Sookie was walking out of what used to be the shifters’ bar.
She was with a vampire so young and inept that he didn’t even note my presence. I shook my head. She needed to keep better company.
“Sookie,” I said, stepping out from behind the tree I’d been waiting behind.
She turned toward me. She was still wearing the same clothing she’d been wearing earlier—a curve-complementing pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Much better than Bill’s fucking robe! However, her eyes were still sad—though a little less so than they’d been earlier.
“Eric?” she responded.
“Can we talk?” I asked.
The people with her seemed hesitant.
“It’s okay. You guys can go,” Sookie said to Lafayette and the now-posturing vampire. James—I thought, now remembering his name. He’d been involved in the attack against the Hep-V horde at Fangtasia, and I’d watched him in action. While I’d been addled by Hep-V, he’d been stronger than I was—a humbling idea, given the fact that he was probably less than twenty years a vampire. He smelled strongly of Lafayette, and I couldn’t help but to feel happy for my old drug pusher.
I’d always liked Lafayette, which was—ironically—why I’d kept him chained up in my dungeon. Given that he was a seller of V and involved in a vampire’s disappearance, I should have just killed him.
Sookie walked over to me a bit tentatively. It was clear that she didn’t want to deal with “vampire shit” right now. And—after Bill’s bullshit—I couldn’t really say that I blamed her.
We were both silent until the taillights of Lafayette’s car disappeared down the country road.
“You wanted to talk?” she asked, her tone a mixture of curiosity and weariness.
“Yes,” I responded. “But not here. Can I take you somewhere?”
“Where?” she asked.
“Would you let it be a surprise?” I asked with a smirk.
“I’m tired of surprises,” she said tiredly. “But—okay,” she relented as she looked around. “But I don’t see your car.”
“That’s because I didn’t drive,” I said, stepping toward her.
Her lips ticked upward. “You flew?”
Her lips rose a little more. “From the moment I knew you could do this, I wanted a ride—even though I’m sure I’ll be scared shitless.”
I chuckled. “I won’t drop you.”
She stepped back a step. “I know you won’t,” she said after a moment. “I’ve always known that.”
As if she’d flown with me a million times, she jumped up into my arms and held on tightly as I rose into the air and then zipped away from the neon lights below.
I touched down fourteen minutes later. A smile had stayed on her face, and—at least for the duration of our flight—her sadness had abated.
“A cul-de-sac?” Sookie asked playfully as she took in the cookie-cutter neighborhood in the outskirts of Shreveport that I’d taken her to. My house was at the end of it—set back from the road a bit.
I smiled at her. “I’ve been sheriff of Area 5 for decades. This house—I bought in 1982. No one knows of its existence—not even Pam. Before I released her, I would stifle our bond and come here when I needed to get away from things.”
Sookie looked around. “The yard’s—nice,” she said cautiously. I could feel she was lying.
I chuckled. “No it’s not,” I smiled. “In fact, I glamoured a gardener to make sure that it looked just as boring as the other yards in the neighborhood.”
She looked at me like she was getting ready to scold me.
“Don’t worry, Miss Stackhouse. I pay him for his boring work.”
She nodded in acceptance. It was so like her to believe that I’d exploit a human, but it was high time for her to learn that—while I could be a cruel bastard—I was an inherently fair one.
I walked to the front door and then flew upward to reach above the gutter. From a hiding place I had there, I retrieved the key to the house.
“Nice hiding place,” Sookie chuckled.
I nodded as I landed. “I have several homes, and carrying tons of keys was never appealing to me.”
“And you don’t do that James Bond fingerprint stuff?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
I winked. “I leave that shit to Bill. The trick to security is making sure your enemies can’t find you—because, if they do, no amount of technology can stop them. Well—except for an impenetrable coffin.”
Her brow quirked in question.
“It’s what I have at Fangtasia. When I rest somewhere ‘public,’ I make sure a nuke couldn’t get through my coffin.”
She chuckled. “So you and roaches would survive?”
I chuckled as well. “And Pam. Her coffin is made from the same material as mine.”
“Oh—I think she’d survive regardless,” she intoned.
I laughed even louder. “You’re probably right.”
I unlocked the door and gestured for her to enter before me. The house hadn’t been opened for over six months, so the scent was musty, and—as I flipped on the lights—I could see dust in the air, which was to be expected since I’d not been there to clean.
And—yes—I cleaned. As a vampire, it didn’t take me long at all, and the mundane action was good for thinking.
Despite the dust, Sookie gasped as she walked in. In truth, the house didn’t look like a house as much as it looked like a museum inside. It contained many of the things I’d collected over the years, almost all of them protected by shatter-proof and fire-proof glass. Moreover, I had a state-of-the-art sprinkler system—just in case.
“Is that a Picasso?” Sookie asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. But I have another of his pieces I like better.”
She huffed as she looked at another wall. “Rembrandt,” she stated with awe.
I was impressed that she recognized the artists since the pieces I had weren’t known. But—then again—I shouldn’t have been surprised. Every time I was at Sookie’s home, I noticed different library books scattered about, and they weren’t just romance novels either, though she always had one or two of those on hand. But far from faulting her for that particular reading choice, it had helped me to see just how eclectic her tastes were, and—given what I knew about her lonely “romantic” existence before vampires came into her life—I was even less apt to judge her.
But, along with those romance novels, I’d seen biographies of people as diverse as Joan of Arc, John Lennon, and John McEnroe. I’d seen histories of the Qing Dynasty, the Napoleonic Wars, and the California Gold Rush—not to mention one about the Viking culture. I’d seen books on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music.
So it wasn’t a stretch to imagine her studying books that contained art. In fact, now that I thought about it, I figured she’d probably studied quite a few.
After all, what was a piece of art, but an artist’s thought captured on canvas? And Sookie—who was forever being slammed by many thoughts all at once—would appreciate it when she could study a single one. She would also appreciate the fact that—while looking—other people would get a tiny glimpse of what she had to go though.
I smiled at her, loving that I’d found yet another piece in the Sookie Stackhouse puzzle. However, instead of telling her what I’d learned about her, I kept things light for the moment.
“What can I say?” I chuckled as I looked at the Rembrandt with her. “I was always good at spotting talent.”
However, her interest didn’t stay on the Rembrandt for long.
“Van Gogh,” she whispered reverently, walking over to and then softly touching the one piece of art I’d left uncovered by glass. I’d mourn if I lost it, but I couldn’t bring myself to cover it.
I lifted my fingers up to the painting too, and—for a moment—we both simply enjoyed the texture of the paint, which lifted off of the canvas as if it were trying to escape its confines. I smiled; maybe Van Gogh’s own thoughts would have mirrored the paint. If so, Sookie would have hated being around the man.
Proving that she inherently knew me as well as I knew her, Sookie turned to smile at me. “The rain lifts right off the canvas—as if to defy the sun.”
I chuckled and nodded. “Fuck the sun!”
She chuckled too as I moved my fingers down to touch the sea.
“‘And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,'” I sighed, quoting a line from John Masefield’s “Sea Fever.”
A frown clouded her face as she surprised the hell out of me by quoting the next two lines of the poem, “‘And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, / And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.’ I’ve always loved that poem.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that she knew it. I wasn’t surprised to feel her sorrow that I couldn’t enjoy the dawn—not even a grey one.
“I was never one to look forward to the dawn when I was at sea as a human,” I said. “I steered by the stars. I still do.”
Her frown at the thought that the dawn was no longer mine shifted into a contemplative look—as if she too had found a new piece to the puzzle that made me.
I reached out my hand to her, hoping she’d take mine without hesitation.
“Come,” I said, leading her toward the basement steps. As much as I would have liked to have told her every story behind every piece of art in the house, that would have to wait.
I’d chosen the house for two reasons. First, it was innocuous; no vampire would ever suspect that a powerful sheriff would choose it, and no human would suspect that anyone other than a human would live there. It was—in a word—”ordinary”: not too nice, but nice enough. Second, the neighborhood was on a small elevated patch of land—a rolling “hill” just high enough to be above the water table. Thus, a few of the homes in the neighborhood had full basements—mine included.
Despite having a basement to rest in, I kept the windows in the rest of the house covered with thick drapes—the kind popular in the 60s and 70s. That was mainly to protect my artwork, though I could venture into the main part of the house a few minutes before sunset without causing myself harm. The people on the street had been glamoured to think that an elderly couple lived in the home, and they’d also been glamoured not to try to visit the couple. But there was still the possibility that someone would try to peek into the windows. The heavy drapes prevented them from seeing the priceless things inside.
Once in the basement, I switched on the lights and led Sookie toward a leather couch.
“I just need to check on something,” I said.
Sookie nodded as I went to the corner of the room and powered up the computer there. I then clicked on the large flat screen television mounted onto the wall, and—almost immediately—four camera angles, showing the exterior of the house we were in, filled the screen.
“Paranoid much?” she asked.
I smirked at her. “Practical. I like to see what I might have to deal with.” I clicked a few buttons on the computer, and the picture shifted to show a rotation of the cameras hidden around Fangtasia. To anyone looking, there were more obvious cameras on a close-circuit system—one that Mr. Gus had taken control of the moment he arrived at my club. Of course, the obvious system hid the less obvious one.
“What is Pam doing?” Sookie asked.
I looked at the screen and chuckled. “Mr. Gus wants Sarah to go back to blonde.”
“But why would that matter?” Sookie asked.
“Beats the hell out of me,” I admitted. “But we got a text from him when he was getting ready to leave for Dallas. And it’s best not to rock the boat with Mr. Gus,” I added, imitating his Texas accent.
“Why are you even working with those people?” Sookie asked. “Who are they anyway?”
“The Yakuza. They are the group that protects the interests of the company that originated TrueBlood. The vampire Authority invested heavily in that company—and in the Yakuza,” I explained.
I clicked through the other camera angles. “I don’t want to work with them, but Mr. Gus has the resources to replicate the cure from Sarah Newlin’s blood. He also has the facilities to mass produce that cure in a product called New Blood. When I was ill, he made Pam and me an offer we couldn’t refuse—or at least Pam couldn’t.”
“What was that?” Sookie asked.
“Basically, to become his pet vampires,” I scoffed. “Of course, the offer came when the sun was rising, Pam and I were silvered, and a wide window facing east was in front of us.” I shook my head. “I will admit that I was ready to die instead of working with the Yakuza. They and I have a bit of a,” I paused, “troubled history.”
“But Pam stopped you,” Sookie said with relief.
I nodded. “That was before we knew Sarah was a cure. And I figured Mr. Gus and his people would just kill us eventually, after they got what they wanted from us. I’m sure that they still plan to do just that—but, hopefully, not right away,” I added, studying the screen.
“Then why continue to work with them now that you’re cured?” Sookie asked.
I shrugged. “Bill Compton is not the only vampire I want to see cured. I loathe to think of others meeting the true death as Nora did—though her case was many times worse considering the high dosage of Hep-V she’d been given. But—now things have changed.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
I shrugged. “I’m not completely altruistic. I was as ready as Mr. Gus to make millions off of NewBlood. You see—I am to be its poster boy. However, Mr. Gus told Pam and me that he doesn’t really intend for NewBlood to be a cure at all. He intends for it to be only a band aid, designed to keep the symptoms of the disease at bay.” I paused as I scanned through the camera feeds again. “Tests on my blood show that I no longer have any traces of the virus, and I’m also apparently immune to it now. But Mr. Gus doesn’t want that for other vampires. He wants them to become dependent on NewBlood in a way that they didn’t have to with TrueBlood. In effect—he’s shifting his family’s interests from providing an alternative for human blood to providing a drug that all infected vampires will need to take once a night—if they don’t want their Hep-V symptoms to flare up.”
Sookie looked up at me with wide eyes. “What are you gonna do?”
“Bide my time. A partial cure is better than none. However, Mr. Gus seems to wish to keep Pam and myself on very short leashes, so—if I see an opening—I’ll take it to get out from under his thumb.”
“If you did that, what would happen with the cure?” she asked.
“I have already sent vials of my blood and Sarah Newlin’s blood to Dr. Ludwig. I am waiting for word to see if she can come up with a way to mass produce the cure. If she can, then my deal with Mr. Gus will no longer be,” I paused, “practical.”
Sookie sighed. “All this is really interesting, but why do I think you had another reason for wanting to talk to me?”
“Because you know me,” I said, smirking at her.
Just as I knew her.