What did I do? What did I say? Did I overplay my hand? Not play it enough?
He didn’t give me very much to go on. Maybe – I realized – I relied on my telepathy a bit too much, but while his expression remained neutral, behind his eyes there was a firestorm. There was a depth to them that I’d noticed right off the bat. One that belied his age and physical appearance. While he didn’t look a day over thirty, his eyes looked like they’d witnessed many more years than that. Maybe it was from growing up as an orphan. Maybe it was from having no one but himself to rely on to get where he was now. The fact that I knew for a fact he had no one close to him – no one he trusted enough to keep in his inner circle – may have made me soften towards to him because thanks to my gift I was exactly the same way.
Stop it Sookie! He’s a serial killer, not your soul mate.
Alleged serial killer, my inner swooning heart declared.
Still not your soul mate, my inner bitch snarled, stomping all over her Hallmark moment and ground her into dust underneath her shoe.
There was obviously enough chemistry between us to make the Mythbusters’ guys have geekgasms, but I shook off my erratic thoughts and refocused myself on what I knew for sure. And all I knew for sure was that one minute we were going along just fine with our little flirty banter and then from out of nowhere he looked…suspicious?
I refocused my head trick as well, straining to hear anything of the man’s thoughts, but there was still nothing but silence. I had been grateful when he made a joke at the start considering I knew my face was giving away my surprise at not being able to hear him. It’s not like it hadn’t happened before – once before – but considering where I was and who I was speaking with, it almost made sense for it to happen now of all times.
The only other time my gift had failed me had been a couple of years earlier. I’d stayed late at the library on campus cramming for a midterm, so the streets were pretty bare by the time I headed home. Claudine had taught me well when I was a child so I could block thoughts at will with very little effort, or I could listen to any and every little thing I wanted to. But as a general rule, if I wasn’t trying to concentrate on someone, I kept my shields at a half power of sorts. My mind would cast a net of about a hundred yards in every direction, sifting more for the emotional intent of anyone around me than their actual thoughts, just to be on the safe side.
The last thing I wanted was to star in my very own slasher film playing the part of the screaming college co-ed.
On that night I hadn’t picked up any ill-will from anyone, but what gave me pause was when my shields ran over a bump about fifty yards behind me – like driving over a rock in the road. It had never happened before so I automatically turned to see what could be the cause when I saw him. If I hadn’t felt him there I never would’ve seen him. The man – I could only guess based on his size – was standing in the shadows and even though I couldn’t see his face in the darkness, I somehow knew he was staring right at me and it caused a chill to shoot its way down my spine with the hairs at the nape of my neck standing on end.
‘Danger!’ my instincts screamed.
‘Be careful Sookie. Keep moving, but don’t run,’ my inner Claudine whispered into my ear.
I hadn’t felt that way since my Uncle Bartlett’s final visit, but that little realization was all it took for my feet to move a little faster. I figured that was also the reason why my mind conjured the voice of my childhood protector. I wanted to run. I wanted to be Usain Bolt’s twin sister and make a go for the gold, but I listened to imaginary Claudine and didn’t run. My instincts told me that it would only make things worse, so I hoped and prayed I was just being a silly bitch, having watched one too many B horror films, and power walked towards my dorm. I didn’t turn back to look at him again, but I didn’t need to. With my Sookie Satellite Radar System staying locked onto his bump in the road behind me, it only made my heart pound all the faster when it told me he was moving two and three steps closer with every single step I took. Just when I thought I couldn’t hold back from bursting into an all-out sprint, I ran into a bunch of my classmates stumbling out of the local pizza place. And he fell back a step. And then another, until he finally moved back far enough to blip off of my radar completely.
And I never went to the library alone after dark again.
But back in the here and now, Northman was still staring at me like he was trying to read my thoughts, so I finally broke the awkward silence by giving him what I hoped was a friendly look and prayed he was still in a jovial mood when I asked, “Or, if you don’t have any questions for me, should I just tell you a little bit about myself?”
He didn’t say anything and instead silently stared at me like he was looking at an alien. Or a unicorn. A unicorn who’d stolen his pot of gold from the end of the rainbow after I tricked his leprechaun and bested his pet dragon in a fight to the death with Excalibur – of course after I’d taken it from King Arthur when he’d pulled it from the stone.
Did that make me the Queen of England?
In my nervousness, I proceeded to have a case of the verbal shits and offered, “Well, you already know about my secret superhero gig. I also brake for squirrels and stop to help turtles cross the road. Raw apples make my teeth itch, but I can gorge on an entire apple pie and feel nothing but my own happy gluttony. I prefer cotton over silk and beer to champagne, but I aspire to own my very own Aston Martin V12 Zagato one day and I intend to work hard to get it, so my blue collar preferences are in direct contradiction to my ostentatious choice in automobiles.”
My nervous smile was met with stony silence and my inner bitch rose up shaking her fist and caused my mouth to continue on with, “I don’t like pompous pricks whose only achievement in life is being born with a silver spoon in their mouth and I’d just as soon shove it down their throat than stroke their overgrown ego or anything else on them, but I can put on a dog and pony show when necessary. I have a perverse liking to men who only talk to my chest because they think being a natural blond with a big rack is all I have going for me. It makes knocking them off of their pedestal and onto their ass all the more gratifying. It’s better than any orgasm. And I can’t stand someone who’s two-faced. Have the balls to say it to my face or don’t say it at all.”
My uneasiness had morphed into anger the longer he sat there simply staring at me without a word and I’d ended up arguing against every little thing I thought he was thinking about me.
I officially sucked at keeping my cool.
And possibly keeping my job with the FBI, never mind THIS job.
His only tell had been a slight upturn at the corners of his mouth at my tirade before he finally shifted in his seat with his eyes never leaving mine and I felt a sudden pressure in my head as he asked, “Why are you here?”
I ignored the foreign pain and fought the urge to flinch from the intensity of it, instead keeping my expression neutral as I replied, “To interview for the position of your personal assistant.”
And gather the necessary evidence to see if you’re a serial killer.
That pressure only intensified and it was a struggle to keep from showing the effects of it, but he didn’t seem to notice and only asked, “For whom else do you work?”
Did he know? Had this all been an elaborate ruse? There were five agents in the casino down below waiting to see me walk out of here unscathed, so I used that false sense of security to wrap it around myself like a blanket. A lot of good they would do me if he decided to attack me right here.
My bruised elbow already told me I didn’t stand a chance.
My migraine was only getting worse with every second that ticked by, so I cocked my head to the side like a dog hearing a squeaky toy and answered, “The college library, but my job there ends when I graduate at the end of the week.”
He continued to count my eyelashes while I threw wishes at falling stars hoping that he bought it. I still couldn’t hear a thing from his head and when I tried to reach out beyond the room we were in with my gift, all I could detect were three more bumps and a few red hazy thoughts that I’d run across before. We were twenty floors up from the casino floor, so I was too far away to pick up anything else and figured my own nervousness was likely the cause. After all, I was still technically a co-ed and he could probably have me screaming in seconds.
If I was in a cheerleader outfit and we were under the bleachers at homecoming, our B movie horror flick would be complete.
After what felt like forever he finally sat back and held his tented fingers in front of his face. I ignored how big his hands were and what that might possibly tell me about other parts of his anatomy, when my migraine suddenly disappeared and he got down to business saying, “You’re hired. You’ll need to schedule an appointment with Mr. Cataliades to go over your contract and I’ll expect you to start on the Monday following your graduation. I’ll provide you with a suite here for you to live in and a car to run errands. You’ll also be given a laptop and cell phone that I expect you to carry with you at all times. This position has no set hours. You’ll be expected to be available when I deem it necessary, but I won’t give you more than you can handle and you’ll be paid generously for your time. I work nights, but I won’t expect you to work the same hours I do. I’ll meet with you each night to discuss your assignments and I’ll leave instructions for you with tasks to complete during the daytime before I retire.” His face adopted an utter seriousness to his expression when he leaned forward and said, “I expect complete discretion and loyalty, Miss Stackhouse. Will that be a problem?”
My migraine was back, but it wasn’t as bad as before, so I didn’t show any change in my expression when I calmly answered, “No. No problem at all, Mr. Northman.”
I knew how to keep secrets. I just wouldn’t be keeping his.
He seemed satisfied with my answer and my relief must have done away with my headache because when he smiled, I couldn’t help but return it.
“Very well Miss Stackhouse. I’ll see you on Monday.”
I nodded and stood up at his dismissal, crossing the room and had my hand on the doorknob when I heard him call out, “Oh, and Miss Stackhouse?”
When I turned I saw another amused smile playing on his lips and without looking up from the papers on his desk that seemed to now have his attention, he said, “I have an aversion to silver – spoons or otherwise – and I too am a natural blond. All over.”
Pretending the sultry timber of his voice didn’t make my pantyless state all the more troubling was a lot harder than hiding my former migraine.
If I stood there for too long he’d see the evidence of it running down my legs.
If he was the killer we were looking for, he definitely had the Ted Bundy charisma working for him. Even knowing what he was suspected of doing, I couldn’t stop my own physical reaction to him, but I was good at hiding things. My telepathy made me a pro at it, so without missing a beat I simply responded without thought, “Good to know. As your new personal assistant, I should know all of your personal information. Likes. Dislikes. It’s all in the details and I’m very detail oriented.”
Wait! What? When in the hell did I get a sex kitten voice? And why did I think NOW was a good time for it to make its debut?
He may have growled. Or the sound may have come from my nether regions because apparently I now had sex kitten claws, but I retracted them as best I could and darted through the door before they could make a move for his scratching post.
Bad. Horny. Sookie.
Stupid sexy serial killer.
Alleged serial killer.
Shut up horny Sookie!
I passed by the three other bumps on my radar on the way to the elevator in a lustful haze and saw the cause of the red tangle of thoughts was coming from the man now seated at the desk in the outer office. I was forcing air in and out of my lungs like a Lamaze champ all the way to the ground floor, but when I finally emerged from the elevator, my anxiety at least had faded away and I was once again picking up everyone’s thoughts. Hearing the relief of one of the agents who’d spotted me coming out of the elevator made me keep my eyes on the floor so I wouldn’t give anything away and instead I moved my purse from my left shoulder to my right, giving them the signal that all went well and I had gotten the job.
The bureau was paranoid about being discovered by Northman. He seemed to always find and then subvert every surveillance measure they’d used previously, so I was more or less on my own. They wouldn’t contact me, nor would I contact them directly unless I had cause to do so, and instead I’d report to them weekly by leaving them messages at our designated drop point. An agent was already in place working at the nearby coffee shop and I would drop notes or anything else that was useful, like a data stick, into the tip jar when getting my caffeine fix. Other agents would take up surveillance in the casino to watch my comings and goings to make sure I was still okay, but for the most part it would be all up to me.
No pressure there.
I had enough confidence in myself to get the job done and it was with that frame of mind that I whipped out my soon to be replaced cell phone as I stepped out into the night air. It only rang once before I heard the now familiar voice answer and I found myself smiling as I said, “Mr. Cataliades? It’s Sookie Stackhouse. I need to make an appointment to see you. It seems I got the job.”
Inappropriate tongue lashing elbow to the sternum and all.
It would be interesting to say the least.
Too bad my new boss was also my assignment.
That would’ve been interesting as well under any other circumstance.
The throb in between my legs turned my smile into a scowl and I ignored Mr. Cataliades long enough to once again remind myself – I wasn’t Mata Hari.
Or was I?
I guessed only time would tell.
That or my death by firing squad.