Sookie took the smallest of steps backward and stared up at Eric, stunned. “What?” she asked dumbly.
Her scent. It was tainted. Before he could stop himself, Eric moved, too quickly for her to see, grazing every part of Sookie’s body with his nose and mouth. She could only feel the cool breeze left by his movements and a tickling all over of her skin that traveled too quickly for her to react. He lingered last on Sookie’s head and instinctively wrapped his large hands around her shoulders to hold her there.
“Who…who touched you? Who has been with you?” he grounded out, his emphasis on the word ‘been.’ Eric couldn’t place the scent. His instinct had been fairy, but there were others. Animal perhaps, but most significantly, they were all male.
Sookie was shocked. “What is wrong with you?” she hissed, her eyes wildly looking around to see who had witnessed the spectacle Eric was making of her. “Let go of me!” Sookie’s eyes smarted with humiliation, and she knew her temper was not far behind.
Eric leaned further over her, his eyes boring into hers. “You said you were unattached.” When the sudden smell of fear filled the air, he released her.
Her eyes widened, and her mouth opened, but there were no words. There was nothing she was willing to say, in a room full of onlookers. The sight of Pam several feet away, smirking where she sat on one of the bar stools, snapped Sookie out of her stupor.
She stomped past Eric further into the bar, her angry steps leading her to his office without a second thought. Faced with the instinctual human response to danger, Sookie’s body had chosen to fight.
Eric was already leaning against the closed door before she could turn around inside the office, effectively blocking her exit. He was pleased Sookie had not left the club, as he would not have wanted to drag her back inside in view of a parking lot full of humans. “Explain,” he said, folding his arms across his broad chest.
“Explain what?” Sookie said, her voice rising.
“Where have you been?”
She pointed to the watch on her wrist, holding it up for him to see. “I’m here! You gave me this schedule!” It had been still light when she left Bon Temps, so Sookie couldn’t understand his fascination with her whereabouts.
“Where were you earlier?”
She was confused. “Today?” she asked, and he nodded curtly. “Are you joking?” Her tone had become incredulous, as Sookie began to understand what Eric was asking. “I wasn’t on the clock today, Eric, so I wasn’t here,” she said smartly. “That’s where I was earlier.”
Her deliberate evasion of his question, as well as her argumentative stance, were arousing to him. If only she didn’t reek of another male. “Your scent is…not yours,” he admitted.
“Well, I can’t help that, can I?” Sookie suddenly remembered bouncing off a very handsome man earlier, whose face had been briefly buried in her hair. “Remind me to shower before coming into work,” she said hotly.
“I will remind you, that you are not to be attached to anyone,” he said smoothly.
“The way you’re ‘not attached’ to anything in a skirt around here?” she retorted, immediately slapping her hand over her mouth. It was none of her business, the plentiful memories and images she had seen from too many female minds at Fangtasia to count.
“What I choose to do with the skirts-”
“Exactly!” Sookie blurted, pointing at him. “Is your business! Same goes for me, pal.”
The thought that she had engaged in anything close to what Eric did to the humans in his club enraged him, as did the term ‘pal.’ “We have an agreement,” he seethed.
“I’m not attached!” she shouted, exasperated. “You’re my boss, Eric, not my father!” The thought shamed her, father or boss, that she was yelling at him. “I don’t like this. I don’t like…I’m not comfortable with this.”
“With what?” Eric studied her, noticing her choice of clothing. “Why are you covered?”
“Huh?” Sookie saw he was looking at her clothes and glanced down. “Oh. I didn’t know what to wear to, uh…to question the…”
“You still plan on cooperating?”
“Cooperating?” Sookie wondered if she needed a vampire dictionary to understand what the hell Eric was saying half the time. “I promised I’d read him.”
“You also agreed to a dress code, and to the specifications of the job,” he reminded her.
Sookie pushed down the urge to burst into tears of frustration and sank against Eric’s desk behind her. The pride and excitement she’d felt at making some headway in her life were quickly crumbling around her at the hands of the strange vampire in front of her, and she wondered if the money were worth it. There was nothing for her at home, and now there seemed to be nothing for her at work, except for the pay. Sookie quickly scanned the floor beneath them with her mind and took a couple of deep breaths.
“He’s awake,” she said quietly.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes,” she lied, pushing off the desk.
Eric stopped her from walking past him. “How do you wish to proceed?” he asked seriously. Her entire stance had withered in front of him, confusing him, and he wondered if she were equipped to handle the questioning. It would not matter to Eric if it were postponed, as the chained human was not going anywhere. His concern was with Felicia, though he doubted by the time they learned of her location, there would be anything left to save.
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked. It wasn’t as if she read the minds of prisoners every day. “Go ahead and ask him what you want, and if it isn’t working, I’ll jump in.” She frowned at the impassive look on Eric’s face. “He’s not going to think of an address. It doesn’t work like that.”
“How does it work?”
Sookie sighed, eager to leave his office. There was no desire for her to be in the basement, but there was something physically distracting about being alone with him. “It’s not linear like that. It’s more like…say you see someone in a green shirt…if you know him, then maybe you’ll think about a conversation you had, or something you did with him…” She looked at Eric, who seemed fascinated. “But maybe instead, you’ll think of that green toy box you had as a kid, or how you hate that shade of green. It could be a million things. That’s what it’s like. Sometimes it’s pictures, you know, of the memories. Or maybe it’s words. Sometimes both.”
“It is amazing.”
“Uh huh,” she said sarcastically. “It’s real amazing, listening to every weird thing that passes through every head.”
“But you can turn it off,” Eric said.
“Yes, thank goodness.” The tension in the room had dropped considerably, and Sookie was grateful. “It’s easier to talk to you like this.”
“I know.” Eric now understood, that if he wanted to know more about her, that if he expected to have or keep any part of Sookie Stackhouse, he would have to go about it much like her telepathy. He would have to be…less linear. “For legal purposes, we will abstain from any physical contact with the drainer in your presence.”
“Seriously?” Sookie asked in disbelief. “You have to say you won’t beat him while I’m there? Does that somehow make me less culpable in the fact that I know you are torturing a human being?”
“Who said we would beat him?” Eric asked, ignoring her other question. Of course he was protecting her from culpability, as much as he could. “You are drawing conclusions.”
“Silly me.” Sookie went back to Eric’s desk and grabbed a pad of paper and a pen. “Can I take notes?”
“You may do whatever you wish, as long as you read his mind.”
“And don’t talk to men, or wear anything but dresses,” she mumbled sourly, trailing Eric from the office.
“So you were talking to a man,” Eric said, his calm tone hiding his inner anger at her admission.
“Half the population, Boss.” Sookie waited as he unlocked the inner door and noted a vampire inside the room with the drainer. “Pam in there?” she asked.
Eric nodded and pushed open the heavy door. The smell of urine and sweat hit Sookie immediately, and she cringed. “In through your mouth,” Eric suggested, his cool breath tickling her ear.
A part of Sookie was relieved when she saw the man seated on a chair that hadn’t been there the evening before, until she noted that in addition to the chain around his ankle, his hands were now cuffed behind his back. She swallowed thickly and took one of the other chairs left facing him.
Pam appeared in the chair next to her and dropped the license onto Sookie’s pad of paper. “I believe you lost this,” she said drily, crossing her legs and staring ahead.
“James Weston,” Eric started, crossing the room to stand in front of the drainer.
Sookie glanced at the license to confirm that’s who Eric was talking about. “Ugh,” she whispered, honing in on James’ mental correction of his name in his head. “He calls himself Jesse. Get it? Jesse James?” Pam shrugged, and Sookie rolled her eyes. If Sookie had a dollar for every Jesse James she’d ever met…
“What have you done with Felicia?” Eric demanded, and Sookie tried to hide her snicker. She knew James hadn’t heard her, but apparently the vampires had.
“417 St. John Street,” Sookie squeaked, clearing her throat. “That where you live?” Immediately, a house popped into his head, like Sookie was standing in front of it. There was a woman then, with a baby. In James’ mind, he was talking to her on the porch steps. “How old’s your daughter?” Sookie asked, scribbling furiously on her pad.
James was mad then, and he spit on the floor. “Ain’t got a daughter,” he snarled, but he was lying.
“That vampire was someone’s daughter,” Sookie said blandly, looking up at him.
“Why you even with them?” he asked, staring at her, wondering who Sookie was and how she even knew about the vampire. His mind went back in the room Sookie had seen before, to the image of Felicia chained down, her blood dripping from her. A man too similar to be anyone but James’ relative was doing something to one of her arms.
“Your brother get you into this?” Sookie pressed. “Or do you just like to watch?” His thoughts were bad, dragging her down with him, but she didn’t seem to be able to stop baiting him.
“You don’t know anything,” he said shakily. James knew he wasn’t getting out of this, and he was cursing the day he agreed to do anything for his older brother.
“Right, cause Robbie doesn’t need your help, does he?”
Pam was openly staring at Sookie, and Eric had slowly crept behind her. She felt his cool hands gently rest under her hair, on top of her shoulders, and she flinched at the improved clarity of the mind of the man in front of her. It may also have been from the way Eric’s fingertips gently grazed her collarbones.
James’ head slumped forward again, but his mind was anything but silent. There were two other men in the room in his memories, and behind them, a filthy window, its tattered shade ripped widely near the top. Sookie quickly jotted the name of the lit-up sign of the building that looked to be across the street, and she guessed wherever Felicia was, it was higher than the first floor.
“Jesse,” Sookie said lightly. “There’s a way out of this…”
“Why were you here last night? Who were you after?” Sookie already knew the answer, as she’d seen Pam in his mind the night before. So she was shocked, when Eric flashed through James’ head. It was a picture he was looking at, held out by a man who clearly was not one of the drainers. His suit was cheap, but it was still a suit, down to the crappy tie and shiny pin.
“You know,” she went on, matter-of-factly, “the police will be mostly interested in your brother. But us,” Sookie said, gesturing to the vampires, “we’re willing to look past that.” That got James’ attention, and some hissing from Pam and Eric, which Sookie ignored. “Think about it,” she said simply, standing. “We’ll be back.”
Sookie was not surprised to find herself lifted by the armpits by the two vampires the minute they all hit the stairs and practically flown into Eric’s office. “I think it’s going pretty well,” she said happily, settling onto the couch. “I like this. I like doing this.”
Eric liked Sookie’s demeanor more than when they had left the office, though he was far less alarmed than Pam. “What did you hear?” he asked impatiently.
“What did she hear?” Pam asked sharply. “Why did she offer him protection?”
“That was not her meaning,” Eric replied, talking over Sookie. “She was strategizing.”
“She was ready to offer him a ride home!” Pam protested.
Sookie rapidly shook her head and held out her hands. “No! What? I don’t even know where he lives! Well, I do…but that’s not the point.” She picked up the pad from her lap and waved it back and forth. “I was just doing, like, good cop, bad cop.”
“I could not appreciate the bad cop,” Pam observed, narrowing her eyes at Sookie.
“So,” Sookie said, ignoring Pam and reading from her notes. “James, or Jesse, as he calls himself, has an older brother, Robbie. He’s the one I actually saw draining Felicia. Oh, the room! Here’s the sign across the street that you can see from it.” She handed the pad to Eric and stared at the ceiling. “I’m guessing she’s a couple of floors up, and the room doesn’t look like someone’s house, so maybe it’s an apartment? It’s real shabby.”
Eric showed the pad to Pam and nodded. “There are two of those stores in Shreveport,” she confirmed.
“Oh, good! You know where it is, because I was having a heck of a time trying to figure out what town-”
Pam interrupted Sookie before she could finish. “What is it we are willing to look past?” she demanded.
“It’s not James who’s behind this.”
Sookie raised her eyebrows at Eric and took a deep breath. “You heard me ask why he was here last night?” she asked, and Eric nodded. “He was here for you, Eric. There was a man in his head, holding your picture, but he definitely wasn’t one of the drainers.”
Both vampires were silent as Sookie fidgeted with the tablet and pen. “I thought maybe it was a good time to stop. Give him something to think about. Maybe he’ll give up a name, or something,” she rambled on. “Not that he has to, since I’ve seen the guy’s face.”
Eric and Pam looked at each other immediately. “You would recognize him, if you saw him?” Eric asked. Humans were quite unreliable with recall, something all vampires used for their benefit.
“Well, yeah. It’s in my head.”
“We can locate the address,” Pam said, speaking almost too quickly for Sookie to understand. “She can do the legwork during the day,” Pam went on, gesturing to Sookie.
“Absolutely not,” Eric replied.
“She is perfectly able to follow the paper trail. She might even see or hear something useful,” Pam protested.
“She is not to go out during the day,” Eric insisted.
“Wait, wait,” Sookie interrupted. “I can do all that from a computer, and I don’t mind making a drive-by or something. Pam’s right, I don’t even have to get close to hear something. If you guys know where this is, I can do it.” Sookie found the idea of a stake-out exciting.
“No,” Eric said with finality. “It is not necessary, nor do I require it.” There would be no scenario in which Sookie sat anywhere near those drainers, alone in her car.
Both women looked at him skeptically. “Alright,” Sookie agreed. “I’ll see what I can dig up electronically.”
“You were about to offer him something. What was it?”
“Right. See, James isn’t real interested in this particular venture of his brother’s. I think, if he thinks he can get out of this, he’ll give up whomever’s financing it. But really, the bigger question is, why are they targeting you?” Pam and Eric exchanged a look even Sookie couldn’t miss. “Something you’d like to share?” Sookie suggested.
“There are many who dislike vampires, as I’m sure you are aware,” Pam answered blandly.
“Hm, yeah. So much, that they carry around a picture? How dumb do you think I am?”
Eric stopped Pam before she could answer. “You are not stupid, we have established that.” He considered how to answer Sookie without discussing his and Pam’s concerns regarding his Maker, the death of his day man, and the now-probable death of the day man’s vampire girlfriend, who also happened to work for Eric. That this group of drainers were most likely sponsored by someone carrying a picture of Eric only compounded the problem. “When we have something more concrete, there will be more to tell you,” he said finally.
Sookie nodded her head slowly and crossed her hands over her lap. “I can only ask questions, based on what I know.” It was a subtle reminder, that she couldn’t get in, if they didn’t let her.
The two stared at each other, wondering if the other truly did.