"Thanks," I said, picking up the red plastic basket and hurrying to the table. I smiled all around, put the basket neatly in the middle, and checked to see if anyone needed a drink refill. They all did, so I went to get the pitcher of sweet tea, while taking one glass with me to refill with Coke.
Then Jason asked for more mayonnaise for his hamburger, and Jane Bodehouse wanted a bowl of pretzels to go with her lunch (Bud Light).
By the time the noon crowd thinned out, I was feeling a little more normal. I reminded Jason I was making his sweet potato casserole and that he should come by tonight to pick it up.
"Sook, thanks," he said with his charming smile. "Her mom is gonna love it, and so will Michele. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I can grill meat, but I ain’t no kitchen chef."
I worked the rest of the shift on automatic. I had a little conversation with Sam about whether to change insurance companies for the bar or whether Sam should insure his trailer separately. The State Farm agent had spoken to Sam at lunchtime.
Finally it was time to go, but I had to fiddle around until the storage room was empty and I could open the locker to remove the borrowed jacket. ("Borrowed" sounded much better than "stolen.") I’d found an empty Wal-Mart bag, and I stuffed the jacket into it, though my hands were clumsy because I was trying to hurry. Just as I tied the plastic handles together and opened the back door, I saw Sam go into his office; but he didn’t come out again to yell, "Where’s my honey’s jacket?"
I drove home and unloaded the bag of groceries and the bag containing Jannalynn’s jacket. I felt as if I’d lifted the collection plate from the church. I took off my uniform and put on some denim shorts and a camo tank top Jason had given me for my birthday the year before.
I left a message on Bill’s answering machine before I began cooking. I put a big pot of water on the stove so it could reach the boiling point. As I peeled the sweet potatoes and cut them into chunks for cooking, I turned on the radio. It provided background noise, at least until the Shreveport news came on. In the wake of Kym Rowe’s murder, anti-vamp sentiment was escalating. Someone had thrown a bucket of white paint across the façade of Fangtasia. There was nothing I could do about that, so I pushed that worry to the back of my mind. The vamps could more than take care of themselves, unless things got much, much worse.
After I’d eased the sweet potatoes into the boiling water and turned the heat down to simmer, I checked my e-mail. Tara had sent some pictures of the babies. Cute. I’d gotten a chain letter from Maxine (which I deleted without reading), and I’d gotten a message from Michele. She had a short list of three wedding dates she and Jason were considering, and she wanted to know if all three were clear for me. I smiled, looked at my empty calendar, and had just sent my reply when I heard a car pull up.
My schedule for the evening was full, so I wasn’t very pleased at having an uninvited guest. I was even more astonished when I looked out the living room window to see that my caller was Donald Callaway, Brenda Hesterman’s partner in Splendide. I’d wondered if I’d hear from them after Sam told me about the break-in, but I hadn’t ever imagined I’d get a personal visit. Surely a phone call or an e-mail would have been sufficient to handle any issues that had resulted from the destruction of the furniture I’d sold to them?
Donald, standing by his car, looked as crisp as he had the morning he’d spent examining the contents of my attic: creased khakis, seersucker shirt, polished loafers. His salt-and-pepper hair and mustache were freshly trimmed, and he radiated a sort of middle-aged tan fitness. Golfer, maybe. He seemed to be having some difficulty.
I opened the door, worried about the simmering sweet potatoes, which should be nearly done.
"Hey, Mr. Callaway," I called. "What are you doing way out here?" And why didn’t he approach?
"Can I come in for a second?" he asked.
"Okay," I said, and he started forward. "But I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of time."
He was just a little surprised that I wasn’t more cordial. I got a waft of wrongness. I dropped all my shields and looked inside his brain.
He was on the porch now, and I said, "Stop right there."
He looked at me with apparent surprise.
"What have you done?" I asked. "You’ve screwed me over somehow. You might as well tell me."
His eyes widened. "Are you human?"
"I’m human with extras. Spill it, Mr. Callaway."
He was almost frightened, but he was becoming angry, too. That was a bad combination. "I need that thing that was in the secret compartment."
Revelation. "You opened it first, before you showed it to me." It was my turn to be astonished.
"If I’d had any idea what that thing was, I’d never have told you," he said, regret weighing down his voice. "As it was, I thought it was worthless, and I thought I might as well boost my reputation for honesty."
"But you’re not honest, are you?" I glided through his thoughts, my head tilted on one side. "You’re a twisty bastard." The wards around the house had been trying to keep him out, but like an idiot, I’d invited him in.
He had the gall to be offended.
"Come on now, just trying to turn a buck and keep our business afloat in a bad economy." He thought he could tell me this, and I’d accept it? I checked him out quickly but thoroughly. I didn’t think he had a gun, but he had a knife in a sheath clipped to his belt, just like many men who had to open boxes every day. It wasn’t a big knife-but any knife was pretty damn frightening.
"Sookie," he continued, "I came out here tonight to do you a favor. I don’t think you know that you have a valuable little item. Interest in this item is heating up, and word’s getting around. You might find it a tad dangerous to keep it in your house. I’ll be glad to put it in the safe at my office. I did some research on your behalf, and what you think may just be a pretty thing your grandma left in the desk is something a few people do want for their private collection."
Not only had he opened the secret compartment and glanced at the contents before he’d called me to come look, he’d at least scanned the letter. The letter my grandmother had written to me. Thank God he hadn’t had a chance to read it carefully. He was completely ignorant about me.
Something inside me caught fire. I was mad. Really mad.
"Come in," I said calmly. "We’ll talk about it."
He was surprised, but relieved.
I smiled at him.
I turned and walked back to the kitchen. There were lots of weapons in the kitchen.