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Dead as a Doornail

Dead as a Doornail: Page 44

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Sam was bundled up, and I pulled on my pretty red coat. I had a matching set of gloves and a hat, and I would need them now. Though spring was coming closer every day, winter hadn't finished with us yet.

No one was at the bar but us. The entire parking lot was empty, except for Jane's car. The glare of the security lights made the shadows deeper. I heard a dog bark way off in the distance. Sam was moving carefully on his crutches, trying to negotiate the uneven parking lot.

Sam said, "I'm going to change." He didn't mean his clothes.

"What'll happen to your leg if you do?"

"Let's find out."

Sam was full-blood shifter on both sides. He could change when it wasn't the full moon, though the experiences were very different, he'd said. Sam could change into more than one animal, though dogs were his preference, and a collie was his choice among dogs.

Sam retired behind the hedge in front of his trailer to doff his clothes. Even in the night, I saw the air disturbance that signaled magic was working all around him. He fell to his knees and gasped, and then I couldn't see him anymore through the dense bushes. After a minute, a bloodhound trotted out, a red one, his ears swinging from side to side. I wasn't used to seeing Sam this way, and it took me a second to be sure it was him. When the dog looked up at me, I knew my boss was inside.

"Come on, Dean," I said. I'd named Sam that in his animal guise before I'd realized the man and the dog were the same being. The bloodhound trotted ahead of me across the parking lot and into the woods where the shooter had waited for Sam to come out of the club. I watched the way the dog was moving. It was favoring its right rear leg, but not drastically.

In the cold night woods, the sky was partially blocked. I had a flashlight, and I turned it on, but somehow that just made the trees creepier. The bloodhound - Sam - had already reached the place the police had decided marked the shooter's vantage point. The dog, jowls jouncing, bent its head to the ground and moved around, sorting through all the scent information he was receiving. I stayed out of the way, feeling useless. Then Dean looked up at me and said, "Rowf." He began making his way back to the parking lot. I guessed he'd gathered all he could.

As we'd arranged, I loaded Dean in the Malibu to take him to another shooting site, the place behind some old buildings opposite the Sonic where the shooter had hidden on the night poor Heather Kinman had been killed. I turned into the service alley behind the old stores and parked behind Patsy's Cleaners, which had moved to a new and more convenient location fifteen years ago. Between the cleaners and the dilapidated and long-empty Louisiana Feed and Seed, a narrow gap afforded a great view of the Sonic. The drive-in restaurant was closed for the night but still bright with light. Since the Sonic was on the town's main drag, there were lights up and down the street, and I could actually see pretty well in the areas where the structures allowed light to go; unfortunately, that made the shadows impenetrable.

Again, the bloodhound worked the area, paying particular interest to the weedy strip of ground between the two old stores, a strip so narrow it was no more than a gap wide enough for one person. He seemed pretty excited at some particular scent he found. I was excited, too, hoping that he'd found something we could translate into evidence for the police.

Suddenly Dean let out a "Whoof!" and raised his head to look past me. He was certainly focusing on something, or someone. Almost unwillingly, I turned to see. Andy Bellefleur stood at the point where the service alley crossed the gap between the buildings. Only his face and upper torso were in the light.

"Jesus Christ, Shepherd of Judea! Andy, you scared the hell out of me!" If I hadn't been watching the dog so intently, I would've sensed him coming. The stakeout, dammit. I should have remembered.

"What are you doing here, Sookie? Where'd you get the dog?"

I couldn't think of a single answer that would sound plausible. "It seemed worth a try to see if a trained dog could pick up a single scent from the places where the shooter stood," I said. Dean leaned against my legs, panting and slobbering.

"So when did you get on the parish payroll?" Andy asked conversationally. "I didn't realize you'd been hired as an investigator."

Okay, this wasn't going well.

"Andy, if you'll move out of the way, me and the dog'll just get back into my car, and we'll drive away, and you won't have to be mad at me anymore." He was plenty mad, and he was determined to have it out with me, whatever that entailed. Andy wanted to get the world realigned, with facts he knew forming the tracks it should run on. I didn't fit in that world. I wouldn't run on those tracks. I could read his mind, and I didn't like what I was hearing.

I realized, too late, that Andy'd had one drink too many during the conference at the bar. He'd had enough to remove his usual constraints.

"You shouldn't be in our town, Sookie," he said.

"I have as much right to be here as you, Andy Bellefleur."

"You're a genetic fluke or something. Your grandmother was a real nice woman, and people tell me your dad and mom were good people. What happened to you and Jason?"

"I don't think there's much wrong with me and Jason, Andy," I said calmly, but his words stung like fire ants. "I think we're regular people, no better and no worse than you and Portia."

Andy actually snorted.

Suddenly the bloodhound's side, pressed against my legs, began to vibrate. Dean was growling almost inaudibly. But he wasn't looking at Andy. The hound's heavy head was turned in another direction, toward the dark shadows of the other end of the alley. Another live mind: a human. Not a regular human, though.

"Andy," I said. My whisper pierced his self-absorption. "You armed?"

I didn't know whether I felt that much better when he drew his pistol.

"Drop it, Bellefleur," said a no-nonsense voice, one that sounded familiar.

"Bullshit," Andy sneered. "Why should I?"

"Because I got a bigger gun," said the voice, cool and sarcastic. Sweetie Des Arts stepped from the shadows, carrying a rifle. It was pointed at Andy, and I had no doubt she was ready to fire. I felt like my insides had turned to Jell-O.

"Why don't you just leave, Andy Bellefleur?" Sweetie asked. She was wearing a mechanic's coverall and a jacket, and her hands were gloved. She didn't look anything like a short-order cook. "I've got no quarrel with you. You're just a person."

Andy was shaking his head, trying to clear it. I noticed he hadn't dropped his gun yet. "You're the cook at the bar, right? Why are you doing this?"

"You should know, Bellefleur. I heard your little conversation with the shifter here. Maybe this dog is a human, someone you know." She didn't wait for Andy to answer. "And Heather Kinman was just as bad. She turned into a fox. And the guy that works at Norcross, Calvin Norris? He's a damn panther."

"And you shot them all? You shot me, too?" I wanted to be sure Andy was registering this. "There's just one thing wrong with your little vendetta, Sweetie. I'm not a shifter."

"You smell like one," Sweetie said, clearly sure she was right.

"Some of my friends are shifters, and that day I'd hugged a few of 'em. But me myself - not a shifter of any kind."

"Guilty by association," Sweetie said. "I'll bet you got a dab of shifter from somewhere."

"What about you?" I asked. I didn't want to get shot again. The evidence suggested that Sweetie was not a sharpshooter: Sam, Calvin, and I had lived. I knew aiming at night had to be difficult, but still, you would've thought she could have done better. "Why are you on this vendetta?"

"I'm just a fraction of a shifter," she said, snarling just as much as Dean. "I got bit when I had a car wreck. This half-man half-wolf... thing... ran out of the woods near where I lay bleeding, and the damn thing bit me... and then another car came around the curve and it ran away. But the first full moon after that, my hands changed! My parents threw up."

"What about your boyfriend? You had one?" I kept speaking, trying to distract her. Andy was moving as far away from me as he could get, so she couldn't shoot both of us quickly. She planned on shooting me first, I knew. I wanted the bloodhound to move away from me, but he stayed loyally pressed against my legs. She wasn't sure the dog was a shifter. And, oddly, she hadn't mentioned shooting Sam.

"I was a stripper then, living with a great guy," she said, rage bubbling through her voice. "He saw my hands and the extra hair and he loathed me. He left when the moon was full. He'd take business trips. He'd go golfing with his buddies. He'd be stuck at a late meeting."

"So how long have you been shooting shifters?"

"Three years," she said proudly. "I've killed twenty-two and wounded forty-one."

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