As she settled into her seat in the limo, I started her education. “We leave for Louisiana tomorrow night.”
Ema shrugged with a cooperative grin on her face. “K. How does this work?”
“Paulette will give you a tour of Shreveport. She’ll help you find an apartment and everything you need. We’ll negotiate your rate and you’ll contact us if you draw or write anything else that pertains to us.”
“K. Sounds good to me. Can I like, get a job? So I don’t get bored.”
“Of course. The more normal you seem to be, the less questions there will be about you. Have you worked before?”
“Yeah… I’ve had a couple gigs at retail places.”
“Pam is planning to open her own boutique, so if you find it hard to keep a job because of your ability, I’m sure something can be arranged.”
“How does it happen? Do you not get any warning?”
“Ummm… The thing is… I mean… it was never a big deal, you know because I always drew people I know. I’d draw an argument before it happened or whatever… When I started drawing y’all, it was just weird. I’ve never like, gone ballistic looking for something to draw with or anything, but like as soon as there’s some kind of medium… I go off. My mom used to laugh and say I was ‘in my own little world’… School was rough, but while I still went, I started waking up an hour early and I’d sit with a pencil and a notebook while I watched TV in my room… It usually got it out of my system.”
“While you went?”
“Yeah. I used to drop everything to start drawing, ‘ADD’ earned me homeschooling since my aunt was already doing it for religious reasons.”
Sookie cooed, “That must’ve been nice. To not have to worry about it.”
Ema shrugged again. “Yes and no. I’d rather it just left me alone until 3, ya know?”
Sookie nodded, understanding all too well what the girl meant. “I hear ya… My brother never had a problem either. Pissed. Me. Off. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Both… older and younger I’m the middle of 5… Our family reunions are insane… my mom and dad are from big families too… So. What else?” I couldn’t have been less sure of how to answer that. We’d been looking for telepaths. I had a speech prepared for that.
“That depends on you. I have every intention of keeping you and your ability completely hidden for your own safety.”
“I made it this long though…”
“And your own parents locked you away because of their lack of understanding. If other vampires were to find out about your precognitive abilities, you could find yourself dangerously coveted. We know for a fact that Sookie’s ability is desired enough that some would turn her, bond to her and confine her for the benefit of telepathy. If you chose to notify others of your drawings…”
“How would I do that though? I didn’t know who y’all were until you showed up.”
“With some research, dots could be connected. For instance, mailing the picture that was drawn of Gabe torturing Ferrell…”
“Ferrell was one of the words I got, but it happened a couple days later. I didn’t know if it was one of y’alls last names…”
“The name wouldn’t have been necessary. Since you knew it was Gabe, in Dallas, the picture could’ve been mailed to the Area Sheriff as an anonymous warning. He would’ve been able to identify the victim … He could’ve cautioned Ferrell.”
“Did Ferrell die because I didn’t know that?”
“No. He’s recovering. We’re actually on our way to his ‘Welcome Home’ party. According to the date though, Stan might have been able to warn Ferrell before the abduction.”
“Don’t waste time regretting anything. You have no practice with your ability. With help you’ll be able to start connecting the dots on your own…” I reached for her portfolio and Sookie instinctively handed her pen and notebook to me.
I went over the pages of words… copying them for the most part, but adding our last names with our first names… and chuckling again as I added Pam’s former names, Winifred and Dolores, to her line… getting a more full laugh from Alcide’s rendition of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and promise to start calling Pam ‘Pooh’…
I explained that Hugo was being coupled with Isabel and how they were connected to the drawing of Gabe and Ferrell. I explained why she’d written and drawn ‘Bert’ twice. They weren’t twins, but one of their parents had dreadfully predominant genes and I preferred to think it was their father… otherwise their mother had been a Gorgon. Ema thought I was joking until I held one of the sketches up and told her to picture it with long hair… Alcide thanked me for the nightmares he was going to have.
Once I was done with the list, I moved to sit next to her and explained what she’d drawn, one picture at a time and promised to give details about the sketch of ‘double trouble’ in my former office as soon as we had more time.
The list was less than a quarter of its original length, making it far easier to explain who everyone was and why it was all there… and she thought it was hilarious that she’d written Red Bull repeatedly because of Sookie’s binges.
There were a few words that didn’t fit any of the situations we’d already found ourselves in. But like some of the pictures that we hadn’t already experienced, we could take a wild guess or two.
As the limo pulled up to Stan’s house, Alcide volunteered to accompany Ema back to the hotel to settle in so that no one would ask about her, more importantly, how much she smelled like a hospital.
I changed out of the T shirt ruined by the stench of clinical grade cleaners and into my Sookie scented dress shirt at the trunk while Sookie changed in the car…
Alcide leaned against the trunk with his arms folded. “That’s insane.”
“That Sookie found a bonafide psychic?”
“And a Were and a Pusher… In one fucking day.”
“Everything has a different mind to her. I’m not surprised that she found them as much as I’m surprised that she found them all here… You didn’t express an opinion about Webster.”
“I told her I don’t like it, but it’s none of my business.”
“Because Webster is a Pusher, right… He could’ve pushed his way out of jail at any point over the last 15 years. But he’s been rotting in a cage… The thought occurred to me that he’s just ethical enough to take his punishment, but if that’s the case, why the fuck is he thinking that he’d be fluffing pillows for a Vampire? I know enough about you that you wouldn’t force him to kill anyone like you don’t force Paulette to, but he doesn’t… As far as he knows, he’s going to be your button man.”
“I don’t plan to invite him for dinner. He’s being paid, not adopted. I could care less what his reasons are.”
“I don’t know who the fuck left the article for me. The smell on the envelope was human. I don’t know how the fuck my name was spelled right. Do you know how many messages I’ve gotten for Allie Harpo? Why was he robbing banks to begin with…He had a job. It’s just not sitting right with me and Sookie rolled her eyes when I told her to ask him if he pushed to have the article delivered… if… I swear, dude, I want to know if that daughter of his is getting ‘help’ from Nevada or Arkansas.”
“Did you have Sookie ask the clerk about who delivered the article?”
“Yeah. Tall guy. Light brown hair. Blue eyes…”
Sookie walked up behind him, instantly distracting me with how she looked in her dress. “Are you being paranoid again?”
“The word is still. I still have a bad taste in my mouth about this Webster guy.”
“Even though I told you that he didn’t tell me a single lie.”
“Yeah. With everything going on, he looks like a plant or a patsy.”
“Fine. You go see him tomorrow.”
“Yeah. You go for visiting hour and take his contract and the list of questions we came up with. You’re going back to the hotel early, so research him and his family. His brother Luke died of a heart attack 2 years ago in Fort Worth. Look up his obit and start the family tree that way. If everything looks good…”
“Who do you want him to kill? Hadley? Is that why you’re hell bent to hire this guy?”
“That’s beautiful. If you want her dead dead then you should have the fucking balls to do it yourself.”
“If it wasn’t for the position she’s in, I wouldn’t care that she’s a hateful bitch. She could keep on keeping on for all I’d care. She could be nasty to me for the rest of her life and I wouldn’t do anything but argue with her. I wouldn’t kill my cousin, but I’d definitely assassinate someone who can take down everyone I love. I’m hoping it won’t come to that. He doesn’t get out for another month. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she pulls her head out of her ass by then.”
“He could be a trap though. If you’re that adamant, I’ll fucking kill her for you.” He was that loyal? Already? Impressive.
“Then you should research Brian and let us know if you find anything to back up your gut feeling.”
“What’s his daughter’s name?”
“Shelby. Shelby Webster Ulrich. Vicksburg. Why?”
“Because he was excited to see her. I’m starting my research there.”
“Are you going to be a bitch if I’m right?”
She smirked. “That depends on how many times you rub it in.”
He rolled his eyes around. “Stay out of my head so that I can be smug in private.”
She grinned at him and shook his hand. “Deal.”
Nostrils flared as we walked into Davis’s nest. Not a few. All of them.
Sookie cut her eyes at me and cleared her throat.
I shrugged. “According to Pam, I’m a prideful mother fucker.”
She giggled and curled her finger so that I’d bend over. She put her mouth to my ear and whispered, “A prideful mother fucker that smells like blood and cum and sunlight.”
My brilliant comeback… “You said cum.”
She blushed faster than her hands could get to her face. She was so embarrassed of her ‘slip’ that she didn’t notice Isabel’s approach…
She gave a respectful bow. “Lieutenant Northman, Miss Stackhouse…” Sookie righted herself, still glowing as she took my hand and squeezed it. “There seems to be a lot of requests for your company tonight. King Milne traveled from Houston when he heard that you planned to make an appearance tonight. Of course, Sheriff Davis and Ferrell would like the opportunity to thank you both… for everything.”
“Far be it from me to keep a King waiting…”
As I took a step, Sookie resisted. “Um… at the risk of seeming rude, I’d feel better if I could go over the crowd of humans first. Would the King be too offended if I took a minute?” I didn’t like the idea of leaving her on her own at all…
But Isabel answered too quickly. “I’m sure he’ll understand. I’ll show the Lieutenant to the King and come back to offer my assistance, if it pleases.”
Sookie ran her thumb over the back of my ring while I considered everything. Where she was going to be wasn’t what I was worried about. It was who she’d be with that concerned me. “There aren’t that many here. 15 minutes, max.”
The only reason behind the nod I gave her was feeling that Pam was just behind us, maybe only a mile or two away.
Not only did Milne stand when I entered the office, but he gave a bow deeper than the one that Isabel had given me.
“Lieutenant Northman, a pleasure to finally meet you. Wallace Milne.” Bloated, freckled, stumpy, drab strawberry blond hair, bulging eyes, barely intelligible brogue… even if he’d been turned in his prime, he’d still have been hideous. He painted a breathtaking picture for Wales.
I returned his bow. “The pleasure is mine. How might I be of service?”
His laugh was obscenely loud and put on. “You already have. I understand your pet read more than 400 Humans in one sitting last night and delivered a gift wrapped telepath for my very own sheriff.”
“I hope the Sheriff finds him useful. He’s quite inexperienced, but Sookie assures me that he’s no less capable than she was before applying herself.”
He acted as though he was going to take his seat, but he stopped to eye me carefully… and sped over to stand next to me, taking in a long test of my scent. A fucking King. He moaned, “I was told she smells phenomenal… but that…”
My smile was proof of my ‘prideful mother fucker’ status. “Sookie treats my shirts for me.”
“Would she do mine?”
“How does she do it?”
“She’s fond of tanning. She wears them for a few moments afterwards.”
“So I assume the fuck notes to your scent are just a remainder of a fortunate early evening.”
If he wasn’t a King, I’d have pushed him away. Since I’d brought the attention to myself, I laughed, “A very fortunate evening.”
“You’re quite lucky to have found such a treasure… The rest of us are lucky that you’d be willing to share any of her bonuses.” He directed me to sit down and finally left my side to take his seat. “I’m eager to meet her. Did you not bring her with you tonight?”
“She’s here… being meticulous at the moment. She’s scanning the humans in attendance. Isabel is assisting her.”
“You trust your pet to be alone?”
“Implicitly. As for others, since I’m bonded to her, I’ll have no problem sensing any form of trouble. In fact, I’m sure she’s already found two undesirables in the house.” Her usual tell that she detected them was a blend of disgust and rage.
He chuckled, making his jowls jiggle. “Curious, curious… So, Northman, what has gotten into your Queen’s head?”
“She sent you to Texas instead of Arkansas even though everyone knows she’s been making preparations for that union. She sent her own children and Quinn as a grand gesture… She’s kissing my ass like she’s forgotten that doesn’t work on me. What is she up to? Rather, what are you all up to since you’ve so recently been named Lieutenant.” That would have been the perfect time to call her and say ‘I told you so’… One fucking night and my promotion was already raising eyebrows.
“Are you familiar with the term, ‘circling the wagons’?”
“I am… I’m assuming there are barbarians at the gate then.”
“Isn’t there always?”
He nodded. “Should I accept her proposal?” Fuck me.
“I hardly think…”
“Would you marry her?”
“In the strictest of confidences…” I should’ve fucking known that he wouldn’t let me get out of the conversation, but feeling Pam arrive and knowing that she’d stay with Sookie helped me relax slightly.
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with the rumors of how attached you are to your pet?” Only partly.
“Then your reasons would be…?”
“That if I wanted to rule, I’d be doing it already.”
He cackled. “I’ve heard you’re arrogant too!”
“At the risk of offending, in my case, the more fitting word is competent. I don’t want the position. I came to the States to escape the political black hole that Europe had become. I knew it was only a matter of time, but it was nice while it lasted.”
“Is Louisiana destitute? Was your proposal based on your financial reputation?”
“No. To the best of my knowledge, she’s never had any trouble paying the rent.”
“So the proposal I received is simply an alliance.”
I nodded, hoping I was right. “In my opinion Texas would’ve been a wiser choice all along. Not only are you the biggest territory and in need of nothing, but you are already an ally… a smarter maneuver than marrying her own Sheriff at any rate.” It must’ve been Andre’s idea.
“If I marry your Queen, would you be my Lieutenant too?” The tone he used was nauseating… like a bleating goat.
“Absolutely not. Then I’d have to start sacrificing virgins to assure both of you live forever. Do you know how hard it is to find a virgin anymore?”
He laughed again, but that time was much more sedate, less theatrical. “I like you.”
“You’re not my type.” I preferred the smell of sunshine to… How did he manage to reek of cabbage as a Vampire?
“Pity. You’re mine…” I might’ve been sickened by the idea if it hadn’t reminded me that the man who’d delivered the message about Webster was tall with light hair and blue eyes. “Tell your Queen that you’ve talked me into further discussion. My first condition is that you are my Envoy. Her child… Andre is a rankling cont. No personality.”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear it…”
“Between us, my only reason for taking her on is because of how eager I am to have Texas added to Miss Stackhouse’s contract.” Asshole. Shrewd asshole, but still an asshole.
“I’m sure Mr. Cataliades will be sent to see you tomorrow.”
“Good, good. I enjoy his company. Have her send him here. I’m staying for a few days… Tell me, did you have the opportunity to inspect your gift?”
“Yes, yes… I was keeping him for myself, but after Miss Stackhouse proved to be so useful, Mr. Webster seemed like a fitting thank you gift… My apologies for the secrecy, but I’m sure you’d prefer to keep knowledge of him within your camp… I was told that you trust your Were guard, hence…” That explained a lot and would relieve Alcide from his paranoia, but I was distracted from his rambling…
I spent a moment trying to figure out why Sookie was suddenly so baffled… baffled and terrified… barely a second…
The panic that took her over was just as palpable in her voice when I heard her scream, “EVERYBODY GET DOWN!”
Before I could get to her in the sudden barrage of bullets that cut through the house, I was hit in the side with a bullet and nearly knocked over by a vampire racing to the back…
The more I wanted to get to Sookie, the more got in my way. Bodies, furniture, cowards darting for safety…
Sookie’s mood had become the all too familiar ‘nothing’, leaving me only the ring to help find her in the debris…
The only line of sight I had on anything remotely promising was a tiny section of light blue fabric hiding under an overturned sofa in front of a picture window that was still being riddled with bullets…
I barely noticed that I was shot in the arm when I passed the front door that had been splintered apart in the one-sided firefight.
My ears were ringing…
Blood, splinters and down were everywhere…
And when it was all over there was nothing left but silence for a moment…
Still. Perfectly still.
While the fit were still in shock and before the injured could complain.
When I flipped the sofa over, the first thing I saw was Wybert, sprawled out… covering not just most of Sookie, but Pam as well…
Wybert wasn’t suffering anymore than I was, but Pam was bleeding all over the floor…
I shoved him out of my way, answering his grunted question by pointing in Siegbert’s direction… he’d thrown himself on top of Jason and they were both starting to push themselves from the floor…
I rolled Pam over to find Hunter under her… seeing that her leg was mostly healed, tending to her was as easy as yanking a diminishing human over for her to feed from…
Even in my frenzy to feed Pam, it didn’t escape me that Sookie and Hunter were laying exactly as Ema had drawn them… and we’d all assumed they were snuggled together for a nap when we saw the sketch.
Hunter was the first of the two of them to be roused, confused and rubbing his head… I had to pry Sookie’s arm away from him and he immediately wrapped his arms around my neck, sobbing that Sookie was hurt…
Sookie was hurt.
Sookie was hurt and I couldn’t feel it. Why the fuck wouldn’t I have been able to feel it?
Hunter’s panic made everything nearly impossible…
I needed to tend to Sookie, but he wouldn’t let go and shouldn’t have seen his surroundings… The only thing I could think of was to move him to hold onto my back and tell him to ‘hide’.
I was almost afraid to roll Sookie onto her back…
Not feeling anything…
Not feeling anything but my own wounds…
My own wounds…
She’d been laying on her wound…
In her side, not far from where I’d been hit…
The blood of dozens of people and vampires had masked the scent of hers…
I had to ‘call’ her to make her conscious enough to crack her eyes…
And she asked if everyone else was ‘ok’ before she let me put my wrist to her mouth…
Her pull was weak enough that she hadn’t gotten nearly enough before my wrist closed, but she grabbed my arm before I could reopen it…
She breathed, “Stop them.”
She started trying to sit up and choked, “sto…” She cleared her throat and forced out, “STOP!”
It wasn’t until everyone was looking at her that I realized anything had been going on around me. The Vampires, most of them still healing and getting their bearings were moving for the door to go after the armed gang of Humans who’d mowed down most of the pets in the house.
Sookie sputtered, “Don’t kill them… bring them back alive…” She struggled to get to her feet, refusing to take my help and clearing her throat again. “If y’all drain them, you have more bodies to get rid of…” She stopped, grabbing her side and wincing. “Call 9-1-1… Call the news… I know y’all can take care of this your way, but if you play this right… this could make news nation… nation… nationally… Newlin just tied his own… his own noose… He was one of them… There were 21…”
From the other side of the room, beyond a disintegrated piano, Davis’s voice boomed, “Bring them all back alive.”
The second he was finished, every able bodied Texas Vampire was gone fast enough that the breeze pushed Sookie off her balance.
She didn’t have the strength to get to a chair on her own. Hunter nearly fell from my back when I scooped her up to get her off of the floor.
She held her side and whimpered… “I got a sneezing fit while my ribs were broken… That was worse.”
“You need to heal…”
“So do you… go find a donor.”
“You need to heal now.”
She sighed, “I’ll make you a deal… If I pass out again…”
“I’m a… a human victim… I need to give a statement…”
“Siegbert took him down. He’s fine.”
“A bullet went through her leg… She’s sore. She’ll be fine after she has a donor. You need to heal…”
“So do you. Go feed. Then I will.”
“Me? You fed me earlier… I’m already…” The bullets had already been expelled and were pelleting around in my shirt.
“I’m stable. Go find a donor for you and Pam.”
“No. I’ll wait.”
She grunted as she tried to stand, “How did I fall in love with such a stubborn man?”
“You aren’t getting up.”
“I need a phone…” She didn’t need to get up for that.
“Pam! Bring a phone from one of the bodies.”
While we waited, I pushed Sookie’s dress up to look at the wound… she was still oozing blood everywhere… one large entry wound… swollen, ripped open, singed… rising and falling with her labored breathing… her color was gone…
She took the cell phone from Pam and as she dialed 9-1-1, she mumbled, “Waste not, want not… If you won’t go feed, at least take that…”
After calling 9-1-1, she asked anyone within earshot for the name of the local networks and called them all with a report that she was looking at a bloodbath…
As I cleaned the wound, she ran her fingers through my hair… the action only served to calm her down. It made me more desperate to heal her.
She wouldn’t hide in my bubble because she was afraid to be unconscious…
She told Jason to shut up for urging her to take my blood…
When Stan was done with his duties she asked him how many were lost, and then alerted him that Gabe was on the lawn and needed to be taken somewhere and ‘saved for later’… she listened to let Davis know when Newlin and his wife had been fetched as her way of delaying another suggestion to let me heal her.
Twelve minutes had come and gone, dragging by at a snail’s pace, and I still wasn’t hearing sirens…
Sookie’s hand was getting cold… her legs… she was trembling…
I’d had enough.
More than enough…
She mustered the strength to scowl at me when I bit into my wrist again…
I pushed it to her mouth and held her head with my other hand so that she couldn’t refuse it. “I know you can handle the pain, but there’s no point. You can claim that the blood on your dress came from looking for survivors.”
She growled against my arm, but since she was healing as quickly as she could swallow, I couldn’t have cared less. She could be furious with me if she wanted… but she wasn’t going to suffer.
I wasn’t going to let her bleed anymore than she had to.
I wasn’t going to ignore her pain. I couldn’t.
She fed until I watched the bullet fall from its entrance…
I nodded. “Now that your body is free of bullets, yes… What the fuck were you thinking?”
She leaned forward, still tender, but much stronger, kissing my cheek before whispering, “I was thinking that I’d be fine long enough to give a statement and identify them… I’m the only human that was hurt and still alive… Hunter and I are the only ones who heard them.”
Wallace Milne had arrived at Sookie’s side suddenly enough to startle her. “And you thought that an infirmed testimony would have more veracity than an ‘uninjured fangbanger’?”
Sookie nodded with a shrug. “Veracity and sympathy… and we’re talking about accusing ‘God fearing Christians’ of racial cleansing… Their reputation is love and casseroles and y’all have fangs and creepy toadies.”
“I think that precious little frock you’re wearing might be a point in our favor, stain notwithstanding. Sut mae?” I thought for a moment I might need to translate for her, that she probably hadn’t come across the Welsh greeting…
“Highs and lows. I’m a little weak, but recovering… Better than the rest of the humans though. Then again, I had help getting to the floor faster than them. How about you?”
He shrugged. “I was hit with a flying chair when a certain Vampire left my company, other than that, only a flesh wound.” Fuck.
I nodded apologetically. I hadn’t realized that I left the office so quickly. “My apologies, Majesty. My child and the three humans under my protection…”
“Nonsense. All is forgiven… Your pet has layers of value, that much is evident and more than excuses your haste. So, Miss Stackhouse, what’s next?”
She smiled weakly. “Well, I’m a little frazzled… I need to be closer to the shooters…”
As she heaved herself from the chair, Wybert snorted, “Rula.”
She giggled at him, “What? Are you going to read their minds? Let me know and I’ll just go back to the hotel…”
He rolled his eyes to look at me. “Ist brat.” No kidding.
I hadn’t paid much attention as I carried Sookie to the lawn…
The Dallas Vampires had lined the gunmen and women up, face down with their hands behind their heads… it looked as though they’d seen too many mafia movies.
Milne had been just behind us, carrying a chair out for Sookie… the King… carried a chair… for a Human…
That, by itself, was a good enough reason for the news to be called.
While the rest of us lingered, watching over her, I sent Pam and Wybert back to the hotel with Hunter so that he could calm down as soon as possible… Sookie had the forethought to record a message for him with Pam’s phone so that he’d know she was recovering and panned the rest of us at the end of her message to prove that everyone else was ‘ok’… And Pam managed to think about going back in for his Atlas.
There were 32 Vampires on the lawn of Stan Davis’s nest, all of them standing watch over the captive Fellowship members and doing a poor job of controlling their tempers with Steve Newlin spouting prayer after prayer into the grass under his face.
By the time the police arrived all 3 of the local networks were setting up cameras… Sookie, Davis, Milne and I had decided that Sookie had been ‘standing by an open window’ when she heard Newlin lead them in prayer just before the first shot rang out.
Sookie was willing to be known as a Telepath, but stated too plainly that Humans could only believe so much… that they’d need smaller doses… expecting the Human public to ‘buy’ that assholes go to church AND Vampires could be victimized AND that telepathy wasn’t just something from comic books… it would seem too farfetched… as Sookie put it, their ‘I believe’ buttons would break.
With Sookie’s continuing improvement, I let my mind wander through the possible scenarios rather than focus on the spread of worshiping assholes who managed to make Vampires look like angels, even if it was just for the moment…
“Davis, do you have any pull with local law enforcement? Specifically, corrections.”
“Some. Why?” Milne’s eyes lit up, knowing that I’d already found a use for Brian Webster.
“Can you make sure that the males of this mob are detained in Hutchins?”
“Most likely… Once publicity dies down, can you arrange for accidents there?”
“While the publicity is still hot… no accidents… confessions.”
I shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll kill themselves.”
As Milne ordered Stan to ‘make it happen’, Sookie clutched her side and giggled about Heaven’s Gate.
Sookie’s interview was painfully drawn out…
The only amusing thing about the process was that the mob on the lawn was handcuffed and flipped over like fish at market so that Sookie and a few other vampires could identify them as guilty parties…
Sookie identified the prayer that Newlin had led his attack with… Psalm 144…
As she recited it, one by one, no less than half of the Vampires on the lawn joined her… “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke! Flash forth the lightning and scatter them; send out your arrows and rout them! Stretch out your hand from on high; rescue me and deliver me from the many waters, from the hand of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” And Pam wondered why I never bought religion. The ambiguity of their own prayer could’ve been the same one cited before Vampires sought their vengeance.
One of the officers was unmoved enough to ask if there was a psalm for ‘pricks who kill their own kind for headlines’ since the death toll only included humans.
When all was said and done, Sookie was released after retelling her account 3 times and giving her contact information…
She felt well enough to tauntingly wave to the Newlins as they were shoved into the back seat of one of the many squad cars as I led her and the rest of our group to our limo.
It was no surprise when Sookie insisted on walking through the lobby when we returned to the hotel. She was unsteady, weak, dizzy, her body temperature was still too low and her heartbeat wasn’t as strong as usual…
But she still walked towards the donor lounge…
“After what just happened, do you really want me to let the Berts take their chances? Pam? It’s just a quick stop.”
She had her mouth open, more than likely planning to ask me what my point was judging by her mood, when Jason interrupted. “I got Pam… Don’t worry about her…”
Sookie’s mouth hung open as wide as mine while we watched Jason walk towards the elevator. No discussion. No hesitation…
Finally she snorted, “One down.”
“Fine. 5 minutes.” She could’ve argued with me for longer than it would take her to find a pair of suitable donors for the Berts.
She barely set foot inside the lounge, stopping to lean against me while she focused on their minds.
Sookie got the attention of one woman and waved her over to us, then another two who seemed to be a matched pair…
She sent them on their way with Siegbert… but she stayed put.
No. There was no fucking reason.
Even if I hadn’t growled as soon as I caught on, she’d have been able to feel how unwilling I was.
As I took her hand, she snatched it away from me… darting into the room to grab the arm of a passing donor and racing to catch up to me as the elevator door had opened.
She was already short of breath when returned to my side with the unnecessary meal in a latex corset. “Whatever. But I’m not taking another drop until you feed.” The skanky volunteer stared at me, moony eyed. There wasn’t a single fucking thing I missed about fangbangers. I hadn’t ever enjoyed them as much as resorted to them.
“You’d refuse? You’re in pain.”
“I’m not going to weaken you.”
“I don’t want her.” Even saying it didn’t discourage the bloodbag from eyefucking me.
“You didn’t give me the choice. You were being pigheaded about my health. Now I’m in the presence of mind to return the favor. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to enjoy it. A thousand years, Eric. They didn’t all smell like sunlight or taste like sugar. But they gave you the strength you needed. Feed.”
“Are you ordering me to…?”
“If I could force you like you forced me, we wouldn’t be talking right now. I love you. You were shot twice trying to get to me. Please. Get it over with.”
We were very close to arguing again… I was very close to opening the elevator and shoving the donor into the waiting hallway and facing the impending argument. I could’ve returned the silent treatment she’d given me the last time we’d argued…
The last time we argued…
It was a fight over the other’s well being… safety or strength, it didn’t matter. We would’ve been at odds over the same fucking thing all over again.
I’d be damned…
In the amount of time it took for me to drain the donor of two mouthfuls of the barely palatable swill from her cheap perfume drenched neck, I realized how completely spoiled I’d become…
Then I stopped the elevator and tossed her useless ass into the hallway of the 7th floor.
The door to our room was already open. Ema and Alcide were waiting with Pam, Jason, Paulette and a sleeping Hunter. They were all watching MSNBC’s coverage of ‘Newlin’s Massacre’. The networks had already given a catchy name to the ‘vicious carnage in one of Dallas’s finest neighborhoods resulting in the deaths of 28 innocent people’.
Sookie kissed my hand before letting go and heading straight to the bathroom to start the bath we both needed. For the first time in memorable history, Pam ignored the promise of news and followed to help Sookie.
The portfolio was on the dinette, reminding me of the drawing that I had only just stopped reliving. I leafed through to find it, to look at the date… “Ema, you’ve met everyone?”
“Yeah. Alcide introduced me. Pam says I need a makeover.” No. Pam? Really?
I finally found the sketch… dated two days ago. The night Ferrell was found. I pulled it out of the pile and searched the list for other clues. “Paulette, Ema needs drawing supplies. I’ll need you to take her shopping for that and whatever personal items she might need in the morning. Do it early so that Sookie doesn’t try to pack for everyone during the day, please.”
“Sure thing. I was already planning on it. How is she?”
“Thank you… Strong willed and outspoken.”
“So back to normal, huh?”
“For the most part… Ema?”
She left the sofa to come stand next to me, so I handed the sketch to her. “So you know, that’s exactly how Sookie and Hunter looked when I peeled Wybert and Pam off of them…”
The paper shook in her hand as she gasped a teary apology.
I slid the list of written clues closer to her and circled ‘144’ and ‘stop’ and explained, “Apparently, there’s a prayer… Psalm 144 is what Newlin led the attack with… and Sookie yelled stop to get everyone’s attention and give orders.”
“I’m sorry… I didn’t know.”
“How could you? I assumed that 144 was the number of shoes Pam would buy before week’s end. ‘Stop’ could mean anything… the drawing… seemed innocent.”
“I don’t know if I can… I don’t think I can do this.”
“Have you ever had a choice of what you draw or write?”
“Then perhaps, like Sookie, you just need encouragement. Don’t be bothered by the ugliness. Your ability could help avoid it. We all need to learn more about it.”
She gave me an unsure nod.
“Make sure to get colored pencils when you shop tomorrow. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to get more vivid hints.”
“Would it have helped tonight?”
“The rug Sookie and Hunter were on was purple… because there’s no background color, I assumed sheets.”
Her nod seemed more hopeful than the last. “Me too… Ok. You got it.”
“Thank you. Alcide… Your research…”
He interrupted, “Found nothing, but I got distracted…”
“Scrap it. Webster was a gift from Milne. When you visit him in the morning, settle your curiosity about why he’s honest enough to endure his incarceration, but why he’d be willing to work for a vampire… If his answer suits you, offer him anything.”
“Anything but Sookie… Order something from room service for her, please. She needs to eat. I’m going to clean up.”
“You want me to put Hunter to bed?”
“No. We’ll do it. He’ll feel better if he gets to see us in person.”
Pam didn’t need to be asked to leave even though I’d interrupted them. She excused herself to go back to her room and scour the internet until she replaced their dresses that had been ruined.
Sookie gave a morose cringe as she watched the bullets fall out of my shirt and bounce on the tiled floor.
I slid into the tub behind her and pulled her against my chest. I’d hated every second since I realized she’d been hurt because I’d been surrounded by Vampires… as it was, I’d been on my knees in front of ‘my pet’ and ‘let’ her refuse me…
She teasingly asked, “What? You aren’t going to shove your wrist in my mouth again?” She was only half joking.
My turn. “What? You aren’t going to insist I feed from more revolting whores?”
She snorted, “Finicky asshole.”
“So did you.”
“I still love you.”
“I love you too… I could’ve lost you tonight.”
“Through no fault of our own.”
“I shouldn’t have let you stop me…”
“Hold on. As soon as Hunter and I heard them praying, I grabbed Hunter and I was yelling as I hit the floor. I didn’t wait. Wybert pushed Pam over and flipped the sofa over us… You saw to Pam and you healed me enough that I could get up… I shouldn’t have waited, worried you… but I wasn’t in immediate…”
“You were getting cold.”
“Eventually. That’s when you stopped humoring me. Neither one of us did anything wrong. We’re all fine.” I almost told her to speak for herself.
“You were shot.”
“You were shot twice.”
“Will you let me win the fucking argument if I tell you I’ve been shot hundreds of times?”
“I didn’t realize we were arguing. Is there a prize?”
“Damn it, Sookie, this isn’t a joke. You’re Human. You can’t heal yourself. You could have fucking died.”
She sighed and struggled to push herself out of the water, scrubbing herself lackadaisically before stepping out. “C’mon. We should tuck Hunter in. You should try to glamour him.” As though her sudden silence wasn’t peculiar enough…
“You can’t be glamoured.”
“I’m older, more practiced… by the time anyone tried, I’d already had Vampire blood. Who knows when it comes to Faeries. I think it’s worth a try.”
When we entered the commons, Alcide headed Sookie off by pointing to the dinette set with a large steak and salad and ordered Sookie to “Sit. Eat.”
She had it in her to joke that it was a good thing he hadn’t told her to rollover because she was still sore.
He scowled at her before turning to me. “I’m gonna turn in so I can be up early to run that errand and be back before the smart ass tries fucking herself up by doing too much… Ema and Paulette started making a list of stuff to shop for while y’all were cleaning up. She zoned out for a minute… It’s easy to spot. She wasn’t even looking when it happened.”
I was too curious about her list to acknowledge anything he’d said…
I went straight to the coffee table as he let himself out.
I studied the sheet.
Over and over.
Hoping that something would come together, hoping that I could segue to a finite conclusion of what it all meant. Hadley. Curtains. Sick.
I wasn’t the only one. As Sookie ate her dinner, she couldn’t think of any anecdotes involving Hadley and curtains or any time she’d been ill, for that matter.
For Sookie, it made sense for ‘Hadley’ to finally make her way to Ema’s pen since she’d been the source of so many troubles of late…
The only noteworthy curtains she could think of were the ‘acres’ of light-blocking curtains she and Paulette had just washed while closing up the New Orleans house…
‘Sick’ could mean anything from an ear infection for Hunter to Jason being hung over…
No matter how many times we went through the sketches, we made no connections.
We got nothing from the rest of the list.
Sookie finally covered her empty plate and declared, “Boys and girls, today’s password is ‘stumped’.”
The poor boy had fallen to sleep on the couch. On his stomach, his face still aimed at the now black television screen, with his arm sagging to the floor because he’d been fixed to the news reports, desperate for the few glimpses he could get of those of us who stayed behind.
As soon as I touched him, he stirred, clutching to my arm and giving a relieved grin. “That was… I was scared.”
Sookie kissed his cheek while I agreed with a nod. “We all were.” Some of us were still scared.
“Sookie’s still hurt.”
“She’ll be perfect again by the time she wakes up. How does your head feel?”
“Good. Alcide gave me a Tylenol and a candy bar.”
“Chocolate as medicine?”
“It has stuff in it. Ummmmm…”
Sookie smiled and gently ran her hand over his head. “For circulation?”
He nodded. “That’s it! Best. Medicine. Ever.”
“Definitely. When I was little, I was clumsy. My Gran used to let me snack on chocolate chips so I wouldn’t bruise as bad… You have a nice little goose-egg back there. Do you want to tell Eric about your Vampire from Monaco?”
He snarled at her over my shoulder as I started for his bedroom. “She. Doesn’t. Count.”
While Sookie turned down his blanket so that I could set him down, he growled, “Because she didn’t live there until after and only for a little while. She was born and raised in Nice.” Not only had he mispronounced it, but he said it like he had a grudge with the city and punctuated his irritation with a raspberry.
“It actually rhymes with peace, not ice… and did you think to ask her if she knows of any indigenous Monegasque Vampires?”
He grumbled, “No.”
I laughed at him in spite of the night I’d had. “Don’t be so easily discouraged. You’ve only just started your collection. If you met all of your goals right away, you’d become bored with collecting us.”
“Whatever.” Another one. Lovely. Before long, everyone would whatever me.
“I’ll make a deal with you. If you don’t find one on your own within a year, I’ll help you cheat.”
“I’ll call every Sheriff I know and find one for you… Did you collect anyone interesting?”
He shrugged. “Is Rhode Island interesting?” Never. Rhode Island could find a way to be boring if it were a nudist settlement with Viagra in the water.
“Absolutely. You’ve found a Vampire from the smallest of all the states. You’re much closer to winning your treehouse bed than you thought.”
He yawned, “Coooooool.”
His eyes were bleary from his yawn, but I managed to catch his attention, knowing that Sookie couldn’t be glamoured, I didn’t waste any time being gentle as I pushed… hoping I could erase what had happened…
He giggled, “Why are you staring at me?” Fuck.
“No reason. Get your rest. We go home tomorrow… Goodnight.”
He looked slightly panicked. “Home?”
“Shreveport. My house.”
He erased his worry with a grin. “Ok…” He threw his covers back to stand up and kiss us both and then tossed himself back to let Sookie recover him. “Night.”
I waited on our bed for Sookie to brush her teeth and watched her remove her robe. As soon as she joined me, I pushed her gown out of the way so that I could look over her scar…
I hated it.
Still discolored. Still inflamed… Still there to remind me…
I shouldn’t have let her be alone. I should have stayed with her while she scanned the party-goers…
As she drew from my wrist to force her healing, I was lost watching her skin finally mend itself completely and even when she curled her back to me, I still ran my hand over the area until dawn.