Bite (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #8.5)(13)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

Mr. Cataliades shrugged. “I didn’t want your company,” he said. “Now, we’ll never know how long Hadley would have reigned as favorite, will we, Waldo?”

We were on to something here, and we were being goaded and prodded in that direction by Waldo’s companion, Mr. Cataliades. I wondered why. For the moment, I’d follow his lead. “Hadley was real pretty,” I said. “Maybe the queen would’ve given her a permanent position.”

“Pretty girls glut the market,” Waldo said. “Stupid humans. They don’t know what our queen can do to them.”

“If she wants to,” Bill murmured. “If this Hadley had a knack for delighting the queen, if she had Sookie’s charm, then she might have been happy and favored for many years.”

“And I guess you’d be out on your ass, Waldo,” I said prosaically. “So tell me, were there really fanatics in the cemetery? Or just one skinny white wrinkled fanatic, jealous and desperate?”

Then, suddenly, we were all standing, all but Mr. Cataliades, who was reaching into the briefcase.

Before my eyes, Waldo turned into something even less human. His fangs ran out and his eyes glowed red. He became even thinner, his body folding in on itself. Beside me, Bill and Bubba changed, too. I didn’t want to look at them when they were angry. Seeing my friends change like that was even worse than seeing my enemies do it. Full fighting mode is just scary.

“You can’t accuse a servant of the queen,” Waldo said, and he actually hissed.

Then Mr. Cataliades proved himself capable of some surprises of his own, as if I’d doubted it. Moving quickly and lightly, he rose from his lawn chair and tossed a silver lariat around the vampire’s head, large enough in circumference to circle Waldo’s shoulders. With a grace that startled me, he drew it tight at the critical moment, pinning Waldo’s arms to his sides.

I thought Waldo would go berserk, but the vampire surprised me by holding still. “You’ll die for this,” Waldo said to the big round man, and Mr. Cataliades smiled at him.

“I think not,” he said. “Here, Miss Stackhouse.”

He tossed something in my direction, and quicker than I could watch, Bill’s hand shot out to intercept it. We both stared at what Bill was holding in his hand. It was polished, sharp, and wooden; a hardwood stake.

“What’s up with this?” I asked Mr. Cataliades, moving closer to the long black limo.

“My dear Miss Stackhouse, the queen wanted you to have the pleasure.”

Waldo, who had been glaring with considerable defiance at everyone in the clearing, seemed to deflate when he heard what Mr. Cataliades had to say.

“She knows,” the albino vampire said, and the only way I can describe his voice is heartbroken. I shivered. He loved his queen, really loved her.

“Yes,” the big man said, almost gently. “She sent Valentine and Charity to the cemetery immediately, when you rushed in with your news. They found no traces of human attack on what was left of Hadley. Only your smell, Waldo”

“She sent me here with you,” Waldo said, almost whispering.

“Our queen wanted Hadley’s kin to have the right of execution,” Mr. Cataliades said.

I came closer to Waldo, until I was as close as I could get. The silver had weakened the vampire, though I had a feeling that he wouldn’t have struggled even if the chain hadn’t been made of the metal that vampires can’t tolerate. Some of the fire had gone out of Waldo, though his upper lip drew back from his fangs as I put the tip of the stake over his heart. I thought of Hadley, and I wondered, if she were in my shoes, could she do this?

“Can you drive the limo, Mr. Cataliades?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am, I can.”

“Could you drive yourself back to New Orleans?”

“That was always my plan.”

I pressed down on the wood, until I could tell it was hurting him. His eyes were closed. I had staked a vampire before, but it had been to save my life and Bill’s. Waldo was a pitiful thing. There was nothing romantic or dramatic about this vampire. He was simply vicious. I was sure he could do extreme damage when the situation called for it; and I was sure he had killed my cousin Hadley.

Bill said, “I’ll do it for you, Sookie.” His voice was smooth and cold, as always, and his hand on my arm was cool.

“I can help,” Bubba offered. “You’d do it for me, Miss Sookie.”

“Your cousin was a bitch and a whore,” Waldo said, unexpectedly. I met his red eyes.

“I expect she was,” I said. “I guess I just can’t kill you.” My hand, the one holding the stake, dropped to my side.

“You have to kill me,” Waldo said, with the arrogance of surety. “The queen has sent me here to be killed.”

“I’m just gonna have to ship you right back to the queen,” I said. “I can’t do it.”

“Get your whoremonger to do it, he’s more than willing.”

Bill was looking more vampiric by the second, and he tugged the stake from my fingers.

“He’s trying to commit suicide by cop, Bill,” I said.

Bill looked puzzled, and so did Bubba. Mr. Cataliades’s round face was unreadable.

“He’s trying to make us mad enough, or scared enough, to kill him, because he can’t kill himself,” I said. “He’s sure the queen will do something much, much worse to him than I would. And he’s right.”

“The queen was trying to give you the gift of vengeance,” Mr. Cataliades said. “Won’t you take it? She may not be happy with you if you send him back.”

“That’s really her problem,” I said. “Isn’t it?”

“I think it might be very much your problem,” Bill said quietly.

“Well, that just bites,” I said. “You…” I paused, and told myself not to be a fool. “You were very kind to bring Waldo down here, Mr. Cataliades, and you were very clever in steering me around to the truth.” I took a deep breath and considered. “I appreciate your bringing down the legal papers, which I’ll look over at a calmer moment.” I thought I’d covered everything. “Now, if you’d be so good as to pop the trunk open, I’ll ask Bill and Bubba to put him in there.” I jerked my head toward the silver-bound vampire, standing in silence not a yard away.

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