Bite (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8.5)(10)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

“Waldo,” I said, nodding. I felt lucky to have had such long training in keeping my face agreeable. “Can I get you anything? I think I have some bottled blood. And you, Mr. Cataliades? A beer? Some soda?”

The big man shuddered, and tried to cover it with a graceful half-bow. “Much too hot for coffee or alcohol for me, but perhaps we’ll take refreshments later.” It was maybe sixty-two degrees, but Mr. Cataliades was indeed sweating, I noticed. “May we come in?” he asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said, without a bit of apology in my voice. “I think not.” I was hoping that Bubba had had the sense to rush across the little valley between our properties to fetch my nearest neighbor, my former lover Bill Compton, known to the residents of Bon Temps as Vampire Bill.

“Then we’ll conduct our business out here in your yard,” Mr. Cataliades said coldly. He and Waldo came around the body of the limousine. I felt uneasy when it wasn’t between us anymore, but they kept their distance. “Miss Stackhouse, you are your cousin’s sole heir.”

I understood what he said, but I was incredulous. “Not my brother Jason?” Jason and Hadley, both three years older than I, had been great buddies.

“No. In this document, Hadley says she called Jason Stackhouse once for help when she was very low on funds. He ignored her request, so she’s ignoring him.”

“When did Hadley get staked?” I was concentrating very hard on not getting any visuals. Since she was older than I by three years, Hadley had been a mere twenty-nine when she’d died. She’d been my physical opposite in most ways. I was robust and blond, she was thin and dark. I was strong, she was frail. She’d had big, thickly-lashed brown eyes, mine were blue; and now, this strange man was telling me, she had closed those eyes for good.

“A month ago.” Mr. Cataliades had to think about it. “She died about a month ago.”

“And you’re just now letting me know?”

“Circumstances prevented.”

I considered that.

“She died in New Orleans?”

“Yes. She was a handmaiden to the queen,” he said, as though he were telling me she’d gotten her partnership at a big law firm, or managed to buy her own business.

“The queen of Louisiana,” I said cautiously.

“I knew you would understand,” he said, beaming at me. “‘This is a woman who knows her vampires,’ I said to myself when I met you.”

“She knows this vampire,” Bill said, appearing at my side in that disconcerting way he had.

A flash of displeasure went across Mr. Cataliades’s face like quick lightning across the sky.

“And you would be?” he asked with cold courtesy.

“I would be Bill Compton, resident of this parish and friend to Miss Stackhouse,” Bill said ominously. “I’m also an employee of the queen, like you.”

The queen had hired Bill so the computer database about vampires he was working on would be her property. Somehow, I thought Mr. Cataliades performed more personal services. He looked like he knew where all the bodies were buried, and Waldo looked like he had put them there.

Bubba was right behind Bill, and when he stepped out of Bill’s shadow, for the first time I saw the vampire Waldo show an emotion. He was in awe.

“Oh my gracious! Is this El—” Mr. Cataliades blurted.

“Yes,” said Bill. He shot the two strangers a significant glance. “This is Bubba. The past upsets him very much.” He waited until the two had nodded in understanding. Then he looked down at me. His dark brown eyes looked black in the stark shadows cast by the overhead lights. His skin had the pale gleam that said vampire. “Sookie, what’s happened?”

I gave him a condensed version of Mr. Cataliades’s message. Since Bill and I had broken up when he was unfaithful to me, we’d been trying to establish some other workable relationship. He was proving to be a reliable friend, and I was grateful for his presence.

“Did the queen order Hadley’s death?” Bill asked my visitors.

Mr. Cataliades gave a good impression of being shocked. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “Her Highness would never cause the death of someone she held so dear.”

Okay, here came another shock. “Ah, what kind of dear…how dear did the queen hold my cousin?” I asked. I wanted to be sure I was interpreting the implication correctly.

Mr. Cataliades gave me an old-fashioned look. “She held Hadley dearly,” he said.

Okay, I got it.

Every vampire territory had a king or queen, and with that title came power. But the queen of Louisiana had extra status, since she was seated in New Orleans, which was the most popular city in the United States if you were one of the undead. Since vampire tourism now accounted for so much of the city’s revenue, even the humans of New Orleans listened to the queen’s wants and wishes, in an unofficial way. “If Hadley was such a big favorite of the queen’s, who’d be fool enough to stake her?” I asked.

“The Fellowship of the Sun,” said Waldo, and I jumped. The vampire had been silent so long, I’d assumed he wasn’t ever going to speak. The vampire’s voice was as creaky and peculiar as his appearance. “Do you know the city well?”

I shook my head. I’d only been to the Big Easy once, on a school field trip.

“You are familiar, perhaps, with the cemeteries that are called the Cities of the Dead?”

I nodded. Bill said, “Yes,” and Bubba muttered, “Uh-huh.” Several cemeteries in New Orleans had above-ground crypts because the water table in southern Louisiana was too high to allow ordinary below-ground burials. The crypts look like small white houses, and they’re decorated and carved in some cases, so these very old burial grounds are called the Cities of the Dead. The historic cemeteries are fascinating and sometimes dangerous. There are living predators to be feared in the Cities of the Dead, and tourists are cautioned to visit them in large guided parties, and to leave at the end of the day.

“Hadley and I had gone to St. Louis Number One that night, right after we rose, to conduct a ritual.” Waldo’s face looked quite expressionless. The thought that this man had been the chosen companion of my cousin, even if just for an evening’s excursion, was simply astounding. “They leaped from behind the tombs around us. The Fellowship fanatics were armed with holy items, stakes, and garlic—the usual paraphernalia. They were stupid enough to have gold crosses.”

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