"In return, there are a few little things we want you to do for us, if you will," the medium man said. There was definitely a slight foreign cadence to his English.
Arlene Fowler knew instinctively that those few things would not really be little, and definitely not optional. Looking at the two men, she didn’t sense they were interested in something she might not have minded giving up, like her body. They didn’t want her to iron their sheets or polish their silver, either. She felt more comfortable now that the cards were spread out on the table and about to be flipped over. "Uh-huh," she said. "Like what?"
"I really don’t think you’ll mind when you hear," said the driver. "I truly don’t."
"All you have to do," said the medium man, "is have a conversation with Sookie Stackhouse."
There was a long silence. Arlene Fowler looked back and forth at the two men, measuring and calculating. "You going to get me put back in jail if I won’t?" she said.
"Since we got you out on bail pending your trial, I guess we could make that happen," said the tall driver mildly. "But I would certainly hate to do that. Wouldn’t you?" he asked his companion.
The medium man shook his head from side to side. "That would be a great pity. The little children would be so sad. Are you afraid of Miss Stackhouse?"
There was silence while Arlene Fowler wrestled with the truth. "I’m the last person in the world Sookie’d want to see," she hedged. "She blames me for that whole day, the day . . ." Her voice trailed off.
"The day all those people got shot," the medium man said pleasantly. "Including you. But I know her slightly, and I think she’ll let you have a conversation. We will tell you what to say. Don’t worry about her talent. I think all will be well in that regard."
"Her talent? You mean her mind-reading? Some talent!" Arlene, surprisingly, laughed. "That’s been the curse of her life."
The two men smiled, and the effect was not pleasant at all. "Yes," agreed the driver. "That has been a curse for her, and I imagine that feeling will get worse."
"What do you want with Sookie, anyway?" Arlene asked. "She ain’t got nothing but that old house."
"She’s caused us, and a few other people, a great deal of trouble," said the driver. "Let’s just say she’s got some trouble coming."
The night of my second day of solitude, I faced the fact that I had to go to see Eric. Sure, he really should have visited me. He’d been the one to skedaddle when I’d raised Sam from the dead, because (I figured) he was sure it meant I loved Sam more than I loved him. But I would go to Shreveport, and we would talk, because Eric’s silence was painful to me. I watched some of the fireworks go up in the city park – today was the Fourth of July – but then I went inside to dress. I was giving in to my impulse. I was going to Fangtasia.
I wanted to look as good as I could, but I didn’t want to overdo it. I didn’t know who I’d be seeing, though I wanted to talk to Eric by himself.
I hadn’t heard from any of the vampires I knew who frequented Fangtasia. I didn’t know if Felipe de Castro, King of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nevada, was still in Shreveport, meddling in Eric’s affairs, making Eric’s life difficult. Felipe had brought his girlfriend, Angie, and his second-in-command, Horst, with him, just to compound Eric’s vexation. Felipe was treacherous and wily, and his little entourage was much of a kind with their leader.
I also didn’t know if Freyda, Queen of Oklahoma, was still in town. Eric’s maker, Appius Livius Ocella, had signed a contract with Freyda that (to my mind) basically sold Eric into slavery with Freyda, but in a really cushy way: as her consort, with all the benefits you might imagine would pertain to such a job. Only thing was, Appius hadn’t checked with Eric first. Eric was torn, to put it mildly. Leaving his job as sheriff was not something he’d ever planned to do. If ever there was a vampire who enjoyed being a big fish in a small pond, that vampire was Eric. He’d always been a hard worker, and he’d made plenty of money for the ruler of Louisiana, whoever that happened to be. Since the vampires had come out of the coffin, he’d done much more than make money. Tall, handsome, articulate, dynamic, Eric was a great poster boy for mainstreaming vampires. And he’d even married a human: me. Though not in a human ritual.
Of course, he had his darker side. He was a vampire, after all.
All the way to Shreveport from Bon Temps, I wondered for the fiftieth time if I was making a huge mistake. By the time I’d pulled up to the back door of Fangtasia, I was so tense I was shaking. I’d put on my favorite pink dotted sundress, and I yanked the halter into place and took a few deep breaths before I knocked. The door swung open. Pam was leaning against the wall in the hallway, her arms crossed on her chest, looking broody.
"Pam," I said, by way of greeting.
"You shouldn’t be here," she said.
Granted, I knew that her first allegiance was to Eric, and it always would be. Nonetheless, I’d thought Pam liked me a bit, as much as she ever would a human, and her words smarted like a slap in the face. I didn’t need to hurt any worse than I already did, but I’d come here to see if I could smooth things over with Eric a little, tell him that he was wrong about Sam and me, find out what he’d decided about Freyda.
"I need to talk to Eric," I said. I didn’t try to enter. I knew better.
At that moment, the door to Eric’s office flew open. He stood framed in the doorway. Eric was big and golden and all male, and normally when he saw me, he started smiling.
"Sookie, I can’t talk to you now," he said. "Horst will be here any second, and he doesn’t need to be reminded you exist. They’ve called in a lawyer to go over the contract."
It was like he was talking to a stranger, and furthermore, a stranger who had very little business appearing on his doorstep. In fact, Eric seemed both angry and wounded.
I had a mouthful – and heart full – of things I wanted to say. More than almost anything else in the world, I wanted to put my arms around him and tell him how much he meant to me. But as I took a half step in his direction, Eric moved back and shut the office door.
I froze for a moment, trying to absorb the shock and hurt, and keep my face from crumpling. Pam glided toward me and put one hand on my shoulder to spin me around and guide me away from the door. After it clanged shut behind us, she said into my ear, "Don’t come here again. It’s too dangerous. There’s too much going on, too many visitors." And then she raised her voice and said, "And don’t come back until he calls you!" She gave me a little shove that propelled me into the side of my car. And then she zipped back inside and closed the door with that quick vampiric movement that always seemed like magic, or a really good video game.