“I want you to calm down and start from the beginning,” I tell Sookie as I grip her by the shoulders so she can look at my face. I want her to see that I mean what I say; I will keep her and her family safe. But I need to know everything she heard earlier to formulate the best plan moving forward.
She takes a deep steadying breath and exhales slowly. “Can we sit down?” I nod and guide her over to the porch swing, settling down on the swing first before tugging her down to sit next to me. Sookie turns her body so that her legs are draped over my lap. She leans her head against my shoulder, her hot, sweet scent fanning over my chest with every breath she takes. My right arm wraps around her back, pulling her closer to me while my left hand caresses the golden skin of her legs. There is nothing sexual at all about this embrace; it is the giving and receiving of comfort between two individuals.
“Sam asked me to go check on Dawn. She was supposed to open this morning and didn’t show up for work. Since he was stuck at the bar, he asked if I would do it,” she begins tonelessly. I stay calm though I make note that something needs to be done about the Shifter. He constantly takes advantage of Sookie’s caring nature for his own needs and does nothing but berate her for choosing someone other than himself. I wonder if there is a way to make him stay permanently shifted and make him be a service animal for someone with special needs.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal since Dawson and I were gonna run errands today anyway. I needed to go to the library and Gran wanted a few things from the store since having Alcide and Tray around means we’re going through food more quickly. And before you say anything, Tray and Alcide both offered money for groceries since Gran insists on feeding them when she knows they are here.” I smile at Sookie’s stubborn expression because she is proving she does know me well. Still, I’ll find a way to slip some extra money to them for the increased cost in groceries. Other things may be increasing in cost as well that they do not realize yet, and I will not see them suffer. I will contact Bruce immediately to set up an account for the Stackhouse women to take care of all their everyday expenses; utilities, cell phones, groceries, and anything else they need. Herveaux, especially now that Jason Stackhouse is sitting in jail, can begin work on renovating the house. Perhaps the renovations will be extensive and I can convince the two ladies to move somewhere more secure for the time being.
Sookie has stopped speaking and lifts her head to look at me. “I can feel you thinkin’ ‘bout somethin’ really hard,” she says with a tilt of her head. “I told you I can’t read your thoughts, but I know you’re there because I feel a void. You know in comic strips where they have a bubble hangin’ over the characters heads where they have their thoughts and words?” I nod my head in understanding and she continues. “It’s like that for me with vampire minds. The bigger the bubble, the older you guys are. Most times, I can’t get anythin’ from you other than your location. When you’re emotional, it’s like the bubble fills with fog; the fog is a different color based on the emotion you’re feelin’. Earlier, it was black and red; now, there’s no fog but it’s like I can feel your mind pulsin’ with energy.” That’s interesting.
“Do not let others know about that,” I say in warning. “You may not know what we are thinking, but you can sense our emotions and our location. There are those out there that would use that against you. Your ability to read human minds alone would make you highly coveted; if others were to find out you are the equivalent of a vampire lie detector test and Lo-Jack system, I fear what would happen to you.” In this instance, death would be the more humane of the options I see others subjecting her to. Others of my kind would either have killed off her entire family to isolate her, enslaving her for her ability; the more extreme of my kind would have turned her immediately to guarantee she was under their control for eternity. I hate the thought of something crushing her spirit; I never want to see the fire and life snuffed out in her eyes.
“It’s not like I’m advertising my ability,” she grumbles.
“No, but everyone in this backwoods bayou knows of your ability. They may not believe it, but they know you are different. All it takes is for one person to say the wrong thing,” I warn her. What if Hadley had told Sophie-Anne about Sookie’s telepathy? Would we now be sitting here with her draped over my lap or would she be in a gilded cage in New Orleans? Or worse, would I have been ordered to kill her instead of protect her?
“I got it; I’ll be more careful from now on,” she vows.
“Good. Now, please continue with your story from earlier.”
She snuggles back against my shoulder before continuing her tale. “We pulled up to Dawn’s house. She lives over in one of the units that Sam rents out; Arlene another waitress at Merlotte’s is her neighbor. As soon as we got out of the car, we knew something was wrong. Dawn’s car was in front of the house, but I didn’t get anything from her mind. We got to the front door and it wasn’t locked so we went in. Dawson knew immediately there was a dead body inside and he tried to get me from goin’ in any further, but I wouldn’t listen…” Sookie begins crying against my neck. Her hot, salty tears making the cotton of my shirt cling to my body. I hate the sound of them and I hate the smell that comes with them. I long to take away her pain, but do not know how. All I can do is pull her tighter against me while she speaks.
“Her body was lying on the bed face down. One of the sheets was wrapped around her throat. Dawson wouldn’t let me go any further in the room and made me call the police. After I hung up from the police, Jason showed up with flowers. I tried to keep him from going in the bedroom, but he wanted to see her body. When the police showed up, Jason was sitting beside the bed, crying as he brushed his hand through Dawn’s hair. They asked all of us a few questions, and when Jason admitted to fighting with Dawn last night and having no alibi, Andy hauled him away in handcuffs.” Sookie cries harder at the thought of her brother in jail.
“Sookie, look at me,” I demand softly. She shakes her head no and continues to cry against my shoulder; her hand fists in the material of my shirt as she buries her face against me. Her shoulders shake violently with the force of her sobs. I carefully extract her face from my chest, holding the reddened, wet skin in the palms of my hands. Even with her blotchy skin, tear streaks, and mucous, she’s still a beautiful girl. I could never handle tears well; Pam knows this and fortunately does not cry often, I think the last time was in the nineties when she learned Giovanni Versace was murdered. However seeing my child cry and seeing this tiny mostly human woman on my lap cry are two vastly different things. Sookie’s tears make me want to comfort her, either by slaying all her enemies or by simply holding her in my arms. Both desires are equally strong within me; however there is only one I can do at the moment.
“You and I both know your brother did not do this,” I say firmly. “Perhaps the best thing for now is your brother to stay safely behind bars at the police station so that you and I can look for the killer.” I can see the outrage and protest forming in her eyes and I rush on even though she has opened her mouth to speak. “You heard the killer’s thoughts this afternoon. Can you tell who was thinking them?”
“No,” she says with a pout. “They didn’t sound like anyone I’ve heard before. Most people sound exactly the same in their head. This person’s thoughts didn’t have an accent, and they switched between actual thoughts and pictures. His thoughts initially were that Dawn got what was coming to her; she needed to be punished for associating with vampires. It was an act against God. Then his thoughts turned to an older man standing behind a pulpit, preaching about vampires being the devil and that humans needed to eradicate them as part of God’s work,” she says somewhat confused.
I growl as I drop my hands from her face. “The Fellowship of the Sun,” I spit out hatefully. She looks at me with confusion, so I am forced to explain. “It’s a church that started in Dallas shortly after vampires announced themselves to the world. Reverend Theodore Newlin,” I say derogatorily, “thinks that God and his followers should eradicate all vampires from the face of the earth. They use the church to spew hatred. Texas has the biggest following of the church, but it’s gaining a foothold across the South.”
“Of course, because using religion as a springboard to spew hate is so original,” she says with a roll of her eyes.
I can’t help but chuckle. “Fanatics will always use religion to justify their behavior. It has been the basis for countless wars, genocide, and expansion.”
“I guess they never heard of ‘love thy neighbor’,” she grumbles.
“Do you want to practice ‘love thy neighbor’ right now?” I leer at her suggestively, trying to bolster her attitude so she’ll stop crying. Though if she takes me up on it, I wouldn’t say no; despite the somber tone of our conversation, I have not been unaffected by her nearness. Her scent is a heavy perfume in the night air that is far sweeter than the roses I smell blooming around the side of the porch. And even though I gorged myself on blood the other night and should not need to feed again for several days, I find myself licking my lips hungrily and listening to her heartbeat as if it is the most important sound in my existence.
She snorts, “In your dreams, Cowboy.” Oh my dear Miss Stackhouse, if you only knew . . .
“Ah, what sweet dreams they would be. But alas, vampires do not dream when they sleep,” I say with a sigh. Reluctantly, I bring the conversation back to the distasteful topic at hand. “I need you to focus, Sookie. We know the killer is a male. Who were the men there today when you heard the killer’s thoughts?”
“Eric, I don’t know,” she says frustrated. I grab her hands in mine and force her to look me in the eyes.
“Keep calm, take a deep breath, and close your eyes.” I wait for her to do as I directed. “Now, think back to this afternoon. Were the police officers still there?”
“Yes; Kevin and Kenya were there keeping everyone out of the crime scene. Mike Spencer and his assistant were inside the house. Oh! His assistant was at Fangtasia one of the nights I went there. He was dressed up like a fangbanger. His name is Toby I think.”
I make note of the three people she states; Pam or I will investigate later. “Good, Sookie. Now who else? Where were you and Dawson standing?”
“By his truck; Andy and Bud Dearborn had already left with Jason in the back of their squad car,” she says in a trembling voice.
I squeeze her hands encouragingly. “Don’t focus on that, Sookie. Tell me about the people. Were there bystanders watching what was going on?” Humans have a morbid sense of curiosity. They fear death, but yet they cannot help but watch the effects of it on others. It’s why there are ambulance chasers and those that stare at car crashes or train wrecks.
“They treated it like it was a fuckin’ block party,” she says in disgust with her face scrunched up. “Kids were runnin’ around playin’. People were drinkin’ and eatin’ like it was a dang barbeque.”
I press her. “Who do you see, Sookie?”
“I see everyone I’d expect to see when somethin’ big happens in Bon Temps. Arlene, Sam, Maxine, her son Hoyt…the only one I don’t see that I should is Rene,” she says in wonder.
I can rule out the Shifter; if he were the killer, Dawson would have picked up his scent immediately. But the other two… “I need first and last names of the men, Sookie.”
She opens her eyes to look at me warily. “Hoyt Fortenberry and Rene Lenier . . . But Eric I’ve known both of ‘em for years. There’s no way they’re behind this!”
“Are you really willing to risk your life or that of your brother because you’ve known these people for years? There are dozens that I can say I have known for centuries, and all of them wouldn’t think twice about sending me to my True Death if it meant saving their own skin. There are only two that I trust completely: my maker and my child,” I tell Sookie honestly.
“That’s so sad,” she says with a sniffle.
“It’s what’s kept me alive for a thousand years,” I tell her pragmatically. “Pam and I will begin investigating the names you’ve given me. In the meantime, no going out alone. That goes for both you and your grandmother. Guards are going to be posted here 24/7. No arguments,” I say when she opens her mouth to protest.
“What about Jason?”
I wish Dawson had addressed this with her earlier. When I say nothing, her eyes narrow and she crosses her arms over her chest. “You’re gonna leave him in jail,” she hisses angrily.
In for a penny . . . “Yes.”
Sookie tries to push herself away from me, but I won’t let her. My hands and arms trap her against my body. She fights against my hold, clawing and pushing at my flesh. “Let go of me,” she hisses again.
“Sookie, stop,” I command forcefully, though I know my influence will have no effect on her. She continues her struggles, but it is a futile endeavor. “Will you please let me explain before you go off half-cocked? Dawson had a valid point earlier and I think it is worth pursuing.” There’s no way I’m bearing the brunt of her anger for this when it wasn’t my idea to start with.
Sookie stills her movements hearing that Dawson is also involved in this. “I’m listening,” she huffs out.
“Think about this rationally. The only suspect the police have is in custody. What happens when the killer strikes again? And he will; he has a taste for killing and it cannot be extinguished now. You said you’ve heard the killer thinking of how he has another victim lined up.” I refuse to acknowledge that it is her. The idea of her lying cold and lifeless is unacceptable and I will not entertain the idea that it is a possibility. There is only one way I will be willing to accept her body cold and lifeless and that is only if she is a vampire that has not yet reanimated for the evening.
“You want to use me as bait?”
“You’re lying,” she says quietly.
I sigh and loosen my hold on her so that I can caress the skin of her legs. The simple action soothes me. “I do not like the possibility of you being used to lure the killer out. However, if he has already set his sights on you, then there is nothing we can do to alter his desires. If he was to kill another instead of you, it will only be out of necessity to protect himself or because he is so enraged that he cannot get to you.”
“I don’t want anyone dyin’ for me,” Sookie says softly as her lower lip trembles.
My thumb comes up to her lips, moving back and forth across the pink flesh. It is hypnotic to watch and I let myself get lost in the action for a moment. “I am not willing to lose you,” I finally say softly. “We will do everything necessary to protect you. I do not like the idea of you going to work for the Shifter, but we need to make sure you are seen there. You said the killer has also seen you at Fangtasia, so you will also need to make sure you are seen there. If you work nights at Merlotte’s, I will come visit you. Perhaps seeing us together will help you pinpoint the killer’s thoughts more easily.”
“I hate the idea of leaving Jason in jail when he didn’t do anything wrong,” she whimpers.
“He did not listen to me when I told him what he needed to do to stay out of trouble. Perhaps this will teach him a lesson.”
She snorts in laughter and I look at her curiously. “Knowin’ Jason he won’t put two and two together. He’ll probably think he’s in jail because Andy’s jealous that he can’t get as many girls as he can.”
I smirk in response. “Don’t worry; your brother will soon learn that he isn’t the be all end all when it comes to women.” Once we are through all of this, I will enjoy showing Jason Stackhouse that he isn’t at the top of the food chain. I might even be magnanimous and do it without glamouring women to stay away from him . . . then again, perhaps not. It will be far more entertaining to glamour the women he hits on to do something truly comical when he propositions them for sex. Perhaps I’ll let Pam do the glamouring; she’s far more inventive when it comes to having humans do crazy stupid tricks. Then again, perhaps not; she’ll use it as an opportunity against me. Knowing my luck, she’ll have all of them try to sit on my lap and cluck like a chicken while trying to lay an egg.
Sookie’s good mood flees and she tenses in my arms. She extracts herself from my grasp and walks towards the front door. “It’s been a long day and I’m tired. I’m sure there are plenty of other things you need to be doin’.”
I rise from the swing and walk over to her. She keeps her eyes down and there is something off about her posture. Analyzing the tie with her, I feel her weariness, sadness, and something else; something I can’t define easily. “Dawson!” It takes a few minutes for the Were to respond, but he comes walking out of the forest at his usual deliberate slow pace. Once he joins us on the porch, Sookie hauls off and punches him as hard as she can in the arm.
“Even if I agree with the reason, that’s for saying my brother should stay in jail!” She darts inside the open door before either one of us can say anything. Dawson stands there with a shocked expression on his face and I begin chuckling.
“Did you have to tell her it was my idea?” Dawson grumbles as he rubs the spot where she hit him. Given that she’s had my blood, she was able to hit him with far more strength than she would have on her own. He might actually bruise where she connected her fist with his arm.
“Of course I did; I can’t have her mad at me,” I say and chuckle again. I bring him up to speed on everything that Sookie was able to tell me about the people she remembers from today. He says that he will handle everything; he’s planning on staying the night with the Stackhouse women and Thalia will be watching from the woods. I would feel better if Sookie and her grandmother were staying some place less isolated; closer to me. Even flying at top speed, it will take me between fifteen and twenty minutes to get here from Shreveport; more than enough time for a murderer to take his next victim. Before I leave the house, I call Mustapha to have him begin investigating the names Sookie had given me. I also call Herveaux; I want the security features installed IMMEDIATELY on the Stackhouse home: flood lights, alarm system, panic room, anything and everything to protect these women.
Still, something about this entire scenario bothers me. If I were the killer, I wouldn’t be too far from my next victim. I’d be watching her, enjoying knowing that she only lives at my discretion. As much as Sookie doesn’t want to acknowledge this, the killer is someone she knows; someone who is very familiar with her and her family. Is the killer a true fanatical or is he merely using the Fellowship of the Sun as justification for his actions? Wouldn’t Sookie have known if some of her friends were members of the Fellowship of the Sun? I know she has friends that are less than thrilled that she is now associating with vampires, letting their fear, ignorance, and selfishness overrule their common sense. Clearly the killer knows of her ability and is using what he knows to his advantage. I need more information about the church; I need to know if any of the people in Bon Temps have recently been to Dallas.
Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I dial the first number on speed dial. The phone rings twice before it is picked up. “Godric, I need your help.”