A/N: Characters and setting are owned by Charlaine Harris. This story is being beta'd by the lovely FiniteAnarchy.

I've taken substantial liberties with Brenda Hesterman. I hope you'll come along with me on this.


Chapter 3 - Fine Vampires make Fine Birds

It was no wonder I woke up late the next morning, which is no nice way to start the day. I dressed in a maroon skirted suit with matching shoes and a white blouse. I had my hair swept up and clipped, which was genius thinking on my part, as it looked both professional and it saved me about ten minutes of fussing, had I tried to wear it down. Keys and my purse in hand I jogged out of my house, only to remember once I reached the empty driveway that my car was still at Splendide. Eff.

I called for a taxi, then I called my boss, Brenda Hesterman, to let her know I was running late. She wasn't thrilled with that, but there was nothing to be done for it. I didn't get into the details over the phone. Some things are just not phone conversations. Since she'd see my car in the parking lot, I knew I'd have some explaining to do. The sad fact is that I'm not known for my social life. Getting picked up after work for a date, as the women occasionally did, is not something that had ever happened to me. My routine was pretty boring and consistent. That would hopefully count in my favor when it came to her willingness to forgive this fluke occurrence. I had a moment of tremendous relief about the fact that I wouldn't have to lie to her, either. It was really great to have someone at work who could understand supe things.

I went back inside and drank another cup of coffee while I waited for the cab. I'd hoped to have a message from the Sheriff letting me know that Pam had been recovered, but there was none. I hadn't given him my phone number, but then again, I hadn't told him where I lived either and he'd had no problem knowing that. I hoped it was just a case of vampire rudeness; that she'd been found and it was just a matter of him not considering that I was left curious. My finger was itching like crazy, and since I hadn't taken the time earlier to change the bandage, I went and did that before adding a little bit more to my makeup.

Brenda was sitting in the front showroom when I arrived with two guests, human and demon. This is her preferred place of conducting business. The room is set up like an elegant parlor. It's full of antiques that run the gamut from the Louis XV divan and matched chairs that my boss and our clients were sitting on, to the first century Roman torso of Venus posed unobtrusively in the corner, to the Edwardian giltwood side table, to the Syrian bronze goddess figurine that rested on top of it (circa 1800 BCE, for reference). It might sound like a mishmash, but it's very tastefully done. The goal is to create a living space, to help people envision these items in their homes. My specialty isn't in human artifacts, but of course I know plenty about them.

"Good morning! I'm so sorry I'm late," I said as I entered. I was sporting a smile that I hoped was both welcoming and apologetic. "I'm Sookie Stackhouse," I identified to the human male and the demon, who had risen to their feet when I entered. I shook the man's proffered hand when he introduced himself as Kenneth Glassport, and inclined my head toward the demon, who was called Julian Herbahz. Some supes are happy to shake your hand. Fairies in particular are quite touchy-feely. The other fae, and demons are part of that many-branched tree, are hit or miss. I aim to err on the side of caution. Weres and shifters tend to shake, since except for around the full moons, they live just normal humans. Vampires don't, because of the whole body temperature thing again. Also, because they're a bit snooty.

I was curious about the man. He was quite handsome; that was certainly hard to miss. He had short, strawberry blond hair, pale eyebrows, a smattering of freckles and eyes that I could only describe as turquoise. They were so brightly blue with just a hint of green. Apart from his looks, he certainly had an interesting job, though what it was specifically I had no idea. It's unusual for a supe who could easily pass for human to keep a human associate, and Julian Herbahz could certainly pass. He was bald on top with short white fuzz on the sides, jowly, with a ruddy complexion, and pronounced features.

After a few moments' small talk we set down to business. Kenneth lifted a leather briefcase to the table and opened it to reveal, not the sheaf of papers or the laptop one might expect, but rather a foam padded interior specially formed to accommodate several vampire artifacts.

"Wow," I breathed out, impressed. I felt the flash of Brenda's irritation with me for that. We are always complimentary about the things people bring us, but showing too much enthusiasm is something she considers uncouth and amateurish. I struggled to rein myself in, but just, wow. The collection included two ritual knives of what I presumed were solid gold and solid silver, a jeweled chalice, an iron quill forged to resemble a feather, a polished ebony stake, and a small bronze brazier. It looked like someone had bumped off a vampire adjudicator on the way to a grand summit meeting and looted his knapsack. These were rare objects, I knew, and even rarer for being a complete set. Vamps have their own rule of law, apart from any human mandates to which they are beholden by their own immediate geography. These were the tools of that governance.

"These objects have been in my possession for some time," Julian said. That explained next to nothing. "Some time" could be a month or two centuries. "But my interest in vampire artifacts has waned considerably. Vampires are becoming so commonplace in this modern society," he finished, with a hint of his disdain.

"We'll have to verify their authenticity of course," said Brenda. "But I can't imagine we'll have trouble finding buyers. There are a number of ranking vampires among our client base would be eager..." she began, but Kenneth cut her off.

"Actually, Ms. Hesterman, that is the sticking point. Mr. Herbahz is a collector of artifacts, and would prefer to see this lot pass into the hands of another who will appreciate it for its aesthetic and historical value."

"You will refuse a vampire buyer," Brenda clarified.

"Yes," Julian nodded. "I would prefer a private sale. We understand that this is a service you offer?"

"It is," Brenda conceded hesitantly. "I may have a few clients who would be interested. Fae," she clarified. That was probably true. There are a number of fae in this world who have amassed human money but do not have the typical human expenses. "I take it you will wish the set to remain intact?"

"Yes. There are some other particulars to the transaction we may discuss as well. Kenneth," Julian turned deliberately and addressed the man. "Why don't you accompany Ms. Stackhouse and see what she will require from us as far as the authentication goes."

I looked to Brenda, who gave me a nod, and I stood, as did the man and demon once again. The air of formality didn't really surprise me. Supes, particularly the ones who have been around for a while, are often set in what we consider bygone customs of courtesy. Weres are an exception to this, having a reputation as a rowdier bunch overall. Because they don't really live any longer than regular humans, there's no reason for them to have ever adopted anything outside of modern behavior. They only show deference to their pack superiors, and little-where else. Two-natured society is not really my field of expertise, but they're certainly interesting. A lot of their structure and behavior is similar to that of their animal counterparts, which is where most of my broad knowledge comes from.

That's where Brenda fits in to the supe world, incidentally. The Were part, not the rowdy part. She is the second daughter of Were parents, thus not a full Were herself. Unlike some younger children in two-natured families, she hadn't been kept in the dark about her parents' world. I like working for her. We're not bosom friends or anything, but the fact that we both have certain knowledge about the unseen world goes a long way. Like me, she's stuck in the in between. She's nothing like most Weres herself, just as I am very little like a fairy. I don't know if it was her heritage (were-itage?) that accounted for it or not, but her mind was a lot duller to me than most humans'. It made her easy to be around. I was able to help her on the business end of things from time to time using my ability, but she never imposed on it. All in all, working here is a pretty great arrangement for both of us.

I led Kenneth out toward the main entry and down the short hall to the freight elevator. Brenda and Julian had money matters to discuss, as well as other particulars of the transaction, I knew.

"Have you been with Mr. Herbahz long?" I asked as we took the short ride downstairs.

"About seven years now. How long have you been with Splendide?"

"Only two," I answered.

"And how does a human come to be an expert in vampire artifacts?"

I laughed. "Here was me about to ask you how a human comes to be in the employ of a demon."

"He is my great uncle," the man said. "Through marriage."

"Ah."

"And you, Miss Stackhouse?"

"Sookie, please. My sponsor is Desmond Cataliades." He would understand the term and recognize the name.

"The part-human brother of Nargal."

"That's him, yes."

"You are a relation?" Kenneth asked.

"He's a friend of the family," I said.

"You know Gladiola then," he said after a pause.

"I do," I smiled. Gladiola and her sister Diantha are Mr. Cataliades's nieces. Though both girls are a little intimidating, I consider us friends.

"We met several weeks ago," he explained. Judging by the look in his eye, Gladiola had an admirer. I gave him a bit of a knowing smile as we entered my lab. I went right to my gloves and the main table, flipping on the overhead lamps and turning on the light for my microscope.

"I don't know if Brenda went over all this with you, but I'll need to take minuscule samples and run them through the mass spectrometer," I said, indicating the machine behind me. "It's how we can estimate the date of creation for metalwork like this. I can get technical if you want me to," I offer.

"That won't be necessary."

"Alright," I agree. "Let me just take a look to make sure it's worth my while," I grin. "Please don't be offended, but from time to time we do see forgeries of objets d'art that have been passed along unwittingly, so this is a simple first test." I always phrase the explanation like this, so that even if something does turn up a fake, I've already put the blame on someone besides the client. It actually has happened once or twice, with human stuff. I hate having to break people's hearts and tell them what they thought they had isn't real. I can spot a known fake immediately, just by listening to its owner. Kenneth had every conviction that these were authentic.

"I understand your protocol, Miss Stackhouse." I didn't bother correcting him again, I just got to work.

As I went through piece by piece, I explained what I was looking for; marks of modern metallurgy. I look at the microscopic pattern of the metal which reveals at what temperatures it was forged, which in turn gives an indication of the time period. Of course all bets are offs when it comes to certain supernatural objects, since magic is involved. This actually works to the benefit of those who will continue to fly under the radar. It makes their ancient objects appear modern to cursory examination, and thus they can be attributed to humans who just make weird things sometimes. Humans, eh?

The silver knife was either forged yesterday, or with magic. For starters, it was completely untarnished. Under the microscope there were none of the tiny imperfections that indicate buffing or polishing. While it's certainly true that it could have been "polished" via reverse chemical reaction (a much better way to brighten anything submersible, incidentally), I just doubted it. I sniffed at it.

"It hasn't been treated with any polishing compounds," Kenneth interjected. He was assuming that I was smelling for evidence of chemicals. I was smelling for evidence of magic. That's another little thing about me, one I'm just starting to realize. Growing up, I was never exposed to any magic, but now that I have been, I can sort of detect it. Some spells leave a scent in the air, and of course there's the vampires' glow. I don't smell anything on the knife, but I can just feel that it is old. It's almost like a tingling in my fingers, even through the gloves. We'll just put this in the Things I Don't Understand About My Own Weirdness column, right under "can't be glamoured."

"This piece is the prize of the collection, really," I remarked, setting the silver knife back on the table.

"What is its purpose?" Kenneth asked with interest.

"Punishment," I said matter-of-factly. "Exacting the literal pound of flesh."

"Uegh."

"You said it," I chuckled. "Vampire artifacts of any age wrought from silver though, very rare." I said, and took up the brazier, equally untouched by time.

"I wonder how they made it?" he mused.

They didn't. Fairies made it.

"Very carefully," I grinned.

Vampires and fairies don't get along, mostly because fairy blood is delectable and intoxicating to vampires. Picture a three year old on a sugar high, only with fangs and superhuman strength and an inclination towards chaotic murder. It's sort of like that, from what I've heard. Fairies are not defenseless, though. While not immortal-unless-killed like vampires, they do live a good long time. They're durable, strong, quick, and graceful. They're beautiful. They can hold their own in a fight. And of course, they can wield silver. But then, vampires can wield iron. Vampires can be stronger, but fairies have magic. It's a pretty even match up; a death match for the ages. There hasn't been an all-out war between the races in my lifetime, but there have been many in the long stretch of history.

Equally, there have been times of peace and even trade. Vampires have a great use for silver despite their vulnerability to it, or rather, because of their vulnerability to it. Say you need to chain up a rabid dog. You're going to use the strongest chain you can find, right? Well for vamps, that would be a silver chain. Restraining any vampire who doesn't want to be restrained requires bringing out the proverbial big silver guns.

Humans didn't start doing a lot with silver until about four hundred years ago. Yes, it's been present for about six thousand years of their history, but it was extremely rare, and it certainly wouldn't have been used to forge a tool like this. Even if it weren't for the magic, I would guess the knife to be fairy-made. Today of course, vamps can and do get humans to craft whatever silver objects they require. Vampires can't touch it with their bare hands, since they'd burn. They need to wear mail or something. Actually...

"Is there a glove I'm missing?"

"Pardon?" answered Kenneth.

"There should be a mesh glove, for handling the silver knife, and traditionally also the stake."

"I don't think I saw one when I packed up the collection."

"That's a shame. So not quite completely complete, then," I said.

"I will ask Julian."

"Ask me what?" the demon inquired politely. Kenneth gave a visible start and we both turned to see Brenda and Julian standing just at the doorway.

"I was wondering if the set had included a ritual-use glove, for handling the silver and the stake."

"Hm. I think you are right. We must have omitted it when gathering up the collection from its display case," he said, giving Kenneth a pointed look that left the man feeling frustrated and embarrassed by his petty failure.

"Well that's no trouble, you can bring it by any time," I said quickly. "I had started to explain to Kenneth that I'll require a couple of days to verify age and authenticity for our buyers. There are a number of tests which we do."

"Of course. I have signed the contract and stewardship documents upstairs with Ms. Hesterman," Julian supplied, and Brenda nodded. I could tell she was pleased with whatever terms they had worked out. I imagined Splendide's fee would be slightly higher than normal owing to the private nature of the sale.

"I'll likely settle into it tomorrow, so it's no rush. I do have the small lot I need to finish cataloging this afternoon, Brenda," I supplied.

She nodded at me, and after a brief tour of the lab wherein I was obliged to tell our interested client what some of my various equipment was used for, Brenda led the guests upstairs. I'd just finished packing everything up and moving it to the secure vault when she returned, smiling.

"He's going to be a great contact," she gushed. "He's very interested in fae artifacts of all sorts."

"They were interesting," I agreed.

"That set is real, right?"

"Think so. The silver is even fairy-forged, so double trouble!" I grinned.

"It's going to be a good Christmas," she said.

"Well, maybe I'll get a bonus. Some of us aren't on commission."

"Did you already lock it all away?" she asked, sidestepping my bonus comment.

"Yes ma'am."

"Show me the elf-made arrowheads you found yesterday."

I did as she bid, handing her a pair of padded forceps so she needn't handle the dangerously sharp obsidian. I showed her the pieces I had swapped them for, and she ordered me to get the keepers cleaned and dated. Dating obsidian is tricky, especially when the source of that obsidian is a parallel world with slightly different chemistry and an incongruous time stream. The best I could do is pin down how long it had been here on regular old earth, which would have to suffice. I knew the ages of the stone pieces they had been found with. This is easy to determine by the manner in which they were made, but it is an insufficient estimate for the companion pieces.

Just as Brenda was departing for the world of upstairs and sunlight the intercom buzzed. Since she was closest, she answered it.

"Lab," she stated.

"Bren? Sookie around?"

"She's working, Holly, what do you need?"

"She's got a visitor up here a Mr. Robert Burnham."

Brenda gave me a questioning look and I shrugged. Never heard of him.

"What does he want?" Brenda asked the disembodied voice of Holly, our receptionist.

"He says it's a private and urgent matter."

I rolled my eyes. "That's helpful."

"Should I just page security?" Brenda asks.

"I'll see what it's about. Can we use the parlor?"

"Use the conference room, there's nothing valuable in there."

I nodded at her. We have visitors coming in all the time upstairs, but anyone asking for me personally is probably not a client. I followed Brenda out of the lab, locking it behind me and we took the elevator up, for which I was grateful. Stairs and heels don't mix. One of the security guards, Greg, was hovering around and failing to look menacing. The visitor was a man of middling height with a pale and sickly pallor and an irritated expression.

"Miss Sookie Stackhouse?" he addressed me directly.

"Yes, that's me. How do you do?"

"I'm Bobby Burnham," he stated, and then glanced around at Holly, Brenda, and Greg in turn, before shooting me back a pointed look.

"How can I help you Mr. Burnham?" I asked.

"I'm a business associate of Eric Northman."

Figures. Brenda knew the name of course. He'd been a client after all, and she knew what else he was. Her eyebrows flew up. Holly and Greg were both indifferent.

"If you'll follow me, Mr. Burnham," I said quickly, and beckoned him to follow me down the hall. "Ms. Hesterman, I'll join you shortly," I said, all formality in front of the unknown Bobby. I heard her shooing Greg back to the front door as we paced toward the conference room. I let him walk past me and then closed the door behind us.

"How's Pam?" I asked immediately.

"You are referring to Mr. Northman's vampire child Pam Ravenscroft?" he asked.

"Who else?" I replied incredulously.

"Ms. Ravenscroft is fine and well, to the best of my knowledge," he said mildly. "Miss Stackhouse, I am Mr. Northman's daytime associate. He has requested your presence at his nightclub, Fangtasia, at first dark this evening."

"Why?"

"I'm sure I do not know."

I frowned, and dove right into his head. He certainly was the Sheriff's daytime man. All his thoughts were of Eric. He was irritated that he'd had to come all the way over here just to tell me to come to Fangtasia, but he'd been instructed to speak to me in person and privately. He didn't know why my presence was requested, nor did he have any hint that Pam was or had been missing.

"Is that all?" I asked.

"Perhaps I should take your contact information so that I have it for the future."

"I'm sure Eric has it. Thank you for bringing the message Mr. Burnham. I'll try to be there as close to first dark as I can." It'll be just after five o'clock, which would mean leaving here a bit early, after coming in a bit late. I hoped Brenda could be forgiving.

"Mr. Northman requests you be there right at first dark," he reiterated.

"And Mr. Northman knows that I have a job. One I evidently need to get back to if I'm expected to leave early."

He was thinking that nothing I had to do here could possibly be more important than a first-order-of-business meeting with his very important vamp of a boss. He had some serious airs about working for the vampire Sheriff, though he didn't seem to know him by that title. He kept saying "mister" instead of "sheriff." He was ready to go anyway, as he had some very important dry-cleaning to pick up, and some very important calls concerning Eric's new landscaping service to make. I struggled not to smirk.

"Thank you for bringing the message, Mr. Burnham. I'll show you out."

After he'd left through the front doors Holly asked me who that was.

"Day guy for one of our vamp clients. He's new I think. I get the impression he thinks his job makes him an important guy. He was told to speak to me directly, is all," I try my best to shrug the entire thing off.

Holly is a practicing Wiccan, meaning she's mostly in it for the spiritual part, but I know from random thoughts she's had that she's considering dabbling with more of the magical side of things. She doesn't know all the ins and outs of the supernatural world, but it's fair to say that she's open to learning them. In time I'm sure she will. Once she gets involved in a coven, they'll ease her in to the knowledge and maybe then I'll speak a bit more freely in front of her. For now, she's simply part of the human staff.

"I don't think I could ever work for a vampire," she said, then amended, "There's nothing wrong with them, but I just don't think I could do it."

Since for the second night in a row it seemed that I'd be working for a vamp without any say in the matter, I had to agree that it wasn't my first choice, either. I excused myself to go and talk to Brenda, knocking on her office door before letting myself in.

"He showed up here last night and demanded that I help him," I said, sitting down in the chair across from her desk.

"With?"

"I'm not sure I can say. That was his daytime guy and he didn't know. It was something important, and something that I didn't really mind helping with." I was certain Eric wanted to keep Pam's disappearance close to the vest. Mr. Cataliades wouldn't disclose, of course. He did all kinds of confidential business for vampires.

"Did you call Desmond?"

"Of course. I called before I left here, and once I was safely home."

"I don't like it."

"Join the club," I shrugged. "But he's got me over a barrel. And it really was for a good cause. It wasn't something frivolous."

"Give them an inch and they will take a mile, Sookie," Brenda warned me.

"What's my other choice? Pack up and head for New Orleans and present myself to the Queen's service?"

She sighed then. "I'm sorry."

"It's my own fault," I said. It was. If I suffered, it was for my own foolhardiness. "He wants me at Fangtasia right at first dark."

She made a little noise of irritation there. "Finish up what you're doing and go home. I want you here bright and early in the morning to tend to to the Herbahz lot. Everything else gets pushed."

"I've got some I can work on while the spectrometer is going." I said.

"Fine, but the Herbahz is the priority. I'd like to make the sale before year end. It'll be great for our fourth quarter numbers. I don't think I have to tell you that you're not mentioning what came in today to your new vampire friend."

"Not my friend, and of course not Brenda. Oh!" I suddenly remembered I needed to talk to her about something else. "Listen, I wanted to speak to you about security. When Eric came in last night, he literally just glamoured the man on duty and walked on through. I think we really need to consider a Were or vampire security company."

"And do away with gormless Greg out there?" she asked. Some of the men in the company we currently used were more brawn than brain. Not being mean, it's just a fact. They certainly look intimidating. I have no doubt they'd be effective against any human troublemakers, but it's the others I'm concerned about.

"Yeah," I answered seriously. "Listen, the vault is all well and good, but you know there are things we don't keep in it. Everything in the front room, everything I'm working on. It gets dark early this time of year."

"I'll ask my sister if there's anyone in the Pack that can do security on nights."

"Sheriff Northman said he has a company, if you want me to get the number."

"That's just what we don't need, more of him."

"He's my problem Brenda. If his company is good, use them. I don't care."

"It just seems insidious to me."

"And maybe it is, but better the foe you know, right?"

"I'll ask my sister," she said again. We spent a few more minutes discussing the new acquisitions. She mentioned that she might contact Niall as a potential buyer, which I don't mind. I left her to the lists of clients and contacts and headed back downstairs. It took me a few more hours to finish the stone arrowheads (finally!), which I then packed up in soft foam. It was a nice collection, for what it was. Most of the pieces were quite uniform in shape and weight, obviously the work of a meticulous craftsman. These would likely end up mounted in a shadowbox or a display case somewhere, and serve as an interesting conversation piece. I hoped they went to a hunter, someone who could appreciate the objects for their use.

By three o'clock I was through. I went upstairs and poked my head into Brenda's office to let her know I was leaving. She was on the phone but waved goodbye at me. I passed by the parlor on my way out where Donald Callaway sat with a human couple. I gave a little smile as I passed by but he called me back.

"Miss Stackhouse, won't you join us for a moment?"

This is the downside to dressing up; the other brokers all assume I'm ready to meet the clients all day. Had I been wearing my normal clothes he would have ignored me. I was obliged to shake hands with the two, though I didn't make to sit down. They had brought some jewelry they were ready to part with and Donald was trying to convince them to have him out to appraise some of their furniture. I politely answered a few of their questions. The pieces they hoped to auction were actually quite lovely, Turkish gold work.

"The bracelet in particular is stunning," I complimented. "How did you come by them?"

"An estate sale, years and years ago," the woman said. She looked about forty-five, if that. Once again I found myself thinking that time is relative. "At the time I thought I might actually wear them myself, but they just don't go with anything, really."

I grinned at her as I imagined trying to match a short little cocktail dress to nine hundred year old religious jewelry from the Byzantine Empire. I admired her taste, but rather than continuing what could have been an interesting conversation about the style of dress popular in that age, I had to make my excuses. I told our clients it was lovely to meet them and that I looked forward to taking a closer look at what they'd brought us. A wave of weariness hit me again as I left the room and thankfully I don't think anyone but Holly caught me stifling my yawn. Glancing at my watch I figured if I hustled I could get home and change and grab a power nap before I had to go see the vampire. That thought was my only impetus. I'd been lagging all day. What else can you expect when you're up half the night on vampire errands?

I took advantage of the car ride home to call Mr. Cataliades and let him know that my presence was requested again.

"I suppose if you've agreed to help with this matter, you'll need to see it through," he said.

"That's what I was thinking. It's not really a second request but the same request, or so I hope. This guy Bobby truly didn't know what the summons was about."

"I've heard nothing here about Ms. Ravenscroft," he said carefully. I was surprised he had looked into the matter. Mr. Cataliades is privy to an awful lot of confidential information about vampires, being Queen Sophie-Anne's advocate, and all.

Yeah, it's a pretty precarious position I'm in here. Sometimes I do think it would be best to just "come out" as what I am and not hide my telepathy. Great Grandfather thinks that's a really terrible idea. He wants me to stay under the radar as much as possible, with as much protection as possible. My sponsor has his own enemies, and so too does my Great Grandfather. The difference between the two is that Niall's enemies would freely use me to hurt him, just like they did my father, and my grandfather. I guess that's really all I need think about to remind myself why keeping all these secrets is necessary. Mr. Cataliades had been my grandfather's best friend. This is why he was willing to go out on a limb for me as well.

"I'll pass that along," I said.

"Do call when you return home tonight, Miss Stackhouse. Before dawn, as before."

"I will."

"I will speak to you then. Good luck."

I turned on to my street and pulled into my driveway. It's not much, my little house, but I like it. Apartments are a no-go if I ever hope to relax at home. This house is separated enough from the others around it that I don't hear my neighbors unless I'm actually trying to. I do not try to. I tested the range when I first moved in, and haven't done it again since. I let myself in to the house and locked the door behind me. I slipped off my heels and lowered my shields and felt like I would melt into puddle right there on the floor. I wandered blearily into my room, stripped off my suit, and hung it up. I set the alarm on my phone for four-thirty and fell asleep in my underwear right on top of the bed.

I awoke to pitch black and pounding in my head and somewhere nearby. My window. I fumbled in my bedside table for the only actual weapon I owned; a double bladed dagger made of iron and silver. Actually the silver half of the blade has a lead core for the sake of balance, but it's still all-purpose supe defense.

I crept to the window and glanced sidelong between the curtain and the pane of glass. A huge fist was pounding against the frame. At this proximity it nearly rattled me as well. Based on the logic that anyone who really wanted to could have smashed the panes by now, I hazarded a better peek. Sheriff Northman was there with no happy face. Once he saw me, the pounding stopped. He started to speak, but of course I couldn't hear him so I pointed toward the front of the house. I grabbed my robe and my phone and went to meet him at the door. As I became more awake I realized I'd overslept. I'd set the alarm for four-thirty in the morning, apparently. It was nearly eight. Oops.

"Sheriff Northman, I'm so sorry, I must have overslept," I said as I opened the door.

"I must speak with you. May I come in?" he asked. I frowned. He stared.

"Alright. Please come in, but I reserve the right to rescind your invitation at any time."

I stepped aside so he could enter and he did, casting his eyes around my little living room and the open kitchen and dining room. They finally came to rest on the hand where I was still gripping my dagger.

"Do you intend to use that?"

"I didn't know who was banging," I said defensively. "I was still half asleep."

He gestured for me to show him the blade, and so I held it up. It's not like I was going to hand it to him. He gave it a close and appraising look.

"What an interesting object," he remarked.

I lowered the dagger before he could say anything else. "Why's that?" I couldn't help but ask. "A woman living alone needs to be able to defend herself, and I don't keep a gun in the house."

"Of course, Sookie. But defend from what? Iron and silver was it? Do most women living alone really fear werewolves and fairies?"

They sure as heck would if they knew about them.

"It works just as well on humans and vampires too," I declared stoutly.

"Does it really?"

"Well, it would," I muttered. "Look, tell me about Pam. Is she alright?"

"I do not know."

"You didn't find her?"

"No. Go and dress, we have matters to discuss before we must go."

I sighed and gestured him toward the living room, telling him to have a seat as I retreated back to my bedroom and pulled on some jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweater. I glanced in the mirror, somewhat surprised that my hair wasn't a total fright. I guess I'd been pretty dead to the world, no tossing or turning. I still pulled it down, brushed it, and braided it up. I washed my face and brushed my teeth. All this didn't take more than ten minutes or so. I carried my socks and sneakers with me out to the living room and sat down to put them on. The vampire was pacing like a caged animal.

"Go on then," I told him.

"With the...help...of this Dirk, we were able to find the cell of drainers quite quickly after I returned last night."

I could only imagine how Dirk had been convinced to "help." I couldn't contain my shudder, and the vampire caught it.

"He was very willing to offer information once he realized his predicament."

"It doesn't count as 'willing' when the alternative is brutal violence, you know."

"I do know. I also know a coward when I smell one. It required shockingly little threat to gain his full compliance."

"Charming."

"And he was glamoured and released, though I know where to find him again if this is necessary."

"How benevolent," I said, as dryly as "charming" had been.

He shot me an irritated look. "We have detained the actual drainers. We were able to recover the vampire they had most recently taken. He is severely weak, and almost drained, but he will survive."

I softened at that. "I'm glad," I said. "But you didn't find Pam?"

"No. And these men we took claim they don't know her."

"You don't believe them."

"I would like you to help me to be sure."

"Alright," I said.

"They have been roughed up a little."

"All right," I said through gritted teeth.

"I only wish to warn you of the state in which you will find them. They are murderers. They have received more mercy than they are due, only because if they have knowledge of Pam, I must have it first."

"Before you kill them."

"Before justice is done to them."

"So you're the law then?" I asked flatly.

"I am certain you understand the meaning of 'Sheriff.'"

I scowled at him. He narrowed his eyes right back at me. "If it will beget your acquiescence, Miss Stackhouse, once Pam is secured I will turn the men over to the human authorities, so that they can be free from jail awaiting a trial that will result in a slap on the wrist for a minor assault charge, because their latest victim happened to survive."

"Have there been others?" I asked softly.

"We think maybe one other in my Area. Nearly everyone else is accounted for. It is a matter I will follow up on once Pam is returned."

"You still feel her?"

"Yes. It is not the same as when we are separated by a far distance."

I yawned. "We need to stop for coffee on the way, okay? Last night wreaked havoc on my sleeping and tonight will be no better I'm sure."

I didn't say anything more about the fate of the drainers. I knew that what he said about what would happen to them if they were turned in was pretty much accurate. There had been a big national news story about a team of drainers on trial out in California a couple of months ago. The state was pressing for multiple counts of murder, but without any bodies there was no proof but the blood, and the jury found that blood did not equate to murder. Two of the men had ended up getting convicted only of possession of an illicit substance and the last man got off entirely. The vampire community had been eerily silent. There were a number of outraged human advocates, but the vamps it seemed, were unsurprised. The whole thing made me angry and sad. I may be leery of vampires for personal reasons, but I didn't hate them or wish their deaths.

"You will come now then?" he asked.

I didn't have to be able to read his mind to sense his worry. That he hadn't threatened me tonight (yet) also hadn't gone unnoticed. I nodded at him and stood, slipping my phone, keys, and wallet into my pockets. I held open the door for him and locked it behind me, walking past him off my small front porch. Once again I found myself halfway to the driveway before looking up and realizing that the car I'd been ready to enter was nowhere to be seen. I stopped short and spun around. He was right behind me.

"Am I driving?" I asked.

"No."

"Oh, where's your car?"

"Fangtasia."

I stared at him blankly.

"This will be faster," he said. He took one quick step toward me and wrapped an arm around my waist and another beneath my arms, hugging me to him tightly. I barely had time to shriek before we were bolting into the air, my tiny house growing tinier still. I squeezed my eyes shut and threw my arms around his neck, holding on for dear life.