Author’s Note: And so the game’s afoot. For those who wondered whether Eric will come clean, the answer is here.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sookie blinked, rubbed her eyes, and then blinked again. For a moment she panicked. There was a soft light spilling across her bed, and then she remembered. Eric was in New Orleans. He left last night and wouldn’t be back for a few days. She’d left the doors to their sleeping chamber open and the light wouldn’t have hurt him anyway. It was filtered through special window glass. ‘I could see him in daylight, if I wanted to,’ Sookie thought and she didn’t know if that was a good thing.
During the day, Eric was dead. Sookie turned it over in her head again, forcing her brain to accept it. When the sun rose, Eric was not in deep sleep or a coma. That was their life. “Or unlife,” Sookie sat up, pulling the sheets up with her and wrapped her arms around her knees. The alarm sounded softy. Time for her first injection of the day.
It wasn’t difficult, but Sookie found she winced just before inserting the needle. “Get your head out of your ass, Stackhouse!” she chided herself. “This is what you wanted, remember?” She depressed the plunger and watched the liquid disappear. Day Two. Only forty or more days to go. As long as it all worked out. As long as her eggs were good and the procedure worked and her body didn’t reject the embryo and… “Cut it out!” Sookie shouted out loud.
“You all right up there?” The voice of Tamsin, her Fae trainer, came from the stairway.
“I’m fine!” Sookie grabbed a robe and opened the door. “I slept late. I’m on my way!”
This was another thing that was accepted. Tamsin provided lessons. Sookie paid for those lessons by preparing and serving the trainer food. When she mentioned it to Desmond Cataliades, grousing that the Fae might at least start the coffee, the demon laughed. “Preparing and leaving food for the fairy folk is an old and honored tradition, Sookie. It is a way of repaying the favor being done. Frankly, in view of how quickly you are learning skills, I think it’s little enough!” After a cup of coffee, Sookie tended to agree with him.
As she walked into the large, airy kitchen, she smiled at Tamsin, who was perched on the stool at the far end of the island. The dark-haired woman looked up with a gleeful anticipation, as if she expected Sookie to pull hot food out of thin air. Sookie had actually tried that once, which earned her the Fairy’s tinkling laughter. “Silly woman!” Tamsin had chided her, “You can’t feed imaginary food to a Fae! You have to make it the old-fashioned way, so it has your grace woven into it. That is what makes it real!”
Sookie had no idea what she meant, but Tamsin was full of those pithy, New Age, mumbo jumbo kinds of sayings. The telepath found as long as she didn’t think about it too hard and just went along, things went well between them. The coffee maker was next to the stove and Sookie grabbed the glass canister and the grounds holder. As she shuffled to the sink, Tamsin inhaled sharply and her mouth turned down. “What have you done to yourself?” she asked.
Sookie stared at her. The woman’s nose was crinkled up and Sookie pulled out her robe and took a quick sniff. Granted she hadn’t showered last night, but she didn’t think she smelled that bad!
“There is something wrong with you,” Tamsin said again, and even leaned away when Sookie came close.
“There is nothing wrong with me,” Sookie rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what makes you think I smell that bad, but I’ll tell you what. I’ll run upstairs and take a shower as soon as I have the coffee started.”
“It won’t help,” Tamsin announced. “The smell comes from inside you.” The woman crossed her arms, shook back her hair, and announced, “I will just have to suffer through it, I suppose.”
Although they got along, the trainer wasn’t what Sookie would consider a friend. The telepath was clear that this person was here to complete a job, and she was determined to get it done. There was very little joking or playing once work started. Still, Sookie had to admit, she had mastered many more skills under Tamsin’s supervision than when she had Bellenos as her trainer.
Sookie could cause seeds to sprout now and mature into full blown plants. She couldn’t get trees to grow from seeds, but she could cause saplings to get larger. That took a great deal of energy though, and Sookie really couldn’t see any good purpose except to say that she could do it.
Shape shifting was the thing she was working hardest on right now. Not shape-shifting like the Weres did where they turned into animal form, although Tamsin told her there was no reason Sookie couldn’t learn that, too. No, the lessons being taught at present were about changing how people saw her when she was in public. What’s more, she was learning how to change the appearance of other people, too. Mostly she practiced on the guards or in front of the mirror. Tamsin was very critical, making sure she walked all the way around to ‘fact check’ the illusion.
That was the hardest part. It was one thing to pull a mask of sorts over her face, or someone else’s face, but that wasn’t enough. Sookie had to make sure the illusion held so that someone could closely examine her or the other person and not see anything out of place. She remembered the photos she had found of her Gran and the man she thought was her Grandpa Mitchell. Dermot told her that the man in the photo was really Fintan, and he’d shown her the feet. She remembered Dermot telling her that Fintan was lazy that way, always leaving out some small detail. Now she knew what her uncle meant.
Sookie finished setting up coffee, then pulled eggs from the refrigerator. “Waffles?” Tamsin asked.
“Sure, I guess,” Sookie agreed. The Fae leaned forward, her face as excited as any child as she watched Sookie assemble the ingredients. “When Dermot used to live with me he loved pancakes,” Sookie sighed, mixing batter.
“Did Claude ever ask for breakfast?” Tamsin asked.
“Huh,” Sookie thought, “No. Sometimes he’d make breakfast for me.”
“That’s because he was not working for you,” Tamsin nodded. “That should have told you he was your enemy.”
Sookie looked over her shoulder, “So let me get this right, if a Fae makes you cook for them, then they’re your ally, but if they cook for you, then things are bad?”
“Of course!” Tamsin smiled.
“So, you are learning our traditions as well. That is wonderful!” and Niall stepped into the kitchen. He was impeccably dressed in a grey suit. His hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail and he was wearing a Jerry Garcia tie.
“Oh, good grief!” Sookie grabbed at her robe. “Good morning Grandfather! I am so sorry I’m not dressed!” and she blushed bright red. “I wasn’t expecting you!” In fact, this was the first time Sookie had seen her Grandfather in close to a year. In fact, she could count the total number of conversations she’d had with the Prince over this past year on one hand. Most of her news of the Prince came through either Tamsin or Mr. Cataliades.
“Not at all, Granddaughter. You can get dressed after you feed us breakfast. You look charming!” and then his nose crinkled.
“She smells!” Tamsin proclaimed.
The Prince nodded, “It’s a side effect of the hormones,” he replied. “Temporary,” he said directly to Sookie. “Once the shots are finished, your natural scent will reassert itself.”
“Great!” Sookie said through clenched teeth, “Moody, acne, I get to stick myself with needles, and now I smell. Boy, do I feel like a prize winner now!”
Her Grandfather took off his suit jacket, draped it across a chair, and then climbed onto a stool. Seeing him sitting up so straight at her kitchen island struck Sookie as odd and she giggle-snorted. When he raised his eyebrow in that disapproving way, she covered by pouring two mugs of coffee and then fetching the pitcher of cream and matching sugar bowl. She noticed her Grandfather added five teaspoons of sugar to his cup.
When the waffles were done, Sookie invited them both to move into the dining room. It was the first time she’d actually used it and she realized this new house was beginning to feel like home. She poured the real maple syrup in a little pitcher and set it in front of the Fae, and then excused herself to shower.
When Sookie returned downstairs, her Grandfather and Tamsin had moved into the family room. The dishes were stacked neatly in the sink and Sookie wondered if that meant something, too. She heard her Grandfather say, “In this case I agree with the vampire.”
“Well, let me get out the red pen and circle the date on the calendar!” Sookie said brightly. “Were you saying you agree with something Eric said?”
“I did, yes,” and the Prince was smiling. “Your mate has suggested that some part of the lessons and meetings that I arrange be timed to allow him to be included.” Sookie’s smile dropped a little. “He had suggested that if he is able to participate he can extend your practice time, allowing you to perfect your skills more quickly.” The Prince watched her carefully before saying, “Of course, I’m sure he told you of this.”
Sookie swallowed. What she wanted to say was the truth, which was that Eric hadn’t said one word about this to her. She wanted to call her husband out as high-handed and tell her Grandfather there was no need to change anything about her current schedule, but something held her back. She knew the Prince’s expression hadn’t changed. She knew he was reading her expressions and she knew that most of what she was thinking could be plainly seen on her face. Instead she looked down at the coffee table and said, “Would you like a little more coffee?” and without waiting for a response, headed back toward the kitchen to give herself a minute.
She picked up the coffee carafe and turned around to find her Grandfather standing right behind her. She hadn’t heard him move and she jumped, and then cried out, “Cheese and rice!” Niall reached out to catch the bottom of the coffee pot before she dropped it and deftly set it on the counter.
“You are learning,” he told her. “You are standing with him, and it is a lesson you need to embrace. Now come and sit down with us. We will discuss what part of your lessons will continue in the morning,” and he laughed a bit, “if you can consider this morning, and which will wait until sunset.”
Once they were settled, Sookie glanced from one to the other, “I think I should tell you that I plan my day so that I’m with Eric when he rises.”
“Very sensible,” her Grandfather nodded. “A simple tradition that replenishes your bond. We can plan around that.”
“Magic lessons should only be done during daylight hours,” Tamsin declared and Sookie could tell the trainer wasn’t exactly thrilled with the change being proposed. When the Prince fixed the trainer with that narrow stare of his, she explained, “It is not possible to contain all aspects of magic. We may inadvertently release pheromones or some other evidence of our essence.”
“Good point,” the Prince conceded. “The weapons training, however. That should wait until the Viking is up. He is a worthy warrior and will make an excellent sparring partner.”
Sookie snorted, which had both Fae looking at her, but then she shrugged. It wasn’t that she didn’t think Eric was a great fighter. She’d seen him with a sword, the heat of battle bringing that crazy happy look to his eye. It was that she figured he was so much better than her that she’d hardly prove any real challenge to him. She had a vision of her flailing away with her practice sword while Eric fended her off while reading a book, but in the next minute, she remembered when she’d trained with Thalia. She’d actually stabbed the small vampire. Thalia had told Sookie had natural ability. Feeling no little pride, Sookie considered that training with Eric might not be so pathetic after all.
Her Grandfather nodded and she suspected he’d followed her mental discussion as easily as if she’d spoken the words out loud. “Good, then that’s settled,” he said out loud, pretty much confirming it. “Since my Granddaughter is short in stature, most of her adversaries are likely to be taller. This will be most useful. Focus on those positions and moves that will best use those differences to her advantage. Almost all training is between those of equal height.” He looked at Sookie, “It’s too bad you are right-handed. Handling weapons with the left hand can also be an advantage.”
“We have been using practice swords. Will that do?” Tamsin seemed to have gotten over her snit. “She does well.”
“Spend more time on knives,” her Grandfather replied. “Soon she will be off balance. Knives will be more effective and practical. She should be comfortable using them.”
“So,” Sookie bit her lip, but her blood seemed to flow a little faster, “You’re saying that this,” and she waved toward her stomach, “This is going to happen?”
“Of course, child,” Niall smiled. He used his best Grandfather face, the one where his eyes crinkled and his cheeks rounded. He looked so kindly and wise and Sookie felt a tear slip from her eye.
Tamsin leaned over and scooped up the telepath’s tear on her finger, then put her finger in her mouth. It reminded Sookie that she was not exactly among friends, and her smile froze a little. “That’s great!” she said weakly.
Her Grandfather laughed again, “You are here, Granddaughter. Surely you can feel life all around you! Every night you sleep on this blessed earth, and the healing properties of this place build and enhance all that is here. You and your mate were ill. Do you feel any effects of that illness now?”
“No,” Sookie confirmed, “I feel great!”
“Exactly! And now, you are launching your own personal journey of creating. No, Granddaughter, conceiving children will never be your worry,” and he looked away. “It would be appropriate for the weapons training to begin immediately after you rise with your mate. That way Mr. Cataliades can come and have dinner with you. Your North Man has asked that the demon consult for both of your business concerns and I have consented. This will allow you to consolidate the time you must spend on these matters and free up your hours to spend in other pursuits.”
“That’s real nice of you,” Sookie nodded.
“If you think so,” Niall chuckled.
Tamsin rose and Sookie followed her. They walked to the back yard where the grass had been trimmed. Instead of Tamsin barking orders, though, it was her Grandfather.
“Show me a full Were,” he ordered, and Sookie closed her eyes. She visualized Shari Decker, a Were who had been her bodyguard at one point. She knew when she opened her eyes, her Grandfather was seeing the face Sookie saw in her own mind. He walked around her, looking so closely that she felt a thin sheen of sweat break out across her forehead. “It’s adequate,” he announced. “Good enough for someone who doesn’t get too close. Now, Sookie, show me a human woman.”
For the next hour, the Prince had her create the illusion of a human woman, a human man, another Were, a vampire, and then another vampire. He was sharply critical, pointing out features that were inconsistent or places where the illusion was thin. When Sookie thought she wouldn’t be able to imagine any more faces to pull over her own, her Grandfather said, “That’s fine. Now call over a guard.”
Sookie asked Owen to join them and, under her Grandfather’s watchful eye, she started all over again, this time changing Owen’s appearance instead of her own. Frankly, making someone else look different was trickier. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but then her Grandfather asked Owen to walk.
“There, that’s the problem!” he exclaimed, and Sookie could see it. Owen was looking like a human male, but when he moved, he still walked with the fluid gait of a Were. Niall had her try again and again, but she just couldn’t hold the idea in her head firmly enough to become more than just an appearance. When she was trembling with exhaustion, Niall said, “Let go, Sookie. Let me show you,” and with a flick of his wrist, she was looking at Finn, the vampire king of Nebraska, and then, in just another breath, she was looking at Tamsin’s twin. When Owen spoke, it was Tamsin she heard.
“It is not enough to have the appearance,” the Prince lectured, “the illusion must be total. The walk, the way they act and speak, even their smell must be exact.” He smiled indulgently at Sookie, “You have made a good start, better than I would have expected for the short time you have been practicing, but you must work harder. This is a skill you must master. It is one that is always most useful.” He released Owen, who became himself with the faintest shimmer in the air around him.
As Sookie, Tamsin, and the Prince walked back into the house, Sookie said, “Well, making folks smell the right way will be a neat trick. When it comes to my sniffer, I’m afraid it’s human all the way. I can figure out a steak on a grill without a guidebook, but beyond that, I’m pretty smell-blind.”
“It is a deficit that is easily fixed,” the Prince replied. He held out his hand and within it there was a flat, brown stone. It had striations, like a tiger’s stripes. He fisted it, then held it out, and dropped it in Sookie’s upturned palm. “Hold it in your fist and take a deep breath,” he instructed.
When Sookie did as her Grandfather asked, she noticed a sour smell. It wasn’t as off-putting as sour milk. It was more the flavor of laundry that had been left in the washing machine too long. “Jeez!” she exclaimed, scrunching her nose up, “What is that?”
“You!” Tamsin explained and rolled her eyes.
Sookie held her arm up to her nose, and sure enough the faint, sour smell seemed to be coming from every part of her skin. “That’s disgusting!” She looked at her Grandfather, “And taking a shower won’t help?”
“It is a little more pungent at the moment,” Niall conceded. “You were working very hard.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I’m going to run upstairs and rinse off. I am so sorry!”
“Think nothing of it,” Niall said calmly. Sookie ran into the kitchen and set up a tray with a pitcher of sweet tea and glasses with ice. She added a plate of butterscotch cookies, and once her guests were settled, she galloped up the steps, taking them two at a time.
She scrubbed until her skin was red, and then, when the alarm sounded, retrieved the box from the little refrigerator and, with a deep breath, injected her second shot of the day. “Only one more…” she sighed.
Towel drying her hair, she pulled on blue jeans and a sweater and headed back down the stairs. As she came around the corner, she heard the third voice that meant Mr. Cataliades had arrived. As she passed, her cell phone buzzed on the kitchen counter. She saw it was Tara and was about to pick up when her Grandfather was right beside her again. He took the phone from her hand. “Granddaughter, there is no reason for you to be rude. I am sure those who are not of this house can do without news from you for one evening.”
It was an odd thing to do, but Sookie didn’t think too much about it. After all, she was a northern Louisiana girl hanging out in a house with fairy tale creatures. What wasn’t odd? So, instead she shrugged, plugged the phone into the charger, and walked through the family room. Desmond Cataliades was standing near the fireplace. Eric’s sword hung above the mantle, so long it almost stretched the full width of the mantle shelf. “Princess,” he greeted, and bowed in his formal way. When he straightened, his eyes returned to the sword, “I had expected to see your family’s sword in a place of equal honor.”
Sookie lifted her chin, “My sword is in a place of greater honor. It sits above the fireplace in our chambers, not as a decoration but as a treasure.”
Tamsin smiled, “I would believe you to be Fae now, your words flow so gracefully.” Sookie knew she was ladling it on a little thick, and she could feel her cheeks flush, but she held her pose and toughed it out until her Grandfather nodded. As soon as she saw it, Sookie let her shoulders drop a little.
Fae could be prickly about honor and hospitality, particularly when it came to giving proper appreciation of their gifts. Sookie wasn’t about to stumble into an insult over something as important as the Brigant sword. She had asked Mr. Cataliades, the demon attorney, one time why her Grandfather was willing to part with it. She assumed the sword hanging upstairs belonged to the Prince. The attorney told her that the sword was, in fact, Fintan’s, the Prince’s son and her real Grandfather.
It had taken a bit for Sookie to become comfortable with the realities of her Fae family, and there were times she still wondered. If she was being technical, the Prince was her Great-Grandfather, but saying all that seemed a mouthful. On the other hand, with his erect posture and patronizing way, calling him by his first name seemed too familiar, so Sookie called him Grandfather, and Niall, Prince of the Sky Fae, seemed pleased with the title.
Sookie walked back into the kitchen to retrieve a glass with ice for the demon attorney, and a plate of the ginger cookies he preferred before getting a glass for herself. When all the niceties of manners had been satisfied, and Sookie had taken a sip of tea, the Prince turned to Mr. Cataliades, “As I was saying, I am amenable to a change in the arrangement. I require you to be here after Northman rises. He will bring his own reports and records. I will subsidize your fee to include some portion of your work in supporting him.”
“And if there is a conflict between the Viking’s interests and those of the Princess?” and the attorney sat back.
“Why, you will inform both parties and favor Sookie, of course,” Niall said smoothly.
Sookie had been living with the impression that her Grandfather was fond of Eric Northman. She certainly had no reason to think he didn’t like him, but when he said things like this, she wondered. “I sure don’t see that happening much!” Sookie shrugged. “I mean; how could we have a conflict? We’re working in different industries…”
“Mr. Northman might be competing with you for the purchase of a particular piece of property, or he may wish to develop a parcel in a way that would not benefit assets you have in the area,” Mr. Cataliades rattled off. “He may compete with you for talent or he could find himself with legal complications that would…”
And Sookie’s Grandfather hissed. It was so unexpected that Sookie jumped, sloshing a little ice tea on the floor. “Oh I am sorry!” she apologized. “Are you all right, Grandfather? Did something happen?”
“No,” Niall smiled tightly, his eyes drilling into the attorney, “I was startled by something I saw outside. It was nothing.” He jerked his head at Tamsin and Sookie’s trainer rose.
“Come on, Sookie, let me help you with that. Tea can stain, and that’s a lovely sweater,” and Sookie found herself herded into the kitchen and answering a series of questions that prevented the telepath hearing what was being said in the other room. Sookie didn’t need telepathy to tell her something was going on.
She marched back to find the Prince smiling benignly and Mr. Cataliades sitting back, his hands crossed over his round belly. “Okay, fellas, I think you better tell me what’s going on!” she demanded.
“There is nothing that you need to know, Granddaughter,” Niall said, rising from his chair. “I would only ask one thing of you this evening. Have a quiet night at home tonight. Don’t talk on the phone or reach out to your friends. Watch television. Read a book. Conserve your energy, Sookie. All will be well.” He turned to Tamsin, “Are you coming?”
Sookie almost rose, but Tamsin shook her head and glided out the door, following the Prince. Sookie didn’t even feel the shift in the air, but she knew they were gone.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Sookie rounded on Mr. Cataliades.
“I plead the Fifth,” her attorney replied, “And if you press me on it, I will have to leave. I will tell you that the Prince’s advice is never lightly given. Now, if you would still like to work?” and he gave her a long look that told her the subject was closed.
‘Why do I have the feeling I won’t be so happy when I find out what’s coming?’ Sookie thought. With a deep breath, she nodded to the attorney, and together they sat at the dining room table, reviewing the reports and invoices the attorney brought.
James was on the phone with the Palace, asking that a cleaning crew be sent to the shop. He was speaking swiftly, his voice low.
“Let me talk to them,” When James handed Eric the phone, the Viking said, “Get Max.”
Charles moved around the premises, searching for surveillance cameras. He found two; one was suspended from the ceiling near the front door, the other was hiding on a shelf behind the cash register. Turning it over, Charles realized the one from the shelf wasn’t turned on. It was old, too old to be Bluetooth or Internet enabled. The Were popped it open and removed the film cassette for later, then set it on the counter. The camera on the ceiling turned out to be a toy that had been put in place to fool customers. “She probably figured she didn’t need real cameras since her magic would protect her,” Charles mumbled.
“She was a terrible witch,” Eric replied as he walked toward the back. His eyes passed over the bodies as he tossed James back his phone.
The King’s movements were coldly efficient. ‘I wonder how many times he’s done this,’ Charles wondered. He knew the Viking was called that because Eric Northman literally was a Viking. He had been made a vampire over a thousand years ago. For some reason, that gave Charles an odd sense of comfort.
“Look around,” the King told James, “See if there are any large garbage bags. Plastic sheets would do, too. Something we can wrap them in that will keep them from dripping.” While James started looking, the King walked out of the small bathroom with a bottle of cleaning fluid in his hand. He opened the top and sniffed. “Good!” he nodded, “Bleach.” He handed the bottle to Charles along with a rag. “Be careful about touching too much,” The King was looking around them. The back room was cluttered with overflowing shelves and boxes that were opened and stacked, one on the other. There was no obvious system. To Charles’ eye, the place looked more like a hoarder’s den than a storekeeper’s inventory. There were piles that looked in danger of falling and there was a pervasive smell of mildew and dust. “What a shit hole!” the King hissed.
“Wonder if this is how she lives, too,” Charles shook his head.
“She was my wife’s roommate a long time ago,” Eric said, and then a look came over the King’s face and Charles had the impression he wanted to kick the witch’s corpse. It was the first time Charles had seen Eric look with such pure loathing at any creature.
“Will bubble wrap do?” James asked, pulling several rolls from a back corner.
Eric nodded, “See if you can find some tape.” James stooped and then straightened with a roll of strapping tape in hand and he and Eric used the wrap and tape to cocoon first the witch and then Meg. As they reached the former servant’s face, Eric said, “Sookie will not be happy about this.”
“So, why tell her?” James suggested.
“You’re not married,” the King’s voice was bleak. “When you are you’ll learn that keeping secrets is a dangerous pastime.”
“That’s for sure!” Charles said quickly and their eyes met.
“Let’s head back to the front,” Eric said, and they started making another sweep. Charles showed Eric the fake camera and the old one and the Viking nodded. He then looked toward the door. “The envelopes she was going to mail,” Eric said and jerked his chin toward the pile of mail. “Find a bag and collect those.”
Charles reached under the counter and pulled out a couple of used bags from a local grocery store. “Guess she recycled,” he said, half to himself. Eric nodded, and then pulled out his phone and made another call. He started speaking in that vampire hiss again, but before he did, Charles heard him say, “Karin.” Eric ducked his head and then walked back into the storage area.
James caught Charles’s eye, “You know this is going to be big trouble.” Charles knew he was right.
Even if she wasn’t a witch with a famous dead father, Amelia Broadway was a person with enough money to have a shop in the middle of the Quarter. Most likely with the state of things around here, she was renting. If they were really lucky, Daddy had left her enough to own the building outright. If she was renting, a landlord would eventually start wondering.
An ‘On Vacation’ or ‘Gave it to Katrina’ sign would be enough explanation of the shuttered shop for most around here, but from what the witch said before she died, she had a going business in selling her charms. Each one of the envelopes now sitting in the Publix shopping bags on the counter represented some witch somewhere in the world who would start wondering what her payment had bought. Even if the locals were satisfied, her Internet customers would eventually file complaints.
“Can’t imagine she had many friends,” James grumbled, clearly thinking along the same lines.
“With a mouth like that?” Charles shook his head, “I’m surprised the King held his temper as long as he did. But you know how these witches are. She’ll have some coven sister or witchy matriarch or some such crap. Someone will come looking for her.”
James flicked his eyes to the back of the store where they could hear Eric still talking on the phone, “Would have been better if this had been part of the plan from the beginning.” Charles knew he was talking about the killing.
Charles shook his head, “We couldn’t have planned for Meg. Her being here made this a cluster fuck. No way we could have seen that coming.”
James’ gaze fell, “I still can’t believe Meg.” Charles looked at his partner and he knew they were both feeling it.
“Yeah,” Charles said carefully. “Tough luck.” They had both known Meg when she was a servant at the Palace. They ate meals together and joked together the way you do with people you see every day.
Charles and James had been as shocked as anyone to see Meg turn up in front of the palace, leading the Silent Witnesses. When Meg started making accusations on the television, they told anyone who asked that there was no basis in truth for what the woman was saying about Eric Northman, but they both knew that wasn’t exactly true. There were plenty of times they had seen the King angry or making threats. Eric Northman was a vampire king. Snarling and intimidating were part of the tool kit. Hell, there’d been times his snarling had been directed at the Queen, but she would just give it right back. Meg may have called Eric Northman a beast, but as far as Charles was concerned, it was Sookie who could be stone cold terrifying, especially when that creature face of hers crept out to play.
Regardless of how wrong Meg had been, or how many accusations she threw around, the Weres couldn’t help feeling badly about how things had ended for their former co-worker. Charles gave James a long look, “You heard her the same as me. She threatened all of us. It’s really the witch who killed her. If the King could have glamoured Meg, he would have let her go.”
“You believe that?” James asked.
“Don’t you?” Charles asked in return. He gave the younger Were a long look and he could see James understood how important this was.
When James answered, his eyes were clear, “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.” James’ eyes flicked back to the door that led to the back, “She lived with vampires all those years. She knew the deal. Stupid!” Charles nodded. They worked quietly then, examining shelves and looking through piles of paper, wiping surfaces as they went. “Cops are going to know someone was here just because the place won’t be dirty,” James grumbled.
Eric rejoined them, “The cleaners will be here shortly. They will handle the rest. I will need you to check the alleyway and the street at both ends for cameras. If you find any, you know what to do.” Charles and James nodded, but before Charles headed out, he turned to the Viking and said, “It would be best if you had a solid alibi, Majesty. There will be too many people willing to believe the worst. It’s known you were no fan of that one,” and he nodded toward Amelia Broadway. “With all the publicity, everyone knows Meg worked in the Palace. She did a pretty good job of accusing you of being violent. When both of them turn up missing, our local police will see the connection. It will be too much of a coincidence for them to ignore and if they can confirm you were in town when it happened, they’ll be convinced of your guilt without having to wait for evidence.”
Eric had found himself on the wrong side of a murder investigation before. He remembered how the circumstances had resulted in his being arrested. In that instance, he hadn’t done it. “You’re right,” he told Charles. “It would be easier if we managed this to look as if I had never left Bon Temps. Get moving before the vans arrive,” and he gestured toward the door, “I’ll get things started to erase our presence. When you finish out there, I’ll need you to call your Packmaster. This means glamouring the Weres in the palace. I don’t want to enforce it without Emil’s permission.” Eric gave Charles a look, “And tell him I’ll explain it myself. No details for now.”
The inspection didn’t take long. They didn’t’ find any cameras on the street, but they weren’t surprised. Cameras around here had a tendency of disappearing. Some were taken as souvenirs or to sell for quick money, but mostly the shop keepers removed them, making sure that those who came and went through their backdoors maintained their anonymity.
It was as Charles was dialing Emil Touissant’s number that the lights of the cleaning crew’s vehicles turned into the alley. Charles recognized the driver of the first vehicle. This service was the one called when there were embarrassing problems that needed to be handled. “This problem may be a little bigger than you think,” he mumbled as Eric walked forward to greet the driver and explain the situation.
The King appeared at his elbow. “Tell your Packmaster everyone gets glamoured this time around.” Eric gave Charles a long look and then said, “Even you. It’s for your own protection. I won’t have you implicated. You have a family.”
Charles nodded. He didn’t like the idea of glamour, although he knew that when done properly, there were no long term effects, but in this case, he had to agree. The issue wasn’t really the human police, although if he found he was forced to take a polygraph test, the glamour would help. The issue was the witches who would come with their own questions and methods. “If they can remove glamour…” Charles didn’t have to finish the thought. They had always lived in dangerous times, but this latest trickery on the part of the Broadway bitch had made it worse.
The King didn’t answer. He didn’t need to, instead he asked, “Would you take me home, Charles?” The Viking didn’t say it as an order. He said it in the way a friend asks another for help, and Charles realized he did consider this vampire his friend as much as his employer.
“Guess you’re happy you didn’t drive the ‘Vette down here after all,” Charles shook his head, and was rewarded by the Viking’s broad smile.
“It’s the only good decision I made tonight,” Eric chuckled. They walked back inside. The crew was already starting their work. Strong arms hoisted the cocoons and quickly walked them toward the van. No one would be told the identities, but all were vampire and it was their final death to reveal any detail of any job.
Eric turned to the driver, “There is a computer, files. I want those delivered to the Palace. My second knows what should be done with them. And there’s something else. You will need to contact a specialist. There can be no ectoplasmic reconstruction. I believe you have someone.”
The driver nodded, “We do, Majesty,” and the phone was in his hand before he finished speaking.
“There are a lot of details,” Charles said.
The King nodded, “Cameras that saw us drive here. People at the Palace who saw us. At least we had the foresight to use the back entrance to the Palace when we came in tonight. We control that watchful eye. That will help.” The King briefly shut his eyes and then said, “and there was no one on the sidewalks that could have seen us.”
James came in from outside, car keys in his hand, “There is a vehicle here for your use,” he said.
“I want you to stay here, James,” Eric told him. “You will be the explanation for the car that arrived from Bon Temps. Do you have any concerns?”
“No, Majesty,” James bowed. “What happened here was the only outcome,” and he glanced at Charles. “I’ll head back to the Palace. Guess it’s glamour time for me.”
Charles laughed, “I’ll make sure they add a suggestion to help you remember who’s top dog on our team!”
“Shut the fuck up!” James tossed back and they smiled briefly in the way of brothers in arms, then with a nod, Eric and Charles walked out to the car.
There was a wavy look to the windshield. “It fools the traffic cameras,” the vampire standing next to the open door explained. There was a similar scrim over the license plates.
As they headed onto the highway, Charles turned to Eric. He knew the King was troubled because he chose to be a passenger instead of driving himself. “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.
Eric turned to him. He shook his head, “Not unless you want to be the one to tell Sookie,” he laughed.
“There are many things I am happy to do in your service, Majesty,” Charles said, turning his eyes back to the road, “But facing down your wife is not one of them.”
“Smart man,” Eric replied, and then he tilted his head back and his eyes took on the distant look. ‘Downtime,’ Charles thought. “Yeah, I’d start figuring it out, too, because you’re going to be doing some fast talking and dirt eating when we get to Bon Temps, and it won’t be to the police.’