I don’t really know how I ended up in this place. I woke up one day and I was in a room not my own. There was a nurse sitting in the corner chair, reading. was hooked up to an IV and my wrist was strapped to the bed. There was a hose snaked up my nose and there were machines softly beeping nearby. I must have made a sound because the nurse in the corner looked up. She closed her book so fast it fell from her hands and hit the floor at her feet.
“Oh, you’re awake. I’ll get the doctor.” And she had left with a swoosh of crepe soled shoes. The room was softly lit and didn’t seem like a hospital room exactly. There was a door. There was a curtain that hung from a pole suspended from the ceiling. There was a glass wall. I could see a hall and machines in the hall but it took too much to focus on that. My eyes felt heavy and my arms hurt. It was hard to keep focused and my head wanted to roll back into the pillow. My eyes closed. I was so tired. I was on my side. I curled into myself. Maybe I’d just sleep again.
There was something digging at my shoulder. It stopped. Then it started again. Poke. Push. Jiggle. Poke. Push. Jiggle. My head was lolling just a little with every push. My eyelids felt like weights were holding them down. But I pried them open and tried to focus on the source.
“Girl? You still alive?”
My eyes pulled open again. I thought I saw Dr. Ludwig. The nurse I saw earlier was standing behind her. I found myself staring at the nurse. I wondered if she was just a dream. She was tall and something other. Her skin was coffee colored and she had funny freckles all over her. Her hair looked like some kind of animal fur. I was too tired to really see her eyes, but she reminded me of Bellenos the elf. I wondered if he was still happy and living in Fairy with my great grandfather. I wondered if he hunted deer and ripped them to pieces with sharp shark teeth in the woods of Faery. I noticed the nurse’s skin and freckles made a nice contrast with her pink uniform. She had some fashion sense that nurse.
Then I noticed how she made Doctor Ludwig look like a demented dwarf just by standing next to each other. I found myself giggling, but no noise was coming out. I wondered if I was drunk. Maybe I was hallucinating. I blinked a few times to focus my eyes. No good. I felt my eyes roll and my eyelids pull down toward my feet. I wanted to float and float and not be pulled back to this place.
Poke. Push. Jiggle. “Girl! Do you hear me?” I jerked my chin a little to show I heard her. I tried to roll my head to get away from the grating voice. It didn’t work.
“Where?” My voice didn’t want to work. The sound of my single word echoed oddly in my ears. My throat was scratchy and hurt. I blinked and closed my eyes. I licked my lips and tried to get some moisture into my throat by swallowing. There was a straw at my mouth and I sipped a little water. When my eyes opened again, the nurse’s back was to me. She was putting a cup on the far table. It seemed odd that the lines around her were suddenly in sharp focus.
The doctor’s face came back, very close to mine. Her eyes looked bugged behind her glasses. I started my noise-less laughing again. But I stopped when she poked my eyelid with her finger and pulled it up. She was shining a light in my eye and I wanted to get away. But I couldn’t find the strength to pull away. Then the light was gone and the finger was out of my eye.
Ludwig’s face retreated a bit. She had a look on her face like I was some odd thing that needed to be classified and put in a jar. I felt poking again. And I could feel a wave of cold as the blanket pulled back from me. My hand was lifted. A pinchy thing was placed on my pointer finger. Then the edge of my panties was rolled back and there were fingers pushing on my groin right where my leg and lady parts joined up. The fingers stayed there a long time. Doctor Ludwig was telling the nurse numbers. The nurse was writing them down. Then the fingers were gone and the blanket was back. I made my voice work again.
“You are in a safe place. But you should be dead. Do you remember being found? Do you remember coming here?” Ludwig again. She pulled a chair next to my bed and took my wrist in an impersonal way. She took the pinchy thing off, but kept pressing my fingernails. Maybe she was going to rip them off. I remembered when Thing One and Thing Two did that. I tried to pull my hand away. I thought my heart would burst and I couldn’t catch my breath.
I heard Dr. Ludwig talking as I drifted back to sleep. She was telling someone that I was lucky. From where I sat, it didn’t feel lucky at all.
Pam played with the pearls around her neck. There was something satisfying about the feel of pearls, she thought; a hard but silky texture. But when you brushed them against your teeth you felt all the grit and imperfections. Like life.
When she had been appointed as Sheriff she had not appreciated the incredible amount of bullshit that would accompany the job. Of course there were some benefits. The increase in income that was Pam’s percentage of area profits had been gratifying. And the vampires who had been loyal to Eric had transferred that loyalty to her. Of course, Eric had always been the exception to the rule, and his willingness to include her in all aspects of his job had made the difference. Pam has been able to step into the official duties without skipping a beat. There had been no dip in revenues. Business had simply moved on and continued to improve.
There had been some ‘personnel’ issues in the beginning. A couple of the newer vampires, particularly some of the newer transfers from Nevada, had felt it important to voice their concerns. But that hadn’t lasted past the first serious sign of disrespect. Pam smiled, thinking of the look on the idiot’s face. He had walked into her office at Fangtasia and refused to bow. Then he had called her the Viking’s lackey and lacking in strength. He had lost an arm before his churlish words were finished. And Pam had been back behind her desk, her sweater set immaculate.
Thalia had been sitting on the couch that night. The small but fierce vampire’s reputation as a fierce fighter and general bad ass had grown since Eric’s departure. The blog site dedicated to her surly face and overall temperamental demeanor was alive and well. There was a substantial money reward for anyone who could catch her smiling. Damn – everyone loved a snarly bitch, and by that measure, Thalia was everybody’s darling. Too bad they hadn’t been in the office. Thalia was so tickled with the way Pam handled the upstart she laughed out loud.
When Pam had been appointed sheriff she had immediately approached Thalia with the express purpose of appointing her as Pam’s second in command. But Thalia had refused before she could even ask. Pam had Thalia’s loyalty, but the ability to say no was too important to Thalia to tie herself with any one kingdom or ruler.
Thalia stayed and fought because Thalia wanted to stay and fight. And that suited them both.
After the arm amputation everything calmed down.
Fangtasia was doing well again. Vampire’s Kiss, the only serious competition in the area, had not long survived Victor’s demise.
Pam smiled at the memory of Sookie Stackhouse telling off Felipe. Felipe was Pam’s monarch, and the author of their current circumstances. But Pam didn’t like him – never had. She remembered Sookie standing in front of the King in Eric’s house and laying out what a money pit Vampire’s Kiss had become. Pam had admired her before for her foolish bravery. It was on this occasion that she came to appreciate the blond woman’s brains as well.
Of course, opening Vampire’s Kiss hadn’t been about making money. Victor Madden had been appointed regent of Louisiana by Felipe. Victor had felt he deserved to be appointed King in his own right. Instead of looking at his own untrustworthiness, Victor had decided that Eric and his retinue were somehow to blame. Victor had made a series of poor choices, not the least of which was opening two venues to directly compete with Eric’s interests. In the end, Victor had paid the ultimate price. Pam smiled at the memory of the battle that had ended Victor and his entourage. She wondered what would be said if the walls of Fangtasia would speak. For herself, she would do it all over again.
Frankly, everything Victor touched had turned to shit, including his restaurant and club ventures. The premise of Vampire’s Kiss – Goth sex club – was interesting once. But it was like every other scary ride you ever took. Once you knew where the dips and turns were located, it lost its shock appeal. The customers came to gawk and comment, but the real spenders didn’t return. Felipe announced that the club would close its doors one year after Eric had left for Oklahoma. Pam didn’t think the timing was coincidental.
Pam used the final weeks of Vampire’s Kiss’ financial death throes to close and remodel Fangtasia. The walls were now sleek grays and blacks. There were accents of red and blue neon. Seating was low, comfortable and elegant. The dance floor and stage area had professional lighting and the power grid had been updated to allow all the latest computer-generated effects and tools to be available.
There was a karaoke night. There were theme parties at particular times of year.
And it was known that there were special Black Tie events that were invitation only. Pam had used her contacts internationally to create an ambience that left the public wanting to earn the privilege of attending. Savvy marketing and continuous pruning of the attendee list had built a mystique that maintained the draw of the events. Invitations were jealously guarded and highly sought. If you were caught selling your invitation, or giving it to someone, you would be banned forever. Who would think that Shreveport would attract A-list celebrities? But if there was one thing Pam knew, it was how to market.
Pam had made one change in her early days. She had made Maxwell Lee a partner in Fangtasia.
Eric had shown a grudging tolerance for the quiet, conservative Lee. But Eric’s own prodigious financial skills combined with his personal flair had prevented Eric from ever viewing Lee with more than a tolerant regard. It’s not that Eric disliked the younger vampire. Far from it, but they had been too different on a personal level and Eric had never seriously considered bringing Lee into his inner circle.
Pam had no such reservations. Pam knew things about herself. She knew her primary focus and talent lay in seeing the big picture and creating an appearance. But she also knew that her lack of attention to detail could run her into trouble.
And detail what where Maxwell Lee excelled. He watched the infrastructure of both her Area and her businesses. He policed balance sheets like a hawk. He excelled at paperwork, reports and finding talent to fill administrative holes. He could use the right words and logic to help her keep her grand business schemes practical and her ledgers in the black.
They were a formidable pair. Not quite the style of Eric Northman, but her Area was more than holding its own.
Pam wondered, not for the first time, if Eric was aware of the changes she had made. She wondered if he was proud of her.
With Maxwell’s financial acumen, the cache of the club as the premier spot for vampire life was being written up in human mainstream magazines. The club was discussed and spotlighted by television media and had recently been mentioned as the venue for a Superbowl after-party on Entertainment Tonight. It had appeared as one of the top ten nightclubs in the United States in several airline magazines.
Merchandising was the other area that had proven an amazing revenue source. Their on-line store did brisk business. Everything from shot glasses to custom Halloween costumes, Fangtasia brand was shipping internationally. While mainstreaming was going strong, there was still something about vampire that attracted humans. And that suited Pam and Maxwell just fine.
Pam flicked the keys on her laptop. The Fall Fashion weeks were coming up. Paris or New York? Always such a hard decision! Pam thought to a time when she would have attended all the shows. That was when Eric was sheriff and her role was indulged and indulging child.
And as she looked at her invitations to runway shows, she felt the sharp pain that was the absence of her maker. She missed torturing Eric with endless reports on trends and fashionista gossip. She missed teasing him with threats to buy entire collections. She missed betting with him, and the way that they’d prank each other. She missed the way they would plot and plan and his smirk when he came up with something particularly crafty or cunning.
It had been years since Pam had had a personal conversation with Eric. The last time they had any close contact had been the night he left for Oklahoma. It was the night he closed their bond, cutting her off from him in a way that he had never done in past. Even when he had released her so many years ago, he had left the bond open. She remembered how stunned she had been those first days. She had retreated to her home. She had wondered if she would ever truly recover. The ache had never ended, but over time she had come to terms with it.
She saw Eric now from time to time at official functions. They were in different clans – she was in Amun and he was in Zeus. So their opportunities to interact were limited. When she did see him, he would be walking to the left and behind Freyda. Always polite. Always distant. His eyes forward. She would watch him speak when asked something directly. Most of the time he looked like he was in downtime.
Two years ago she had found herself at the Zeus Summit in San Antonio. She was attending to negotiate with Texas. She and Maxwell had decided to franchise Fangtasia and wanted to open venues in three cities in the state, including a venue on the city’s famous Riverwalk close to the Alamo. As she rounded a corner at the conference center she found herself face to face with Eric.
Actually, she had found herself face to face with Freyda.
“Pam, you look lovely. How marvelous to see you!” Freyda had tilted her head just so. And Pam had understood that was her cue to bow to the taller woman. Which she did. Freyda’s smile broadened and the volume of her next remarks was raised to create an audience for their interaction. “I heard you were here. I can see that life as a Sheriff agrees with you.” And then Freyda had waited. Pam caught Freyda quickly glancing behind her. Pam realized Freyda was waiting for Eric to engage in the conversation.
But Eric didn’t. He had maintained his position behind the Queen. He was still and his eyes slowly scanned the room. He didn’t make eye contact with Pam once. She could have been a stranger. Pam never felt more abandoned than she did at that moment.
Freyda tilted her head again. But this time she tilted her head over her shoulder toward Eric. She was perfectly aware of where he stood. “Eric. Don’t you wish to greet your child?”
Eric brought his eyes to meet Pam’s. And for a moment she felt the depth of his despair. And just as quickly, the window into her maker’s feelings was shut down. “Greetings, Pam. It is always good to see you. As my Queen says, you look well.” He broke eye contact. And Eric was gone, hidden within himself and his duty.
The overall unhappiness of the marriage was well known amongst the Zeus rulers. Eric rarely made eye contact with Freyda. He didn’t engage her in conversation unless directed. He didn’t touch her unless she initiated the action. It was rumored she had to completely direct their lovemaking activities during their annual assignations; a situation which had led to her punishing him physically at least once. He had appeared beside her at the dinner that followed their first anniversary coupling missing an ear. Like everything at a vampire court, it was immediately noticed. The Queen had passed it off as a training accident. But the servants in the palace knew better and Freyda did not appreciate the snickering that had followed her footsteps for weeks afterwards.
It was probable that Freyda was still punishing Eric regularly, but she had been smart enough to not to do anything that would alert others to the discord that lay between them.
Freyda’s pride was hurting. That caused her to be short and ill-tempered with everyone. At one of the state dinners early in their marriage she had lost her temper with Eric’s withdrawn behavior. She made a sharp comment about his avoiding her on purpose within earshot of several of the Zeus monarchs. It was noticed from that point on Eric did not make eye contact or initiate conversation with anyone unless specifically directed by the Queen. When he was directed to engage in conversation, the experience was as Pam had experienced: brief, direct and over.
The charming, larger than life Viking that had been Eric Northman was gone. What was in his place was an efficient fighter, but a shell of a man.
Stan had asked Eric on the rare occasion he had found the Norseman without the queen how he was settling in at Oklahoma. Eric’s answer had been brief but telling. “She owns me.”
Stan Davis, the King of Texas had shared with Pam at one point in their conversation that he was worried about the situation. Before the marriage, Freyda had been viewed as an asset by Zeus. Beautiful and business savvy, she had made several strategic trade agreements with territories both within and outside their area. She seemed shrewd and politically adept. She had used her appearance to charm local politicians and media. She seemed poised to become a poster child for vampire mainstreaming across the country.
Now that had all gone to hell. Since the marriage, Freyda had gone from shrewd to shrew. Her temper was uncertain. ‘Mercurial’ and ‘harsh’ were the words most often coupled with her name.
Pam shook her head. If her maker thought that his strategy would wear down Freyda, he was wrong. It just made her angry, unstable and more determined. Pam wondered if that was his purpose. Did he wish to finally push the Queen hard enough to end him? Were Freyda to end him for no apparent breach in their formal contract, all the other terms and conditions would have to be honored by their law. In addition, Freyda would face punishment, maybe death herself.
Pam was pulled from her worries by the sound of the Psycho theme ringtone.
“Greetings deader. She’s speaking.”