By the time we reached the lake house, it was 4:40… Sookie shot from the back of my bike before I removed the key from the ignition and darted into the house, calling, “Help! We’re running super late for the meeting about those books… Pam, could you please-please-please play My Size Barbie and pick an outfit for me to throw on after I take a quick shower?”
As I stepped into the house, Gawain snorted, “You should’ve skipped foreplay. You would have had more time to change.”
Worth it. Every fucking second.
I shook my head. “Dinner, now that was pointless. I should have skipped that.”
It was completely true… Gawain could do whatever he wanted with that nugget of information.
He followed me downstairs and asked, “Were they so bad?”
I shrugged. “They were typical; lacking in quality and talent.”
“Mine weren’t… horrible.”
It was almost funny… if he wasn’t so preoccupied by prying to find out if I fucked something random, he might have noticed he’d followed me into my bathroom.
He leaned against the counter while I undressed and stepped into the shower…
I actually paused before turning on the water. I wanted to smell like victory for a while.
I offered, “I waited too long to poach… they’d been drinking for a while. I couldn’t have been more relieved to find Sookie after I dismissed the others. She returned to the club while I was with them.”
“Oh really? How did she react to that?”
“Don’t you have a book to read… or something?”
“I’m just curious about how Sookie took her lesson.”
It was good to know I could still fuck with him.
“She was very apologetic. Happy now?”
“She… she apologized?”
I made him wait until I rinsed shampoo from my hair before I answered, “Yes. Why wouldn’t she?”
How was he supposed to answer that without exposing how full of shit he’d been? Hmmmm.
“She’s naïve, yes…. but she’s headstrong.”
I let him stew again while I washed and rinsed… he looked like he was desperate for a response by the time I stepped out of the tub.
“Have you become bored with interrupting Sookie’s showers already?”
He opened his mouth to say something, but he closed it again…
Dear Diary, I stumped Gawain tonight. It was spectacular.
“Do you want something?”
He followed me from the bathroom as though he was on suicide watch… and he didn’t think of anything to say until I was pulling my jeans on.
“She apologized for dancing with Shawn?”
Fishing for specifics in the hopes of catching me in a lie? Really?
“The bigger picture. She wasn’t aware she was practically advertising herself as a shared pet.”
“She apologized and… what? She finally yielded to you out of guilt?”
I smiled as I pulled my shirt on. “Why does that matter? My dessert more than made up for my sub-par dinner.”
He was making it nearly impossible to keep a straight face… I opted to concentrate on Sookie, testing how easily she could sense what she’d called a beacon.
She called, “Two minutes!” from upstairs almost as soon as I started… and just a moment later, I felt the telepathic shoulder tap.
Gawain was still staring at me when I was finished tying my shoes.
“Is there a problem?”
“Does she know she’s a pet?”
I chuckled as I walked by him to go upstairs. “I think I made it clear that she’s Mine.”
“What happens when you’re bored with her? Her aunt is your child.”
The idea of becoming bored with Sookie was just as preposterous as suggesting I teach her a lesson.
“Gawain, if I learned anything from my Maker, it’s that the world will continue to spin whether I’m a prick or a prince. It’ll be dealt with when it needs to be dealt with.”
As I opened the trap door, he grumbled, “I can’t fucking believe you just said that.”
“You’re right. It was Tyson who imparted that wisdom to me, but it applies to Appius.”
“That isn’t what I meant and you know it.”
I nodded without looking back. “I knew what you meant.”
“Should I worry about this? Is this the beginning of your downward spiral?”
This, his interference… It was because of, at least in part, his Maker’s madness. The aegis wasn’t just for Sookie, or his ‘own kind’… it was for me.
I couldn’t help but remember Sookie’s commentary on Gawain… He’s actually a sweetheart under all that shit he talks. He might be one of the biggest fakers I’ve ever met.
Even if I wasn’t sure he’d eventually pick apart my answers to realize I was fucking with him, I didn’t have it in me to continue the farce. I wasn’t low enough to pick certain wounds intentionally.
I stopped and turned around. “You need to stop. The subterfuge isn’t necessary. I’m just as surprised by my interest in Sookie as you are, but it’s not just her blood I enjoy…”
Sookie was waiting just a few feet away in the foyer and added, “He already knew you were up to something before I helped with the telepathic perspective. Chill out. Everything’s fine…” She tossed the key to her Durango to me and winked. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and need the cargo room. Let’s roll.”
Sookie waited until we were at the end of the driveway before she sighed and gave me a look.
I asked, “Did he tell you about his Maker?”
“You mean the part where she was a Gawain-aholic? Yeah… So that jackass was… He wants to make sure his friend isn’t losing his mind, and he wants to make sure I don’t end up your personal crack pipe.”
I nodded. “He’s a scheming asshole.”
“Yeah, but with assholes like that, who needs friends? He’s got your back, and mine… I don’t know whether to hug him or knee him in his junk.”
I probably couldn’t have thought of a better way to sum him up if I had more than a mile and a half.
Knowing that the books were being liquidated as part of an inheritance, I wasn’t surprised to see the realtor’s sign in the yard, but the house and property were in pristine condition…
As Sookie and I slid out of the car, I scanned the property… The large whitewashed American Craftsman style house (probably built at the turn of the century like mine) had dark blue trim. It was gorgeous as far as houses were concerned, but what made it stand out were the grounds…
On either side of the long driveway, there was a peculiar grouping of trees. Each set of five trees was arranged as a pentagram, and the trunks were surrounded by herbs rather than flowers…
Elder, juniper, ash, hickory, aspen, elm, dogwood, oak, almond, and a plantain tree. And the herbs were all associated with protection and exorcism as well… the trees along the perimeter, the ones that were actually indigenous to the area, had trunks covered so heavily in ivy it acted as a natural wall. As I walked around the SUV to meet Sookie, I realized I wasn’t walking on grass, but trefoil…
But there wasn’t the slightest hint of magic in the air.
It was as though someone had tried to ward the property without any knowledge of actual magic, only folklore.
And the first thing Sookie said when I met her was, “Welcome to Superstition Alley. Please be sure to leave the house through the door you used to enter. No flash photography or old brooms. Salt donations are welcome. Enjoy the tour.”
I chuckled, “For someone who didn’t know what they are until a few nights ago, you’re certainly well versed in magical herbology.”
“We burn rosemary in the fireplace, Daddy kept a lock of our hair in his wallet, and we never give an empty wallet or purse as a gift. We’re from the Voodoo State, Eric. Every damn one of the flowers in those flowerbeds and planters staves off evil or brings good fortune.”
I snorted, “Fair enough… The same can be said for those trees and herbs, but I don’t smell any magic.”
“Yet… there’s something new to me just beyond the cliché salt and sage barrier… From what Gawain described, I think Daemon. Brownish static… There’s a Human too.”
“A Daemon would know to hire an actual Witch to ward their property.”
She shrugged and closed her eyes for a moment before starting to relay the Human’s thoughts, “Oh thank God. I didn’t think she was going to show up…”
A man’s voice called from inside the house, “Dee, she’s here!”
Sookie continued, “No offers on the house, not much luck with selling the furniture… it’s not like we need the money, but she needs to get this monkey off her damn back… crazy old man should’ve just left her alone…”
I asked, “So there’s more to the will than disappointment.”
Sookie nodded. “Seems like a lot of bad blood… I’m not getting anything from the Daemon though. Gawain said he never has either. I’ll be relying on… I think the Human is Dee’s husband.”
The Human male opened the door to greet us and offered his hand immediately. “Gordon Davenport, I’m Dee’s husband. Sookie, I presume?”
His hair was dyed brown to hide his age. His colored contacts were a brighter blue than his actual irises. And he seemed to be perfectly comfortable in the country club casual attire: lemon-yellow polo shirt, khaki pleated pants, and brown loafers.
Sookie shook his hand and nodded. “Pleasure to meet you. This is my friend, Erik Nordmann.”
He stepped back after shaking my hand. “Pleasure’s all mine. Sookie, Erik, please come in. Dee’s proofreading a paper for our son. She’s practically a lawyer now that she’s been his editor through law school.”
And there was the pretentious parental swagger of the Human Ivy League.
As we stepped into the house, I could smell the faint scent of brimstone over dozens of other traces, but it wasn’t pungent enough to be from a full Dae.
I offered, “You must be proud. What school?”
He lifted his chin to boast, “Cambridge.”
Beyond the meticulously crafted inlaid wood floor in the foyer, I could see beautifully preserved wood paneling in every adjoining room… and not just simple antiques… museum pieces… intricately and ornately carved or inlaid wood pieces… including, but not limited to, the table in the center of the foyer. A hand carved ivory urn almost disguised the inlaid double-headed eagle of the Russian Empire.
If they were having difficulty selling anything in the house, it was because they weren’t advertising to the right audience.
“Really? I wasn’t impressed with the campus. I opted for Oxford.”
“Among other things. I played between colleges. I enjoyed the exposure and diversity. London is a much larger fishbowl than the one I was raised in.” Sookie was amused by the gaps in my answer, but she hid it from Gordon.
Gordon nodded. “That’s why Maxwell chose to study abroad. Dee’s not happy that he seems to enjoy England enough to stay. She’s been shopping for townhouses near Cambridge since he broke the news over Christmas.”
“Perhaps she should consider breeding dogs to keep the nest from feeling so empty.”
Gordon answered dryly, “Lowchen.”
Sookie elbowed me for making her giggle and took over. “It looks like your father-in-law was quite the collector. The house is just gorgeous, but the furniture is just… I feel like I’m in a museum.”
His eyes lit up. “Let me know if you see anything you like. Dee doesn’t want to keep anything.”
Not that I needed an Imperial Russian table in my foyer, but… the cherry tansu next to the staircase would be a welcome replacement to the bland dresser in my room.
I offered, “Care to give us a tour while we wait for Dee to finish her paper?”
Gordon showed us room after room of furniture I could easily imagine fitting into so many palaces I’d been in… pieces representing everywhere between Japan and Portugal… a vast array of stones and wood… By the time we began climbing the stairs, I was looking for a piece I wouldn’t consider making an offer on. I didn’t necessarily want to keep it all for myself, but I didn’t have to try to think of someone who’d be impressed with certain gifts. Case in point, Dee’s father had a small collection of vases and urns ‘rumored’ to have survived Pompeii’s demise… I wasn’t sure I could think of a favor Francesca wouldn’t be willing to grant in exchange for just one of them.
But with each story accompanying the items, Gordon added a disclaimer that questioned the veracity of his father-in-law’s claims. Apparently, Oliver Fairchild claimed to be nearly 400 years old. He was overly superstitious, paranoid about things that ‘go bump in the night’, and enjoyed sleeping in a safe. He didn’t bother having the house wired for electricity because he continued to use the gas lighting, and made his own candles from beeswax from the hive boxes in the back yard. Gordon and Dee still didn’t believe Oliver’s claims to have never been stung despite the fact they watched him dispose of a wasps’ nest that threatened their engagement party.
Even if it weren’t for the odd way Gordon shared anecdotes about his father-in-law, I would have known there was more to the stories; Sookie wanted to share what she knew so much she felt like she was calling me.
The only rooms we hadn’t been shown were the study (where Dee had been editing), and the upstairs bedroom (where Gordon and Dee had been sleeping).
After taking the service stairs from the second floor, our tour ended in the kitchen full of brand new, state-of-the-art appliances installed after the house was finally wired for electricity so the property could be sold.
Even the view from the kitchen was picturesque… a simple pavilion and dock for a boat beyond a large lawn and a comfortable covered porch. The large greenhouse and hive boxes were off to the side and unobtrusive.
Once Sookie and I turned down a cup of coffee for the second time, Gordon offered, “If you have any questions, just ask. Our houses are all modern contemporary. Even if we shared Oliver’s eclectic tastes, Dee wasn’t exactly close to her father. She just wants to close the book on this so to speak.”
I asked, “Do you have appraisals on anything? Authentication?”
He shook his head. “Dee doesn’t want to… She doesn’t care. The asking price on the house is based on the assessment, $1.4 million, so if the house sells before the contents, we’ll look for a museum who wants to go through the trouble… I’ll see what’s keeping Dee.”
I thanked him, calculating while he left us, and coming to the conclusion that the asking price for the house was comparable to the price of giftwrap one would use for a Da Vinci Codex. And I hadn’t even looked at the fucking library yet.
Once Gordon was gone, Sookie giggled, “Eager much?”
“The only thing that could distract me at this point is you. What do you know?”
“They were hoping to piece out the furniture and books for another million or two, but they didn’t bank on it. They’re frustrated by the lack of interest in the house, but they’re used to a different market. This house would go for $4,000,000 in New Haven.” She clenched her jaw and lifted her chin when she said ‘New Haven’ to mock Gordon’s pompous airs.
“Why are they so oblivious to the value of the contents? They can afford Cambridge. New money?”
Sookie sighed, “Oliver Fairchild claimed to be a Daemon. His parents were charter members of the New Haven Colony. If I remember right, that puts him at Pam’s age. Early 1600s. He also claimed Dee, whose full name is Diotima, is a cambion, and told her the harsh ‘truth’ that she’d killed her mother. Apparently, Dee’s mom got sick as soon as she became pregnant. She wasted away during the pregnancy and didn’t survive the delivery. When Gordon mentioned the gas lights, he thought how appropriate it was given how Oliver gas-lighted his daughter. Oliver went to the extreme of showing Dee a photo of her at ten years old, and ‘him’ at the same age, and when he died, he looked like he was in his twenties. By the way, the WASPs translated ‘Daemon’ to ‘satanic’.”
“The founders of the New Haven Colony weren’t Dae.” Daemons weren’t colonizing. They waited to leave the Old World. Francesca had complained about finding suitable professors for universities in her letters.
Sookie shook her head. “No. According to the ‘lies’ he was a changeling. He never fit in to his Human family and when he was old enough, he returned to England to search for his real parents… he supposedly spent three hundred years traveling… During which time he won Dee’s mother in a card game against a Roman soldier… She was only a child, so he waited for her to mature to breed her… Oliver’s fairy tales were pretty much all Gordon thought about while we got the tour. Everything reminded him of another story Dee told him. Apparently, she was born with a jammed up denial switch and the truth messed her up. She estranged herself by a few thousand miles with school. He’d ‘retired’ from ‘teaching’ and raised her in New Orleans. She went to school in Boston. Apparently, Fairchild moved here because he wanted to continue his Voodoo research after a dispute with a ‘so-called’ Vampire. Oliver left all of his cash to his grandson, Maxwell, but Dee’s bitter about having her nose rubbed in lies because his will left the house and contents to her as her ‘semi-Daemon legacy’. And she really doesn’t like the way Oliver’s lawyer looks at her. They think the lawyer is judgmentally assuming Satan worship, but in Gordon’s head, it seems like the lawyer’s appalled by their oblivion.”
“Did you hear the name of the lawyer? I haven’t found a Daemon lawyer in the Area.”
She snorted, “Way to focus.”
“If you want me to focus on something else, take your clothing off. As long as you’re dressed, this is as close to heaven as I can be.”
“Thinking about making an offer?”
“How much would it take?”
She giggled, “To get my clothes off, or for the mother lode?”
“Do I have to choose?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Gordon actually thought we could have everything for three million, but you look like you’re ‘new money’, probably a ‘dot commer’, and don’t have that much liquid.”
She shrugged. “Start low and let him inch you up. He’ll think he’s won the lotto. All he wants is to take Dee home. She’s usually a really sweet lady, but the ‘nonsense’ makes her nasty. He actually thought they’d walk away and never come back. They have the deed and everything.”
“You aren’t at all tempted to tell her what she is?”
“Are you kidding? There are safes all over the place they haven’t opened.”
I was probably as close to giddy as I had ever been.
Her eyes lit up when she nodded. “There’s one in the study; it’s huge and it’s hidden… It’s where her father used to sleep. They haven’t tried to open it because… well, he called it Pandora’s Box. It’s lined with shelves full of scrolls.”
“Is it possible her father is entombed in it?” Not that it really mattered… His body would fit in the fireplace in the den. In pieces, but it would fit.
She shook her head. “Nope. He died in a car accident last month. He hydroplaned and skidded into a parking garage construction site by the mall. The scaffolding or rebar got him. Cut him to ribbons.”
And I just so happened to have had a similar setback at the Claiborne Mall.
She gasped and swatted my arm. “You’re so bad.”
“I meant it’s good that there won’t be a body to dispose of.”
“I know what you meant. You’re still bad.”
“You don’t mind though. You like being evil with me… We have an added bonus. This house is a much better decoy than the one I originally planned…”
“You don’t want a little kid coloring on these walls!”
“Do you really think Lynn will need the boy to be moved? This is actually perfect. Instead of shopping for furniture, you can simply photograph this house… No pool as a safety concern… It’s a convenient place for us to sneak to since you have stage fright…”
She gasped and slapped my arm again. “I’m terribly sorry if it creeps me out to know my aunt would hear us going at it.”
I wrapped my arm around her back and pulled her to me, whispering, “Just think of how much more isolated this property is… no one could hear…” I nibbled her neck as I continued, “A single word… or grunt… or yell…”
She lifted her leg, running it along the inside of my thigh and giggled, “No one to save you.”
I moved my hand while I pouted, “Poor me,” and unfastened her bra.
She tried to back away from me, laughing and slapping my arms, but when Gordon cleared his throat behind her, she froze except to warn me that I was going to pay for that.
Apparently, there was a dress code… Dee Davenport was wearing a yellow twin-set, khaki pants, and brown loafers. I doubted her chestnut brown hair had ever been dyed, but she was wearing the same color contacts as her husband to cover her brown eyes.
She offered her perfectly manicured hand. “Dee Davenport. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Stackhouse, Mr. Nordmann. I’m sorry about the delay, but my son, Maxwell, wanted a fresh set of eyes to see his ethics paper… When I spoke to Sookie, she mentioned you collect books, Mr. Nordmann. Was there something listed on the flyer that caught your attention?”
The study was twice the size of mine; not quite two stories, but close… the large conference table and desk were made from slabs of petrified wood… The book shelves were impressively stocked from the lower cabinets to the high ceiling with books that reeked of bygone binding practices. The desk had been cleared (save a laptop and what seemed like the assortment of books mentioned on the flyer), but the long conference table was home to several large tomes that looked large enough to be atlases… The lower shelves were all antique novels, if not first editions… and the unmarked bindings filling the upper shelves, accessible with a library ladder on a brass track, seemed to be non-fiction. A large marble counter ran the length of the room at the far side, with what seemed like drawers meant for maps… Four large card catalogs disguised the false wall where the safe would be. And the oldest printing press I’d ever seen was sitting in the corner like a common chair.
Noticing the printing press and the gaps on the shelves where the books of interest had been stored… I couldn’t help but wonder what the fuck Oliver Fairchild would keep in a safe.
I answered, “Sookie had my undivided attention when she mentioned Clarissa. I didn’t realize how vast the selection would be.”
Dee sighed, “I hope we can trust one another here. My father was a bit eccentric. I only advertised the fiction, hoping a collector might be able to recognize their authenticity.”
“You doubt the legitimacy of the non-fiction works?”
She took a deep breath and nodded. “I suppose eccentric is an understatement. He claimed to have the first bible. He claims that is the actual printing press Guttenberg used to print his famous little Bibles…”
I corrected, “They aren’t little. Twelve by eighteen, weighing thirty to fifty pounds each.” As much as I wanted to defend Oliver Fairchild, I wasn’t saying anything else.
She shrugged, “As rare as they supposedly are, he claims to own several, including a one-of-a-kind gold one, but I’ve never seen them…”
The safe. The safe. The safe.
She continued, “Honestly, Mr. Nordmann, he claimed King Arthur was a Fairy. He claimed all the Gods were supernatural creatures, most of them Vampires. Of course, lycanthropy is real, but it isn’t a disease… His perception of reality seemed to be the bastard child of history and fantasy.”
If she only knew.
Sookie offered, “But he seems to have had great taste in fiction.”
“If they aren’t all forgeries. He did have his own printing press… and he has a large collection of binding materials.”
So do most libraries and museums. Binding didn’t usually survive time.
Gordon asked, “Since you seem to know your books, Mr. Nordmann, how likely is it that he has the journal of someone who died before it was written?”
“That depends on when and to whom you’re referring.”
“There was a prince who was killed in the Tower of London, but the dates are…”
“Edward or Richard?” I already knew it wasn’t a legitimate journal, but I couldn’t help but be curious.
His eyebrows lifted, showing signs that he’d had a facelift. “Richard. You know the story?”
“I’ve been to the Tower… Where is the journal?”
Gordon looked up at the shelves for a moment before moving the ladder…
When he handed over the journal, Dee offered, “He claimed to have met people who died centuries ago. He could supposedly read hieroglyphs and petroglyphs… Who can do that?”
I answered, “Learned scholars,” while I leafed through the journal and finally handed it back to Gordon. “Richard made journals by substituting characters with a cypher because his brother was nosy. What you have is most likely the journal of Richard’s imposter, Perkin Warbeck. Unless Mr. Fairchild specialized in the era, he wouldn’t have known the difference. Perkin Warbeck was coached by a Plantagenet.”
Gordon’s scalp shifted again. “So this is actually historically significant.”
“To England. The Tower of London may very well be pleased by the acquisition. It would be an interesting talking point on the tour.”
“What happened to the imposter?”
“He was executed for his fuckery. He’d led men into battle for someone else’s birthright.”
“And the prince?”
He stared back at me blankly for a moment before he chuckled, “Well, of course he did.”
At least Gordon seemed to be interested in the legitimacy of the book.
I finally approached the desk to inspect the volumes of Clarissa that were on display, surprised I’d been distracted from my Golden Fleece for so long.
And my attention was still on the wall of card catalogs and the litany of mysteries hiding behind it.
I managed to notice that Sookie was perusing the shelves while I looked over the books on the desk, but she disappeared from my line of sight for a moment to whisper, “What do I have to do to get you to refuse a sale? I’m afraid I’ll never see him again.”
I was chuckling when I looked over my shoulder. “You need to sleep sometime.” Her arms were full of books…
She set them on the desk… it hadn’t taken her but a couple of minutes to find several first editions she hadn’t seen in my study earlier.
“I’m definitely keeping you.”
“Fine, but the next time you and Pam bicker about her obsession, you’re going to be reminded of yours.”
“I have Lynn now. She’ll offer backup… Dee, Gordon mentioned that you aren’t interested in authentication, but I have friends in New York and London who can-”
She sighed, “Mr. Nordmann, this is a bit of a sore subject for me. Maybe one day, I’ll regret getting rid of all of it, but right now I don’t care. Gordon is the only reason I haven’t struck a match. He’s worried that there’s a needle in this haystack that might actually be important to someone… I do understand if you want to have something authenticated before you purchase it though…”
It was almost sad… she thought she’d been lied to and emotionally abused… in her mind, I was asking Christina Crawford details about clothes hangers.
I shrugged, “Name a price.”
“For these… Eleven books?”
“The whole thing. The house and the contents. Keep in mind, I’m quite sure you have no clue how valuable some of these items are. High-ball me.”
She snickered, “Twenty million then.”
A fraction of a fraction of the actual worth. One of her father’s ‘little’ bibles was worth more.
“Will you accept a wire transfer? I didn’t bring that much cash.”
Her jaw dropped when she realized I was serious.
I offered, “I can return with cash or cashier’s check tonight.”
“You’re joking. Who has that much cash flow in this economy?”
“If I hadn’t said twenty, if I’d said fifty…”
“You said twenty. What I’m looking at on this desk is easily worth a few hundred thousand dollars. I’m hedging my bets, and hoping I don’t take a loss on the rest of the library. Your husband said you want to make a clean break. If you take my offer, you can sign the deed over and be on your way tonight.”
After a moment, she whimpered, “Forty?”
Karma was a nasty cunt, and she worked in collusion with the universe as his court jester. I wasn’t going to rob the woman.
“Thirty-five for you and five to the charity of your choice in your name.”
She took a hard swallow, and when she did, the lights flickered.
She was an energy vampire?
“Deal. RAINN. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.”
I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed my bank while I asked, “How soon can you be out of my new playground?”
She offered a halfhearted smile while I navigated the touch-tone system. “Just a few minutes. We’ve been-”
Gordon interrupted her. “I’ll grab our luggage, dear. That’ll help you get out of here even faster.”
While I was on hold, I asked, “Did the house you were raised in have power?”
She shook her head. “Gas lights like this one. Why?”
“Just curious. I’m not sure I know of any other houses in the Area that were fitted for electricity so late.”
“The gas lights still work though. I figured we’d leave it because I hate being blind during power outages.”
Sookie offered, “I know where I’m staying during the next hurricane, that’s for sure.”
I joked, “The deed isn’t even signed yet, and you’re already using me for the library.”
She shrugged and blew a raspberry at me.
By the time I was finished transferring the funds from my account to Dee’s and RAINN’s, Gordon had collected their personal belongings and returned to the study with a tapestry bag. He held it up and explained they were items belonging to Dee’s mother, and Oliver’s belongings were still in the house. Dee didn’t care to sort through any of it.
They practically ran from the house… and I knew it wasn’t because they didn’t want me to reconsider before Sookie offered, “I think I know how relief feels to a Daemon…”
I was already pushing the card catalogs out of my way as she walked towards the window to watch them leave.
As they started the engine to their rental car, Sookie sighed, “Gordon’s curious about how full of crap Mr. Fairchild was, but he’s over the moon for Dee. He thought about how lucky they are you were willing to buy her bad memories.”
“It’s funny that he thinks liquidating will undo that… She’s half Dae and completely ignorant. Did you notice when the lights flickered?”
“Yeah… that was weird. What was that?”
“My guess would be that she’s an energy vampire. You said Dee’s mother began withering at the beginning of the pregnancy. I think she sapped her mother’s strength. I’m almost sure she’s aging her husband as well. He’s had plastic surgery and his teeth have veneers.”
“RAINN is her pet charity because her mother was 13 years old when she died. Not the picture of Daemons Gawain painted. He made it seem like they were kind of… I don’t know, jolly. Fairchild seems kinda creepy.”
“Thirteen is only young to be pregnant in a contemporary sense… It’s quite possible he was actually mad. None of us are immune to insanity. There’s no way to be sure unless his personal journal is in the safe I can’t find an opening for.”
She giggled, leaving the window to push the ladder along the track to where it was anchored to the wall at the other end of the room… a split second after the ladder bumped against its bar, there was a click behind the wall, and the panel swung out just enough for me to grip the edge and open it…
As I stared at my treasure chest made by ‘Hall’s Safe & Locke’ in Cincinnati, I chuckled, “My, aren’t you valuable.”
“Do you want to play with the combination or do you want me to…”
“Don’t tell me.”
“Is your hearing good enough to hear through a steel door that thick?”
“If you stop talking it should be.”
She giggled as she walked towards me, stopping to rake her fingernails over my back. She whispered, “I think you should save it until tomorrow night. Dawn’s going to sneak up on you.”
“Take your clothes off.”
She giggled, “We don’t have time for that. Let’s go home. We can snuggle naked for the next half hour.”
“Sorry. What were you saying? I was listening to the vault.”
She snickered, “You turd… the Davenports didn’t say anything about the safes, well, Gordon didn’t, because he didn’t want you to get your hopes up about the contents.”
I almost missed 33…
It didn’t open.
“Why… Don’t tell me the combination, but how many tumblers are there?”
40… 8… 33…
Sookie stopped scratching my back to lean against the wall facing me.
She grinned at me. “You know I’m right about playtime, so you’re going to crack the safe and let me drag you out of here, right?”
It was a good thing I hadn’t told her I wrote her name on the deed. She’d uninvite me.
“I could die in the safe for the day.”
She sighed and stretched up to kiss my cheek. “Fine. I’ll bring fresh clothes over for you during the day. I’ll see you for feeding time.”
I reached out and grabbed her arm.
I ordered, “Wait,” just as the sixth tumbler locked into place. “Can you remember ‘40… 8… 33… 22… 35… 00’?”
“I think so. Do you need me to? Should I look for a pen?”
While I turned the wheel to slide the bolts back, I answered, “I don’t necessarily need to remember it.”
She giggled, “You’re so excited right now… your mind is like staring into high beams.”
“I’ve heard you say that before… What does that mean?”
“When someone’s completely overjoyed, their mind kind of goes into this raw state of ecstasy. Comparing it to head lights isn’t figurative, it’s literal… and in turn, a mind darkens when it’s scared or angry.”
“That’s interesting. It’s as though you’re familiar with the sensation of a bond…”
As I pulled open the vault door, Sookie coughed at the concentrated scent of brimstone. “Is that rot?”
“No. Most Humans wouldn’t even notice it. Daemons aren’t as fortunate as Faeries when it comes to their traces. The scent isn’t normally so strong. This area just doesn’t have any ventilation.”
“Is it just because I’m not used to picking up on it? Should I buy a couple of fans to air it out while you’re playing?”
“Both. Because you aren’t used to it, you’re probably associating it to swamp gas. Fans will be appreciated just because it’s so strong.”
“So… I just got dutch ovened by a Daemon.”
“What is that?”
“When a person farts in bed, then tents the blanket over their victim. Jason used to do it to me whenever we camped out.”
“Charming…” I took Sookie with me when I stepped into the vault…
The walls on either side of the narrow space were lined with cubby holes full of sealed tubes… No books or manuscripts; just tubes full of treasures I didn’t have time to explore…
And to make matters worse, there was a hole in the floor leading to a lower level.
Sookie was just as awed and tempted as I was, breathing, “I won’t tell anyone if you pout about going home. I understand… Mind if I come over with you between feeding times tonight? It’s probably all in languages I can’t read, but I feel like you just unearthed the library at Alexandria.”
At least I wasn’t the only one.
“It’s no fun to play alone. You’re more than welcome to join me.”
She could remind me why I’d need to leave for Glamour to meet Shawn.
She began backing out of the space, nudging me along as she moved… I may or may not have whimpered.
I watched her close the vault door, repeating a reminder that we’d return as soon as possible as she turned the wheel to lock the bolts…
She turned around, taking my hands to lead me out and cooed, “I refuse to go home and tell your children I lost their Maker… but… I think we have time to see the basement.”
“What’s in the basement?”
“Oliver Fairchild’s candle-making setup… the workspace he used to re-bind damaged books… and we can get a gauge on how big that keep is.”
I shook my head and moved towards the door. “It’s better that I don’t know.”
She released my hands and left me. “I’ll meet you in the car then.”
I argued, “If you know, then I’ll know.”
She giggled, “You’ll wonder anyway.”
Because it wasn’t already needling enough to be forced to leave, feeling Sookie’s mood while she inspected the basement only made things worse.
She seemed to be taking her time, marveling over something for a moment… serious, determined, surprised…
In the short amount of time she was exploring, perhaps five minutes, I talked myself into being patient at least a dozen times.
She giggled as she walked towards the car with a small wooden box like so many we’d seen scattered throughout the house. “I’m lucky I got out of there alive… I broke one of the big horror movie rules. I went into a basement alone.”
“And what did you find?”
She climbed into her seat and fastened her seatbelt. “As for the size of the room, I’ll tell you once you’re tucked in… but this…” She carefully, but quickly, slid several of the panels of the box as she asked, “How much are diamonds worth?”
“A single carat? Four to ten thousand dollars depending on the color, clarity and cut. Why?”
She slid the lid from the top of the box to reveal the interior was full of white diamonds. Hundreds.
Sookie removed one and held it up, spinning it between her fingers as she watched the kaleidoscope of facets in the stone… The randomly selected stone in question was nearly perfect… certainly at the high end of my estimate.
“The basement has another safe?”
“Not that I noticed. Did you see the ones behind the DaVincis in the hall upstairs or were you too busy lying about how hard it would be to authenticate the paintings?”
“I saw the paintings when they were still new, Sookie. They were supposedly destroyed centuries ago. What was I supposed to do, make the mistake of saying I know they’re worth millions?”
“No. I was impressed as hell that you managed to completely hide your reaction… Anyway, the basement has a bunch of furniture in it… enough beeswax and honey to last a few lifetimes… a few boxes… But Fairchild had a work bench down there. I’m pretty sure he did a lot of the woodwork on the house. It looks like he made duplicate pieces to the inlay in the foyer. Anyway, I got to thinking when I saw the tools… this one was in the parlor on the mantle. I think you’ve got a lot of little treasures hiding upstairs too.”
I shook my head as I turned the car towards the street. “The fool was very lucky no one ever broke in… Unless he hired a subpar Witch to ward the house, and the charge has long since faded, he should have known better than to leave the house so vulnerable.”
“Oh! Maybe he did it. The ward… Maybe he did it and, I don’t know, the spell or whatever died with him.”
Not a bad theory.
She giggled and tossed the diamond back into the box. “Fun for the whole family. Even Pam has a reason to be excited over your acquisition…”
“Lynn will enjoy the ‘lost’ Shakespeare plays Gordon mentioned… if we find them… Gawain will be happy to help me sort through the reference materials… What will you do?”
“I think, if you want me to, I’ll go to your other house and bring over your books. I’ll get to work on integrating your library into Fairchild’s to reorganize them and the card catalog.”
“That would be immensely helpful.”
“Sweet. I won’t be completely useless.”
“I don’t think you could be useless if you tried.”
It just wasn’t in her nature to be redundant… but she’d helped me negotiate a transaction that I would brag about for centuries to come.
When we returned to the house, Gawain, Pam and Lynn were watching television in the living room. One of them paused Almost Famous so they could interrogate me… They were probably more curious about why we didn’t have any books with us and the way Sookie and I were jokingly arguing about why I shouldn’t return the house.
Sookie passed the box of diamonds to Pam and took my wrists to lead me through the house… and, of course, we were followed.
Sookie explained, “I’ll give y’all the details in a little bit. The short version is that the whole estate was up for grabs and Eric bought it. He hadn’t even seen Clarissa yet when his mouth started watering… To my untrained eye, I noticed shit all over the house that auction houses and museums all over the world would die to get their hands on… Dee Davenport’s bizarre childhood made her give up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of history for the humble sum of forty million… and Eric let her haggle up because he didn’t want a karmic snake-bite.”
I offered, “The previous owner has Guttenberg’s press, and managed to get his hand on Perkin Warbeck’s staged journal.”
Gawain snorted, “Ah, so the house is giftwrap,” and lifted the trap door so Sookie could lead me downstairs.
I nodded. “Precisely.”
Pam snorted, “I’m surprised you didn’t die in Needful Things for the day.”
I’d thought Pam had learned her Stephen King lesson when her gauchos began disappearing.
Sookie kept ahold of my wrist as she turned around to lead me down to the bat-cave.
“I tried. Sookie wouldn’t let me.”
Sookie was amused until Gawain clarified, “Let you? What did you do, put the deed in her name?”
Sookie gasped, “You didn’t!”
I explained, “You’re a Human we can trust, and with the announcement on the horizon, a safe house is absolutely essential. People know who I am. My other properties could be discovered… Most of the bedrooms can be easily light-proofed. The safe is a suitable fallout shelter as well. It’s completely secluded, seemingly ready to be warded, and already off the neighbors’ radar because a recluse lived there previously.”
She scoffed, “Jesus, you think a mile a minute, don’t you?”
When her clothes were on, yes.
That reminded me…
As soon as she turned around at the foot of the stairs, I pulled my wrist away from her to begin unbuttoning her top… I heard Gawain snort behind us just before the trapdoor was lowered.
Sookie giggled, “Taking me up on my snuggling offer?”
I shook my head as I backed her towards my bed. “I need to distract myself so I don’t think of a completely logical reason to return to the other house.”
Pam suddenly blurted, “HolyMaryMotherofGod! These stones are perfect… What’s the address? I’m dying there for the day. Is there more?”
Sookie giggled at the ceiling while I finished with her buttons…
She shrugged her blouse off and laid it over the foot of my bed, kicking her shoes off while I opened her jeans…
“Pam has to come downstairs.”
“She’ll play with her treasures, probably draw possible jewelry, until the last minute.”
She sat on the side of my bed and scooted back as I pulled her pants off. “What will I do if funny-man wants to refuse to lift the trapdoor for me later?”
“The back of the linen closet pushes back. A ladder will take you to one of the bedrooms upstairs.”
While I stripped, she cooed, “Ooohh… sneaky.”
She pulled back the covers, moving to lie down and prop her head up with her arm while she waited for me…
As I joined her, she cooed, “So… the chamber of secrets…”
“Do you really want to know?”
I ran my finger from her collarbone to her nipple.
“Is dawn going to be our cold shower?”
I nodded and pulled her closer. “Unless you can think of an alternative.”
She snickered against my ear and began nibbling. “I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to take what I can get.”
I joked, “I’m not above taking advantage of your infatuation with me.”
A flash of warm air covered the side of my neck just before Sookie raked her teeth over it.
I groaned and rolled towards her, sliding my hand between her thighs…
For the last few minutes before sunrise, until Pam opened the trapdoor, Sookie and I pawed at and chewed on one another… wrestling enough to make her sweat…
Pam actually mewled a reminder of the time as she awkwardly made her way to her bed… I actually had to tell her dawn was why I was frustrated, not her interruption…
Longyearbyen wasn’t even an option in April.
Once Sookie and I called a temporary truce, she snuggled against my side and let out a long yawn…
It had only taken a moment for her to settle down, and she was asleep before dawn took me.