- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
I KNOW THERE ARE MANY WORSE THINGS THAN WAKING up naked in a bed with someone you don't know very well. But when my eyes fluttered open the next day, I couldn't think of any, for five long minutes. I knew Barry was awake. You can tell when a brain pops into awareness. To my relief, he slipped out of the bed and into the bathroom without speaking, and I heard the drumming of the water in the shower stall soon after.
Our clean clothes were in a bag hanging on our inside doorknob, and there was a USA Today, too. After hastily donning my clothes, I spread the newspaper out on the small table while I brewed a pot of the free coffee. I also extended the bag with Barry's clothes in it into the bathroom and dropped it on the floor, waving it a little first to attract his attention.
I'd looked at the room service menu, and we didn't have enough cash to get anything on it. We had to reserve some of our funds for a cab, because I didn't know what our next move would be. Barry came out, looking as refreshed as I'd been last night. To my surprise, he kissed me on the cheek, and then sat opposite me with his own insulated cup that contained something that bore a faint relationship to brewed coffee.
"I don't remember much about last night," he said. "Fill me in on why we're here."
"That was good thinking on my part," he said. "I'm in awe of myself."
I laughed. He might be feeling a little male chagrin that he had wilted before I did, but at least he could make fun of himself.
"So, I guess we need to call your demon lawyer?"
I nodded. It was eleven by then, so I called.
He answered right away. "There are many ears here," he said without preamble. "And I understand these phones aren't too secure. Cell phones."
"So I will come to you in a while, bringing some things you'll need. You are where?"
With a twinge of misgiving, since the demon was a guy people would notice, I told him the name of the hotel and our room number, and he told me to be patient. I'd been feeling fine until Mr. Cataliades said that, and all of a sudden I began to twitch inwardly. I felt like we were on the run now, when we in no way deserved to be. I'd read the newspaper, and the story about the Pyramid said the catastrophe was due to "a series of explosions" that Dan Brewer, head of the state terrorist task force, attributed to several bombs. The fire chief was less committal: "An investigation is underway." I should damn well hope so.
Barry said, "We could have sex while we wait."
"I liked you better unconscious," I said. I knew Barry was only trying not to think about stuff, but still.
"You undress me last night?" he said with a leer.
"Yeah, that was me, lucky me," I said. I smiled at him, surprising myself.
A knock at the door had us both staring at it like startled deer.
"Your demon guy," said Barry after a second of mental checking.
"Yep," I said, and got up to answer it.
Mr. Cataliades hadn't had the kindness of a maid, so he was still in the soiled clothes of the day before. But he managed to look dignified, anyway, and his hands and face were clean.
"Please, how is everyone?" I asked.
"Sophie-Anne has lost her legs, and I don't know if they'll come back," he said.
"Oh, geez," I said, wincing.
"Sigebert fought free of the debris after dark," he continued. "He'd hidden in a safe pocket in the parking garage, where he landed after the explosions. I suspect he found someone to feed off, because he was healthier than he ought to have been. But if that's the case, he shoved the body into one of the fires, because we would have heard if a drained body had been found."
I hoped the donor had been one of the Fellowship guys.
"Your king," Mr. Cataliades said to Barry, "is so injured it may take him a decade to recover. Until the situation is clear, Joseph leads, though he'll be challenged soon. The king's child Rachel is dead; perhaps Sookie told you?"
"Sorry," I said. "I just had too much bad news to finish getting through it all."
"And Sookie has told me the human Cecile perished."
"What about Diantha?" I asked, hesitating to do so. It had to be significant that Mr.Cataliades hadn't mentioned his niece.
"Missing," he said briefly "And yet that piece of filth, Glassport, has only bruises."
"I'm sorry for both things," I said.
Barry seemed numb. All traces of his flippant mood had vanished. He looked smaller, sitting on the edge of the bed. The cocky sharp dresser I'd met in the lobby of the Pyramid had gone underground, at least for a while.
"I told you about Gervaise," Mr. Cataliades said. "I identified his woman's body this morning. What was her name?"
"Carla. I can't remember her last name. It'll come to me."
"The first name will probably be enough for them to identify her. One of the corpses in hotel uniform had a computer list in his pocket."
"They weren't all in on it," I said with some certainty.
"No, of course not," Barry said. "Only a few."
We looked at him.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"I overheard them."
"The night before."
I bit the inside of my mouth, hard.
"What did you hear?" Mr. Cataliades asked in a level voice.
"I was with Stan in the, you know, the buy-and-sell thing. I had noticed the waiters and so on were dodging me, and then I watched to see if they were avoiding Sookie as well. So I thought, 'They know what you are, Barry, and there's something they don't want you to know. You better check it out.' I found a good place to sort of skulk behind some of those fake palm trees, close by the service door, and I could get a reading on what they were thinking inside. They didn't spell it out or anything, okay?" He had gotten an accurate reading on our thoughts, too. "It was just, like, 'Okay, we're gonna get those vamps, damn them, and if we take some of their human slaves, well, that's just too bad, we'll live with it. Damned by association.'"
I could only sit there and look at him.
"No, I didn't know when or what they were going to do! I went to bed finally kind of worrying about them, what the plan was, and when I couldn't settle into a good sleep, I finally quit trying and called you. And we tried to get everyone out," he said, and began crying.
I sat beside him and put my arm around him. I didn't know what to say. Of course, he could tell what I was thinking.
"Yes, I wish I'd said something before I did," he said in a choked voice. "Yes, I did the wrong thing. But I thought if I spoke up before I knew something for sure, the vamps would fall on them and drain them. Or they'd want me to point out who knew and who didn't. And I couldn't do that."
There was a long silence.
"Mr. Cataliades, have you seen Quinn?" I asked to break the silence.
"He's at the human hospital. He couldn't stop them from taking him."
"I have to go see him."
"How serious is your fear that the authorities will try to coerce you into doing their bidding?"
Barry raised his head and looked at me. "Pretty serious," we said simultaneously.
"It's the first time I've ever shown anyone, aside from local people, what I can do," I said.
"Me, too." Barry wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "You should have seen that guy's face when he finally believed that we could find people. He thought we were psychics or something, and he couldn't understand that what we were doing was registering a live brain signature. Nothing mystical about it."
"He was all over the idea once he believed us," I said. "You could hear in his head that he was thinking of the hundred different ways we could be of use to rescue operations, to the government at conferences, police interrogations."
Mr. Cataliades looked at us. I couldn't pick out all his snarly demon thoughts, but he was having a lot of them.
"We'd lose control over our lives," Barry said. "I like my life."
"I guess I could be saving a lot of people," I said. I'd just never thought about it before. I'd never been faced with a situation like the one we'd faced the previous day. I hoped I never was again. How likely was it I would ever be on-site again at a disaster? Was I obligated to give up a job I liked, among people I cared about, to work for strangers in far away places? I shivered when I thought of it. I felt something harden within me when I realized that the advantage Andre had taken of me would only be the beginning, in situations like that. Like Andre, everyone would want to own me.
"No," I said. "I won't do it. Maybe I'm just being selfish and I'm damning myself, but I won't do it. I don't think we're exaggerating how bad that would be for us, not a bit."
"Then going to the hospital is not a good idea," Cataliades said.
"I know, but I have to, anyway."
"Then you can stop by on your way to the airport."
We sat up straighter.
"There's an Anubis plane flying out in three hours. It'll go to Dallas first, then Shreveport. The queen and Stan are paying for it jointly. It'll have all the survivors of both parties on it. The citizens of Rhodes have donated used coffins for the trip." Mr. Cataliades made a face, and honestly, I couldn't blame him. "Here's all the cash we can spare," he continued, handing me a short stack of bills. "Make it to the Anubis terminal in time, and you'll both go home with us. If you don't make it, I'll assume something happened to stop you and you'll have to call to make some other arrangement. We know we owe you a great debt, but we have wounded to get home ourselves, and the queen's credit cards and so on were lost in the fire. I'll have to call her credit company for emergency service, but that won't take much time."
This seemed a little cold, but after all, he wasn't our best friend, and as the daytime guy for the queen, he had a lot to do and many more problems to solve.
"Okay," I said. "Hey, listen, is Christian Baruch at the shelter?"
His face sharpened. "Yes. Though somewhat burned, he's hanging around the queen in Andre's absence as if he would take Andre's place."
"He wants to, you know. He wants to be the next Mr. Queen of Louisiana."
"Baruch?" Cataliades could not have been more scornful if a goblin had applied for the job.
"No, he's gone to extreme lengths." I already told Andre about this. Now I had to explain again. "That's why he planted that Dr Pepper bomb," I said about five minutes later.
"How do you know this?" Mr. Cataliades asked.
"I figured it out, from this and that," I said modestly. I sighed. Here came the yucky part. "I found him yesterday, hiding underneath the registration desk. There was another vampire with him, badly burned. I don't even know who that one was. And in the same area was Todd Donati, the security guy, alive but hurt, and a dead maid." I felt the exhaustion all over again, smelled the awful smell, tried to breathe the thick air. "Baruch was out of it, of course."
I was not exactly proud of this, and I looked down at my hands. "Anyway, I was trying to read Todd Donati's mind, to find out how hurt he was, and he was just hating Baruch and blaming him, too. He was willing to be frank, this time. No more job to worry about. Todd told me he'd watched all the security tapes over and over again, and he'd finally figured out what he was seeing. His boss was leaping up to block the camera with gum so he could plant the bomb. Once he'd figured that out, Donati knew that Baruch had wanted to alarm the queen, make her insecure, so she'd take a new husband. And that would be Christian Baruch. But guess why he wants to marry her?"
"I can't imagine," said Mr. Cataliades, thoroughly shocked.
"Because he wants to open a new vampire hotel in New Orleans. Blood in the Quarter got flooded and closed, and Baruch thought he could rebuild and reopen."
"But Baruch didn't have anything to do with the other bombs?"
"I sure don't think so, Mr. Cataliades. I think that was the Fellowship, just like I said yesterday."
"Then who killed the vampires from Arkansas?" Barry asked. "I guess the Fellowship did that, too? No, wait...why would they? Not that they'd quibble at killing some vampires, but they'd know the vampires would probably get killed in the big explosion."
"We have an overload of villains," I said. "Mr. Cataliades, you got any ideas about who might have taken out the Arkansas vampires?" I gave Mr. Cataliades a straight-in-the-eyes stare.
"No," Mr. Cataliades said. "If I did, I would never say those ideas out loud. I think you should be concentrating on your man's injuries and getting back to your little town, not worrying about three deaths among so many."
I wasn't exactly worried about the deaths of the three Arkansas vampires, and it seemed like a really good idea to take Mr. Cataliades's advice to heart. I'd had the odd moment to think about the murders, and I'd decided that the simplest answer was often the best.
Who'd thought she had a good chance of skipping a trial altogether, if Jennifer Cater was silenced?
Who'd prepared the way to be admitted to Jennifer's room, by the simple means of a phone call?
Who'd had a good long moment of telepathic communication with her underlings before she began the artificial flurry of primping for the impromptu visit?
Whose bodyguard had been coming out of the stairway door just as we were exiting the suite?
I knew, just as Mr. Cataliades knew, that Sophie-Anne had ensured Sigebert would be admitted to Jennifer Cater's room by calling down ahead and telling Jennifer she herself was on her way. Jennifer would look out the peephole, recognize Sigebert, and assume the queen was right behind him. Once inside, Sigebert would unsheath his sword and kill everyone in the place.
Then he would hurry back up the stairs to appear in time to escort the queen right back down to the seventh floor. He'd enter the room again so there'd be a reason for his scent to be on the air.
And at the time I'd suspected absolutely nothing.
What a shock it must have been to Sophie-Anne when Henrik Feith had popped up alive; but then the problem had been solved when he accepted her protection.
The problem reasserted itself when someone talked him into accusing her anyway.
And then, amazingly, problem solved again: the nervous little vampire had been assassinated in front of the court.
"I do wonder how Kyle Perkins was hired," I said. "He must have known he was on a suicide mission."
"Perhaps," Mr. Cataliades said carefully, "he had decided to meet the sun anyway. Perhaps he was looking for a spectacular and interesting way to go, earning a monetary legacy for his human descendants."
"It seems strange that I was sent looking for information about him by a member of our very own party," I said, my voice neutral.
"Ah, not everyone needs to know everything," Mr. Cataliades said, his voice just as neutral.
Barry could hear my thoughts, of course, but he wasn't getting what Mr. Cataliades was saying, which was just as well. It was stupid that it made me feel better, Eric and Bill not knowing the queen's deep game. Not that they weren't capable of playing deep games themselves, but I didn't think Eric would have sent me on the wild goose chase for the archery range where Kyle Perkins had trained if Eric had known the queen herself had hired Perkins.
The poor woman behind the counter had died because the queen hadn't told her left hand what her right hand was doing. And I wondered what had happened to the human, the one who'd thrown up on the murder scene, the one who'd been hired to drive Sigebert or Andre to the range...after I'd so thoughtfully left a message to tell them when Barry and I were going back to collect the evidence. I'd sealed the woman's fate myself by leaving that phone message.
Mr. Cataliades took his departure, shaking our hands with his beaming smile, almost normal. He urged us once again to get to the airport.
"Sookie?" said Barry.
"I really want to be on that plane."
"What about you?"
"I don't think I can do it. Sit on the same plane with them."
"They all got hurt," Barry said.
"Yeah, but that isn't payback."
"You took care of that, didn't you?"
I didn't ask him what he meant. I knew what he could pick up out of my head.
"As much as I could," I said.
"Maybe I don't want to be on the same plane with you," Barry said.
Of course it hurt, but I guess I deserved it.
I shrugged. "You gotta decide that on your own. All of us have different things we can live with."
Barry considered that. "Yeah," he said. "I know. But for right now, it's better that we go our separate ways, here. I'm leaving for the airport to hang around until I can leave. Are you going to the hospital?"
I was too wary now to tell him. "I don't know," I said. "But I'm finding a car or a bus to take me home."
He hugged me, no matter how upset he was about the choices I'd made. I could feel the affection and regret in his heart. I hugged him back. He'd made his own choices.
I left the maid ten dollars when I departed on foot about five minutes after Barry got in a cab. I waited until I got two blocks from the hotel, and then I asked a passerby how to get to St. Cosmas. It was a long ten-block hike, but the day was beautiful, cool and crisp with a bright sun. It felt good to be by myself. I might be wearing rubber-soled slippers, but I was dressed nicely enough, and I was clean. I ate a hot dog on my way to the hospital, a hot dog I'd bought from a street vendor, and that was something else I'd never done before. I bought a shapeless hat from a street vender, too, and stuffed all my hair up under it. The same guy had some dark glasses for sale. With the sky being so bright and the wind blowing in off the lake, the combination didn't look too odd.
St. Cosmas was an old edifice, with lots of ornate architectural embellishment on the outside. It was huge, too. I asked about Quinn's condition, and one of the women stationed at the busy visitors' desk said she couldn't give out that information. But to see if he was registered at the hospital, she'd had to look up his records, and I plucked his room number from her thoughts. I waited until all three of the women were occupied with other queries, and I slipped into the elevator and rode up.
Quinn was on the tenth floor. I'd never seen a hospital so large, and I'd never seen one so bustling. It was easy to stride around like I had a purpose and knew where I was going.
There was no one on guard outside his room.
I knocked lightly, and there wasn't a sound from inside. I pushed open the door very gently and stepped inside. Quinn was asleep in the bed, and he was attached to machines and tubes. And he was a fast-healing shifter, so his injuries must have been grievous. His sister was by his side. Her bandaged head, which had been propped on her hand, jerked up as she became aware of my presence. I pulled off the sunglasses and the hat.
"You," she said.
"Yeah, me, Sookie. What's Frannie short for, anyway?"
"It's really Francine, but everyone calls me Frannie." She looked younger as she said it.
Though I was pleased at the decreased hostility, I decided I'd better stay on my side of the room. "How is he?" I asked, jerking my chin at the sleeping man.
"He fades in and out." There was a moment of silence while she took a drink from a white plastic cup on the bedside table. "When you woke him up, he got me up," she said abruptly. "We started down the stairs. But a big piece of ceiling fell on him, and the floor went out from beneath us, and the next thing I knew, some firemen are telling me some crazy woman found me while I was still alive, and they're giving me all kinds of tests, and Quinn's telling me he was going to take care of me until I was well. Then they told me he had two broken legs."
There was an extra chair, and I collapsed onto it. My legs just wouldn't hold me. "What does the doctor say?"
"Which one?" Frannie said bleakly.
"Any. All." I took one of Quinn's hands. Frannie almost reached out as if she thought I'd hurt him, but then she subsided. I had the hand that was free of tubes, and I held it for a while.
"They can't believe how much better he is already," Frannie said just when I'd decided she wasn't going to answer. "In fact, they think it's something of a miracle. Now we're gonna have to pay someone to get his records out of the system." Her dark-rooted hair was in clumps, and she was still filthy from the blast site.
"Go buy some clothes and come back and have a shower," I said. "I'll sit with him."
"Are you really his girlfriend?"
"Yes, I am."
"He said you had some conflicts."
"I do, but not with him."
"So, okay. I will. You got any money?"
"Not a lot, but here's what I can spare."
I handed her seventy-five dollars of Mr. Cataliades's money.
"Okay, I can stretch it," she said. "Thanks." She said it without enthusiasm, but she said it.
I sat in the quiet room and held Quinn's hand for almost an hour. In that time, his eyes had flickered open once, registered my presence, and closed again. A very faint smile curved his lips for a moment. I knew that while he was sleeping, his body was healing, and when he woke, he might be able to walk again. I would have found it very comforting to climb on that bed and snuggle with Quinn for a while, but it might be bad for him if I did that; I might jostle him or something.
After a while, I began talking to him. I told him why I thought the crude bomb had been left outside the queen's door, and I told him my theory about the deaths of the three Arkansas vampires. "You gotta agree, it makes sense," I said, and then I told him what I thought about the death of Henrik Feith and the execution of his murderer. I told him about the dead woman in the shop. I told him about my suspicions about the explosion.
"I'm sorry it was Jake that was in with them," I told him. "I know you used to like him. But he just couldn't stand being a vamp. I don't know if he approached the Fellowship or the Fellowship approached him. They had the guy at the computer, the one who was so rude to me. I think he called a delegate from each party to have them come pick up a suitcase. Some of them were too smart or too lazy to pick them up, and some of them returned the suitcases when no one claimed them. But not me, oh no, I put it in the queen's effing living room." I shook my head. "I guess not too many of the staff were in on it, because otherwise Barry or I would've picked up on something way before Barry did."
Then I slept for a few minutes, I think, because Frannie was there when I looked around, and she was eating from a McDonald's bag. She was clean, and her hair was wet.
"You love him?" she asked, sucking up some Coke through a straw.
"Too soon to tell."
"I'm going to have to take him home to Memphis," she said.
"Yeah, I know. I may not get to see him for a while. I've got to get home, too, somehow."
"The Greyhound station is two blocks away."
I shuddered. A long, long bus ride was not a prospect that I could look forward to.
"Or you could take my car," Frannie said.
"Well, we got here separately. He drove here with all the props and a trailer, and I left out of my mama's in a hurry in my little sports car. So there are two cars here, and we only need one. I'm going to have to go home with him and stay for a while. You have to get back to work, right?"
"So, drive my car home, and we'll pick it up when we're able."
"That's very nice of you," I said. I was surprised by her generosity, because I'd definitely had the impression she wasn't keen on Quinn having a girlfriend, and she wasn't keen on me, specifically.
"You seem okay. You tried to get us out of there in time. And he really cares about you."
"And you know this how?"
"He told me so."
She'd gotten part of the family directness, I could tell.
"Okay," I said. "Where are you parked?"
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold