Nautical Note: When you see ripples on the surface of the water it can mean that there wind or it can mean there is a disturbance below the surface. All you can know for use is that there will be a reaction as the water that is disturbed continues its course until something beyond the horizon stops it.
Pam called her partner, Maxwell Lee into her office. “Close the door,” Pam told him.
Max could see that Pam was worried about something. Her normally stoic appearance was gone. She was leaning back in her chair and her mouth was turned down. Lee walked into the office, closed the door and flicked the switch to turn on the white noise machine. For humans, the level of static generated by the box made normal conversation almost impossible. But for vampires with their superior ability to hear, the machine served its purpose; passive surveillance was rendered almost impossible. Although the office was swept for bugs on a daily basis, Pam felt the extra security was worth it.
Maxwell agreed. No amount of caution in their world ever seemed enough. He settled himself in the chair opposite Pam and crossed his leg. He adjusted his pant leg to preserve the crease, and then looked up at his partner, waiting for her to tell him what had her in such a foul mood.
Pam’s look was grim. “We need a plan.”
“Why? What’s up?”
Maxwell felt his eyes lift in surprise. “Well, that’s a name I never thought to hear again. Who’s she killed this time?” And then Max smiled, his fangs descending.
During the years Lee had known her; years during which she was in a relationship, first with Bill Compton and then with Eric Northman, Sookie Stackhouse had killed an impressive list of vampires, weres, fairies and humans. There was an urban legend that any Fangtasia bartender that met her could be guaranteed of finding an early, violent death. Based on actual experience, there was some basis for the story. Every time Sookie had been introduced to a new bartender, that person had coincidentally met with an untimely end. It wasn’t like Sookie was directly involved. It just, somehow, happened.
At one point (but not until Eric had left for Oklahoma), someone had hung a photo of Sookie behind the bar. They had drawn a big red circle around her face and placed a thick red slash through it. The joke was that it was their gris gris to break the curse. Since Felipe had banned Sookie for life from ever entering Fangtasia following her divorce from Eric, the point had been moot. But the legend continued and the photo remained.
Pam met Maxwell’s smile with a raised brow. “Well, I have someone to nominate for her death list.” Pam shifted to lean forward. “But we have to handle our immediate problem. We need to find somewhere to place her.”
“What are you talking about? What’s wrong with the shifter? And what about those dogs we are paying for? The ones Herveaux sent to patrol her woods? I don’t need to tell you what protecting Sookie Stackhouse costs – and has cost us over the years. I always liked her, but there does seem like there should be some kind of expiration date, don’t you think?”
Pam took an unnecessary breath. “Max, this is not about her being my favorite breather. Something has happened. I’m sure the shifter is responsible. She’s been with Ludwig close to a month and the little troll is insisting that I get her moved.” Pam sat back and crossed her arms. “Part of it is just the usual pathetic human crap. Turns out Merlotte is a garden variety wife beater…”
Maxwell leaned forward and he hissed.
“Yes,” said Pam. “I quite agree. Scum. If she were still bonded to Eric he’d be under a death sentence already. As it is, no one seems to know where he’s gone.” Pam shifted, her focus blurring. “But there is more to this. Something about this whole thing doesn’t add up. But there’s nothing I can really put my finger on – and I have no evidence to suggest external involvement.”
Maxwell sat back, lost in thought. After a minute he said, “Yes, like why we have been paying for guards and no one reports anything? I don’t believe that something like this could have been going on and the weres couldn’t hear it. I don’t care how far back from the house they were stationed.” Maxwell retracted his fangs. He looked closely at Pam. He had always known that she had feelings for the telepath. He could see the strain on her face. “How is she?”
Pam glanced at the folder on her desk. Ludwig had listed in some detail the physical damage that she had found through her physical examination. In addition to anemia and the stomach and digestive issues that were to be expected of someone who had been subjected to food deprivation, there was evidence of healed fractures in her fingers, toes, lower arms and ribs that appeared relatively recent. Sookie had dental damage; chipped and cracked teeth. Ludwig had also listed scarring that was indicative of repeated sexual trauma. ‘She’s alive, but that bastard hurt her, and more than once. It was weeks before we could confirm she wasn’t suffering from some sort of permanent brain injury.”
Max plucked at the crease of his pant leg, lifting it and letting it drop a couple times. It was his thinking pose. He didn’t look up as he asked, “Is she well enough to be moved?”
“No. Not really. But Ludwig wants her out before someone reports she’s vulnerable.”
“Like the incompetent guards?”
Pam leaned back. “Yes, that is a call I need to make to Alcide Herveaux to understand what happened. “ Pam thought about her relationship with the pack master of the Shreveport Long Tooth Pack.
For the most part, Pam and Alcide were now cordial and supported each other as needed. ‘Frenemies’ seemed to best cover the nature of the relationship between them. But Pam couldn’t ignore history. Weres and vampires were natural enemies. There was a time when the only mutual aid they would provide was to make a call to some enemy to help hasten each other’s death. Eric Northman, during his time as sheriff of Area 5 had been the one to lay the groundwork that allowed the two groups to be more aligned with each other. Granted, that alignment had started as more of a coerced agreement.
Sookie had been the one who had become the bridge. Through her actions, she had been named a Friend of the Pack. That status meant that Long Tooth Pack was pledged to protect and support her. And since Sookie was bonded and married to Eric, the pledge had glossed over. Sookie had personally supported Alcide when his father made a bid to become pack master. That had ended in disaster and Alcide’s father had been executed. Pam knew that Alcide had blamed Sookie. Alcide had also harbored some lingering resentment about Debbie Pelt.
Alcide had loved Debbie, but when things had gone south in their relationship, Debbie had decided Sookie was to blame. She had stalked the telepath and then broken into her house with the sole intent of killing her. In true steel magnolia fashion, it had been Sookie that did the killing. It was clearly self-defense, but Alcide never really got over it. It seemed after Debbie’s death Alcide would smile and make all the right moves, but his end game was somehow always self-serving.
Pam thought about how Sookie had shown up at Eric’s house during a particularly tense time; that time when Felipe was investigating Victor’s death and looking for an excuse to kill them all. She had been half out of her mind from some drug that Alcide had pushed on her. The Pack used a shaman in some of their ceremonies and found themselves short one for a trial that Sookie had agreed to attend earlier that day. Because Sookie was a telepath, Alcide had assumed she would be a good substitute. Using his knowledge of her almost pathological need to help others, he had talked her into swallowing some concoction that was supposed to bring her clarity. Pam never did find out what it was, or what it was supposed to do. All she did know is that Sookie had been horribly ill. Her poor physical and mental state had made an already horrible situation even worse. They had survived, but the damage done to the relationship between her maker and the telepath that started that night had never seemed to heal.
Pam had heard another story as well; that Alcide had shown up in Sookie’s bed, naked, in an effort to seduce her. But Pam couldn’t believe it.
Following Sookie’s marriage to Sam Merlotte, Alcide and the pack had become less frequent visitors to Bon Temps or Fangtasia. For one thing, Sam had made known that he wasn’t interested in socializing with the Pack. He told people that shifters were, by nature, more singular and didn’t really need to have the comfort of a crowd surrounding them. He also made clear that he was not particularly comfortable with Alcide, personally. There was history there too, but nothing Pam could concern herself in figuring out. What she did know what was that Sam made a point of alienating anyone and everyone who could have been an unbiased observer to his relationship with Sookie Stackhouse.
Pam pulled herself out of her reverie. Any ideas about where we can stash Sookie?”
Maxwell thought through possibilities. “Does this in any way affect her protection under agreement with Felipe?”
“No, “ Pam shook her head. “She has done nothing to violate the conditions. She has stayed in Area 5. She did not directly contact me or Karin or Eric. She has not set foot in Fangtasia.” Pam thought through the possibilities. “There is no evidence that she was damaged by a vampire. No vampire appears to have had anything to do with what happened.” Pam glanced at the computer screen. “Even though Felipe has not asked her for use of her gift in years, I suppose she is still technically his asset. I am probably in trouble for not informing him.”
“I think you could argue that the conditions of the agreement exempted her from any involvement, even as an asset, from vampire life.”
Pam nodded, but looked skeptical.
“We should focus on finding her a bed, then worry about the king,” Max said. He then started to talk through the options he had considered. “She can’t go to any of the public hospitals or rehab centers. It won’t take any time for the alarm to go out. If someone is determined to snatch her, humans would not be able to stand in their way.” Pam agreed.
Max continued. “And she can’t come into either of our homes. She will need care; medical care, and that’s just too many strangers knowing where we rest.” He started ticking off the other obvious options. Her brother’s home would only endanger the whole family. She was too ill to travel to Karin. Her other human friends had apparently abandoned her to Sam’s gentle care, so how hard would they fight for her if they were threatened? She was banned from Fangtasia so having her here was out of the question.
Pam looked up. “Niall Brigant would be an obvious choice. He’s her blood relative and he could hide her behind fae guards. But according to the rumors I’m hearing he’s gone along with the rest of the fae.”
“I heard the same thing. Although I have heard that there is still a presence in Ireland” said Maxwell. “From what I’ve heard of Brigant and his relationship to her, I can’t see him standing by if he knew she was being abused.” Maxwell thought about it for a few more minutes. “What about sending her out of Louisiana? Do you think that would cause any problems with Felipe?”
Pam smirked. “You know the answer to that! Felipe may not be using her at present, but she is still his shiny toy. He would never agree to her passing into another king’s area.”
Max nodded. He knew Pam was right. Look up the word ‘possessive’ in any dictionary and you would found a picture of a vampire. “Well, that limits our choices. I wouldn’t trust any of the other sheriffs with her. They are Nevada through and through. It would be just Felipe’s style to decide that she would be best protected in Nevada, now that she’s been abandoned. We either build a place for her ourselves, or we can ask Herveaux.”
Pam shook her head. “I’m not asking Herveaux for anything until I find out what happened with those guards.”
“How long can we stall Ludwig?”
“Three.. maybe four days.” Pam reached for the phone and called the pack master.
Alcide wasn’t happy to see Pam Ravenscroft appear on his caller ID. She was calling his personal cell number and that was usually bad news. He considered letting the call roll to voice mail, but then thought better of it. If it was important enough she could show up personally, and that might be worse.
“Greetings, Ice Princess. How are things in Adventureland?”
Pam rolled her eyes. “Fine, asshole. Did I catch you eating in Petsmart again? You should be more careful. Anywhere else in the country they call that shop lifting.”
Alcide growled. He heard an answering rumble from Pam. “Shit,” he thought. “She can’t be staked soon enough.” He put on his best party manners and said, “I assume that this isn’t just a pleasant social call?”
“No. This is not social. This is business. In particular, the business of paying your worthless Pack money for years for something that was supposed to be guard service. “
And Pam waited. Alcide said nothing. “OK, dog. You can tell me what you are hiding or I can come and pull it out of you – literally.”
Alcide looked down at his desk and tensed his jaw. The information that had been relayed to him two weeks prior by Brian was still being investigated. There were so many unanswered questions. Alcide had hoped to be in a stronger position for this conversation. Frankly, he couldn’t understand why Pam hadn’t called him earlier. “I’m assuming this is about Sookie.”
“Well, it’s nice to see all those Chinese additives haven’t caused you permanent harm. Yes. Sookie. I’m assuming you’re in a good place to have this conversation?”
Alcide looked around his home office. It was possible that someone was bugging his building. Frankly it wasn’t that big a deal. If someone wanted to know where the Pack was running this month, or who was mating who, they were welcome to listen in. “Good enough.”
Alcide settled. “You know Sam asked our people to move farther away from the house. And we were only to patrol at night and not during working hours? I know you must have noticed the adjustments in the bill.”
Alcide paused. Pam waited. So Alcide continued. “We didn’t really notice what was going on. I mean it was all pretty routine for so long. It’s in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. No night life. It really came down to three of my people doing the rotation. When April started volunteering to take extra shifts, and become team lead, we were kind of relieved. She was a bit of a hot head; got into trouble at her other jobs. But she seemed to be doing really well with this one.”
Pam started to get a bad feeling about where this was headed. “Get to the point, doggie boy. I’m not interested in the War and Peace version. You have something nasty to say. You’d better spit is out before I decide to kill you just on principle.”
Max raised his eyebrows. He could hear both sides of the conversation perfectly well.
“Well… it would appear that April was fucking Sam on the side. Maybe even during the time she was supposed to be guarding.” Alcide could hear Pam growling over the phone. He rushed on, “Look, I had no way of knowing. Everything looked hunky dory. The other two, Brian and Jeff never saw anything out of place. Sookie looked okay. She was getting real thin. There was some kind of rumor that she had cancer. Not something you can just ask someone. “
Pam was furious. “Sure. Not like you knew her or anything. No reason to put yourself out there.”
“Look dead girl, Sookie and I were friends once upon a time; before she became Mrs. Northman and Mrs. Merlotte. But what happens between a man and his wife is not my business. Sam may not have been a member of my Pack, but shifters and weres have an understanding. And it’s not like Sookie was asking for help. With her track record, she could give serial killers a run for their money.”
“So, the fact that your good buddy Merlotte was hitting on her was ok with you?” Pam could hear Alcide catch his breath.
“He was violent with her?” Pam could hear the catch in his voice. “Was this recent?”
Pam thought through his reaction. Somehow she didn’t think that his concern was about Sookie. “No, Alcide. It was not new. According to the good doctor he’d been using her for punch practice for a while. I’d like to speak with your girl April. She might have an idea where Mr. Merlotte might be. Good friend Sammy and I have something to discuss”
There was a pause. Then she heard Alcide draw in a deep breath and let it out. “I would like that too. But April won’t be talking to anyone anytime soon. She was supposed to be on three nights in a row, but then she didn’t check in. We kind of let it slide until Brian went out to relieve her. Pam – it’s been quiet out there for years. So, when Brian got out there he really didn’t think anything of it.” Alcide shifted in his chair. “He checked around, but he couldn’t find her. He thought maybe she was shagging Sam somewhere. He said that there was something about the house that got him thinking, so he went up the door. That’s when he realized that the house was empty. He let himself in – not like the door was locked.
He recognized your scent. And the doctor. That’s when he called me.”
“Why am I just hearing this?” Pam demanded.
“Because I really didn’t know what to tell you. We are all trying to figure this out. I went out to the house and sniffed around. That’s when we found April. She was buried out back near the cemetery. Someone had broken her neck. And Pam, there’s something else you should know. There was at least one other vampire in the house. I didn’t recognize the scent.”
“Could you track Sam away from the house?”
“Sure. His scent was everywhere. In the house; around the house. Really no way to figure out what was old or new. But the strange vamp scent… that was new. Real new.”
“If I gave you something to smell; something you could compare it to – do you think you could identify it?”
“Sure – if the original scent was still around. Sookie’s house burned to the ground yesterday. It looked like an electrical fire.”
Pam doubted it was an accident.