Club Dead Chapter Eleven
There was a line of light in the sky when I crept out of the mansion of the king of Mississippi. It was a little warmer this morning, and the sky was dark with not just night, but rain. I had a little roll of my belongings under my arm. Somehow my purse and my black velvet shawl had made it here to the mansion from the nightclub, and I had rolled my high heels in the shawl. The purse did have the key to Alcide's apartment in it, the one he'd loaned me, so I felt reassured that I could find shelter there if need be. I had the blanket from the bed folded neatly under my other arm. I'd made the bed up, so its loss would not be obvious for a little while.
What Bernard had not loaned me was a jacket. When I'd snuck out, I'd snagged a dark blue quilted jacket that had been hanging on the banister. I felt very guilty. I'd never stolen anything before. Now I had taken the blanket and the jacket. My conscience was protesting vigorously.
When I considered what I might have to do to get out of this compound, taking a jacket and a blanket seemed pretty mild. I told my conscience to shut up.
As I crept through the cavernous kitchen and opened the back door, my feet were sliding around in the elastic-sided slippers Bernard had included in the bundle of clothes he'd brought to my room. The socks and slippers were better than teetering in the heels, by a long shot.
I hadn't seen anyone so far. I seemed to have hit the magic time. Almost all the vampires were securely in their coffins, or beds, or in the ground, or whatever the heck they did during the day. Almost all the Were creatures, of whatever persuasion, were not back from their last night's binge or were already sleeping it off. But I was vibrating with tension, because at any moment this luck might run out.
Behind the mansion, there was indeed a smallish swimming pool, covered for the winter by a huge black tarp. It had weighted edges that extended far beyond the actual perimeter of the pool. The tiny pool house was completely dark. I moved silently down a pathway created with uneven flagstones, and after I passed through a gap in a dense hedge, I found myself in a paved area. With my enhanced vision, I was able to see instantly that I had found the courtyard in front of the former stables. It was a large edifice sided with white clapboards, and the second story (where Bubba had spotted apartments) had gable-style windows. Though his was the fanciest garage I had ever seen, the bays for cars did not have doors, but open archways. I could count four vehicles parked inside, from the limo to a Jeep. And there, on the right, instead of a fifth archway, there was a solid wall, and in it, a door.
Bill, I thought. Bill. My heart was pounding now. With an overwhelming sense of relief, I spotted the Lincoln parked close to the door. I turned the key in the driver's door, and it clicked open. When I opened the door, the dome light came on, but there didn't seem to be anyone here to see it. I tucked my little bundle of belongings on the passenger seat, and I eased the driver's door almost shut. I found a little switch and turned off the dome light. I took a precious minute to look at the dashboard, though I was so excited and terrified, it was hard to focus. Then I went to the rear of the vehicle and unlocked the trunk. It was just huge - but not clean, like the interior. I had the idea that Eric had gathered up all the large contents and tossed them in the trash, leaving the bottom littered with cigarette rolling papers, plastic bags, and spots of white powder on the floor. Hmmm. Well, okay. That couldn't be too important. Eric had stuck in two bottles of blood, and I moved them over to one side. The trunk was dirty, yes, but clear of anything that would cause Bill discomfort.
I took a deep breath, and clutched the blanket to my chest. Wrapped in its folds was the stake that had hurt me so badly. It was the only weapon I had, and despite its grisly appearance (it was still stained with my blood and a little tissue), I had retrieved it from the wastebasket and brought it with me. After all, I knew for sure it could cause damage.
The sky was a shade lighter, but when I felt raindrops on my face, I felt confident the darkness would last a little longer. I skulked my way to the garage. Creeping around surely looked suspicious, but I simply could not make myself stride purposefully over to the door. The gravel made silence almost impossible, but still I tried to step lightly.
I put my ear to the door, listened with all my enhanced ability. I was picking up nothing. At least I knew there was no human inside. Turning the knob slowly, easing it back into position after I pushed, I stepped into the room.
The floor was wooden, and covered with stains. The smell was awful. I knew immediately that Russell had used this room for torture before. Bill was in the center of the room, lashed to a straight-back chair by silver chains.
After the confused emotions and unfamiliar surroundings of the past few days, I felt like the world suddenly came into focus.
Everything was clear. Here was Bill. I would save him.
And after I'd had a good look at him in the light of the naked bulb hanging from the ceiling, I knew I would do anything to save him.
I had never imagined anything so bad.
There were burn marks under the silver chains, which were draped all around him. I knew that silver caused unremitting agony to a vampire, and my Bill was suffering that now. He had been burned with other things, and cut, cut more than he could heal. He had been starved, and he had been denied sleep. He was slumped over now, and I knew he was taking what respite he could while his tormenters were gone. His dark hair was matted with blood.
There were two doors leading out of the windowless room. One, to my right, led to a dormitory of sorts. I could see some beds through the open doorway. There was a man passed out on one, just sprawled across the cot fully clothed. One of the werewolves, back after his monthly toot. He was snoring, and there were dark smears around his mouth that I didn't want to look at more closely. I couldn't see the rest of the room, so I couldn't be sure if there were others;it would be smart to assume there were.
The door at the rear of the room led farther back into the garage, perhaps to the stairs going up to the apartments. I couldn't spare the time to investigate. I had a feeling of urgency, impelling me to get Bill out as fast as I could. I was trembly with the need to hurry. So far, I had encountered enormous luck. I couldn't count on its holding.
I took two steps closer to Bill.
I knew when he smelled me, realized it was me.
His head snapped up and his eyes blazed at me. A terrible hope shone on his filthy face. I held up a finger;I stepped quietly over to the open door to the dormitory, and gently, gently, slid it almost shut. Then I glided behind him, looking down at the chains. There were two small padlocks, like the ones you put on your locker at school, holding the chains together. ’’Key?’’ I breathed in Bill's ear. He had an unbroken finger, and that was the one he used to point at the door I'd come in by. Two keys hung on a nail by the door, quite high from the floor, and always in Bill's sight. Of course they'd think of that. I put the blanket and stake on the floor by Bill's feet. I crept across the stained floor, and reached up as far as I could strain. I couldn't reach the keys. A vampire who could float would be able to get them. I reminded myself I was strong, strong from Eric's blood.
There was a shelf on the wall that held interesting things like pokers and pincers. Pincers! I stood on my tiptoes and lifted them off the shelf, trying hard to keep my gorge from rising when I saw they were crusted with - oh, horrible stuff. I held them up, and they were very heavy, but I managed to clamp them on the keys, work them forward off the nail, and lower the pincers until I could take the keys from their pointed ends. I exhaled a giant sigh of relief, as silently as you can exhale. That hadn't been so hard.
In fact, that was the last easy thing I encountered. I began the horrible task of unwrapping Bill, while trying to keep the movement of the chains as silent as I could. It was oddly difficult to unwind the shiny rope of links. In fact, they seemed to be sticking to Bill, whose whole body was rigid with tension.
Then I understood. He was trying not to scream out loud as the chains were pulled out of his charred flesh. My stomach lurched. I had to stop my task for a few precious seconds, and I had to inhale very carefully. If it was this hard for me to witness his agony, how much harder must it be for Bill to endure it?
I braced up my mental fortitude, and I began working again. My grandmother always told me women could do whatever they had to do, and once again, she was right.
There were literally yards of silver chain, and the careful unwinding took more time than I liked. Any time was more time than I liked. The danger lurked right over my shoulder. I was breathing disaster, in and out, with every breath. Bill was very weak, and struggling to stay awake now that the sun had risen. It helped that the day was so dark, but he would not be able to move much when the sun was high, no matter how dreary the day.
The last bit of chain slid to the floor.
’’You have to stand up,’’ I said in Bill's ear. ’’You just have to. I know it hurts. But I can't carry you.’’ At least, I didn't think I could. ’’There's a big Lincoln outside, and the trunk is open. I'm putting you in the trunk, wrapped in this blanket, and we're driving out of here. Understand, babe?’’
Bill's dark head moved a fraction of an inch.
Right then our luck ran out.
’’Who the hell are you?’’ asked a heavily accented voice. Someone had come through the door at my back
Bill flinched under my hands. I whirled to face her, dipping to pick up the stake as I did so, and then she was on me.
I had talked myself into believing they were all in their coffins for the day, but this one was doing her best to kill me.
I would have been dead in a minute if she hadn't been as shocked as I was. I twisted my arm from her grasp and pivoted around Bill in his chair. Her fangs were all out, and she was snarling at me over Bill's head. She was a blond, like me, but her eyes were brown and her build was smaller;she was a tiny woman. She had dried blood on her hands, and I knew it was Bill's. A flame started up inside me. I could feel it flicker through my eyes.
’’You must be his little human bitch whore,’’ she said. ’’He was f*king me, all this time, you understand. The minute he saw me, he forgot about you, except for pity.’’
Well, Lorena wasn't elegant, but she knew where to sink the verbal knife. I batted the words aside, because she wanted to distract me. I shifted my grip on the stake to be ready, and she leaped across Bill to land on top of me.
As she moved, without a conscious decision I whipped up the stake and pointed it at an angle. As she came down on me, the sharp point went in her chest and out the other side. Then we were on the floor. I was still gripping the end of the stake, and she was holding herself off of me with her arms. She looked down at the wood in her chest, astonished. Then she looked in my eyes, her mouth agape, her fangs retracting. ’’No,’’ she said. Her eyes went dull.
I used the stake to push her to my left side, and I scrambled up off the floor. I was panting, and my hands shook violently. She didn't move. The whole incident had been so swift and so quiet that it hardly felt real.
Bill's eyes went from the thing on the floor to me. His expression was unreadable. ’’Well,’’ I told him, ’’I killed her ass.’’
Then I was on my knees beside her, trying not to vomit.
It took me more precious seconds to regain control of myself. I had a goal I had to meet. Her death would not do me a bit of good if I couldn't get Bill out of here before someone else came in. Since I had done something so horrible, I had to get something, some advantage out of it.
It would be a smart thing to conceal the body - which was beginning to shrivel - but that had to take second place to removing Bill. I wrapped the blanket around his shoulders as he sat slumped in the stained chair. I'd been afraid to look at his face since I'd done this thing.
’’That was Lorena?’’ I whispered in Bill's ear, plagued by a sudden doubt. ’’She did this to you?’’
He gave that tiny nod again.
Ding dong, the witch was dead.
After a pause, while I waited to feel something, the only thing I could think of was asking Bill why someone named Lorena would have a foreign accent. That was dumb, so I forgot about it.
’’You got to wake up. You got to stay awake till I get you in the car, Bill.’’ I was trying to keep a mental eye open for the Weres in the next room. One of them began snoring behind the closed door, and I felt the mental stir of another, one I hadn't been able to spot. I froze for several seconds, before I could feel that mind settle into a sleep pattern again. I took a deep, deep breath and pulled a flap of blanket over Bill's head. Then I got his left arm draped around my neck, and I heaved. He came up out of the chair, and though he gave a ragged hiss of pain, he managed to shuffle to the door. I was more than half carrying him, so I was glad to stop there and grab the knob and twist it. Then I almost lost hold of him, since he was literally sleeping on his feet.
Only the danger that we would be caught was stimulating him enough to afford movement.
The door opened, and I checked to make sure the blanket, which happened to be fuzzy and yellow, completely covered his head. Bill moaned and went almost completely limp when he felt the sunlight, weak and watery as it was. I began talking to him under my breath, cursing him and challenging him to move, telling him I could keep him awake if that bitch Lorena could, telling him I would beat him up if he didn't make it to the car.
Finally, with a tremendous effort that left me trembling, I got Bill to the trunk of the car. I pushed it open. ’’Bill, just sit on the lip here,’’ I told him, tugging at him until he was facing me and sitting on the edge of the trunk. But the life left him completely at that point, and he simply collapsed backward. As he folded into the space, he made a deep pain noise that tore at my heart, and then he was absolutely silent and limp. It was always terrifying to see Bill die like that. I wanted to shake him, scream at him, pound on his chest.
There was no point in any of that.
I made myself shove all the sticking-out bits - a leg, an arm - into the trunk with him, and then I closed it. I allowed myself the luxury of a moment of intense relief.
Standing in the dim daylight in the deserted courtyard, I conducted a brief inner debate. Should I attempt to hide Lorena's body? Would such an effort be worth the time and energy?
I changed my mind about six times in the course of thirty seconds. I finally decided that yeah, it might be worth it. If there was no body to see, the Weres might suppose that Lorena had taken Bill somewhere for a little extra torture session. And Russell and Betty Joe would be dead to the world and unavailable to give instructions. I had no illusions that Betty Joe would be grateful enough to me to spare me, if I should get caught right now. A somewhat quicker death would be the most I could hope for.
My decision reached, back into that awful bloodstained room I went. Misery had soaked into the walls, along with the stains. I wondered how many humans, Weres, and vampires had been held prisoner in this room. Gathering up the chains as silently as I could, I stuffed them in Lorena's blouse, so anyone checking out the room might assume they were still around Bill. I looked around to see if there was any more cleanup I needed to do. There was so much blood in the room already, Lorena's made no difference.
Time to get her out of there.
To keep her heels from dragging and making noise, I had to lift her onto my shoulder. I had never done such a thing, and the procedure was awkward. Lucky for me she was so small, and lucky I'd practiced blocking things out of my mind all these years. Otherwise, the way Lorena dangled, completely limp, and the way she was beginning to flake away, would have freaked me out. I gritted my teeth, to hold back the bubble of hysteria starting up my throat.
It was raining heavily as I carried the body to the pool. Without Eric's blood, I could never have lifted the weighted edge of the pool cover, but I managed it with one hand and pushed what was left of Lorena into the pool with one foot. I was aware at any second that someone could look out the windows at the back of the mansion and see me, realize what I was doing - but if any of the humans living in the house did so, they decided to keep silent.
I was beginning to feel overwhelmingly weary. I trudged back down the flagstone path through the hedge to the car. I leaned on it for a minute, just breathing, gathering myself. Then I got in the driver's seat, and turned the key in the ignition. The Lincoln was the biggest car I'd ever driven, and one of the most luxurious cars I'd ever been in, but just at the moment I could take no interest or pleasure in it. I buckled my seat belt, adjusted the mirror and the seat, and looked at the dashboard carefully. I was going to need the windshield wipers, of course. This car was a new one, and the lights came on automatically, so that was one less worry.
I took a deep breath. This was at least phase three of the rescue of Bill. It was scary how much of this had happened by sheer chance, but the best-laid plans never take every happenstance into account anyway. Not possible. Generally, my plans tended to be what I called roomy.
I swung the car around and drove out of the courtyard. The drive swept in a graceful curve and went across the front of the main building. For the first time, I saw the facade of the mansion. It was as beautiful - white painted siding, huge columns - as I had imagined. Russell had spent a pretty penny renovating the place.
The driveway wound through grounds that still looked manicured even in their winter brown state, but that long driveway was all too short. I could see the wall ahead of me. There was the checkpoint at the gate, and it was manned. I was sweating despite the cold.
I stopped just before the gate. There was a little white cubicle to one side, and it was glass from waist level up. It extended inside and outside the wall, so guards could check both incoming and outgoing vehicles. I hoped it was heated, for the sake of the two Weres on duty. Both of them were wearing their leathers and looking mighty grumpy. They'd had a hard night, no doubt about it. As I pulled to a stop, I resisted an almost overwhelming temptation to plow right through those gates. One of the Weres came out. He was carrying a rifle, so it was a good thing I hadn't acted on that impulse.
’’I guess Bernard told you all I'd be leaving this morning?’’ I said, after I'd rolled down my window. I attempted a smile.
’’You the one who got staked last night?’’ My questioner was surly and stubbly, and he smelled like a wet dog.
’’How you feeling?’’
’’Better, thank you.’’
’’You coming back for the crucifixion?’’
Surely I hadn't heard him right. ’’Excuse me?’’ I asked faintly.
His companion, who'd come to stand in the hut's door, said, ’’Doug, shut up.’’
Doug glowered at his fellow Were, but he shrugged after the glower didn't have any effect. ’’Okay, you're cleared to go.’’
The gates opened, way too slowly to suit me. When they were wide, and the Weres had stepped back, I drove sedately through. I suddenly realized I had no idea which way to go, but it seemed correct to turn left, since I wanted to head back to Jackson. My subconscious was telling me we had turned right to enter the driveway the night before.
My subconscious was a big fat liar.
After five minutes, I was fairly positive I was lost, and the sun continued to rise, naturally, even through the mass of clouds. I couldn't remember how well the blanket covered Bill, and I wasn't sure how light-tight the trunk would be. After all, safe transportation of vampires was not something the carmakers would cover in their list of specs.
On the other hand, I told myself, the trunk would have to be waterproof - that was sure important - so light-proof couldn't be far behind. Nonetheless, it seemed vitally important to find a dark place to park the Lincoln for the remaining hours of the day. Though every impulse told me to drive hard and get as far away from the mansion as I could, just in case someone went checking for Bill and put two and two together, I pulled over to the side of the road and opened the glove compartment. God bless America! There was a map of Mississippi with an inset for Jackson.
Which would have helped if I'd had any idea where I was at the moment.
People making desperate escapes aren't supposed to get lost.
I took a few deep breaths. I pulled back out into the road and drove on until I saw a busy gas station. Though the Lincoln's tank was full (thank you, Eric) I pulled in and parked at one of the pumps. The car on the other side was a black Mercedes, and the woman pumping the gas was an intelligent-looking middle-aged woman dressed in casual, comfortable, nice clothes. As I got the windshield squeegee out of its vat of water, I said, ’’You wouldn't happen to know how to get back to I-20 from here, would you?’’
’’Oh, sure,’’ she said. She smiled. She was the kind of person who just loves to help other people, and I was thanking my lucky stars I'd spotted her. ’’This is Madison, and Jackson is south of here. I-55 is maybe a mile over that way.’’ She pointed west. ’’You take I-55 south, and you'll run right into I-20. Or, you could take ...’’
I was about to be overloaded with information. ’’Oh, that sounds perfect. Let me just do that, or I'll lose track.’’
’’Sure, glad I could help.’’
’’Oh, you surely did.’’
We beamed at each other, just two nice women. I had to fight an impulse to say, ’’There's a tortured vampire in my trunk,’’ out of sheer giddiness. I had rescued Bill, and I was alive, and tonight we would be on our way back to Bon Temps. Life would be wonderfully trouble-free. Except, of course, for dealing with my unfaithful boyfriend, finding out if the werewolf's body we'd disposed of in Bon Temps had been found, waiting to hear the same about the werewolf who'd been stuffed in Alcide's closet, and waiting for the reaction of the queen of Louisiana to Bill's indiscretion with Lorena. His verbal indiscretion: I didn't think for one minute that she would care about his se*ual activities.
Other than that, we were hunky-dory.
’’Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,’’ I told myself. That had been Gran's favorite Bible quotation. When I was about nine, I'd asked her to explain that to me, and she'd said, ’’Don't go looking for trouble;it's already looking for you.’’
Bearing that in mind, I cleared my mental decks. My next goal was simply to get back to Jackson and the shelter of the garage. I followed the instructions the kind woman had given me, and I had the relief of entering Jackson within a half hour.
I knew if I could find the state capitol, I could find Alcide's apartment building. I hadn't allowed for oneway streets, and I hadn't been paying awful close attention to directions when Alcide gave me my little tour of downtown Jackson. But there aren't that many five-story buildings in the whole state of Mississippi, even in the capital. After a tense period of cruising, I spotted it.
Now, I thought, all my troubles will be over. Isn't it dumb to think that? Ever?
I pulled into the area by the little guard cubicle, where you had to wait to be recognized while the guy flipped the switch, or punched the button, or whatever made the barrier lift up. I was terrified he might deny me entrance because I didn't have a special sticker, like Alcide did on his truck.
The man wasn't there. The cubicle was empty. Surely that was wrong? I frowned, wondering what to do. But here the guard came, in his heavy brown uniform, trudging up the ramp. When he saw I was waiting, he looked stricken, and hurried up to the car. I sighed. I would have to talk to him after all. I pushed the button that would lower my window.
’’I'm sorry I was away from my post,’’ he said instantly. ’’I had to, ah ... personal needs.’’
I had a little leverage here.
’’I had to go borrow me a car,’’ I said. ’’Can I get a temporary sticker?’’ I looked at him in a way that clued him in to my mindset. That look said, ’’Don't hassle me about getting the sticker, and I won't say a word about you leaving your post.’’
’’Yes, ma'am. That's apartment 504?’’
’’You have a wonderful memory,’’ I said, and his seamed face flushed.
’’Part of the job,’’ he said nonchalantly, and handed me a laminated number that I stuck on the dashboard. ’’If you'll just hand that in when you leave for good, please? Or if you plan on staying, you'll have to fill out a form we can have on file, and we'll give you a sticker. Actually,’’ he said, stumbling a little, embarrassed, ’’Mr. Herveaux will have to fill it out, as the property owner.’’
’’Sure,’’ I said. ’’No problem.’’ I gave him a cheery wave, and he retreated to the cubicle to raise the barrier.
I drove into the dark parking garage, feeling that rush of relief that follows clearing a major hurdle.
Reaction set in. I was shaking all over when I took the keys out of the ignition. I thought I saw Alcide's pickup over a couple of rows, but I had parked as deeply in the garage as I could - in the darkest corner, away from all the other cars, as it happened. This was as far as I had planned. I had no idea what to do next. I hadn't really believed I would get this far. I leaned back in the comfortable seat just for a minute, to relax and stop shaking before I got out. I'd had the heater on full blast during my drive from the mansion, so it was toasty warm inside the car.
When I woke up, I'd been asleep for hours.
The car was cold, and I was colder, despite the stolen quilted jacket. I got out of the driver's seat stiffly, stretching and bending to relieve cramped joints.
Maybe I should check on Bill. He had gotten rolled around in the trunk, I was sure, and I needed to make sure he was covered.
Actually, I just wanted to see him again. My heart actually beat faster at the thought. I was a real idiot.
I checked my distance from the weak sunlight at the entrance;I was well away. And I had parked so the trunk opening was pointed away from that bit of sunlight.
Yielding to temptation, I stepped around to the back of the car. I turned the key in the lock, pulled it out and popped it in my jacket pocket, and watched as the lid rose.
In the dim garage, I couldn't see too well, and it was hard to make out even the fuzzy yellow blanket. Bill appeared to be pretty well concealed. I bent over a little more, so I could arrange a fold further over his head. I had only a second's warning, a scuff of a shoe against the concrete, and then I felt a forceful shove from behind.
I fell into the trunk on top of Bill.
An instant and extra shove brought my legs in, and the trunk slammed shut.
Now Bill and I were locked in the trunk of the Lincoln.