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  • Home > Charlaine Harris > Southern Vampire Series > Dead Ever After for Chapter 11      Page

    Chapter 9

    I never would have imagined I could be glad my grandmother was dead, but that morning I was. It would have killed Gran to see me arrested and put into a police car.

    I never had experimented with bondage, and now I surely never would. I hate handcuffs.

    I had a trite-but-true moment when Alcee Beck told me he was arresting me for murder. I thought, Any minute now I'll wake up. I didn't really wake up when I heard the doorbell. I just dreamed it. This isn't real, because it can't be. What convinced me that I was awake? The expression on Andy Bellefleur's face. He was standing behind Alcee, and he looked stricken. And I could hear right in his brain, he didn't think I deserved to be arrested. Not on the evidence they had. Alcee Beck had had to talk long and hard to convince the sheriff that I should be arrested.

    Alcee Beck's brain was strange; it was black. I'd never seen anything like it, and I couldn't get a handle on it. That couldn't mean anything good. I could feel his determination to put me in jail. In Alcee Beck's mind, I might as well have "GUILTY" tattooed on my forehead.

    When Andy put the cuffs on me, I said, "I assume I'm uninvited to Halleigh's baby shower."

    "Aw, Sookie," he said, which was hardly adequate.

    To do Andy justice, he was embarrassed, but I wasn't exactly in the mood to do him any justice when he was doing me none. "I think you know I never hurt Arlene," I said to Andy, and I said it very evenly. I was proud of myself for keeping a sealed and stern fa?ade, because inside I was dying of humiliation and horror.

    He looked as if he wanted to say something (he wanted to say, I hope you didn't but there's a little evidence says you did but not enough I don't know how Alcee got a warrant), but he shook his head and said, "I got to do this."

    My sense of unreality lasted all through the booking process. My brother, God bless him, was standing at the jail door when they brought me in, having heard through the instant messaging circuit what had happened. His mouth was open, but before he could vocalize all the angry words I could see crowding his brain, I started talking. "Jason, call Beth Osiecki, and tell her to get down here soon as she can. Go in the house and get the phone number for Desmond Cataliades, and call him, too. And call Sam and tell him I can't come to work tomorrow," I added hastily, as I was marched into the jail and they shut the door on my brother's anxious face. Bless his heart.

    If this had happened even a week, two weeks ago, I could have been confident that Eric, or even perhaps my great-grandfather Niall (prince of the fairies), would have me out in the wink of an eye. But I'd burned my bridges with Eric, and Niall had sealed himself into Faery for complicated reasons.

    Now I had Jason.

    I knew every single person I saw during the process of being booked. It was the most humiliating experience of my life, and that was saying something. I discovered I was being charged with second-degree murder. I knew from Kennedy Keyes's discussion of her time in jail that the penalty for second-degree murder would be life in prison.

    I do not look good in orange.

    There are worse things than humiliation and worse things than wearing a jail outfit (baggy tunic and drawstring pants). That's for sure. But I have to say, my cup was full and overflowing, and I was ready for some goodness and mercy. I was so agitated that I was glad to see the cell door. I thought I'd be alone. But I wasn't. Jane Bodehouse, of all people, was passed out and snoring on the bottom bunk. She must have had a few adventures after Merlotte's closed the night before.

    At least she was out of it, so I had plenty of time to adjust to my new circumstances. After ten minutes of processing, I was bored out of my mind. If you'd asked me how it would be to sit without work to do, without a book, without a television, without even a telephone, I would have laughed because I couldn't have imagined such a situation.

    The boredom—and my inability to get away from my own fearful conjectures—was awful. Maybe it hadn't been so bad for Jason when he'd been in jail? My brother didn't like to read, and he wasn't much on reflection, either. I would ask him how he'd managed, the next time I saw him.

    Now Jason and I had more in common than we'd ever had in our lives. We were both jailbirds.

    He'd been arrested for murder, too, in the past, and like me, he was innocent, though evidence had pointed in his direction. Oh, poor Gran! This would have been so awful for her. I hoped she couldn't see me from heaven.

    Jane was snoring, but seeing her familiar face was somehow homey. I used the toilet while she was out of it. There would be plenty of awfulness in my future, but I was trying to forestall a little bit of it.

    I'd never been in a jail cell before. It was pretty disgusting. Tiny, battered, scarred, concrete floor, bunk beds. After a while, I got tired of squatting on the floor. Since Jane was sprawled across the bottom bunk, with some difficulty I hauled myself to the top level. I thought of all the faces I'd seen through the bars as I'd gone to my cell: startled, curious, bored, hard. If I'd known all the people on the free side of the bars, I'd also recognized almost all those men and women on the other side, too. Some were just fuckups, like Jane. Some of them were very bad people.

    I could hardly breathe, I was so scared.

    And the worst part—well, not the worst part, but a real bad part—was that I was guilty. Oh, not of Arlene's death. But I had killed other people, and I'd watched many more die at the hands of others. I couldn't even be sure I remembered them all.

    In a kind of panic, I scrambled to recall their names, how they'd died. The harder I tried, the more the memories became jumbled. I saw the faces of people I'd watched perish, people whose deaths I hadn't caused. But also I saw the faces of people (or creatures) I'd killed; the fairy Murry, for example, and the vampire Bruno. The werefox Debbie Pelt. Not that I'd gone out hunting them because I had a beef with them; they'd all been intent on killing me. I kept telling myself that it had been okay to defend my life, but the reiteration of their death scenes was my conscience letting me know that (though I was not guilty of the crime that had put me here) jail was not a totally inappropriate place for me to be.

    This was the rock-bottom moment of my life. I had a lot of clarity about my own character; I had more time than I wanted to think about how I'd landed where I was. As unpleasant as the first hours in the cell were, they got worse when Jane woke up.

    First, she was sick from both ends, and since the toilet was sitting completely exposed, that was just . . . disgusting. After Jane weathered that phase, she was so miserable and hungover that her thoughts were dull throbs of pain and remorse. She promised herself over and over that she would do better, that she would not drink so much again, that her son would not have to fetch her again, that she would start that very evening to cut way back on the beers and shots. Or since she felt so horrible today, maybe tomorrow would be soon enough. That would be much more practical.

    I endured a few more mental and verbal cycles like this before Jane realized she had a companion in the cell and that her new buddy wasn't one of her usual cell mates.

    "Sookie, what are you doing here?" Jane said. She still sounded pretty puny, though God knew her body should be empty of toxins.

    "I'm as surprised as you are," I said. "They think I killed Arlene."

    "So she did get out of jail. I really did see her, not last night but the night before," Jane said, brightening a little. "I thought it was a dream or something, since I was sure she was behind bars."

    "You saw her? Somewhere besides Merlotte's?" I didn't think Jane had been in Merlotte's when Arlene had come to speak to me.

    "Yeah, I was gonna tell you yesterday, but I got sidetracked by that lawyer talk."

    "Where did you see her, Jane?"

    "Oh, where'd I see her? She was . . ." This was clearly a big effort for Jane. She ran her fingers through her snarled hair. "She was with two guys."

    Presumably these were the friends Arlene had mentioned. "When was this?" I tried to ask this very gently, because I didn't want to risk knocking Jane off course. She wasn't the only one who was having a hard time staying on track. I had to concentrate hard to both breathe and ask coherent questions. After Jane's episodes of illness, it smelled pretty awful in our little bunkhouse.

    Jane tried to recall the time and place of her Arlene encounter, but it was such a struggle and there were so many less taxing things to think about that it took her a while. However, Jane was at heart a kind person, so she fumbled through her memories till she arrived at success. "I seen her out back of . . . you remember that real big guy who repaired motorcycles?"

    I had to clamp down on myself to keep my voice casual. "Tray Dawson. Had a shop and a house out where Court Street turns into Clarice Road." Tray's large shop/garage stood between Tray's house and Brock and Chessie Johnson's, where Coby and Lisa were living. There were only woods behind those houses, and since Tray's was the last one on the street, it was a secluded spot.

    "Yeah. She was out there, in back of his house. It's been closed for a while now, so I got no idea what she was doing."

    "You know the guys she was with?" I was trying so hard to sound casual, trying so hard not to inhale the terrible miasma, that my voice came out in a squeak like a mouse that was being strangled.

    "No, I ain't seen them before. One of 'em was kind of tall and skinny and bony, and the other one was just plain looking."

    "How'd you come to see them?"

    If Jane had had enough energy to look uncomfortable, she would have. As it was, she looked a tad woeful. She said, "Well, that night I thought about going by the nursing home to see Aunt Martha, but I stopped off at the house to have a little drink, so by the time I got to the nursing home, they said the place was closing to visitors, it being pretty late and all. But I run into Hank Clearwater there, you know, the handyman? He was leaving after visiting his dad. Well, me and Hank have known each other forever, and he said we could have a drink in his car, and before you know it one thing led to another, but we thought he better move the car somewhere a little more private, so he pulled into the woods across the street from the nursing home, there's a little track through the woods where kids run four-wheelers. We could see the backs of the houses on Clarice Road. They all got those big security lights. Helped us see what we were doing!" She giggled.

    "So that's how you were able to see Arlene," I said, since I didn't even want to think about Hank and Jane.

    "Yeah, that's how come I saw her. I thought, 'Damn, that's Arlene, and she's out, and she tried to kill Sookie. What's up with that?' Those men were real close to her. She was handing them something, and then Hank and I . . . got to . . . talking, and I never saw them again. Next time I looked up, they were gone."

    Jane's piece of information was very important to me in a dubious kind of way. On the one hand, it might help clear me or at least give the law grounds for doubting that I'd had any part in killing Arlene. On the other hand, Jane was not what you would call a reliable witness, and her story could be shaken up with one arm tied behind a policeman's back.

    I sighed. As Jane began a monologue about her long "friendship" with Hank Clearwater (I'd never be able to have him in to work on my plumbing after this), I had some random thoughts of my own.

    My witness, Karin the Slaughterer, would not rise until full dark, which would not be achieved until quite late. (Not for the first time, I told myself how much I hated daylight saving time.) Karin was a better witness than Jane because she was obviously sharp, alert, and in her right mind. Of course, she was dead. Having a vampire as a witness to your whereabouts was not a glowing testimonial. Though they were now citizens of the United States, they were not treated or regarded like humans, not by a long shot. I wondered if the police would get around to interviewing Karin tonight. Maybe they'd already sent someone to Fangtasia before she'd turned in today.

    I considered what Jane had told me. A tall, thin guy and a plain guy, not locals or Jane would have recognized them. With Arlene. In the area behind the house next door to where her children were staying with Brock and Chessie Johnson. Late, on the night Arlene was murdered. That was a big development.

    Kevin, in a clean, crisp uniform, brought us lunch an hour later. Fried bologna, mashed potatoes, sliced tomatoes. He looked at me with as much distaste as I'd looked at the food.

    "You can just cut that out, Kevin Pryor," I said. "I no more killed Arlene than you can tell your mama who you're living with."

    Kevin turned bright red, and I knew my tongue had gotten the better of me. Kevin and Kenya had been living together for a year now, and most people in town knew about it. But Kevin's mom could pretend she didn't know because Kevin didn't tell her face-to-face. There wasn't a thing wrong with Kenya, except for Kevin's mom she was the wrong color to be a girlfriend to Kevin.

    "You just shut up, Sookie," he said. Kevin Pryor had never said a rude thing to me in his life. I suddenly realized that I didn't look the same to Kevin now that I was wearing orange. From being someone he should treat with respect, I'd become someone he could tell to shut up.

    I stood and looked into his face through the bars separating us. I looked at him for a long moment. He turned even redder. There was no point in telling him Jane's story. He wasn't going to listen.

    Alcee Beck came back to the cells that afternoon. Thank God he didn't have the key to our cell. He loomed outside it, silent and glowering. I saw his big fists clench and unclench in a very unnerving way. Not only did he want to see me go to jail for murder, he would love to beat me up. He was spoiling for it. Only the thinnest thread kept him anchored to self-restraint.

    The black cloud was still in his head, but it didn't seem as dense. His thoughts were leaking through.

    "Alcee," I said, "you know I didn't do this, right? I think you do know that. Jane has evidence that two men saw Arlene that night." Even though I knew Alcee didn't like me, for reasons both personal and professional, I didn't think he would persecute (or prosecute) me for his own reasons. Though he was certainly capable of some corruption, some graft, Alcee had never been suspected of being any kind of vigilante. I knew he hadn't had any personal relationship with Arlene, for two reasons: Alcee loved his wife, Barbara, the librarian here in Bon Temps, and Arlene had been a racist.

    The detective didn't respond to my words, but I could tell there was a question or two going on in his thoughts about the righteousness of his actions. He departed, his face still full of anger.

    Something was so wrong inside Alcee Beck. Then it came to me: Alcee was acting like someone who'd been possessed. That was a key thought. I finally had something new to think about; I could spend infinite time picking the thought apart.

    The rest of the day passed with excruciating slowness. It's bad when the most interesting thing that happens to you all day is getting arrested. The women's jailer, Jessie Schneider, sauntered down the hall to tell Jane that her son couldn't pick her up until tomorrow morning. Jessie didn't speak to me, but she didn't have to. She gave me a good long look, shook her head, and walked back to her office. She'd never heard anything bad about me, and it made her sad that someone who'd had such a good grandma had ended up in jail. It made me sad, too.

    A trustee brought us our supper, which was pretty much lunch revisited. At least the tomatoes were fresh, since there was a garden at the jail. I'd never thought I'd get tired of fresh tomatoes, but between my own burgeoning plants and the jail produce, I would be glad when they were out of season.

    There wasn't a window in our cell, but there was one across the corridor, high up on the wall. When the window got dark, all I could think of was Karin. I prayed very earnestly that (if she hadn't been already) she would be contacted by the police, that she would tell the truth, that the truth would literally set me free. I didn't get a lot of sleep that night after the lights went out. Jane snored, and someone over in the men's section was screaming from about midnight to one a.m.

    I was so grateful when morning came and the sun broke through the window across the corridor. The weather report two days ago had forecast Monday as sunny, which meant a return to very high temperatures. The jail was air-conditioned, which was a good thing, since it meant I wasn't quite exasperated enough to kill Jane, though I came mighty close a couple of times.

    I sat cross-legged on my top bunk, trying hard to think about nothing, until Jessie Schneider came to get us.

    "You got to go in front of the judge now," she said. "Come on." She unlocked the cell and gestured us out. I'd been afraid we'd be shackled, but we weren't. We were handcuffed, though.

    "When am I getting to go home, Jessie?" Jane asked. "Hey, you know Sookie didn't do nothing to Arlene. I saw Arlene with some men."

    "Yeah, when did you remember that? When Sookie reminded you?" Jessie, a big, heavy woman in her forties, didn't seem to bear either of us any ill will. She was so accustomed to being lied to that she simply didn't believe anything an inmate said, and very little anyone else told her, either.

    "Awww, Jessie, don't be mean. I did see her. I didn't know the men. You ought to let Sookie go. Me, too."

    Jessie said, "I'll tell Andy you remembered something." But I could tell she didn't hang any weight on Jane's words.

    We went out a side door and directly into the parish van. Jessie had two other prisoners in tow by that time: Ginjer Hart (Mel Hart's ex-wife), a werepanther who had a habit of passing bad checks, and Diane Porchia, an insurance agent. Of course, I knew Diane had been picked up (which sounded better than "arrested") for filing false insurance claims, but I'd kind of lost track of her case. Women were transported separately from men, and Jessie, accompanied by Kenya, drove us over to the courthouse. I didn't look out the window, I was so ashamed that people could see me in this van.

    There was a hush when we filed into the courtroom. I didn't look at the spectator section, but when attorney Beth Osiecki waved her hand to catch my attention, I almost wept from relief. She was sitting in the front row. Once I'd noticed her, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face over her shoulder.

    Tara was sitting behind the places saved for lawyers. JB was with her. The babies sat in two infant seats between them.

    In the row behind sat Alcide Herveaux, leader of the Shreveport werewolf pack and owner of AAA Accurate Surveys. Next to him was my brother, Jason, and his packleader, Calvin Norris. Jason's friend and best man, Hoyt Fortenberry, was nearby. Chessie Johnson, who was keeping Arlene's kids, was having a low-voiced conversation with Kennedy Keyes and her boyfriend, Danny Prideaux, who not only worked at the home builders' supply but was also Bill Compton's daytime guy. And right by Danny glowered Mustapha Khan, Eric's daytime guy, and Mustapha's buddy Warren, who gave me a wispy smile. Terry Bellefleur stood at the back, shifting from foot to foot uneasily, his wife, Jimmie, at his side. Maxine Fortenberry came in, her walk ponderous and her face as angry as a thunderstorm. She'd brought another friend of Gran's with her, Everlee Mason. Maxine was wearing her righteous face. It was clear that coming into the courtroom was something she'd never had to do in her life, but by golly she was going to do it today.

    I had a moment of sheer amazement. Why were all these people here? What had brought them to the courtroom on the same day I had a hearing? It seemed like the most incredible coincidence.

    Then I caught the thoughts in their brains, and I understood that there was no coincidence. They were all here on my behalf.

    My vision suddenly blurry from tears, I followed Ginjer Hart as she entered the defendants' pew. If the jail orange looked awful on me, it wasn't doing Ginjer any favors, either. Ginjer's bright red hair was a direct slap in the face to the Day-Glo shade of the ensemble. Diane Porchia, with her neutral coloring, had fared better.

    I didn't really care about how we looked in our jail clothes. I was trying not to think about the moment. I was so touched that my friends had come, so horrified they'd seen me handcuffed, so hopeful I'd get out . . . so terrified I wouldn't.

    Ginjer Hart was bound over for trial since no one stepped forward to bail her out. I wondered if Calvin Norris, leader of the werepanthers, hadn't shown up to stand bail for his clanswoman, but I learned later that this was Ginjer's third offense and that he'd warned her the first and second times that his patience had a limit. Diane Porchia made bail; her husband was sitting in the last row, looking sad and worn-down.

    Then, finally, it was my turn to step forward. I looked up at the judge, a kindly but shrewd-looking woman. Her nameplate read "Judge Rosoff." She was in her fifties, I thought. Her hair was in a bun, and her oversized glasses made her eyes look like a Chihuahua's.

    "Miss Stackhouse," she said, after looking at the papers in front of her. "This is your arraignment for the murder of Arlene Daisy Fowler. You're charged with second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of life in prison. You have counsel present, I see. Miss Osiecki?"

    Beth Osiecki took a deep breath. I suddenly understood that she'd never represented someone charged with murder. I was so frightened I could hardly listen to the back-and-forth between the judge and the attorney, but I heard it when the judge said she'd never seen so many friends turn out for a defendant. Beth Osiecki told the judge I should be released on bail, especially in view of the very slim evidence that connected me to Arlene Fowler's murder.

    The judge turned to the district attorney, Eddie Cammack, who never came to Merlotte's, went to church at Tabernacle Baptist, and raised Maine coon cats. Eddie looked as horrified as if Judge Rosoff were being asked to release Charles Manson.

    "Your honor, Miss Stackhouse is accused of killing a woman who was a friend to her for many years, a woman who was a mother and . . ." Eddie ran out of good things to say about Arlene. "Detective Beck says Miss Stackhouse had solid reasons to want Arlene Fowler dead, and Fowler was found with Miss Stackhouse's scarf around her neck, behind Miss Stackhouse's workplace. We don't believe she should be freed on bail." I wondered where Alcee Beck was. Then I spotted him. He was glowering at the judge like someone had suggested whipping Barbara Beck on the courthouse lawn. The judge glanced at Alcee's angry face and then dismissed him from her mind.

    "Has this scarf been proved to be Miss Stackhouse's?" Judge Rosoff asked.

    "She admits the scarf looks like one she had."

    "No one saw Miss Stackhouse wearing the scarf recently?"

    "We haven't found anyone, but . . ."

    "No one saw Miss Stackhouse with the victim around the time of the murder. There's no compelling physical evidence. I understand Miss Stackhouse has a witness to her whereabouts the night of the murder?"

    "Yes, but . . ."

    "Then bail is granted. In the amount of thirty thousand dollars."

    Oh, yay! I had that much money, thanks to Claudine's legacy. But there was that suspicious freeze on the check. Shit. As quickly as my mind ran through these ups and downs, the judge said, "Mr. Khan, you stand surety for this woman?"

    Mustapha Khan rose. Maybe because he resented having to be in a courtroom (he'd had some serious brushes with the law), Mustapha was in full "Blade" mode today: black leather vest and pants (how'd he stand that in the heat?), black T-shirt, dark glasses, shaved head. All he needed was a sword and multiple guns and blades, and since I knew him, I knew those would be somewhere near.

    "My boss does. I'm here to represent his interests, since he's a vampire and can't appear in the day." Mustapha sounded bored.

    "My goodness," Judge Rosoff said, sounding mildly entertained. "That's a first. All right, your bail has been set at thirty thousand dollars, Miss Stackhouse. Since your family, home, and business are here and you've never lived anywhere else in your life, I think you're a low flight risk. You seem to have plenty of community ties." She glanced over the papers in front of her and nodded. All was right and tight with Judge Rosoff. "You are released on bail pending your trial. Jessie, return Miss Stackhouse to the jail and process her out."

    Of course, I had to wait for everyone else, including the male prisoners, to have their moment in court. I wanted to leap up and run away from that bench where I sat with the other defendants. It was all I could do to refrain from sticking out my tongue at Alcee Beck, who looked like he was going to have a heart attack.

    Andy Bellefleur had come in to stand beside his cousin Terry. Terry whispered in his ear, and I knew he was telling Andy I'd made bail. Andy looked relieved. Terry punched Andy in the arm, and not in a "hey, buddy" kind of way. "I told you so, asshole," he said audibly.

    "Not my doing," Andy said, a little too loudly. Judge Rosoff looked pained.

    "Bellefleurs, please remember where you are," she said, and they both stood at attention, absurdly. The judge had a twitch at the corners of her mouth.

    When all the prisoners had been arraigned, Judge Rosoff nodded and Jessie Schneider and Kenya herded us out into the van. A second later, the parish bus began loading the male prisoners. Finally, we were on our way back to the jail.

    An hour later I was dressed in my own clothes again, walking out into the sun, a free woman. My brother was waiting. "I didn't think I'd ever get to pay you back when you stood by me when I was in jail," he said, and I winced. I hadn't ever pictured that happening myself. "But here I am, picking you up at the hoosegow. How'd you like those toilets?"

    "Oh, I'm thinking of having them put in at the house, to remind me of good times." Since he was my brother, he ground it in for a couple more minutes. My nickname was now "Jailbird," and my picture on Facebook had bars drawn over it. And on and on.

    "Michele?" I asked, when Jason ran out of funny comments. Since we'd been together all our lives, Jason understood what I meant without the whole sentence.

    "She couldn't get off work," he said, meeting my eyes so I'd know he wasn't lying. As if I couldn't have told by seeing directly into his brain. "She woulda come, but her boss wouldn't let her off."

    I nodded, ready to believe Michele didn't think I was guilty.

    "The last time we talked about Eric, you and him were on the outs," Jason said. "But he must be carrying a torch to have bailed you out like that. That's a shitload of money."

    "I'm surprised myself," I said. And that was a huge understatement. Based on past experience, when Eric got angry at me, he let me know about it. When he'd decided I was being prissy about killing a few enemies in a bloodbath, he'd bitten me without bothering to take away the pain. I'd let that incident go by without having a showdown over it—a mistake on my part—but I hadn't forgotten it. After our terrible confrontation the night before my arrest, I had never expected this magnanimity from Eric. Even attributing it to a sentimental gesture on his part didn't match what I knew of Eric. I definitely wanted to ask Mustapha a few questions, but he was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Sam, which was somewhat more of a surprise.

    "Where do you want to go, Sis?" Jason was trying not to act like he was in a hurry, but he was. He had to get back to work; he'd taken an extended lunch hour to come to court.

    "Take me to the house," I said, after a second's thought. "I have to shower and put on clean clothes and, I guess . . . go in to work. If Sam wants me there. I might not be such an advertisement for the place now."

    "Are you kidding? He went nuts when he heard they arrested you," Jason said, as if I should have known what had happened while I was in jail. Sometimes Jason got what I was kind of jumbled up with "psychic" or even "omniscient."

    "He did?"

    "Yeah, he went to the station to yell at Andy and Alcee Beck on Sunday. Then he called the jail about a million times to ask how you were doing. And he asked the judge who the best criminal lawyer in the area was. By the way, Holly's been working in your place while you were out sick and this morning, just to pick up a little extra cash for the wedding. She says don't worry! She don't want to come back regular."

    When we got to Hummingbird Road, I thought, I'm really free. I didn't know if I'd ever recover from the overwhelming humiliation of being arrested and going to jail, but I assumed that when I'd gotten over the oppressive weight of the experience, I'd have learned some lesson God wanted me to learn.

    I had a moment of thinking of our Lord being dragged through the streets and pelted with offal and then having his court hearing in a public place. Then being crucified.

    Well, not that I was comparing myself to Jesus, I told myself hastily, but I'd done that kind of backward, right? Almost been crucified, then been arrested. We had something in common, Jesus and me! I threw that thought out of my mind as not only a gross exaggeration, but maybe even blasphemy, and focused instead on what to do with my new freedom.

    Shower first, for sure. I wanted to wash off the jail smell, plus I hadn't showered since Saturday morning. If I'd gone back to my cell after the courtroom, I could have showered with the other female inmates. Woo-hoo!

    Jason had been silent during our drive to my house, but that didn't mean his brain hadn't been busy. He was glad Michele was cool with my arrest, because it sure would have been uncomfortable if she'd thought his sister was guilty, and that might have delayed the wedding. Jason really wanted to get married.

    "Tell Michele to come see the dress I bought for my bridesmaid dress, anytime," I said, as Jason pulled up behind the house. I'd retrieved my purse when I'd been released, so I had my keys.

    Jason gave me a blank look.

    "The one I bought to wear to your wedding. I'll call her later."

    Jason was used to me chiming in on his thoughts. He said, "Okay, Sook. You take it easy today. I never believed you done it. Not that she didn't have it coming."

    "Thanks, Jason." I was genuinely touched, and of course I knew he was completely sincere.

    "Call me if you need me," he said, and then he took off for work. I was so glad to unlock the door and be back in my own home, I almost started crying. And after being jammed into a jail cell with a hungover Jane Bodehouse, it was exquisitely sweet to be alone. I glanced at the telephone answering machine, which was blinking furiously, and I was certain there were some e-mails waiting for me. But a shower came first.

    While I dried my hair with a towel, I looked out the window at the shimmering landscape. Everything looked dusty again, but it would be a couple of days before I needed to water, thanks to the recent rain. I actually looked forward to getting out in the yard, because after jail it looked incredibly beautiful. The extravagant growth and lushness had only increased while I was gone.

    I put on makeup, because I needed to feel attractive. I put a ton of moisturizer on my newly shaved legs and sprayed on a little spritz of perfume. This was more like it. Every second I felt more like myself, Sookie Stackhouse, bar owner and telepath, and less like Sookie the Jailbird.

    I pushed down the Play button on the answering machine.

    Here are the people who didn't believe I should have been arrested: Maxine; India; JB du Rone's mom; Pastor Jimmy Fullenwilder; Calvin; Bethany Zanelli, coach of the high school softball team; and at least seven others. I had to feel touched that they'd bothered to call to express their feelings, even though I'd been in jail and it had been possible I'd never get to hear their encouraging messages. I wondered if I should write a thank-you note to each caller. My grandmother would have.

    As I listened to Kennedy Keyes's voice telling me Sam had said I shouldn't come in today and I should rest, I could see by the counter that I had only one more message. A man's voice came on. I didn't recognize it. He said, "You had no right to take away my last chance. I'm going to make sure you pay for it." I looked at the number. I didn't recognize it, either. Was I shocked at the determination in his voice? Yes. But I wasn't surprised. I know how people really are. I can hear their thoughts. I couldn't read the brain of someone who'd left a phone message, but I know intent when I hear it. My anonymous caller had meant every word he'd said.

    Now it was my turn to make a phone call. "Andy, I need you to come out here and listen to something," I said when he picked up his cell. "You may not want to, but if I'm in danger, you gotta protect me, right? I didn't lose that when I got arrested?"

    "Sookie," Andy said. He sounded massively tired. "I'm on my way."

    "And do me a favor, okay? This is weird, and I know you won't want to do it, but you tell Alcee Beck to clean out his car. I'm pretty sure there's something in his car that shouldn't be there." I'd had so much time to think in jail that I'd remembered a little flash of memory: Alcee's car parked by the woods. The odd flicker of movement I'd seen from the corner of my eye. The fact that Alcee was so insanely determined I be arrested and charged that I'd thought, It's almost like he's under a spell.

    That seemed like such a good fit, I was sure it was true.

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