Chapter 13

Jason was on time, and I climbed up into his truck. I'd changed into blue jeans and a pale blue thin T-shirt I'd bought at Old Navy. It said PEACE in golden Gothic letters. I hoped I didn't look like I was hinting. Jason, in an ever-appropriate New Orleans Saints T-shirt, looked ready for anything.

"Hey, Sook!" He was buzzing with happy anticipation. He'd never been to a Were meeting, of course, and he wasn't aware of how dangerous they could be. Or maybe he was, and that was why he was so excited.

"Jason, I got to tell you a few things about Were gatherings," I said.

"Okay," he said, a bit more soberly.

Aware that I sounded more like his know-it-all older sister instead of his younger sister, I gave him a little lecture. I told Jason that the Weres were touchy, proud, and protocol minded; explained how the Weres could abjure a pack member; emphasized the fact that Basim was a newer pack member who'd been trusted with a position of great responsibility. That he'd betrayed that trust would make the pack even touchier, and they might question Alcide's judgment in picking Basim as enforcer. He might even be challenged. The pack judgment on Annabelle was impossible to predict. "Something pretty awful may happen to her," I warned Jason. "We got to suck it up and accept it."

"You're saying they might physically punish a woman because she cheated on the packleader with another pack officer?" Jason said. "Sookie, you're talking to me like I'm not two-natured, too. You think I don't know all that?"

He was right. That was exactly how I'd been treating him.

I took a deep breath. "I apologize, Jason. I still think about you as my human brother. I don't always remember that you're a lot more. In all honesty, I'm scared. I've seen them kill people before, like I've seen your panthers kill and maim people when they thought that was justice. What scares me is not that you do it, which is bad enough, but that I've come to accept it as just ... the way you do things if you're two-natured. When those demonstrators were at the bar today, I was so mad at them for hating Weres and shifters without really knowing anything about them. But now I'm wondering how they'd feel if they actually knew more about how packs work; how Gran would feel if she knew I was willing to watch a woman, or anyone, be beaten and maybe killed for an infraction of some rules I don't live by."

Jason was silent for what seemed like a long time. "I think the fact that a few days have passed is a good thing. It's given Alcide time to cool off. I hope the other pack members have had time to think, too," he said finally. And I knew that was all we could say about this, and maybe more than I should have said. We fell silent for a short time.

"Can't you listen in to what they're thinking?" Jason asked.

"Full Weres are pretty hard to read. Some are harder than others. Of course, I'll see what I can get. I can block a lot when I make myself, but if I let my guard down ..." I shrugged. "This is a case where I want to know everything I can as soon as I can."

"Who do you think killed that dude in the grave?"

"I've given it some thought," I said gently. "I see three main possibilities. But the key to me suspecting all three is that he was buried on my land, and I have to assume that wasn't by chance."

Jason nodded.

"Okay, here goes. Maybe Victor, the new vamp leader of Louisiana, killed Basim. Victor wants to knock Eric out of his position, since Eric's a sheriff. That's a pretty important position."

Jason looked at me like I was an idiot. "I may not know all their fancy titles and all their little secret handshakes," he said, "but I know someone in charge when I see him. If you say this Victor outranks Eric and wants him gone, I believe you."

I had to stop underestimating my brother's shrewdness. "Maybe Victor thought that if I got arrested for murder - since someone tipped off the law that there was a body on my land - Eric would go down with me. Maybe Victor thought that would be enough for their mutual boss to take Eric out of his position."

"Wouldn't it have been better to put the body in Eric's house and call the police?"

"That's a good point. But finding a body in Eric's house would mean bad press for all vampires. Another idea I had, maybe the killer was Annabelle, who was screwing both Basim and Alcide. Maybe she got jealous, or maybe Basim said he was going to tell. So she killed him, and since they'd just been on my land, she thought of it as a good place to bury a body."

"That's a long way to drive with a body in the trunk," Jason said. He was clearly going to play devil's advocate.

"Sure, it's easy to punch holes in all my ideas," I said, sounding exactly like his little sister. "Once I go to all the work of coming up with them! But you're right. That'd be a risk I wouldn't want to take," I added, on a more mature level.

"Alcide could've done it," Jason said.

"Yeah. He could've. But you were there. Did it seem to you - remotely - like he knew it was going to be Basim?"

"No," he said. "I thought he got a huge shock. But I wasn't looking at Annabelle."

"I wasn't, either. So I don't know how she reacted."

"So you got any other ideas?"

"Yeah," I said. "And this is my least favorite. You know I told you that Heidi the vampire scented fairies in the woods?"

"I did, too," Jason said.

"Maybe I should get you to check out the woods on a regular basis," I said. "Anyway, Claude said it wasn't him, and Heidi confirmed that. But what if Basim saw Claude meeting with another fairy? In the area around the house, where Claude's scent would be natural?"

"When would this have happened?"

"The night the pack was on the property. Claude hadn't moved in then, but he'd come around to see me."

I could see Jason trying to figure out the sequence. "So Basim warned you about the fairies he tracked, but he didn't tell you he'd seen some? I don't think that holds together, Sook."

"You're right," I admitted. "And we still don't know who the other fairy would be. If there are two, and one of them isn't Claude, and the other one is Dermot ..."

"That leaves one fairy we don't know about."

"Dermot's seriously messed up, Jason."

Jason said, "I'm worried about all of 'em."

"Even Claude?"

"Look, how come he showed up now? When you have other fairies in the woods? And does that sound crazy when you say it out loud, or what?"

I laughed. Just a little. "Yeah, it sounds nuts. And I get your point. I don't entirely trust Claude, even if he is a little bit family. I wish I hadn't said yes to him moving in. On the other hand, I don't believe he means to hurt me or you. And he's not quite as much of an asshole as I thought he was."

We tried to put together a few more theories about Basim's death, but we could punch too many holes in all of our theories. It passed the time until we arrived.

The house Alcide had moved into when his dad died was a large two-story brick home on large grounds, enhanced with impressive landscaping. The - estate? manor house? - was in a very nice area of Shreveport, of course. In fact, it wasn't too far from Eric's neighborhood. That gnawed at me, thinking of Eric so close to me but in so much trouble.

The confusion of what I was feeling through our blood bond was making me more jittery with every passing night. There were so many people sharing in that bond now, so much feeling going back and forth. It wore me out emotionally. Alexei was the worst. He was a very dead little boy, that was the only way I could put it: a child locked in a permanent grayness, a child who experienced only occasional flashes of pleasure and color in his new "life." After days of experiencing what amounted to an echo of him living in my head, I'd decided the boy was like a tick sucking on the life of Appius Livius, Eric, and now me. He siphoned off a little every day.

Apparently, Appius Livius was so used to Alexei's draining him that he accepted it as part of his existence. Maybe - possibly - the Roman felt responsible for the trouble Alexei caused, since he'd brought him over. If that was Appius Livius's conviction, I thought he was absolutely correct. I was sure that bringing Alexei to Eric, thinking the presence of another "child" would soothe Alexei's psychosis, was a last-ditch effort to cure the boy. And Eric, my lover, was caught in the middle of all this along with all the problems he was staving off involving Victor.

I felt less and less like a good person every day. As we walked from the driveway to Alcide's front door, I admitted to myself that since my visit to Fangtasia, I found myself wishing that all of them would die - Appius Livius, Alexei, Victor.

I had to shove all that into a mental corner, because I had to be on my game to enter a house full of Weres. Jason put his arm around my shoulders and gave me a half hug. "Sometime you'll have to explain to me how come we're doing this," he said. "Because I think I kind of forgot."

I laughed, which was what he'd wanted. I put up a hand to ring the bell, but the door swung open before my fingertip made contact. Jannalynn was standing there in a sports bra and running shorts. (She always came up with wardrobe choices that startled me.) The running shorts showed concave dips by her hipbones, and I sighed. "Concave" was not a word I'd ever used in relation to my body.

"Getting into the new job?" Jason asked her, stepping forward. Jannalynn had to either back up or block his way, and she chose to back up.

"I was born for this job," the young Were said.

I had to agree. Jannalynn seemed to love doling out violence. At the same time, I wondered what job she could hold in the real world. She'd been bartending at a Were-owned bar in Shreveport when I'd first seen her, and I knew the owner of that bar had died in the struggle between the packs. "Where are you working now, Jannalynn?" I asked, since there shouldn't be any need to keep that secret that I could see.

"I manage the Hair of the Dog. The ownership passed to Alcide, and he felt I could handle the job. I have some help," she said, which was a confession that surprised me.

Ham, his arm around a pretty brunette in a sundress, was waiting across the foyer by the opened doors to the living room. He patted my shoulder and introduced his companion as Patricia Crimmins. I recognized her as one of the women who'd joined the Long Tooth pack in surrender after the Were war, and I tried to focus on her. But my attention kept straying. Patricia laughed and said, "It's quite a place, isn't it?"

I nodded in silent agreement. I'd never been in the house before, and my eyes were drawn to the French doors on the other side of the big room. There were lights out in the large backyard, which not only was enclosed by a fence that had to be seven feet tall, but was also lined outside with those quick-growing cypresses that shoot up like spears. In the middle of the patio was a fountain, which would make getting a drink easy if you'd turned into a wolf. There was a lot of wrought iron furniture set around on the flagstones, too. Wow. I'd known the Herveauxes were well-to-do, but this was impressive.

The living room itself was very "men's club," all glossy dark leather and paneling, and the fireplace was as big as fireplaces got in this day and age. There were animal heads mounted on the walls, which I thought was kind of amusing. Everyone seemed to have a drink in hand, and I located the bar at the center of the thickest cluster of Weres. I didn't spot Alcide, who because of his height and his presence was usually a standout in any crowd.

I spotted Annabelle. She was in the center of the room on her knees, though she was not constrained in any way. There was an empty space all around her.

"Don't approach," Ham said quietly as I took a step forward. I stopped in my tracks.

"You can talk to her later, probably," Patricia whispered. It was the "probably" that bothered me. But this was pack business, and I was on pack land.

"I'm getting me a beer," Jason said after he'd had a good look at Annabelle's situation. "What do you want, Sook?"

"You need to go upstairs," Jannalynn said very quietly. "Don't drink anything else. Alcide's got a drink for you." She jerked her head toward the stairs to my left. I puckered my brows together, and Jason looked as though he were going to protest, but she jerked her head again.

I found Alcide in a study at the head of the stairs. He was looking out the window. There was a glass of cloudy yellow liquid sitting on the desk blotter.

"What?" I said. I was getting an even worse feeling about this evening than I'd already had.

He turned to face me. His black hair was still in a tumble, and he could have used a shave, but grooming had nothing to do with the charisma that surrounded him like a cocoon. I didn't know if the role had enhanced the man, or if the man had grown into the role, but Alcide had come far from the charming, friendly guy I'd met two winters ago.

"We don't have a shaman anymore," he said with no preamble. "We haven't had one for four years. It's hard to find a Were who's willing to take the position, and you have to have the talent for it to even consider it anyway."

"Okay," I said, waiting to see where he was going.

"You're the closest we've got."

If there'd been drums in the background, they would've started an ominous roll. "I'm not a shaman," I said. "In fact, I don't know what a shaman is. And you don't have me."

"That's a term we use for a medicine man or woman," Alcide said. "One with a gift for interpreting and applying magic. It sounded better to us than 'witch.' And this way, we know who we're talking about. If we had a pack shaman, that shaman would drink the stuff in this glass and be able to help us determine the truth of what happened to Basim, and the degree of guilt of everyone involved. Then the pack would decide on proportionate justice."

"What is it?" I asked, pointing at the liquid.

"It's what was left over in the last shaman's stash."

"What is it?"

"It's a drug," he said. "But before you walk out, let me tell you that the last shaman took it several times without any lasting ill effect."


"Well, he had stomach cramps the next day. But he was able to go back to work the day after that."

"Of course, he was a Were, and he'd be able to eat things I can't eat anyway. What does it do to you? Or rather, what would it do to me?"

"It gives you a different perception of reality. That's what the guy told me. And since I clearly wasn't shaman material, that's all he told me."

"Why would I take an unknown drug?" I asked, genuinely curious.

"Because otherwise we'll never get to the bottom of this," Alcide said. "Right now, the only guilty person I can see is Annabelle. She may only be guilty of being unfaithful to me. I hate that, but she doesn't deserve to die for it. But if I can't find out who killed Basim and planted him in your ground, I think the pack will condemn her, since she's the only one who was involved with him. I guess I'd be a good suspect for killing Basim out of jealousy. But I could have done it legally, and I wouldn't have blamed you."

I knew that was true.

"They'll put her to death," he said, harping on the point that would have the most effect on me.

I was almost tough enough to shrug. Almost.

"Can't I try to do this my way?" I said. "Laying my hands on them?"

"You've told me yourself it's hard to get a clear thought from Weres." Alcide said it almost sadly. "Sookie, I'd hoped we'd be a couple one day. Now that I'm packmaster and you're in love with that cold ass Eric, I guess that'll never happen. I thought we might have a chance because you couldn't read my thoughts that clearly. Since I know that, I don't think I can rely on you laying on your hands and getting an accurate reading."

He was right.

"A year ago," I said, "you wouldn't have asked this of me."

"A year ago," he answered, "you wouldn't have hesitated to drink."

I crossed to the desk and tossed it down.

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