“The queen was trying to give you the gift of vengeance,” Mr. Cataliades said. “Won’t you take it? She may not be happy with you if you send him back.”
“That’s really her problem,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
“I think it might be very much your problem,” Bill said quietly.
“Well, that just bites,” I said. “You…” I paused, and told myself not to be a fool. “You were very kind to bring Waldo down here, Mr. Cataliades, and you were very clever in steering me around to the truth.” I took a deep breath and considered. “I appreciate your bringing down the legal papers, which I’ll look over at a calmer moment.” I thought I’d covered everything. “Now, if you’d be so good as to pop the trunk open, I’ll ask Bill and Bubba to put him in there.” I jerked my head toward the silver-bound vampire, standing in silence not a yard away.
At that moment, when we were all thinking of something else, Waldo threw himself at me, jaws open wide like a snake’s, fangs fully extended. I threw myself backward, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. Those fangs would rip open my throat and I would bleed out here in my own yard. But Bubba and Bill were not bound with silver, and with a speed that was terrifying in itself, they gripped the old vampire and knocked him to the ground. Quicker than any human could wink, Bill’s arm rose and fell, and Waldo’s red eyes looked down at the stake in his chest with profound satisfaction. In the next second, those eyes caved in and his long thin body began the instant process of disintegration. You never have to bury a really dead vampire.
For a few long moments, we stayed frozen in the tableau; Mr. Cataliades was standing, I was on the ground on my butt, and Bubba and Bill were on their knees beside the thing that had been Waldo.
Then the limo door opened, and before Mr. Cataliades could scramble to help her out, the queen of Louisiana stepped out of the vehicle.
She was beautiful, of course, but not in a fairy-tale princess sort of way. I don’t know what I expected, but she wasn’t it. While Bill and Bubba scrambled to their feet and then bowed deeply, I gave her a good once-over. She was wearing a very expensive midnight-blue suit and high heels. Her hair was a rich reddish brown. Of course she was pale as milk, but her eyes were large, tilted, and almost the same brown as her hair. Her fingernails were polished red, and somehow that seemed very weird. She wore no jewelry.
Now I knew why Mr. Cataliades had kept the privacy glass up during the trip north. And I was sure that the queen had ways of masking her presence from Waldo’s senses, as well as his sight.
“Hello,” I said uncertainly. “I’m…”
“I know who you are,” she said. She had a faint accent; I thought it might be French. “Bill. Bubba.”
Oooh-kay. So much for polite chitchat. I huffed out a breath and shut my mouth. No point in talking until she explained her presence. Bill and Bubba stood upright. Bubba was smiling. Bill wasn’t.
The queen examined me head to toe, in a way I thought was downright rude. Since she was a queen, she was an old vampire, and the oldest ones, the ones who sought power in the vampire infrastructure, were among the scariest. It had been so long since she’d been human that there might not be much remembrance of humanity left in her.
“I don’t see what all the fuss is about,” she said, shrugging.
My lips twitched. I just couldn’t help it. My grin spread across my face, and I tried to hide it with my hand. The queen eyed me quizzically.
“She smiles when she’s nervous,” Bill said.
I did, but that’s not why I was smiling now.
“You were going to send Waldo back to me, for me to torture and kill,” the queen said to me. Her face was quite blank. I couldn’t tell if she approved or disapproved, thought I was clever or thought I was a fool.
“Yes,” I said. The shortest answer was definitely the best.
“He forced your hand.”
“He was too frightened of me to risk returning to New Orleans with my friend Mr. Cataliades.”
“Yes.” I was getting good at one-word answers.
“I wonder if you engineered this whole thing.”
“Yes” would not be the right answer, here. I maintained silence.
“I’ll find out,” she said, with absolute certainty. “We’ll meet again, Sookie Stackhouse. I was fond of your cousin, but even she was foolish enough to go to a cemetery alone with her bitterest enemy. She counted too much on the power of my name alone to protect her.”
“Did Waldo ever tell you if Marie Laveau actually rose?” I asked, too overwhelmed with curiosity to let the question go unanswered.
She was getting back in the car as I spoke, and she paused with one foot inside the limo and one foot in the yard. Anyone else would have looked awkward, but not the queen of Louisiana.
“Interesting,” she said. “No, actually, he didn’t. When you come to New Orleans, you and Bill can repeat the experiment.”
I started to point out that unlike Hadley, I wasn’t dead, but I had the sense to shut my mouth. She might have ordered me to become a vampire, and I was afraid, very afraid that then Bill and Bubba would have held me down and made me so. That was too awful to think about, so I smiled at her.
After the queen was all settled in the limo, Mr. Cataliades bowed to me. “It’s been a pleasure, Miss Stackhouse. If you have any questions about your cousin’s estate, call me at the number on my business card. It’s clipped to the papers.”
“Thanks,” I said, not trusting myself to say more. Besides, one-word answers never hurt. Waldo was almost disintegrated. Bits of him would be in my yard for a while. Yuck. “Where’s Waldo? All over my yard,” I could say to anyone who asked.
The night had clearly been too much for me. The limo purred out of my yard. Bill put his hand to my cheek, but I didn’t lean into it. I was grateful to him for coming, and I told him so.
“You shouldn’t be in danger,” he said. Bill had a habit of using a word that changed the meaning of his statements, made them something ambiguous and unsettling. His dark eyes were fathomless pools. I didn’t think I would ever understand him.
“Did I do good, Miss Sookie?” Bubba asked.
“You did great, Bubba,” I said. “You did the right thing without me even having to tell you.”
“You knew all along she was in the limo,” Bubba said. “Didn’t you, Miss Sookie?”
Bill looked at me, startled. I didn’t meet his eyes. “Yes, Bubba,” I said gently. “I knew. Before Waldo got out, I listened with my other sense, and I found two blank spots in the limo.” That could only mean two vampires. So I’d known Cataliades had had a companion in the back of the limousine.
“But you played it all out like she wasn’t there.” Bill couldn’t seem to grasp this. Maybe he didn’t think I’d learned anything since I’d met him. “Did you know ahead of time that Waldo would make a try for you?”
“I suspected he might. He didn’t want to go back to her mercies.”
“So.” Bill caught my arms and looked down at me. “Were you trying to make sure he died all along, or were you trying to send him back to the queen?”
“Yes,” I said.
One-word answers never hurt.
BITING IN PLAIN SIGHT
Thanks to my editor, Cindy Hwang, for asking me. Thanks also to Laurell K. Hamilton, who so kindly shared a book signing (not to mention, two anthologies and counting!) with me. Thanks are also due to Patrice Michelle for a great title and, as always, thanks to my family for their support, blah-blah-blah, why are you reading this when you could be reading the story? Not that I mind. In fact, I appreciate it…I didn’t think anyone read these things. So thanks. But seriously. You should check out the story.
There is a town called Embarrass, Minnesota, but it’s not as close to Babbitt Lake as I made it seem. However, vampires love the water and have been known to buy houseboats and even cruise ships.
THE town knew Sophie Tourneau was a creature of the night, but they were careful not to ask too many questions. Even the town gossips, who would rather speculate than eat, were careful to restrain themselves.