Club Dead Chapter Twelve


Debbie. I figured it had been Debbie. After I got over my initial flood of panic, which lasted longer than I wanted to admit, I tried to relive the few seconds carefully. I'd caught a trace of brain pattern, enough to inform me that my attacker was a shifter. I figured it must have been Alcide's former girlfriend - his not-so-former girlfriend, apparently, since she was hanging around his garage.

Had she been waiting for me to return to Alcide since the night before? Or had she met up with him at some point during the craziness of the full moon? Debbie had been even more angered by my escorting Alcide than I could have imagined. Either she loved him, or she was extremely possessive.

Not that her motivation was any big concern right now. My big concern was air. For the first time, I felt lucky that Bill didn't breathe.

I made my own breath slow and even. No deep, panicky gasps, no thrashing. I made myself figure things out. Okay, I'd entered the trunk probably about, hmm, one p.m. Bill would wake around five, when it was getting dark. Maybe he'd sleep a little longer, because he'd been so exhausted - but no later than six-thirty, for sure. When he was awake, he'd be able to get us out of here. Or would he? He was very weak. He'd been terribly injured, and his injuries would take a while in healing, even for a vampire. He would need rest and blood before he'd be up to par. And he hadn't had any blood in a week. As that thought passed through my mind, I suddenly felt cold.

Cold all over.

Bill would be hungry. Really, really hungry. Crazy hungry.

And here I was - fast food.

Would he know who I was? Would he realize it was me, in time to stop?

It hurt even worse to think that he might not care enough anymore - care enough about me - to stop. He might just keep sucking and sucking, until I was drained dry. After all, he'd had an affair with Lorena. He'd seen me kill her, right in front of his eyes. Granted, she'd betrayed and tortured him, and that should have doused his ardor, right there. But aren't relationships crazy anyway?

Even my grandmother would have said, ’’Oh, shit.’’

Okay. I had stay calm. I had to breathe shallow and slow to save air. And I had to rearrange our bodies, so I could be more comfortable. I was relieved this was the biggest trunk I'd ever seen, because that made such a maneuver possible. Bill was limp - well, he was dead, of course. So I could sort of shove him without worrying too much about the consequences. The trunk was cold, too, and I tried to unwrap Bill a little bit so I could share the blanket.

The trunk was also quite dark. I could write the car designer a letter, and let him know I could vouch for its light-tightness, if that was how you'd put it. If I got out of here alive, that is. I felt the shape of the two bottles of blood. Maybe Bill would be content with that?

Suddenly, I remembered an article I'd read in a news magazine while I was waiting in the dentist's office. It was about a woman who'd been taken hostage and forced into the trunk of her own car, and she'd been campaigning ever since to have inside latches installed in trunks so any captive could release herself. I wondered if she'd influenced the people who made Lincolns. I felt all around the trunk, at least the parts I could reach, and I did feel a latch release, maybe;there was a place where wires were sticking into the trunk. But whatever handle they'd been attached to had been clipped off.

I tried pulling, I tried yanking to the left or right. Damn it, this just wasn't right. I almost went nuts, there in that trunk. The means of escape was in there with me, and I couldn't make it work. My fingertips went over and over the wires, but to no purpose.

The mechanism had been disabled.

I tried real hard to figure out how that could have happened. I am ashamed to confess, I wondered if somehow Eric knew I'd be shut in the trunk, and this was his way of saying, ’’That's what you get for preferring Bill.’’ But I just couldn't believe that. Eric sure had some big blank moral blind spots, but I didn't think he'd do that to me. After all, he hadn't reached his stated goal of having me, which was the nicest way I could put it to myself.

Since I had nothing else to do but think, which didn't take up extra oxygen, as far as I knew, I considered the car's previous owner. It occurred to me that Eric's friend had pointed out a car that would be easy to steal;a car belonging to someone who was sure to be out late at night, someone who could afford a fine car, someone whose trunk would hold the litter of cigarette papers, powder, and Baggies.

Eric had liberated the Lincoln from a drug dealer, I was willing to bet. And that drug dealer had disabled the inner trunk release for reasons I didn't even want to think about too closely.

Oh, give me a break, I thought indignantly. (It was easy just then to forget the many breaks I'd had during the day.) Unless I got a final break, and got out of this trunk before Bill awoke, none of the others would exactly count.

It was a Sunday, and very close to Christmas, so the garage was silent. Maybe some people had gone home for the holidays, and the legislators had gone home to their constituency, and the other people were busy doing ... Christmas, Sunday stuff. I heard one car leave while I lay there, and then I heard voices after a time;two people getting off the elevator. I screamed, and banged on the trunk lid, but the sound was swallowed up in the starting of a big engine. I quieted immediately, frightened of using more air than I could afford.

I'll tell you, time spent in the nearly pitch-black dark, in a confined space, waiting for something to happen - that's pretty awful time. I didn't have a watch on;I would have had to have one with those hands that light up, anyway. I never fell asleep, but I drifted into an odd state of suspension. This was mostly due to the cold, I expect. Even with the quilted jacket and the blanket, it was very cold in the trunk. Still, cold, unmoving, dark, silent. My mind drifted.

Then I was terrified.

Bill was moving. He stirred, made a pain noise. Then his body seemed to go tense. I knew he had smelled me.

’’Bill,’’ I said hoarsely, my lips almost too stiff with cold to move. ’’Bill, it's me, Sookie. Bill, are you okay? There's some bottled blood in here. Drink it now.’’

He struck.

In his hunger, he made no attempt to spare me anything, and it hurt like the six shades of hell.

’’Bill, it's me,’’ I said, starting to cry. ’’Bill, it's me. Don't do this, honey. Bill, it's Sookie. There's TrueBlood in here.’’

But he didn't stop. I kept talking, and he kept sucking, and I was becoming even colder, and very weak. His arms were clamping me to him, and struggling was no use, it would only excite him more. His leg was slung over my legs.

’’Bill,’’ I whispered, thinking it was already maybe too late. With the little strength I had left, I pinched his ear with the fingers of my right hand. ’’Please listen, Bill.’’

’’Ow,’’ he said. His voice sounded rough;his throat was sore. He had stopped taking blood. Now another need was on him, one closely related to feeding. His hands pulled down my sweatpants, and after a lot of fumbling and rearranging and contorting, he entered me with no preparation at all. I screamed, and he clapped a hand over my mouth. I was crying, sobbing, and my nose was all stopped up, and I needed to breathe through my mouth. All restraint left me and I began fighting like a wildcat. I bit and scratched and kicked, not caring about the air supply, not caring that I would enrage him. I just had to have air.

After a few seconds, his hand fell away. And he stopped moving. I drew air in with a deep, shuddering gasp. I was crying in earnest, one sob after another.

’’Sookie?’’ Bill said uncertainly. ’’Sookie?’’

I couldn't answer.

’’It's you,’’ he said, his voice hoarse and wondering. ’’It's you. You were really there in that room?’’

I tried to gather myself, but I felt very fuzzy and I was afraid I was going to faint. Finally, I was able to say, ’’Bill,’’ in a whisper.

’’It is you. Are you all right?’’

’’No,’’ I said almost apologetically. After all, it was Bill who'd been held prisoner and tortured.

’’Did I ...’’ He paused, and seemed to brace himself. ’’Have I taken more blood than I should?’’

I couldn't answer. I laid my head on his arm. It seemed too much trouble to speak.

’’I seem to be having se* with you in a closet,’’ Bill said in a subdued voice. ’’Did you, ah, volunteer?’’

I turned my head from side to side, then let it loll on his arm again.

’’Oh, no,’’ he whispered. ’’Oh, no.’’ He pulled out of me and fumbled around a lot for the second time. He was putting me back to rights;himself, too, I guess. His hands patted our surroundings. ’’Car trunk,’’ he muttered.

’’I need air,’’ I said, in a voice almost too soft to hear.

’’Why didn't you say so?’’ Bill punched a hole in the trunk. He was stronger. Good for him.

Cold air rushed in and I sucked it deep. Beautiful, beautiful oxygen.

’’Where are we?’’ he asked, after a moment.

’’Parking garage,’’ I gasped. ’’Apartment building. Jackson.’’ I was so weak, I just wanted to let go and float away.

’’Why?’’

I tried to gather enough energy to answer him. ’’Alcide lives here,’’ I managed to mutter, eventually.

’’Alcide who? What are we supposed to do now?’’

’’Eric's ... coming. Drink the bottled blood.’’

’’Sookie? Are you all right?’’

I couldn't answer. If I could have, I might have said, ’’Why do you care? You were going to leave me anyway.’’ I might have said, ’’I forgive you,’’ though that doesn't seem real likely. Maybe I would have just told him that I'd missed him, and that his secret was still safe with me;faithful unto death, that was Sookie Stackhouse.

I heard him open a bottle.

As I was drifting off in a boat down a current that seemed to be moving ever faster, I realized that Bill had never revealed my name. I knew they had tried to find it out, to kidnap me and bring me to be tortured in front of him for extra leverage. And he hadn't told.

The trunk opened with a noise of tearing metal.

Eric stood outlined by the fluorescent lights of the garage. They'd come on when it got dark. ’’What are you two doing in here?’’ he asked.

But the current carried me away before I could answer.

***

’’She's coming around,’’ Eric observed. ’’Maybe that was enough blood.’’ My head buzzed for a minute, went silent again.

’’She really is,’’ he was saying next, and my eyes flickered open to register three anxious male faces hovering above me: Eric's, Alcide's, and Bill's. Somehow, the sight made me want to laugh. So many men at home were scared of me, or didn't want to think about me, and here were the three men in the world who wanted to have se* with me, or who at least had thought about it seriously;all crowding around the bed. I giggled, actually giggled, for the first time in maybe ten years. ’’The Three Musketeers,’’ I said.

’’Is she hallucinating?’’ Eric asked.

’’I think she's laughing at us,’’ Alcide said. He didn't sound unhappy about that. He put an empty TrueBlood bottle on the vanity table behind him. There was a large pitcher beside it, and a glass.

Bill's cool fingers laced with mine. ’’Sookie,’’ he said, in that quiet voice that always sent shivers down my spine. I tried to focus on his face. He was sitting on the bed to my right.

He looked better. The deepest cuts were scars on his face, and the bruises were fading.

’’They said, was I coming back for the crucifixion?’’ I told him.

’’Who said that to you?’’ He bent over me, his face intent, dark eyes wide.

’’Guards at the gate.’’

’’The guards at the gates of the mansion asked you if you were coming back for a crucifixion tonight? This night?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Whose?’’

’’Don't know.’’

’’I would have expected you to say, 'Where am I? What happened to me?'’’ Eric said. ’’Not ask whose crucifixion would be taking place - perhaps is taking place,’’ he corrected himself, glancing at the clock by the bed.

’’Maybe they meant mine?’’ Bill looked a little stunned by the idea. ’’Maybe they decided to kill me tonight?’’

’’Or perhaps they caught the fanatic who tried to stake Betty Joe?’’ Eric suggested. ’’He would be a prime candidate for crucifixion.’’

I thought it over, as much as I was able to reason through the weariness that kept threatening to overwhelm me. ’’Not the picture I got,’’ I whispered. My neck was very, very sore.

’’You were able to read something from the Weres?’’ Eric asked.

I nodded. ’’I think they meant Bubba,’’ I whispered, and everyone in the room froze.

’’That cretin,’’ Eric said savagely, after he'd had time to process that. ’’They caught him?’’

’’Think so.’’ That was the impression I'd gotten.

’’We'll have to retrieve him,’’ Bill said. ’’If he's still alive.’’

It was very brave for Bill to say he would go back in that compound. I would never have said that, if I'd been him.

The silence that had fallen was distinctly uneasy.

’’Eric?’’ Bill's dark eyebrows arched;he was waiting for a comment.

Eric looked royally angry. ’’I guess you are right. We have the responsibility of him. I can't believe his home state is willing to execute him! Where is their loyalty?’’

’’And you?’’ Bill's voice was considerably cooler as he asked Alcide.

Alcide's warmth filled the room. So did the confused tangle of his thoughts. He'd spent part of last night with Debbie, all right.

’’I don't see how I can,’’ Alcide said desperately. ’’My business, my father's, depends on my being able to come here often. And if I'm on the outs with Russell and his crew, that would be almost impossible. It's going to be difficult enough when they realize Sookie must be the one who stole their prisoner.’’

’’And killed Lorena,’’ I added.

Another pregnant silence.

Eric began to grin. ’’You offed Lorena?’’ He had a good grasp of the vernacular, for a very old vampire.

It was hard to interpret Bill's expression. ’’Sookie staked her,’’ he said. ’’It was a fair kill.’’

’’She killed Lorena in a fight?’’ Eric's grin grew even broader. He was as proud as if he'd heard his firstborn reciting Shakespeare.

’’Very short fight,’’ I said, not wanting to take any credit that was not due me. If you could term it credit.

’’Sookie killed a vampire,’’ Alcide said, as if that raised me in his evaluation, too. The two vampires in the room scowled.

Alcide poured and handed me a big glass of water. I drank it, slowly and painfully. I felt appreciably better after a minute or two.

’’Back to the original subject,’’ Eric said, giving me another meaningful look to show me he had more to say about the killing of Lorena. ’’If Sookie has not been pegged as having helped Bill escape, she is the best choice to get us back on the grounds without setting off alarms. They might not be expecting her, but they won't turn her away, either, I'm sure. Especially if she says she has a message for Russell from the queen of Louisiana, or if she says she has something she wants to return to Russell ...’’ He shrugged, as if to say surely we could make up a good story.

I didn't want to go back in there. I thought of poor Bubba, and tried to worry about his fate - which he might have already met - but I was just too weak to worry about it.

’’Flag of truce?’’ I suggested. I cleared my throat. ’’Do the vampires have such a thing?’’

Eric looked thoughtful. ’’Of course, then I'd have to explain who I am,’’ he said.

Happiness had made Alcide a lot easier to read. He was thinking about how soon he could call Debbie.

I opened my mouth, reconsidered, shut it, opened it again. What the hell. ’’Know who pushed me in the trunk and slammed it shut?’’ I asked Alcide. His green eyes locked onto me. His face became still, contained, as if he was afraid emotion would leak out. He turned and left the room, pulling the door shut behind him. For the first time, I registered that I was back in the guest bedroom in his apartment.

’’So, who did the deed, Sookie?’’ Eric asked.

’’His ex-girlfriend. Not so ex, after last night.’’

’’Why would she do that?’’ Bill asked.

There was another significant silence. ’’Sookie was represented as Alcide's new girlfriend to gain entree to the club,’’ Eric said delicately.

’’Oh,’’ Bill said. ’’Why did you need to go to the club?’’

’’You must have gotten hit on the head a few times, Bill,’’ Eric said coldly. ’’She was trying to 'hear'where they had taken you.’’

This was getting too close to things Bill and I had to talk about alone.

’’It's dumb to go back in there,’’ I said. ’’What about a phone call?’’

They both stared at me like I was turning into a frog.

’’Well, what a good idea,’’ Eric said.

***

The phone, as it turned out, was just listed under Russell Edgington's name;not ’’Mansion of Doom,’’ or ’’Vampires R Us.’’ I worked on getting my story straight as I downed the contents of a big opaque plastic mug. I hated the taste of the synthetic blood Bill insisted I drink, so he'd mixed it with apple juice, and I was trying not to look as I gulped it down.

They'd made me drink it straight when they'd gotten up to Alcide's apartment that evening;and I didn't ask them how. At least I knew why the clothes I'd borrowed from Bernard were really horrible now. I looked like I'd had my throat cut, instead of mangled by Bill's painful bite. It was still very sore, but it was better.

Of course I had been picked to make the call. I never met a man yet, above the age of sixteen, who liked to talk on the phone.

’’Betty Joe Pickard, please,’’ I said to the male voice that answered the phone.

’’She's busy,’’ he said promptly.

’’I need to talk to her right now.’’

’’She's otherwise engaged. May I take your number?’’

’’This is the woman who saved her life last night.’’ No point beating around the bush. ’’I need to talk to her, right now. Tout de suite.’’

’’I'll see.’’

There was a long pause. I could hear people walking by the phone from time to time, and I heard a lot of cheering that sounded as if it was corning from a distance. I didn't want to think about that too much. Eric, Bill, and Alcide - who had finally stomped back into the room when Bill had asked him if we could borrow his phone - were standing there making all kinds of faces at me, and I just shrugged back.

Finally, there was the click, click, click of heels on tile.

’’I'm grateful, but you can't bank on this forever,’’ Betty Jo Pickard said briskly. ’’We arranged for your healing, you had a place to stay to recuperate. We didn't erase your memory,’’ she added, as if that was a little detail that had escaped her until just this moment. ’’What have you called to ask?’’

’’You have a vampire there, an Elvis impersonator?’’

’’So?’’ Suddenly she sounded very wary. ’’We caught an intruder within our walls last night, yes.’’

’’This morning, after I left your place, I was stopped again,’’ I said. We had figured this would sound convincing because I sounded so hoarse and weak.

There was a long silence while she thought through the implications. ’’You have a habit of being in the wrong place,’’ she said, as if she were remotely sorry for me.

’’They are getting me to call you now,’’ I said carefully. ’’I am supposed to tell you that the vampire you have there, he's the real thing.’’

She laughed a little. ’’Oh, but ...’’ she began. Then she fell silent. ’’You're shitting me, right?’’ Mamie Eisenhower would never have said that, I was willing to swear.

’’Absolutely not. There was a vamp working in the morgue that night,’’ I croaked. Betty Jo made a sound that came out between a gasp and a choke. ’’Don't call him by his real name. Call him 'Bubba.'And for goodness'sake, don't hurt him.’’

’’But we've already ... hold on!’’

She ran. I could hear the urgent sound die away.

I sighed, and waited. After a few seconds, I was completely nuts with the two guys standing around looking down at me. I was strong enough to sit up, I figured.

Bill gently held me up, while Eric propped pillows behind my back. I was glad to see one of them had had the presence of mind to spread the yellow blanket over the bed so I wouldn't stain the bedspread. All this while, I'd held the phone clamped to my ear, and when it squawked, I was actually startled.

’’We got him down in time,’’ Betty Joe said brightly.

’’The call came in time,’’ I told Eric. He closed his eyes and seemed to be offering up a prayer. I wondered to whom Eric prayed. I waited for further instructions.

’’Tell them,’’ he said, ’’to just let him go, and he will take himself home. Tell them that we apologize for letting him stray.’’

I relayed that message from my ’’abductors.’’

Betty Jo was quick to dismiss the directions. ’’Would you ask if he could stay and sing to us a little? He's in pretty good shape,’’ she said.

So I relayed that. Eric rolled his eyes. ’’She can ask him, but if he says no, she must take it to heart and not ask him anymore,’’ he said. ’’It just upsets him, if he's not in the mood. And sometimes when he does sing, it brings back memories, and he gets, ah, obstreperous.’’

’’All right,’’ she said, after I'd explained. ’’We'll do our best. If he doesn't want to sing, we'll let him go right away.’’ From the sound of it, she turned to someone by her. ’’He can sing, if he'll consent,’’ she said, and the someone said, ’’Yippee!’’ Two big nights in a row for the crowd at the king of Mississippi's mansion, I guess.

Betty Joe said into the telephone, ’’I hope you get out of your difficulties. I don't know how whoever's got you got lucky enough to have the care of the greatest star in the world. Would he consider negotiating?’’

She didn't know yet about the troubles that entailed. ’’Bubba’’ had an unfortunate predilection for cat blood, and he was addlepated, and he could only follow the simplest directions;though every now and then, he exhibited a streak of shrewdness. He followed directions quite literally.

’’She wants permission to keep him,’’ I told Eric. I was tired of being the go-between. But Betty Joe couldn't meet with Eric, or she'd know he was the supposed friend of Alcide's who'd helped me get to the mansion the night before.

This was all too complicated for me.

’’Yes?’’ Eric said into the telephone. Suddenly he had an English accent. Mr. Master of Disguise. Soon he was saying things like, ’’He's a sacred trust,’’ and, ’’You don't know what you're biting off,’’ into the phone. (If I'd had any sense of humor that night, I would have thought the last statement was pretty funny.) After a little more conversation, he hung up, with a pleased air.

I was thinking how strange it was that Betty Joe hadn't indicated that anything else was amiss at the compound. She hadn't accused Bubba of taking their prisoner, and she hadn't commented on finding the body of Lorena. Not that she'd necessarily mention these things in a phone conversation with a human stranger;and, for that matter, not that there'd be much to find;vampires disintegrate pretty quickly. But the silver chains would still be in the pool, and maybe enough sludge to identify as the corpse of a vampire. Of course, why would anyone look under the pool cover? But surely someone had noticed their star prisoner was gone?

Maybe they were assuming Bubba had freed Bill while he was roaming the compound. We'd told him not to say anything, and he would follow that directive to the letter.

Maybe I was off the hook. Maybe Lorena would be completely dissolved by the time they started to clean the pool in the spring.

The topic of corpses reminded me of the body we'd found stuffed in the closet of this apartment. Someone sure knew where we were, and someone sure didn't like us. Leaving the body there was an attempt to tie us to the crime of murder, which, actually, I had committed. I just hadn't done that particular murder. I wondered if the body of Jerry Falcon had been discovered yet. The chance seemed remote. I opened my mouth to ask Alcide if it had been on the news, and then I closed it again. I lacked the energy to frame the sentence.

My life was spinning out of control. In the space of two days I'd hidden one corpse and created another one. And all because I'd fallen in love with a vampire. I gave Bill an unloving glance. I was so absorbed in my thoughts, I hardly heard the telephone. Alcide, who had gone into the kitchen, must have answered it on the first ring.

Alcide appeared in the door of the bedroom. ’’Move,’’ he said, ’’you all have to move next door into the empty apartment. Quick, quick!’’

Bill scooped me up, blanket and all. We were out the door and Eric was breaking the lock on the apartment next to Alcide's before you could say ’’Jack Daniels.’’ I heard the slow grumble of the elevator arriving on the fifth floor as Bill closed the door behind us.

We stood stock-still in the empty cold living room of the barren apartment. The vampires were listening intently to what was going on next door. I began to shiver in Bill's arms.

To tell the truth, it felt great to be held by him, no matter how angry I had been at him, no matter how many issues we had to settle. To tell the truth, I had a dismayingly wonderful sense of homecoming. To tell the truth, no matter how battered my body was - and battered at his hands, or rather, his fangs - that body could hardly wait to meet up with his body again, buck naked, despite the terrible incident in the trunk. I sighed. I was disappointed in myself. I would have to stand up for my psyche, because my body was ready to betray me, big time. It seemed to be blacking out Bill's mindless attack.

Bill laid me on the floor in the smaller guest bedroom of this apartment as carefully as if I'd cost him a million dollars, and he swaddled me securely in the blanket. He and Eric listened at the wall, which was shared with Alcide's bedroom.

’’What a bitch,’’ Eric murmured. Oh. Debbie was back.

I closed my eyes. Eric made a little noise of surprise and I opened them again. He was looking at me, and there was that disconcerting amusement in his face again.

’’Debbie stopped by his sister's house last night to grill her about you. Alcide's sister likes you very much,’’ Eric said in a tiny whisper. ’’This angers the shape-shifter Debbie. She is insulting his sister in front of him.’’

Bill's face showed he was not so thrilled.

Suddenly every line in Bill's body became tense, as if someone had jammed Bill's finger in an electric socket. Eric's jaw dropped and he looked at me with an unreadable expression.

There was the unmistakable sound of a slap - even I could hear it - from the next room.

’’Leave us for a moment,’’ Bill said to Eric. I didn't like the sound of his voice.

I closed my eyes. I didn't think I was up to whatever would come next. I didn't want to argue with Bill, or upbraid him for his unfaithfulness. I didn't want to listen to explanations and excuses.

I heard the whisper of movement as Bill knelt beside me on the carpet. Bill stretched out beside me, turned on his side, and laid his arm across me.

’’He just told this woman how good you are in bed,’’ Bill murmured gently.

I came up from my prone position so fast that it tore my healing neck and gave me a twinge in my nearly healed side.

I clapped my hand to my neck and gritted my teeth so I wouldn't moan. When I could talk, I could only say, ’’He what? He what?’’ I was almost incoherent with anger. Bill gave me a piercing look, put his finger over his lips to remind me to be quiet.

’’I never did,’’ I whispered furiously. ’’But even if I had, you know what? It would serve you right, you betraying son of a bitch.’’ I caught his eyes with mine and stared right into them. Okay, we were going to do this now.

’’You're right,’’ he murmured. ’’Lie down, Sookie. You are hurting.’’

’’Of course I'm hurting,’’ I whispered, and burst into tears. ’’And to have the others tell me, to hear that you were just going to pension me off and go live with her without even having the courage to talk to me about it yourself! Bill, how could you be capable of such a thing! I was idiot enough to think you really loved me!’’ With a savagery I could scarcely believe was coming from inside me, I tossed off the blanket and threw myself on him, my fingers scrabbling for his throat.

And to hell with the pain.

My hands could not circle his neck, but I dug in as hard as I could and I felt a red rage carry me away. I wanted to kill him.

If Bill had fought back, I could have kept it up, but the longer I squeezed, the more the fine rage ebbed away, leaving me cold and empty. I was straddling Bill, and he was prone on the floor, lying passively with his hands at his sides. My hands eased off of his neck and I used them to cover my face.

’’I hope that hurt like hell,’’ I said, my voice choking but clear enough.

’’Yes,’’ he said. ’’It hurt like hell.’’

Bill pulled me down to the floor by him, covered us both with the blanket. He gently pushed my head into the notch of his neck and shoulder.

We lay there in silence for what seemed like a long time, though maybe it was only minutes. My body nestled into his out of habit and out of a deep need;though I didn't know if the need was for Bill specifically, or the intimacy I'd only shared with him. I hated him. I loved him.

’’Sookie,’’ he said, against my hair, ’’I'm - ’’

’’Hush,’’ I said. ’’Hush.’’ I huddled closer against him. I relaxed. It was like taking off an Ace bandage, one that had been wrapped too tight.

’’You're wearing someone else's clothes,’’ he whispered, after a minute or two.

’’Yes, a vampire named Bernard. He gave me clothes to wear after my dress got ruined at the bar.’’

’’At Josephine's?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’How did your dress get ruined?’’

’’I got staked.’’

Everything about him went still. ’’Where? Did it hurt?’’ He folded down the blanket. ’’Show me.’’

’’Of course it hurt,’’ I said deliberately. ’’It hurt like hell.’’ I lifted the hem of the sweatshirt carefully.

His fingers stroked the shiny skin. I would not heal like Bill. It might take a night or two more for him to become as smooth and perfect as he had been, but he would look just as before, despite a week of torture. I would have a scar the rest of my life, vampire blood or no vampire blood. The scar might not be as severe, and it was certainly forming at a phenomenal rate, but it was undeniably red and ugly, the flesh underneath it still tender, the whole area sore.

’’Who did this to you?’’

’’A man. A fanatic. It's a long story.’’

’’Is he dead?’’

’’Yeah. Betty Joe Pickard killed him with two big blows of her fist. It kind of reminded me of a story I read in elementary school, about Paul Bunyan.’’

’’I don't know that story.’’ His dark eyes caught mine.

I shrugged.

’’As long as he's dead now.’’ Bill had a good grip on that idea.

’’Lots of people are dead now. All because of your program.’’

There was a long moment of silence.

Bill cast a glance at the door Eric had tactfully closed behind him. Of course, he was probably listening right outside, and like all vampires, Eric had excellent hearing. ’’It's safe?’’

’’Yes.’’

Bill's mouth was right by my ear. It tickled when he whispered, ’’Did they search my house?’’

’’I don't know. Maybe the vamps from Mississippi went in. I never had a chance to get over there after Eric and Pam and Chow came to tell me you'd been snatched.’’

’’And they told you ... ?’’

’’That you were planning on leaving me. Yes. They told me.’’

’’I already got paid back for that piece of madness,’’ Bill said.

’’You might have been paid back enough to suit you’’ I said, ’’but I don't know if you've been paid back enough to suit me.’’

There was a long silence in the cold, empty room. It was quiet out in the living room, too. I hoped Eric had worked out what we were going to do next, and I hoped it involved going home. No matter what happened between Bill and me, I needed to be home in Bon Temps. I needed to go back to my job and my friends and I needed to see my brother. He might not be much, but he was what I had.

I wondered what was happening in the next apartment.

’’When the queen came to me and said she'd heard I was working on a program that had never been attempted before, I was flattered,’’ Bill told me. ’’The money she offered was very good, and she would have been within her rights not to offer any, since I am her subject.’’

I could feel my mouth twisting at hearing yet another reminder of how different Bill's world was from mine. ’’Who do you think told her?’’ I asked.

’’I don't know. I don't really want to,’’ Bill said. His voice sounded offhand, even gentle, but I knew better.

’’You know I had been working on it for some time,’’ Bill said, when he figured I wasn't going to say anything.

’’Why?’’

’’Why?’’ He sounded oddly disconcerted. ’’Well, because it seemed like a good idea to me. Having a list of all America's vampires, and at least some of the rest of the world's? That was a valuable project, and actually, it was kind of fun to compile. And once I started doing research, I thought of including pictures. And aliases. And histories. It just grew.’’

’’So you've been, um, compiling a - like a directory? Of vampires?’’

’’Exactly.’’ Bill's glowing face lit up even brighter. ’’I just started one night, thinking how many other vampires I'd come across in my travels over the past century, and I started making a list, and then I started adding a drawing I'd done or a photograph I'd taken.’’

’’So vampires do photograph? I mean, they show up in pictures?’’

’’Sure. We never liked to have our picture made, when photography became a common thing in America, because a picture was proof we'd been in a particular place at a particular time, and if we showed up looking exactly the same twenty years later, well, it was obvious what we were. But since we have admitted our existence, there is no point clinging to the old ways.’’

’’I'll bet some vampires still do.’’

’’Of course. There are some who still hide in the shadows and sleep in crypts every night.’’

(This from a guy who slept in the soil of the cemetery from time to time.)

’’And other vampires helped you with this?’’

’’Yes,’’ he said, sounding surprised. ’’Yes, a few did. Some enjoyed the exercise of memory ... some used it as a reason to search for old acquaintances, travel to old haunts. I am sure that I don't have all the vampires in America, especially the recent immigrants, but I think I have probably eighty percent of them.’’

’’Okay, so why is the queen so anxious to have this program? Why would the other vampires want it, once they learned about it? They could assemble all the same information, right?’’

’’Yes,’’ he said. ’’But it would be far easier to take it from me. And as for why it's so desirable to have this program ... wouldn't you like to have a booklet that listed all the other telepaths in the United States?’’

’’Oh, sure,’’ I said. ’’I could get lots of tips on how to handle my problem, or maybe how to use it better.’’

’’So, wouldn't it be good to have a directory of vampires in the United States, what they're good at, where their gifts lie?’’

’’But surely some vampires really wouldn't want to be in such a book,’’ I said. ’’You've told me that some vamps don't want to come out, that they want to stay in the darkness and hunt secretly.’’

’’Exactly.’’

’’Those vamps are in there, too?’’

Bill nodded.

’’Do you want to get yourself staked?’’

’’I never realized how tempting this project would be to anyone else. I never thought of how much power it would give to the one who owned it, until others began trying to steal it.’’

Bill looked glum.

The sound of shouting in the apartment next door drew our attention.

Alcide and Debbie were at it again. They were really bad for each other. But some mutual attraction kept them ricocheting back to each other. Maybe, away from Alcide, Debbie was a nice person.

Nah, I couldn't bring myself to believe that. But maybe she was at least tolerable when Alcide's affections weren't an issue.

Of course they should separate. They should never be in the same room again.

And I had to take this to heart.

Look at me. Mangled, drained, staked, battered. Lying in a cold apartment in a strange city with a vampire who had betrayed me.

A big decision was standing right in front of my face, waiting to be recognized and enacted.

I shoved Bill away, and wobbled to my feet. I pulled on my stolen jacket. With his silence heavy at my back, I opened the door to the living room. Eric was listening with some amusement to the battle going on in the next apartment.

’’Take me home,’’ I said.

’’Of course,’’ he said. ’’Now?’’

’’Yes. Alcide can drop my things by when he goes back to Baton Rouge.’’

’’Is the Lincoln drivable?’’

’’Oh, yes.’’ I pulled the keys out of my pocket. ’’Here.’’

We walked out of the empty apartment and took the elevator down to the garage.

Bill didn't follow.

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