Chapter 1

Eric sighed unnecessarily as he hung up the phone. I hadn’t been paying attention to the call he’d received, I was too wrapped up in my own work. Well, when I say ‘work’ I really mean messing around with the format of my client list and pondering the merits of filing my human and supernatural clients separately.

“Who was on the phone?”

“Stan Davis, he’s Sherriff of area 6 in Texas and resides in Dallas.”

“Oh … okay. You seem … I dunno, a little irritated by his call. Is everything okay?”

“He wishes to hire you to aid in the questioning of some humans. He was very vague as to what, exactly, you would be doing but I doubt it would be anything dangerous.”

“Well, we have the royal wedding in two weeks but my schedule is light until then. I’m sure we can take a day out … or night off … or whatever to find out what the story is.”

Eric nodded but still seemed lost in his own thoughts. “They were anxious for me to inform them as soon as possible when we would be arriving and how we would be travelling.”

I snorted. “Oh yeah? That’s secure! Unless they’re willing to provide aliases and required paperwork to match they can just deal with knowing a specific day of arrival.”

Since the Fellowship was practically annihilated in New Orleans, I’d had a fair few problems to say the least. I never travelled anywhere without a body guard and my GPS on my cell phone activated. I also had the most comprehensive security system installed in the office where I worked and a ‘bouncer’ of sorts who ensured no-one without an appointment was allowed into the building. To say I was on the Fellowship of the Sun’s ‘watch list’ was an understatement.

“Yes, I explained that to Sherriff Davis and he was very understanding. I negotiated a fee; once my commission has been deducted you will earn $7,000. He wanted to pay less in monetary amounts and instead arrange for transport, food and lodging but I explained that you were quite capable of arranging those things for yourself.”

“You won’t be coming?” I frowned, not that I needed Eric to be by my side at all times but it would have been nice to have him there for my first trip out of the State. It could have been like a vacation for us but with Eric keeping the area in check, I wondered if we’d ever get to take a break from it all.

“Unfortunately I have had word of a Maenad in my area. Sophie-Ann is sending Bill to investigate but I will have to keep an eye on things until he arrives to assist me. She may just be passing through but there is every chance she’ll attempt to contact me. Until what she wants is made clear, I’ll have to remain in Area 5.”

I remembered reading something in a mystery novel about them once. “Naiads are water and dryads are trees, right? Weren’t maenads just women driven mad by the god Bacchus?”

Eric nodded. “Bacchus entered some women so completely they became almost immortal. Bacchus was the god of the grape, of course, so bars are very interesting to maenads. So interesting, that they don’t like other creatures of the darkness becoming involved. Maenads consider the violence sparked by the consumption of alcohol as theirs; that’s what they feed off, now that no one formally worships their god. And they are also attracted to pride.”

“Well … you own a bar and you are very prideful. What do you think she wants?”

“Tribute. I have come across a maenad before in St. Petersburg. The Halloween massacre of 1876, the maenad, Phryne, sent her madness into a vampire there. It took twenty of us to stake Gregory and clean up after his … episode. Phryne received her tribute after that, you can be sure.”

“So once you’ve located her and given her what she wants she’ll leave the area?”

“Well, that’s why Bill is being sent. We will send her a large animal, perhaps a bull or a bear, but if she is unhappy then he may be able to negotiate.”

“Sounds like she just wants a big, crazy party more than a smelly animal.”

Eric tilted his head to the side and regarded me with interest. “Perhaps that is why she is here. A large gathering of drunken yobs would be like a beacon for a Maenad. Especially if it resulted in a fight or perhaps something worse. I will have to locate any relevant police reports and see if I can pinpoint an event she was drawn to. You, Sookie, are a very smart woman.”

I grinned at him. “I’m not really smart, I just happen to say the right things that set your train of thought rolling. We’re a team.”

Eric rolled his chair back and opened his arms to me, smiling. I curled up on his lap and he kissed the top of my head. “And what a team we make my Sookie. Here’s another little fact that may spark your interest – the Maenad was spotted in some woodlands close to Bon Temps.”

That wasn’t good. As much as Eric was at risk, being a supernatural bar owner, it meant that Sam Merlotte was also at risk. Almost everyone in town went to Merlotte’s, so a Maenad hanging around could affect everyone there.

“I should call Sam. He might know something about this, he might not, but he should be warned in any case.”

“Good idea Dear One. I have duties to attend to in Fangtasia; one of them will be securing an appropriate escort for your trip. I imagine you will want to get on the road as soon as possible.”

“Yep, the sooner I start the sooner I’ll be back and maybe I can help out with this Maenad thing. I’ll get a couple of rooms booked and call Tray so he can fill the tank in his car.”

Eric gave me a kiss goodbye and I was dialling the number for Merlotte’s before the front door had closed.

Merlotte’s, Arlene speaking. What can I do for ya?

“Hi Arlene, this is Sookie Stackhouse. Can I speak with Sam please?”

Sure, but your brother is right here if you wanna talk to him.

“I’ll call him later. Right now I’d like to speak to Sam.” I heard Arlene huff into the phone and holler for Sam to come talk to ‘That Stackhouse Girl’.

Hey Sookie, what’s up?

“Hey Sam, Eric got word there’s a Maenad in the area and I wanted to give you a heads up. You haven’t heard of any wild parties going on nearby Bon Temps have you? We think that’s what may have gotten her attention.”

Uh … come to mention it, we’re down a cook. Lafayette was found dead, word is he’d been going to some freaky sex parties recently.

Bingo! I’d bet dollars to dimes that was what had attracted the Maenad. “That’s awful Sam. Could you keep your ear to the ground and let us know if you hear anything about the Maenad?”

Will do Sooks. I’ll … uh … do some sniffing around and give you a call tomorrow.

“If you find anything out you’d be better calling Eric. He and Bill will be dealing with it and he is the Sherriff after all.”

Sam didn’t need to know I was going out of town. And even though it had been me who called to warn him, it was a supernatural matter and should be dealt with by people with positions and authority. I said my goodbyes and went to our bedroom to pack a bag for Dallas. While I was picking out my clothes I called my Were-guard Tray Dawson. Eric had suggested Alcide as a guard when we came to Shreveport but I didn’t want a guard who was only there because their family owed my boyfriend money. Tray was a bit of a loner and was good at his job as long you paid him a decent wage. And as I didn’t need Tray while in the office or when I was with Eric, he still had some time to keep his own business running and spend time with his son.

Once I was settled, I called Eric to fill him in on my plans. Tray and I would leave after breakfast and drive over to Dallas. The only vampire-friendly hotel (believe me there’s a difference between having light-tight rooms and being ‘friendly’) was called Silent Shores, which seemed like an odd name considering it was nowhere near the shore of any of the lakes around the Dallas area. The rooms were booked using my ‘petty cash’ credit card which wasn’t registered to me but to a donor in New Orleans, he was fully aware of his name being used and approved of it as a security method. Once Tray and I had checked into the hotel, we would accept delivery of my vampire escort in their travel coffin and once the sun set that vampire would then take me to Stan Davis’ nest. That was the part I was concerned about. I hadn’t been in another state before, let alone another nest full of vampires I didn’t know. But if Eric thought he didn’t need to escort me his own self, I figured I was pretty safe.

*

Tray and I took a leisurely drive west, stopping for snacks a couple of times. There were still a good few hours until sunset when we booked into Silent Shores, we quickly put our bags in our rooms and went to wait in the lobby for our vampire group member. I scanned the staff while pretending to read a fashion magazine and Tray played with his Game boy. I didn’t sense anything odd or threatening about the staff around us, the only thing that stood out was that they were all a little nervous about the nightshift starting. Not because of the vampires waking up but, strangely, because of the ‘crazy bell-boy’ that always worked nights. I figured it would be worth checking out a member of staff if he made his colleagues uncomfortable. Who knows what kind of factions he could be in cahoots with?

I was going nuts in that foyer. I almost kissed the guys from Izanami Transport when arrived. They handed me a clipboard with the manifest and I smiled when I saw the name of their passenger. Pamela Ravenscroft. Of course it was Pam! Who else would Eric trust to keep me safe while he couldn’t other than his own child! I motioned for the Izanami staff to follow us and gave them a thorough read in the elevator to make sure they weren’t about to toddle off and tell the FotS anything. Once Pam’s travel coffin was in her room, I left her a note with both Tray and My room numbers in case she needed to call us upon rising, her key card and the ‘room service’ menu (with a reminder to ‘forget’ her own room number and send the donor to my room so I could read them before she had breakfast). Finally it was time for me to chill in the bath until sunset.

*

After I’d scanned Pam’s breakfast under the guise of directing her to the right room, Tray waited with me in the lobby until she was ready to take me to the Dallas vampire’s nest. I didn’t have to search long to find the ‘Crazy Bell-Boy’, his mental signature hit me like a ton of bricks. Turns out he was a telepath too. His mind was … very unorganised and his shields were non-existent. I waved to get his attention and he cautiously made his way over to me, his thin face was a mask of confusion.

“Hi there, my name is Barry. Is there something you need help with?”

He was young, 18 at the most, but obviously not totally unaware of his ability seeing as he worked in a building with vampires. I rummaged around in his head a little more, he was really in denial about being different but considering he wasn’t in a Looney Bin like I was at his age, I’d say he was doing well.

“Actually Barry.” I stepped into his line of sight between him and Tray. “I was hoping I could help you.”

You aren’t alone Barry. I’m just like you.
His eyes widened in fear but, credit where credit is due, he didn’t try to run. I slowly extended my arm and took his hand in mine, pressing one of my business cards into his palm before I let go. If you have any questions, anything at all, you give me a call.

His eyes darted from left to right before I heard his shaky mind-voice. You know how to get rid of it?

No, I don’t. But I do know how to make it easier. I’ve learned to make it an ability rather than a disability. We need to stop now because people are taking notice but please call me.

“My friend is here now Barry. Don’t lose that card okay?”

“I won’t Miss … uh …”

“Sookie Stackhouse.”

“Okay Miss Stackhouse, I’ll be sure to get in touch with you … uh … some time.”

Pam strode towards us, dressed immaculately as usual, and curled her lip at Barry, making him tremble and clumsily scoot back over to the reception desk. She adjusted the strap of her laptop bag and folded her arms, raising an eyebrow at me.

“Well, well, well, Sookie. You know its Vegas, not Dallas right?”

“Huh?”

“Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas not Dallas. Out of Eric’s sight for less than a day and scoping for totty already?”

I shook my head and giggled. “Well … Barry’s nice and all but he’s not my type. Turns out we’re in the same line of business.” I gave Pam a significant look, which she thankfully picked up on, then we said goodbye to Tray and got into a cab that was waiting outside for us.


*


We drove for around thirty minutes before arriving outside one of the strangest houses I’ve ever seen. The lot was the same size as all the others on the street but instead of a modest, boxy, home, this lot had … a mansion. Pam paid the cabbie and we walked up the path to a front door which was decorated with a wreath of grapevines and dried flowers. Aside from the size of the building, there was nothing unusual about it. You would never guess that it was home to at least 12 vampires, going by my void-count from the exterior.

The door was opened by a glassy eyed fangbanger, who stepped back to reveal the palest woman I had ever seen. I know that vampires are pale but this chick was white as paper and flat as a board. Her outfit only seemed to accentuate her whiteness and flatness. She nodded at Pam and Pam nodded back before gesturing to me.

“I am Pam Ravenscroft and this is Sookie Stackhouse.”

“I am Isabel. We were … surprised at the spontaneity of your arrival. More notice to prepare would have been appreciated.”

Isabel’s eyes were narrowed slightly, showing her annoyance at having to cater to the whims of a human. Even if that human was a telepath which they, themselves, requested help from.

“Does it normally take you longer than 24 hours to round up your human pets?” Pam sneered as she crossed her arms.

I could definitely see a little fang as Isabel sneered back at her. “My human was anxious to know when you would be arriving so he could make provisions for the telepath. I understand this is customary when humans visit each other.”

I sighed, I wanted to butt in and get the show on the road and I really didn’t want to get between these girls if they wanted to duke it out but no guts, no glory!

“Isabel.” I nodded from the neck. “Ordinarily, if it’s a social visit, it’s customary for the host to make provisions for the visitors but as we’re here to conduct business there really isn’t any need. Are all humans involved with the nest and its businesses gathered as requested?”

Her eyes widened, as if she couldn’t quite believe I had just spoken, but she stepped aside and let us enter the house before leading us past the main room and into a hallway. I noticed a vast kitchen, which was equipped to produce meals for at least 20 people at a time. This was odd as usually Vampires deemed kitchens pretty low priority when they design their own houses. They really only needed space for a microwave and a refrigerator, if they drank synthetic that is.

At the sink a lanky guy was washing dishes, which indicated that some humans actually lived in the house. I nodded to him as Isabel led us through what would have been a large dining room but was set up as a homey conference room. I could see Pam was sizing up all the other vampires in the room, her body language changed just slightly and I knew that she was scoping out all of the possible exits available. A majority of humans wouldn’t notice it, but I’d seen the same tension in vampires when they visited Sophie-Ann. They aren’t comfortable going into another vamps territory, even if that vamp is a friend. The leader of the group was easy to pinpoint, he sat at the head of the table and had taken great pains to present himself as … a geek. Whatever floats his boat, right?

He regarded Pam and me through almost invisible eyelashes and unnecessary thick rimmed glasses before finally speaking. “Pam Ravenscroft.”

“Stan Davis.” Pam nodded as she said his name. She turned to me and I nodded towards our ‘host’.

“Mr. Davis. I understand you require my services in questioning your humans?” The freckled nerd nodded once, his distaste at requiring the help of a human evident in the way his eyes flicked from my head to my toes. I guess I had gotten too used to the Louisiana Vampires treating me with that little bit of respect, I could see from the look on Pam’s face she was willing me to keep my trap shut. I swallowed my pride, remembering that these vampires only had my reputation to judge me on, and smiled at Stan. “If you would be so kind as to supply me with a little information as to what, exactly, you want me to find out I’d appreciate it.”

Stan seemed perturbed that I was talking rather than Pam and directed the answer to my question to her. “We need to know where our brother, Farrell, is. He hasn’t returned to the nest in five nights.”

I nodded in understanding. Vampires aren’t stupid, I knew that they would have exhausted the obvious resources or they wouldn’t be calling on little old me. All of his usual haunts and feeding venues would have been thoroughly scrutinised and any humans who might have had information would have been glamoured.

“Well, I believe you have all of the humans associated with the nest gathered. I will see them now.”

“All of them?” Stan looked surprised, well, as surprised as a vampire can look anyway. I nodded and couldn’t help but notice the smug smile on Pam’s face. “Very well.”

He whispered something to a bristly Hispanic vampire, who grunted and left the room. Stan stood from the table and motioned for us to follow him. I dropped my shields and could hear the thoughts of the people in the house being herded into one area. They were scared. Very scared. We entered the kitchen to find around a dozen humans nervously sitting at the table. I refrained from frowning when I noticed dishwashing guy wasn’t amongst them. As I was about to take a seat, a young girl sprang up and leapt towards me.

“You gotta help me!” She shrieked as Pam grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and bundled her back into a chair. The others looked a little green when Pam held the girls face in her hands and told her to calm down. It was a stupid move, what was I supposed to do about the situation? Take on every vamp in the room and fly her off to safety?

“Everyone needs to calm down.” As I looked at all of them in turn, my focus swayed a little when I noticed a large man with a placid demeanour. I wondered why he wasn’t as scared as the others. “No-one is here to be hurt; we’re just going to have a little chat. As you can see, I’m no vampire, so you have nothing to fear from me.”

Pam released shrieking girl from her glamour and I smiled warmly at her. I took a little time to find our all of their names and ask a little about their interests outside work. Placid guy was silent but happy; I would investigate that further as soon as folks were settled. It was very strange. Once they were all comfortable with me and had stopped thinking about how to flee the scene, I decided to get cracking. I glanced at Stan as I fished my notebook and pen from my bag.

“Where was Farrell last seen? And could you give me a description?”

“He was last seen at the bar we own, The Bat’s Wing. He looks like a cowboy.”

I nodded and started thinking about the best way to yield the information. All but one of the people at the table with me were good broadcasters and at the mention of Farrell and the Bat’s Wing, those who knew him were subconsciously getting flashes of memories about the night they’d last saw him. The one who wasn’t thinking about the bar or Farrell was placid guy, he said his name was Re-Bar. I centred my mind on him to find … nothing. Not like the usual glamoured people, sketchy and disjointed, he was … empty. Barely functioning. I leaned over and patted his hand.

“You can go sweetie.”

I watched Stan furrow his brows as he motioned for one of his vampires to escort Re-Bar from the room before he levelled a questioning stare at me.

“Re-Bar has been heavily glamoured, but the vampire doing the glamouring didn’t put anything back to replace what they took out. It’s like he’s had a lobotomy.” Turning back to the group gathered at the table, I picked up my pen and tapped it against my chin. “Have any of you guys seen any strange vampires in the bar?”

Shrieking girl, Bethany, had a light bulb moment “Oh! Oh! I did! And he was with Farrell too! I saw Re-Bar go into the restroom not long after they did.”

In her mind she was remembering seeing Re-Bar going into the bathroom, but I wanted to see the vampire she was talking about. “Did you see this strange vampire speak to anyone else?”

I concentrated on her train of thoughts as she sifted through the events of that evening. Serving drinks and chatting to some humans at the bar. She settled on a man with a dark complexion and a bushy moustache, he was at the bar drinking, then in her next memory he was talking to a blond, tattooed vampire. He must have only been around 16 when he was turned.

“The vampire with the tattoos, is that who Farrell went to the bathroom with?”

Her next memory was the one I was looking for, cowboy Farrell following tattoo Blondie into the restroom. On my notebook I started trying to draw what the tattoos looked like, they were blue and didn’t look like anything I’d seen in the windows of Gordy’s Ink N’ Pierce (Gordy was 3 units down from my office in a strip mall). I showed the rough sketch to the other humans at the table and asked them if they remembered seeing them. Going by the thoughts coming at me, Bethany was the most observant of the bunch. A few of them had totally tuned me out, not even bothering to think about Farrell or the Bat’s Wing, and instead started wondering when the vampires would start to get hungry or when they could go home. I caught a stray thought that reminded me of something I’d noticed earlier.

What scam did Isabel’s butt boy pull to get out of being here?

Was Isabel’s butt boy Dishwashing guy? It was interesting that his non-appearance had caught someone else’s attention too. When I asked Isabel if all humans involved with the nest were present, she never did answer me.

“Okay guys. I think we’ve done all we can here.” I turned to Stan and tried to make myself seem as businesslike as possible. “They will all be escorted home to ensure they arrive safely?”

Stan nodded once and the humans were led out of the kitchen. I could see the vampires murmuring suggestions into their ears as they were being walked out, none of them would remember me by the time they got home. When it was just me, Pam, Stan and Isabel left in the room, I cleared my throat and began telling them what I’d found out. I was showing them the sketches when a tall red-headed vampire walked in. I recognised her from some of the memories I’d saw earlier, she had been in the bar the same night as Farrell.

“Did you notice any strange vampires in The Bat’s Wing the night Farrell disappeared?” I asked her without really thinking. She snarled at me but put her fangs away when Stan told her to co-operate.

“Can you read her the same way you read the humans?” Stan asked.

“No. Vampires are blank to me, do you think I’d still be alive and kicking if I could?” Pam nudged me with her penny loafer under the table and I bit back a yelp. Stan’s patience seemed to be wearing thin, I’d have to watch my mouth if I wanted to get out of here in one piece. He turned to the red-head and pulled out a seat at the table for her.

“Rachael, do you remember a blonde vampire, turned in his teens, with these tattoo’s the night our brother went missing?”

She glanced at the notepad for a millisecond before nodding enthusiastically. “Oh yes. The tattoo’s are from the time of the Romans, I think. Crude but interesting. I remember thinking it was odd that I hadn’t seen him at the house to ask for hunting privileges. He had a conversation with a human, dark hair and a moustache.” She spread her hands apart in a gesture which said ‘they all look the same to me’. Bethany had also seen this strange vampire talking with a guy with a moustache, so it was probably the same guy.

I sighed and rubbed at my temples. We had hit a dead end on the information front. Even though I had partially identified the vampire who saw Farrell last, it didn’t lead us anywhere. I started to apologise to Stan for not being much help but Pam held a hand up to silence me.

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to contact an associate of mine. He is an expert in identifying and gathering information on us. He may be able to shed some light on this tattooed vampire.” I raised my eyebrows, I had no idea we even had an expert. Pam took her cell phone out of her pocket and squeezed my shoulder before she left the room. I heard the door open and close and realised she had left me all alone with Stan and his vampires. If she left the house it must have been a very private call that she didn’t want anyone overhearing.

After ten minutes of awkward conversation which began with Stan asking how long I’d been with Eric and if I was content with him, Pam came back into the room. She took her time sitting down and getting comfortable before speaking.

“My … associate” I made a note to ask Pam who this ‘associate’ was later on. “Was very forthcoming with information about the tattooed vampire. His name is Godric, although he has gone by the name Godfrey for the last 100 years. He is a renouncer.”

All of the vampires looked appalled and I’m pretty sure I heard Isabel gasp. I’d never heard the term before but I was 99% sure it wasn’t something good. I must have had a puzzled expression as she turned to me and spoke in soft tones.

“Godric has associated himself with radical humans and plans to meet the sun. His time as a vampire has led him to desire the true death.”

“The fellowship, it has to be them. Farrell had no wish to meet the sun; this Godfrey must have captured Farrell at the behest of those zealots. He has betrayed all of us!”

I thought that was a little melodramatic, I’m sure it was nothing personal against Stan from Godric’s, or Godfrey’s, point of view. But I could completely understand Stan’s frustration at Fellowship involvement. It seemed whatever problems vampires had, and by extension me, the fellowship were behind it. Stan seemed to be stewing, Isabel looked a little shaken and Rachael hadn’t moved since the word ‘renouncer’ had been uttered. Suddenly, Stan’s eyes bored into Pam.

“Who did you say your expert was again?”

“I didn’t” Pam’s tone made it obvious there would be no change to that fact. “He requires anonymity but his information is solid.”

“I see.” Stan wasn’t happy. Perhaps my brain knew this would be a good time to interrupt and change the subject as I had my very own light-bulb moment.

“Godric, Godfrey or whatever his name is. He was talking to bushy moustache guy, a human. If he’s a renouncer, what are the chances he’d talk to a human he didn’t know?”

“None.” Stan and Pam said at the same time.

“So, bushy moustache guy must be with the Fellowship! He’s the breadcrumb trail! Can you get all the humans back here?” I looked at Isabel. “All of the humans, I need to know if he’s been fishing for information.”

Knowing the Fellowship’s tendency to try and extract information from humans that ally themselves with vampires, I was willing to bet that bushy moustache guy had at least tried to talk to one of the people in Stan’s crew.

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