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Dead as a Doornail

Dead as a Doornail: Page 5

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It was hard to imagine either of his personas leading to an assassination attempt. Sam decided to send some flowers from the bar's staff.

I pulled on my coat and went out the bar's back door just ahead of Sam. I heard him locking the door behind me. Suddenly I remembered that we were getting low on bottled blood, and I turned to tell Sam this. He caught my movement and stopped, waiting for me to speak, his face expectant. In the length of time it takes to blink, his expression changed from expectant to shocked, dark red began to spread on his left leg, and I heard the sound of a shot.

Then blood was everywhere, Sam crumpled to the ground, and I began to scream.

Chapter 3

I'D NEVER HAD to pay the cover charge at Fangtasia before. The few times I'd come through the public entrance, I'd been with a vampire. But now I was bymy self and feeling mightyconspicuous. I was exhausted from an especiallylong night. I'd been at the hospital until six in the morning, and I'd had onlya few hours' fitful sleep after I'd gotten home.

Pam was taking the cover charge and showing the customers to tables. She was wearing the long filmy black outfit she usually wore when she was on door duty. Pam never looked happy when she was dressed like a fictional vampire. She was the real thing and proud of it. Her personal taste leaned more toward slack sets in pastel colors and penny loafers. She looked as surprised as a vampire can look when she saw me.

"Sookie," she said, "do you have an appointment with Eric?" She took my money without a blink.

I was actually happy to see her: pathetic, huh? I don't have a lot of friends, and I value the ones I have, even if I suspect they dream about catching me in a dark alley and having their bloody way with me. "No, but I do need to talk to him. Business," I added hastily. I didn't want anyone thinking I was courting the romantic attention of the undead head honcho of Shreveport, a position called "sheriff" by the vamps. I shrugged off my new cranberry-colored coat and folded it carefully over my arm. WDED, the Baton Rouge-based all-vampire radio station, was being piped over the sound system. The smooth voice of the early night deejay, Connie the Corpse, said, "And here's a song for all you lowlifes who were outside howling earlier this week... 'Bad Moon Rising,' an old hit from Creedence Clearwater Revival." Connie the Corpse was giving a private tip of the hat to the shape-shifters.

"Wait at the bar while I tell him you're here," Pam said. "You'll enjoy the new bartender."

Bartenders at Fangtasia didn't tend to last long. Eric and Pam always tried to hire someone colorful - an exotic bartender drew in the human tourists who came by the busloads to take a walk on the wild side - and in this they were successful. But somehow the job had acquired a high attrition rate.

The new man gave me a white-toothed smile when I perched on one of the high stools. He was quite an eyeful. He had a head full of long, intensely curly hair, chestnut brown in color. It clustered thickly on his shoulders. He also sported a mustache and a Vandyke. Covering his left eye was a black eye patch. Since his face was narrow and the features on it sizable, his face was crowded. He was about my height, five foot six, and he was wearing a black poet shirt and black pants and high black boots. All he needed was a bandanna tied around his head and a pistol.

"Maybe a parrot on your shoulder?" I said.

"Aaargh, dear lady, you are not the first to suggest such a thing." He had a wonderful rich baritone voice. "But I understand there are health department regulations against having an uncaged bird in an establishment serving drinks." He bowed to me as deeply as the narrow area behind the bar permitted. "May I get you a drink and have the honor of your name?"

I had to smile. "Certainly, sir
. I'm Sookie Stackhouse." He'd caught the whiff of otherness about me. Vampires almost always pick up on it. The undead usually note me; humans don't. It's kind of ironic that my mind reading doesn't work on the very creatures who believe it distinguishes me from the rest of the human race, while humans would rather believe I was mentally ill than credit me with an unusual ability.

The woman on the barstool next to me (credit cards maxed out, son with ADD) half turned to listen in. She was jealous, having been trying to entice the bartender into showing her some attention for the past thirty minutes. She eyed me, trying to figure out what had caused the vamp to choose to open a conversation with me. She wasn't impressed at all with what she saw.

"I am delighted to meet you, fair maiden," the new vampire said smoothly, and I grinned. Well, at least I was fair - in the blond-and-blue-eyed sense. His eyes took me in; of course, if you're a woman who works in a bar, you're used to that. At least he didn't look at me offensively; and believe me, if you're a woman who works in a bar, you can tell the difference between an evaluation and an eye f**k.

"I bet good money she's no maiden," said the woman next to me.

She was right, but that was beside the point.

"You must be polite to other guests," the vampire told her, with an altered version of his smile. Not only were his fangs slightly extended, but I also noticed he had crooked (though beautifully white) teeth. American standards of tooth straightness are very modern.

"No one tells me how to act," the woman said combatively. She was sullen because the evening wasn't going as she'd planned. She'd thought it would be easy to attract a vampire, that any vamp would think he was lucky to have her. She'd planned to let one bite her neck, if he'd just settle her credit card bills.

She was overestimating herself and underestimating vampires.

"I beg your pardon, madam, but while you are in Fangtasia, most definitely I shall tell you how to act," the bartender said.

She subsided after he fixed her with his quelling gaze, and I wondered if he hadn't given her a dose of glamour.

"My name," he said, returning his attention to me, "is Charles Twining."

"Pleased to meet you," I said.

"And the drink?"

"Yes, please. A ginger ale." I had to drive back to Bon Temps after I'd seen Eric.

He raised his arched brows but poured me the drink and placed it on a napkin in front of me. I paid him and deposited a good tip in the jar. The little white napkin had some fangs outlined in black, with a single drop of red falling from the right fang - custom-made napkins for the vampire bar. "Fangtasia" was printed in jazzy red script on the opposite corner of the napkin, duplicating the sign outside. Cute. There were T-shirts for sale in a case over in a corner, too, along with glasses decorated with the same logo. The legend underneath read, "Fangtasia - The Bar with a Bite." Eric's merchandising expertise had made great strides in the past few months.

As I waited my turn for Eric's attention, I watched Charles Twining work. He was polite to everyone, served the drinks swiftly, and never got rattled. I liked his technique much better than that of Chow, the previous bartender, who'd always made patrons feel like he was doing them a favor by bringing them drinks at all. Long Shadow, the bartender before Chow, had had too much of an eye for the female customers. That'll cause a lot of strife in a bar.

Lost in my own thoughts, I didn't realize Charles Twining was right across the bar from me until he said, "Miss Stackhouse, may I tell you how lovely you look tonight?"

"Thank you, Mr. Twining," I said, entering into the spirit of the encounter. The look in Charles Twining's one visible brown eye let me know that he was a first-class rogue, and I didn't trust him any farther than I could throw him, which was maybe two feet. (The effects of my last infusion of vampire blood had worn off, and I was my regular human self. Hey, I'm no junkie; it had been an emergency situation calling for extra strength.)

Not only was I back at average stamina for a fit woman in her twenties, my looks were back to normal; no vampire-blood enhancement. I hadn't dressed up, since I didn't want Eric to think I was dressing up for him, but I hadn't wanted to look like a slob, either. So I was wearing low-riding blue jeans and a fuzzy white long-sleeved sweater with a boat-neck. It stopped just at my waist, so some tummy showed when I walked. That tummy wasn't fish-belly white, either, thanks to the tanning bed at the video rental place.

"Please, dear lady, call me Charles," the bartender said, pressing his hand to his heart.

I laughed out loud, despite my weariness. The gesture's theatricality wasn't diminished by the fact that Charles's heart wasn't beating.

"Of course," I said agreeably. "If you'll call me Sookie."

He rolled his eyes up as if the excitement was too much for him, and I laughed again. Pam tapped me on the shoulder.

"If you can tear yourself away from your new buddy, Eric's free."

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