said.
I was willing to concede I'd been pretty grim, and I smiled at him. "Yeah, that's a big part of it," I said. "With Eric's maker being in town, and him being scarier than Freddy Krueger, I'm pretty much on my own, I guess."
"If we don't hear from our significant others, let's go out tomorrow night. We can hit Crawdad Diner again," Sam said. "Or I can grill us some steaks."
"Sounds good," I told him. And I appreciated his offer. I'd been feeling kind of cast adrift. Jason was apparently busy with Michele (and after all, he'd stayed the other night when I'd half expected him to scoot out of the house), Eric was busy (apparently), Claude was almost never at the house and awake when I was awake, Tara was busy being pregnant, and Amelia had time to send me only the occasional e-mail. Though I didn't mind being by myself from time to time - in fact, I enjoyed it - I'd had a little too much of it lately. And being alone is a lot more fun if it's optional.
Relieved that the conversation with Antoine was over, and wondering what trouble Tom Lattesta might cause in the future, I grabbed my purse from the drawer in Sam's desk and headed for home.
It was a beautiful late afternoon when I pulled up in back of the house. I thought of working out to an exercise DVD before I fi xed supper. Claude's car was gone. I hadn't noticed Jason's truck, so I was surprised to see him sitting on my back steps.
"Hey, Brother!" I called as I got out of the car. "Listen, let me ask you ..." And then, getting his mental signature, I realized the man sitting on the steps wasn't Jason. I froze. All I could do was stare at my half-fae great-uncle Dermot and wonder if he had come to kill me.
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