Club Dead Chapter Seven
Alcide was waiting for me when I got back. A pile of wrapped presents on the kitchen counter showed me how he'd spent at least part of his morning. Alcide had been completing his Christmas shopping.
Judging from his self-conscious look (Mr. Subtle, he wasn't), he'd done something he wasn't sure I'd like. Whatever it was, he wasn't ready to reveal it to me, so I tried to be polite and stay out of his head. As I was passing through the short hall formed by the bedroom wall and the kitchen counter, I sniffed something less than pleasant. Maybe the garbage needed to be tossed? What garbage could we have generated in our short stay that would produce that faint, unpleasant odor? But the past pleasure of my chat with Janice and the present pleasure of seeing Alcide made it easy to forget.
’’You look nice,’’ he said.
’’I stopped in to see Janice.’’ I was worried for fear he would think I was imposing on his sister's generosity. ’’She has a way of getting you to accept things you had no intention of accepting.’’
’’She's good,’’ he said simply. ’’She's known about me since we were in high school, and she's never told a soul.’’
’’I could tell.’’
’’How - ? Oh, yeah.’’ He shook his head. ’’You seem like the most regular person I ever met, and it's hard to remember you've got all this extra stuff.’’
No one had ever put it quite like that.
’’When you were coming in, did you smell something strange by - ’’ he began, but then the doorbell rang.
Alcide went to answer it while I took off my coat.
He sounded pleased, and I turned to face the door with a smile. The young man coming in didn't seem surprised to see me, and Alcide introduced him as Janice's husband, Dell Phillips. I shook his hand, expecting to be as pleased with him as I was with Janice.
He touched me as briefly as possible, and then he ignored me. ’’I wondered if you could come by this afternoon and help me set up our outside Christmas lights,’’ Dell said - to Alcide, and Alcide only.
’’Where's Tommy?’’ Alcide asked. He looked disappointed. ’’You didn't bring him by to see me?’’ Tommy was Janice's baby.
Dell looked at me, and shook his head. ’’You've got a woman here, it didn't seem right. He's with my mom.’’
The comment was so unexpected, all I could do was stand in silence. Dell's attitude had caught Alcide flat-footed, too. ’’Dell,’’ he said, ’’don't be rude to my friend.’’
’’She's staying in your apartment, that says more than friend,’’ Dell said matter-of-factly. ’’Sorry, miss, this just isn't right.’’
’’Judge not, that ye be not judged,’’ I told him, hoping I didn't sound as furious as my clenched stomach told me I was. It felt wrong to quote the Bible when you were in a towering rage. I went into the guest bedroom and shut the door.
After I heard Dell Phillips leave, Alcide knocked on the door.
’’You want to play Scrabble?’’ he asked.
I blinked. ’’Sure.’’
’’When I was shopping for Tommy, I picked up a game.’’
He'd already put it on the coffee table in front of the couch, but he hadn't been confident enough to unwrap it and set it up.
’’I'll pour us a Coke,’’ I said. Not for the first time, I noticed that the apartment was quite cool, though of course it was much warmer than outside. I wished I had brought a light sweater to put on, and I wondered if it would offend Alcide if I asked him to turn the heat up. Then I remembered how warm his skin was, and I figured he was one of those people who runs kind of hot. Or maybe all Weres were like that? I pulled on the sweatshirt I'd worn yesterday, being very careful when I eased it over my hair.
Alcide had folded himself onto the floor on one side of the table, and I settled on the other. It had been a long time since either of us played Scrabble, so we studied the rules for a while before we began the game.
Alcide had graduated from Louisiana Tech. I'd never been to college, but I read a lot, so we were about even on the extent of our vocabulary. Alcide was the better strategist. I seemed to think a little faster.
I scored big with ’’quirt,’’ and he stuck his tongue out at me. I laughed, and he said, ’’Don't read my mind, that would be cheating.’’
’’Of course I wouldn't do any such thing,’’ I said demurely, and he scowled at me.
I lost - but only by twelve points. After a pleasantly quarrelsome rehash of the game, Alcide got up and took our glasses over to the kitchen. He put them down and began to search through the cabinets, while I stored the game pieces and replaced the lid.
’’Where you want me to put this?’’ I asked.
’’Oh, in the closet by the door. There are a couple of shelves in there.’’
I tucked the box under one arm and went to the closet. The smell I'd noticed earlier seemed to be stronger.
’’You know, Alcide,’’ I said, hoping I wasn't being tacky, ’’there's something that smells almost rotten, right around here.’’
’’I'd noticed it, too. That's why I'm over here looking through the cabinets. Maybe there's a dead mouse?’’
As I spoke, I was turning the doorknob.
I discovered the source of the smell.
’’Oh, no,’’ I said. ’’Oh, nononono.’’
’’Don't tell me a rat got in there and died,’’ Alcide said.
’’Not a rat,’’ I said. ’’A werewolf.’’
The closet had a shelf above a hanging bar, and it was a small closet, intended only for visitors'coats. Now it was filled by the swarthy man from Club Dead, the man who'd grabbed me by the shoulder. He was really dead. He'd been dead for several hours.
I didn't seem to be able to look away.
Alcide's presence at my back was an unexpected comfort. He stared over my head, his hands gripping my shoulders.
’’No blood,’’ I said in a jittery voice.
’’His neck.’’ Alcide was at least as shaken as I was.
His head really was resting on his shoulder, while still attached to his body. Ick, ick, ick. I gulped hard. ’’We should call the police,’’ I said, not sounding very positive about the process. I noted the way the body had been stuffed into the closet. The dead man was almost standing up. I figured he'd been shoved in, and then whoever had done the shoving had forced the door closed. He'd sort of hardened in position.
’’But if we call the police ...’’ Alcide's voice trailed off. He took a deep breath. ’’They'll never believe we didn't do it. They'll interview his friends, and his friends will tell them he was at Club Dead last night, and they'll check it out. They'll find out he got into trouble for bothering you. No one will believe we didn't have a hand in killing him.’’
’’On the other hand,’’ I said slowly, thinking out loud, ’’do you think they'd mention a word about Club Dead?’’
Alcide pondered that. He ran his thumb over his mouth while he thought. ’’You may be right. And if they couldn't bring up Club Dead, how could they describe the, uh, confrontation? You know what they'd do? They'd want to take care of the problem themselves.’’
That was an excellent point. I was sold: no police. ’’Then we need to dispose of him,’’ I said, getting down to brass tacks. ’’How are we gonna do that?’’
Alcide was a practical man. He was used to solving problems, starting with the biggest.
’’We need to take him out to the country somewhere. To do that, we have to get him down to the garage,’’ he said after a few moments'thought. ’’To do that, we have to wrap him up.’’
’’The shower curtain,’’ I suggested, nodding my head in the direction of the bathroom I'd used. ’’Um, can we close the closet and go somewhere else while we work this out?’’
’’Sure,’’ Alcide said, suddenly as anxious as I was to stop looking at the gruesome sight before us.
So we stood in the middle of the living room and had a planning session. The first thing I did was turn off the heat in the apartment altogether, and open all the windows. The body had not made its presence known earlier only because Alcide liked the temperature kept cool, and because the closet door fit well. Now we had to disperse the faint but pervasive smell.
’’It's five flights down, and I don't think I can carry him that far,’’ Alcide said. ’’He needs to go at least some of the distance in the elevator. That's the most dangerous part.’’
We kept discussing and refining, until we felt we had a workable procedure. Alcide asked me twice if I was okay, and I reassured him both times;it finally dawned on me that he was thinking I might break into hysterics, or faint.
’’I've never been able to afford to be too finicky,’’ I said. ’’That's not my nature.’’ If Alcide expected or wanted me to ask for smelling salts, or to beg him to save little me from the big bad wolf, he had the wrong woman.
I might be determined to keep my head, but that's not to say I felt exactly calm. I was so jittery when I went to get the shower curtain that I had to restrain myself from ripping it from the clear plastic rings. Slow and steady, I told myself fiercely. Breathe in, breathe out, get the shower curtain, spread it on the hall floor.
It was blue and green with yellow fish swimming serenely in even rows.
Alcide had gone downstairs to the parking garage to move his truck as close to the stair door as possible. He'd thoughtfully brought a pair of work gloves back up with him. While he pulled them on, he took a deep breath - maybe a mistake, considering the body's proximity. His face a frozen mask of determination, Alcide gripped the corpse's shoulders and gave a yank.
The results were dramatic beyond our imagining. In one stiff piece, the biker toppled out of the closet. Alcide had to leap to his right to avoid the falling body, which banged against the kitchen counter and then fell sideways onto the shower curtain.
’’Wow,’’ I said in a shaky voice, looking down at the result. ’’That turned out well.’’
The body was lying almost exactly as we wanted it. Alcide and I gave each other a sharp nod and knelt at each end. Acting in concert, we took one side of the plastic curtain and flipped it over the body, then the other. We both relaxed when the man's face was covered. Alcide had also brought up a roll of duct tape - real men always have duct tape in their trucks - and we used it to seal the wrapped body in the curtain. Then we folded the ends over, and taped them. Luckily, though a hefty guy, the Were hadn't been very tall.
We stood up and let ourselves have a little moment of recovery. Alcide spoke first. ’’It looks like a big green burrito,’’ he observed.
I slapped a hand over my mouth to stifle a fit of the giggles.
Alcide's eyes were startled as he stared at me over the wrapped corpse. Suddenly, he laughed, too.
After we'd settled down, I asked, ’’You ready for phase two?’’
He nodded, and I pulled on my coat and scooted past the body and Alcide. I went out to the elevator, closing the apartment door behind me very quickly, just in case someone passed by.
The minute I punched the button, a man appeared around the corner and came to stand by the elevator door. Perhaps he was a relative of old Mrs. Osburgh, or maybe one of the senators was making a flying trip back to Jackson. Whoever he was, he was well dressed and in his sixties, and he was polite enough to feel the obligation of making conversation.
’’It's really cold today, isn't it?’’
’’Yes, but not as cold as yesterday.’’ I stared at the closed doors, willing them to open so he would be gone.
’’Did you just move in?’’
I had never been so irritated with a courteous person before. ’’I'm visiting,’’ I said, in the kind of flat voice that should indicate the conversation is closed.
’’Oh,’’ he said cheerfully. ’’Who?’’
Luckily the elevator chose that moment to arrive and its doors snicked open just in time to save this too-genial man from getting his head snapped off. He gestured with a sweep of his hand, wanting me to precede him, but I took a step back, said, ’’Oh my gosh, I forgot my keys!’’ and walked briskly off without a backward glance. I went to the door of the apartment next to Alcide's, the one he'd told me was empty, and I knocked on the door. I heard the elevator doors close behind me, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
When I figured Mr. Chatty had had time to get to his car and drive out of the garage - unless he was talking the ears off the security guard - I recalled the elevator. It was Saturday, and there was no telling what people's schedules would be like. According to Alcide, many of the condos had been bought as an investment and were subleased to legislators, most of who would be gone for the pre-holidays. The year-round tenants, however, would be moving around in atypical ways, since it was not only the weekend, but also only two weekends before Christmas. When the creaky contraption came back to the fifth floor, it was empty.
I dashed back to 504, knocked twice on the door, and dashed back to the elevator to hold the doors open. Preceded by the legs of the corpse, Alcide emerged from the apartment. He moved as quickly as a man can while he's carrying a stiff body over his shoulder.
This was our most vulnerable moment. Alcide's bundle looked like nothing on this earth but a corpse wrapped in a shower curtain. The plastic kept the smell down, but it was still noticeable in the small enclosure. We made it down one floor safely, then the next. At the third floor, our nerve ran out. We stopped the elevator, and to our great relief it opened onto an empty corridor. I darted out and over to the stair door, holding it open for Alcide. Then I scampered down the stairs ahead of him, and looked through the pane of glass in the door to the garage.
’’Whoa,’’ I said, holding my hand up. A middle-aged woman and a teenage girl were unloading packages from the trunk of their Toyota, simultaneously having a vigorous disagreement. The girl had been invited to an all-night party. No, her mother said.
She had to go, all her friends would be there. No, her mother said.
But Mom, everyone else's mom was letting them go. No, her mother said.
’’Please don't decide to take the stairs,’’ I whispered.
But the argument raged on as they got in the elevator. I clearly heard the girl break her train of complaint long enough to say, ’’Ew, something smells in here!’’ before the doors closed.
’’What's happening?’’ Alcide whispered.
’’Nothing. Let's see if that lasts a minute longer.’’
It did, and I stepped out of the door and over to Alcide's truck, darting glances from side to side to make sure I was really alone. We weren't quite in sight of the security guard, who was in his little glass hut up the slope of the ramp.
I unlocked the back of Alcide's pickup;fortunately, his pickup bed had a cover. With one more comprehensive look around the garage, I hurried back to the stair door and rapped on it. After a second, I pulled it open.
Alcide shot out and over to his truck faster than I would have believed he could move, burdened as he was. We pushed as hard as we could, and the body slowly retreated into the truck bed. With tremendous relief, we slammed the tailgate shut and locked it.
’’Phase two complete,’’ Alcide said with an air that I would have called giddy if he hadn't been such a big man.
Driving through the streets of a city with a body in your vehicle is a terrifying exercise in paranoia.
’’Obey every single traffic rule,’’ I reminded Alcide, unhappy with how tense my voice sounded.
’’Okay, okay,’’ he growled, his voice equally tense.
’’Do you think those people in that Jimmy are looking at us?’’
It would obviously be a good thing for me to keep quiet, so I did. We got back on I-20, the same way we'd entered Jackson, and drove until there was no city, only farmland.
When we got to the Bolton exit, Alcide said, ’’This looks good.’’
’’Sure,’’ I said. I didn't think I could stand driving around with the body any longer. The land between Jackson and Vicksburg is pretty low and flat, mostly open fields broken up by a few bayous, and this area was typical. We exited the interstate and headed north toward the woods. After a few miles Alcide took a right onto a road that had needed repaving for years. The trees grew up on either side of the much-patched strip of gray. The bleak winter sky didn't stand a chance of giving much light with this kind of competition, and I shivered in the cab of the truck.
’’Not too much longer,’’ Alcide said. I nodded jerkily.
A tiny thread of a road led off to the left, and I pointed. Alcide braked, and we examined the prospect. We gave each other a sharp nod of approval. Alcide backed in, which surprised me;but I decided that it was a good idea. The farther we went into the woods, the more I liked our choice of venue. The road had been graveled not too long ago, so we wouldn't leave tire tracks, for one thing. And I thought the chances were good that this rudimentary road led to a hunting camp, which wouldn't be in much use now that deer season was over.
Sure enough, after we'd crunched a few yards down the track, I spotted a sign nailed to a tree. It proclaimed, ’’Kiley-Odum Hunt Club private property - KEEP OUT.’’
We proceeded down the track, Alcide backing slowly and carefully.
’’Here,’’ he said, when we'd gone far enough into the woods that it was almost certain we couldn't be seen from the road. He put the truck into Park. ’’Listen, Sookie, you don't have to get out.’’
’’It'll be quicker if we work together.’’
He tried to give me a menacing glare, but I gave him a stone face right back, and finally, he sighed. ’’Okay, let's get this over with,’’ he said.
The air was cold and wet, and if you stood still for a moment the chilling damp would creep into your bones. I could tell the temperature was taking a dive, and the bright sky of the morning was a fond memory. It was an appropriate day to dump a body. Alcide opened the back of the truck, we both pulled on gloves, and we grasped the bright blue-and-green bundle. The cheerful yellow fish looked almost obscene out here in the freezing woods.
’’Give it everything you got,’’ Alcide advised me, and on a count of three, we yanked with all our might. That got the bundle half out, and the end of it protruded over the tailgate in a nasty way. ’’Ready? Let's go again. One, two, three!’’ Again I yanked, and the body's own gravity shot it out of the truck and onto the road.
If we could have driven off then and there, I would have been much happier;but we had decided we had to take the shower curtain with us. Who was to say what fingerprints might be found somewhere on the duct tape or the curtain itself? There was sure to be other, microscopic evidence that I couldn't even imagine.
I don't watch the Discovery Channel for nothing.
Alcide had a utility knife, and I did let him have the honor of this particular task. I held open a garbage bag while he cut the plastic away and stuffed it into the opening. I tried not to look, but of course I did.
The body's appearance had not improved.
That job, too, was finished sooner than I expected. I half turned to get back in the truck, but Alcide stood, his face raised to the sky. He looked as if he was smelling the forest.
’’Tonight's the full moon,’’ he said. His whole body seemed to quiver. When he looked at me, his eyes looked alien. I couldn't say that they had changed in color or contour, but it was as if a different person was looking out of them.
I was very alone in the woods with a comrade who had suddenly taken on a whole new dimension. I fought conflicting impulses to scream, burst into tears, or run. I smiled brightly at him and waited. After a long, fraught pause, Alcide said, ’’Let's get back in the truck.’’
I was only too glad to scramble up into the seat.
’’What do you think killed him?’’ I asked, when it seemed to me Alcide had had time to return to normal.
’’I think someone gave his neck a big twist,’’ Alcide said. ’’I can't figure out how he got into the apartment. I know I locked the door last night. I'm sure of it. And this morning it was locked again.’’
I tried to figure that out for a while, but I couldn't. Then I wondered what actually killed you if your neck was broken. But I decided that wasn't really a great thing to think about.
En route to the apartment, we made a stop at Wal-Mart. On a weekend this close to Christmas, it was swarming with shoppers. Once again, I thought, I haven't gotten anything for Bill.
And I felt a sharp pain in my heart as I realized that I might never buy Bill a Christmas present, not now, not ever.
We needed air fresheners, Resolve (to clean the carpet), and a new shower curtain. I packed my misery away and walked a little more briskly. Alcide let me pick out the shower curtain, which I actually enjoyed. He paid cash, so there wouldn't be any record of our visit.
I checked out my nails after we had climbed back in the truck. They were fine. Then I thought of how callous I must be, worrying about my fingernails. I'd just finished disposing of a dead man. For several minutes, I sat there feeling mighty unhappy about myself.
I relayed this to Alcide, who seemed more approachable now that we were back in civilization minus our silent passenger.
’’Well, you didn't kill him,’’ he pointed out. ’’Ah - did you?’’
I met his green eyes, feeling only a little surprise. ’’No, I certainly did not. Did you?’’
’’No,’’ he said, and from his expression I could tell he'd been waiting for me to ask him. It had never occurred to me to do so.
While I'd never suspected Alcide, of course someone had made the Were into a body. For the first time I tried to figure who could have stuffed the body in the closet. Up until this point, I'd just been busy trying to make the body go away.
’’Who has keys?’’ I asked.
’’Just Dad and me, and the cleaning woman who does most of the apartments in the building. She doesn't keep a key of her own. The building manager gives her one.’’ We pulled around behind the row of stores, and Alcide tossed in the garbage bag containing the old shower curtain.
’’That's a pretty short list.’’
’’Yes,’’ Alcide said slowly. ’’Yes, it is. But I know my dad's in Jackson. I talked to him on the phone this morning, right after I got up. The cleaning woman only comes in when we leave a message with the building manager. He keeps a copy of our key, hands it to her when she needs it, and she returns it to him.’’
’’What about the security guard in the garage? Is he on duty all night?’’
’’Yes, because he's the only line of defense between people sneaking into the garage and taking the elevator. You've always come in that way, but there are actually front doors to the building that face onto the major street. Those front doors are locked all the time. There's no guard there, but you do have to have a key to get in.’’
’’So if someone could sneak past the guard, they could ride up in the elevator to your floor, without being stopped.’’
’’And that someone would have to pick the lock to the door.’’
’’Yes, and carry in a body, and stuff it in the closet. That sounds pretty unlikely,’’ said Alcide.
’’But that's apparently what happened. Oh, um ... did you ever give Debbie a key? Maybe someone borrowed hers?’’ I tried hard to sound totally neutral. That probably didn't work too well.
’’Yes, she had a key,’’ Alcide said stiffly.
I bit down on my lips so I wouldn't ask the next question.
’’No, I didn't get it back from her.’’
I hadn't even needed to ask.
Breaking a somewhat charged silence, Alcide suggested we eat a late lunch. Oddly enough, I found I was really hungry.
We ate at Hal and Mal's, a restaurant close to downtown. It was in an old warehouse, and the tables were just far enough apart to make our conversation possible without anyone calling the police.
’’I don't think,’’ I murmured, ’’that anyone could walk around your building with a body over his shoulder, no matter what the hour.’’
’’We just did,’’ he said, unanswerably. ’’I figure it had to have happened between, say, two a.m. and seven. We were asleep by two, right?’’
’’More like three, considering Eric's little visit.’’
Our eyes met. Eric. Eureka!
’’But why would he have done that? Is he nuts about you?’’ Alcide asked bluntly.
’’Not so much nuts,’’ I muttered, embarrassed.
’’Oh, wants to get in your pants.’’
I nodded, not meeting his eyes.
’’Lot of that going around,’’ Alcide said, under his breath.
’’Huh,’’ I said dismissively. ’’You're still hung up on that Debbie, and you know it.’’
We looked right at each other. Better to haul this out of the shadows now, and put it to rest.
’’You can read my mind better than I thought,’’ Alcide said. His broad face looked unhappy. ’’But she's not ... Why do I care about her? I'm not sure I even like her. I like the hell out of you.’’
’’Thanks,’’ I said, smiling from my heart. ’’I like the hell out of you, too.’’
’’We're obviously better for each other than either of the people we're dating are for us,’’ he said.
Undeniably true. ’’Yes, and I would be happy with you.’’
’’And I'd enjoy sharing my day with you.’’
’’But it looks like we're not going to get there.’’
’’No.’’ He sighed heavily. ’’I guess not.’’
The young waitress beamed at us as we left, making sure Alcide noticed how well packed into her jeans she was.
’’What I think I'll do,’’ Alcide said, ’’is I'll do my best to yank Debbie out of me by the roots. And then I'll turn up on your doorstep, one day when you least expect it, and I'll hope by then you will have given up on your vampire.’’
’’And then we'll be happy ever after?’’ I smiled.
’’Well, that'll be something to look forward to,’’ I told him.