I Write the Songs Contest Entry: D-5
Characters: Eric Northman, Sookie Stackhouse
Disclaimer: the characters and storylines of the Southern Vampire Mysteries Series belong to Charlaine Harris
Virgin Writer: No
Summary: In a run-down bar, in a run-down part of town, a man borrows a quarter to put a record on the juke-box. Selection D-5 is his choice. The song reminds him of his lost love. Will he ever see her again?
'D-5' is a very obscure 1960's soul song, from the album ' Mr Everything ' (WAND 667) by Chuck Jackson.
"You haven't played your song tonight, man." The bartender gave him a fangy grin, his white teeth contrasting with his dark face. His style was 1960's retro, black leather jacket and skinny black trousers, all set off with a huge Afro. Frank Wilson's style wasn't vintage though, it was the real thing, circa 1968, when he had been turned. He looked like a member of the Black Panthers and that was exactly what he had been.
Eric Northman winced briefly at the familiarity of the idiom, but forced a smile. Of all the places he had stayed in the last few months, this was the one where he had felt most comfortable. Perhaps it was the décor, he thought. The black leatherette covered seats and the red walls reminded him of Fangtasia. He liked Frank as well. Normally he had no time for young vampire, finding them shallow and self-obsessed like human teenagers.
Frank was as quiet and serious in his undead existence as he had been in his human life. He had been a musician and civil rights campaigner who got sucked into a local Panther cell. His companions had been killed in a Police shoot-out one night in August 1968 but he'd been offered the choice of immortality and he'd taken it without a second thought.
Frank's bar was shabby, and for the most part almost empty. Tonight Eric's only companions were two off-duty cops, both vampires as well. They came in most nights, at the end of their night shift, to pick up a TrueBlood on the way home.
Something about them made Eric nervous. It would seem to the normal, human, eye that they were oblivious to his presence. They seemed wrapped up in each other, leaning across their booth in earnest conversation. He knew better though. Ten centuries of experience told him that they were watching him. Whether they were friend or foe, that he couldn't tell, but he wasn't about to take the risk. He had one more night in this place; then he would move on.
"Why do you keep this place open Frank, it can't be making any money?" Eric had never been one for polite conversation and the weeks on the road had made him more blunt than normal.
"I don't know. I guess it reminds me of my lost. . . life. It used to be the coolest place in town, years ago. The Funk Brothers were practically the house band. They'd come down two or three nights a week once they'd finished in the studio. I know those days will never come back, but it's hard to let go and move on." Frank was wistful as he reflected on Eric's words.
"Anyway, you're a fine one to talk about money." He had been watching the tall vampire's reflection in the mirror behind the bar as he searched through his pockets for loose change.
"Yes, I am a little short," Eric laughed ruefully. It was a long time since he'd had to worry about money and he didn't like it one bit. Tonight he could barely scrape together enough for a TrueBlood.
The bartender opened his till and threw a quarter across the bar.
"There you go, bro, play it for me. I've always liked that song."
Eric gave a curt nod in acknowledgement, and crossed the room to where the chrome-clad jukebox stood. Like everything else in the bar it was a throwback to a forgotten era. He found the song easily. D-5 was the selection number. He'd been playing it wherever he went. It was the only hint of nostalgia he allowed himself to indulge in. The only tangible connection to his memories of all he'd left behind: Fangtasia, Pam, and most of all Sookie.
He sat down in one of the booths and closed his eyes, remembering the last time he had seen her. It must be three months ago now, although with all the travelling he was beginning to lose track.
Back then he'd allowed himself to hope that things were getting better. Pam and he had both recovered physically from that terrible night when his maker, Appius, had met the true death. The return of the Roman, after all those years, had shaken him more than he would ever have thought possible. He had a thousand years of experience but without warning he had felt like that newly turned vampire child once again – powerless, weak and vulnerable, totally at the mercy of his master.
Appius' return and the tragic events it triggered had taken their toll on Sookie as well. She had to deal with so much death; it seemed to surround them wherever they were. She had tried to hide her concern, but he knew she was questioning their relationship once again.
He had worked so hard to make it up to her. He had been extra attentive; he'd reduced his hours at Fangtasia. They had even been out on proper dates together. He loved the ritual of preparation; choosing their outfits, getting dressed up, letting her braid his hair, watching her put on her make-up. They had held hands at the movies, danced for hours at the private Vampire-only club he owned, done all the things that normal couples did.
Then just as everything seemed to be falling into place, Felipe had come to Shreveport late one September night. He sauntered into Fangtasia with his entourage, just as Pam and Eric were locking up for the evening.
Victor Madden was behind it of course. Eric knew he had been collecting evidence to try to discredit him. He suspected Victor's unseen hand when reports of the second life and death of the Tsarevich Alexei Romanov had surfaced in the national press. Initially there were just hints and rumours but eventually the story became too big to ignore. Once it went global, his fate was sealed. There had to be a scapegoat and he was the obvious candidate.
"This is a fucking vampire disaster," Felipe stormed. He rarely used profanity or lost his temper, so his next words were not entirely unexpected. "I'm relieving you of your area, Sheriff Northman. I'm sorry, but you have left me with no choice. You are obviously unable to keep things under control."
The slightest twitch of his mouth was the only indication that Eric cared. Pam's eyes blazed with anger, and Sookie had to lay a hand on her arm to try to calm her.
"Victor will replace you as Sheriff of Area 5," the King announced, to no one's surprise. "You can keep your business interests, provided you swear fealty to him."
Victor smiled with a complete lack of sincerity. "It will be a pleasure to have Mister Northman in my area. A businessman of his standing is always an asset."
"Oh, by the way," Felipe continued. "Victor will be opening his own club. I'm sure that you can guarantee that he will be able to proceed with his plans, unmolested." The King laid heavy emphasis on the last word. He had obviously heard what happened the last time anyone tried to open a rival to Fangtasia, how it had mysteriously burnt to the ground.
"You can't let him do this, you have to fight back." Pam's fury had, if anything, been greater than Eric's. He felt oddly subdued, as if it was something he'd been expecting all along.
"Shut up Pam, you heard the King. We are his loyal subjects and we will follow his orders." Turning to Felipe, he bowed in acquiescence, all the while ignoring Victor, who stood in the background looking smug. "Now if you will excuse us, I have to lock up. My wife and I have plans for this evening."
The royal party swept out with Victor swaggering arrogantly as if he already owned the place. Sookie stuck her tongue out in a childish gesture of defiance, which raised a smile from Eric, even as he pondered the implications of what had just happened.
Eric and Sookie spent the night in a shabby motel on the outskirts of town, renting the only light-tight room they had. They had made love with the passion and abandon of two people who knew they might never be together again.
"You know Victor won't leave things. He will come after me." Eric whispered the words into her hair as he held her close against him, savouring the smell of sweat on her body.
Sookie bit her lip as she acknowledged the truth of it with a nod. "I'll come with you," she said, although she knew already what his response would be.
"You are still under Felipe's personal protection. I don't think Madden will dare move against you, however much he might wish to. The best way to protect yourself is to offer to work for the King. Just make sure you get a good contract and squeeze him for as much as you can."
Sookie considered the idea for a few moments, wrinkling her nose in a gesture of distaste.
"It will allow you to keep in touch with what's happening at court," Eric added, slipping his arms around her waist and nuzzling her neck. "That could be very useful."
She was forced to admit that he had a point. "Okay, I'll do it - for you." She paused. "Where are you going to go?"
He had refused to tell her. The less she knew, the better. Victor was certain to try to seek him out and destroy him; it was what he would do if the roles were reversed. Sookie wouldn't be entirely safe in Louisiana, but she would be in much greater danger if she was with him.
"You and Pam, you'll look out for each other, right?" He intended it as a question but it came out sounding like an order.
"I reckon she and I are pretty good together," Sookie laughed. "We saw off Victor's last assassins." She was trying her best to maintain a brave face, he could tell. Next time Victor came for them it would be in strength, and while Pam's cunning and Sookie's courage would always be a match for him, he had the power of numbers on his side. Eric felt a sense of foreboding as he thought about the risks facing all three of them.
He had left Louisiana two nights later on his long odyssey. Sometimes it felt as if he were caught up in a Greek tragedy, but whereas Odysseus' every step had brought him closer to his beloved Penelope, Eric's journey took him further away from those he loved.
He and Pam barely had time to come up with a plan which would allow him to remain anonymous. He wouldn't be able to access any of his bank accounts, since Victor would be sure to have those under surveillance. Pam came up with the idea of a charitable foundation: Vampires Lost and Distressed (VLAD). The acronym raised a rare smile from Eric.
The non-profit organization invited applications from all over the country from vampires who'd been the victims of drainers, new vampires finding it hard to make the transition to an undead existence, and orphan vampires who were struggling without their makers. They could ask for small weekly or monthly handouts to help tide them over during the bad times. With plenty of small transactions, it would be easy to disguise regular payments to Eric, particularly if he kept moving.
He'd grumbled about how small his budget was. It wasn't that he was extravagant, except when it came to his car, but he'd gotten used to having money. He was going to be broke and powerless. It was several centuries since he had been in that position, and it wasn't an easy adjustment to make.
Pam's skills as a stylist were put to good use to create a new look for him. There was nothing he could do about his height. She had suggested cutting his feet off, but he drew the line at that. The re-growth would be just too painful. She had cut his hair and dyed it dark brown. He would have to trim it back every night, but that was easily done. Brown contact lenses disguised his bright blue eyes.
Sookie bought him a selection of casual clothes from Wal-Mart. Corduroy trousers and plaid shirts were the last thing he would normally wear, but they would help him merge into the background. She'd made him look about as stylish as Bill Compton, he'd protested, but that was the point.
So he had set off: Memphis, Tulsa, Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Chicago and finally, Detroit.
"Hey man, it's only an hour 'til dawn, I need to be closing up." Frank's voice shook him out of his reverie. The cops had gone and it was just the two of them alone. "Maybe one day you'll tell me what's so special about that song."
"Maybe." Eric muttered as he headed off back to the hotel. He thought of Sookie as he walked, and his hatred for Victor burned just a little brighter. He should be with her now, in his Emperor-sized bed, with its crisp, white cotton sheets and red velvet comforter. Instead he had a hotel bed, which had seen better days, and barely accommodated his large frame. The cheap sheets were clammy against his body and suspiciously grimy. At least the bedbugs seemed to have an aversion to vampire blood.
Many an evening he had been tempted to go back to Shreveport, to challenge Victor and face the consequences. He was older and stronger; he would easily beat him in a one-on-one fight. The problem was it wouldn't be vampire against vampire. Even if he did kill Victor, he would have to answer to Felipe and he couldn't guarantee that Pam and Sookie wouldn't also be punished.
He wondered what would happen when he ran out of places to go. He could go north, up into Canada, or down south and cross the border into Mexico. His ability to fly would ensure he could avoid any problems with border controls. He just had this feeling that the further away he travelled, the lower his chances of every being reunited with his loved ones. He could put off the decision for a few more weeks, months even, but not forever.
He would risk one more night in Detroit, he'd decided, then he would have to move on. He left the shabby motel to walk the couple of blocks to the bar. It was a cold and windy early spring night, and the streets were almost empty. A homeless man rifled through dumpsters behind the Korean convenience store and two streetwalkers giggled together in a doorway.
Eric briefly considered taking one of them up the side alley and glamouring her for blood. He would never be unfaithful to Sookie, but the weeks without a taste of human blood were getting to him. Street girls always tasted foul he reminded himself, contaminated by smack or crack. He would have to hold out for a little longer.
As he turned onto the block where Frank's bar was situated, something made him tense up. It took a couple of seconds to realize what had caused the reaction. It would have been inaudible to the human ear, but he could hear the faint strains of a very familiar song.
He'd known this night would come from the moment he had left Shreveport; the night when one of Victor's bounty hunters would track him down. Frank must have put the record on to alert him, or perhaps it was his attackers' idea to taunt him.
He had no intention of backing down, though. He was strong, there was a good chance he could see them off, whoever they were. If he couldn't defeat them, he would at least go down like a Viking. He was fully prepared for the attack as he entered the bar, but none came.
The two cops were there again, and Frank of course, but no sign of anyone new. He gave the bartender a quizzical look which was returned with a nod towards the furthest booth. There was someone else in the bar. He could just make out a glossy brunette crown peeking up over the top of the high-backed banquette.
He approached cautiously, keeping his guard up the whole time. As he drew level with the booth, he could see a pair of hands with long, blood red nails clutching a drink: a human woman. He felt a strange sensation in the place where his heart should have been. She was wearing a classic fang-banger outfit: a long leather coat and patent lace up boots, a leather bustier and matching short skirt. She wore too much make-up; thick red lipstick to match her nails and long, black false eyelashes. He regarded her with puzzlement; hope mingling with disbelief. Then she smiled and he knew.
"Wanna dance, big boy," she said in a voice that was low and seductive.
"Sookie," he whispered, slipping into the seat opposite her. He sat back, hands in his pockets and legs outstretched, not daring to touch her. "How on earth did you find me?"
"It wasn't that hard. Don't worry though; I don't think anyone else would be able to follow our tracks. Pam's been keeping track of which cities you've visited by following the ATM withdrawals. We had to wait until the time was right, then I followed the trail."
"How did you know I'd be here, though?"
"One night I was checking out a vampire bar in Charleston. I guess I was feeling nostalgic, but for some reason I put that record on the juke box. Anyway it got people talking about some tall guy who had come in every night for a week and played it, before he disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared. You've done a good job with your disguise. No-one could really describe you, apart from your height. After that I used the song to work out which bars you'd visited. I knew eventually I would catch up with you."
"I'm surprised Victor let you out of his sight." It wasn't the kind of mistake he would have made. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that his enemy had shown a sign of weakness.
"I appealed to Felipe," Sookie explained. "I told him my best friend in Montana was dying of breast cancer and I had to go visit with her. I did lay it on rather thick – told him I'd never work for him again if he didn't let me go."
"You never told me you had a best friend in Montana."
Sookie regarded him as you might a particularly dumb two-year old. "That's because I don't," she explained slowly. "I needed somewhere far away from Louisiana and where there isn't a big vampire network to send back gossip. In a state like that I could easily just disappear off the radar."
"Cunning. I approve." Eric reached out and took one of her hands, lifting up to his mouth for a tender kiss on the palm.
"How's Pam?" He asked, with just the merest hint of concern in his voice.
"She's good." Sookie reached up to stroke his cheek in a gesture of reassurance. "She's got a new business venture and it's doing really well."
Eric smiled and motioned for her to continue.
"It all started one Friday night soon after you'd left town. We'd been shopping at the Mall St. Vincent and wanted to go for a drink. We couldn't find a bar where the guys didn't either try to hit on us or stake us. It gave her the idea for a ladies' club. She bought a fancy, old house and had it converted. It has a spa and beauty salon, a small restaurant for human members, a personal shopping suite. It's been a great success."
"Did I see that in American Vampire? "
"You might have. It's had a lot of publicity. She's been very discreet about the ownership though, hiding her identify behind a holding company as protection from Victor. The thing is, it's been a really useful cover. Isabelle came over from Dallas to check it out, and Betty Jo from Jackson. That's how we found out… well I'll tell you about that later, somewhere more private."
"What about Fangtasia?" He didn't expect it to be good news, and was surprised by the broad grin that spread across Sookie's face.
"You're going to love this. Pam has a new protégée: a baby vamp. I have no idea where she found her, but she is really something. She's changed the music policy to attract a younger crowd and it's become the coolest place in Shreveport. Her human boyfriend runs the business side. He looks soft, but he's tough as old boots underneath. He drives a hard bargain with the suppliers. Fangtasia is heaving with people every night, while Victor's new place is half empty. He's beside himself with rage but there's nothing he can do."
For the first time in months, Eric felt real pleasure. He drew stares from the two cops as he laughed out loud. One of the cops had moved from their normal booth and was standing at the bar. There was no disguising his interest now. He was practically staring, for a vampire.
Eric tensed up, but to his surprise Sookie just laughed. "There's nothing to worry about, sweetie, they're here to keep an eye out for you, just in case Victor somehow managed to track you down."
"But, who…? why….?" The surprises had come thick and fast tonight, but this one had him really perplexed.
"There are people who want you alive. Felipe isn't universally popular. In fact he's managed to piss off quite a few people. There are likely to be….developments." Sookie explained, carefully. She didn't want to give too much away. "I've got instructions to take you to a safe house…"
"In Montana?" he interrupted with a grin.
"Yes, in Montana. We'll lie low until everything is in place and then..well … I think you might get the fight you've been wanting."
"Let's go," Eric said impulsively, reaching for her hand.
"I'm sorry, baby, not yet. We can't be seen together here. Someone will get a message to your hotel. Don't worry; I know you'll make it up to me when we finally get together." She ran her foot up the side of his leg, sending a sudden shiver of lust through him.
"A dance then; before you go." He rose elegantly from the booth and held out his hand to her. Frank was quick on the uptake. Vaulting athletically over his bar, he punched D-5 into the juke-box.
"Here comes the night, see the stars in the sky, shining up above, night of love, darling just you and I." Ben E King's smooth voice filled the room.
"Think of the moments, the hours and hours that we were apart, moments and hours that kept raining showers of tears to my heart."
Eric held Sookie tight as they glided gracefully around the floor. The hint of a bloody tear pricked at the corner of his eye.
"I will see you again, won't I?"
"Of course, and soon I hope. I need to get to the safe house and make sure it's fully protected, and then I'll get word to you. Go to Minneapolis next." She slipped the details of a hotel and bar into his pocket. "This has been booked in the name of Stan Davis. Stay there until you hear from me."
"I love it when you boss me around," he snickered, giving her neck a little nip, then kissing where he had bitten. He felt her shudder in his arms. The temptation to take her right there and then on one of the leatherette seats was intense. As he raised his head to meet her gaze he could tell that she was having the same thought.
She gave him a playful slap. "Don't you talk dirty to me, Eric Northman," she smiled as she raised her face to meet his in a long and passionate kiss.
"I have to go." She pulled away reluctantly. "Eric?"
"Promise me you won't play this song again, not until we're together and safe."
"For you, dear, anything."
I'm dedicating this story to my husband, who set me a challenge by suggesting the song D-5, which should surely win the prize for most obscure choice. He's become quite tolerant of my SVM addiction, although he still complains of course.
Eric and Sookie dance to 'Here Comes the Night' in Dead as a Doornail, but CH doesn't say which version. The best known is by Van Morrison (with Them) but it's not a great song to dance to. In honor of the soul music theme, I'm therefore choosing the Ben E King song with this name, which has quite appropriate lyrics about two lovers being reunited.