I turned over laboriously and peered at the illuminated clock on the bedside table. It was not yet dawn, but dawn would come soon. Bill was in his coffin already: the lid was closed. Why was I awake? I thought it over.
There was something I had to do. Part of me stood back in amazement at my own stupidity as I pulled on some shorts and a T-shirt and slid my feet into sandals. I looked even worse in the mirror, to which I gave only a sideways glance. I stood with my back to it to brush my hair. To my astonishment and pleasure, my purse was sitting on the table in the sitting room. Someone had retrieved it from the Fellowship headquarters the night before. I stuck my plastic key in it and made my way painfully down the silent halls.
Barry was not on duty anymore, and his replacement was too well trained to ask me what the hell I was doing going around looking like something a train had dragged in. He got me a cab and I told the driver where I needed to go. The driver looked at me in the rearview mirror. "Wouldn't you rather go to a hospital?" he suggested uneasily.
"No. I've already been." That hardly seemed to reassure him.
"Those vampires treat you so bad, why do you hang around them?"
"People did this to me," I said. "Not vampires."
We drove off. Traffic was light, it being nearly dawn on a Sunday morning. It only took fifteen minutes to get to the same place I'd been the night before, the Fellowship parking lot.
"Can you wait for me?" I asked the driver. He was a man in his sixties, grizzled and missing a front tooth. He wore a plaid shirt with snaps instead of buttons.
"I reckon I can do that," he said. He pulled a Louis L'Amour western out from under his seat and switched on a dome light to read.
Under the glare of the sodium lights, the parking lot showed no visible traces of the events of the night before. There were only a couple of vehicles remaining, and I figured they'd been abandoned the night before. One of these cars was probably Gabe's. I wondered if Gabe had had a family; I hoped not. For one thing, he was such a sadist he must have made their lives miserable, and for another, for the rest of their lives they'd have to wonder how and why he'd died. What would Steve and Sarah Newlin do now? Would there be enough members left of their Fellowship to carry on? Presumably the guns and provisions were still in the church. Maybe they'd been stockpiling against the apocalypse.
Out of the dark shadows next to the church a figure emerged. Godfrey. He was still bare-chested, and he still looked like a fresh-faced sixteen. Only the alien character of the tattoos and his eyes gave the lie to his body.
"I came to watch," I said, when he was close to me, though maybe "bear witness" would have been more accurate.
"I owe it to you."
"I am an evil creature."
"Yes, you are." There just wasn't any getting around that. "But you did a good thing, saving me from Gabe."
"By killing one more man? My conscience hardly knew the difference. There have been so many. At least I spared you some humiliation."
His voice grabbed at my heart. The growing light in the sky was still so faint that the parking lot security lights remained on, and by their glow I examined the young, young face.
All of a sudden, absurdly, I began to cry.
"That's nice," Godfrey said. His voice was already remote. "Someone to cry for me at the end. I had hardly expected that." He stepped back to a safe distance.
And then the sun rose.
When I got back in the cab, the driver stowed away his book.
"They have a fire going over there?" he asked. "I thought I saw some smoke. I almost came to see what was happening."
"It's out now," I said.
I mopped at my face for a mile or so, and then I stared out the window as the stretches of city emerged from the night.
Back at the hotel, I let myself into our room again. I pulled off my shorts, lay down on the bed, and just as I was preparing myself for a long period of wakefulness, I fell deep asleep.
Bill woke me up at sundown, in his favorite way. My T-shirt was pushed up, and his dark hair brushed my chest. It was like waking up halfway down the road, so to speak; his mouth was sucking so tenderly on half of what he told me was the most beautiful pair of breasts in the world. He was very careful of his fangs, which were fully down. That was only one of the evidences of his arousal. "Do you feel up to doing this, enjoying it, if I am very, very careful?" he whispered against my ear.
"If you treat me like I was made of glass," I murmured, knowing that he could.
"But that doesn't feel like glass," he said, his hand moving gently. "That feels warm. And wet."
"That much? Am I hurting you?" His hand moved more forcefully.
"Bill" was all I could say. I put my lips on his, and his tongue began a familiar rhythm.
"Lie on your side," he whispered. "I will take care of everything."
And he did.
"Why were you partly dressed?" he asked, later. He'd gotten up to get a bottle of blood from the refrigerator in the room, and he'd warmed it in the microwave. He hadn't taken any of my blood, in consideration of my weakened state.
"I went to see Godfrey die."
His eyes glowed down at me. "What?"
"Godfrey met the dawn." The phrase I had once considered embarrassingly melodramatic flowed quite naturally from my mouth.
There was a long silence.
"How did you know he would? How did you know where?"
I shrugged as much as you can while you're lying in a bed. "I just figured he'd stick with his original plan. He seemed pretty set on it. And he'd saved my life. It was the least I could do."
"Did he show courage?"
I met Bill's eyes. "He died very bravely. He was eager to go."
I had no idea what Bill was thinking. "We have to go see Stan," he said. "We'll tell him."
"Why do we have to go see Stan again?" If I hadn't been such a mature woman, I would've pouted. As it was, Bill gave me one of those looks.
"You have to tell him your part, so he can be convinced we've performed our service. Also, there's the matter of Hugo."
That was enough to make me gloomy. I was so sore the idea of any more clothes than necessary touching my skin made me feel ill, so I pulled on a long sleeveless taupe dress made out of a soft knit and slid my feet carefully into sandals, and that was my outfit. Bill brushed my hair and put in my earrings for me, since raising my arms was uncomfortable, and he decided I needed a gold chain. I looked like I was going to a party at the outpatient ward for battered women. Bill called down for a rental car to be brought around. When the car had arrived in the underground garage, I had no idea. I didn't even know who had arranged for it. Bill drove. I didn't look out the window anymore. I was sick of Dallas.
When we got to the house on Green Valley Road it looked as quiet as it had two nights ago. But after we'd been admitted, I found it was abuzz with vampires. We'd arrived in the midst of a welcome-home party for Farrell, who was standing in the living room with his arm around a handsome young man who might be all of eighteen. Farrell had a bottle of TrueBlood O negative in one hand, and his date had a Coke. The vampire looked almost as rosy as the boy.
Farrell had never actually seen me, so he was delighted to make my acquaintance. He was clad from head to toe in western regalia, and as he bowed over my hand, I expected to hear spurs clink.
"You are so lovely," he said extravagantly, waving the bottle of synthetic blood, "that if I slept with women, you would receive my undivided attention for a week. I know you are self-conscious about your bruises, but they only set off your beauty."
I couldn't help laughing. Not only was I walking like I was about eighty, my face was black-and-blue on the left side.
"Bill Compton, you are one lucky vampire," Farrell told Bill.
"I am well aware of that," Bill said, smiling, though somewhat coolly.
"She is brave and beautiful!"
"Thanks, Farrell. Where's Stan?" I decided to break this stream of praise. Not only did it make Bill antsy, but Farrell's young companion was getting entirely too curious. My intention was to relate this story once again, and only once.
"He's in the dining room," the young vampire said, the one who'd brought poor Bethany into the dining room when we'd been here before. This must be Joseph Velasquez. He was maybe five foot eight, and his Hispanic ancestry gave him the toast-colored complexion and dark eyes of a don, while his vampire state gave him an unblinking stare and the instant willingness to do damage. He was scanning the room, waiting for trouble. I decided he was sort of the sergeant at arms of the nest. "He will be glad to see both of you."
I glanced around at all the vampires and the sprinkling of humans in the large rooms of the house. I didn't see Eric. I wondered if he'd gone back to Shreveport. "Where's Isabel?" I asked Bill, keeping my voice quiet.
"Isabel is being punished," he said, almost too softly to hear. He didn't want to talk about this any louder, and when Bill thought that was a wise idea, I knew I better shut up. "She brought a traitor into the nest, and she has to pay a price for that."
"But – "
We came into the dining room to find it as crowded as the living room. Stan was in the same chair, wearing virtually the same outfit he had been wearing last time I saw him. He stood up when we entered, and from the way he did this, I understood this was supposed to mark our status as important.
"Miss Stackhouse," he said formally, shaking my hand with great care. "Bill." Stan examined me with his eyes, their washed-out blue not missing a detail of my injuries. His glasses had been mended with Scotch tape. Stan was nothing if not thorough with his disguise. I thought I'd send him a pocket-protector for Christmas.
"Please tell me what happened to you yesterday, omitting nothing," Stan said.
This reminded me irresistibly of Archie Goodwin reporting to Nero Wolfe. "I'll bore Bill," I said, hoping to get out of this recitation.
"Bill will not mind being bored for a little."
There was no getting around this. I sighed, and began with Hugo picking me up from the Silent Shore Hotel. I tried to leave Barry's name out of my narrative, since I didn't know how he'd feel about being known by the vampires of Dallas. I just called him "a bellboy at the hotel." Of course, they could learn who he was if they tried.
When I got to the part where Gabe sent Hugo into Farrell's cell and then tried to rape me, my lips yanked up in a tight grin. My face felt so taut that I thought it might crack.
"Why does she do that?" Stan asked Bill, as though I weren't there.
"When she is tense…" Bill said.
"Oh." Stan looked at me even more thoughtfully. I reached up and began to pull my hair into a ponytail. Bill handed me an elastic band from his pocket, and with considerable discomfort, I held the hair in a tight hank so I could twist the band around it three times.
When I told Stan about the help the shapeshifters had given me, he leaned forward. He wanted to know more than I told, but I would not give any names away. He was intensely thoughtful after I told him about being dropped off at the hotel. I didn't know whether to include Eric or not; I left him out, completely. He was supposed to be from California. I amended my narrative to say I'd gone up to our room to wait for Bill.
And then I told him about Godfrey.
To my amazement, Stan could not seem to absorb Godfrey's death. He made me repeat the story. He swiveled in his chair to face the other way while I spoke. Behind his back, Bill gave me a reassuring caress. When Stan turned back to us, he was wiping his eyes with a red-stained handkerchief. So it was true that vampires could cry. And it was true that vampire tears were bloody.
I cried right along with him. For his centuries of molesting and killing children, Godfrey had deserved to die. I wondered how many humans were in jail for crimes Godfrey had committed. But Godfrey had helped me, and Godfrey had carried with him the most tremendous load of guilt and grief I'd ever encountered.
"What resolution and courage," Stan said admiringly. He hadn't been grieved at all, but lost in admiration. "It makes me weep." He said this in such a way that I knew it was meant to be a great tribute. "After Bill identified Godfrey the other night, I made some inquiries and found he had belonged to a nest in San Francisco. His nest mates will be grieved to hear of this. And of his betrayal of Farrell. But his courage in keeping his word, in fulfilling his plan!" It seemed to overwhelm Stan.
I just ached all over. I rummaged in my purse for a small bottle of Tylenol, and poured two out in my palm. At Stan's gesture, the young vampire brought me a glass of water, and I said, "Thank you," to his surprise.
"Thank you for your efforts," Stan said quite abruptly, as if he'd suddenly recalled his manners. "You have done the job we hired you to do, and more. Thanks to you we discovered and freed Farrell in time, and I'm sorry you sustained so much damage in the process."
That sounded mighty like dismissal.
"Excuse me," I said, sliding forward in the chair. Bill made a sudden movement behind me, but I disregarded him.
Stan raised his light eyebrows at my temerity. "Yes? Your check will be mailed to your representative in Shreveport, as per our agreement. Please stay with us this evening as we celebrate Farrell's return."
"Our agreement was that if what I discovered resulted in a human being found at fault, that human would not be punished by the vampires but would be turned over to the police. For the court system to deal with. Where is Hugo?"
Stan's eyes slid from my face to focus on Bill's behind me. He seemed to be silently asking Bill why he couldn't control his human better.
"Hugo and Isabel are together," said Stan cryptically.
I so didn't want to know what that meant. But I was honor-bound to see this through. "So you are not going to honor your agreement?" I said, knowing that was a real challenge to Stan.
There should be an adage, proud as a vampire. They all are, and I'd pinked Stan in his pride. The implication that he was dishonorable enraged the vampire. I almost backed down, his face grew so scary. He really had nothing human left about him after a few seconds. His lips drew away from his teeth, his fangs extended, and his body hunched and seemed to elongate.
After a moment he stood, and with a curt little jerk of his hand, indicated I should follow him. Bill helped me up, and we trailed after Stan as he walked deeper into the house. There must have been six bedrooms in the place, and all the doors to them were closed. From behind one door came the unmistakable sounds of sex. To my relief, we passed that door by. We went up the stairs, which was quite uncomfortable for me. Stan never looked back and never slowed down. He went up the stairs at exactly the same pace at which he walked. He stopped at a door that looked like all the others. He unlocked it. He stood aside and gestured to me to go in.
That was something I didn't want to do – oh, so much. But I had to. I stepped forward and looked in.
Except for the dark blue wall-to-wall, the room was bare. Isabel was chained to the wall on one side of the room – with silver, of course. Hugo was on the other. He was chained, too. They were both awake, and they both looked at the doorway, naturally.
Isabel nodded as if we'd met in the mall, though she was naked. I saw that her wrists and ankles were padded to prevent the silver from burning her, though the chains would still keep her weak.
Hugo was naked, too. He could not take his eyes off Isabel. He barely glanced at me to see who I was before his gaze returned to her. I tried not to be embarrassed, because that seemed such a petty consideration; but I think it was the first time I'd seen another naked adult in my life, besides Bill.
Stan said, "She cannot feed off him, though she is hungry. He cannot have sex with her, though he is addicted. This is their punishment, for months. What would happen to Hugo in human courts?"
I considered. What had Hugo actually done that was indictable?
He'd deceived the vampires in that he'd been in the Dallas nest under false pretenses. That is, he actually loved Isabel, but he'd betrayed her compadres. Hmmm. No law about that.
"He bugged the dining room," I said. That was illegal. At least, I thought it was.
"How long in jail would he get for that?" Stan asked.
Good question. Not much, was my guess. A human jury might feel bugging a vampire hangout was even justified. I sighed, sufficient answer for Stan.
"What other time would Hugo serve?" he asked.
"He got me to the Fellowship under false pretenses… not illegal. He… well, he…"
Hugo's infatuated gaze never shifted from Isabel.
Hugo had caused and abetted evil, just as surely as Godfrey had committed evil.
"How long will you keep them there?" I asked.
Stan shrugged. "Three or four months. We will feed Hugo, of course. Not Isabel."
"We'll unchain him first. He will get a day's head start."
Bill's hand clamped down on my wrist. He didn't want me to ask any more questions.
Isabel looked at me and nodded. This seemed fair to her, she was saying. "All right," I said, holding my palms forward in the "Stop" position. "All right." And I turned and made my way slowly and carefully down the stairs.
I had lost some integrity, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I could do differently. The more I tried to think about it, the more confused I got. I am not used to thinking through moral issues. Things are bad to do, or they aren't.
Well, there was a gray area. That's where a few things fell, like sleeping with Bill though we weren't married or telling Arlene her dress looked good, when in fact it made her look like hell. Actually, I couldn't marry Bill. It wasn't legal. But then, he hadn't asked me.
My thoughts wandered in a dithery circle around the miserable couple in the upstairs bedroom. To my amazement, I felt much sorrier for Isabel than for Hugo. Hugo, after all, was guilty of active evil. Isabel was only guilty of negligence.
I had a lot of time to maunder on and on through similar dead-end thought patterns, since Bill was having a rip-roaring good time at the party. I'd only been to a mixed vampire and human party once or twice before, and it was a mixture that was still uneasy after two years of legally recognized vampirism. Open drinking – that is, bloodsucking – from humans was absolutely illegal, and I am here to tell you that in Dallas's vampire headquarters, that law was strictly observed. From time to time, I saw a couple vanish for a while upstairs, but all the humans seemed to come back in good health. I know, because I counted and watched.
Bill had mainstreamed for so many months that apparently it was a real treat for him to get together with other vampires. So he was deep in conversation with this vamp or that, reminiscing about Chicago in the twenties or investment opportunities in various vampire holdings around the world. I was so shaky physically that I was content to sit on a soft couch and watch, sipping from time to time at my Screwdriver. The bartender was a pleasant young man, and we talked bars for a little while. I should have been enjoying my break from waiting tables at Merlotte's, but I would gladly have dressed in my uniform and taken orders. I wasn't used to big changes in my routine.
Then a woman maybe a little younger than me plopped down on the couch beside me. Turned out she was dating the vampire who acted as sergeant at arms, Joseph Velasquez, who'd gone to the Fellowship Center with Bill the night before. Her name was Trudi Pfeiffer. Trudi had hair done in deep red spikes, a pierced nose and tongue, and macabre makeup, including black lipstick. She told me proudly its color was called Grave Rot. Her jeans were so low I wondered how she got up and down in them. Maybe she wore them so low-cut to show off her navel ring. Her knit top was cropped very short. The outfit I'd worn the night the maenad had gotten me paled in comparison. So, there was lots of Trudi to see.
When you talked to her, she wasn't as bizarre as her appearance led you to believe. Trudi was a college student. I discovered, through absolutely legitimate listening, that she believed herself to be waving the red flag at the bull, by dating Joseph. The bull was her parents, I gathered.
"They would even rather I dated someone black," she told me proudly.
I tried to look appropriately impressed. "They really hate the dead scene, huh?"
"Oh, do they ever." She nodded several times and waved her black fingernails extravagantly. She was drinking Dos Equis. "My mom always says, 'Can't you date someone alive?'" We both laughed.
"So, how are you and Bill?" She waggled her eyebrows up and down to indicate how significant the question was.
"You mean… ?"
"How's he in bed? Joseph is un-fucking-believable."
I can't say I was surprised, but I was dismayed. I cast around in my mind for a minute. "I'm glad for you," I finally said. If she'd been my good friend Arlene, I might have winked and smiled, but I wasn't about to discuss my sex life with a total stranger, and I really didn't want to know about her and Joseph.
Trudi lurched up to get another beer, and remained in conversation with the bartender. I shut my eyes in relief and weariness, and felt the couch depress beside me. I cut my gaze to the right to see what new companion I had. Eric. Oh, great.
"How are you?" he asked.
"Better than I look." That wasn't true.
"You've seen Hugo and Isabel?"
"Yes." I looked at my hands folded in my lap.
"Appropriate, don't you think?"
I thought that Eric was trying to provoke me.
"In a way, yes," I said. "Assuming Stan sticks to his word."
"You didn't say that to him, I hope." But Eric looked only amused.
"No, I didn't. Not in so many words. You're all so damn proud."
He looked surprised. "Yes, I guess that's true."
"Did you just come to check up on me?"
"Yes." He shrugged. He was wearing a knit shirt in a pretty tan-and-blue pattern, and the shrug made his shoulders look massive. "We are loaning you out for the first time. I wanted to see that things went smoothly without being here in my official capacity."
"Do you think Stan knows who you are?"
He looked interested in the idea. "It's not far-fetched," he said at last. "He would probably have done the same thing in my place."
"Do you think from now on, you could just let me stay at home, and leave me and Bill alone?" I asked.
"No. You are too useful," he said. "Besides, I'm hoping that the more you see me, the more I'll grow on you."
"Like a fungus?"
He laughed, but his eyes were fixed on me in a way that meant business. Oh, hell.
"You look especially luscious in that knit dress with nothing underneath," Eric said. "If you left Bill and came to me of your own free will, he would accept that."
"But I'm not going to do any such thing," I said, and then something caught at the edges of my consciousness.
Eric started to say something else to me, but I put my hand across his mouth. I moved my head from side to side, trying to get the best reception; that's the best way I can explain it.
"Help me up," I said.
Without a word, Eric stood and gently pulled me' to my feet. I could feel my eyebrows draw together.
They were all around us. They circled the house.
Their brains were wound up to fever pitch. If Trudi hadn't been babbling earlier, I might have heard them as they crept up to circle the house.
"Eric," I said, trying to catch as many thoughts as I could, hearing a countdown, oh, God!
"Hit the floor!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.
Every vampire obeyed.
So when the Fellowship opened fire, it was the humans that died.