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Authors: Charlaine Harris

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BOOK: A Touch of Dead
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I nodded. Bill said, “Yes,” and Bubba muttered, “Uh-huh.” Several cemeteries in New Orleans had
aboveground crypts because the water table in southern Louisiana was too high to allow ordinary below-ground burials. The crypts look like small white houses, and they’re decorated and carved in some cases, so these very old burial grounds are called the Cities of the Dead. The historic cemeteries are fascinating and sometimes dangerous. There are living predators to be feared in the Cities of the Dead, and tourists are cautioned to visit them in large, guided parties and to leave at the end of the day.
“Hadley and I had gone to St. Louis Number One that night, right after we rose, to conduct a ritual.” Waldo’s face looked quite expressionless. The thought that this man had been the chosen companion of my cousin, even if just for an evening’s excursion, was simply astounding. “They leaped from behind the tombs around us. The Fellowship fanatics were armed with holy items, stakes, and garlic—the usual paraphernalia. They were stupid enough to have gold crosses.”
The Fellowship refused to believe that all vampires could not be restrained by holy items, despite all the evidence. Holy items worked on the very old vampires, the ones who had been brought up to be devout believers. The newer vampires only suffered from crosses if
they were silver. Silver would burn any vampire. Oh, a wooden cross might have an effect on a vamp—if it was driven through his heart.
“We fought valiantly, Hadley and I, but in the end, there were too many for us, and they killed Hadley. I escaped with some severe knife wounds.” His paper white face looked more regretful than tragic.
I tried not to think about Aunt Linda and what she would have had to say about her daughter becoming a vampire. Aunt Linda would have been even more shocked by the circumstances of Hadley’s death: by assassination, in a famous cemetery reeking of Gothic atmosphere, in the company of this grotesque creature. Of course, all these exotic trappings wouldn’t have devastated Aunt Linda as much as the stark fact of Hadley’s murder.
I was more detached. I’d written Hadley off long ago. I’d never thought I would see her again, so I had a little spare emotional room to think of other things. I still wondered, painfully, why Hadley hadn’t come home to see us. She might have been afraid, being a young vampire, that her bloodlust would rise at an embarrassing time and she’d find herself yearning to suck on someone inappropriate. She might have been
shocked by the change in her own nature; Bill had told me over and over that vampires were human no longer, that they were emotional about different things than humans. Their appetites and their need for secrecy had shaped the older vampires irrevocably.
But Hadley had never had to operate under those laws; she’d been made vampire after the Great Revelation, when vampires had revealed their presence to the world.
And the post-puberty Hadley, the one I was less fond of, wouldn’t have been caught dead or alive with someone like Waldo. Hadley had been popular in high school, and she’d certainly been human enough then to fall prey to all the teenage stereotypes. She’d been mean to kids who weren’t popular, or she’d just ignored them. Her life had been completely taken up by her clothes and her makeup and her own cute self.
She’d been a cheerleader, until she’d started adopting the Goth image.
“You said you two were in the cemetery to perform a ritual. What ritual?” I asked Waldo, just to gain some time to think. “Surely Hadley wasn’t a witch as well.” I’d run across a werewolf witch before, but never a vampire spell caster.
“There are traditions among the vampires of New Orleans,” Mr. Cataliades said carefully. “One of these traditions is that the blood of the dead can raise the dead, at least temporarily. For conversational purposes, you understand.”
Mr. Cataliades certainly didn’t have any throwaway lines. I had to think about every sentence that came out of his mouth. “Hadley wanted to talk to a dead person?” I asked, once I’d digested his latest bombshell.
“Yes,” said Waldo, chipping in again. “She wanted to talk to Marie Laveau.”
“The voodoo queen? Why?” You couldn’t live in Louisiana and not know the legend of Marie Laveau, a woman whose magical power had fascinated both black and white people, at a time when black women had no power at all.
“Hadley thought she was related to her.” Waldo seemed to be sneering.
Okay, now I knew he was making it up. “Duh! Marie Laveau was African-American, and my family is white,” I pointed out.
“This would be through her father’s side,” Waldo said calmly.
Aunt Linda’s husband, Carey Delahoussaye, had
come from New Orleans, and he’d been of French descent. His family had been there for several generations. He’d bragged about it until my whole family had gotten sick of his pride. I wondered if Uncle Carey had realized that his Creole bloodline had been enriched by a little African-American DNA somewhere back in the day. I had only a child’s memory of Uncle Carey, but I figured that piece of knowledge would have been his most closely guarded secret.
Hadley, on the other hand, would have thought being descended from the notorious Marie Laveau was really cool. I found myself giving Waldo a little more credence. Where Hadley would’ve gotten such information, I couldn’t imagine. Of course, I also couldn’t imagine her as a lover of women, but evidently that had been her choice. My cousin Hadley, the cheerleader, had become a vampire lesbian voodooienne. Who knew?
I felt glutted with information I hadn’t had time to absorb, but I was anxious to hear the whole story. I gestured to the emaciated vampire to continue.
“We put the three X’s on the tomb,” Waldo said. “As people do. Voodoo devotees believe this ensures their wish will be granted. And then Hadley cut herself, and
let the blood drip on the stone, and she called out the magic words.”
“Abracadabra, please, and thank you,” I said automatically, and Waldo glared at me.
“You ought not to make fun,” he said. With some notable exceptions, vampires are not known for their senses of humor, and Waldo was definitely a serious guy. His red-rimmed eyes glared at me.
“Is this really a tradition, Bill?” I asked. I no longer cared if the two men from New Orleans knew I didn’t trust them.
“Yes,” Bill said. “I haven’t ever tried it myself, because I think the dead should be left alone. But I’ve seen it done.”
“Does it work?” I was startled.
“Yes. Sometimes.”
“Did it work for Hadley?” I asked Waldo.
The vampire glared at me. “No,” he hissed. “Her intent was not pure enough.”
“And these fanatics, they were just hiding among the tombs, waiting to jump out at you?”
“Yes,” Waldo said. “I told you.”
“And you, with your vampire hearing and smell, you didn’t know there were people in the cemetery around
you?” To my left, Bubba stirred. Even a vamp as dim as the too hastily recruited Bubba could see the sense of my question.
“Perhaps I knew there were people,” Waldo said haughtily, “but those cemeteries are popular at night with criminals and whores. I didn’t distinguish which people were making the noises.”
“Waldo and Hadley were both favorites of the queen,” Mr. Cataliades said admonishingly. His tone suggested that any favorite of the queen’s was above reproach. But that wasn’t what his words were saying. I looked at him thoughtfully. At the same moment, I felt Bill shift beside me. We hadn’t been soul mates, I guess, since our relationship hadn’t worked out, but at odd moments we seemed to think alike, and this was one of those moments. I wished I could read Bill’s mind for once—though the great recommendation of Bill as a lover had been that I couldn’t. Telepaths don’t have an easy time of it when it comes to love affairs. In fact, Mr. Cataliades was the only one on the scene who had a brain I could scan, and he was none too human.
I thought about asking him what he was, but that seemed kind of tacky. Instead, I asked Bubba if he’d round up some folding yard chairs so we could all sit
down, and while that was being arranged, I went in the house and heated up some TrueBlood for the three vampires and iced some Mountain Dew for Mr. Cataliades, who professed himself to be delighted with the offer.
While I was in the house, standing in front of the microwave and staring at it like it was some kind of oracle, I thought of just locking the door and letting them all do what they would. I had an ominous sense of the way the night was going, and I was tempted to let it take its course without me. But Hadley had been my cousin. On a whim, I took her picture down from the wall to give it a closer look.
All the pictures my grandmother had hung were still up; despite her death, I continued to think of the house as hers. The first picture was of Hadley at age six, with one front tooth. She was holding a big drawing of a dragon. I hung it back beside the picture of Hadley at ten, skinny and pigtailed, her arms around Jason and me. Next to it was the picture taken by the reporter for the parish paper, when Hadley had been crowned Miss Teen Bon Temps. At fifteen, she’d been radiantly happy in her rented white sequined gown, glittering crown on her head, flowers in her arms. The
last picture had been taken during Hadley’s junior year. By then, Hadley had begun using drugs, and she was all Goth: heavy eye makeup, black hair, crimson lips. Uncle Carey had left Aunt Linda some years before this incarnation, moved back to his proud New Orleans family; and by the time Hadley left, too, Aunt Linda had begun feeling bad. A few months after Hadley ran away, we’d finally gotten my father’s sister to go to a doctor, and he’d found the cancer.
In the years since then, I’d often wondered if Hadley had ever found out her mother was sick. It made a difference to me. If she’d known but hadn’t come home, that was a horse of one color. If she’d never known, that was a horse of a different one. Now that I knew she had crossed over and become the living dead, I had a new option. Maybe Hadley had known, but she just hadn’t cared.
I wondered who had told Hadley she might be descended from Marie Laveau. It must have been someone who’d done enough research to sound convincing, someone who’d studied Hadley enough to know how much she’d enjoy the piquancy of being related to such a notorious woman.
I carried the drinks outside on a tray, and we all sat
in a circle on my old lawn furniture. It was a bizarre gathering: the strange Mr. Cataliades, a telepath, and three vampires—though one of those was as addled as a vampire can be and still call himself undead.
When I was seated, Mr. Cataliades passed me a sheaf of papers, and I peered at them. The outside light was good enough for raking but not really good for reading. Bill’s eyes were twenty times stronger than mine, so I passed the papers over to him.
“Your cousin left you some money and the contents of her apartment,” Bill said. “You’re her executor, too.”
I shrugged. “Okay,” I said. I knew Hadley couldn’t have had much. Vampires are pretty good at amassing nest eggs, but Hadley could only have been a vampire for a very few years.
Mr. Cataliades raised his nearly invisible brows. “You don’t seem excited.”
“I’m a little more interested in how Hadley met her death.”
Waldo looked offended. “I’ve described the circumstances to you. Do you want a blow-by-blow account of the fight? It was unpleasant, I assure you.”
I looked at him for a few moments. “What happened to you?” I asked. This was very rude, to ask someone
what on earth had made him so weird-looking, but common sense told me that there was more to learn. I had an obligation to my cousin, an obligation unaffected by any legacy she’d left me. Maybe this was why Hadley had left me something in her will. She knew I’d ask questions, and God love my brother, he wouldn’t.
Rage flashed across Waldo’s features, and then it was like he’d wiped his face with some kind of emotion eraser. The paper white skin relaxed into calm lines and his eyes were calm. “When I was human, I was an albino,” Waldo said stiffly, and I felt the knee-jerk horror of someone who’s been unpardonably curious about a disability. Just as I was about to apologize, Mr. Cataliades intervened again.
“And, of course,” the big man said smoothly, “he’s been punished by the queen.”
This time, Waldo didn’t restrain his glare. “Yes,” he said finally. “The queen immersed me in a tank for a few years.”
“A tank of what?” I was all at sea.
“Saline solution,” Bill said, very quietly. “I’ve heard of this punishment. That’s why he’s wrinkled, as you see.”
Waldo pretended not to hear Bill’s aside, but Bubba
opened his mouth. “You’re sure ’nuff wrinkled, man, but don’t you worry. The chicks like a man who’s different.”
Bubba was a kind vampire and well-intentioned.
I tried to imagine being in a tank of seawater for years and years. Then I tried not to imagine it. I could only wonder what Waldo had done to merit such a punishment. “And you were a favorite?” I asked.
Waldo nodded, with a certain dignity. “I had that honor.”
I hoped I’d never receive such an honor. “And Hadley was, too?”
Waldo’s face remained placid, though a muscle twitched in his jaw. “For a time.”
Mr. Cataliades said, “The queen was pleased with Hadley’s enthusiasm and childlike ways. Hadley was only one of a series of favorites. Eventually, the queen’s favor would have fallen on someone else, and Hadley would have had to carve out another place in the queen’s entourage.”
Waldo looked quite pleased at that and nodded. “That’s the pattern.”
I couldn’t get why I was supposed to care, and Bill made a small movement that he instantly stilled.
I caught it out of the corner of my eye, and I realized Bill didn’t want me to speak. Pooh on him; I hadn’t been going to, anyway.
Mr. Cataliades said, “Of course, your cousin was a little different from her predecessors. Wouldn’t you say, Waldo?”
“No,” Waldo said. “In time, it would have been just like before.” He seemed to bite his lip to stop himself from talking; not a smart move for a vampire. A red drop of blood formed, sluggishly. “The queen would have tired of her. I know it. It was the girl’s youth, it was the fact that she was one of the new vampires who has never known the shadows. Tell our queen that, Cataliades, when you return to New Orleans. If you hadn’t kept the privacy glass up the whole trip, I could have discussed this with you as I drove. You don’t have to shun me, as though I were a leper.”
BOOK: A Touch of Dead
12.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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