- 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
"MY BAGS ARE PACKED..." I SANG.
"Well, I'm not so lonesome I could cry," Amelia said. She'd kindly agreed to drive me to the airport, but I should have made her promise to be pleasant that morning, too. She'd been a little broody the whole time I was putting on my makeup.
"I wish I was going, too," she said, admitting what had been sticking in her craw. Of course, I'd known Amelia's problem before she'd said it out loud. But there wasn't a thing I could do.
"It's not up to me to invite or not invite," I said. "I'm the hired help."
"I know," she said grumpily. "I'll get the mail, and I'll water the plants, and I'll brush Bob. Hey, I heard that the Bayou State insurance salesman needs a receptionist, since the mom of the woman who worked for him got evacuated from New Orleans and has to have full-time care."
"Oh, do go in to apply for that job," I said. "You'll just love it." My insurance guy was a wizard who backed up his policies with spells. "You'll really like Greg Aubert, and he'll interest you." I wanted Amelia's interview at the insurance agency to be a happy surprise.
Amelia looked at me sideways with a little smile. "Oh, is he cute and single?"
"Nope. But he has other interesting attributes. And remember, you promised Bob you wouldn't do guys."
"Oh, yeah." Amelia looked gloomy. "Hey, let's look up your hotel."
Amelia was teaching me how to use my cousin Hadley's computer. I'd brought it back with me from New Orleans, thinking I'd sell it, but Amelia had coaxed me to set it up here at the house. It looked funny on a desk in the corner of the oldest part of the house, the room now used as a living room. Amelia paid for an extra phone line for the Internet, since she needed it for her laptop upstairs. I was still a nervous novice.
Amelia clicked on Google and typed in "Pyramid of Gizeh hotel." We stared at the picture that popped up on the screen. Most of the vampire hotels were in large urban centers, like Rhodes, and they were also tourist attractions. Often called simply "the Pyramid," the hotel was shaped like one, of course, and it was faced with bronze-colored reflective glass. There was one band of lighter glass around one of the floors close to the base.
"Not exactly...hmmm." Amelia looked at the building, her head tilted sideways.
"It needs to slant more," I said, and she nodded.
"You're right. It's like they wanted to have a pyramid, but they didn't really need enough floors to make it look right. The angle's not steep enough to make it look really grand."
"And it's sitting on a big rectangle."
"That, too. I expect those are the convention rooms."
"No parking," I said, peering at the screen.
"Oh, that'll be below the building. They can build 'em that way up there."
"It's on the lakefront," I said. "Hey, I get to see Lake Michigan. See, there's just a little park between the hotel and the lake."
"And about six lanes of traffic," Amelia pointed out.
"Okay, that, too."
"But it's close to major shopping," Amelia said.
"It's got an all-human floor," I read. "I'll bet that's this floor, the one that's lighter. I thought that was just the design, but it's so humans can go somewhere to have light during the day. People need that for their well-being."
"Translation: it's a law," Amelia said. "What else is there? Meeting rooms, blah blah blah. Opaque glass throughout except for the human floor. Exquisitely decorated suites on the highest levels, blah blah blah. Staff thoroughly trained in vampires' needs. Does that mean they're all willing to be blood donors or fuck buddies?"
Amelia was so cynical. But now that I knew who her father was, that kind of made sense.
"I'd like to see the very top room, the tip of the pyramid," I said.
"Can't. It says here that that's not a real guest floor. It's actually where all the air conditioner stuff is."
"Well, hell. Time to go," I said, glancing at my watch.
"Oh, yeah." Amelia stared gloomily at the screen.
"I'll only be gone a week," I said. Amelia was definitely a person who didn't like to be by herself. We went downstairs and carried my bags to the car.
"I got the hotel number to call in case of emergency. I got your cell phone number, too. You pack your charger?" She maneuvered down the long gravel driveway and out onto Hummingbird Road. We'd go right around Bon Temps to get to the interstate.
"Yeah." And my toothbrush and toothpaste, my razor, my deodorant, my hair dryer (just in case), my makeup, all my new clothes and some extras, lots of shoes, a sleeping outfit, Amelia's traveling alarm clock, underwear, a little jewelry, an extra purse, and two paperbacks. "Thanks for loaning me the suitcase." Amelia had contributed her bright red roller bag and a matching garment bag, plus a carry-on I'd crammed with a book, a crossword puzzle compendium, a portable CD player, and a headset, plus a small CD case.
We didn't talk much on the drive. I was thinking how strange it was going to be, leaving Amelia alone in my family home. There had been Stackhouses in residence on the site for over a hundred and seventy years.
Our sporadic conversation died by the time we neared the airport. There didn't seem to be anything else to be said. We were right by the main Shreveport terminal, but we were going to a small private hangar. If Eric hadn't booked an Anubis charter plane weeks ago, he would've been up a creek, because the summit was definitely taxing Anubis's capabilities. All the states involved were sending delegations, and a big hunk of Middle America, from the Gulf to the Canadian border, was included in the American Central division.
A few months ago, Louisiana would have needed two planes. Now one would suffice, especially since a few of the party had gone ahead. I'd read the list of missing vampires after the meeting at Fangtasia, and to my regret, Melanie and Chester had been on it. I'd met them at the queen's New Orleans headquarters, and though we hadn't had time to become bosom buddies or anything, they'd seemed like good vamps.
There was a guard at the gate in the fence enclosing the hangar, and he checked my driver's license and Amelia's before he let us in. He was a regular human off-duty cop, but he seemed competent and alert. "Turn to the right, and there's parking by the door in the east wall," he said.
Amelia leaned forward a little as she drove, but the door was easy enough to see, and there were other cars parked there. It was about ten in the morning, and there was a touch of cool in the air, just below the surface warmth. It was an early breath of fall. After the hot, hot summer, it was just blissful. It would be cooler in Rhodes, Pam had said. She'd checked the temperatures for the coming week on the Internet and called me to tell me to pack a sweater. She'd sounded almost excited, which was a big deal for Pam. I'd been getting the impression that Pam was a wee bit restless, a bit tired of Shreveport and the bar. Maybe it was just me.
Amelia helped me unload the suitcases. Amelia had had to take a number of spells off the red Samsonite before she could hand it over to me. I hadn't asked what would have happened if she'd forgotten. I pulled up the handle on the rolling bag and slung the carry-on bag across my shoulder. Amelia took the hanging bag and opened the door.
I'd never been in an airplane hangar before, but it was just like the ones in the movies: cavernous. There were a few small planes parked inside, but we proceeded as Pam had instructed to the large opening in the west wall. The Anubis Air jet was parked outside, and the coffins were being loaded onto the luggage belt by the uniformed Anubis employees. They all wore black relieved only by a stylized jackal's head on the chest of the uniform, an affectation that I found irritating. They glanced at us casually, but no one challenged us or asked to see identification until we got to the steps leading up to the plane.
Bobby Burnham was standing at the foot of the steps with a clipboard. Of course, since it was daylight, it was obvious Bobby wasn't a vamp, but he was nearly pale and stern enough to be one. I'd never met him before, but I knew who he was, and he certainly recognized me. I plucked that right from his brain. But his certainty didn't stop him from checking my ID against his damn list, and he was giving Amelia the big glare, like she couldn't turn him into a toad. (That was what Amelia was thinking.)
"He'd have to croak," I murmured, and she smiled.
Bobby introduced himself, and when we nodded, he said, "Your name is on the list, Miss Stackhouse, but Miss Broadway's isn't. I'm afraid you'll have to get your luggage up by yourself." Bobby was loving the power.
Amelia was whispering something under her breath, and in a rush Bobby blurted, "I'll carry the heavy bag up the stairs, Miss Stackhouse. Can you handle the other bag? If that's not something you want to do, I'll be back down in a minute and take them up for you." The astonishment on his face was priceless, but I tried not to enjoy it too much. Amelia was playing a slightly mean trick.
"Thanks, I can manage," I reassured him, and took the hanging bag from Amelia while he bumped up the stairs with the heavier piece of luggage.
"Amelia, you rascal," I said, but not too angrily.
"Who's the asshole?" she asked.
"Bobby Burnham. He's Eric's daytime guy." All vamps of a certain rank had one. Bobby was a recent acquisition of Eric's.
"What does he do? Dust the coffins?"
"No, he makes business arrangements, he goes to the bank, he picks up the dry cleaning, he deals with the state offices that are open only in the day, and so forth."
"So he's a gofer."
"Well, yeah. But he's an important gofer. He's Eric's gofer."
Bobby was coming back down the steps now, still looking surprised that he'd been polite and helpful. "Don't do anything else to him," I said, knowing that she was considering it.
Amelia's eyes flashed before she got the sense of what I was saying. "Yeah, petty of me," she admitted. "I just hate power-mad jerks."
"Who doesn't? Listen, I'll see you in a week. Thanks for bringing me to the plane."
"Yeah, yeah." She gave me a forlorn smile. "You have a good time, and don't get killed or bitten or anything."
Impulsively, I hugged her, and after a second's surprise, she hugged me back.
"Take good care of Bob," I said, and up the stairs I went.
I couldn't help feeling a little anxious, since I was cutting my ties with my familiar life, at least temporarily. The Anubis Air employee in the cabin said, "Choose your seat, Miss Stackhouse." She took the hanging bag from me and put it away. The interior of the aircraft was not like that of any human plane, or at least that was what the Anubis website had alleged. The Anubis fleet had been designed and outfitted for the transportation of sleeping vamps, with human passengers coming in second. There were coffin bays around the wall, like giant luggage bins, and at the front end of the aircraft there were three rows of seats, on the right three seats, and on the left two, for people like me...or, at least, people who were going to be helpful to the vamps at this conference in some capacity. At present, there were only three other people sitting in the seats. Well, one other human and two part-humans.
"Hi, Mr. Cataliades," I said, and the round man rose from his seat, beaming.
"Dear Miss Stackhouse," he said warmly, because that was the way Mr. Cataliades talked, "I am so very glad to see you again."
"Pleased to see you, too, Mr. Cataliades."
His name was pronounced Ka-TAL-ee-ah-deez, and if he had a first name, I didn't know it. Sitting next to him was a very young woman with bright red spiked hair: his niece, Diantha. Diantha wore the strangest ensembles, and tonight she'd topped herself. Maybe five feet tall, bony thin, Diantha had chosen orange calf-length leggings, blue Crocs, a white ruffled skirt, and a tie-dyed tank top. She was dazzling to the eye.
Diantha didn't believe in breathing while she talked. Now she said, "Goodtoseeya."
"Right back at ya," I said, and since she didn't make any other move, I gave her a nod. Some supes shake hands, others don't, so you have to be careful. I turned to the other passenger. With another human, I thought I was on firmer ground, so I held out my right hand. As if he'd been offered a dead fish, the man extended his own hand after a perceptible pause. He pressed my palm in a limp way and withdrew his fingers as if he could just barely refrain from wiping them on his suit pants.
"Miss Stackhouse, this is Johan Glassport, a specialist in vampire law."
"Mr. Glassport," I said politely, struggling not to take offense.
"Johan, this is Sookie Stackhouse, the queen's telepath," Mr. Cataliades said in his courtly way. Mr. Cataliades's sense of humor was as abundant as his belly. There was a twinkle in his eye even now. But you had to remember that the part of him that wasn't human - the majority of Mr. Cataliades - was a demon. Diantha was half-demon; her uncle even more.
Johan gave me a brief up-and-down scan, almost audibly sniffed, and returned to the book he had in his lap.
Just then, the Anubis stewardess began giving us the usual spiel, and I buckled myself into my seat. Soon after that, we were airborne. I didn't have a twinge of anxiety, because I was so disgusted by Johan Glassport's behavior.
I didn't think I'd ever encountered such in-your-face rudeness. The people of northern Louisiana may not have much money, and there may be a high teen pregnancy rate and all kinds of other problems, but by God, we're polite.
Diantha said, "Johan'sanasshole."
Johan paid absolutely no attention to this accurate assessment but turned the page of his book.
"Thanks, dear," Mr. Cataliades said. "Miss Stackhouse, bring me up to date on your life."
I moved to sit opposite the trio. "Not much to tell, Mr. Cataliades. I got the check, as I wrote you. Thanks for tying up all the loose ends on Hadley's estate, and if you'd reconsider and send me a bill, I'd be glad to pay it." Not exactly glad, but relieved of an obligation.
"No, child. It was the least I could do. The queen was happy to express her thanks in that way, even though the evening hardly turned out like she'd planned."
"Of course, none of us imagined it would end that way." I thought of Wybert's head flying through the air surrounded by a mist of blood, and I shuddered.
"You are the witness," Johan said unexpectedly. He slipped a bookmark into his book and closed it. His pale eyes, magnified behind his glasses, were fixed on me. From being dog poop on his shoe, I had been transformed into something quite interesting and remarkable.
"Yeah. I'm the witness."
"Then we must talk, now."
"I'm a little surprised, if you're representing the queen at this very important trial, that you haven't gotten around to talking to me before," I said in as mild a voice as I could manage.
"The queen had trouble contacting me, and I had to finish with my previous client," Johan said. His unlined face didn't exactly change expression, but it did look a bit tenser.
"Johan was in jail," Diantha said very clearly and distinctly.
"Oh, my goodness," I said, truly startled.
Johan said, "Of course, the charges were completely unfounded."
"Of course, Johan," Mr. Cataliades said with absolutely no inflection in his voice.
"Ooo," I said. "What were those charges that were so false?"
Johan looked at me again, this time with less arrogance. "I was accused of striking a prostitute in Mexico."
I didn't know much about law enforcement in Mexico, but it did seem absolutely incredible to me that an American could get arrested in Mexico for hitting a prostitute, if that was the only charge. Unless he had a lot of enemies.
"Did you happen to have something in your hand when you struck her?" I asked with a bright smile.
"I believe Johan had a knife in his hand," Mr. Cataliades said gravely.
I know my smile vanished right about then. "You were in jail in Mexico for knifing a woman," I said. Who was dog poop now?
"A prostitute," he corrected. "That was the charge, but of course, I was completely innocent."
"Of course," I said.
"Mine is not the case on the table right now, Miss Stackhouse. My job is to defend the queen against the very serious charges brought against her, and you are an important witness."
"I'm the only witness."
"Of course - to the actual death."
"There were several actual deaths."
"The only death that matters at this summit is the death of Peter Threadgill."
I sighed at the image of Wybert's head, and then I said, "Yeah, I was there."
Johan may have been lower than pond scum, but he knew his stuff. We went through a long question and answer session that left the lawyer knowing more about what had happened than I did, and I'd been there. Mr. Cataliades listened with great interest, and now and then threw in a clarification or explained the layout of the queen's monastery to the lawyer.
Diantha listened for a while, sat on the floor and played jacks for half an hour, then reclined her seat and went to sleep.
The Anubis Airline attendant came through and offered drinks and snacks from time to time on the three-hour flight north, and after I'd finished my session with the trial lawyer, I got up to use the bathroom. That was an experience; I'd never been in an airplane bathroom before. Instead of resuming my seat, I walked down the plane, taking a look at each coffin. There was a luggage tag on each one, attached to the handles. With us in the plane today were Eric, Bill, the queen, Andre, and Sigebert. I also found the coffin of Gervaise, who'd been hosting the queen, and Cleo Babbitt, who was the sheriff of Area Three. The Area Two sheriff, Arla Yvonne, had been left in charge of the state while the queen was gone.
The queen's coffin was inlaid with mother-of-pearl designs, but the others were quite plain. They were all of polished wood: no modern metal for these vamps. I ran my hand over Eric's, having creepy mental pictures of him lying inside, quite lifeless.
"Gervaise's woman drove ahead by night with Rasul to make sure all the queen's preparations were in place," Mr. Cataliades's voice said from my right shoulder. I jumped and shrieked, which tickled the queen's civil lawyer pink. He chuckled and chuckled.
"Smooth move," I said, and my voice was sour as a squeezed lemon.
"You were wondering where the fifth sheriff was."
"Yes, but you were maybe a thought or two behind."
"I'm not telepathic like you, my dear. I was just following your facial expressions and body language. You counted the coffins and began reading the luggage tags."
"So the queen is not only the queen, but the sheriff of her own area."
"Yes; it eliminates confusion. Not all the rulers follow that pattern, but the queen found it irksome to constantly consult another vampire when she wanted to do something."
"Sounds like the queen." I glanced forward at our companions. Diantha and Johan were occupied: Diantha with sleep, Johan with his book. I wondered if it was a dissection book, with diagrams - or perhaps an account of the crimes of Jack the Ripper, with the crime scene photographs. That seemed about Johan's speed. "How come the queen has a lawyer like him?" I asked in as low a voice as I could manage. "He seems really...shoddy."
"Johan Glassport is a great lawyer, and one who will take cases other lawyers won't," said Mr. Cataliades. "And he is also a murderer. But then, we all are, are we not?" His beady dark eyes looked directly into mine.
I returned the look for a long moment. "In defense of my own life or the life of someone I loved, I would kill an attacker," I said, thinking before every word left my mouth.
"What a diplomatic way to put it, Miss Stackhouse. I can't say the same for myself. Some things I have killed, I tore apart for the sheer joy of it."
Oh, ick. More than I wanted to know.
"Diantha loves to hunt deer, and she has killed people in my defense. And she and her sister even brought down a rogue vampire or two."
I reminded myself to treat Diantha with more respect. Killing a vampire was a very difficult undertaking. And she could play jacks like a fiend.
"And Johan?" I asked.
"Perhaps I'd better leave Johan's little predilections unspoken for the moment. He won't step out of line while he's with us, after all. Are you pleased with the job Johan is doing, briefing you?"
"Is that what he's doing? Well, yes, I guess so. He's been very thorough, which is what you want."
"Can you tell me what to expect at the summit? What the queen will want?"
Mr. Cataliades said, "Let's sit and I'll try to explain it to you."
For the next hour, he talked, and I listened and asked questions.
By the time Diantha sat up and yawned, I felt a bit more prepared for all the new things I faced in the city of Rhodes. Johan Glassport closed his book and looked at us, as if he were now ready to talk.
"Mr. Glassport, have you been to Rhodes before?" Mr. Cataliades asked.
"Yes," the lawyer answered. "I used to practice in Rhodes. Actually, I used to commute between Rhodes and Chicago; I lived midway between."
"When did you go to Mexico?" I asked.
"Oh, a year or two ago," he answered. "I had some disagreements with business associates here, and it seemed a good time to..."
"Get the heck out of the city?" I supplied helpfully.
"Run like hell?" Diantha suggested.
"Take the money and vanish?" Mr. Cataliades said.
"All of the above," said Johan Glassport with the faintest trace of a smile.
- 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