I’d been about to explain that Dermot had been the one who’d worked late, while I’d only watched him work, but at Mustapha’s tone I canceled that plan. He didn’t deserve an explanation. "Oh, don’t be an idiot. You know this is my great-uncle," I said. "Dermot, you’ve met Mustapha Khan before. Eric’s daytime guy." I thought it more tactful not to bring up the fact that Mustapha’s real name was KeShawn Johnson.
"He doesn’t look like anyone’s great-uncle," Mustapha snarled.
"But he is, and it’s none of your business, anyway."
Dermot hiked a blond eyebrow. "Do you want to make my presence an issue?" he asked. "I’m sitting here eating breakfast with my great-niece. I have no problem with you."
Mustapha seemed to gather up his stoic Zen-like impassivity, an important part of his image, and within a few seconds he was his cool self. "If Eric don’t have a problem with it, why should I?" he said. (It would have been nice if he had realized that earlier.) "I’m here to tell you a few things, Sookie."
"Sure. Have a seat."
"No, thanks. Won’t be here long enough."
"Warren didn’t come with you?" Warren was most often on the back of Mustapha’s motorcycle. Warren was a skinny little ex-con with pale skin and straggly blond hair and some gaps in his teeth, but he was a great shooter and a great friend of Mustapha’s.
"Didn’t figure I’d need a gun here." Mustapha looked away. He seemed really jangled. Odd. Werewolves were hard to read, but it didn’t take a telepath to know that something was up with Mustapha Khan.
"Let’s hope no one needs a gun. What’s happening in Shreveport that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?"
I sat down myself and waited for Mustapha to deliver his message. Eric could have left one on my answering machine or even sent me an e-mail, rather than sending Mustapha-but like most vamps, he didn’t really have a rock-solid trust in electronics, especially if the news was important.
"You want him to hear this?" Mustapha tilted his head toward Dermot.
"You might be better off not knowing," I told Dermot. He gave the daytime man a level blue stare that warned Mustapha to be on his best behavior and rose, taking his mug with him. We heard the stairs creak as he mounted them. When Mustapha’s Were hearing told him Dermot was out of earshot, he sat down opposite me and placed his hands side by side on the table very precisely. Style and attitude.
"Okay, I’m waiting," I said.
"Felipe de Castro is coming to Shreveport to talk about the disappearance of his buddy Victor."
"Oh, shit," I said.
"Say it, Sookie. We’re in for it now." He smiled.
"That’s it? That’s the message?"
"Eric would like you to come to Shreveport tomorrow night to greet Felipe."
"I won’t see Eric till then?" I could feel my face narrow in a suspicious squint. That didn’t suit me at all. The thin cracks in our relationship would only spread wider if we didn’t get to spend time together.
"He has to get ready," Mustapha said, shrugging. "I don’t know if he got to clean out his bathroom cabinets or change the sheets or what. ‘Has to get ready’ is what he told me."
"Right," I said. "And that’s it? That’s the whole message?"
Mustapha hesitated. "I got some other things to tell you, not from Eric. Two things." He took off his sunglasses. His chocolate-chip eyes were downcast; Mustapha was not a happy camper.
"Okay, I’m ready." I was biting the inside of my mouth. If Mustapha could be stoical about Felipe’s impending visit, I could, too. We were at great risk. We had both participated in the plan to trap Victor Madden, regent of the state of Louisiana, put in place by King Felipe of Nevada, and we had helped to kill Victor and his entourage. What was more, I was pretty sure Felipe de Castro suspected all this with a high degree of certainty.
"First thing, from Pam."
Blond and sardonic, Eric’s child Pam was as close to a friend as I had among the vamps. I nodded, signaling Mustapha to deliver the message.
"She says, ‘Tell Sookie that this is the hard time that will show what she is made of.’"
I cocked my head. "No advice other than that? Not too helpful. I figured as much." I’d pretty much assumed Felipe’s post-Victor visit would be a very touchy one. But that Pam would warn me … seemed a bit odd.
"Harder than you know," Mustapha said intently.
I stared at him, waiting for more.
Maddeningly, he did not elaborate. I knew better than to ask him to. "The other thing is from me," he continued.
Only the fact that I’d had to control my face all my life kept me from giving him major Doubtful. Mustapha? Giving me advice?
"I’m a lone wolf," he said, by way of preamble.
I nodded. He hadn’t affiliated with the Shreveport werewolves, all members of the Long Tooth pack.
"When I first blew into Shreveport, I looked into joining. I even went to a pack gathering," Mustapha said.
It was the first chink I’d seen in his "I’m badass and I don’t need anyone" armor. I was startled that he’d even tried. Alcide Herveaux, the packleader in Shreveport, would have been glad to gain a strong wolf like Mustapha.
"The reason I didn’t even consider it is because of Jannalynn," he said. Jannalynn Hopper was Alcide’s enforcer. She was about as big as a wasp, and she had the same nature.
"Because Jannalynn’s really tough and she would challenge someone as alpha as you?" I said.
He inclined his head. "She wouldn’t leave me standing. She would push and push until we fought."
"You think she could win? Over you." I made it not quite a question. With Mustapha’s size advantage and his greater experience, I could not fathom why Mustapha had a doubt he would be the victor.
He inclined his head again. "I do. Her spirit is big."
"She likes to feel in charge? She has to be the baddest bitch in the fight?"
"I was in Hair of the Dog yesterday, early evening. Just to spend some time with the other Weres after I got through working for the vamps, get the smell of Eric’s house out of my nose … though we got a deader hanging around at the Hair, lately. Anyway, Jannalynn was talking to Alcide while she was serving him a drink. She knows you loaned Merlotte some money to keep his bar afloat."
I shifted in my chair, suddenly uneasy. "I’m a little surprised Sam told her, but I didn’t ask him to keep it a secret."
"I’m not so sure he did tell her. Jannalynn’s not above snooping when she thinks she ought to know something, and she doesn’t even think of it as snooping. She thinks of it as fact-gathering. Here’s the bottom line: Don’t cross that bitch. You’re on the borderline with her."