Before they’d even finished their dinners and certainly before they could have the seconds they both wanted, Lafayette had shooed Jason and Alcide out to the porch, even as Jesus and Sookie had taken to the dishes. After only ten minutes, the kitchen was spotless again.
While Lafayette did last minute tidying of his already spotless house, Sookie took a quick shower and changed into jeans and her Fangtasia T-shirt, the last of the clean clothes she had left. She sighed, knowing that she’d be returning home tomorrow afternoon and that she’d be seeing Bill for dinner tomorrow evening. She was looking forward to seeing him and to the talk she wanted to have with him. But at the same time she was nervous, as if it were their first date. She had been sensing something “off” about him too, especially after the tie was broken. She planned to spend a lot of time thinking about all of her interactions with Bill the next day before their dinner.
And she didn’t even know what to think about Eric right now. In her dreams, he was quickly becoming a kind of confidant, a sounding board, a friend even. She couldn’t imagine what the real Eric would think about that, but even he seemed different than before.
She wondered why she didn’t tell dream Eric to stay away from her dreams―or at least to try to. But then she realized that he’d been right; she did feel comfortable with him, and she needed support while she was making her choices about everything. Perhaps it wasn’t fair to Bill, but the Eric in her dreams felt just as “safe” to her as he’d been when he didn’t have his memories. Come to think of it, the Eric from the night before―the real one―had seemed pretty damned terrific too. She was a bit surprised to find herself anxious to see both of them again.
Sookie sighed in confusion. According to Jesus, Eric couldn’t still be in her dreams because of the blood, so she figured it was her subconscious putting him into her dreams. In them, he was her friend more than anything else, and the dreams were not sexually charged. She made a mental note to think about all of the dreams that she’d had about both of the vampires in her life the next day. Maybe if she took the time to really analyze them, she would come up with some answers about what they really wanted from her.
Sookie glanced at the clock by her bed and noticed it was 5:31. The vampires would have just arisen a few minutes before, so she threw on her sweatshirt and went to join the others, who were all awaiting Bubba’s arrival on the porch since Lafayette had banished everyone from the house.
As soon as the sun had set, Eric dug himself out of his impromptu resting place and called Pam to check on her. She’d also gone to ground near one of her homes.
“Pamela, I want you to call Chow and tell him to run Fangtasia tonight. Stay away from there and from all your usual places until I learn more.”
“Yes, master,” Pam answered. “Do you have any idea what’s happening?”
“An inkling, but I will talk to Isabel before I waste time in supposition. What of Bubba?”
“I was going to meet him at 7:00 at Fangtasia.”
“Give him the address to Sookie’s farmhouse instead, and meet him there as soon as you can. I want him to see the lay of things on her property, and make sure that he understands that he is to watch her as inconspicuously as possible. Also, show him where Compton’s house is and explain that he needs to avoid interaction with Billy and his guards.”
“Will you tell Bill that you have hired Bubba to watch over Sookie?”
“I believe I must since he will most likely run across him or catch his scent, but Bubba is under the protection of all the rulers in the South, Bill being no exception. Even Bill is not fool enough to try to interfere with Bubba.”
“I don’t know,” Pam deadpanned on the phone, “his stupidity can get pretty fucking epic.”
“Still haven’t forgiven him for the cement in your hair, Pamela?” Eric asked, the smile clear in his voice. Then he turned serious again. “If everything is secure at the farmhouse, take Bubba to Lafayette’s and get him settled there. And, Pamela, don’t forget to take your checkbook.”
Eric chuckled at Pam’s grunt and hung up.
Just as he was about to dial Isabel’s number, his phone rang. It was Compton. As he answered, Eric thought that it was indeed time to change phone numbers again.
“My liege,” Eric answered, his voice perfectly even, not betraying his contempt at Bill being his superior in rank. When his memory was gone, Eric had been ready to die by his king’s side because he respected the position of king. Hell, he’d even respected Sophie Ann’s title, despite all her machinations. Eric had been taught by his father to obey without question and honor a good leader. Unfortunately, neither of his last two monarchs had been honor-worthy. But Compton had set him free when he could have legally staked him, and he’d known that Eric was going to return to Sookie. Not even Bill was dim enough not to guess what was going to happen between them that night.
Eric had yet to figure out if Billy boy was sincere in his desire to see Sookie happy or if he had an ulterior motive for his seeming display of altruism. Since he’d gotten his memory back, Eric had been more deferential to Bill, at least on the surface. He wanted to find out what the king’s intentions were toward Sookie, and if he had to pretend to be a loyal subject to do it, he would.
Eric processed these thoughts in moments, his mind clicking with vampire speed and one thousand years of experience. As Bill began speaking, Eric was already considering several scenarios given the fact that Isabel had called to warn him of eminent danger.
“Eric, I trust you are catching up with your area’s business.”
“Indeed, your majesty. Everything is in good order.”
“Fine. I need you here at 11:30; Nan has called a meeting with us at midnight, and we have some things to discuss before her arrival.”
Eric liked Nan even less than he liked Compton, if that was possible. She’d disrespected Godric, something he’d never forgive her for, and she was also privy to Sookie’s powers, a fact that Eric knew also concerned Bill. Perhaps in this, at least, they could be allies. Nan would need to be taken care of and soon. She was powerful in the AVL, however, and had the ear of the Authority. She was also over 800 years old, not as strong as Eric by any means, but still much stronger than a vampire like Bill. He knew that Bubba, though an excellent fighter and tracker, would be no match for her in a one-on-one fight. He’d have to get her out of the way before she became a direct threat to Sookie.
“I will be there,” Eric responded.
“Good. 11:30 sharp,” Bill said rudely as he hung up.
Eric rolled his eyes and dialed Isabel’s private number.
She answered after the first ring. “Eric,” she said, her Spanish accent prominent, “I trust you found a safe resting place last night.”
“Yes, thank you for the warning. Now, what was it about?”
Eric had known Isabel for longer than Pam had been alive. She had been by Godric’s side for most of that time, acting as his lieutenant, first in Seville, Spain, and then in Texas after Godric moved to the States in the late 1800s. Eric’s relationship with his maker had gotten a bit strained in the last 50 years or so as Godric had become more introspective and withdrawn, but Eric had moved to Louisiana and had become sheriff to be close to his maker. He could admit that he also liked having a little corner of the world to himself. But, like his maker before him, he did not want to become a king. His own father had trained him to be a leader of men, and Eric, as Sheriff of Area 5, was a respected leader to the vampires in his area, but he didn’t want to have to deal with all the posturing that kings and queens did. The thought of spending time at court like Sophie Ann did made him cringe. And even though kings could choose to seclude themselves a bit, like Compton had done, they had to continually deal with the AVL and the Authority. This thought did not appeal to him at all.
Isabel answered, “My contact in the Authority called me last night.”
Eric was more than aware that their contact was the same individual, a vampire named Rasul.
“And what did our mutual friend have to say?”
“Nan Flanagan apparently met with the Authority last night. For all intents and purposes, they threatened to fire her, telling her that if she didn’t eliminate your king as well as yourself because of the debacle with the necromancer, she would be out.”
Eric was somewhat surprised, “I am not a huge fan of Compton, but I must say that the matter went better than it could have. Only a few vampires were lost, despite the necromancer trying to make us all walk in the sun. Even the damage control after the Festival of Tolerance was effective as most of the humans were glamoured and no videos have been leaked. In fact, it was Nan that told Bill not to kill the witch to begin with. All the trouble could have been avoided if she’d given him leave to execute her before she was fully possessed by the spirit of the necromancer.”
“Spies for the Authority apparently know all this, but the majority of the members want to start over with the power structure of Louisiana since four out of five sheriffs are now dead. They feel Bill is too young, and he was basically Nan’s protégé anyway. They want him gone because they eventually want her gone.”
“Nan’s protégé? I knew she was propping up his kingship because he’d killed Sophie Ann, but protégé?”
“Yes, according to Rasul, Bill was recruited by Nan the 1980’s, as an agent she could use in the effort to mainstream. He was first her spy in Sophie Ann’s court and now he’s something of a puppet king, ready to do anything Nan tells him to do―at least until the other evening with the witch.”
Eric snorted, thinking about the irony of Nan Flanagan, one of the most ruthless vampires he’d ever known, being the spokesperson for mainstreaming. He shook his head; Nan’s motives in mainstreaming had never been for the advancement of vampires. She was always much more concerned with her own power and ambitions. Hell, he’d had more to do with the ability of vampires to mainstream than Nan had. Always with an eye to the future, Eric had been a key investor in TruBlood, a product that had been in development since the 1960s, but he’d kept his involvement in the product anonymous. His return on the investment was enough that Eric could probably buy a small country, but only Godric had known of his interest in developing synthetic blood. Only Godric knew that Eric had been tired of hiding who he was and sneaking around in the shadows as if he should be ashamed. Godric had taught Eric long ago that it was best to hold your cards close to your vest until you knew which side would come out on top. Eric had become a master at concealing his true motivations and intentions―at least with everyone except a certain blond barmaid, telepathic, human-fairy hybrid he’d been thinking about constantly since he’d arisen.
He internally laughed at the thought of Pam finding out that he’d been partially responsible for TruBlood; she’d most certainly hold Eric personally liable for the bad taste of the product.
Again, Eric’s thoughts blasted through his supple brain in moments as Isabel continued, “As you know, there continues to be much dissention within the Authority. Many of the members do not wish to see Bill removed since he’s proven himself to be a useful public figure, and they still remember how you were able to incapacitate Russell. I think they would call back the order to execute yourself and your king if you were able to get rid of the Nan problem and if Bill were to demonstrate his capability, but all this would have to happen right away.”
Isabel continued, “Apparently, Nan’s become a bit of a loose cannon and quite full of herself―even more than she had been before. She has probably guessed that some members of the Authority want to take her out almost as soon as she takes you and Bill out. However, she has been hinting around that she has a valuable piece of information that she will share with the Authority if her position is guaranteed. She feels that this information will ensure her membership to the Authority, and she has an audience with them later tonight, at 4 a.m. Obviously, she plans for you to be dead by then.
“Obviously,” Eric said evenly. He knew that Nan planned to negotiate herself back into power using Sookie. The bitch would have to die, but first he needed to shore up both his position and Bill’s.
“Isabel, as you know, the vampires in Louisiana were forced to flee to avoid the necromancer’s range. And from what you are saying, the Authority is hoping to eliminate Bill and myself this evening―before our numbers return. I assume they want me eliminated because someone else wants the position of king. Does Rasul know whom they intend to put in Bill’s place?”
“He has heard rumors that Felipe de Castro, king of Nevada, is looking to expand his casino interests. And Rasul saw Victor Madden emerge from a meeting with the Authority just last night.”
“Interesting,” Eric said. “Felipe’s lapdog was most likely presenting an offer from his king.”
“What do you need, Eric?” Isabel asked, always very practical.
“Tonight, I need numbers, and I need them now. Do you have any who are trustworthy to send? If the Authority requires a show of Bill’s competency, then he will need to have new sheriffs in place before 11:00 p.m. tonight. I have learned that Nan has requested a meeting with him at midnight. I can call in Thalia, who would probably be willing to take over as Sheriff of Area 2 since it is not heavily populated.”
“Yes, her age alone would ensure respect, and, of course, no one wishes to tangle with her. But she will not agree to work under Bill’s leadership.”
“Perhaps not ordinarily, but she owes me a favor. And I think that Rasul would be an excellent choice for Area 1.”
“He would be a loss as our ears in the Authority.”
“Not really. He has mentioned to me that some suspect that he is a spy for the Ancient Pythoness, and she has already placed at least two others around the Authority―at least two that I know of. For all we know, some of the Authority members themselves are probably in her back pocket.” He chuckled, knowing that his sire’s sire was a master at the game of vampire politics.
“Well, if what you are saying is true, she probably arranged for Rasul to get the information he’s giving us now.”
“She is a crafty old crone,” Eric said fondly.
“What of Areas 3 and 4?”
“Well, I’m hoping that’s where you might come in. I have some younger vampires in my Area, but I don’t want to deplete all my own forces. And there are no stand-outs currently living in either Area 3 or Area 4. Can you think of anyone in your area who would be apt for the jobs? He or she would need to be at least several hundred years old, though the older, the better.”
“I can think of a few. How about me for one?”
“What? You are already Sheriff of Area 9 there.”
“Actually, I am not. Last week I met with my king and asked to be removed. I never wanted such a heavily populated area to rule, and I do not want to stay here anyway. The memories of Godric and Hugo are too great. So after I made sure that the area was as stable as it was before the bombing, I asked to step down.”
“Oh,” was all that Eric could say for a moment. “Yes, Isabel. Your presence would be helpful here. And if you would be willing, I believe Bill would merge Areas 3 and 4. These areas both border the Mississippi River, and there are several profitable casinos already there, so it could be a very lucrative area if run well.”
By this time, Eric had flown to his home and searched the surrounding area, making sure that there were no scents he did not recognize there. Truth be told, most of his safe houses were unknown to everyone but Pam, so he felt that it was secure anyway, but he was nothing if not cautious. A few close calls during his first hundred years or so―brought on by his over-confidence and prevented only by his maker―had been enough to teach him to be extra careful.
“I will leave Dallas now. I can be at your king’s residence by 11,” Isabel said.
“I will look forward to seeing you.”
Eric quickly made a call to Rasul, who immediately agreed to take the position in Area 1. He would not be able to get to Louisiana that night, but if necessary, he could confirm his new appointment via teleconference. They both felt it better if he lay low for the evening, however, just in case he became a target for the Authority.
Next, Eric called Thalia, who had just gotten back to Area 5 from Arkansas the night before. Without preamble, she hissed, “Norseman, you had better not be calling to tell me I have to relocate again because of another fucking necromancer. If you do, I will have your balls on a platter.”
“It is nice to speak to you too, Thalia,” Eric deadpanned.
“Cut the shit, Norseman.”
Eric laughed. Thalia was older than he was by a few hundred years, yet she’d never learned to be polite. In fact, she had become even more anti-social since vampires revealed themselves. Despite her taciturn nature―or maybe because of it―Eric had gladly given her permission to reside in his area six months before. She’d kept a relatively low profile since then but had caught the attention of some fangbangers at one of her monthly required attendances at Fangtasia. Now she had a bit of a cult following that enjoyed her special brand of malice.
“Ah Thalia, I have some good news. I have finally thought of a way that you can make up for one of the times I saved your life.”
It was a sore spot for Thalia that Eric and Godric had saved her life twice over the span of their long acquaintance. She growled, “What do you want Viking?”
“I assure you that it will be relatively painless.” Eric laughed, knowing that the last thing that Thalia would want was to be a sheriff. She was more than capable, but she hated having to deal with others. However, he felt that since she would be able to order everyone around, she might actually find that she liked being a sheriff. “I need you to meet me at Compton’s at 11:00 tonight. He’s going to offer you the position of Sheriff for Area 2, and I need you to take it.”
Thalia grunted and scoffed. “Fuck you, Northman!”
“Thalia, dear, we both know that Area 2 has hardly any vampires, and you will have free run of it. Also, it will mean that you no longer have to come to Fangtasia to enthrall the vermin.”
There was a pause.
“Fine, Norseman. But this will settle our debt completely, agreed?”
“Understood, Thalia. I’ll see you at 11:00.”
She hung up on him, and he quickly took a shower, happy to be rid of his dirt-stained clothing. As he showered, he allowed himself a moment to wish he was with Sookie in a very different shower, instead of dealing with all this political bullshit.
Bill was a waste, but he knew that he would have to solidify Bill’s position to one of strength if he wanted to survive the night.
Eric also knew that he’d be of no use to Sookie if he were truly dead. As he toweled off and quickly dressed, he hoped Bill would listen to reason and accept the plans Eric had made. He was certain that the younger vampire would resent Eric’s command of the situation, but Bill could get the fuck over it, as far as Eric was concerned. The king had proven that he was willing to be a puppet to Nan and the AVL. And now that Nan was not going to support him and had―in fact―agreed to execute him, Eric felt Bill would probably acquiesce to his plan. He also thought that Bill would act to preserve Sookie’s life as well as his own. The likelihood of Nan using Sookie as a bargaining chip to ensure her own life and position in the Authority would only add to Bill’s motivation to do things Eric’s way.
Of course, Eric also knew of Bill’s propensity to become defensive, so he vowed to himself to stay as calm and as respectful as possible no matter how annoying the king got. Since Eric didn’t want to be king, Bill was his best option right now, and part of Eric still hoped that Bill might make a good king, given time.
Nonetheless, Eric also planned to use the distracting nature of the evening to plant a few more listening devices in Bill’s home. In addition to his investments in TruBlood, Eric was an anonymous investor in various companies that developed high-tech equipment, so he was able to get his hands on the most ground-breaking devices available. The little gems that he was planning to put into Bill’s office, study, and wherever else fortune smiled upon him that evening would be undetectable even by the most sophisticated equipment.
Eric put a few of the devises into his inside jacket pocket. His cards would indeed stay close to his vest in his dealings with the king of Louisiana.
[A/N: FYI — Here’s how I would cast the new sheriffs. More cast members HERE.]