Before I could try to calm either of us, Sookie shut down. Completely. It was as though I felt a steel door crash down between us.
All I could do was hope she’d understand that there couldn’t be anything in that prenup that would’ve made it the least bit tempting.
I hadn’t wanted to be Sheriff, but it was the only way I’d found to stay in the loop. Existing privately had caused more than a few surprises, not to mention insufferable boredom.
I hadn’t wanted to let Sookie read minds for hire, but it seemed like the only way to keep her safe. Keeping her to myself would have meant having others trying to steal her from me. The body count could have been problematic.
I sure as fuck didn’t want to be King or more likely, King Consort, but I’d have been shocked if my ownership of Sookie would withstand negotiations.
As Sheriff, I could walk away when my contract expired. It wasn’t a post that could be considered indefinite. Lieutenant and King weren’t something that I could just abandon. I’d be anchored to Louisiana forever.
“You need to get that out of my sight before you need to have it surgically removed from your ass.”
“That’s right, SHERIFF. Not Lieutenant. Sophie-Ann seems to have forgotten that I’m no one’s bitch. It seems to have escaped her that since I’m in Texas, I can swear fealty to King Milne with a phone call.” I’d only lose a few houses, a few cars… nothing that couldn’t be replaced. I had everything with me that mattered. Sookie and Pam.
Cataliades nodded and stared at the document that shook in his hand. “As Lieutenant, she’s offering you a raise and the option to appoint a Deputy Sheriff. The title, she feels, is the important factor.”
“I’m sure she does. Important enough to threaten to marry me.”
“Andre Cuif would remain the Lieutenant to the throne. You’d have full honors and duties as Regent and…”
“We’d rule Louisiana from opposite ends of the state like Rooks on a Chess board, yes?”
“She used the term ‘book ends’.”
“Of course she did. Of course, she assumed that I’d be elated to be a prospect. She assumed I’d accept either position eagerly because I’d be too brainless to see how fucking retarded this bullshit maneuver really is. She’s gone mad!”
“I’m sure she’s weighed the pros and cons…”
“I’m sure she has too. I’m positive that she’s weighed them, and then completely underestimated her opponent’s intelligence and guile… which, I want to point out is why she needed Sookie’s services to begin with…”
“She prefers that you accept her proposal. She said that you’d understand why.” The plan to bait Nevada and Arkansas to Louisiana with a wedding ceremony was the only thing that came to mind, but by lining up the marriage between her and Threadgill, she’d have done that… It was a conversation that could’ve been handled over the phone and had she done that, had the decency to call and invite me to take part in the farce, I probably could’ve been convinced. No. Something else was up her jeweled sleeve.
“Get out. Leave the contracts and get out… Alcide, please show Mr. Cataliades to one of our vacant rooms.”
My attention had been on Mr. Cataliades’s meaty little handful of trite political mockery. Egotism was dangerous to advertise and promoting me was the political equivalent of stacking her deck.
I hadn’t even spared a look in Pam’s direction, but watching the chubby lawyer leave had put her in my line of sight. Her mouth was hanging open. “Eric?”
“Give me something brilliant or stay quiet.”
“Sorry.” She bit her lip and dropped her chin. She knew there wasn’t a single brilliant solution to be had.
It didn’t keep Jason from trying to ‘help’ though. “Why don’t you just take the Lieutenant gig?”
“Because it’s the equivalent of painting a target on my chest and walking back into the church. Have you ever played Monopoly?”
“Yeah… Gran used to kick our asses.”
“It’s every man for himself until someone gets that one monopoly and starts putting up hotels, yes? Then what happens?”
“Then the other players start schemin’ and tradin’ so they can get their own to keep up… ohhhhh. Shit.”
“Precisely.” The entire situation boiled down to ‘shit’.
“She seems pretty smart though. Why is… How does that…?”
“I’m overqualified as a sheriff. If she weren’t in the ‘pickle’ she’s in, then it would make sense to promote me. As it stands, placing me in the Lieutenant position is like having hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. It makes her look so powerful that it would become a sport to take down her entire power structure. Nevada and Arkansas would redouble their efforts and her allies would begin questioning their dealings with her.”
He snorted, “Then you should just marry Sookie and move to Texas.”
“Acts of treason aside, marrying your sister isn’t an option. Not only would it not help, it’s not legal.”
“Lieutenant?” Wybert and his brother, rather their secrecy, were annoying enough… Being called Lieutenant made my skin crawl.
“You’re pressing your luck.”
“What? You aren’t pushing for the marriage?”
“That’s what she wants.”
“That’s just wonderful. Even you two know how foolish this is!”
“Not our place.”
“It’s not really your place to suggest how I handle it either.”
“If you refuse…” Oh, fuck me!
“If I refuse, then you’ll be ordered to end me and take Sookie.” If that wasn’t why they were sent in the first place. I could easily better one of them, but there was a reason Sophie-Ann had kept them by her side instead of releasing them. Both of them as opponents wouldn’t make up for luck being on my side. Only one of us would walk away, and the victor would take a long while to heal.
Wybert nodded. “Ist probable…”
Siegbert finished, “Do not want.”
I took Hunter out of my lap and placed him on the sofa so that I could grab the fucking documents and look them over.
Every word of the contracts seemed to be honorable, maybe even too generous. Both included clauses for my invariable ownership of Sookie and absolute reign over her use.
They both included an outline giving me sovereignty over all areas north of Area 3… but it was worded vaguely.
“She’s giving Arkansas to me?” While she sits back and has nearly nothing to do because Cleo and Salome are as self sufficient as I am. Meanwhile, I’m stuck with Gervaise and all of his ineptitude. The Vampires of Monroe had been coming to me since he’d taken over.
Wybert nodded. “Spoils.”
“Except the surviving Arkansas Vampires will come after me. Both of my options leave me looking for Sheriffs. I think I have enough to do.”
“Queen has list.”
“Of course she does. Why wouldn’t she have a list of suitable Vampires to serve as sheriffs over a territory she hasn’t acquired yet? Does she know something? Information from one of the ‘crossings’?”
Siegbert nodded. “Some. Threadgill ist threat. Always.”
“Not that you would keep it from her, but I want you both to tell her how unhappy I am…” I snapped the first pen I tried to use and had to wait for a second one. Hunter smiled as he held out the one intended for his Atlas hobby… that it belonged to Hunter was probably the only reason that pen hadn’t met the same fate as the first. I tossed the signed contract to the Berts and ripped the prenup into shreds. “If she tries to play any games with Sookie’s title, I. Will. Be. A. Threat. To. Her. Make sure you tell her that in every fucking language you know. Take that to Cataliades and let him know that Pam is to serve as my Deputy.”
“Fuck you. Of course we’ll be able to muddle through, but it would be less problematic for her to not have pulled this shit at all… and you know it.”
“Trust is rare. Ist great honor. You should forgive.”
“Eventually. She should have just called me though. She may very well trust me, but this doesn’t exactly bode well.”
“Thank me? What the fuck are you thanking me for?”
“Not want to end you und Pam. Not want to take Sookie. We like you.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m happy that you’re happy. Tell Mr. Cataliades that we’ll be going downstairs in half an hour.”
They nodded and both of those Saxon assholes called me Lieutenant as they left the room.
Pam wanted to say something about not wanting to be Deputy Sheriff of Area 5, but she knew better. She was already serving in that capacity unofficially and she couldn’t possibly have more complaints than I did.
Jason had the astounding idea to take Hunter to his room and towed Pam with him… leaving me alone with Sookie.
She stared at me blankly until I lifted her to take her place and set her in my lap. “I need you to keep me from taking my chances with the Berts.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Neither is how quickly you locked me out.”
“I wasn’t… I… You didn’t need my feelings to interfere and Hunter didn’t need to hear what I was thinking.”
“What were you thinking?”
“Why didn’t you just accept the proposal? Same end result. Cooler title.” That didn’t answer my question.
“If anyone is going to talk me into marriage, it would be you.” Her chin trembled. I hadn’t meant to sound like I’d have been willing to marry anyone. Ever. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. All I could do was keep talking. “I’m not going to marry for a title like some gold digger. I am who I am because I’ve earned it.”
She nodded and cleared her throat. It was already too late. “But if something happens to her…” I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that she was trying to ignore the implications of what I’d said.
“Then I’m stuck with a state I don’t want.”
“This is crazy… Is it because of me?”
“I don’t think it is entirely. You are certainly part of the scenario though. She’s scared enough to not be thinking rationally. I’m just going to hope that I’m wrong.”
“So you’re her new firewall.” She slumped against my chest. “It would be smarter… smarter to hurt me to get to you.”
“It would be… try to not think about it though. I need to read the journal again, look through the possibilities.”
“How is that going to help? Their Sophie-Ann only ran into our Sophie-Ann twice that we know of.”
“And there’s no way of knowing what this…” I was interrupted by my phone.
I wouldn’t have needed to look at the caller ID… The Berts and Mr. Cataliades had both had time to give her the ‘good news’.
I was tempted to ignore it. She had to have been told how pissed I was. She was no stranger to tantrums thanks to Hadley… I might’ve been able to get away with it.
Sookie tried to leave my lap when I shifted to pull out my cell, but I held her still. She really was the only thing keeping me from killing someone… Much like Hunter had been before I put him on the sofa.
“Lieutenant. Why did you not accept my proposal of marriage? I hear I’m quite the catch.”
“I don’t want to be your King. As Lieutenant, I wish you a very long fucking life.”
“You should be more grateful.”
In the immortal words of Pam, “Whatever.”
“You’re being insolent.”
“If you don’t like it, fire me.”
The bitch had the gall to laugh. “That’s what I love about you, Northman. You’re the most honest Vampire I’ve ever met.”
“You can’t be so angry. Your new title allows you to keep your pet safe, it brings with it the ability to call to arms every Vampire in Louisiana.”
“I had that before since she has royal protection. Do you think I’m dumb enough for that to pacify me? Now that your aristocracy is the oldest in the states and owns the only known telepaths, you may very well have signed all of our final death warrants.”
“Or I solidified our standing. Time will tell, of course.”
“You are too naïve at your age. Were you retarded as a human?” Sookie’s eyes widened and she put both hands over her mouth to muffle her shocked gasp. Sophie-Ann had picked the wrong time to contact me if she wanted manners.
“We both know that Andre is the only way you’ve kept your head all this time. What did he have to say about your little ploy?”
“Do you want me to tell you that you agree with him?”
“Tactically, I usually agree with him. I know for fact that he didn’t approve of the marriage to Arkansas…”
“Because he’s covetous of me…”
“And because it was a greed driven move on your part since you’d be able to boast that you were the Queen of two states. A vainglorious move when you consider that the effort put us all at risk. I’m sure that he has suggested ending Hadley as well…”
“Because he doesn’t approve of my coddling her.”
“He’s right. She needs a month of lashings, not house arrest with access to outsiders. Look at the trouble she’s caused this week alone. She can’t be worth the continued ‘crossings’.”
“How would you react if someone suggested that you end your own child?”
“If Pam brought the shame to me that Hadley brings to you, no one would have the fucking chance. Then again, it seems like I’m a bit more selective when it comes to being a maker. The Berts were the most recent of your sane selections on that front.”
“Your new position doesn’t give you license to judge my every move.”
“Actually, it does. In the interest of your Queendom and my own neck, I suggest you end that little twat before she has a tantrum that pushes her to betray us all.” Sookie frowned, but offered a sad nod. Even Sookie understood the reasoning.
She crooned tauntingly, “What would your pet say if she heard you suggest such an approach?”
“Would you like to ask her yourself? She’s right here. I’m more interested in Andre’s thoughts on my suggestion.”
“You’d discuss state business in the presence of a human?”
“One that I own, am bonded to, intend to turn and is already contracted to you with a nondisclosure stipulation? Yes. One that has dedicated most of her time to helping you keep your head? Yes. One that seems to think of your safety and standing more often than you do? Yes. You’re hardly in a position to worry about how I handle my pets. Your child is fanatical enough to have plotted to kill the defenseless child that she bore herself, yet you seem to be so daft as to think she wouldn’t direct her inclination for disloyalty at you. Andre, you know I’m right.”
From a distance, Andre offered, “It isn’t our place.” Not that it was a shock, but I suddenly realized that her children most likely heard that a lot more often than Pam.
“While allowing Hadley to continue could risk us all, it most certainly is. You don’t even have the luxury of watching her until she dies since she doesn’t die for the day. What couldn’t she do while you’re dead?”
“Can you trust…?”
“I’m going to cut you off right there. Not only can I trust Sookie to behave during the day, but I can trust Sookie to see to my safety when I’m dead. You can’t say the same; you were just hoping that I suffered the problem of an uncontrollable pet. Your Lieutenant and your future King agree that something needs to be done with Hadley. She’s a liability.”
“I’m not in the habit of taking advice…”
“Perhaps you should get in the habit of taking advice… at least from those whom you claim to trust.”
“What are Sookie’s feelings about having her cousin ended?”
I nodded towards Sookie as her cue to answer. She was already biting her lip. “Um… I don’t want any parts of it. She’s my blood, no matter how horrible she’s been, but… She… I think you should consider how much you really trust her. She could bring you down too easily. She’s bitter that…”
“I think I’d know if she were bitter, thank you…”
“All due respect Majesty, Hadley made a remark that worries me. Eric made the joke that he couldn’t read her mind and she said ‘at least someone can’t’… Ma’am, I kind of think that if she’s willing to kill Hunter, her own son, she could have an axe to grind over your partial telepathy. She could’ve made friends in Arkansas. If she can call to harass me, then she could be waiting for you to die and then call someone in Little Rock to leak information about your plans for securing…”
Andre interrupted Sookie by barking at his maker, “Even the human sees that! I told you! Just because Sookie is a model pet doesn’t mean you can have false hope for…” The sudden silence after his outburst made Sookie cringe.
Sophie-Ann’s stillness was strained at best. She was either using her connection to Andre to tell him to shut the fuck up or she was quietly kicking her own ass for being so dense. I wasn’t ‘holding my breath’ for the latter. “As my Lieutenant…”
“All due respect, your Majesty, you should’ve waited for me to calm down before calling. As your Lieutenant, I will loyally carry out my duties, but make no mistake… your new Lieutenant has every intention of telling you how idiotic you can be because I have no desire to inherit your territory.”
“Really. Your admirers and children have let you get almost as out of control as Hadley. No one tells you ‘no’ anymore. You’re too old to be so petulant. You are over a thousand years old and you’ve turned a blind eye to how much work it is to keep you safe. Andre, rankling and humorless as he is, needs a vacation from protecting you from yourself. You ARE NOT my maker and I’m taking this opportunity to point out that I can and will ignore any order that could result in putting me, my child and my property at risk. I’ve kept myself alive without the aid of Andre’s paranoid nature. You, Majesty, would be wise to start taking his advice to heart. Your own children find folly in appointing me as your Lieutenant. Now that I’m stuck with the position, you’ll tire quickly of my ‘honesty’ because you’ll no longer benefit from my subordinate silence.”
“Northman, I’m not amused. I’m negating the offer of a promotion. We’ll be married next week.” Sookie’s eyes misted over and her throat seized.
“You’re overplaying your hand, Sophie-Ann. As King, I’ll certainly make changes to your rule. You’re far better off having me as a disagreeable second in command… listen to me. For your own safety, for your children’s safety, do something about Hadley. Jail her if you don’t have the nerve to end her… And stop playing political games. We are all sitting in a fragile position at the moment. We can’t afford to tap dance on thin ice.”
“Honestly. What became of Waldo when we told you what he had in store for Hadley?”
“I sent him to France on assignment. He thinks he’s looking for the ruins of my human home.” At least he wasn’t close enough to do any immediate damage.
“Knowing that one of your children was a danger to the other made you separate them. Sophie-Ann, one of your children is a danger to everything you’ve built including your existence. Oblivion isn’t going to serve you well in this case. I can trust my only child with anything. The same can be said of my only pet. You need to tighten your circle of trust. Hadley is a wild card. We can’t afford that right now.”
“I can’t kill her. I love her.” She actually sounded… weepy.
“I’m sure you do. Perhaps Andre can help you think of a way to take her out of the equation for now…”
“You don’t have a snarky suggestion for me?”
“I’ve already told you, I’d have ended her by now.”
“You’re a cruel bastard. What’s done is done. I won’t kill her.”
“You already knew what I am. It’s why you gave me the post of Sheriff in the first place.”
“You’re only angry because I refuse to let you continue being an under-achiever.”
“Right. You keep telling yourself that. I’m hanging up now. I have shit to do.”
“You dare hang up on…”
I managed to smile as I pressed the button to end the call.
Sookie giggled, “You probably shouldn’t have done that.”
“She probably shouldn’t have sent Cataliades to me with a marriage proposal.”
She snorted. “How long have you known her? Did you really think she could resist your sexiness forever?”
“Jokes, Sookie? Really?”
“Ummmm, your fault. You managed to get me to admit that my cousin needs to die… again while you were having a pissing match with the Queen… pardon me for tossing a joke out there while I work through all that.” And I suggested marrying her. While it seemed like I was going to escape talking about whatever notions the passing mention put into her head, it was only going to be a matter of time before the subject came up again.
“You could’ve lied, disagreed, offered an alternative.”
She thought about that for a moment before shaking her head calmly. “I can’t think of anything the Queen would be willing to do. One of Pam’s boxes would be good. Gran always called her a ‘whoopin’ waiting to happen’.”
“She’s too closely bonded to her children to do that to herself. Corporal punishment isn’t an option.”
She shrugged. “I figured. You’ve settled down now that you vented. Let’s get this show on the road. Poor Mr. C is worried that you want to kill the messenger.”
“Are you hearing his thoughts?”
She slowly started sliding off of my lap with my hand in hers. “No, but he feels like I did when I was running for my life from Rene.”
“Are you sure you’re up to the horde?”
She closed her eyes and again, it felt as though she was drifting away as her focus stretched out. “They’re already flocking. C’mon. I want to get ahead of it.”
I actually had to tell Mr. Cataliades that he wasn’t the reason I was pissed off for him to relax at all.
As soon as the elevator doors slid shut behind our ever-growing entourage, I turned to the Berts. “You leave at first dark tomorrow.”
“Orders. Stay with Sookie.”
“I’m changing those orders. I want you two to be guarding the Queen. She needs to live FOREVER.”
They both chuckled. “We call. Confirm.” I didn’t expect any differently. I’d bet a limb that they’d be ordered to remain with us too.
“So how did you two assholes suddenly pick up English?”
I looked over my other shoulder to the wolf I’d have completely disregarded if it weren’t for Sookie’s need for a guard. “How did you manage that?”
He shrugged like teaching those dolts how to translate themselves was a small thing. “I told them to stop talking to each other in Saxon… the Queen usually communicates with them in French but since they’ve been spending so much time with us… I figured it was worth a try. It was all I could think of. My French is worse than their English… the next step was to make everything look like The Color Purple.”
Sookie giggled, but the rest of us had no fucking clue… I actually pictured everything with a purple tinge before I thought to ask. “Purple?”
“Not the color, the movie. The Color Purple. Lucky bastard… I guess you never got dragged to that one… One sister was trying to teach the other one how to read… so they pinned notes to everything.” It made enough sense that I gave a nod.
Hunter tugged the cuff of my jacket. “Ummm… could you pick me up? I’m sick of looking at butts.”
When I lifted him, his atlas was sandwiched between us. “Did you ‘collect’ Pam yet?”
“And the Berts?”
He nodded again. “Uncle Wybert said he’d give me a dinosaur when I find a Vampire from Monaco because it’s a tiny country.”
As the Berts asked, “Uncle?”, Sookie gulped and asked, “Dinosaur?”
All I could do was chuckle because I knew what both of them meant.
Hunter leaned to look over my shoulder at his ‘uncle’. “Makers are like parents. You and my mother have the same maker. So you’re her vampire brothers… my Uncles.”
When they didn’t reply right away, I risked a look. Both of them were slack jawed. Sookie brought them out of their stupor by snapping her fingers. “Guys? A Dinosaur?”
Siegbert nodded slowly. “Ja… Iguana. Vegetarian. Clean. Good pet.” They’d been keeping them for as long as I’d known them.
Hunter agreed with a wide grin. “They’re like little dinosaurs.”
Sookie sighed, “Oh thank God… I thought y’all had struck a deal over a Caiman or a Monitor or something else huge and carnivorous.”
Hunter rolled his eyes at her as the elevator doors opened. “What difference does it make? My atlas says Monaco is smaller than Central Park.”
“Well, population-wise, it’s probably bigger than Bon Temps. I know of two vampires from there.” Two and counting…
She took my hand as we stepped into the unusually active lobby and spelled, ‘I H E A R D T H A T’ into my palm.
I replied, “G O O D”.
She smirked and took her time drawing a heart.
As we were noticed, traffic came to a full stop. Ogling and gaping… Vampire of all ages embarrassed themselves by being so impressed by a human.
Everything came to a screeching halt except for the argument between hotel management and Quinn. He was yelling that he didn’t care what his neighbors said they’d heard, he didn’t have any cats in his room. Of course management didn’t believe him thanks to the wall of Friskies cans against his door… And they called him ‘Mr. Clean’.
Stan Davis was standing at the entrance to the conference room and gave a deep nod as we approached. “I hope you find the arrangements to your liking, Sheriff.”
Siegbert corrected, “Lieutenant.”
I ignored the startled look on Davis’s face. “I’m sure Alcide made sure that everything will run as smoothly as possible.”
“One can hope. I’ve seen or heard from every Vampire in my area… and then some. I’ve told them that there might be a need to wait until tomorrow given my limited understanding of Miss Stackhouse’s ability. I’m not sure how quickly she tires. There are more than 400 humans expected.” Fuck.
When I looked to Sookie because of her sudden irritation, her eyes were closed. “Perhaps we should see the ones who have further to go first to allow them time to return…”
She shook her head slightly as she opened her eyes and faked a smile. “I should do just fine… the… I think maybe we should try to cause a reaction…”
“Well, I can tell you for a fact that whenever Newlin came on the news when I was waiting tables, it really got folks going, but… I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who wouldn’t want to listen to anything he has to say…”
From behind us, Pam offered dryly, “Amen… maybe a simple glamour would help. If we have the vampires start glamouring their pets to think someone is Newlin…”
Sookie nodded happily. “That would work well enough to help do some weeding, but who…?”
Alcide cut her off with a loud whistle that echoed through the lobby and my skull. “QUINN. NOW. Time to earn your vittles.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle, “Purrrrrfect.” The Berts repositioned as Alcide left our group to take the Newlin decoy into the conference room. “Ferrell is continuing to improve, I assume.”
Stan nodded. “He is. He wants to thank Miss Stackhouse in person. He’s quite aware of the fate she spared him from.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged.”
“I’d like to make arrangements for a Welcome Home party. How long do you intend to stay in my area?”
“If Sookie is confident of her progress tonight, then we’ll see to some personal business tomorrow evening and take our leave Tuesday. I’ve been neglecting my area and Sookie’s services are still being pursued by other areas.”
“Do you think then that your personal business would allow for a visit to my nest?” Knowing that the ‘business’ I’d meant was testing her theory on asylums, Sookie’s positivity answered my curiosity as to whether or not she’d done any research.
“We’ll let you know, but we should have the time. If nothing else, Sookie will want to see Ferrell before we leave.”
“Mr. Sheriff Stan, are you from Monaco?” The Berts and I chuckled at Hunter’s new goal as Sookie discussed her strategy with Jason and Alcide.
Stan shook his head. “Poland.”
“My hobby is collecting Vampires. Will you sign my atlas?”
“You collect Vampires?”
He nodded excitedly. “I get an iguana if I find one from Monaco, but Pam said she’d build me a treehouse bed when I get one from all 50 states and have a party if I get 150 countries. I don’t have a Vampire from Poland yet.”
He was amused, to say the least, as he reached for the atlas and followed Hunter’s instructions as to how to log his entry. “Would you like to ask the other Vampires of my area while we wait to get started?”
Hunter gave me another very excited look to ask if he’d be allowed. “Will you be able to focus in such a crowded room? There are nearly 100 humans here.”
He shrugged. “Probably.”
I set him down and stepped back. He seemed to be testing himself for a moment before he nodded. “Alright. Mind your manners. Don’t be pushy.”
“Bossy, like Sookie. If they decline, respect that.”
He giggled as he turned around and headed directly for the front row of waiting clients. “I promise.”
I took a seat and watched him…
While Sookie decided how to handle the onslaught of pets, Hunter was delighted to interview Vampire after Vampire about their origins. He found a woman who’d been born in India to English missionaries and gasped to hear that one man had been born in the middle of the Atlantic when his mother was emigrating from Austria on a French ship. He didn’t know which country to count for the Vampires. It was the Austrian who suggested that he count them for both once he heard Hunter’s prize goals.
Israel, Germany, France, Iceland, Mexico… 6 different states…
None of them gave the tiniest of hints that they were put out by his request. In fact, most of them were stunned by being approached by a fearless child and became amused with his eager questions…
He was nearly done with the third row of seats when Barry entered the room pushing a room service cart. Dinner for Jason and Hunter… Red Bulls on ice and a fruit plate for Sookie.
The better part of the room watched Hunter scurry to our seating area and climb into my lap, instead of the empty seat next to me, and pull his plate over.
Sookie leaned back in her seat and picked from her platter while she scanned the growing audience.
“Shouldn’t you eat something more substantial?”
Sookie leaned over to explain, her whisper smelling of nectarine, “Everyone is staring at me. Creepy… I’ll pick for now and then take a sandwich back to our room. I’ll be fine; I had a big lunch.”
“I forgot to ask you; how did your lunch go?” Hunter might’ve had a different perspective.
“It went well. I think I might almost have him.” She winked in Barry’s direction, making the boy blush.
“What seems to be his hesitation?”
“He’s worried that he isn’t as talented?” Answering for her, Hunter nodded while he fought to eat an onion ring without pulling the onion out of the breading.
“Stan?” Barry visibly tensed.
“Yes Lieutenant? Are we ready to proceed?”
“I believe so, but out of curiosity, since you mentioned a desire for your own telepath…”
“Yes?” He was comically eager, maybe as excited as Hunter was about his atlas.
“Do you have a preference as to how practiced it is? Would you like to be notified of the first one found or would you prefer to hold out for a certain level of talent?”
“I’m not sure I understand. A telepath is a telepath. Isn’t saying they’re capable in degrees like the saying ‘a little bit pregnant’?”
Hunter cackled, “No!” and then slapped his hands over his mouth, mumbling an apology.
I chuckled at his outburst. “I think what Hunter was trying to say is that while pregnant is pregnant, there is a difference between a new embryo and crowning… While some telepaths are only just learning, Sookie can differentiate between different breeds, distinguish Vampires’ ages within a decade or two, read Weres and search out specific minds once she’s become familiar with them. In fact, while we were in Baton Rouge, she found a specific vampire 12 floors away in the Seven Veils and just last night, she found Quinn’s mind 8 floors away.”
“She’s that accurate?”
I nodded, but before I could answer, Sookie cleared her throat. “Isabel is here.” He shook his head, clearly surprised. “She’s on her way through the lobby, Hugo in tow.”
“You know it’s her based on Hugo’s company?”
“No. I know it’s her because Vampires’ thoughts have, for a lack of a better word, a signature. She’s with another Vampire. He’s a tall, thin man with dark hair and light blue eyes. He wasn’t with us last night. He’s about 300 years old…”
“How do you know what the other Vampire looks like?”
“Because Hugo is terrified of him.”
“Could you always do that?”
“No sir. I spent most of my life pushing back my telepathy. It wasn’t until I started practicing that I could do much more than improve my tips with it.”
“How long have you been practicing?”
“Not long… I’ve only been practicing hardcore for a couple of weeks.”
Sookie tilted her head. “Pardon?”
“The original question, about my preference. I’ll take my chances with the first one you find. I can be patient and wait for the ability to improve. Given the climate in my area, I can’t afford to be picky.”
Sookie was quiet for a moment before she smiled brightly. “Then we should get things rolling so that I can introduce you to a friend of mine.”
“A friend? You’ve already found another?”
“Yes sir. He’s young and unskilled, about as strong as I was before I started waiting tables, but he’s eager to learn. With some patience, I’m sure the two of you could help each other out in a big way.”
“What is the finder’s fee?”
“Fifty thousand…” The finder’s fee I was paid for Sookie was steeper, but not only was she signing with a Queen, she was far more talented.
Sookie quickly added, “And 10 days.” I wanted to kiss her. That was an excellent addition.
“Since you’ll be putting your shiny new telepath under contract, you’ll include that you’ll make him available to the state of Louisiana for 10 days should the need arise.”
“Why would you need to borrow my telepath?”
That was my cue. “Why would you need to borrow mine?”
He grinned towards the door as Isabel, Hugo and their dark haired Vampire companion entered. “Fair enough.”
Jason proved his worth by leaving his seat just as Sookie started and put his head between mine and Stan’s… “Maybe y’all should start a list… you know, send it out to the other Sheriffs… maybe a website of humans y’all cain’t trust… like that sex offender registry.”
Stan’s eyebrows shot up, almost disappearing into his hairline. “Inspired. Lieutenant, I’ve been considering how to punish Isabel for bringing a spy into my nest… I think this would be fitting.”
“To have her catalogue each untrustworthy pet… Does she have the computer knowledge?”
“She does. You certainly have enough to do in your position. As Miss Stackhouse finds them, Isabel could add them to the database…”
Jason added, “And as they go from place to place, they can spread the word. I mean some of ‘em could just move to look for more victims. Y’all could email her if they got spotted in other areas. Shame y’all cain’t get away with branding the assholes.”
I chuckled at him. “The Scarlett Letter?”
He gave a confused look. “Someone wrote a letter?”
Stan and I had to stop laughing before I could thank Jason for his fleeting brilliance and send him back to his seat.
While Stan and I ‘passed notes’ outlining our joint venture Sookie played ‘catch and release’ and Pam stopped copying their IDs and started scanning them and tagging them according to transgression.
Accountants guilty of forgery… conniving pets stealing pocket money… embezzling day men…
Oddly, they were few and far between. Of the 200 humans originally in the room, there was only a small portion guilty of being ‘weasels’, as Sookie called them. Minor infractions that would result in the respective human’s glamouring and casting aside.
Sookie called several pets up at once to clear them in a group because all of them were having violently defensive thoughts about ‘Steve Newlin’ being behind her. “Folks, these pets are keepers. Everyone one of them wants to rip Newlin’s throat out just for making your lives difficult. Take care.” After a few more trivial offenses were taken care of, Sookie relieved another large batch of Vampires in the same manner, clearing more than 50 much needed seats. Several other Vampires had only been in attendance to swear that they kept no pets and handled their own finances… and after hearing what they did, weren’t planning on changing their practices anytime soon.
From time to time, Sookie had Alcide move a pet and its master to the front row, including Isabel and Hugo. Then some were moved to the back… as Sookie progressed, new arrivals filled the chasm in between.
By 1am, Sookie had sent 226 Vampires away knowing that they’d either been lucky enough to have trustworthy pets, or lucky enough to only have gold-digging ones.
We were left looking at 270 seated bodies and a gathering of 112 along the side and back walls.
Just as I was starting to wonder how the entire Dallas area had no drainers and dealers, Hunter looked up from his coloring book to whisper, “What’s V?”
Sookie sighed and told him that he was about to find out and leaned over to Jason. “Hey, Jas. Ready to get graded?”
He cringed and shrugged without speaking.
Sookie called the front 4 rows, plus the 6 on the fifth row… 29 Vampires and 37 pets came forward to sign their agreements or have their IDs scanned…
Sookie waved one pairing over to the side addressed the mass in front of us. “Unfortunately, I’m not giving y’all good news. The 28 of you are keeping drainers. Your blood is on the market now. Most of these humans know each other because they’re trading your blood back and forth to prevent a bond that would give them away obviously. I’m sorry.”
In spite of the instantaneous showing of 28 pairs of fangs, Sookie only felt shame and pity while the opportunistic fucks either tried to escape or deny the accusation.
Once that group had been cleared out of the room, Sookie called the next 5 rows forward and separated two pairs to have them stand with the other.
She snacked from her platter while 42 pets and 27 Vampires, including Isabel and Hugo, awaited to hear her opinion.
“Devoted. Every damn one of them. Sadly, they’re all devoted to the Fellowship instead of y’all…”
Jason grumbled to no one in particular, “Fucking hell… assholes… make me want to not be human.”
Sookie whispered, “I know, right?” and continued to address the group, “Most of these guys had a fangirl moment when they saw ‘Newlin’. Some of you already know about one of them being part of Ferrell’s captivity… He knows several of the others standing here right now…”
The reaction among that group was similar to the first.
There was a woman who called Sookie a ‘minion’ as she was dragged away… Sookie shook her head, trying to ignore how embarrassed she was to be human and leaned over to whisper, “Do you prefer being called Satan or Lucifer? Beelzebub?” My minion.
I chuckled into her ear, “I prefer it when you call me, ‘oh God, oh God’….”
She blushed, hiding her laughter against my shoulder.
Knowing our plans to use Newlin’s disciples to encourage him to be useful to Vampires, Alcide and the Berts ushered that group to one of the green rooms to explain that in the near future, their repugnant pets would, indeed, be serving a ‘higher’ purpose.
Finally, Sookie stood up to address the remaining curiosity in the room.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. Good news, bad news… the bad news is that all of your pets have an ulterior motive for being with you. The good news is that none of them have betrayed you. Most of them just want to be turned. Some of them just enjoy the materialistic perks like clothes and gifts, but honestly, that’s kind of like having a normal human relationship. There’s a few mixed into the group that are just rebelling against their upbringing or whatever. If you’re invested enough to want something specific, just line up… otherwise…”
Before she had the chance to finish, the Vampires nodded to her first, then their Sheriff… and cleared out fast enough for the breeze to turn the pages of Hunter’s coloring book. The only ones who stayed were the 3 that Sookie had stand to the side with their pets… but she released them too.
Sookie sat back down and scowled at the humans left behind. “Don’t y’all look at me like that. It’s not like any of y’all loved them. Hit bricks.”
We waited while the room emptied and suddenly, Sookie started cackling…. “Definitely.”
“What was that?”
She grinned as Hunter smiled to himself. “Hunter just added a lot of nasty names to his no-no list… pretty much…”
He finished for her. “I can’t say anything they just thought about Sookie.”
“He’s going to need another book to keep track of them all. So… I’m dying to know… How did Jason score?”
She cleared her throat and grinned at him… letting his tension build until he began squirming. “When you played ball… wasn’t your batting average like .740?”
He scowled. “It was .780. Dammit, you might have protection, but if you don’t spill, I’ma give ya a brother whoopin’.”
She laughed at the threat. “How about .891, brother? The only ones you were wrong about were in the group of ones that were just looking for a Sugar Daddy.” Impressive batting average.
“No fucking way.”
All of the verbal reactions to Jason’s ‘instincts’ overlapped… His response was, “Yer fucking with me.”
“I’m serious, Jason… and jealous as HELL! I’m filing a grievance with the abilities board. I want yours.”
“It ain’t like I can trade. Fuck! I ain’t even know I could do anything! What were the three I was wrong about doing?”
“One was already trolling for another Vampire to spoil him. One was just trying to make another Vampire jealous and one was on her fourth Vampire in an attempt to be turned… and the exes were in the room. They were all feeling guilty about things.”
His mouth hung open.
Pam patted his knee to try breaking his stupor. “Jason, I think you’re officially Intuitive.”
“What the hell is that!?”
“Right now, as it relates to you, it means you can pick assholes out of a crowd. You already established that you have a way of sensing different breeds of Supernaturals. With practice, you might be able to start sensing specific moods. Lord knows, Sookie’s gift has developed since she started stretching her legs.”
He folded his arms and sat back for a moment and eventually left the room without another word.
Sookie frowned as she told me that we’d talk about it later.
While we waited for the few stragglers that hadn’t checked in with Stan, Sookie finally had Barry bring a sandwich to her so that she could eat and shared her dinner break with Alcide and Cataliades, she told the Berts that their dinners from the night before had returned with hopes of a repeat and were waiting in the bar, found a suitable donor for Pam, and oohed and ahhhed with Hunter over his impressive ‘collection’ of Vampires.
Oh… and she asked Quinn to ‘be a dear’ and restack the chairs since they were no longer needed. ‘With sugar on top’. She had me release him for the night once the job was done… Alcide had been cut loose as well, but he opted to stay.
When Pam returned from her break, she handed an envelope to Barry. He opened it skeptically and a moment after he started reading, he shouted, “OH SHIT!”
Sookie giggled without looking back, “Something wrong, Barry?”
“If you don’t like…”
Stan was understandably suspicious… he didn’t say anything, but he did seem to watch Sookie more closely. Her face was a trap, letting nothing hint at her internal workings… I was the only one to get any hints at all.
And it was only the one… Even though she was comfortably at my side while she colored with Hunter, I could feel her presence behind me as though she was in both places. Not only could I locate her, I was starting to feel where her thoughts directed.
That was remarkable.
Barry finally set the envelope next to Sookie and pressed it into the table with a single finger… She sang, “Yes, he will,” and pushed the envelope over to Stan.
As soon as he opened the envelope and saw that he was looking at a contract for Barry, his fangs ran out making the boy jump.
Sookie giggled and grabbed his wrist, pulling him back. “It’s ok, kid… that’s not always a bad thing. Barry, meet Sheriff Stan Davis. Sheriff, Barry Horowitz, your new Telepath.”
Barry had the sense to nod instead of offer his hand. “Nice to meet you sir.”
“Speak when spoken to.”
The color drained from his face instantly. “Yes sir. I apologize.”
“I’ll have you posing as a pet while you practice. Once you’re more confident, your leash will get longer and eventually, you’ll be made public. It would be a shame to be coveted before you have your sea legs… You have a lot to learn about being around Supernaturals, yes?”
“Sookie and her guard gave me a few basics earlier today.”
“You’ll need more. Your tutor has little practice at being a pet. You’ll need to learn that role…” He’d flipped through the pages of the various contracts while he spoke and interrupted himself to pull a pen out of his pocket to sign them without negotiating the first clause and held the pen out to Barry.
He took it, but he hesitated. “I’m not sure I understand. Do vampires have different standards for pets in different areas?”
Stan started chuckling, “My boy… A pet is nothing. A pet is nothing more than a source of food and…” He looked down to remind himself that Hunter was only inches from him. “…well, food. Vampires have no more regard for the pet than you would for your refrigerator. What I meant was that Miss Stackhouse couldn’t possibly teach you how to be a pet since she is a peer. Peers get contracts. Pets get cell phones.”
“Why go to the trouble of learning to behave as a pet? To ease your mission of interloping. Eventually you’ll have to expose your ability, but while you’re still wet behind your ears, pretending to be my pet will give me the ability to keep tabs on my Vampires’ pets and them. I’m not telling anyone of your ability. Only Northman’s subjects and my King will know I have you for now.”
Barry nodded, obviously less troubled, and signed his contract with Stan and the pledge of 10 days of service to Louisiana, by way of me, the fucking Lieutenant. ‘Lieutenant Eric Northman, Auxiliary Regent to the Sovereignty of Louisiana’. Pam was going to pay for that.
They were still discussing particulars when we left to go back to our rooms…
As soon as the elevator doors sealed us into space, Sookie was startled by Mr. Cataliades’s sudden torrent of gratuitous complements that continued until we reached our floor. The corners of his mouth were still frighteningly close to his ears as he disappeared into his room, thanking us for allowing him to witness Sookie ‘in action’…
Her blush was so complete that her hands were warmer than usual.
As we passed the door to Pam’s room, Sookie let go of my hand to knock on the door. “Y’all go ahead. I need to talk to Jason. I’ll just be a minute.”
I wanted to wait for her, but there were calls to be made…
Hunter wasted no time, taking his atlas to his room to change for bed… and Pam wasted no time sitting on the sofa across from me to begin the staring she’d been wanting to do earlier…
I tossed my jacket to a chair and laid on the sofa, eyes closed so that I wouldn’t see the look on her face, but it wasn’t long before I could feel it anyway.
“Don’t you mean, Lieutenant?”
“How worried are we… really?”
“She’s been stupid consistently since 1722… I think that her pride is either going to come to a head soon, or never.”
“Were you thinking during the clinic or watching?”
“Watching. I was trying to not think about Sophie-Ann’s attempt for a Darwin award… Do they give those to Vampires?”
“Of course they do, but they’re bigger… they’d have to be to represent the monumental absurdity required to end ourselves accidentally.”
“Order a trophy. I want it to be as big as the Stanley Cup. I’ll send it to her full of posies.”
“The Plague Song… pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down…”
“That’s more morbid than you usually aim for.”
“I asked her if she was retarded when she was alive.”
Pam chuckled, “You what?”
“When she didn’t like my attitude, I told her to fire me. I’m not biting my tongue any longer. I told her to end Hadley because she’s the weakest link…”
She chirped, “Goodbye.”
“I hated that program… I think we’ll be fine. I’m sure that anyone who wants to move on Louisiana will advance on her first.”
“Why not you first?”
“Because Threadgill thinks I’m a Sheriff because Sophie-Ann enjoys the view…”
“And DeCastro knows how stupid she is…”
“So her Lieutenant and Sheriffs can’t be good choices.”
“He’d try to trick me into giving him my candy first.”
“Insulate or escape?”
“Escape. I’m not prepared to fight for a state I don’t want. I’m not as stupid as Sophie-Ann. If Arkansas or Nevada end her, we’ll leave.”
“Where do we relocate?”
She chuckled again. “Hunter might explode… How is Sookie taking things?”
“Surprisingly well. I haven’t told her that we’d leave before I sharpened our guillotine for them, but all things considered, I think she’d understand.”
“We’d have to bring Jason, of course.”
“Would you miss him?”
“Asshole. I meant because Sookie wouldn’t want to leave him behind.”
“That you’re an asshole or that she’d put up a fight if she’d never see him again?”
She moved, coming to the sofa to sit next to me and lay her head on my chest. “What needs to be done?”
“Nothing. We don’t have enough here to think about it. We’ll just walk away. I haven’t kept much in our American accounts since ’29.”
“Ahhhhh, the good old days.”
“When losing a million dollars in the crash was a big deal? You’re right about that.”
She chuckled, “God bless Swiss Banking.”
Sookie returned to our room, closing the door behind her quietly and going directly to Hunter’s room to tell him goodnight…
When she joined us, she slid over the back of the sofa to use the other half of my chest as a pillow.
“So other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
Pam snickered and kissed her forehead. “Leave it to you.”
“What? I’m only 25. Why do I have to be the one to tell y’all that life sucks?”
“Yeah… Sometimes, the only thing in the cupboard is a shit sandwich. Your options are eat it or starve to death.”
I couldn’t tell if Pam wanted to slap Sookie or laugh. “So we eat it. Then what?”
“Then we deal with the bad breath and heartburn until we can get rid of it.”
“Is it that easy?”
“No, but the shit sandwich is gross enough. I’ll be damned if I’m going to put shit on everything else I eat.”
“You’re saying that we shouldn’t let Eric’s new position bring us down until we have something tangible to concern ourselves with?”
“No. I’m saying that I should’ve stuck with the fruit tray. My dinner was horrible.” Pam fought the urge to laugh and slapped Sookie’s ass. “I had to wake up Paulette to get some ginger root…” The ginger scented raspberry that Sookie blew was Pam’s undoing.