Life and Death in New Orleans
A Let Love In side story
By Terri Botta
Disclaimer: I don't own the Southern Vampires. Sole copyright belongs to Charlaine Harris. I'm poor so don't sue.
Rating: M for later chapters.
Timeframe: Post-From Dead to Worse
Summary: Eric and Sookie head down to New Orleans to take care of business
A/N: This is it guys. L&DiNOLA is complete. Hope you enjoyed it. I'll be going back to finish up Hope Is The Thing With Feathers before I go on to any new stories in the series.
With good traffic, a decently fast car, and his "crazy driving," they make it back to Shreveport before 10pm. By now his hair is about two inches below his shoulders, and it should be finished growing back by midnight or one a.m. Sookie has been so enthralled by it for most of the trip that he seriously considers shaving it off again just so she can watch it grow back, but he decides that now is not the time for games. Now is the time to establish an alibi to make sure no one knows they've been out of town since last night.
He had previously made arrangements with Pam to cover for him at Fangtasia on Sunday night, and the staff at their other club, Stackhouse's, knew that Sookie would not be there. The story was that they were celebrating their two-month anniversary since their January wedding, and they were taking Sunday off to be together. Both the bar and the club are closed on Mondays, so in reality, they were only taking one night off, and that should not arouse any suspicions. Still, he took care to pre-schedule certain emails and messages to make it look like he was at his Shreveport home well after 3am Monday morning.
He parks the Ford half a mile away from their Ruston nest and turns on his regular cell phone. He's had it off all this time so it cannot be traced, but he uses it to check his messages now. He is not expecting anything out of the ordinary because he left specific instructions that he was not to be disturbed, and his minions are well trained enough to know he means it. Much to his surprise and dismay, however, there are four messages waiting for him. Three are from Pam and one is from Sandy Sechrest, all left within the last two hours.
"Master, I have received a call from the King's Louisiana Rep, Sandy Sechrest. There is a problem in Area One. She demands that you call her as soon as possible," is the first message.
"Master, I have been to your house in Shreveport looking for you. You are not there. There is a problem in Area One. You must contact Sandy Sechrest immediately. I am going to Bon Temps now to see if you are there. No one is answering at the Stackhouse home, and neither of you are answering your cell phones."
"Master, you are not in Bon Temps either. I know you have a secret nest, and I know you expressed a desire to be left alone with your mate, but there is an emergency in Area One. You must contact Sandy Sechrest immediately. Please call me as soon as you get this message."
By the third message he can hear the tension in his child's voice, and he knows that she must be very concerned for him. There is genuine affection between him and Pam, and he regrets leaving her out of the loop, but it was for her own protection. He promises himself to make it up to her once he discovers what Sandy wants. He fears that Victor's disappearance has been discovered, and that some scrap of evidence has been left behind to implicate him.
'But if that is the case, Sandy would not be trying to call me,' he reasons.
'What is it? What is wrong?' Sookie asks.
'Pam has left me three messages. Sandy Sechrest, the King's Louisiana representative is trying to reach me. No doubt it is about Victor. I expected this, just not so quickly.'
Her eyes open wide and she trembles. 'You don't think she knows we had something to do with Victor's death, do you?'
'If that were the case, she would not be calling me. One moment, my lover, please.'
He listens to the fourth message with his jaw clenched.
"Eric Northman, Sheriff of Area Five, this is Sandy Sechrest, King Felipe de Castro's Louisiana Area Rep. You are to call me immediately. There is a problem in Area One."
He mentally prepares himself and selects Sandy's number from his contact list. The female vampire picks up on the first ring.
"Yes?" the King's rep says.
"It is I, Eric Northman. I have received word that you wish to speak with me regarding a problem in Area One," he states calmly.
"Sheriff, are you well?" Sandy replies.
The question surprises him, and he looks at the phone for a second before answering, "Yes, I am well."
"Where are you? Your minion has been unable to locate you."
"I am with my wife. We took Sunday off, and we've been out of touch to ensure our privacy. What is the problem?"
"The Fellowship of the Sun has attacked the Sheriff of Area One, Victor Madden, at his home in New Orleans. He is missing and presumed dead. I have been instructed by the King to contact all of the remaining Sheriffs and to head the investigation regarding Victor's disappearance."
"You suspect a plot to kill all of the Sheriffs," he says astutely. This was something he had not anticipated, but it plays right into his hand.
"Victor was a prominent vampire in New Orleans. He took over Sophie-Anne's headquarters. It is possible he was targeted not because he is a Sheriff, but because he is such a recognizable vampire in the city," he points out carefully, trying not to sound too interested or eager.
"That is certainly feasible, and I hope to determine that during my investigation."
"Do you wish me to come down to New Orleans to assist?"
"No. You are instructed to secure your Area, be on sharp alert, and to report any unusual activity within your Area directly to me. We must determine how big of a threat this is, and how far reaching."
"Of course. You have my full cooperation."
"That is good to know."
"Please keep me informed as to your progress and let me know if you would like my assistance," he offers magnanimously.
She hangs up and he breathes a sigh of relief.
"What did she say?" his wife asks worriedly.
"Sandy has been put in charge of investigating Victor's disappearance. She suspects that it might be part of a larger plot against all of the Sheriffs," he replies with some amusement.
He knows she did not hear Sandy's half of the conversation so there is no need for her to know about the Fellowship just yet – not until he can spin it to his advantage. He knows she will be very unhappy when she finds out what he's done.
"So she was just calling to make sure you were okay," she says.
"Yes. I am to keep a sharp eye out for any danger."
"So… so far we've gotten away with it. No one suspects us," she whispers.
He shakes his head. "No."
"Oh," she gasps softly. "Oh."
He can feel her coming to terms with what they have done, and the relief she feels now that it appears they are in the clear. He reaches over and takes her hand, squeezing it reassuringly.
"It's all right. It's all going to be all right," he promises.
She grips his hand tightly, and he can feel her trembling. He lets her cling to him as he raises his phone to his ear and calls Pam. She also picks up on the first ring.
"Master," she says with no small relief.
"You are well?"
"Yes, and I have been in contact with Sandy Sechrest regarding the problem in Area One."
"She was most insistent that you call her immediately."
"She was concerned for my safety. It appears that Victor Madden is missing. His home was attacked and no one knows where he is."
There is no reason to believe that Sandy has told Pam anything. As a general rule, minions are not "in the know," and it is likely that Pam has no idea why the King's rep was looking for him.
"I… see," his child states carefully, and he does not need to be a telepath to know what she is thinking. He keeps silent on the subject.
"We are to keep a sharp eye out for any trouble in our Area," he tells her.
"Are we expecting any trouble, Sheriff?"
"No. Not at this time. Sandy has promised to keep me informed, and she will let me know if I can be of assistance in the investigation."
"Very good. Are you back in contact range?" his child asks.
"I was always in range, I was just out of touch. In light of the circumstances, however, I will be available from now on. Feel free to call me if anything happens, but only if it is important," he says, sending his regrets across the bond because he knows his wife will be disappointed that they will not be staying in their Ruston nest.
"I will contact you if I have need of you."
"Yes, Master. Thank you for calling. I am glad that there was no trouble."
"I appreciate your concern. I will see you tomorrow at Fangtasia."
"Yes, Master. Have a pleasant night."
"I will. Good night."
He hangs up and turns to his mate who is frowning at him.
'Forgive me but I don't think it is wise for me to be out of touch right now. It will make it seem as if I have something to hide.'
She sighs and reluctantly agrees. 'I guess you're right. I was just looking forward to relaxing in Ruston.'
He smiles. 'There is no need for us not to be able to relax at my house in Shreveport. But I do wish to stop at the Ruston nest. There should be some packages waiting for us there.'
His smile widens. 'Of course. It is our two-month anniversary, after all. Did you think I would let it go uncelebrated?'
Her eyes widen. 'I just thought you'd made that up as an excuse for why we didn't want to be disturbed this weekend.'
'The best plans are the ones based in truth. I had every intention of recognizing our special day.'
The corners of her mouth turn up in a sly smile. 'You just want an excuse to romance me so I'll have sex with you all night.'
'I romance you every night. I need an excuse to pamper you and give you gifts,' he corrects.
She huffs and rolls her eyes. 'Eric…'
'Now, now, you can't deny me, and you can't tell me that you haven't earned some flowers and a nice meal.'
'Is that all you've done? Flowers and a nice meal?' she demands.
He tries to look innocent as he starts the car and heads for their Ruston nest.
'Eric…' she presses.
'Well… there might be some small bauble included with the packages,' he grudgingly admits.
'Bauble? How small of a bauble?'
'Very small,' he hedges.
'You bought me a pair of earrings?'
'I didn't say that. I said earring small.'
'So you didn't buy me a pair of earrings.'
'What does it matter what I bought you?'
'I don't like you giving me lavish gifts, Eric. You know that!'
He cocks an eyebrow at her. 'I gave you a nightclub as a wedding present, and you're getting pissy about a piece of jewelry?'
'I'm not getting pissy,' she argues irritably, her eyes glaring daggers.
They've arrived at the Ruston house, and he takes a moment to look at her before getting out of the car and going to the front porch. There are three boxes waiting for them, all untouched and all under the name of Tom Collins.
Sookie is standing beside him, looking sulky, and he mentally counts to ten for patience, then he hands her the long, thin box for her to open. She holds out her hand for his pocketknife, and he places it into her palm with a little smile. While she is slicing open the box with the flowers, he opens the box with the gourmet food he has ordered for their celebratory meal. Nothing for him, of course, but he's gotten finger foods that he knows she likes and a prime steak and a chocolate dessert. He is inspecting the box when he hears Sookie gasp.
"Oh, Eric, they're beautiful," she whispers, pulling out the roses and lilies.
He smiles and presents her with the third box, already opened for her to dig through the packing peanuts to find the smaller box within. She gives him an exasperated look before dipping her hand into the Styrofoam and rummaging around until she finds the present at the bottom. She creases her brow as she pulls out the narrow box and lifts the lid carefully to reveal the thin gold anklet with its small diamond-studded hearts.
"Oooh, Eric. It's lovely," she says happily.
It is a little thing, ridiculously cheap by his standards, but he knows that she loves it.
"I knew you would like it."
"Are these real diamonds?" she asks, looking at the hearts carefully.
"Just small ones."
She looks at the anklet for a moment more, then snaps it onto her left ankle. It looks a bit out of place sitting above her new set of tennis shoes, but his Sookie has always been a woman of contradictions. He takes her in his arms and kisses her sweetly.
"Happy Anniversary, Mrs. Northman."
She leans into his kiss, wrapping her arms around him and giving him a good serving of tongue. He chuckles and pulls her closer, pressing against her as his body comes to life.
"Mmmm. Thank you for the flowers and the anklet, but I didn't get you anything."
"You give me yourself. That is enough," he tells her, holding her dear to him because she is the most important thing in the world to him right now. She sighs and leans against him, her cheek pressed to his silent chest.
"I'm sorry I was crabby with you," she apologizes.
He laughs and ushers her back to the car with the food and flowers.
"It's okay. I'll let you make it up to me... in bed."
"We have identified Victor Madden's killer," Sandy Sechrest says coolly.
She is sitting in the chair on the other side of his desk in his office in Fangtasia. The door is closed and locked. He is sitting in his chair, his hands folded on the desk, and he is putting on his best "interested" face.
"Oh?" he asks. It has been a week since his and Sookie's trip to New Orleans, and he admits to being apprehensive and eager for Sandy to complete her investigation.
"Yes. He has been tried and executed."
"Executed? It was my understanding that the culprit was a member of the Fellowship of the Sun," he replies with some surprise.
Sandy nods. "That was our initial belief, and the murderer went to great lengths to make us think the Fellowship was behind the attack, but in the end I came to the conclusion that only someone within Victor's inner circle could have committed the crime."
"Oh really?" he says, trying not to sound overeager. If what Sandy is telling him is the truth, many, many problems have just been solved.
"Yes. I was thrown off by the fact that Victor disappeared during the day, but now I have come to believe that is not the case. I believe that the culprit had a human accomplice who transported him to Victor's house and put him inside before sunset where he could bind Victor and take him out right after sundown."
"Have you found the accomplice?"
"Not yet, but I have a witness who saw a large, dark-haired man wearing a cowboy hat sulking around Victor's house."
"Who was charged with the crime? Anyone I knew?"
"No. He was a vampire who came with Victor from Nevada; Martin Gould."
He shakes his head. "I never met him."
"He was one of Victor's minions. I determined that whoever killed Victor had an intimate knowledge of his habits and affairs. Martin had access to Victor's computer and alarm systems, and he would have known the security codes."
"Victor had a failsafe code built into his security system. If the code was not inputted shortly after sunset, an alarm would go off."
"I see. Very clever. I should look into incorporating something like that into my defense systems."
"The logs for the security system show that someone deactivated the alarm system at 5:31pm, and reactivated it at 6:11pm. The failsafe code was put in at 6:09pm."
"Right after sunset," he comments.
"Yes. Combine that with the fact that the hard drive for the computer that stored the video from the hidden security cameras was taken right out of the case, I knew it had to be someone very close to Victor. The computer was kept in a secret room."
"Has the hard drive been found?"
"No. It was nowhere in Martin's personal effects, but I am not surprised. In all likelihood it is at the bottom of a swamp somewhere."
Bayou, actually, and in numerous, pulverized pieces, but he has no intention of telling her that.
"Did an ecoplasmic reconstruction reveal that Martin was the killer?" he asks curiously, trying to sound interested.
"No. A reconstruction was impossible. The witches we hired to perform it could not get a clear image of anything. Oddly, that was what made me look twice at Martin; he had strong connections to the magical community. That and the fact that I discovered that he was embezzling from Victor, it gave me enough evidence to convict."
"Did he confess to the crime?"
"No. He protested his innocence until the very last, but that is nothing new. They all say they didn't do it," she answers with a bored wave of her hand.
Yes, well, in this case the poor hapless fool was telling the truth, but he isn't about to correct her. This whole situation is working out much better than he ever imagined. By charging and executing a vampire, Sandy has insured that he will never have to tell Sookie that he tried to frame the Fellowship for Victor's death. He couldn't have asked for a better outcome if he'd done the investigation himself.
"But is it confirmed that Victor is dead?" he presses.
Sandy nods gravely. "We are relatively certain. A set of Victor's clothes were found behind the Fellowship church in Metarie. An anonymous caller dialed 911 and reported that they were there. They were in tatters and covered in blood, and I found what appeared to be vampire ash."
He lets out a deep breath through his nose. "Please forgive me if I admit that I am not distressed by his demise."
"I am well aware of your difficulties with the Sheriff of Area One, and in light of what I found in Victor's house, I cannot say that I disagree with you."
"Oh? What did you find?"
Sandy looks uncomfortable for a few moments, then answers in carefully chosen words.
"It appears that Victor had an… unhealthy obsession with your bonded. I discovered a secret bedchamber with an iron bed outfitted with manacles. In the dresser drawer I found a collection of… mementos I believe belong to your bonded."
"Mementos?" he prompts, already feeling his anger rising to gorge his throat.
"Yes. A scrap of latex presumably from the dress she wore on the night of your bonding announcement; the one that broke, plus several ripped pieces of lingerie with her scent on them, some personal effects, and a hairbrush."
He clenches his fist and scratches his nails on the desk. "He raided our garbage and went into my bonded's home?" he growls. He will need to have words with his wife about rescinding certain invitations to her Bon Temps house.
"It appears so. I suspect that he planned to take your bonded from you, perhaps even kill you, and hold her against her will."
He lets his fangs drop as he allows himself to feel the rage all over again. "Then be glad that Victor is already dead, for I would claim the right to kill him otherwise. As it is, I hope he died slowly."
"All indications from the clothes we found point to Victor being brutally tortured before he was killed," she informs him without remorse or any expression of regret.
"Good," he states with finality, and he is glad that things appear to be over. "I am assuming that we will see our property returned us?"
"Once the investigation is closed, we will be sure to give all of the items we found back," she agrees.
"Thank you. And thank you for giving me this information."
"I felt obligated to tell you since it appears that Victor intended to do you harm and harm your bonded."
"I am glad that he is no longer a threat to us, and that you found your murderer."
Sandy smiles, but the smile is cold and cruel. "I am a very good investigator. Martin thought he was being clever by trying to implicate the Fellowship. I suspect he was even the one who phoned in the anonymous tip. But no one in the Fellowship would have known Victor's codes or about the failsafe. Once I figured out how he had managed to get into the house before sunset, the rest was easy."
He nods. "I commend you on your proficiency. I am sure the King is very pleased with you."
Sandy rises to her feet. "He has no reason to complain."
"Are you headed back to New Orleans now?"
"Yes. I am overseeing the installation of the new Sheriff."
"Excellent. Has a successor been announced?"
"Yes. Felipe has chosen Jonathon to act as interim Sheriff on a probationary period. If he performs satisfactorily, he will be kept on in the position. If not, he will be replaced. The King has big plans for New Orleans, and he will need someone competent overseeing his interests there."
He nods, glad that Felipe has given no indication that he wishes him to take Victor's place.
"I understand. Thank you for coming."
"I will see you next time I make my rounds. Hopefully I will see your lovely bonded as well."
"You must come to our new club. Stackhouse's is becoming quite the place to be."
Sandy smiles. "So I have heard. But then I would expect nothing less from an astute businessman such as yourself."
He ducks his head in a show of feigned modesty. "You are too kind."
"And you are too canny. Have a good evening."
He stands to give Sandy a proper bow of respect and moves to unlock and open the office door for her.
"You have a good evening as well. Safe travels to New Orleans," he says, holding the door open for her to pass through.
"Thank you. I will see you soon. Good night."
"Good night," he repeats and waits for her to leave the office before closing and locking the door again.
Once she is gone, he waits several moments to see if she is bluffing or trying to catch him in a trap, but he hears her car drive off, and he allows himself to relax a fraction. Slowly, he feels the tension draining out of his body to be replaced by triumphant euphoria.
They have gotten away with it. Someone has been tried and killed for the crime, and now he and Sookie are in the clear. He cannot help but feel jubilant and grateful, and he makes plans to go sweep his wife off her feet so they can celebrate just as soon as he finishes up some paperwork.
He returns to his desk to complete the invoices he was going over, but he cannot help but lean back in his comfy chair and put his feet up on the desk in contentment. Almost involuntarily his hand goes up to stroke his Hammer through his shirt, and he offers up a silent prayer to his Goddess for watching over him.
'Thank you, Hlin, for taking care of your servant. I am in your debt.'
He feels a little tingle of power flash through the Hammer before it settles down again, and he smiles smugly to himself as he digs into a pocket in his jeans to get what he wants. Grinning with self-satisfied pride, he picks out his teeth with a toothpick.