Everyone was already in place when I arrived at Fangtasia alone… Brandon and Klaasje as a pair… Pam had taken Jason, Marcy and Shawn as her company for the evening… And Erica was with her guards…
They’d all been careful to scent themselves with colognes or oils, and I’d gone home to wash away the evidence that I knew Erica personally.
We’d taken our time, staying at Sookie’s house to continue enjoying the dinner party until Hadley left to take the children to the movie… And while everyone prepared for Fangtasia, I noticed Brandon was coaching Jason on what to wear. He admitted that he’d taken Klaasje to Fangtasia to feed… they’d been going on Sunday nights… while I was in Bon Temps for Sunday supper. I would have been more annoyed if it hadn’t been such a clever tactic.
It was just after ten when I walked into the bar I regretted opening since the paint was dry. The profits weren’t worth suffering the usually irksome customers. It probably would have had more entertainment value if Pam spent more time there so I’d have someone to mock the clientele with.
The annoying music that was usually deafening wasn’t as loud, and the tables were surrounded by a high concentration of Vampires who were watching the telepath do what seemed like nothing… obligatory bottles of True Bloods and mixed drinks in front of everyone, making the scene seem like dinner theater. Nearly half of the bodies in Fangtasia were Vampires because the bouncer at the front door was only allowing Humans into the bar if they were chaperoned… leaving the waitresses waiting behind the bar with little to do even though Fangtasia was pushing maximum capacity.
Ginger gave me an apologetic whimper when she spotted me because Erica Weiss had seemingly taken over Fangtasia… she seemed to already be working with Gawain and Simza standing behind her seat.
Given that her brothers were in attendance, Sookie’s Erica costume was more modest than it had been in the past… the top was actually held closed by something, even if it was just a ribbon. The long vest swept her ankles and far exceeded the length of her red sequin hot-pants. I’d agreed that the ensemble wasn’t ‘too bad’, but I’d only seen her standing. It hadn’t occurred to me that her legs would be completely bare once she sat down… and the red accessories… the ruby hair combs she’d used to pull her hair away from her face, but let her curls tumble down her back… the pumps I was surprised she could walk in gave her enough height that she hadn’t needed to stretch to leave a blood red kiss on my neck before I left her house…
I was in for a long night.
As I took my seat next to her, she cooed, “Good evening, Sheriff,” and I realized I needed to be careful that Gawain never caught on to how much more I preferred Erica’s accent to his.
I growled, “It had been,” in keeping with our plans to put on that I was pouting. “What are you doing here?”
“When I spoke to the Queen last night, I promised to provide my services. Here I am, providing my services.”
“My bar looks like a waiting room-”
“I wasn’t thanking you. I’m sure you can think of somewhere else to conduct your business.”
She scoffed, “Pardon me for filling your establishment with paying customers, Sheriff. I assumed you’d want to supervise me while I’m working in Area 5. As I’m working for Louisiana, I’d hate to accidently provide my services to residents of neighboring states…”
When several Vampires immediately left their seats to lead their pets out, Gawain went after two females and led them to Erica…
She started, “Miss Pickard, Miss Cater I’m sure Kings Edgington and Threadgill will understand because they’d hardly want to pay for my services only to have residents of other Kingdoms arrive with their hands out. You’re welcome to stay as observers. Have your Kings contact King Milne about my references if they’re pleased with what you report.”
Pickard smirked and offered a respectful nod. Erica had already confirmed her ability because that was the only way she’d be able to identify her. “Thank you, Miss Weiss. It will be my pleasure.”
As Pickard returned to her seat, Cater asked, “You’re aware Arkansas and Louisiana are negotiating a marriage, aren’t you?”
Idiot… That wasn’t something Louisiana was advertising, and the fact that my thralls began whispering amongst themselves about the news was not a good thing.
“When I spoke to the Queen last night, she didn’t explain I’d be expected to read minds for Arkansas as well. Just have him call her. She can call me to straighten things out, and we’re all done, but it seems to escape you that I’ve already proven what you drove three hours to learn because I know who you are and why you’re here. Call your King, get your next step. You’re wasting my time.”
Cater scoffed, “Is there a reason Mississippi was given a warmer reception than Arkansas?”
“Mississippi sent his Second to verify rumors of my ability because he wants to hire me. Arkansas sent his Second because he thinks the expense of my services is superfluous, but since the Queen already ‘wasted’ the money to hire me, he plans to lump his subjects in with hers. From what I’ve heard, he’d have to sell everything he has to afford my fees anyway…” When Cater only gaped, Erica finished, “You should have brought a random pet instead of someone you think has enough potential to be current on palace gossip… and for future reference, you should avoid publically challenging someone who deals in secrets. You’re really going to want to call your King now that Sheriff Northman, Miss Pickard, and the Queen’s additional ears have heard about your King’s intentions.”
I had to assume that the additional ears she mentioned included Felix Cataliades who was sipping an unusual blue-green drink at the bar… but Cater’s attendance and plans were such an insult, it was all the excuse Sophie-Anne would need to call off the marriage negotiations.
Unlike Edgington’s Second, who wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed to be invited to enjoy the show, Cater embarrassed an entire state by storming out of Fangtasia as though we needed to be reminded that she was brought over in her early teens.
Erica snorted, “I’ll bet she was turned as a runaway. Any takers?”
While a few members of the audience chuckled, Gawain offered his hand to shake Erica’s and countered, “Sheltered ingénue with a temper.”
Cataliades raised his hand and offered, “I can settle that bet.”
Sookie shined through Erica’s smile. “Mr. Cataliades… I’m sure you can…” She waited for Mr. C to approach and had her hand waiting to shake his. “I had the pleasure of meeting your son a couple of years ago. He’s a formidable attorney and an excellent dancer.”
She’d softened slightly, but her behavior was still cool.
He chuckled, “He told me a great deal about meeting you, Miss Weiss. He might just leave his friends at Asker & Asker if you were to need representation. He doesn’t usually have so much fun with clients.”
“I’ll have to keep that in mind… About that bet.”
“Of course… I’m afraid I’d call it a draw. Jennifer Cater ran away from home when her father, a preacher, replaced her dearly departed mother. A runaway ingénue.”
Erica and Gawain jokingly growled over their losses almost identically.
Erica thanked him for settling the bet in English, but continued in Arabic slowly, “My Arabic teacher is ancient and Egyptian, and I’m not learning as quickly as I hoped, but it seems to be confusing most of the audience if you care to discuss business.”
If they were confused, it was because they just didn’t know Arabic. She spoke slowly, but she was more proficient than she gave herself credit for.
Mr. C beamed, “You underestimate yourself, Miss Weiss. I have no difficulty understanding you…” He removed a pair of thick envelopes from his breast pocket. “I’ve been ordered to stay in the Area as long as it takes to be sure both you and Sheriff Northman are satisfied with your contracts.”
The Queen hadn’t even called me to discuss particulars.
I growled and snatched my envelope from him as I left my seat, motioning for Pam and Shawn to follow me to my office.
As Pam closed the door behind us, she breathed, “Klaasje wasn’t exaggerating about the difference. That’s not Sookie out there.”
While I opened my envelope, I shook my head. “You’re right about that. Felix got to see ‘formalwear Erica’. Amiable, yet professional. It’s how she behaves at mixed affairs… Call her Erica. I don’t trust the privacy ward now that Long Shadow compromised the door.”
“Should I be a cunt over the fact that my amnesty has a limited term?”
She asked, “How long?”
Pam looked to Shawn but he shook his head, so she sighed, “In a century we’ll be keeping track of great-great-grandchildren… hopefully they’ll have realized there’s more to the world than Louisiana. Besides, I can’t think of a reason to disagree with Erica’s theory about a coup once you’re replaced as Sheriff… I suppose if that’s the only thing though… You should complain about something.”
“I plan to. I had six years left here, but I intend to demand that Louisiana takes a loss, exchange my six years in Louisiana for three years as Erica’s guard.”
She tossed herself onto the sofa and scoffed, “It’s completely asinine for her to expect any differently. I can’t believe she was willing to trade you to begin with. If this wasn’t Erica, you’d be facing three years of bullshit with a stranger.”
“To be fair, it wouldn’t be much different from any other protective position I’ve taken though. I did spend more than four years with the boys.”
“But that was under Tyson’s orders while you were already working for him. And he asked you to do it. He didn’t demand anything.”
Shawn asked, “The boys?”
Pam started, “The young Vampires Erica worked with in New York. Eric was charged to protect them when they were still alive.”
While I removed a stack of Post-It notes from my drawer, Shawn asked, “But… isn’t the Queen of New York their Maker? Is she connected to Tyson?”
I offered, “Coincidence. Edward and Richard’s only chance to survive a family coup was to be exiled. I evacuated them, established a home claiming they were my sons, taught them a trade so they’d be self-sufficient, and negotiated a marriage for Edward with a neighboring family before staging my death and leaving the area… Francesca had grown weary of keeping husbands just so she could travel. She’d gone to Brussels to ask her Maker if he approved of her plans to bring over a child, and she discovered the boys near the River Meuse where I’d left them.”
Shawn breathed, “Fuuuuuuck… How pissed were you?”
“Completely livid… but I knew her, and her Maker, and his Maker before him. I understood her need for a male child and why she chose them…”
Pam added, “And she was beside herself, begging him to forgive her because she hadn’t known who the boys were or that they’d been Eric’s charges.”
I continued, “I would have ended her if she hadn’t brought over Edward too, if Richard wouldn’t have done it first. Francesca was brought over in her late 20s, so she intended to only bring over Richard. He’s baby-faced, but old enough to escort his ‘mother’. Women couldn’t travel alone safely.”
“Damn… Y’all are still friends though.”
“They knew what I was, so they weren’t upset at all. As it turns out, she’s an incredible Maker. They both consider themselves very lucky. They haven’t ever mentioned leaving her side to strike out on their own… I’m making a note to shorten the term of my contract with Erica, and to extend my amnesty to a hundred and fifty years, which I’ll get. And I’m asking for an edict protecting Hadley and the children as ‘the natural and bonded Human family of Shawn Ingram’, which I’m less likely to get, but she’ll want to deny something I ask for. The braid might reveal their identities to the Queen eventually, but I’m not going to feed the information to her.”
Pam snorted, “Sounds good to me. It isn’t like she’ll have time to make good on any of it though.”
“But it’s common courtesy to fulfill any standing contracts when there’s a takeover. I’m betting it’ll be de Castro, and he honored standing contracts when he usurped Brancato.”
She huffed, “I don’t know. Without you in the way, I wouldn’t put it past Threadgill to make a move… Once the Queen calls off the marriage negotiations, he’s not going to be happy. He’ll think he can bypass Salome.”
“Speaking of unhappy, I’ll need to call Salome and update her when this is finished… More ‘happy’ news- I called Hot Rain on my way here. I think he’d rather it was a Vampire who ended his child. He’d at least be able to hope for retribution, but there isn’t a chance of that with the Fae….”
“That works out well then.”
Because Sookie had made an art of spinning facts to create beautiful works of fiction.
When I stepped onto the platform again, I handed my contract to Cataliades and explained, “I left notes.”
He nodded, but Erica asked, “Care to discuss them?”
“Not with you.”
She sighed in Arabic, “Sheriff, I’m pleased with my contract as it is, but if yours changes, mine is likely to as well. If I approve of my contract, I think the Queen is less likely to accept the changes you requested. I’d like this to be as painless as possible. I certainly don’t want my new guard to begin his employment with a grudge against me.”
The united front was an excellent touch, and coaxing me into cooperating… I rolled my eyes and motioned for Mr. C to show her my notes.
She scanned the Post-It with three lines on it, and handed her contract to Felix before reaching down to take a portfolio from the floor to remove another envelope for him. “Completely reasonable, I think. Don’t you, Mr. Cataliades? Tell the queen I’ll sign my contract once the standard changes are made and the Sheriff’s requirements are met.”
He nodded. “I’m sure there’s room for negotiating, yes. Is this your standard contract?”
She nodded, “And notes for amended conditions of my service availability, yes sir. Same time and place tomorrow night?”
He gave her a wide smile and took her hand to kiss the back of it. “I look forward to it, Miss Weiss. I’ll call you if there are any obstacles.”
As Cataliades left, Erica pointed at a Vampire sitting alone before curling her finger and waiting for him to present himself like the others had.
When he stopped in front of us, she asked, “Sheriff, do you have something to say to him about checking in to your Area before I get started?”
It took a moment for me to put a name to his face because I’d seen him lurking around Sophie-Anne’s palace for the past few years, but Bill Compton was the least of my concerns. If I had to guess the little apple polisher was spying for the Queen to earn what Jason called ‘brownie points’.
“That can be taken care of later. He’s a resident of Louisiana even if he doesn’t live in Area 5.”
“Alright… What’s your name?”
“Bill Compton. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Weiss…”
Somehow his accent added a multitude of Hs, Ys and Zs to the simple greeting while eradicating Is and Rs. It was though he was trying to sing with a mouth full of molasses.
“I’m sure… Mr. Compton, I’ll have a Tahitian Honey Bee, thanks.”
Bill Compton snorted, “Excuse me?” but I almost laughed.
“Rum, lemon juice and honey in a shaker, served over ice in a tall glass… make it pretty with a cherry and a slice of orange.”
He scoffed, “I’m not a bartender.”
She sighed, “You might not have been before, but you’re a bartender now. You were told to do whatever it takes to get close to me. Since that’s not going to happen, you might as well be useful. You can bartend while you gawk… Rum. Lemon. Honey. Ice. Go.”
His fangs ran out behind his lips.
She snickered tauntingly and motioned for a trio of Vampires to approach her. “Go ahead, bare them. You can be a learning tool too. It might be good for the customers to see what my guards do to bottom-feeders when they threaten me… Be a good boy. Make my drink. When you’re done, you can call Mr. Cuif and simper about how I know you’re the same Vampire he tried to slip into my stocking last night.”
Bill snorted, “I assure you, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You probably should have tried playing innocent before your little Victorian errand-boy fangs sprang…” She dropped her brogue and replaced it with a breathy southern lilt. “Or do you prefer ‘Antebellum valet’, Mr. Compton?”
She winked at the Vampires she’d called forward and handed a single sheet of paper to each of them, and then she passed a copy to me.
“I thank you in advance for your cooperation and patience… Your privacy is paramount, and I respect that with few exceptions: free will and treason. Any objectification of innocents or betrayal of Queen Sophie-Anne LeClerq negates my respect for your confidentiality. If for any reason these instructions don’t pertain to you or the services you hoped to receive, feel free to discuss the uniqueness of your needs.
In the interest of your privacy, please take your Human/Were to an area you feel can provide privacy (ie: restroom, parking lot, car, roof). Discuss whatever topics you’re concerned about with it/them. As long as your conversation takes place on Fangtasia property, I’ll be able to hear the thoughts of your Human/Were and when you return, I’ll have results waiting for you. Keep in mind that your Human/Were’s thoughts will concentrate on what you discuss with it/them, so be thorough. For instance, if you concentrate on where your missing cuff-links are, I can tell you if the Human/Were stole them and what they did with them, but it isn’t likely that they’ll think about emailing the location of your resting place to Steve Newlin.
If you choose to return with more Humans/Weres or refer my services to friends/associates, keep in mind that my last appearance in Area 5 in the foreseeable future will be December 29th. I’ll also be available from noon to 3:00 on the 29th for you to send your daytime personnel or business associates for screening. Simply tell them your Sheriff requires occasional interviews to be sure you’re treating your employees in an acceptable way. Your results will be waiting for you with the bouncer that evening. Feel free to send a sealed envelope with a list of concerns so I can be as specific as you would be if you were able to attend.
If you want to be notified of my availability in other Areas, please pass your contact information to one of my guards and you’ll be notified.
I wasn’t sure I could think of anything to add to her handwritten directions, and in the amount of time I spent reading them, the waiting Vampires had given a grateful nod and backed away to carry out the instructions.
Meanwhile, Compton was still staring at her… until Gawain showed his fangs. That finally moved him.
For the next two hours, I watched Erica pass detailed information to Vampires as they returned from secluded locations around the property, and as each one returned, another Vampire was given instructions.
She was scanning the minds of three to five pets at a time, writing notes as quickly as her fountain pen could on a separate page for each Master. Glancing in Brandon’s direction almost made me laugh every fucking time because his face showed every bit of shock and awe that I would expect from any amateur watching a master work.
Georgette returned to thank Erica for exposing the drainer she almost left with the other night… The thank you gift wasn’t as elaborate as some gifts Erica had been given, but Georgette had certainly put some thought into it. Since the drug dealers in question only had a few ounces of pot and a small block of hashish, Georgette had gone the extra mile by finding an antique tea caddy and a vintage Cartier smoking set to accompany Erica’s stockpile.
It was probably better that Georgette didn’t stay for long… She might have been embarrassed that she thanked Erica for saving her life with a few thousand dollars’ worth of antiques when another one of my thralls came prepared… After Erica had brought Darius’s disappearing wallet to his attention the other night, he called a friend in New York who told him Erica Weiss always wore red, so Darius thanked Erica for confirming his pets were as genuine as rent boys could be with a Burmese ruby, diamond and platinum ring that was easily worth six figures.
Gawain eventually introduced me to his ‘associate’, and my staged conversation with Klaasje was practically identical to the one Sookie suggested during the dinner party, but given that Klaasje’s façade was successfully chilly, I assumed the ‘dress rehearsal’ had helped and decided not to improvise…
And Betty Joe Pickard took her leave after more than an hour of witnessing Erica Weiss in her natural habitat. She had more than enough to tell her King.
No sooner than each Vampire took their pet away, another Vampire paid the cover charge and filled the seat again. Sookie had only taken a break from working (and tormenting Bill Compton by calling out drink demands for the gallery) to use the restroom, and while she was gone, Martín walked his swarthy ass into Fangtasia like he owned the place.
He barely acknowledged me when I greeted him formally, instead of tripping him like I would have done if we were among friends… He plopped onto Erica’s seat and had his companions (a Vampire and a Shifter) share the chair Mr. Cataliades had used.
“Where is it, Eric? I need to see it.” His Castilian accent was completely gone (finally). I used to tease him that his R made him sound like a pleased kitten, and I was sure his TH was hopeless.
“My new bartender?” I pointed at Bill. “He’s right there. He’s practically a troglodyte, but he has comic relief in spades.”
Martín looked over his shoulder and scoffed, “I didn’t mean that, but it’s familiar. Was it mine?”
Bill’s face soured that much more at the reminder that he was as memorable as a penny.
I offered, “If memory serves, he spent decades in Washington.” After being laughed out of Russia.
Martín groaned, “I remember now… His Maker… yes, there’s a reason they aren’t in Washington any longer. Mata’utia is still on my ‘shit list’. Who intentionally triggers earthquakes hoping to make a volcano erupt? At least the ashes make lovely ornaments and paperweights … Do you have a shit list?”
I nodded. “Unofficially… How have you been getting on?”
“Oh, you know… Everything north of San Francisco is a bore. BUT I contracted a telepath… and it’s here. I want to meet it.”
“It’s in the restroom with Gawain and Simza at the moment.”
He snorted, “Lucky twats. I’ve heard enough about what it looks like…”
I finished, “Hence your detour to Louisiana between LA and Cabo?”
“Precisely! You should come back. I don’t think Humans care about communism anymore. Los Angeles misses you… The starlets are unruly, and I can’t fuck them all into a stupor myself.”
I chuckled, “Don’t give up, Martín. You’re not a quitter.”
He laughed and slapped my leg. “I’m not! You’re right about that! So… What are we doing?”
“Miss Weiss is providing her telepathic services to my thralls-”
He blurted, “Now? I interrupted… She’s scanning right now?”
“From what I understand, she rarely stops scanning… She’s only taking a break to tend to Human needs-”
Speaking of the devil…
When Erica emerged from the restrooms, she took her time walking past the bar so she could taunt Compton again. “Look at you, learning a trade. I need a refill, Billy, and it looks like my friends’ pets do too.”
Martín breathed, “That’s her? That’s Erica Weiss?” When I nodded, he chuckled, “I might be in love.”
Oh goody. Another one.
Without pausing to ask questions, she lifted a chair along the way and set it next to mine before taking her binder and pen from under Martín’s thigh and sitting on her seat. She didn’t greet him until after she’d motioned for three new Vampires to collect their instructions.
By the time she was settled, Martín was completely mesmerized.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Majesty…”
Gawain reached out and lifted Martín‘s chin to close his mouth… and his companions weren’t reacting much differently.
Martín asked, “You know who I am?”
After reading the Shifter in his entourage, no doubt.
She nodded. “Your Maker is quite proud of you, and your sister… isn’t. I’m sure you know I just spent several months with them… Am I to assume you thought of an excellent excuse to fly to Shreveport to settle your curiosity?”
His brain finally engaged. “I did. A couple of excuses, actually… This is my Lieutenant, Ivy Lucian. Now that we’ve tidied up your contract, we need to know how to furnish your home so it’s ready for your arrival.”
She smirked as she scribbled, “Your second in command is an interior designer, Majesty?”
He chuckled, “Oh no. Interior design is only one of Ivy’s many skills. It comes down to reliability, determination and ingenuity. Ivy can be trusted with any task she’s given.” Which is why he immigrated with, then married, and eventually brought over his lovely caretaker.
Erica nodded, “That’s very reassuring, but I could have told you I’m indifferent over the phone, Majesty.”
“No one’s completely indifferent to their surroundings. You must have some opinion.”
“Normally, I prefer the simplicity and geometry of modernist and art deco design, but that would clash with the style of the house, which I also find appealing. I’m partial to cool analogous color schemes. Queen Francesca’s children affectionately call me a ‘favrile whore’ because I’m a sucker for Tiffany, Murano and Carnival glass… I could have told you that over the phone too.”
Gawain added, “I can vouch for that. There isn’t a room in her house without art glass in it. I’m surprised she hasn’t commissioned stained glass windows…” When Erica’s eyes lit up at the idea, Gawain chuckled, “Uh oh.”
Ivy seemed pleased to have such a complacent client, but Martín preferred to be the center of attention. He argued almost sourly, “But could you approve of your Greek tutor and auxiliary guard? Hebe Milas, full Shifter and naturalized Greek immigrant. She’s fluent in English and Greek.”
Erica nodded, “I noticed. I think she’ll work out perfectly. Thank you.”
That was it. Several hours on a plane… for a conversation that lasted less than two minutes.
Brilliant Martín, your Maker would be so proud.
Erica whistled and called, “Billy, I think my new friend is thirsty too… Make a drink for Hebe. Amaretto Sour…”
Martín added, “And if you don’t hurry along, you’ll be serving shirtless with nipple clamps.”
That was a mental image I couldn’t be rid of soon enough.
Erica snorted, “Please hurry, Billy. I can’t think of anything I want to see less.” While Billy mumbled about being disrespected, she asked Martín, “Do you have nipple clamps with you, or do you assume someone here has a pair?”
He had them. I was surprised he’d be willing to take them off to help embarrass Bill.
He crooned, “I never leave home without them, sabrosa… Ever play?”
She gave him a level stare and explained, “I tried a pair. I wasn’t impressed. I prefer teeth to anything.”
Not that I needed to think about that, or wanted Martín to spend any amount of time thinking about it… but the look on Martín’s face was fucking priceless… and eventually, Gawain reached out to lift his chin again.
Fangtasia customers probably hadn’t ever been so enthralled.
Erica continued to work while Martín recovered from whatever inspired the ‘temporarily out of order’ look on his face and he finally croaked, “What are you writing?”
Oh. We were changing the subject to ignore the Kiton tent in his lap… that was a first. That was usually his favorite subject.
Erica sighed, relieved that conversation was moving on, “I’m working, Majesty… I write what I take from pets’ minds to maintain a modicum of privacy for the Master.”
He huffed, “How disappointing…”
When Erica’s phone chimed from her little bag on the floor, Simza passed it to her… Erica continued writing with her right hand, reached into her bag with her left, and took a moment to make eye contact with Compton to sing, “Thirrrrrrrrstyyyyyy.”
My last bartender had been more than twice his age, but Bill still acted as though he was being slighted… because being a Victorian errand-boy was a much higher station.
Erica held the phone so I could see that Felix Cataliades would return to Fangtasia shortly if we’d be available to sign our contracts… Apparently, Sophie-Anne was so eager to take advantage of Erica’s offer, she accepted all of our terms… And I was quite sure Cataliades had mentioned Cater’s appearance and expectations… and if Felix was planning to return immediately, that meant Sophie-Anne was lurking about in Shreveport so she could sign the contract.
The hard part of the situation was going to be keeping a lid on the celebration until we were alone.
Martín asked, “Something important?”
Erica explained, “A contract negotiation has ended much more quickly than anticipated. Louisiana’s legal guru will be arriving with my contract in a few minutes.”
“That’s not fair. I have to wait for the summer to have you.”
The double entendre was completely intentional.
“It’s fair considering that you know I’m in Louisiana working for Milne, and why. I’m already here. I might as well keep myself from getting bored.”
“And who will you work for while you’re in Pacifico?”
“Whoever you see fit, Majesty. King Milne’s aware of my side contract with LeClerq. I wouldn’t have considered the contract otherwise… If you’ll excuse me for a moment…”
She left her seat and stomped to the bar, walking behind it to shove Compton out of her way and take ingredients from under the counter…
“It’s no fucking wonder you were sent to Area 5 to spy on me when Sheriff Northman was already following his orders to observe and report. You’re so fucking useless you can’t even mix liquids together. Completely disposable. I swear…” Her accent was as in place as ever, but her southern syntax was emerging. “Here’s your wakeup call, you daft fuck… Since the Sheriff was already in place, sending you to interfere was a great excuse for the Sheriff to end you in my defense, as a grand gesture to endear me to him and, by extension, Louisiana. Do yourself a favor… since your Maker clearly didn’t install self-preservation on your hard drive, find a fucking foster who will teach you how to read between the lines and watch your own ass instead of convincing you that success is nothing but a ladder to climb.”
Martín scoffed quietly, “He’s probably never heard better advice.”
Gawain, Simza and Ivy added, “Amen.”
In the amount of time Erica spent reprimanding Bill Compton, she’d mixed two Tahitian Honey Bees, two Jack and Cherry Cokes, and an Amaretto Sour.
She left him gobsmacked behind the bar and brought a pair of drinks with her, instructing Ginger to take the other drinks to tables five and twelve where her family was seated.
While Erica made herself comfortable again, Gawain asked, “Should I send away the line waiting outside?”
She sipped from her drink before she shook her head. “I’m fine. I only have fifty or so pets left. If we send them away, I’ll get backed up. The limited engagement will breed enough chaos…” She nodded towards her new weed caddy and sighed, “At least there will be some hash in the hammam tonight.”
She motioned for two more Vampires to step forward and gave their instructions to them, and I watched Ginger finally take some initiative… when she returned to the bar after delivering drinks to Jason, Marcy and Brandon, she began presetting three refills for Erica, adding ingredients to shakers and fruit garnish to glasses. Who knew?
Gawain offered, “We should use hotels again for the other Areas. The salvo doesn’t wear on you as quickly and it’ll be easier to maintain your anonymity given your reason to be in Louisiana.”
Erica was already agreeing when Martín asked, “Hotels? How does that work?”
I was surprised, especially since he’d called her sabrosa, that he didn’t make his question suggestive.
Erica explained, “Everyone gathers in a conference room and takes their pets to a bank of pre-reserved rooms for questioning. I can scan more pets at once because they’re lined up in a designated area.”
“A conference room as a waiting area, and a floor of reserved rooms? Is that all you need for your clinics?”
She nodded. “I can read a thousand pets in just a couple of hours…”
“I’ll contact my Sheriffs and have them coordinate those arrangements with Ivy this week… And what about the rumors that you can detect the moods of Vampires?”
“It’s not foolproof. I don’t guarantee my services as a lie detector… It helps if I meet the Vampire in a social setting so I can establish a baseline first. A formal banquet/fundraiser/reception usually does that. Then you can privately question whoever you want and I’ll probably be able to find what you’re looking for.”
“Even if you don’t guarantee the service, it’s still impressive… You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea.”
His fucking nostrils flared when he licked his lips. “That too… So have you pissed off enough Vampires that Were guards aren’t enough? I heard you had a Were with you.”
“I have my moments. My current guard is taking the night off.”
“What did you do to wear him out?”
So much for having fun in California.
“We had a lunch date. I don’t think he recovered as quickly as he hoped.”
She smirked at me when I chuckled because she probably meant he’d eaten too much to be productive for the rest of the workday.
Martín made a show of enjoying every fucking inch of her exposed legs. “Have you already chosen your next victim?”
“Long before you arrived, Majesty… Apparently, the early bird gets the worm in Shreveport.” When she cued another Vampire to step forward, she leaned towards him and explained, “As curious as you were while Mr. Cataliades was here, I’m assuming it was regarding my ability to read Dae. Full and semi-Dae are a mystery to me. Quarters are sketchy. Anything else might as well be Human.”
He grinned and offered a grateful nod. “Most appreciated, Miss Weiss.”
Once he was gone, Gawain whispered, “Or he was being nosy about the details of the Arabic conversation.”
Erica smirked and scribbled on a fresh piece of paper, “HRM made him paranoid by mentioning telepathy/Vampires. ‘Guessing wrong’ made it all better.”
Gawain shook his head as he read it and then showed it to Martín.
HRM laughed, “Damn, you can play the game, can’t you!”
“I try… Hebe’s under the impression that she won’t be leaving with you, Majesty.”
“You said you needed a live-in. She packed to stay, and she was given a clothing bonus to cover cool weather attire.”
“That’s very generous of you, Majesty, but when I asked for a tutor, I meant for them to teach me while I’m in Pacifico. I didn’t intend for anyone to completely relocate.”
Hebe started, “I don’t mind. Louisiana sounds nice.”
Sookie caught her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment before countering, “Majesty, I won’t be in Louisiana for the next few weeks… and since you’ve given me a tutor-guard rather than a tutor-maid, it might make more sense for her to return to Los Angeles with you, and meet me in Shreveport in a few weeks. February first? She’ll fit into my identity better as part of the chorus line than as a starring role.”
Martín shrugged because he didn’t give a fuck, but Hebe asked, “I won’t be offended if you have another reason… If you prefer a male guard…”
Erica shook her head. “I don’t have a single complaint other than the timing. Infiltrating the Fellowship…” the Vampires in Fangtasia gasped like children watching a magician pull rabbits from a top hat. “…includes some delicate framework. I think having you as part of my entourage from the beginning will make my husband seem like a player, but if ‘his cousin comes to visit’ once we’ve established ourselves, it’ll help the family image we want to convey.”
Their common Greek names, tall statures and black hair would only add to that. I doubted anyone would ask questions… If it weren’t for their mismatched accents, they could pull off siblings.
Hebe grinned as she nodded. “I like it. It sounds like more fun than pacing a balcony. A nice break in routine.”
Martín scoffed, “Husband? Tyson finally won, didn’t he?”
Nevermind that Erica was handing interrogation results to yet another Vampire even though she should have been distracted by who knows how many conversations, and that Martín was pouting as though a wedding ring ever stopped him before… Why the fuck did Tyson have to come up again?
It was beginning to feel like a grand conspiracy to rub my nose in the fact that I had my own fucking barbarians at the gate.
And was there a periodical of some sort? A Supernatural Inquirer that printed all of the good gossip? He’d heard about ‘the new power couple’ in fucking California. Zhang abhorred personal gossip and Mee didn’t like her own brother enough to call him to spread rumors.
And why the fuck would Tyson be in Louisiana trying to infiltrate the Fellowship of the Sun anyway? Because his two-thousand-year old Irish ass would blend into sunrise services in the deep south?
Erica snickered, “Does it matter who my husband is?”
Martín nodded. “There’s a short list of those I wouldn’t challenge. Unfortunately, Tyson is on it.”
All I could do was hope I was on that list too, even if it meant being added to his shit list.
Erica glanced at me before she sighed, “I think it’s a good idea for King Tyson to be listed as a method of suicide… I certainly wouldn’t cross him.”
Martín growled quietly and leaned back in his chair, clearly unhappy with Erica’s evasion. “No. Not Tyson. If he’d married you, he would have been on all the major networks declaring his victory.”
“No Majesty. Not Tyson…” She motioned for another pair of Vampires to approach and while she handed their instructions to them, Martín left his seat to bury his nose against her neck.
I would have worried if Gawain didn’t grab his arm and fling him back to his seat. Martín completely ignored Gawain’s warning for him to retract his fangs because his eyes were shifting back and forth between me and Erica…
Because, of the Vampire blood she’d been given, Mine had been the most recent. Even if it was in the braid, she still smelled like me…
He breathed, “Nooooooo,” and most of my thralls leaned forward.
I quickly decided to take him through the back door and explain before he could say anything that could risk Sookie’s life… We’d been friends since we were newborns together, and I owed him that much… but Gawain beat me to it. Of course, I would have taken Martín‘s arm, but Gawain grabbed enough of his shirt that I was sure one of his clamps was included, but at least I wouldn’t need to worry about any leaks.
As soon as the door to my office closed behind them, Ivy started, “I apologize, Miss Weiss, Sheriff Northman. King Martín isn’t usually soooo…”
Forward? Yes, he was.
But he wasn’t usually so excitable.
Erica waved her hand dismissively and offered, “No apology necessary. I have this effect on people. My ability is a curiosity, and it makes most people think of me as a treasure chest of secrets instead of just a who’s who of gold-digging Human slag.”
Ivy argued, “But your ability is notable, invaluable even.”
Erica nodded. “I’m aware of that. I’ve sent four Vampires home tonight with the news that they’ve been betrayed by someone they trust, and two more were sent away knowing they’re completely justified in the potential they found…” Erica handed over another set of results, and continued, “Make that three pets with potential… Unfortunately, the unpleasant usually outweighs the beauty, so my favorite part of my job is taking what I learn in one area and using it to solve a problem in another.”
“Might I ask for an example?”
“My contract in Iberia started just a couple of weeks after the Revelation. I’d already been scanning day-guys and personal assistants on a smaller scale, like this, but Rodrigo had the idea to take advantage of my ability to help establish a bank of reliable employees for future use. An employment agency for Vampire employers… He also had me hire a hospitality agent for each of his districts. Basically, those guys are welcome wagons who have lists of real estate, bonded contractors, feeding lounges… All of my employers since then have had me do the same thing, and the envoys have networked together. Now, say you’re in Madrid, and you plan to move to Melbourne, the telepathically verified agents can make sure you have a secure resting place and a list of acceptable feeding venues waiting for you.”
Ivy’s eyes had widened substantially. “I’m quite sure Martín will be interested in the same services. Pacifico has eighteen Areas. Hospitality agents within the Kingdom would be beneficial.”
Only a fool would ignore that service.
Erica nodded while she scribbled, “I’m sure… and they can network together with everyone because by then I’ll have gone back to screen applicants for the Kingdoms I worked for before Rodrigo had his idea. I’m hoping to manage that slowly over the next few months, a few days at a time. Call it maintenance…”
Fuck. That meant she’d go back to London.
While Ivy removed a pen and pad from her purse to make notes in Martín’s absence, Erica handed out three pages of screening results, and actually relaxed back against her seat when she watched the bouncer come inside and sit at the end of the bar because no one was left on queue.
She sighed, “A light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hebe asked, “How many so far?”
“I’ve been here for over an hour. I’d say a hundred…”
Simza corrected, “One hundred twenty-three Vampires. Two hundred nine pets. Tomorrow will be double. There are currently seven pets being scanned.”
All while Sookie was carrying on a conversation, writing results, and most likely monitoring the moods in my office.
I wasn’t the only one impressed. Hearing what Erica was juggling made her family nearly drown in their drinks.
Hebe asked, “Are you a slow typist?”
“Computers require printers and to be honest, these ladies and gents might feel less trusting if it seemed like I was saving notes on their personal lives. They’re watching the process. They can see I’m giving the only copy of the results to the Master in question. I’m using a fountain pen on Bristol paper, so I’m not bearing down and giving away an imprint of their particulars to the next Vampire in line either… and several of them felt impressed just now… A- I’m not new at this. B- You’re welcome. You have no idea how many of my bags fountain pens have ruined.”
Several of the Vampires in the front of the gallery chuckled, but one of them, Bernice, suggested Erica was lucky she hadn’t lost an entire trunk of clothing to a spilled inkwell. Bernice was thanked for that dose of perspective by being the next customer.
Gawain and Martín had just emerged from my office (both of them hiding the results of their conversation behind stoic façades) and they’d barely returned to their original positions when Mr. Cataliades returned… and he’d brought friends.