Bill’s parting words to me the night before had been to do him proud. Just what the hell does that mean? I wondered as I stood in my bedroom looking through my closet. Tucking my towel tighter around my body, I realized I seriously needed to extend my wardrobe. Over the years, I hadn’t amassed many clothes, out of necessity. Only it was a necessity to be able to travel and move easily. I had to make sure the things I owned could be easily packed into my car.
Digging through my drawers, I saw that most of my clothes were pretty basic and mostly clothes I could wear while waitressing. I did have a few nicer clothes that I would wear to casinos and the handful of dates I had ever been on, but I wasn’t sure what to wear to a vampire bar.
Just what kind of clothes said: this neck’s not for you.
I pulled out a brightly colored halter-style top that actually tied around my neck in a wide band. That would cover my neck and obviously say, don’t bite, but maybe it was making too obvious of a statement. I probably shouldn’t look like I was trying to say: don’t bit me. That would probably stand out too much in a vampire bar.
From the few images I’d plucked from the minds in that vampire bar weeks ago, it seemed that leather and PVC were the style of choice. Shucks, I just gave away my dominatrix outfit, too, I thought with an eye roll.
Sliding on a pair of my nicer looking dark wash jeans, I was pleased to find they fit a little looser than the last time I’d pulled them on. Guess all of the double shifts and work I’d been doing around the place to fix it up had lost me a few pounds. I sure hope I didn’t find them again. I had always been a curvy girl, and I had never minded those curves, but I also wasn’t complaining about losing a little from my thighs and back end.
After finding a bra, I settled for pulling on one of my nicer tank tops. It was v-neck with wide straps at the shoulders and tightly gathered around my breasts and stomach. It was dark red in color, with large white flowers spattered throughout the knit fabric. I probably should have been wearing black for going to a vampire bar, but I didn’t own much in all black, and I just couldn’t bring myself to wear much of the drab color. My feet slid into a nice pair of heeled sandals, and I was ready for the night. At least I hoped I was ready. At least my tan looked good against the red and white fabric.
I’d told Sam during my lunch shift what my plans were, but he hadn’t been too enthused about my idea of going to a vamp bar to help Jason and things had gotten a bit heated. But he hadn’t been able to come up with any better ideas to get my brother out of trouble either. I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic myself, but I was determined.
If I could just find out whom both girls had been seen with, maybe I could find out who really killed them. Or at least find someone or something to throw some of the suspicion off of Jason. I knew from looking in his mind that he had nothing to do with their deaths. Maybe it was wrong of me to look, but I had to know.
As I waited for Bill to pick me up, I tried to shake my sour mood off. Sam had been understandably reluctant about me going to a vampire bar, but what really bugged me was how far he was taking it. I knew he was frustrated, but he’d gotten downright rude when I’d told him I was going, and wouldn’t hardly talk to me again. This having friends business was more trouble than it was worth.
Right on time, there came a knock at the door, accompanied by the familiar feeling of a void. Grabbing my purse, I swung the door open. Bill was standing on the other side wearing a dark blue, button down shirt with black slacks. I could see a black Cadillac over his shoulder that I assumed belonged to him. Guess vamps travel in style.
His eyes traveled up and down my body for several seconds before he stiffly asked, “Are you ready to go?”
“Sure,” I replied, just as stiffly as I closed the door behind me. I’d worn my hair down in waves and had very little make-up on, so overall, I couldn’t tell what his problem seemed to be with my appearance. My top was tight and did show some cleavage, but I still thought it was nicer looking than leather or PVC.
Several minutes into our silent car ride, I decided to break the awkward quiet. “Is there something wrong with the way I’m dressed?” This wasn’t a date, but a girl still liked to know that she looked good.
The car suddenly skidded to a stop on the side of the road, my hand reaching out to brace myself on the dashboard.
“Who said there was?” Bill asked in a soft voice.
“You looked at me like I’d done something wrong when you picked me up,” I fired at him, my temper flaring.
“I’m just very much doubting my ability to get you in and out without having to kill someone who wants to take you.”
“You’re exaggerating,” I said, looking forward. Okay, so I was mostly hoping that was true, but what did I know about vampires?
Suddenly, Bill’s hand grabbed the back of my neck and turned my head towards him.
“Do I look like I am?” he asked with narrowed eyes.
My arm shot up to shove his hand from my neck. Pushing hard against his chest to shove him back on his side of the car, I said through my own narrowed glare, “Do I look like some dog you can grab by the scruff of the neck? You don’t touch me without permission.” My words came out in an angry growl. Okay, maybe shoving a vampire around wasn’t the smartest move, but I really didn’t like to be grabbed.
Bill gave a faint, almost amused smile, and nodded in deference to me. Soon we were back on the road, this time the silence being filled by Kenny G music. Good thing I was used to ignoring and mostly blocking out music after years of working in bars. At least his silent mind was relaxing.
Once we arrived in Shreveport, Bill parked in front of a strip mall that held the bar, Fangtasia, along with a Toys R Us that was closed at this hour. Was I the only one who thought a vampire bar and a toy store didn’t belong in the same strip mall? At least they didn’t have to worry about competing for clientele. God I hope not anyway.
Walking to the front of the bar, my heart began to sink as I started recognizing the interior of the bar in the patrons’ heads. Just my luck, this seemed to be the same bar that I had woken up in weeks ago. I should have paid more attention to its exterior, the name of it and its location as I was fleeing.
“Is something the matter?” Bill asked, turning back to me.
I hadn’t even realized I’d stopped moving. What was I suppose to do? I couldn’t just turn around and tell Bill I wanted to leave. He’d wonder why and ask too many questions. And I really didn’t want to walk into that bar and risk running into those vampires again. I didn’t have a clue what they looked like, and I had no idea if they were pissed off with me disappearing like I had. Maybe they weren’t even here tonight. I could get lucky. Couldn’t I?
No one could ever say Sookie Stackhouse was a coward. I shook my head and smiled at Bill as I began walking beside him again. “No problem at all.”
As we neared the entrance of the bar, Bill stepped slightly closer to me and gently grasped my elbow as he escorted me.
“This isn’t a date, remember?” I whispered.
His voice came back even softer. “You will be safer if they think you’re with me.”
I tried to keep my face carefully blank. I’d never been to a vampire bar before, so maybe Bill was right. Maybe I’d be open season if other vampires thought I was there alone.
The female bouncer was dressed in a horribly clichéd “vampire” dress with lots of black fabric and trailing sleeves. But, I guess that was the image people expected.
When she asked to see my ID, I briefly considered pulling my other license out, but figured it would be best to stick with my real ID. I had no qualms about someone thinking it was a fake ID, since technically speaking the ID I’d had made was as real as any other, the name and Social Security number that went with it just happened to be made up. But it would probably raise too many questions with Bill about why I had another ID in a different name. Better to go with my real one.
It was strange to be carded at 26, but I decided to just be flattered that someone had asked for it. It had been a couple of years since I’d been carded anywhere.
We strolled into the bar, and I was amazed by the masses of people wearing not only leather and PVC, but what looked like costumes inspired by many TV and movie vampires. Some of them were pretty authentic too, complete with fake fangs. The fangs on the real vampires were far more threatening looking.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say but, “Wow.”
Bill chuckled at my reaction, and led me to the bar. He ordered one of the warmed bottled bloods that were on display while I stuck with my standard gin and tonic. They were pretty hard to mess up, no matter where you ordered it.
The bartender, a Native American with long black hair and a crooked nose, smiled while showing fang as he placed our drinks on the table.
“How’s it going Bill? Long time, no see. This your meal for the night?” the bartender asked Bill.
Before I could respond, he quickly answered, “This is my friend, Sookie. She has some questions to ask.”
“Anything, beautiful woman,” he leered.
I tried to clamp down on my nerves at seeing his fangs and pulled out the pictures from my purse. “Have you seen this woman, or this one, in the bar?”
His eyes barely glanced to the newspaper clippings as he replied, “Yes.”
“Do you remember who they hung around with?”
His face darkened and the smile was gone as he answered, “That’s something I wouldn’t know. That’s something we don’t notice, here. You won’t, either.”
“Thank you,” I replied politely, deciding it was best to heed his warning. It was obviously not acceptable to ask questions about who did what in this bar. I’d have to revert to less obvious forms of investigating. “I appreciate your time,” I told him.
He seemed to consider me. Poking at the picture of Dawn, he said, “That one, she wanted to die.”
“Why would you say that?” I wondered.
“Everyone who comes here does, to one extent or another,” he proclaimed. “That is what we are. Death.”
I shuddered as Bill pulled me away from the bar towards a booth. I couldn’t argue with part of his dark proclamation. I’d certainly almost found death at the sharp end of one of their fangs.
Bill took a sip of his bottled blood, and I tried not to grimace at the red, coloring his mouth and teeth.
To divert my attention to something else, I asked, “Do you suppose I want to die, since I came here with you?”
He seemed to study me before he replied. “I think you want to find out why other people are dying.”
I sipped my own drink and mulled over his answer. I did want to find out why people were being killed, but if I was honest with myself, I’d seen enough death that it wasn’t what really bothered me. I’d lost nearly all of my family, and I just couldn’t stand to lose the last part of my family that I had left. Jason may have his faults, but I would do my darndest to keep him out of trouble.
We sat in silence for a while as I sifted through the minds of the humans present. It would be easier if I could go around asking them all specific questions to focus their minds where I wanted them, but that would raise too many suspicions from the vampires. Including the one I came with. For now, I’d have to just sit here and listen, hoping I’d get lucky.
Bill had just shooed another fangbanger away after she had sidled up to him, trying to entice him.
“I don’t care if you want to leave with one of those women, or men,” I added with a smile. “I can get a cab home if you want to leave with one of them.” We certainly weren’t on a date, and I definitely wasn’t going to ever be offering him what those women or one man had offered.
His dark brows drew together as he asked, “Do you want me to leave you? Is there someone else here who catches your fancy? Long Shadow, there at the bar, would love to spend time with you, I can tell.”
I almost laughed at the jealous tone in his voice. Long Shadow could join me sunbathing any day of the week, but that was the only kind of time I’d care to really spend with him. A few things Bill said to me didn’t add up, but he didn’t give me the creeps like Long Shadow did.
Bill pushed on when I ignored his comments and didn’t answer his ridiculous questions. “What are your plans now? Is there someone else you wish to try questioning?”
I shook my head. “Maybe we can just sit here for a little bit and see if we hear something.”
“You could sit here for days and never chance upon someone actually talking about the murders.”
“You never know what you might hear in a bar,” I responded noncommittally, noting how Bill looked dubious.
“Perhaps the owners of this establishment might be more inclined to answer your questions,” Bill suggested, nodding his head towards two blond haired vampires that walked in from the back of the bar and made their way towards a table. The shorter female slid into a chair at the table without even looking around the bar or acknowledging the people nearby who had turned to gawk at their entrance. The male however, stopped at the table and scanned the bar. When his eyes settled on me, they narrowed in recognition, and I knew instantly that these were the two vampires the voices had belonged to that night.
I held my breath as I expected him to either come towards us or make some sort of motion demanding our presence. Instead, he gave me a faint smile, and took his seat next to the female. My breath came out in a sharp exhale as the female vampire forcefully kicked the shoulder of a man who had been crawling towards her. The sour look on her face said she would have liked to do more than that. And I could almost swear the male vampire had smiled at my reaction.
Bill looked curiously at me and asked, “Do you wish to speak with Eric?”
I realized that the blond vampire had glanced a couple of times at me, but seemed content to stay where he was. Maybe he figured since I had come back to his bar that I would simply come to him.
Though it was the furthest thing from what I wanted to do, I answered, “Let’s get this over with,” and started making my way towards their table.
The male vampire, Eric, was blond and quite tall. His own “vampire” costume consisted of boots, jeans and a vest. Nothing else. Though I hated to admit it, he was beyond handsome, but he also scared me to death.
We made our way to the table, but Bill grasped my arm, pulling me to a stop a short distance away from their table. Maybe it was a respectful distance. Like the kind of distance you kept between you and wild animals.
The female, who was shorter than I was and looked more like a milkmaid than a vampire, hadn’t looked up as we approached, but Eric looked up as we stopped, he had an expression of smug satisfaction.
“Bill,” he acknowledged, his voice slightly accented, and then his attention focused fully on me. “And look what we have here, Pam, it’s the lovely Miss Sandra Stevens. I’m sure you’re glad to see she is well after disappearing so abruptly, aren’t you Pam?”
The female, Pam, looked up instantly and smiled showing off her own set of fangs and ruining the milkmaid image. “Oh, yes. So happy,” she replied in a low voice.
Bill’s head had snapped to look at my face in confusion, but I kept my gaze focused on Eric, determined to forge ahead, and answer him without being a coward.
Forcing nonchalance, I shrugged and said, “My real name’s Sookie Stackhouse. I guess we weren’t really introduced that night.”
Eric’s eyes traveled up and down my body, I guess I should be pleased he at least started with my face. “No, I did not have that pleasure,” he leered. “How impolite of you to cut and run as you did.” I didn’t think he really cared, beyond the fact that he hadn’t been able to glamor the memory from my mind that night.
“I guess some would think it impolite when the food runs away, but since I had been unwilling food, I wasn’t real concerned about manners.”
Eric threw back his head and laughed, startling me so that I almost took a step backwards. Bill’s face was drawn into an angry expression, but I didn’t have time to worry about him.
“The damsel in distress didn’t even stay long enough to thank her knight in shining armor,” Eric tsked with a grin.
A small smile tugged at my cheek with his humor. Who’d have guessed? A vampire having a sense of humor. “I guess the damsel in distress was just scared of what the knight might do with his own shining fangs.”
He grinned, revealing said fangs, but didn’t answer. Since I hadn’t been grabbed and shoved back into the office again to be glamored, I figured maybe I did owe this vampire a thanks. Winston probably would have killed me if he hadn’t come along.
“Thank you, though. For saving my neck that night,” I told him, with a nod of my head. I’d noticed vampires didn’t seem to shake hands or touch each other, but nodded instead, so I followed suit.
“It was far too lovely of a neck to allow fall prey to the likes of Winston,” he replied, his face turning serious as his eyes seemed to caress said body part.
I resisted the urge to cover my neck with my hand. I didn’t want to let this vampire know he was making me uncomfortable, but somehow, the gleam in his eyes told me he knew anyway.
“My friend Sookie would like to ask you a few questions,” Bill said, obviously trying to take charge of the conversation again.
Eric looked amused, but Pam huffed and said with contempt, “Like how long are our fangs, and what kind of coffin do we sleep in?”
“No, ma’am,” I replied, surprised at the ridiculous questions they were obviously used to hearing. Pam’s look turned to one of amazement.
I pulled the pictures from my purse again, and held them out. “I’d like to know if you’ve seen either of these women in this bar.”
“I’ve been with this one,” Eric immediately replied, taping Dawn’s picture. “She liked pain.”
The startled look on Pam’s face was almost comical. She obviously hadn’t expected Eric to answer me. Actually, I hadn’t either. I figured I would ask them as part of my cover with Bill, and then continue to poke around the minds in the bar in case I could find something.
Pam followed Eric’s lead and answered, “I have seen both of them. I have never been with them,” she said, giving me a slightly speculative look, as though to let me know just what her persuasion was. “That one,” she flicked a nail at Maudette’s picture, “was a pathetic creature.”
Well, I’d heard people think worse things about both of them, but it still seemed wrong to speak ill of the dead. Even if I didn’t know one of them at all. “Thank you very much for your time.”
I started turning to leave, but Eric’s voice stopped me.
“Bill, are you quite attached to your friend?”
“She is mine,” Bill replied in a quiet but strong voice.
His hand had been at my elbow, but I yanked it away with a glare. Then I turned my glare on Pam and Eric as well and informed all three of them, “I don’t belong to anyone. I am my own.”
Bill’s face was blank, but Pam raised one delicate eyebrow, almost in indulgence. Eric just smiled with amusement.
I had been carefully splitting my attention between the conversation I had been engaged in, and listening to the minds in the bar. Now I stopped and fully listened to one that caught my attention.
“Bill, I want to leave,” I suddenly said with urgency.
The vampires looked startled. “I want to leave, right now,” I insisted, grabbing Bill’s arm.
“But I had not finished visiting with you, Miss Stackhouse,” Eric replied, leaning back into his chair. I could see he was serious and didn’t think I should be leaving until he was ready for me to.
I looked up and watched the cop stalk nervously out of the bathroom. He stood near the entrance of the bar, his eyes darting around.
Bill’s hand was gripping my arm again, holding me in place, so I said the only thing I could think of. “We need to leave, there’s going to be a raid.”
Eric was on his feet, faster than I could track, towering over me with his height. It was intimidating to say the least, but he didn’t lay a hand on me.
“How do you know this?” he demanded.
I swallowed, my throat feeling dry. I didn’t like to outright lie because lies were hard to keep track of, but no way was I letting three vampires know the truth.
Pointing at the cop whose thoughts I’d overheard as he called in about the vampire in the bathroom feeding on a human, I said, “I saw that guy at the courthouse two weeks ago when I was filing some paperwork on my house. He was wearing a uniform. Only one reason for a cop to be undercover in a bar. And he looks nervous like something is about to happen. I’ve got two different IDs and I really don’t want to be caught with them.”
Okay, the last part was one hundred percent true. I never carried them both at once, and this was why. I didn’t want to be caught carrying two IDs with different names and the same picture. It would be pretty obvious then that one of them was illegal. I really needed to put one of them away and decide which I was living as, Sandy or Sookie. I couldn’t continue to be both.
“Follow me,” Eric stated, making his way to the back of the bar. Pam, Bill and I followed.
Pam and Eric paused by a red Corvette that somehow seemed to instantly fit Eric’s style, not that I knew him.
“How did you know?” Eric asked me again.
I’d had years to perfect my poker face, both by actually playing poker and by ignoring the thoughts I heard in others’ minds. “I told you,” I answered with sincerity. I just didn’t tell you the truth.
Eric’s eyes searched my face for anything that might give me away, but then the sounds of sirens sounded in the distance. Without another word, he slid into his car and Bill and I hastily made our way to his, just driving out of one entrance as police cars pulled into another.
After driving several blocks, Bill turned into another parking lot. This one was nearly empty.
I turned towards Bill, and saw him move towards me fast, his eyes darkened with lust. Quickly pushing him away, I demanded, “You take me home. Right now, Bill Compton.”
He took several deep breaths—something I hadn’t seen him do before—and seemed to get a hold of himself.
“I apologize,” he said quietly as we pulled back onto the road.
I knew it was coming, so I wasn’t surprised when he asked, “How did you already know Eric?”
I kept my eyes forward on the road ahead of us. “Some vampire was trying to make fast food out of me one night, and Eric came along. I guess he had someone transfuse me with more blood, and I woke up in his office. I was a little freaked out by everything that happened, so when I came to alone in that office, I took off.” Okay, that was an edited version, but true nonetheless.
His eyes darted from the road to look at me. “Sandra?”
“Yeah. It’s the name on my other ID,” I huffed.
“Why would you have need of a false ID? What are you?” he questioned, his eyes darting away from the road to look at me far longer than I was comfortable with.
“Why’d you really move back here from New Orleans?” I shot back.
His face darkened before it once again was hidden by a carefully blank mask. I was beginning to notice he did that a lot. But he didn’t ask me any more questions, and that itself, told me a lot. He was hiding just as much as I was.
Ever the Southern gentleman though, Bill walked me to the front door when we got home.
I turned around at the top of the porch steps. “Good-night, Bill,” I said as pleasantly as I could. It was a bit strained though.
“I apologize again for attempting to kiss you in the car. Vampire instincts are difficult to control, and I’m afraid my desires needed to be directed somewhere after being forced to flee from a fight,” he apologized again, trying to clarify his behavior.
I held up my hand. “I don’t care what reasons you try to give me, Bill. I already told you I don’t like for people to touch me without permission.” My arms crossed over my chest. “Good-night, Bill.”
He seemed to get the hint, and nodded before returning to his car and driving down the driveway.
Plunking down on the top step to the porch, I sat and looked up at the stars.
I had been sitting there for nearly a half-hour, thinking and enjoying the cool night air. “I guess tonight was pretty well a bust,” I said aloud to myself. Maybe I could find out something just from listening to the customers at Merlotte’s.
There was an answering meow to my words, and I turned around to see a black cat stalking along the porch towards me. I was surprised when the cat made its way straight towards me and started rubbing against my side as loud purrs rumbled through me. It seemed friendly enough, obviously used to humans, but a little too skinny to be getting regular meals from someone.
There weren’t any other houses near my own besides the Compton place across the cemetery and I just couldn’t see Bill having a cat. I figured it was an unwanted pet that someone abandoned out in the country. I knew it happened a lot.
Stroking the cat’s static charged fur, I decided it was kind of nice having someone else around the place. Even if they couldn’t talk.
“Whaddya think, kitty? Would you like a home here?” I muttered to the cat. It rubbed the top of its head into my palm, so I took that as an affirmative.
Carefully pulling the cat into my lap, I turned it over and inspected the cat. “Well, you’re a girl, what should we call you?” More purring. “I remember a girl in Alma, Arkansas that I waitressed with once. She was black and had the most beautiful long curly black hair I’ve ever seen. And she was real friendly too, just like you,” I told the cat.
She curled into my lap, kneading at my leg as she ignored my words. “I think I’ll name you Tina, after her. She was real friendly to me, even though I usually kept to myself.” She’d probably been the closest I’d allowed myself to come at making a friend. And her thoughts were so warm and friendly that I didn’t really mind hearing them.
“Tina it is then,” I decided.
“Tina is a strange name for a feline, but fitting enough in this age I suppose,” a deep voice said.
I sprang to my feet, instinctively clutching the cat to my chest.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, surprised that my voice didn’t squeak or quaver.
“We need to talk, Miss Stackhouse,” Eric said, walking to the bottom of the porch steps. His lips were turned up in that amused smile again.
“I don’t know what we need to talk about.”
The grin widened. “Oh, I think you do.”
A/N: Well, what do you think so far? I’m trying to find a balance between original canon and believable new twists.
Thanks again for all of the responses, I love getting all those emails telling me what you guys think.
Happy New Year to all!