The file landed on Eric’s heavy mahogany desk with a thud. He looked up from his computer screen to see Pam Ravenscroft leaning over the desk with a smug look of triumph on her face. Eric sat back in his seat and pulled his arms up over his head to stretch. He’d been working on a brief for the last two hours on a case he’d been working for the better part of six months. The trial was finally set to start in the next week. About. Fucking. Time.
“What’s this?” Eric nodded to the file.
“That is Victor fucking Madden on a silver platter,” Pam winked.
Eric shot forward and grabbed the folder to look through the papers. “How?”
“I have my ways,” Pam shrugged.
Eric looked at the documents Pam had brought him. Affidavits, statements, photographs and all sorts of evidence had been gathered. It was enough to get Madden a needle in his arm. For years, Eric had taken a personal interest in bringing this particular brand of scum to his knees. So far, Madden had been able to wriggle through every single loophole the law allowed him. There were times when Eric wasn’t sure who he hated more—Madden or his scumbag attorney, Bobby Burnham.
“Tell me this is iron clad, Pam,” Eric said with a hint of desperation.
“Iron clad.” She winked.
Eric breathed a sigh of relief and deflated a bit in his expensive leather chair. He felt a huge weight lift off his shoulders. Years and years of what felt like chasing his own tail had him thinking there was no way he was ever going to be able to nail Madden. He’d been close back in ’07, but then the key witness in Eric’s case mysteriously disappeared. Felipe de Castro had been framed to look like he was the head honcho of the tri-state operation, but he was just a puppet. Madden was the one pulling the strings.
Eric wanted to ask how this was possible. Someone on the inside had to have given up the information. After years of trying to plant one rat or another in the organization Madden secretly fronted, he’d come up with nothing reliable. Nearly every piece of intelligence they’d been given turned out to be either false leads, or couldn’t be corroborated. Witnesses kept disappearing. Eric, himself, had been put in the cross-hairs on more than one occasion. Madden didn’t like people snooping around his operation.
It was understandable, considering what he was on the hook for. The laundry list of charges Eric was prepared to file had more blood on it than any one person should see in a lifetime. It was crazy to think that finally, after years and years of sweating this case, he had everything he needed to put Madden away. He was so deep into the investigative side that it took a minute to think about what would come next.
“You okay in there, Northman?” Pam smirked.
“Yeah.” He shook his head. “It’s just…”
“Life’s work,” Pam said with a nod of understanding.
“Something like that.” Eric saved the document he was working on and shut down his computer. “Come on, Ravenscroft, we’re going for a drink.”
Eric grabbed his suit jacket off the back of his door and slid his arms into the sleeves. He buttoned the jacket and reached for his briefcase. Pam stood in the same spot in front of Eric’s desk with her arms folded over her chest. She looked Eric up and down like she was debating over what to say to him. Pam wasn’t really known for beating around the bush, so her attempt at tact was out of character.
“What?” Eric asked when Pam didn’t move.
Pam grabbed the file and walked it over to Eric. “You’re going to want to take a closer look at this before you start celebrating.”
“You said iron clad, Pam.” Eric nearly growled.
“And it is. My source is listed in there.” Pam narrowed her eyes at the folder.
“Where?” Eric set down his briefcase to look at the file.
“Last page. There’s even a picture.” The solemn expression on Pam’s face left a bad taste in Eric’s mouth.
He flipped the folder open and began to rifle through the pages until he came to the very last one. A bright, shining smile greeted him. Flowing blond hair the same shade as his own hung in elegant waves past the woman’s shoulders. Her bright blue eyes sparkled. Her tan skin glowed. Looking at her face after all those years tugged at his heart. What the fuck was she doing with Madden that she had iron clad evidence against the man?
“She came to you?” He wouldn’t be surprised if she had. She’d always been more concerned with doing the right thing than saving her own ass.
“She’s got balls, Northman. No wonder you never let go of her,” Pam said as gently as she could, which was to say she used the force of a freight train.
“I’m over her.” Eric didn’t take his eyes from the picture of the beautiful blond woman. “I did love her, but it’s in the past. I don’t even know her anymore.”
“Well, I think it’s time you got reacquainted.” Pam held out a business card. “She goes by Sookie, these days. She’s waiting to hear from you.”
Eric was well aware of how she’d been come to be known by that name. He had been the one to give it to her twenty years before. He tried his best to shake off the feelings that were creeping through him. Now wasn’t the time to get lost in his past, as much as he might love a trip down memory lane.
Eric took the card and stuffed it in the breast pocket of his jacket. “I really could use that drink. Now.”
Sookie sat on the couch, sliding a hammer shaped pendant back and forth on a chain she’d been wearing around her neck since her sixteenth birthday almost fifteen years ago. It was a gift from someone she’d been desperately in love with once upon a time. It was all she had left of him anymore. In the years that passed since they were together, so many things in her life had changed.
The eerie silence of the apartment did little to settle her nerves. She was waiting for the phone to ring. She’d been told she was in a safe place. She was being guarded round the clock to ensure she didn’t go missing like the others. She knew what a risk she’d taken by coming forward, but she knew she had a very clear choice to make. She could stay in the rut she’d put herself in, or she could fight back and break free of Victor once and for all.
She was tired of making excuses for black eyes and bruised ribs. How many falls down a flight of stairs can one girl really take before people start to question things? She’d never been party to the things Victor did, but she was aware things weren’t right. Gathering up evidence had been much easier than she’d thought. She was on the inside, whether or not she wanted to be there. She’d tried to break up with him in the past, but Victor didn’t like it when he wasn’t the one calling the shots.
Her most recent attempt at freedom had earned her yet another black eye and several body bruises after he kicked her repeatedly in the stomach. She was battered, but not broken. If anything, the bruises she saw gave her strength. They reminded her that she had something to fight for. There was still life inside of her, and she wanted to take it back from the man who had been sucking it from her one violent act at a time for the last five years.
He wasn’t always so brutal to her. In fact, he’d started out as quite a charmer. He’d wined, dined and seduced her into thinking he could give her a better life. Not that her life had been so horrible when they met, but he flashed around cash and material things like it was nothing. He had fooled her completely, but by the time she figured out what he was really about, it was too late. She was in too deep with him to just walk away.
Then she saw a face in the newspaper she’d only seen in her dreams since the last time she saw him. It had been more than a decade since the last time she saw Eric Northman. He was, without a doubt, the one that got away. They had a very complicated history with one another. She’d spent years trying to sort out her feelings for him, hoping if she could understand it all she might be able to put it behind her. He wasn’t just an ex-boyfriend. In fact, she wasn’t really sure how to label him.
He was just Eric.
If it was possible he looked even better now than he did the last time she saw him. Hair that had once hung down to his shoulders had been cut in a more responsible, adult style. He wore power suits and a smirk that dared anyone to try and fuck with him. When she saw him on TV after successfully putting away Charles Twining, serial arsonist, she noticed the swagger in his walk. It was so familiar to her.
She closed her eyes, thinking back to the way he used to walk toward her. Even better was thinking about the way she would run to him. He would stop suddenly and hold out his arms for her to jump into, which she did. He always caught her and held her tightly. When he kissed her, it was like the rest of the world just floated away. She’d never experienced that with anyone else.
At sixteen all Sookie wanted was to go to college, get married, have babies and someday, enjoy her grandchildren with her husband. It was always Eric’s face she saw when she looked into her future. It was him waiting for her at the end of the aisle on her wedding day. It was him holding her hand as she pushed new life into the world. She had been so sure Eric was her future.
But things change. Now, almost fifteen years later, they were strangers. She flipped open the cell phone Pam Ravenscroft had given her. It was a secure phone, completely untraceable to anyone who might be looking for her. There were exactly three people who would have that number: Pam, Sookie’s guard and eventually, Eric Northman himself. It was Eric’s call she was waiting for. Pam had promised he would contact her as soon as she delivered him the paperwork.
Testifying against Victor most likely meant going into witness protection after the trial was over, assuming he didn’t have her killed before then. She was extremely cautious of who she would trust. She’d made arrangements to speak with Pam specifically because she was closely associated with Eric. Sookie had considered going to Eric directly, but there were a few reasons why she hadn’t.
First, it was going to be awkward as hell to be in the same room as him, and the kinds of things she needed to tell him really couldn’t be swept aside. Then, of course, there was her concern for bringing him into danger. Pam kept a much lower profile. It wasn’t until Sookie and Pam met that she found out Eric was her boss. Pam was on the fast track to being one of the most powerful young prosecutors in the city. She was unofficially Eric’s protégé. He was teaching her everything he knew and she was eager to learn.
The minute Sookie mentioned she had insider information on Victor Madden, she knew she had Pam’s attention. So, Sookie faked a doctor’s appointment with her lady doctor and met Pam in the waiting room of her doctor’s office just in case she was being followed. Pam had motioned for Sookie to be quiet while she searched Sookie’s purse for bugs or other tracking devices. Sookie hadn’t been too surprised when Pam found something sewn into the lining of Sookie’s purse. The device was promptly removed and dropped into Pam’s cup of lukewarm coffee to kill it.
Pam hadn’t come to their meeting alone just in case she was being set up herself. Once Sookie was able to convince Pam she was the real deal and that she wanted to help get Victor behind bars, they moved their meeting to a private office Pam had arranged for them. The two men Pam had traveling with her did a sweep of the room to make sure it was clean before any conversation took place.
Sookie told Pam everything she knew about Victor. She started from the beginning, telling Pam how they’d met when her girlfriends had taken her to Las Vegas for her twenty-fifth birthday. Victor had found her trying her hand at the craps table and losing miserably. He’d been a charming, impressive man who swept Sookie off her feet. She’d let herself be blinded by the glitz and glamour Victor surrounded himself with. She explained the downfall of their relationship- how it had been a subtle, slow process until one day Sookie finally woke up and realized she was in one hell of a mess.
She told Pam about the strange men who were always coming and going from the apartment. She told Pam about the guns, drugs and stolen merchandise Victor kept hidden in his house. He didn’t think Sookie knew about any of it. She acted like she was turning a blind eye and never mentioned his “business” to him, or anyone else. With the exception of being slapped around once in a while, she felt a little like she was dating the Tony Soprano of the south.
It was Victor having an affair with a woman by the name of Sandy that had pushed Sookie over the edge. That had been the thing that forced her to start photographing things around the house that weren’t right. She started to inventory the stolen merchandise that filtered its way through the house. She wrote down names, dates, locations and any little detail she could get her hands on. She started logging evidence of the beatings she suffered at Victor’s hands. She documented what sort of drugs were being funneled through Victor, and keeping records of the dealers he was working with.
Victor had wrongfully assumed Sookie was too beaten down to really know what was going on. He spoke freely around her, having warned he wouldn’t hesitate to kill her in broad daylight if she so much as peeped word of his business to anyone. She believed him, of course, but she figured she was going to die one way or another. If her death would be because of Victor Madden, she would at least go down swinging. Everything she had in the world she had managed to get mailed to her brother. She’d instructed him to put it in a safety deposit box and turn it over to the police if anything ever happened to her.
Upon receipt of everything Sookie was able to provide, Pam knew she was onto something. Pam hadn’t mentioned Eric yet, nor had Sookie, even though she was very curious to hear about him. She wondered if he still had the same barking laugh he did when they were younger. Did he still despise coffee? Did he jump at the sound of thunder? All these things Sookie knew about him might be meaningless now. Pam had been impressed with all the things Sookie had been able to provide for their case against Victor, but she was going to need more.
Sookie had been able to convince Victor to allow her to take a yoga class twice a week. Little did he know the instructor had been planted there by Pam’s people. Sophie-Anne LeClerq had been the “handler” for Sookie. She had been the medium through which all information passed, and she came with her own little guard dog. Andre didn’t look at all intimidating. In fact, he gave off the appearance of a bored teenager. Looks were deceiving, according to both Sophie-Anne and Pam.
It had taken months to get everything turned over to Pam before it was finally time for Sookie to make her break from Victor. Pretending to be the loyal girlfriend was far too easy for her. She had years of experience at it. Victor had no reason to think Sookie would betray him where the authorities were concerned. She still couldn’t believe she’d managed to get out. The trick was to make sure it didn’t get back to him where she was being kept until the trial. Pam had promised her there was no way Victor wasn’t going to end up in prison for the rest of his life because of this.
His entire gang was going to go down, and it would be because Sookie had found the courage to come forward. Pam and Sophie Anne had tried to warn Sookie what things would be like once he deal was done. They had tried to prepare her for the isolation and the silence. Sookie had thought she would welcome it after years of insanity. She didn’t regret the decision to turn Victor over to the authorities, but she found herself in a similar situation to the one she had just gotten free from.
She was back to not having a choice. She was stuck in this little box of an apartment for God knows how long until someone other than her decided it was safe for her to be on her own again. But when she was released, she was going to be handed a new identity. A new life was going to be assigned to her. For all she knew, when this was over, she was going to be Jane Smith from Philadelphia, recently divorced and looking to start over on her dream horse ranch in Montana. The very thought of it made her stomach turn a little.
Victor would be gone, but she wouldn’t be free. She fingered the hammer hanging from her neck and squeezed her eyes closed. Eric’s face danced behind her lids. Her memories of them running free in the sunshine as teenagers tugged at her heart. Oh, how different things were back then. She was just starting to remember the first time he’d kissed her when a knock on the door brought her back to the present.
She figured it was Alcide, coming to bring her a late dinner or some groceries. She slowly got off the couch and grabbed the cell phone that was on the coffee table. If Eric called, she didn’t want to miss it. She clutched the phone as she walked to the door. There wasn’t a peephole for her to look through. She slid the chain into its track, and carefully flipped the deadbolt over. Her hand settled on the knob, hesitant to turn it and let someone else in.
“Sookie, I can hear you breathing.” That voice. Oh, she knew that voice. Her heart stopped before it starting pounding furiously in her chest. “Let me in.”
You have no idea how much I want to, she thought to herself. Her hand turned the knob and the door creaked open.