Chapter 13: Unexpected Guest
Given the taxing nature of the Will reading, Eric didn’t plan anything too elaborate for New Year’s Eve—though it was the first New Year’s he and Sookie would be spending together.
He had found some nice steaks at the supermarket the day before, and one thing that he had learned how to cook well was a steak. And given the relatively mild temperatures in Louisiana, even during winter, he didn’t mind grilling outside either. Of course, Sookie had insisted that Bobby come for dinner. He’d been staying in the town’s only motel since Sookie didn’t feel right about anyone staying in Gran’s room, and up until that afternoon, the guestroom had been cluttered with things that Sookie needed to go through.
Bobby flicked the ashes of his cigarette away from where the grill had been set up.
“You got a New Year’s resolution?” Eric asked his friend as he flipped the steaks.
“Other than to stop smoking these?” Bobby asked with a chuckle.
Eric laughed a little. “It would be nice to have you around longer. And the thought of losing you to something like lung cancer does not make me feel all happy inside.”
Bobby shrugged. “You know me. I’ll probably become a vampire long before that happens.”
Eric chuckled a little harder. “You are well on your way.”
“What about you?” Bobby asked. “Resolutions?”
Eric exhaled deeply. “Just Sookie—keeping her as happy as I can.”
Bobby nodded, knowing that would keep his friend happy too.
“Is everything arranged for Thursday?” Eric asked.
“Yeah,” Bobby responded. “The funeral director here is a bit of a creep, but he seems competent enough now that he’s back to work after his bout with the flu. He’s going to make sure Adele is at the church three hours before the funeral on Thursday, and I’ve already arranged with the preacher that you and Sookie can go in well before the rest of the congregation is allowed in.”
Eric nodded. “And the other things?”
Bobby took a drag of his cigarette. “Adele had most everything arranged already. Casket, plot, service, songs, readings, contact list—everything.”
“And the flowers? Have we been able to get Gran’s favorites?”
Bobby sighed. “It was difficult, but I have some arrangements of white lilies coming in from Nashville. And—from New York—Pam’s rustling up some more. Hell the whole church will probably be full of them by the time she’s done.”
Eric smiled a little. “I know Pam wants to be here for Gran.”
“But she also understands that her leaving suddenly would make Appius even more suspicious. The flowers are her way of taking care of Gran—and you and Sookie—from New York.”
“Yeah,” Eric replied sadly. He sighed and continued angrily. “Fucking Appius! The fucking king of separations! Pam should be able to be here without him being an issue.” He raked his hand through his hair. “Between Sweden and Thanksgiving, she spent a lot of time with Gran.”
“She understands, Eric.”
“She shouldn’t have to.”
Bobby nodded and the two were silent for a few minutes.
“Quite a few flower arrangements have been brought by townspeople too,” Bobby reported as he lit another cigarette. “Mike Spenser’s assistant told me that the viewing area was quite full today—of both well-wishers and flowers.”
Eric nodded in acknowledgment. “And the guard? He was there during the entire viewing?”
“Yes. But neither Michelle nor Jason visited Adele’s body at the funeral home today, and there’s no viewing tomorrow because of the holiday.”
Eric nodded again. “They’ll probably try to steal the goddamned wedding band from her finger if they show up!” he vented as he poked the steak to check its doneness.
“Yeah. Those two are a fucking piece of work.” Bobby smirked. “Appius and Michelle would have been a match made in hell had they’d ever met.”
Eric cringed. “Let’s hope they never do.”
“Unless it’s in hell where they meet,” Bobby observed as he flicked his cigarette. They were silent for a few more minutes.
“What time should I make myself scarce tonight? I know you’ll want alone time with Sook,” Bobby said knowingly.
Eric chuckled. “Now?”
“Sookie would have your hide and my hide if I left without dinner.”
“She’ll want you to stay at least until midnight. And she cleared out the guestroom earlier, so she’s gonna ask you to stay the night too. Just get drunk enough to pass out so that I can convince her to have some fun with me later,” Eric said with a smirk.
“Well—I did buy a lot of liquor,” Bobby said.
“Sounds good,” Eric said with a laugh.
It was just after 7:00 p.m. The dinner dishes had been cleared away, and Bobby was explaining the rules of Monopoly to Eric and Sookie when there was a knock on the door. Eric and Bobby immediately looked at each other nervously. The guards that Eric had hired were at entrance of the driveway, and they hadn’t called to inform them of any visitors.
Bobby was on his cellphone to the guards almost before the second knock was heard. And Eric was on his feet, instinctively putting Sookie behind his body as they both looked at the door.
“Did anyone pass you?” Bobby asked in a low tone once the guard had answered his call.
He shook his head to indicate to Eric and Sookie that the knocker had not come past the guards.
“Get down here,” Bobby said into the phone.
Tentatively, Bobby headed to the front door, just as there was another knock. Bobby looked out the peep hole and then asked in a loud voice. “Who’s there?”
The visitor yelled out a name that caused Sookie to turn ghostly pale.
Eric looked at Sookie, who was looking at the door in shock.
“Anything you want, min älskade,” he said to her in a loud whisper. “We’ll do anything you want.”
Sookie looked up at Eric and realized that he truly did mean anything. If she asked him and Bobby to kick Bill’s ass, they would do it. If she asked them to kill him, they would do it. Hell—if she asked them to try to rid Bill of his annoyingly old-fashioned Southern accent, they would likely provide the elocution lessons themselves.
She smiled and looked at Bobby, who also seemed ready to obey any order she gave. She couldn’t help but to relax—despite the unwelcome visitor.
“You know I love you—both of you—right?”
Eric was a bit taken aback.
“In radically different ways—of course,” Sookie corrected with a chuckle as she looked up at Eric once more.
Bobby smiled a lopsided grin. “Thank God for that. I don’t need the Viking after me.”
“The Viking?” Sookie asked.
Eric rolled his eyes. “It’s what he used to call me when we were younger.”
“It fits,” Bobby returned, shrugging his shoulders. “By the time he was twelve, he was taller than me.”
“Susanna?” called Bill from outside the door, breaking the exchange between the three friends.
“What do you want?” Eric asked Sookie.
Sookie took a deep breath. “I’ll talk to him. I want to know why he’s here.”
“Alone?” Eric asked with some trepidation.
“Hell no!” Sookie exclaimed. “I mean—if you’ll stay with me. . . .”
Eric cut her off by taking her into his arms. “Hell yes!” he smiled.
Ten minutes earlier
As Bill Compton traipsed over the rough terrain between the house he’d rented and the newly-deceased Adele Stackhouse’s residence, he regretted wearing his newly-shined shoes.
However, he’d wanted to look his best when he talked to Susanna and tried to convince her that none of what had happened between them in the past had been his fault. It had all been the fault of his boss and then Lorena.
Susanna would just have to understand that!
Truly, two years earlier, Bill had been ready to make Susanna’s life better—a lot better than it had been. Moreover, if his plan hadn’t been sabotaged by Lorena, Susanna would have ended up as an indispensable asset to the U.S. government: a patriot.
And—most importantly—she would have already been his: his asset, his wife.
Susanna Stackhouse had started off as an assignment—pure and simple. She’d been an assignment in what Bill did best: the recruitment of potentially “difficult” assets. And the scope of that assignment had come with the potential of a huge promotion for the ambitious agent.
The government was always looking for people with “gifts” that went beyond the norm, and the FBI in particular had been actively seeking out people like Susanna post-9/11.
Discovering a useable lip reader with the accuracy and subtlety of Susanna Stackhouse was harder than it might seem. Oh—adults could be trained to read lips, and many even became quite proficient, just as an adult might learn any new language. However, it was often the nuances of language—the whispers or the asides or the mumbles—that held the greatest secrets.
Many deaf people were also skilled at reading lips, but they didn’t function in the same way as the hearing did, and once their disability was found out, then the possibility of their being able to read lips was recognized. Strangely enough, “hearing” people weren’t suspected of having the skill.
No. Someone like Susanna didn’t come around often. And she could read anything—including foreign languages she didn’t know—with almost 100% accuracy. And—even when she didn’t understand a word—she could produce it phonetically. Bill knew that firsthand from the various “tests” he’d conducted when they were together.
The Bureau had found out about Susanna from her mother, Michelle Stackhouse. Apparently, Susanna’s mother had read an article about a lip-reader bringing down a huge terrorist cell in the Middle East, and she’d seen the opportunity to serve her country and to make a little cash for her family at the same time.
Sadly, Susanna—like many teens—had rebelled against her mother’s influence.
Susanna Stackhouse’s preliminary evaluation had labeled her as “a promising prospect,” though “potential recruitment difficulties” were also noted. That’s why someone with Bill’s skills was called in. Bill had initially traveled to Bon Temps to meet with Michelle and to further assess Susanna’s skill-set. And, after meeting Michelle, Bill couldn’t fault the woman’s patriotism or her pragmatism.
Bill’s assessment had led him to believe that Susanna was a rare talent indeed! But she would need to be handled with kid-gloves. In fact—after an especially fruitful conversation with Michelle—he’d determined that seduction should be his chief strategy in Susanna’s recruitment. And his superiors had green-lit his proposal.
Bill had hypothesized that since Susanna had been deaf for so long, she’d developed anti-social tendencies, which wouldn’t do at all for the kind of work the Bureau wanted her to do. By observing Susanna from afar, Bill had confirmed his theory before he even approached her. She was excellent at almost “disappearing” and staying out of sight, but to be a good spy required fitting in as well. And she didn’t fit in—not at all!
However, after their first encounter—Bill’s first test of her skill—he became convinced that he could train her, given time. And—by playing the knight in shining armor and risking himself to “save” her from her “attackers,” who were actually men on the Bureau’s payroll—Bill had quickly found his way into her life.
Soon after that, Bill had become her boyfriend. At first, being an attentive paramour had been only a job to him. God knows, he’d done worse things to recruit people. Yes—he’d felt a little guilty about taking her virginity and getting her to fall in love with him. But—as he saw it—he had also been doing her a favor. After all, she’d been well into her 20s and had no other men looking to date her. He recognized almost immediately that he was the best prospect that she would likely ever have, and he was resolved to go through with an engagement and a marriage because of her potential value to the Bureau.
But somewhere along the line, he’d started to truly care for Susanna, and the day she’d claimed that she never wanted to see him again was the day that Bill realized that he just might love her. A few weeks after that, he became certain that he did.
Of course, Susanna’s finding out the truth from Lorena, his on-and-off-again lover and fellow FBI agent, wasn’t helpful to Bill’s cause at all! He’d tried to talk to Susanna after that horrible day when Lorena had “visited” her, but she wouldn’t listen to him! And then—quite suddenly—she’d moved.
As an FBI agent, it had been easy enough for Bill to track down Susanna in Brooklyn. But—truth be told—Bill had been rewrapped into Lorena’s web after Susanna left. He’d sought comfort after he’d realized that his caring for Susanna wasn’t all an act, and Lorena had been there. She’d “seemed” loving; she’d “seemed” contrite. However—like it always was between him and Lorena—their passion quickly flared into destructiveness.
Bill’s superior at the Bureau, Nan Flanagan, hadn’t been happy with his losing a promising asset, but—like any operation that involved personal entanglements—there was always a risk of failure. And, thankfully, Nan had recognized that the fault was mostly Lorena’s.
Yes—it had been Lorena who had ruined his long-term plans with Susanna. Bill sighed. Had Lorena just stayed away, he would be married to Susanna even now!
The plan had been simple—logical and beneficial to all. Bill needed to help Susanna reach the point that she was—for lack of a better word—”normal” enough to operate in social settings. After that, another agent would have approached Susanna, and Bill—as her husband—would have encouraged her to serve her country. Later, he would have “become” an agent too—”just so that he could be with her.” Indeed, it had been a perfect plan, and Susanna would have been kept in the dark about how she’d been recruited. She would have remained docile and complacent—agreeable.
However, a month before his Bureau-approved plan called for him to officially propose to Susanna, Lorena had come to town. And—being the seductress that she was—she’d quickly manipulated Bill into seeking out her bed.
It was after a week or two with Lorena that Bill had made an error. Agents were rarely able to confide in others about their assignments, but since Lorena had the same clearance level as he did, Bill had been able to vent about his assignment to procure Susanna Stackhouse. And Lorena, always the temptress, had compelled him to tell her about the whole ten-year plan that Bill had developed for Susanna: seduce, marry, procure, stabilize. And then, after those ten years—if he so chose—Bill could initiate a divorce from Susanna as long as the asset was deemed “sound” enough by Bureau psychiatrists to deal with the mental strain of the break-up as well as to continue her work.
It wasn’t even that Bill had been unhappy about the arrangement. His cover—working on his doctorate degree in computer engineering—actually offered him a stimulating diversion from his usual research work. And Susanna—at least in the small doses that his plan required for him to be with her—had been perfectly tolerable, a nice change from the norm.
Plus, after being with Lorena, it had been nice to have an innocent in his bed. Someone like Susanna better-suited Bill’s more conservative notions about sex, and after a little guidance and instruction from him, she’d been able to offer him a good release a few times a week and a relationship from which he knew exactly what to expect. Yes. In so many ways, Susanna had been—would be—the ideal woman for him.
On the other hand, Lorena was much more adventurous sexually—even dominant at times. And she’d tried to bring that dominance into all aspects of their previous relationship. Bill had found Lorena’s aggressive tendencies to be both irresistible and off-putting, and he hated his own ambivalence toward her.
In fact, Bill had hoped that his assignment with Susanna—as well as his personal relationship with the young woman—would help him to resist the pull Lorena had on him.
Sadly, it had not.
That was how he’d come to find himself exhausted and in bed with his former lover exactly one month before he was to take Susanna to an expensive French restaurant and propose to her. The Bureau had even agreed to foot the bill so that the restaurant would be clear of people too; Bill had known that that gesture would have made all the difference in the world to the introvert. The plan was then to elope and honeymoon in Vermont where the Bureau had a nice cabin that had been used to hide assets in the past. There would be privacy and quiet—just the things that Susanna craved. And there, Bill had planned to get the ball rolling by introducing her to the notion that there were a lot of things that she might do with her unique skill.
But Bill had found himself once more entangled with Lorena—almost obsessively so. And—if anything—confiding in her about his assignment with Susanna seemed to make things better between Lorena and himself. Bill was able to vent his dissatisfactions with the assignment’s duration. And Lorena had been quite understanding, having just finished a long-term assignment of her own. They had commiserated together, and Lorena had seemed to have calmed down a little during the year they’d been apart.
Oh—she was still quite adventurous sexually, but Bill actually found himself craving Lorena’s appetites to offset the somewhat monotonous physical repertoire he’d established with Susanna. He found that the two women balanced each other out in a way that he liked. Indeed, for those few blissful weeks when he’d been seeing both women, his life had been perfect. He liked being able to keep the parts of his own personality separate from one another too. With Lorena he could be straightforward and let loose a little. With Susanna, he could be more serious and conservative.
And—given the fact that Lorena had six months of vacation, a reward after the project she’d just completed—Bill had looked forward to keeping things as they were for a while.
However, Lorena began to show signs of displeasure when Bill had to attend to his weekly visits with Susanna. She even convinced him to cancel a few—to tell Susanna that he had projects due in his courses and needed time to finish them.
But Bill couldn’t cancel every meeting he had with Susanna; after all, being with her was his job. And he quickly realized that he missed the young woman’s unquestioning devotion to him when he didn’t see her. Susanna was steady and completely predictable, and—because of that—she was a balm to the erratic moodiness of Lorena.
Bill’s fatal error had come when he’d confessed to Lorena that part of him cared for Susanna Stackhouse. Lorena had casually asked Bill what he would do if Susanna accidentally got pregnant. Bill had been doubling up on the birth control methods—using both condoms and asking Susanna to get on the pill before they had sex—but he found himself not completely opposed to the idea of having Susanna as the mother of his child. Even if they eventually divorced, he could continue to play a part in a child’s life. Plus, being a “family man” was an excellent cover for any agent.
When he told Lorena his thoughts on the matter, she’d flown off the handle, yelling that they were destined to be with each other and that she wouldn’t allow Susanna to get in their way. The encounter had had a little bit too much “crazy” in it for Bill’s tastes, so he’d left Lorena to stew for a while—and to hopefully pull herself back together.
Only—she didn’t just stew. She’d gone to visit Susanna.
Bill looked up at the old home of Adele Stackhouse as he approached. He’d rented the house across the way from the Stackhouse farm a few other times before. The first was when he came to Bon Temps to check out Michelle Stackhouse’s story.
He smiled a little at the memory of that first visit. He’d found Michelle to be extremely accommodating to him, and she’d given him a lot of background on the development of Susanna’s ability. He’d admired the mother’s desire to make sure that Susanna “mainstreamed” with normal kids. Lip-reading had allowed her to do just that, and Michelle had apparently worked long hours with Susanna during her childhood in order to hone the skill.
Then—when Susanna was older and her grieving and newly-widowed grandmother had moved back to town—Michelle had sacrificed time with her own daughter so that the elderly Adele Stackhouse would not be alone. Adele, who apparently had quite a bit of money from the sale of a home in New Orleans and her husband’s estate, had taken Susanna to a specialist, and—much to Michelle’s surprise—a cure was found for her daughter’s deafness. Michelle had been overjoyed.
Michelle had explained that Susanna was severely withdrawn—as was to be expected, given the situation. She’d also told Bill that the only reason why she hadn’t broached the idea of joining the FBI with her daughter was that she knew Susanna wouldn’t agree to it—at least not without a “tender” kind of persuasion. The twenty thousand dollars Michelle had settled for in exchange for all the information she’d given Bill had been quite modest compared to what the Bureau would have been willing to pay her; however, the money guaranteed Michelle Stackhouse’s silence. She signed an agreement not to speak of her dealings with Bill or the FBI to anyone—especially Susanna.
Bill had returned to Bon Temps and the isolated old residence across the cemetery from Adele Stackhouse’s home two other times in order to get more information on Susanna. Plus, he’d struck up a dalliance with Michelle, who—though fifteen years older than he—was a pleasant lover. Of course, once he’d begun sleeping with Susanna, he’d halted things with Michelle—for propriety’s sake.
Bill sighed. He was extremely happy that Susanna had never found out about that affair. Susanna had been rather reticent about sharing personal information with him, though he’d discovered that her relationship with her mother was, indeed, somewhat strained. Bill figured that was because of the way Michelle had pushed her daughter to perfect her lip-reading skill so that she could function better in society. He knew that children often resented their parents for driving them to excel in some area—whether it be in academics or athletics. Bill had similar resentment toward his own father, whose expectations for his son had seemed insurmountable at times. Susanna’s attitude toward her mother had simply been brought on by an unusual trigger.
Bill tripped over a loose piece of gravel and slowed his pace. Once again, he felt his bitterness toward Lorena rise.
In usual Lorena fashion, she’d left him to “pursue other opportunities” not long after Susanna had left Mississippi—not long after Bill had covered for her with the Bureau.
Bill had kept Lorena’s name out of his official report explaining why the pursuit of Susanna as an asset should be terminated; he’d simply stated that Susanna was too anti-social to ever make a good agent. He’d also conveyed that Susanna had several “tells,” which just wouldn’t do for the kind of work they had in mind for her. It wasn’t a total lie. After all, Susanna did tend to alert people to her “otherness” by her general demeanor and by staring a little too long for comfort. And though he’d tried to guide her in the art of subtlety after she’d “told” him of her lip-reading, she hadn’t yet progressed to the point that she seemed “normal” yet.
After Nan Flanagan had accepted his recommendation that Susanna was not a viable candidate for recruitment after all, Bill had been given his next assignment: researching a young man named Barry in Dallas—another lip-reader. Lorena had followed him to Dallas for a time, but after she left, Bill had begun to realize that he’d had some genuine affection for Susanna, affection that still hadn’t gone away.
Unfortunately, the timing had never been right for Bill to try to make amends with Susanna. Though Barry had been a much easier target to acquire, he’d been less skilled than Susanna, so Bill had needed to oversee his training. And, given that and a few more visits from Lorena over the previous two years, Bill simply hadn’t had the opportunity to get from Dallas to New York for an adequate amount of time to woo Susanna properly. However, Bill was not one to lament the past. He figured that time was his ally. By now, Susanna would have had time to process what Lorena had told her, and he was confident that she’d already forgiven him. He smiled a little as he thought of Susanna pining away for him as she tried to maneuver through Manhattan like a scared mouse.
He would offer to save her from that life.
Yes. If she hadn’t done so already, Susanna would soon come to see that Bill had had no choice but to do what he’d been ordered to do by the Bureau. And once he explained that he really did care for her—that he had only been trying to do what was best for her—he was confident that she would accept him back into his life.
And Michelle Stackhouse had given him the perfect opportunity to reconnect with her! Despite what had happened with Lorena, Michelle had always been sympathetic to Bill’s cause and had promised that she would do what she could to get her daughter to listen to reason about him—all the while pretending that she had no idea that Bill was with the FBI. Sadly, Michelle had been unsuccessful; however, when she’d called him earlier that day, Bill had definitely been given reason to hope.
After quickly securing his lodging, he’d cancelled his New Year’s Eve date and had driven from Dallas to Bon Temps without any hesitation at all.
Susanna’s grandmother’s death was a tragedy, but it was a fortuitous one for Bill. And, according to Michelle, Susanna would be in Bon Temps until at least the weekend. Given the fact that it was only Monday night, that would give him several days to try to convince her to give him another chance. Michelle had warned Bill that Susanna had some boyfriend from New York with her. However, Michelle was concerned that this man, Eric Northman, was abusing her daughter, and she’d begged Bill to swoop in and save the day once again.
Bill intended to do just that!
After a little research, Bill couldn’t help but to share Michelle’s concern. He’d texted Michelle a picture of the man he feared would be the “Eric Northman” that Michelle had been referring to, and she’d confirmed his suspicions. Bill had known for a while that Susanna was working at Northman Publishing, and apparently, she’d fallen in with Eric Northman, the heir apparent to the publishing empire.
Bill’s first feeling had been anger that Susanna had moved on to someone else.
However, once he’d thought through the matter rationally, Bill began to understand what must have happened. Northman was well-known for being a womanizer. And—in Bill’s experience—it was not uncommon for powerful men to be abusive; after all, they figured that their power could shield them from any domestic crimes they committed. Susanna would have been easily manipulated by such a man. And—even if Northman wasn’t physically abusing Susanna—he was way out of her league! And he would break her heart.
Bill was determined to stop that for happening.
Armed with evidence proving Northman’s man-whore ways, Bill planned to swoop in and help Susanna to see that Northman was all wrong for her—that he was just using her. He figured that flashing his badge and giving Northman some empty threats would be enough to make the wealthy prick run back to New York. His kind were always quick to cut their losses at the first sign of trouble. And that would leave Bill to help Susanna pick up the pieces of both a failed relationship and her grandmother’s death.
Indeed, Bill was confident that it would be easy enough to convince Susanna that he was the best option available for her. And—even better—he would be able to be completely honest with her now. He smiled. If he was lucky, he’d be in Susanna’s bed before the end of the night. And, if he was very lucky, he might even convince her that using her skill for the government was her civic duty. Then they could go on to do what they had been meant to do. He would be her handler and her husband. And she would be his asset and his wife.
He could already taste the promotion.
He climbed the steps of the front porch and knocked confidently, ready to project authority if Eric Northman answered. However, no one answered right away, so he knocked a bit louder.
When a man asked who it was, Bill made sure that he answered in a strong, deep voice. “Bill Compton,” he said assertively.
Bill could hear muffled voices and light footsteps from inside the house.
“Susanna?” he called out after a few moments, making sure that his voice oozed with the kind of concern he wanted to project to her.
He heard more muffled voices, though he couldn’t make out what was being said.
A moment or two later, the door was opened by a dark-haired man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. It was not Eric Northman.
A/N: Hopefully you weren’t confused by the fact that Bill thinks of Sookie as “Susanna.” Remember that only Sookie’s friends really know to use her nickname.
Sorry that it took me a while to post. I’ve been busy, busy with work, and I’ve been suffering from headaches. I promise that I’m doing what I can.
Thanks for all the continued support for me and all my work!
I’m sorry to leave you with this little cliffie as I go to Uninvited for a week. Sorry I got you only 3 chapters of this story this week. I’ll catch you here after my week with Uninvited!