Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse #2)

Chapter 4

chapter
Chapter

It was as hot as the six shades of hell in Dallas, especially on the pavement at the airport. Our brief few days of fall had relapsed back into summer. Torch-hot gusts of air bearing all the sounds and smells of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport – the workings of small vehicles and airplanes, their fuel and their cargo – seemed to accumulate around the foot of the ramp from the cargo bay of the plane I'd been waiting for. I'd flown a regular commercial flight, but Bill had had to be shipped specially.

I was flapping my suit jacket, trying to keep my underarms dry, when the Catholic priest approached me.

Initially, I was so respectful of his collar that I didn't object to his approach, even though I didn't really want to talk to anyone. I had just emerged from one totally new experience, and I had several more such hurdles ahead of me.

"Can I be of some service to you? I couldn't help but notice your situation," the small man said. He was soberly clothed in clerical black, and he sounded chock-full of sympathy. Furthermore, he had the confidence of someone used to approaching strangers and being received politely. He had what I thought was sort of an unusual haircut for a priest, though; his brown hair was longish, and tangled, and he had a mustache, too. But I only noticed this vaguely.

"My situation?" I asked, not really paying attention to his words. I'd just glimpsed the polished wood coffin at the edge of the cargo hold. Bill was such a traditionalist; metal would have been more practical for travel. The uniformed attendants were rolling it to the head of the ramp, so they must have put wheels under it somehow. They'd promised Bill it would get to its destination without a scratch. And the armed guards behind me were insurance that no fanatic would rush over and tear the lid off. That was one of the extras Anubis Air had plugged in its ad. Per Bill's instructions, I'd also specified that he be first off the plane.

So far, so good.

I cast a look at the dusky sky. The lights around the field had come on minutes ago. The black jackal's head on the airplane's tail looked savage in the harsh light, which created deep shadows where none had been. I checked my watch again.

"Yes. I'm very sorry."

I glanced sideways at my unwanted companion. Had he gotten on the plane in Baton Rouge? I couldn't remember his face, but then, I'd been pretty nervous the whole flight. "Sorry," I said. "For what? Is there some kind of problem?"

He looked elaborately astonished. "Well," he said, nodding his head toward the coffin, which was now descending on the ramp on a roller system. "Your bereavement. Was this a loved one?" He edged a little closer to me.

"Well, sure," I said, poised between puzzlement and aggravation. Why was he out here? Surely the airline didn't pay a priest to meet every person traveling with a coffin? Especially one being unloaded from Anubis Air. "Why else would I be standing here?"

I began to worry.

Slowly, carefully, I slid down my mental shields and began to examine the man beside me. I know, I know: an invasion of his privacy. But I was responsible for not only my own safety, but Bill's.

The priest, who happened to be a strong broadcaster, was thinking about approaching nightfall as intently as I was, and with a lot more fear. He was hoping his friends were where they were supposed to be.

Trying not to show my increasing anxiety, I looked upward again. Deep into dusk, there was only the faintest trace of light remaining in the Texas sky.

"Your husband, maybe?" He curved his fingers around my arm.

Was this guy creepy, or what? I glanced over at him. His eyes were fixed on the baggage handlers who were clearly visible in the hold of the plane. They were wearing black and silver jumpsuits with the Anubis logo on the left chest. Then his gaze flickered down to the airline employee on the ground, who was preparing to guide the coffin onto the padded, flat-bedded baggage cart. The priest wanted… what did he want? He was trying to catch the men all looking away, preoccupied. He didn't want them to see. While he… what?

"Nah, it's my boyfriend," I said, just to keep our pretence up. My grandmother had raised me to be polite, but she hadn't raised me to be stupid. Surreptitiously, I opened my shoulder bag with one hand and extracted the pepper spray Bill had given me for emergencies. I held the little cylinder down by my thigh. I was edging away from the false priest and his unclear intentions, and his hand was tightening on my arm, when the lid of the coffin swung open.

The two baggage handlers in the plane had swung down to the ground. Now they bowed deeply. The one who'd guided the coffin onto the cart said, "Shit!" before he bowed, too (new guy, I guess). This little piece of obsequious behavior was also an airline extra, but I considered it way over the top.

The priest said, "Help me, Jesus!" But instead of falling to his knees, he jumped to my right, seized me by the arm holding the spray, and began to yank at me.

At first, I thought he felt he was trying to remove me from the danger represented by the opening coffin, by pulling me to safety. And I guess that was what it looked like to the baggage handlers, who were wrapped up in their role-playing as Anubis Air attendants. The upshot was, they didn't help me, even though I yelled, "Let go!" at the top of my well-developed lungs. The "priest" kept yanking at my arm and trying to run, and I kept digging in my two-inch heels and pulling back. I flailed at him with my free hand. I'm not letting anyone haul me off somewhere I don't want to go, not without a good fight.

"Bill!" I was really frightened. The priest was not a big man, but he was taller and heavier than me, and almost as determined. Though I was making his struggle as hard as possible, inch by inch he was moving me toward a staff door into the terminal. A wind had sprung up from nowhere, a hot dry wind, and if I sprayed the chemicals they would blow right back in my face.

The man inside the coffin sat up slowly, his large dark eyes taking in the scene around him. I caught a glimpse of him running a hand over his smooth brown hair.

The staff door opened and I could tell there was someone right inside, reinforcements for the priest.

"Bill!"

There was a whoosh through the air around me, and all of a sudden the priest let go and zipped through the door like a rabbit at a greyhound track. I staggered and would have landed on my butt if Bill hadn't slowed to catch me.

"Hey, baby," I said, incredibly relieved. I yanked at the jacket of my new gray suit, and felt glad I'd put on some more lipstick when the plane landed. I looked in the direction the priest had taken. "That was pretty weird." I tucked the pepper spray back in my purse.

"Sookie," Bill said, "are you all right?" He leaned down to give me a kiss, ignoring the awed whispers of the baggage handlers at work on a charter plane next to the Anubis gate. Even though the world at large had learned two years ago that vampires were not only the stuff of legends and horror movies, but truly led a centuries-long existence among us, lots of people had never seen a vampire in the flesh.

Bill ignored them. Bill is good at ignoring things that he doesn't feel are worth his attention.

"Yes, I'm fine," I said, a little dazed. "I don't know why he was trying to grab me."

"He misunderstood our relationship?"

"I don't think so. I think he knew I was waiting for you and he was trying to get me away before you woke up."

"We'll have to think about this," said Bill, master of the understatement. "Other than this bizarre incident, how did the evening go?"

"The flight was all right," I said, trying not to stick my bottom lip out.

"Did anything else untoward happen?" Bill sounded just a wee bit dry. He was quite aware that I considered myself put-upon.

"I don't know what normal is for airplane trips, never having done it before," I said tartly, "but up until the time the priest appeared, I'd say things pretty much ran smooth." Bill raised one eyebrow in that superior way he has, so I'd elaborate. "I don't think that man was really a priest at all. What did he meet the plane for? Why'd he come over to talk to me? He was just waiting till everyone working on the plane was looking in another direction."

"We'll talk about it in a more private place," my vampire said, glancing at the men and women who'd begun to gather around the plane to check out the commotion. He stepped over to the uniformed Anubis employees, and in a quiet voice he chastised them for not coming to my help. At least, I assumed that was the burden of his conversation, from the way they turned white and began to babble. Bill slid an arm around my waist and we began to stroll to the terminal.

"Send the coffin to the address on the lid," Bill called back over his shoulder. "The Silent Shore Hotel." The Silent Shore was the only hotel in the Dallas area that had undergone the extensive renovation necessary to accommodate vampire patrons. It was one of the grand old downtown hotels, the brochure had said, not that I'd ever seen downtown Dallas or any of its grand old hotels before.

We stopped in the stairwell of a grubby little flight leading up to the main passenger concourse. "Now, tell me," he demanded. I glanced up at him while I related the odd little incident from start to finish. He was very white. I knew he must be hungry. His eyebrows looked black against the pallor of his skin, and his eyes looked an even darker brown than they really were.

He help open a door and I passed through into the bustle and confusion of one of the biggest airports in the world.

"You didn't listen to him?" I could tell Bill didn't mean with my ears.

"I was still pretty heavily shielded from the plane," I said. "And by the time I got concerned, began to try to read him, you came out of your coffin and he took off. I had the funniest feeling, before he ran…" I hesitated, knowing this was far-fetched.

Bill just waited. He's not one to waste words. He lets me finish what I'm saying. We stopped walking for a second, edged over to the wall.

"I felt like he was there to kidnap me," I said. "I know that sounds nuts. Who would know who I am, here in Dallas? Who would know to be meeting the plane? But that's definitely the impression I got." Bill took my warm hands in his cool ones.

I looked up into Bill's eyes. I'm not that short, and he's not that tall, but I still have to look up at him. And it's a little pride issue with me, that I can meet his eyes and not get glamoured. Sometimes I wish Bill could give me a different set of memories – for example, I wouldn't mind forgetting about the maenad – but he can't.

Bill was thinking over what I'd said, filing it away for future reference. "So the flight itself was boring?" he asked.

"Actually, it was pretty exciting," I admitted. "After I made sure the Anubis people had stowed you on their plane, and I was boarded on mine, the woman showed us what to do when we crashed. I was sitting on the row with the emergency exit. She said to switch if we didn't think we could handle that. But I think I could, don't you? Handle an emergency? She brought me a drink and a magazine." I seldom got waited on myself, being a barmaid by profession, you might say, so I really enjoyed being served.

"I'm sure you can handle just about anything, Sookie. Were you frightened when the plane took off?"

"No. I was just a little worried about this evening. Aside from that, it went fine."

"Sorry I couldn't be with you," he murmured, his cool and liquid voice flowing around me. He pressed me against his chest.

"That's okay," I said into his shirt, mostly meaning it. "First time flying, you know, it's kind of nerve-wracking. But it went all right. Until we landed."

I might grouse and I might moan, but I was truly glad Bill had risen in time to steer me through the airport. I was feeling more and more like the poor country cousin.

We didn't talk any more about the priest, but I knew Bill hadn't forgotten. He walked me through collecting our luggage and finding transportation. He would've parked me somewhere and arranged it all, except, as he reminded me frequently, I'd have to do this on my own sometime, if our business demanded we land somewhere in full daylight.

Despite the fact that the airport seemed incredibly crowded, full of people who all appeared heavily burdened and unhappy, I managed to follow the signs with a little nudge from Bill, after reinforcing my mental shields. It was bad enough, getting washed with the weary misery of the travelers, without listening to their specific laments. I directed the porter with our luggage (which Bill could easily have carried under one arm) to the taxi stand, and Bill and I were on our way to the hotel within forty minutes of Bill's emergence. The Anubis people had sworn up and down that his coffin would be delivered within three hours.

We'd see. If they didn't make it, we got a free flight.

I'd forgotten the sprawl of Dallas, in the seven years since I'd graduated from high school. The lights of the city were amazing, and the busyness. I stared out of the windows at everything we passed, and Bill smiled at me with an irritating indulgence.

"You look very pretty, Sookie. Your clothes are just right."

"Thanks," I said, relieved and pleased. Bill had insisted that I needed to look "professional," and after I'd said, "Professional what?" he'd given me one of those looks. So I was wearing a gray suit over a white shell, with pearl earrings and a black purse and heels. I'd even smoothed my hair back into a twisted shape at the back of my head with one of those Hairagamis I'd ordered from TV. My friend Arlene had helped me. To my mind, I looked like a professional, all right – a professional funeral home attendant – but Bill seemed to approve. And I'd charged the whole outfit to him at Tara's Togs, since it was a legitimate business expense. So I couldn't complain about the cost.

I'd have been more comfortable in my barmaid's outfit. Give me shorts and a T-shirt over a dress and hose any day. And I could've been wearing my Adidas with my barmaid uniform, not these damn heels. I sighed.

The taxi pulled up to the hotel, and the driver got out to extract our luggage. There was enough of it for three days. If the vampires of Dallas had followed my directions, I could wind this up and we could go back to Bon Temps tomorrow night, to live there unmolested and uninvolved in vampire politics – at least until the next time Bill got a phone call. But it was better to bring extra clothes than to count on that.

I scooted across the seat to emerge after Bill, who was paying the driver. A uniformed bellboy from the hotel was loading the luggage onto a rolling cart. He turned his thin face to Bill and said, "Welcome to Silent Shore Hotel, sir! My name is Barry, and I'll…" Then Bill stepped forward, the light from the lobby door spilling onto his face. "I'll be your porter," Barry finished weakly.

"Thank you," I said, to give the boy, who couldn't be more than eighteen, a second to compose himself. His hands were a little trembly. I cast a mental net out to check the source of his distress.

To my startled delight, I realized (after a quick rummage in Barry's head) that he was a telepath, like me! But he was at the level of organization and development I'd been when I was, maybe, twelve years old. He was a mess, that boy. He couldn't control himself at all, and his shields were a shambles. He was heavy into denial. I didn't know whether to grab him and hug him, or smack him upside the head. Then I realized his secret was not mine to give away. I glanced off in another direction, and shifted from one foot to another, as if I were bored.

"I'll just follow you with your luggage," Barry mumbled, and Bill smiled at him gently. Barry smiled tentatively back, and then got busy bringing in the cart. It had to be Bill's appearance that unnerved Barry, since he couldn't read Bill's mind, the great attraction of the undead for people like me. Barry was going to have to learn how to relax around vampires, since he'd agreed to work at a hotel that catered to them.

Some people think all vampires look terrifying. To me, it depends on the vampire. I remember thinking, when I first met Bill, that he looked incredibly different; but I hadn't been frightened.

The one that was waiting for us in the lobby of Silent Shores, now, she was scary. I bet she made ole Barry wet his pants. She approached after we'd checked in, as Bill was putting his credit card back in his wallet (you just try applying for a credit card when you're a hundred sixty years old; that process had been a bear) and I sidled a little closer to him as he tipped Barry, hoping she wouldn't notice me.

"Bill Compton? The detective from Louisiana?" Her voice was as calm and cool as Bill's, with considerably less inflection. She had been dead a long time. She was as white as paper and as flat as a board, and her thin ankle-length blue-and-gold dress didn't do a thing for her except accentuate both whiteness and flatness. Light brown hair (braided and long enough to tap her butt) and glittery green eyes emphasized her otherness.

"Yes." Vampires don't shake hands, but the two made eye contact and gave each other a curt nod.

"This is the woman?" She had probably gestured toward me with one of those lightning quick movements, because I caught a blur from the corner of my eyes.

"This is my companion and coworker, Sookie Stackhouse," Bill said.

After a moment, she nodded to show she was picking up the hint. "I am Isabel Beaumont," she said, "and after you take your luggage to your room and take care of your needs, you are to come with me."

Bill said, "I have to feed."

Isabel swiveled an eye toward me thoughtfully, no doubt wondering why I wasn't supplying blood for my escort, but it was none of her business. She said, "Just punch the telephone button for room service."

Measly old mortal me would just have to order from the menu. But as I considered the time frame, I realized I'd feel much better if I waited to eat after this evening's business was finished.

After our bags had been put in the bedroom (big enough for the coffin and a bed), the silence in the little living room became uncomfortable. There was a little refrigerator well stocked with PureBlood, but this evening Bill would want the real thing.

"I have to call, Sookie," Bill said. We'd gone over this before the trip.

"Of course." Without looking at him, I retreated into the bedroom and shut the door. He might have to feed off someone else so I could keep my strength up for coming events, but I didn't have to watch it or like it. After a few minutes, I heard a knock on the corridor door and I heard Bill admit someone – his Meal on Wheels. There was a little murmur of voices and then a low moan.

Unfortunately for my tension level, I had too much common sense to do something like throw my hairbrush or one of the damn high heels across the room. Maybe retaining some dignity figured in there, too, and a healthy sense of how much temperament Bill would put up with. So I unpacked my suitcase and laid my makeup out in the bathroom, using the facility even though I didn't feel especially needy. Toilets were optional in the vampire world, I'd learned, and even if a functional facility was available in a house occupied by vampires, occasionally they forgot to stock toilet paper.

Soon I heard the outer door open and close again, and Bill knocked lightly before coming into the bedroom. He looked rosy and his face was fuller.

"Are you ready?" he asked. Suddenly, the fact that I was going out on my first real job for the vampires hit me, and I felt scared all over again. If I wasn't a success, my life would become out-and-out perilous, and Bill might become even deader than he was now. I nodded, my throat dry with fear.

"Don't bring your purse."

"Why not?" I stared down at it, astonished. Who could object?

"Things can be hidden in purses." Things like stakes, I assumed. "Just slip a room key into… does that skirt have a pocket?"

"No."

"Well, slip the key into your underthings."

I raised my hem so Bill could see exactly what underthings I had to tuck something into. I enjoyed the expression on his face more than I can say.

"Those are… would that be a… thong?" Bill seemed a little preoccupied all of a sudden.

"It would. I didn't see the need to be professional down to the skin."

"And what skin it is," Bill murmured. "So tan, so… smooth."

"Yep, I figured I didn't need to wear any hose." I tucked the plastic rectangle – the "key" – under one of the side straps.

"Oh, I don't think it'll stay there," he said, his eyes large and luminous. "We might get separated, so you definitely need to take it with you. Try another spot."

I moved it somewhere else.

"Oh, Sookie. You'll never get at it in a hurry there. We have… ah, we have to go." Bill seemed to shake himself out of his trance.

"All right, if you insist," I said, smoothing the skirt of the suit over my "underthings."

He gave me a dark look, patted his pockets like men do, just to make sure they got everything. It was an oddly human gesture, and it touched me in a way I couldn't even describe to myself. We gave each other a sharp nod and walked down the corridor to the elevator. Isabel Beaumont would be waiting, and I had a distinct feeling she wasn't used to that.

The ancient vampire, who looked no more than thirty-five, was standing exactly where we'd left her. Here at the Silent Shore Hotel, Isabel felt free to be her vampire self, which included immobile downtime. People fidget. They are compelled to look engaged in an activity, or purposeful. Vampires can just occupy space without feeling obliged to justify it. As we came out of the elevator, Isabel looked exactly like a statue. You could have hung your hat on her, though you'd have been sorry.

Some early warning system kicked in when we were within six feet of the vamp. Isabel's eyes nicked in our direction and her right hand moved, as though someone had thrown her "on" switch. "Come with me," she said, and glided out the main door. Barry could hardly open it for her fast enough. I noticed he had enough training to cast his eyes down as she passed. Everything you've heard about meeting vampires' eyes is true.

Predictably, Isabel's car was a black Lexus loaded with options. Vampires won't go around in any Geo. Isabel waited until I'd buckled my seat belt (she and Bill didn't bother to use them) before pulling away from the curb, which surprised me. Then we were driving through Dallas, down a main thoroughfare. Isabel seemed to be the strong silent type, but after we'd been in the car for maybe five minutes, she seemed to shake herself, as if she had been reminded she had orders.

We began a curve to the left. I could see some sort of grassy area, and a vague shape that would be some kind of historical marker, maybe. Isabel pointed to her right with a long bony finger. "The Texas School Book Depository," she said, and I understood she felt obliged to inform me. That meant she had been ordered to do so, which was very interesting. I followed her finger eagerly, taking in as much of the brick building as I could see. I was surprised it didn't look more notable.

"That's the grassy knoll?" I breathed, excited and impressed. It was like I'd happened upon the Hindenburg or some other fabled artifact.

Isabel nodded, a barely perceptible movement that I only caught because her braid jerked. "There is a museum in the old depository," she said.

Now, that was something I'd like to see in the daytime. If we were here long enough, I'd walk or maybe find out how to catch a cab while Bill was in his coffin.

Bill smiled over his shoulder at me. He could pick up on my slightest mood, which was wonderful about eighty percent of the time.

We drove for at least twenty more minutes, leaving business areas and entering residential. At first the structures were modest and boxy; but gradually, though the lots didn't seem that much larger, the houses began to grow as if they'd taken steroids. Our final destination was a huge house shoehorned onto a small lot. With its little ruffle of land around the cube of the house, it looked ridiculous, even in the dark.

I sure could have stood a longer ride and more delay.

We parked on the street in front of the mansion, for so it seemed to me. Bill opened my door for me. I stood for a moment, reluctant to start the – project. I knew there were vampires inside, lots of them. I knew it the same way I would be able to discern that humans were waiting. But instead of positive surges of thought, the kind I'd get to indicate people, I got mental pictures of… how can I put it? There were holes in the air inside the house. Each hole represented a vampire. I went a few feet down the short sidewalk to the front door, and there, finally, I caught a mental whiff of human.

The light over the door was on, so I could tell the house was of beige brick with white trim. The light, too, was for my benefit; any vampire could see far better than the sharpest-eyed human. Isabel led the way to the front door, which was framed in graduating arches of brick. There was a tasteful wreath of grapevines and dried flowers on the door, which almost disguised the peephole: This was clever mainstreaming. I realized there was nothing apparent in this house's appearance to indicate that it was any different from any of the other oversized houses we'd passed, no outward indication that within lived vampires.

But they were there, in force. As I followed Isabel inside, I counted four in the main room onto which the front door opened, and there were two in the hall and at least six in the vast kitchen, which looked designed to produce meals for twenty people at a time. I knew immediately that the house had been purchased, not built, by a vampire, because vampires always plan tiny kitchens, or leave the kitchen out entirely. All they need is a refrigerator, for the synthetic blood, and a microwave, to heat it up. What are they going to cook?

At the sink, a tall, lanky human was washing a few dishes, so perhaps some humans did live here. He half-turned as we passed through, and nodded to me. He was wearing glasses and his shirtsleeves were rolled up. I didn't have a chance to speak, because Isabel was ushering us into what appeared to be the dining room.

Bill was tense. I might not be able to read his mind, but I knew him well enough to interpret the set of his shoulders. No vampire is ever comfortable entering another vamp's territory. Vampires have as many rules and regulations as any other society; they just try to keep them secret. But I was figuring things out.

Among all the vampires in the house, I quickly spotted the leader. He was one of those sitting at the long table in the large dining room. He was a total geek. That was my first impression. Then I realized that he was carefully disguised as a geek: he was quite… other. His sandy hair was slicked back, his physique was narrow and unimpressive, his black-rimmed glasses were sheer camouflage, and his pinstriped oxford cloth shirt was tucked into cotton-polyester blend pants. He was pale – well, duh – and freckled, with invisible eyelashes and minimal eyebrows.

"Bill Compton," the geek said.

"Stan Davis," Bill said.

"Yeah, welcome to the city." There was a faint trace of foreign accent in the geek's voice. He used to be Stanislaus Davidowitz, I thought, and then wiped my mind clean like a slate. If any of them found out that every now and then I picked a stray thought out of the silence of their minds, I'd be bloodless before I hit the floor.

Even Bill didn't know that.

I packed the fear down in the cellar of my mind as the pale eyes fixed on me and scrutinized me feature by feature.

"She comes in an agreeable package," he said to Bill, and I supposed that was meant to be a compliment, a pat on the back, for Bill.

Bill inclined his head.

Vampires didn't waste time saying a lot of things humans would under similar circumstances. A human executive would ask Bill how Eric, his boss, was doing; would threaten Bill a little in case I didn't perform; would maybe introduce Bill and me to at least the more important people in the room. Not Stan Davis, head vampire. He lifted his hand, and a young Hispanic vampire with bristly black hair left the room and returned with a human girl in tow. When she saw me, she gave a screech and lunged, trying to break free of the grip the vampire had on her upper arm.

"Help me," she shrieked. "You have to help me!"

I knew right away that she was stupid. After all, what could I do against a roomful of vampires? Her appeal was ridiculous. I told myself that several times, very fast, so I could go through with what I had to do.

I caught her eyes, and held up my finger to tell her to be silent. Once she'd looked at me, locked on to me, she obeyed. I don't have the hypnotic eyes of a vamp, but I don't look the least bit threatening. I look exactly like the girl you'd see in a low-paying job any place in any town in the South: blond and bosomy and tan and young. Possibly, I don't look very bright. But I think it's more that people (and vampires) assume that if you're pretty and blond and have a low-paying job, you are ipso facto dumb.

I turned to Stan Davis, very grateful that Bill was right behind me. "Mr. Davis, you understand that I need more privacy when I question this girl. And I have to know what you need from her."

The girl began to sob. It was slow and heartrending, and almost unbelievably irritating under the circumstances.

Davis's pale eyes fastened on mine. He was not trying to glamour me, or subdue me; he was just examining me. "I understood your escort knew the terms of my agreement with his leader," Stan Davis said. All right, I got the point. I was beneath contempt since I was a human. My talking to Stan was like a chicken talking to the buyer from KFC. But still, I had to know our goal. "I'm aware you met Area 5's conditions," I said, keeping my voice as steady as I could, "and I'm going to do my best. But without a goal, I can't get started."

"We need to know where our brother is," he said, after a pause.

I tried not to look as astonished as I felt.

As I've said, some vampires, like Bill, live by themselves. Others feel more secure in a cluster, called a nest. They call each other brother and sister when they've been in the same nest for a while, and some nests lasted decades. (One in New Orleans has lasted two centuries.) I knew from Bill's briefing before we left Louisiana that the Dallas vampires lived in an especially large nest.

I'm no brain surgeon, but even I realized that for a vampire as powerful as Stan to be missing one of his nest brothers was not only very unusual, it was humiliating.

Vampires like to be humiliated about as much as people do.

"Explain the circumstances, please," I said in my most neutral voice.

"My brother Farrell has not returned to his nest for five nights," Stan Davis said.

I knew they would have checked Farrell's favorite hunting grounds, have asked every other vampire in the Dallas nest to find out if Farrell had been seen. Nevertheless, I opened my mouth to ask, as humans are compelled to do. But Bill touched my shoulder, and I glanced behind me to see a tiny headshake. My questions would be taken as a serious insult.

"This girl?" I asked instead. She was still quiet, but she was shivering and shaking. The Hispanic vampire seemed to be the only thing holding her up.

"Works in the club where he was last seen. It's one we own, The Bat's Wing." Bars were favorite enterprises for vampires, naturally, because their heaviest traffic came at night. Somehow, fanged all-night dry cleaners didn't have the same allure that a vampire-studded bar did.

In the past two years, vampire bars had become the hottest form of nightlife a city could boast. The pathetic humans who became obsessed with vampires – fang-bangers – hung out in vampire bars, often in costumes, in the hopes of attracting the attention of the real thing. Tourists came in to gape at the undead and the fang-bangers. These bars weren't the safest place to work.

I caught the eyes of the Hispanic vampire, and indicated a chair on my side of the long table. He eased the girl into it. I looked down at her, preparing to slide into her thoughts. Her mind had no protection whatsoever. I closed my eyes.

Her name was Bethany. She was twenty-one, and she had thought of herself as a wild child, a real bad girl. She had had no idea what trouble that could get her into, until now. Getting a job at the Bat's Wing had been the rebellious gesture of her life, and it might just turn out to be fatal.

I turned my eyes back to Stan Davis. "You understand," I said, taking a great risk, "that if she yields the information you want, she goes free, unharmed." He'd said he understood the terms, but I had to be sure.

Bill heaved a sigh behind me. Not a happy camper. Stan Davis's eyes actually glowed for a second, so angry was he. "Yes," he said, biting out the words, his fangs half out, "I agreed." We met each other's eyes for a second. We both knew that even two years ago, the vampires of Dallas would have kidnapped Bethany and tortured her until they had every scrap of information she had stored in her brain, and some she'd made up.

Mainstreaming, going public with the fact of their existence, had many benefits – but it also had its price. In this instance, the price was my service.

"What does Farrell look like?"

"Like a cowboy." Stan said this without a trace of humor. "He wears one of those string ties, jeans, and shirts with fake pearl snaps."

The Dallas vampires didn't seem to be into haute couture. Maybe I could have worn my barmaid outfit after all. "What color hair and eyes?"

"Brown hair going gray. Brown eyes. A big jaw. About… five feet, eleven inches." Stan was translating from some other method of measurement. "He would look about thirty-eight, to you," Stan said. "He's clean-shaven, and thin."

"Would you like me to take Bethany somewhere else? You got a smaller room, less crowded?" I tried to look agreeable, because it seemed like such a good idea.

Stan made a movement with his hand, almost too fast for me to detect, and in a second – literally – every vampire, except Stan himself and Bill, had left the kitchen. Without looking, I knew that Bill was standing against the wall, ready for anything. I took a deep breath. Time to start this venture.

"Bethany, how are you?" I said, making my voice gentle.

"How'd you know my name?" she asked, slumping down in her seat. It was a breakfast nook chair on wheels, and I rolled it out from the table and turned it to face the one I now settled in. Stan was still sitting at the head of the table, behind me, slightly to my left.

"I can tell lots of things about you," I said, trying to look warm and omniscient. I began picking thoughts out of the air, like apples from a laden tree. "You had a dog named Woof when you were little, and your mother makes the best coconut cake in the world. Your dad lost too much money at a card game one time, and you had to hock your VCR to help him pay up, so your mom wouldn't find out."

Her mouth was hanging open. As much as it was possible, she had forgotten the fact that she was in terrible danger. "That's amazing, you're as good as the psychic on TV, the one in the ads!"

"Well, Bethany, I'm not a psychic," I said, a little too sharply. "I'm a telepath, and what I do is read your thoughts, even some you maybe didn't know you had. I'm going to relax you, first, and then we're going to remember the evening you worked at the bar – not tonight, but five nights ago." I glanced back at Stan, who nodded.

"But I wasn't thinking about my mother's cake!" Bethany said, stuck on what had struck her.

I tried to suppress my sigh.

"You weren't aware of it, but you did. It slid across your mind when you looked at the palest vampire – Isabel – because her face was as white as the icing for the cake. And you thought of how much you missed your dog when you were thinking of how your parents would miss you."

I knew that was a mistake as soon as the words went out of my mouth, and sure enough, she began crying again, recalled to her present circumstances.

"So what are you here for?" she asked between sobs.

"I'm here to help you remember."

"But you said you're not psychic."

"And I'm not." Or was I? Sometimes I thought I had a streak mixed in with my other "gift," which was what the vampires thought it was. I had always thought of it as more of a curse, myself, until I'd met Bill. "Psychics can touch objects and get information about the wearers. Some psychics see visions of past or future events. Some psychics can communicate with the dead. I'm a telepath. I can read some peoples' thoughts. Supposedly, I can send thoughts, too, but I've never tried that." Now that I'd met another telepath, the attempt was an exciting possibility, but I stowed that idea away to explore at my leisure. I had to concentrate on the business at hand.

As I sat knee to knee with Bethany, I was making a series of decisions. I was new to the idea of using my "listening in" to some purpose. Most of my life had been spent struggling not to hear. Now, hearing was my job, and Bethany's life probably depended on it. Mine almost certainly did.

"Listen, Bethany, here's what we're going to do. You're going to remember that evening, and I'm going to go through it with you. In your mind."

"Will it hurt?"

"No, not a bit."

"And after that?"

"Why, you'll go."

"Go home?"

"Sure." With an amended memory that wouldn't include me, or this evening, courtesy of a vampire.

"They won't kill me?"

"No way."

"You promise?"

"I do." I managed to smile at her.

"Okay," she said, hesitantly. I moved her a little, so she couldn't see Stan over my shoulder. I had no idea what he was doing. But she didn't need to see that white face while I was trying to get her to relax.

"You're pretty," she said suddenly.

"Thanks, and back at you." At least, she might be pretty under better circumstances. Bethany had a mouth that was too small for her face, but that was a feature some men found attractive, since it looked like she was always puckered up. She had a great quantity of brown hair, thick and bushy, and a thin body with small breasts. Now that another woman was looking at her, Bethany was worried about her wrinkled clothes and stale makeup.

"You look fine," I said quietly, taking her hands into mine. "Now, we're just gonna hold hands here for a minute – I swear I'm not making a pass." She giggled, and her fingers relaxed a little more. Then I began my spiel.

This was a new wrinkle for me. Instead of trying to avoid using my telepathy, I'd been trying to develop it, with Bill's encouragement. The human staff at Fangtasia had acted as guinea pigs. I'd found out, almost by accident, that I could hypnotize people in a jiffy. It didn't put them under my spell or anything, but it let me into their minds with a frightening ease. When you can tell what really relaxes someone, by reading his or her mind, it's relatively easy to relax that person right into a trancelike state.

"What do you enjoy the most, Bethany?" I asked. "Do you get a massage every now and then? Or maybe you like getting your nails done?" I looked in Bethany's mind delicately. I selected the best channel for my purpose.

"You're getting your hair fixed," I said, keeping my voice soft and even, "by your favorite hairdresser… Jerry. He's combed it and combed it, there's not a tangle left. He's sectioned it off, so carefully, because your hair is so thick. It's gonna take him a long time to cut it, but he's looking forward to it, because your hair is healthy and shiny. Jerry's lifting a lock, and trimming it… the scissors give a little snick. A little bit of hair falls on the plastic cape and slides off to the floor. You feel his fingers in your hair again. Over and over, his fingers move in your hair, lift a lock, snip it. Sometimes he combs it again, to see if he got it even. It feels so good, just sitting and having someone work on your hair. There's no one else…" No, wait. I'd raised a hint of unease. "There's only a few people in the shop, and they're just as busy as Jerry. Someone's got a blow dryer going. You can barely hear voices murmuring in the next booth. His fingers run through, lift, snip, comb, over and over…"

I didn't know what a trained hypnotist would say about my technique, but it worked for me this time, at least. Bethany's brain was in a restful, fallow state, just waiting to be given a task. In the same even voice I said, "While he's working on your hair, we're going to walk through that night at work. He won't stop cutting, okay? Start with getting ready to go to the bar. Don't mind me, I'm just a puff of air right behind your shoulder. You might hear my voice, but it's coming from another booth in that beauty salon. You won't even be able to hear what I'm saying unless I use your name." I was informing Stan as well as reassuring Bethany. Then I submerged deeper into the girl's memory.

Bethany was looking at her apartment. It was very small, fairly neat, and she shared it with another Bat's Wing employee, who went by the name Desiree Dumas. Desiree Dumas, as seen by Bethany, looked exactly like her made-up name: a self-designated siren, a little too plump, a little too blond, and convinced of her own eroticism.

Taking the waitress through this experience was like watching a film, a really dull one. Bethany's memory was almost too good. Skipping over the boring parts, like Bethany and Desiree's argument over the relative merits of two brands of mascara, what Bethany remembered was this: she had prepared for work as she always did, and she and Desiree had ridden together to their job. Desiree worked in the gift shop section of the Bat's Wing. Dressed in a red bustier and black boots, she hawked vampire souvenirs for big bucks. Wearing artificial fangs, she posed for pictures with tourists for a good tip. Bony and shy Bethany was a humble waitress; for a year she'd been waiting for an opening in the more congenial gift shop, where she wouldn't make the big tips but her base salary would be higher, and she could sit down when she wasn't busy. Bethany hadn't gotten there yet. Big grudge against Desiree, there, on Bethany's part; irrelevant, but I heard myself telling Stan about it as if it were crucial information.

I had never been this deep into someone else's mind. I was trying to weed as I went, but it wasn't working. Finally, I just let it all come. Bethany was completely relaxed, still getting that haircut. She had excellent visual recall, and she was as deeply engaged as I was in the evening she'd spent at work.

In her mind, Bethany served synthetic blood to only four vampires: a red-haired female; a short, stocky Hispanic female with eyes as black as pitch; a blond teenager with ancient tattoos; and a brown-haired man with a jutting jaw and a bolo tie. There! Farrell was embedded in Bethany's memory. I had to suppress my surprise and recognition, and try to steer Bethany with more authority.

"That's the one, Bethany," I whispered. "What do you remember about him?"

"Oh, him," Bethany said out loud, startling me so much I almost jumped out of my chair. In her mind, she turned to look at Farrell, thinking of him. He'd had two synthetic bloods, O positive, and he'd left her a tip.

There was a crease between Bethany's eyebrows as she became focused on my request. She was trying hard now, searching her memory. Bits of the evening began to compact, so she could reach the parts containing the memory of the brown-haired vampire. "He went back to the bathroom with the blond," she said, and I saw in her mind the image of the blond tattooed vampire, the very young-looking one. If I'd been an artist, I could have drawn him.

"Young vampire, maybe sixteen. Blond, tattoo," I murmured to Stan, and he looked surprised. I barely caught that, having so much to concentrate on – this was like trying to juggle – but I did think surprise was the flash of feeling on Stan's face. That was puzzling.

"Sure he was a vampire?" I asked Bethany.

"He drank the blood," she said flatly. "He had that pale skin. He gave me the creeps. Yes, I'm sure."

And he'd gone into the bathroom with Farrell. I was disturbed. The only reason a vampire would enter a bathroom was if there were a human inside he wanted to have sex with, or drink from, or (any vamp's favorite) do both simultaneously. Submerging myself again in Bethany's recollections, I watched her serve a few more customers, no one I recognized, though I got as good a look as I could at the other patrons. Most of them seemed like harmless tourist types. One of them, a dark-complexioned man with a bushy mustache, seemed familiar, so I tried to note his companions: a tall, thin man with shoulder-length blond hair and a squatty woman with one of the worst haircuts I'd ever seen.

I had some questions to ask Stan, but I wanted to finish up with Bethany first. "Did the cowboy-looking vampire come out again, Bethany?"

"No," she said after a perceptible pause. "I didn't see him again." I checked her carefully for blank spots in her mind; I could never replace what had been erased, but I might know if her memory had been tampered with. I found nothing. And she was trying to remember, I could tell. I could sense her straining to recall another glimpse of Farrell. I realized, from the sense of her straining, that I was losing control of Bethany's thoughts and memories.

"What about the young blond one? The one with the tattoos?"

Bethany pondered that. She was about half out of her trance now. "I didn't see him neither," she said. A name slid through her head.

"What's that?" I asked, keeping my voice very quiet and calm.

"Nothing! Nothing!" Bethany's eyes were wide open now. Her haircut was over: I'd lost her. My control was far from perfect.

She wanted to protect someone; she wanted him not to go through the same thing she was going through. But she couldn't stop herself from thinking the name, and I caught it. I couldn't quite understand why she thought this man would know something else, but she did. I knew no purpose would be served by letting her know I'd picked up on her secret, so I smiled at her and told Stan, without turning to look at him, "She can go. I've gotten everything."

I absorbed the look of relief on Bethany's face before I turned to look at Stan. I was sure he realized I had something up my sleeve, and I didn't want him to say anything. Who can tell what a vampire is thinking when the vamp is being guarded? But I had the distinct feeling Stan understood me.

He didn't speak out loud, but another vampire came in, a girl who'd been about Bethany's age when she went over. Stan had made a good choice. The girl leaned over Bethany, took her hand, smiled with fangs fully retracted, and said, "We'll take you home now, okay?"

"Oh, great!" Bethany's relief was written in neon on her forehead. "Oh, great," she said again, less certainly. "Ah, you really are going to my house? You…"

But the vampire had looked directly into Bethany's eyes and now she said, "You won't remember anything about today or this evening except the party."

"Party?" Bethany's voice sounded sluggish. Only mildly curious.

"You went to a party," the vampire said as she led Bethany from the room. "You went to a great party, and you met a cute guy there. You've been with him." She was still murmuring to Bethany as they went out. I hoped she was giving her a good memory.

"What?" Stan asked, when the door shut behind the two.

"Bethany thought the club bouncer would know more. She watched him go into the men's room right on the heels of your friend Farrell and the vampire you didn't know." What I didn't know, and hardly liked to ask Stan, was whether vampires ever had sex with each other. Sex and food were so tied together in the vampire life system that I couldn't imagine a vampire having sex with someone nonhuman, that is, someone he couldn't get blood from. Did vampires ever take blood from each other in noncrisis situations? I knew if a vampire's life was at stake (har de har) another vampire would donate blood to revive the damaged one, but I had never heard of another situation involving blood exchange. I hardly liked to ask Stan. Maybe I'd broach the subject with Bill, when we got out of this house.

"What you uncovered in her mind, was that Farrell was at the bar, and that he went into the toilet room with another vampire, a young male with long blond hair and many tattoos," Stan summarized. "The bouncer went into the toilet while the two were in there."

"Correct."

There was a sizeable pause while Stan made up his mind about what to do next. I waited, delighted not to hear one word of his inner debate. No flashes, no glimpses.

At least such momentary glimpses into a vampire mind were extremely rare. And I'd never had one from Bill; I hadn't known it was possible for some time after I'd been introduced to the vampiric world. So his company remained pure pleasure to me. It was possible, for the first time in my life, to have a normal relationship with a male. Of course, he wasn't a live male, but you couldn't have everything.

As if he knew I'd been thinking of him, I felt Bill's hand on my shoulder. I put my own over it, wishing I could get up and give him a full-length hug. Not a good idea in front of Stan. Might make him hungry.

"We don't know the vampire who went in with Farrell," Stan said, which seemed a little bit of an answer after all that thinking. Maybe he'd imagined giving me a longer explanation, but decided I wasn't smart enough to understand the answer. I would rather be underestimated than overrated any day. Besides, what real difference did it make? But I filed my question away under facts I needed to know.

"So, who's the bouncer at the Bat's Wing?"

"A man called Re-Bar," Stan said. There was a trace of distaste in the way he said it. "He is a fang-banger."

So Re-Bar had his dream job. Working with vampires, working for vampires, and being around them every night. For someone who had gotten fascinated by the undead, Re-Bar had hit a lucky streak. "What could he do if a vampire got rowdy?" I asked, out of sheer curiosity.

"He was only there for the human drunks. We found that a vampire bouncer tended to overuse his strength."

I didn't want to think about that too much. "Is Re-Bar here?"

"It will take a short time," Stan said, without consulting anyone in his entourage. He almost certainly had some kind of mind contact with them. I'd never seen that before, and I was sure Eric couldn't approach Bill mentally. It must be Stan's special gift.

While we waited, Bill sat down in the chair next to me. He reached over and took my hand. I found it very comforting, and loved Bill for it. I kept my mind relaxed, trying to maintain energy for the questioning ahead. But I was beginning to frame some worries, very serious worries, about the situation of the vampires of Dallas. And I was concerned about the glimpse I'd had of the bar patrons, especially the man I'd thought I recognized.

"Oh, no," I said sharply, suddenly recalling where I'd seen him.

The vampires shot to full alert. "What, Sookie?" Bill asked.

Stan looked like he'd been carved from ice. His eyes actually glowed green, I wasn't just imagining it.

I stumbled all over my words in my haste to explain what I was thinking. "The priest," I told Bill. "The man that ran away at the airport, the one who tried to grab me. He was at the bar." The different clothes and setting had fooled me when I was deep into Bethany's memory, but now I was sure.

"I see," Bill said slowly. Bill seems to have almost total recall, and I could rely on him to have the man's face imprinted in his memory.

"I didn't think he was really a priest then, and now I know he was at the bar the night Farrell vanished," I said. "Dressed in regular clothes. Not, ah, the white collar and black shirt."

There was a pregnant pause.

Stan said, delicately, "But this man, this pretend priest, at the bar, even with two human companions, he could not have taken Farrell if Farrell didn't want to go."

I looked directly down at my hands and didn't say one word. I didn't want to be the one to say this out loud. Bill, wisely, didn't speak either. At last, Stan Davis, head vampire of Dallas, said, "Someone went in the bathroom with Farrell, Bethany recalled. A vampire I didn't know."

I nodded, keeping my gaze directed elsewhere.

"Then this vampire must have helped to abduct Farrell."

"Is Farrell gay?" I asked, trying to sound as if my question had just oozed out of the walls.

"He prefers men, yes. You think – "

"I don't think a thing." I shook my head emphatically, to let him know how much I wasn't thinking. Bill squeezed my fingers. Ouch.

The silence was tense until the teenage-looking vamp returned with a burly human, one I'd seen in Bethany's memories. He didn't look like Bethany saw him, though; through her eyes, he was more robust, less fat; more glamorous, less unkempt. But he was recognizable as Re-Bar.

It was apparent to me immediately that something was wrong with the man. He followed after the girl vamp readily enough, and he smiled at everyone in the room; but that was off, wasn't it? Any human who sensed vampire trouble would be worried, no matter how clear his conscience. I got up and went over to him. He watched me approach with cheerful anticipation.

"Hi, buddy," I said gently, and shook his hand. I dropped it as soon as I decently could. I took a couple of steps back. I wanted to take some Advil and lie down.

"Well," I said to Stan, "he sure enough has a hole in his head."

Stan examined Re-Bar's skull with a skeptical eye. "Explain," he said.

"How ya doin', Mr. Stan?" Re-Bar asked. I was willing to bet no one had ever spoken to Stan Davis that way, at least not in the past five hundred years or so.

"I'm fine, Re-Bar. How are you?" I gave Stan credit for keeping it calm and level.

"You know, I just feel great," Re-Bar said, shaking his head in wonderment. "I'm the luckiest sumbitch on earth – 'scuse me, lady."

"You're excused." I had to force the words out.

Bill said, "What has been done to him, Sookie?"

"He's had a hole burned in his head," I said. "I don't know how else to explain it, exactly. I can't tell how it was done, because I've never seen it before, but when I look in his thoughts, his memories, there's just a big old ragged hole. It's like Re-Bar needed a tiny tumor removed, but the surgeon took his spleen and maybe his appendix, too, just to be sure. You know when y'all take away someone's memory, you replace it with another one?" I waved a hand to show I meant all vampires. "Well, someone took a chunk out of Re-Bar's mind, and didn't replace it with anything. Like a lobotomy," I added, inspired. I read a lot. School was tough for me with my little problem, but reading by myself gave me a means of escape from my situation. I guess I'm self-educated.

"So whatever Re-Bar knew about Farrell's disappearance is lost," Stan said.

"Yep, along with a few components of Re-Bar's personality and a lot of other memories."

"Is he still functional?"

"Why, yeah, I guess so." I'd never encountered anything like this, never even realized it was possible. "But I don't know how effective a bouncer he'll be," I said, trying to be honest.

"He was hurt while he was working for us. We'll take care of him. Maybe he can clean the club after it closes," Stan said. I could tell from Stan's voice that he wanted to be sure I was marking this down mentally; that vampires could be compassionate, or at least fair.

"Gosh, that would be great!" Re-Bar beamed at his boss. "Thanks, Mr. Stan."

"Take him back home," Mr. Stan told his minion. She departed directly, with the lobotomized man in tow.

"Who could've done such a crude job on him?" Stan wondered. Bill did not reply, since he wasn't there to stick his neck out, but to guard me and do his own detecting when it was required. A tall red-haired female vampire came in, the one who'd been at the bar the night Farrell was taken.

"What did you notice the evening Farrell vanished?" I asked her, without thinking about protocol. She snarled at me, her white teeth standing out against her dark tongue and brilliant lipstick.

Stan said, "Cooperate." At once her face smoothed out, all expression vanishing like wrinkles in a bedspread when you run your hand over it.

"I don't remember," she said finally. So Bill's ability to recall what he'd seen in minute detail was a personal gift. "I don't remember seeing Farrell more than a minute or two."

"Can you do the same thing to Rachel that you did to the barmaid?" Stan asked.

"No," I said immediately, my voice maybe a little too emphatic. "I can't read vampire minds at all. Closed books."

Bill said, "Can you remember a blond – one of us – who looks about sixteen years old? One with ancient blue tattooing on his arms and torso?"

"Oh, yes," red-haired Rachel said instantly. "The tattoos were from the time of the Romans, I think. They were crude but interesting. I wondered about him, because I hadn't seen him coming here to the house to ask Stan for hunting privileges."

So vamps passing through someone else's territory were required to sign in at the visitors' center, so to speak. I filed that away for future reference.

"He was with a human, or at least had some conversation with him," the red-haired vampire continued. She was wearing blue jeans and a green sweater that looked incredibly hot to me. But vamps don't worry about the actual temperature. She looked at Stan, then Bill, who made a beckoning gesture to indicate he wanted whatever memories she had. "The human was dark-haired, and had a mustache, if I am recalling him correctly." She made a gesture with her hands, an open-fingered sweep that seemed to say, "They're all so much alike!"

After Rachel left, Bill asked if there was a computer in the house. Stan said there was, and looked at Bill with actual curiosity when Bill asked if he could use it for a moment, apologizing for not having his laptop. Stan nodded. Bill was about to leave the room when he hesitated and looked back at me. "Will you be all right, Sookie?" he asked.

"Sure." I tried to sound confident.

Stan said, "She will be fine. There are more people for her to see."

I nodded, and Bill left. I smiled at Stan, which is what I do when I'm strained. It's not a happy smile, but it's better than screaming.

"You and Bill have been together for how long?" Stan asked.

"For a few months." The less Stan knew about us, the happier I'd be.

"You are content with him?"

"Yes."

"You love him?" Stan sounded amused.

"None of your business," I said, grinning. "Did you mention there were more people I needed to check?"

Following the same procedure I had with Bethany, I held a variety of hands and checked a boring bunch of brains. Bethany had definitely been the most observant person in the bar. These people – another barmaid, the human bartender, and a frequent patron (a fang-banger) who'd actually volunteered for this – had dull boring thoughts and limited powers of recollection. I did find out the bartender fenced stolen household goods on the side, and after the guy had left, I recommended to Stan that he get another employee behind the bar, or he'd be sucked into any police investigation. Stan seemed more impressed by this than I hoped he'd be. I didn't want him to get too enamored of my services.

Bill returned as I finished up the last bar employee, and he looked just a little pleased, so I concluded he'd been successful. Bill had been spending most of his waking hours on the computer lately, which had not been too popular an idea with me.

"The tattooed vampire," Bill said when Stan and I were the only two left in the room, "is named Godric, though for the past century he's gone by Godfrey. He's a renouncer." I don't know about Stan, but I was impressed. A few minutes on the computer, and Bill had done a neat piece of detective work.

Stan looked appalled, and I suppose I looked puzzled.

"He's allied himself with radical humans. He plans to commit suicide," Bill told me in a soft voice, since Stan was wrapped in thought. "This Godfrey plans to meet the sun. His existence has turned sour on him."

"So he's gonna take someone with him?" Godfrey would expose Farrell along with himself?

"He has betrayed us to the Fellowship," Stan said.

Betrayed is a word that packs a lot of melodrama, but I didn't dream of smirking when Stan said it. I'd heard of the Fellowship, though I'd never met anyone who claimed to actually belong to it. What the Klan was to African Americans, the Fellowship of the Sun was to vampires. It was the fastest-growing cult in America.

Once again, I was in deeper waters than I could swim in.


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