"Only because Pam is a great fighter, and my wife can hold her own, did they escape," Eric said solemnly.
He gave us all a moment to contemplate that. Horst was looking skeptical, but Felipe had only raised his dark eyebrows. Felipe nodded, bidding Eric to continue.
"Though I don’t admit to being guilty of his death, Victor was also attacking me-and therefore you, my king-economically. Victor put new clubs in my territory-but he kept the management, jobs, and revenue from these clubs exclusively for himself, which is against all precedent. I doubted he was passing along your share of the profits. I also believed he was trying to undercut me, to turn me from one of your best earners into an unnecessary hanger-on. I heard many rumors from the sheriffs in other areas-including some you brought in from Nevada-that Victor was neglecting all other business in Louisiana in this strange vendetta against me and mine."
I couldn’t read anything in Felipe’s face. "Why didn’t you bring your complaints to me?" the king said.
"I did," Eric said calmly. "I called your offices twice and talked to Horst, asking him to bring these issues to your attention."
Horst sat up a little straighter. "This is true, Felipe. As I-"
"And why didn’t you pass along Eric’s concerns?" Felipe interrupted, turning his eyes on Horst.
I anticipated watching Horst wriggle. Instead, Horst looked stunned.
Maybe I’m just getting cynical from hanging around with vampires for so long, but I felt a near certainty that Horst had passed along Eric’s complaints, but that Felipe had decided Eric would have to solve his issues with Victor in his own way. Now Felipe was throwing Horst under the bus without a qualm so he could maintain deniability.
"Your Majesty," I said, "we’re awful sorry about Victor’s disappearance, but maybe you haven’t considered that Victor was a huge liability for you, too." I gazed at him. Sadly. Regretfully.
There was a moment of silence. All four vampires looked at me as if I’d offered them a bucket of pig guts. I did my best to look simple and sincere.
"He was not my favorite vampire," Felipe said, after what seemed like about five hours. "But he was very useful."
"I’m sure you’ve noticed," I said, "that in Victor’s case, ‘useful’ was a synonym for ‘money pit.’ Cause I’ve heard from people who serve at Vic’s Redneck Roadhouse, for example, that they were underpaid and overworked, so there’s a big staff turnover. That’s never good for business. And some of the vendors haven’t been paid. And Vic’s is behind with the distributor." (Duff had shared that with me two deliveries ago.) "So, though Vic’s started out great and pulled business from every bar around, they’re not getting the repeat customers they need to sustain such a big place, and I know that revenue’s fallen off." I was only guessing, but I was accurate, I could tell by Horst’s face. "Same thing for his vampire bar. Why pull customers away from the established vampire tourist spot, Fangtasia? Dividing doesn’t mean multiplying."
"You’re giving me a lesson in economics?" Felipe leaned forward, picked up one of the opened TrueBlood bottles, and drank from it, his eyes never leaving my face.
"No, sir, I would never do such a thing. But I know what’s happening on the local level, because people talk to me, or I hear it in their heads. Of course, observing all this about Victor doesn’t mean I know what happened to him." I smiled at him gently. You lying sack of shit.
"Eric, did you enjoy the young woman? When she came through this room, she said she’d been called to service you," Felipe said, not taking his eyes off me. "I was surprised, since I was under the impression you were married to Miss Stackhouse. But the young woman seemed like a nice change of pace for you. She had such an interesting odor. If she hadn’t been earmarked for you, I might have taken her for myself."
"You would have been welcome to her," Eric said in a completely empty voice.
"She told you she’d been called?" I was puzzled.
"That’s what she said," Felipe said. His eyes were fixed on my face as though he were a hawk and I were a mouse he was considering for supper.
On one level of my brain, I puzzled over this. I’d been delayed, the young woman had said she’d been called specifically for Eric … but on another level, I was busy regretting I’d saved Felipe’s life when one of Sophie-Anne’s bodyguards had been well on the way to killing him. I regretted this intensely. Of course, I’d been saving Eric, too, and Felipe had been a by-product, but still … back to level one, and I realized that none of this was adding up. I smiled at Felipe more brightly.
"Are you simple?" Horst asked incredulously.
I’m simply sick of you, I thought, not trusting myself to speak.
Felipe said, "Horst, don’t mistake Miss Stackhouse’s cheerful looks for any mental deficiency."
"Yes, Your Majesty." Horst tried to look chastened, but he didn’t quite make it.
Felipe looked at him sharply. "I must remind you-unless I’m much mistaken-Miss Stackhouse took out either Bruno or Corinna. Even Pam couldn’t have handled both of them at the same time."
I kept on smiling.
"Which one was it, Miss Stackhouse?"
There was another fraught silence. I wished we had background music. Anything would be better than this dead air.
Pam stirred, looked at me almost apologetically. "Bruno," Pam said. "Sookie killed Bruno, while I took care of Corinna."
"How did you do that, Miss Stackhouse?" Felipe said. Even Horst looked interested and impressed, which was not a good thing.
"It was kind of an accident."
"You are too modest," the king murmured skeptically.
"Really, it was." I remembered the driving rain and the cold, the cars parked on the shoulders of the interstate on a terrible dark night. "It was sure pouring buckets that night," I said quietly. Tumbling over and over down into the ditch running with chilly water, a desperate pawing to find the silver knife, sliding it into Bruno.
"Was this the same kind of accident you had when you killed Lorena? Or Sigebert? Or the Were woman?"
Wow, how’d he know about Debbie? Or maybe he meant Sandra? And his list was by no means complete. "Yeah. That kind of accident."
"Though I can hardly complain about Sigebert, since he would have killed me very shortly," Felipe observed, with an air of being absolutely fair.
Finally! "I wondered if you remembered that part," I muttered. I may have sounded a wee tad sardonic.
"You did do me a great service," he said. "I’m just trying to decide how much of a thorn you are in my side now."