As soon as I was done placing the call to 911, I found Jason’s number in my contacts and hit send. He didn’t answer the first time I called. Or the second or third. And every time the ringing would switch over to his voicemail, I would end the call and hit send again. It wasn’t until the fifth time that he finally answered, sounding out of breath and perturbed as he huffed out, “Somebody better be dead.”
I cringed at his choice of words, but kept my voice calm and steady as I said, “Jason. It’s Eric.” Pausing for only a moment to allow it to sink in and adding a more somber tone to my voice, I said, “You need to come home.”
I could hear a female’s voice in the background asking him who was on the phone. And when he didn’t say anything to either one of us, she asked him what was wrong. I could only imagine what she was seeing on his face, but I could certainly guess. It wasn’t like I was in the habit of calling Jason or giving him what amounted to marching orders, so it was likely the only reason why he ended up replying just as somberly, “I’ll be there in five.” His worried tone told me he suspected something was wrong, but I was grateful he didn’t ask and just ended the call.
The news his grandmother had been murdered should be given face to face.
Only a few minutes had passed since I’d placed the call to 911 when I saw the red lights flashing through the windows and heard a car pulling up to the front of the house. Moments later the sound of a car door slamming and heavy footsteps coming up the porch steps followed. I hadn’t bothered to shut the front door when I’d trailed Sookie into the house, so there was nothing to stop Andy Bellefleur from coming inside and appearing in the doorway to the kitchen.
“Uh…” he said with his eyes landing everywhere but Adele’s body. “Bud’s on his way Sookie,” he finally offered. “We should uh…maybe go wait for him in the other room.”
His demeanor was a lot more respectful than it had been at the fair and it was a good thing.
Because I would’ve likely been arrested for beating his ass if he’d dared to say anything to Sookie that had even the tiniest inkling of the shitty attitude he’d shown earlier.
Sookie didn’t move away from my shoulder. She hadn’t said a word after telling me she loved me and hadn’t acknowledged him at all, so I was more than a little worried she was going into shock. A lot had been dumped on her in the span of mere minutes, from finding out I was friends with her dead father to finding out her grandmother had been murdered.
No matter how cute Adele was at that very moment, putting her hand into the closed refrigerator door all the way up to her elbow and saying with wonder, “Now will you look at that,” I doubted Sookie would find it so endearing right now even if she could see and hear her.
Lifting her off of the kitchen floor, I carried her to the couch where I sat her down next to me. When she was settled, Bellefleur mumbled he would wait for Bud outside and left us alone, but seeing how green – literally – he appeared at seeing a dead body made me wonder just how well they’d do at solving the crime. The other two murders could have been coincidental, but I didn’t believe they were. Both women could be linked to Jason and now with Adele being the next victim it was impossible to deny the Stackhouse family was the killer’s target.
And I couldn’t sit idly by hoping Boss Hog and Roscoe would get a clue, much less find one.
Since Sookie was still near catatonic, I reached for my phone once more and called another number I’d never needed to use before now. At least he picked up on the first ring, unsurprisingly sounding like I’d woken him since it was the middle of the night, but he perked up instantly when I said, “Herveaux. It’s Eric Northman. Sookie’s grandmother was murdered tonight. We found her body at their house. She was strangled in the kitchen.”
I found out the hard way Sookie was paying attention because her body began to shake again while more tears formed as she cried softly against my shoulder. But over her soft sobs I was able to hear Herveaux say, “Mother fu…” He paused and then sounded wide awake when he added, “I’ll get ahold of Flood. We’ll be there in twenty.” Bon Temps was an hour north of Shreveport, but knowing him like I now did, I didn’t doubt him at all and could already hear him shuffling around in the background getting dressed. My respect for him only grew when he added in a softer tone, “You take of our girl and you tell her we’re going to find the bastard who did this.” And then switching to an oddly comforting scarier tone, he snarled out, “And we’re going to make him pay.”
I couldn’t agree more and I’d be willing to help him hide the body.
He ended the call, but I didn’t have time to think about his promise when I heard the sound of another engine tearing up the driveway followed by Bellefleur’s voice calling out, “Stackhouse! Just hold your horses…” His words were cut off with an oomph and the sound of something heavy landing on the porch when a frantic looking Jason suddenly appeared in the doorway a second later.
He was half dressed and bare footed, but seeing Sookie’s tear stained eyes as she turned to look up at him had him mimicking her earlier path as he tore down the hallway yelling out, “GRAN!”
I didn’t think Sookie could have moved if she wanted to, but I didn’t want her to, so I peeled her off of me and walked towards the kitchen to wait for Jason’s search to inevitably come my way. My path had taken me past the front door where I could see Bellefleur pulling himself up from where I assumed Jason had knocked him down on the porch, but my focus was back on Jason when I heard him running my way.
His eyes landed on Adele’s body through the kitchen doorway as he cried out her name in horror, with his own automatically moving towards hers. So I planted my feet and grabbed him around the waist before he could get to her, saying, “She’s gone Jason.”
“Gran!” he shouted again, struggling in my grasp, and snarled at me, “Let me go!”
“No Jason,” I said as calmly as I could. It was harder than I thought it would be seeing him cry, but I held firm and added, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but she’s already gone. There’s nothing we can do for her. And the killer could have left evidence on her body, so we need to leave her there for now.”
He finally stopped struggling, but his eyes never left Adele’s body and my arms never left his, which was how I ended up catching him when his knees gave out and he sagged against me whimpering in disbelief, “Why? Why would anyone…”
I’d been wondering the same thing, but now wasn’t the time. Nothing I said at that moment could make it any easier on him and hearing Sookie’s cries escalate into choking sobs had me dragging his limp body back into the living room. Another brunette, different than the one I’d spotted him trying to coax away from Bill Compton earlier that afternoon, was standing just outside the front door next to a glaring Bellefleur. I had half a mind to slam the door in their faces, feeling like they were intruding on a very private family moment. But instead I ignored the both of them and simply put Jason next to Sookie on the couch where they immediately turned to each other for comfort in one another’s arms.
Seeing them both trying to find solace from one another made me suddenly feel like I was the one who was intruding. Adele’s death both shocked and saddened me. I was sure I would be playing the ‘what if’ scenarios and feeling the guilt of not following her home for a long time to come, but at least I could still see her. Talk to her.
And before tonight I would’ve paid any price to be rid of my curse. Gone to any lengths to just be normal, but now for the first time I was actually grateful for it. Because at least now, thanks to me and my affliction, Sookie would still be able to talk to her too.
Corbett and Adele had both moved into the living room by then and I could tell they felt just as helpless as I did. While I’d been surrounded by death for my entire life, both personal and professional, I had zero experience when it came to this side of it. But I knew enough to understand that their grief would have to run its course.
It wasn’t long before I could hear another police cruiser screaming up the driveway, with both their lights and sirens on, so I walked to the still open front door to give Jason and Sookie a little privacy. He shut the sirens off as soon as he parked and I recognized the Sheriff, Bud Dearborn, from the one and only time I’d been in their police station, sitting in the driver’s seat. He looked as though he’d dressed in a hurry, but while I was watching and waiting for him to get out of his car, I heard Bellefleur ask the girl beside him, “Why are you here?”
I couldn’t decide what he sounded more – surprised or disgusted. But she didn’t hide her affront over his tone when she answered, “I was with Jason when he got the call to come home. I’d driven him back to my place when we left the fair, so he didn’t have any other way to get here.”
“You’ve been with him?” he asked disbelievingly. “The whole time?”
“Yes,” she snapped back and matching his tone. “The whole time.”
Dearborn was making his way up the steps by then and nodded at the girl, not looking nearly as surprised to see her there and only saying, “Amy,” before he then turned to Bellefleur and asked, “What have we got Andy?”
Bellefleur still looked like he was chewing glass, but his tone was back to being professional when he answered, “Mrs. Stackhouse…she uh…well the call came in that they found her in the kitchen.”
That’s all he had to say?
I had zero confidence in Bon Temps’ finest, so I turned to face Dearborn and interjected, “Adele Stackhouse was murdered. Strangled from behind given the bruising on her throat and my preliminary examination leads me to believe her neck was broken. She likely died instantly.”
Both Dearborn and Bellefleur stared back at me with their mouths gaping open before Dearborn cleared his throat and said, “I heard you were a doctor, but…” when Bellefleur suddenly found his voice again.
He interrupted his superior, snapping out, “That there’s a crime scene and you just contaminated evidence! I should arrest you right now!”
“I’m a medical examiner at the Shreveport Coroner’s office,” I snapped back and took a step forward to put me in his personal space. He was bigger than me, but with my sudden rage I felt infinitely larger at that moment and gave not a single fuck about who or what he was. As far as I was concerned he was just the asshole who already had one unsolved murder under his belt and I would be damned if he was going to blame anything other than his gross ineptness for having two.
But since I couldn’t come out and say we already knew Adele was dead before we even walked into the house, I turned to Dearborn and lied, adding, “Once I determined she wasn’t breathing and her body temperature was already dropping, I knew it was too late to try CPR.” I actually knew because she’d been wandering in and out of the closed pantry saying, “Neat!” at the time. “But seeing the bruising on her neck and knowing Sookie was distraught over the possibility her grandmother had suffered in her final moments, I put gloves on and examined her neck. It felt like the C2 through C5 vertebrae had been snapped and probably severed her spinal cord completely. An x-ray would confirm it. And like I said, Sookie of course was distraught and she hugged Adele’s body, so you might find trace evidence from her on the body. But since we spent the afternoon with her I can say I saw Adele get hugs from at least half of the town firsthand, so there’s likely a lot of trace evidence left behind anyway.”
And they could both fuck off if they didn’t like it.
I’d have to ask Adele later on, but I would guess she was attacked not long after she’d gotten home. She was still dressed in the clothes she’d worn that afternoon and a good three hours had passed from the time she’d left the fair until we had gotten back to the house. Her skin was noticeably cooler when we first touched her, but even if we’d found her within minutes it would’ve done us no good if my suspicions about her cause of death were correct.
But knowing if we’d gone home with her, she would have probably still been alive, so my guilt continued to eat away at me anyway.
Dearborn just continued to stare at me while Bellefleur panted angry breaths through his nose like a bull waiting to charge.
I continued to not give a single fuck.
When Dearborn eventually seemed to physically shake off whatever his thoughts were, he looked somewhat appeased and nodded at me before turning to the others and saying, “Andy. Why don’t you take Amy back to the cruiser and get a statement from her while we wait on Mike Spencer to get here.”
I recognized the name as belonging to the medical examiner who had completed Maudette’s autopsy. I’d had no official reason to request her case file before now, but with Dawn’s body being found in Shreveport and another murder added on, at least now Herveaux would have one.
There were more than enough links in the three murders to make chain from Bon Temps all the way to Shreveport.
I had no working knowledge of the man. No idea of the caliber of doctor he was. And while I wouldn’t – couldn’t – be the one to do Adele’s autopsy, I didn’t want her left in the hands of an imbecile either. So while Bellefleur begrudgingly walked away to do as he was told and Dearborn went inside to see Adele’s body for himself, I contemplated calling my boss, Victor Madden.
Bon Temps was well out of his jurisdiction, but he was also well connected. He’d been politicking for years and had more than enough clout to back up his egomaniacal personality. It was a trait I usually tried my best to ignore whenever I had to deal with him, but now I was just thankful I’d never burned that bridge by being disrespectful. I knew he liked me well enough and my stellar performance evaluations told me he was happy with my work. But I could only hope it was enough to do what I was about to ask him to do, knowing a call from him could move mountains.
Or, at the very least, move murdered bodies an hour south down to Shreveport.
He too picked up on the first ring, sounding more alert than my previous two callers, and shocked me even more by answering, “Eric? You’re not on call.”
He had my number stored in his caller ID and knew my work schedule?
I shouldn’t have been surprised considering how meticulous the man was. It was the one trait of his that had allowed me to overlook all of his other more obvious flaws. He’d mentored me when I was first hired and by training under him, I was admittedly a better medical examiner because of it. The man missed nothing and it drove me to make sure I missed nothing as well.
After all, I couldn’t always rely on the deceased’s ghost to show up in the morgue and tell me what killed them.
“Victor,” I acknowledged uncomfortably, but knew he would correct me if I called him Mr. Madden again. “I have a favor to ask.”
I went on to explain everything that had happened, from Maudette’s murder in Bon Temps to Dawn Green’s body being dumped in Shreveport and ending with Adele’s murder that night. How they could be connected and how little faith I had in local law enforcement, which extended to their coroner by association. He listened to everything I had to say without interruption and when I was done he surprised me yet again by saying, “I knew Corbett Stackhouse when he was on the force. He was a good man and a fine detective. And I hear his daughter is following in his footsteps quite well. So if your suspicions are correct, then I’d hate to let some backwoods coroner used to only dealing with hunting accidents and heart attacks to impede on the this investigation. The bad guys already won one by taking Corbett before his time. If the rest of his family is in danger, I’ll be damned if I let them win another one. I’ll make some calls and get Chow on his way up there. You make sure nobody other than him leaves with that body and I’ll personally do the autopsy when he gets back.”
That’s all there was to me at that moment. But I managed to breathe out a grateful thank you with my sigh of relief before he ended the call.
Just in time, too.
Their van had seen better days, as had the driveway it was forced to travel on, but seeing the man exit the vehicle wearing his mossy oak hunter’s camouflage getup made me more thankful than ever for Victor’s assurance he would be doing the autopsy.
I wouldn’t trust that oaf to carve a Thanksgiving turkey.
He walked up the front porch steps looking like he was still half asleep without any equipment whatsoever, but when he got close enough I could smell the alcohol coming out of his pores.
I’d never seen him before so I could only guess he was Mike Spencer, but when he tried to go inside without a word, I blocked his path.
“Excuse me,” he huffed, finally looking a little more alert now that I was in his way.
I ignored what etiquette dictated I should do and continued to block him from going inside as I asked, “Are you Mike Spencer?”
“Yeah,” he replied suspiciously, with his glassy eyes narrowing back at me. “Who are you?”
The mother fucker who’ll be standing in your way from getting to Adele’s body.
Instead of saying that, I only replied, “Eric Northman. I’m with the Shreveport Coroner’s Office. You won’t be needed. We’re taking this case.”
“The hell you are,” he gruffed out, both trying and failing to get his beer baby to cooperate in bowing up on me. “This here’s Renard Parish. Shreveport ain’t got no jurisdiction up this way.”
Maybe not, but we have better grammar.
“We’ll just have to see about that,” I replied, shifting slightly so that I filled the entire doorway, while I mentally shifted the boundaries of parish lines across the state on my mental map. Adopting a more derisive tone, I added, “But you have some time to sober up while we get that sorted out and until that happens? You’re not getting anywhere near Adele Stackhouse’s body.”
If nothing else, I could at least depend on Chow’s lead foot to get him there quickly, if only so he could go back to bed that much sooner.
His red eyes sized me up, but I had no doubts I could take him down easily. He must have had the same suspicions because he glared at me and then turned towards the police cruisers and yelled, “Andy! Get your ass over here and tell this ass to get the hell outta my way!”
With the two of them, I might need Jason’s help to take them down.
Sensing he finally had the chance to take out his frustrations on me, Bellefleur lumbered towards us with his steely gaze trained on me, but stopped when we all heard footsteps approaching from the side of the house. We hadn’t checked the house or the yard to look for anyone lurking, but I assumed Corbett or Adele would’ve mentioned it if they had been. Instead we all watched as Bill Compton came into view and asked, “What’s going on? I heard the police sirens and saw the lights. Did something happen? Is Sookie alright?”
Even Bon Temps had looky-loos.
Before anyone could answer him, we all turned at the sound of another engine gunning down the road and the tires screeched as they turned onto the driveway. It turned out there were two instead of one, with a smaller pickup trailing behind an older larger one and they both came to a sliding halt behind Dearborn’s car. Sam Merlotte threw the door open on the truck in front and ran towards us asking, “Did something happened to Adele? Is Sookie okay?”
Did Bon Temps’ 911 system send out robo-calls to the entire town to alert them of every emergency?
Compton, I could understand. He only lived across the field, so he’d hear and see the police cars. But I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Merlotte would know until he added, “When Mike left the bar he said he got a call to come out here.”
Straight from the bar?
He’d gone to a crime scene straight from the fucking bar?
Victor would have to bail me out of jail because there was no way in hell I would be letting that drunken ass anywhere near Adele.
Before my impending arrest could be made, Jason’s friend Rene Lanier climbed out of the second truck and said, “I heard on the scanner a body was found.”
Nobody else said a word for a moment after that, with everyone’s eyes taking in every other person there. I couldn’t tell if I was the only one shocked that word had spread so quickly or that everyone and their brother seemed to feel as though they had a right to be there.
But it pissed me off to no end.
I wasn’t a cop. I was a fucking medical examiner. Outside of my jurisdiction as the drunken ass had pointed out. I had no way and no authority to make them get the hell off of the Stackhouse’s property.
But I didn’t have to.
Because for once in my life God smiled down on me and the tension in my body eased just a little seeing the familiar patrol car take a hard left onto the driveway, spraying up gravel and dirt in its wake. Another one followed behind it along with two state trooper cars and a truck emblazoned with Shreveport PD Crime Scene Unit on the side. And now that my backup had arrived, for the first time since learning of Adele’s death, I found a reason to smile.
Herveaux and Flood were standing like scary bookends on either side of me seconds later, with the state troopers bringing up the rear. Dearborn came out to see what the commotion was and only added to it as both he and Bellefleur started yelling about jurisdiction. Spencer joined in with them, while the rest of the civilians huddled to one side, but my eyes snapped back to Flood and relief flooded through me when his military background came out of hiding. In that moment he looked nothing like the broken man I’d come across in that bar years earlier and he silenced them all with a glare. Using a commanding voice that brokered no argument, he opened with, “This is how it’s going to go.”
And hearing it, I couldn’t help smiling again, doubting even God Himself would’ve had the balls to argue with him, much less Bon Temps’ finest.