"Oh, come on!" I was really put out. "I haven’t done anything to you that you couldn’t have taken care of before it even happened."
Pam and Horst blinked, but I saw that Felipe understood me. "You maintain that if I had been more … proactive, you would have been in no danger from Bruno and Corinna? That Victor would have stayed down in New Orleans, where the regent should be, and that, therefore, Eric could have run Area Five the way he has always run it?"
He had it in a nutshell, as my grandmother would have said. But (at least this time) I kept my mouth shut.
Eric, by my side, was rigid as a statue.
I’m not sure what would have happened next, but Bill appeared suddenly from the kitchen. He looked as excited as Bill ever looked.
"There’s a dead girl on the front lawn," he said, "and the police are here."
A variety of reactions passed on Felipe’s face in a few seconds.
"Then Eric, as the homeowner, must go out and talk to the good officers," he said. "We’ll set things to rights in here. Eric, be sure to invite them in."
Eric was already on his feet. He called to Mustapha, who didn’t appear. He and Pam exchanged a worried glance. Without looking at me, Eric reached back, and I stood to slide my hand into his. Time to close the ranks.
"Who is the dead woman?" he asked Bill.
"A skinny brunette," he said. "A human."
"Fang marks in her neck? Bright dress, mostly green and pink?" I asked, my heart sinking.
"I didn’t get that close," Bill said.
"How did the police find out there was a body?" Pam said. "Who called them?" We moved toward the front door. Now I could hear the noise outside. With the drapes shut, we hadn’t been able to see the flashing lights. Through the gap in the heavy fabric, I could see them.
"I never heard a scream or any other alarm," Bill said. "So I don’t know why a neighbor would have called … but someone did."
"You wouldn’t have summoned the police yourself, for any reason?" Eric said, and there was the smell of danger in the room.
Bill looked surprised-which is to say, his eyebrows twitched and he frowned. "I can’t think of a reason I would do such a thing. On the contrary-since I was outside patrolling, I’ll obviously be a suspect."
"Where is Mustapha?" Eric said.
Bill stared at Eric. "I have no idea," he answered. "He was patrolling the perimeter, as he put it, earlier in the evening. I haven’t seen him since Sookie came in here."
"I saw him in the kitchen," I said. "We talked." A presence caught my attention. "Brain at the front door," I said.
Eric strode to the little-used front door, and since I was in tow, I trotted along. Eric threw the door open, and the woman standing on the porch was left standing foolishly poised to knock.
She looked up at Eric, and I could read her thoughts. To this woman, he was beautiful, disgusting, repellent, and oddly fascinating. She didn’t like the "beautiful" and "fascinating" parts. She also didn’t like being caught on the wrong foot.
"Mr. Northman?" she said, her hand dropping to her side like a stone. "I’m Detective Cara Ambroselli."
"Detective Ambroselli, you seem to know who I am already. This is my dearest one, Sookie Stackhouse."
"Is there really a dead person on the lawn?" I asked. "Who is she?" I didn’t have to make up the curiosity and anxiety in my voice. I really, really wanted to know.
"We were hoping you could help us with that," the detective said. "We’re pretty sure the dead woman was leaving your house, Mr. Northman."
"Why do you think so? You’re sure it was this house?" Eric said.
"Vampire bites on her neck, party clothes, your front yard. Yeah, we’re pretty sure," Ambroselli said drily. "If you could just step over here, keeping your feet on the stepping-stones …"
The stones, set at regular intervals in the grass, curved around to the driveway. The dark green and deep pink of the crepe myrtles coordinated with the pink and green of the dress worn by the dead woman. She was lying at their base, a little inclined to her left side, in a position disturbingly similar to the way she’d lain across Eric’s lap when I’d first seen her. Her dark hair had fallen across her neck.
"That’s the woman no one knew," I said. "At least, I think so. I only saw her for a minute. She didn’t tell me her name."
"What was she doing when you saw her?"
"She was donating some blood to my boyfriend, here," I said.
"Yeah, she told us she’d done it before and she was happy to give," I said, my voice calm and matter-of-fact. "She definitely volunteered."
There was a moment of silence.
"You’re kidding me," Cara Ambroselli said, but not as if she were at all amused. "You just stood there and let your boyfriend suck the neck of another woman? While you did … what?"
"It’s about food, not about sex," I said, more or less lying. It was about food, but quite often it was also definitely about sex. "Pam and I talked about girl stuff." I smiled at Pam. I was aiming for "winsome."
Pam gave me a very level look in reply. I could imagine her looking at dead kittens that way. She said, "I love the color of Sookie’s toenails. We talked about pedicures."
"So you two talked about your toenails while Mr. Northman fed off this woman, in the same room. Cozy! And then, what, Mr. Northman? After you had your little snack, you just gave her some money and sent her on her way? Did you get Mr. Compton to escort her to her car?"
"Money?" Eric asked. "Detective, are you calling this poor woman a whore? Of course I didn’t give her any money. She arrived, she volunteered, she said she had to go, and she left."
"So what did she get out of your little transaction?"
"Excuse me, Detective, I can answer that," I said. "When you’re giving blood, it’s really very pleasurable. Usually." Of course, that was at the will of the vamp doing the biting. I shot a quick glance at Eric. He’d bitten me before without bothering to make it fun, and it had hurt like hell.
"Then why weren’t you the donor, Ms. Stackhouse? Why did you let the dead girl have all the fun of feeding him?"
Geez! Persistent. "I can’t give blood as often as Eric needs it," I said. I stopped there. I was in danger of overexplaining.
Ambroselli’s neck whipped around as she sprung the next question on Eric.
"But you could survive just fine on a synthetic blood drink, Mr. Northman. Why’d you bite the girl?"