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Dead as a Doornail: Page 43
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"I hear you ducked just in time," she said. "How come? Did you hear something?"
"Not exactly," I said. Sam limped out of his office then, using his cane. He was scowling. I sure didn't want to explain my little quirk to Sweetie on Sam's time. I said, "I just had a feeling," and shrugged, which was unexpetedly painful.
Sweetie shook her head at my close call and turned to go through the bar and back to the kitchen.
Sam jerked his head toward his office, and with a sinking heart I followed him in. He shut the door behind us. "What were you doing when you got shot?" he asked. His eyes were bright with anger.
I wasn't going to get blamed for what had happened to me. I stood right up to Sam, got in his face. "I was just checking out library books," I said through my teeth.
"So why would he think you're a shifter?"
"I have no idea."
"Who had you been around?"
"I'd been to see Calvin, and I'd..." My voice trailed off as I caught at the tail end of a thought.
"So, who can tell you smell like a shifter?" I asked slowly. "No one but another shifter, right? Or someone with shifter blood. Or a vampire. Some supernatural thing."
"But we haven't had any strange shifters around here lately."
"Have you gone to where the shooter must have been, to smell?"
"No, the only time I was on the spot at a shooting, I was too busy screaming on the ground with blood running out of my leg."
"But maybe now you could pick up something."
Sam looked down at his leg doubtfully. "It's rained, but I guess it's worth a try," he conceded. "I should have thought of it myself. Okay, tonight, after work."
"It's a date," I said flippantly as Sam sank down in his squeaky chair. I put my purse in the drawer Sam kept empty and went out to check my tables.
Charles was hard at work, and he gave me a nod and a smile before he concentrated on the level of beer in the pitcher he was holding to the tap.
One of our consistent drunks, Jane Bodehouse, was seated at the bar with Charles fixed in her sights. It didn't seem to make the vampire uncomfortable. I saw that the rhythm of the bar was back to normal; the new bartender had been absorbed into the background.
After I'd worked about an hour, Jason came in. He had Crystal cuddled up in the curve of his arm. He was as happy as I'd ever seen him. He was excited by his new life and very pleased with Crystal's company. I wondered how long that would last. But Crystal herself seemed of much the same mind.
She told me that Calvin would be getting out of the hospital the next day and going home to Hotshot. I made sure to mention the flowers he'd sent and told her I'd be fixing Calvin some dish to mark his homecoming.
Crystal was pretty sure she was pregnant. Even through the tangle of shifter brain, I could read that thought as clear as a bell. It wasn't the first time I'd learned that some girl "dating" Jason was sure he was going to be a dad, and I hoped that this time was as false as the last time. It wasn't that I had anything against Crystal... Well, that was a lie I was telling myself. I did have something against Crystal. Crystal was part of Hotshot, and she'd never leave it. I didn't want any niece or nephew of mine to be brought up in that strange little community, within the pulsing magic influence of the crossroads that formed its center.
Crystal was keeping her late period a secret from Jason right now, determined to stay quiet until she was sure what it meant. I approved. She nursed one beer while Jason downed two, and then they were off to the movies in Clarice. Jason gave me a hug on the way out while I was distributing drinks to a cluster of law enforcement people. Alcee Beck, Bud Dearborn, Andy Bellefleur, Kevin Pryor, and Kenya Jones, plus Arlene's new crush, arson investigator Dennis Pettibone, were all huddled around two tables pushed together in a corner. There were two strangers with them, but I picked up easily enough that the two men were cops, too, part of some task force.
Arlene might have liked to wait on them, but they were clearly in my territory, and they clearly were talking about something heap big. When I was taking drink orders, they all hushed up, and when I was walking away, they'd start their conversation back up. Of course, what they said with their mouths didn't make any difference to me, since I knew what each and every one of them was thinking.
And they all knew this good and well; and they all forgot it. Alcee Beck, in particular, was scared to death of me, but even he was quite oblivious to my ability, though I'd demonstrated it for him before. The same could be said of Andy Bellefleur.
"What's the law enforcement convention in the corner cooking up?" asked Charles. Jane had tottered off to the ladies', and he was temporarily by himself at the bar.
"Let me see," I said, closing my eyes so I could concentrate better. "Well, they're thinking of moving the stakeout for the shooter to another parking lot tonight, and they're convinced that the arson is connected to the shootings and that Jeff Marriot's death is tied in with everything, somehow. They're even wondering if the disappearance of Debbie Pelt is included in this clutch of crimes, since she was last seen getting gas on the interstate at the filling station closest to Bon Temps. And my brother, Jason, disappeared for a while a couple of weeks ago; maybe that's part of the picture, too." I shook my head and opened my eyes to find that Charles was disconcertingly close. His one good eye, his right, stared hard into my left.
"You have very unusual gifts, young woman," he said after a moment. "My last employer collected the unusual."
"Who'd you work for before you came into Eric's territory?" I asked. He turned away to get the Jack Daniel's.
"The King of Mississippi," he said.
I felt as if someone had pulled the rug out from under my feet. "Why'd you leave Mississippi and come here?" I asked, ignoring the hoots from the table five feet away.
The King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington, knew me as Alcide's girlfriend, but he didn't know me as a telepath occasionally employed by vampires. It was quite possible Edgington might have a grudge against me. Bill had been held in the former stables behind Edgington's mansion and tortured by Lorena, the creature who'd turned Bill into a vampire over a hundred and forty years before. Bill had escaped. Lorena had died. Russell Edgington didn't necessarily know I was the agent of these events. But then again, he might.
"I got tired of Russell's ways," Sir Charles said. "I'm not of his sexual persuasion, and being surrounded by perversity became tiresome."
Edgington enjoyed the company of men, it was true. He had a house full of them, as well as a steady human companion, Talbot.
It was possible Charles had been there while I was visiting, though I hadn't noticed him. I'd been severely injured the night I was brought to the mansion. I hadn't seen all its inhabitants, and I didn't necessarily remember the ones I'd seen.
I became aware that the pirate and I were maintaining our eye contact. If they've survived for any length of time, vampires read human emotions very well, and I wondered what Charles Twining was gleaning from my face and demeanor. This was one of the few times I wished I could read a vampire's mind. I wondered, very much, if Eric was aware of Charles's background. Surely Eric wouldn't have taken him on without a background check? Eric was a cautious vampire. He'd seen history I couldn't imagine, and he'd lived through it because he was careful.
Finally I turned to answer the summons of the impatient roofers who'd been trying to get me to refill their beer pitchers for several minutes.
I avoided speaking to our new bartender for the rest of the evening. I wondered why he'd told me as much as he had. Either Charles wanted me to know he was watching me, or he really had no idea I'd been in Mississippi recently.
I had a lot to think about.
The working part of the night finally came to an end. We had to call Jane's son to come get his soused relative, but that was nothing new. The pirate bartender had been working at a good clip, never making mistakes, being sure to give every patron a good word as he filled the orders. His tip jar looked healthy.
Bill arrived to pick up his boarder as we were closing up for the night. I wanted to have a quiet word with him, but Charles was by Bill's side in a flash, so I didn't have an opportunity. Bill gave me an odd look, but they were gone without my making an opportunity to talk to him. I wasn't sure what I would say, anyway. I was reassured when I realized that of course Bill had seen the worst employees of Russell Edgington, because those employees had tortured him. If Charles Twining was unknown to Bill, he might be okay.
Sam was ready to go on our sniffing mission. It was cold and brilliant outside, the stars glittering in the night sky.
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