Danielle Jenkins sat on her bed, iPad balanced on her lap with her ear buds in her ears. As usual she was listening to Scar Tissue, her all-time favorite band. At the tender age of fifteen, Danielle was positive that she had found the love of her life in front man Eric Northman. His songs spoke to her. It was like he knew her life.
She was convinced that if they could just meet he would know it too. It didn’t matter that he was almost ten years older than her. He was so good looking and smart and funny, plus he was famous. Danielle held the stylus in her hand and practiced writing what she was positive would someday be her last name. Over and over she wrote it in different ways, trying to decide which way looked the best. A cool signature was important. Eric signed his name with a lightning bolt in place of the ‘i’.
How cool was that?
It was totally a nod to Thor. Eric was a descendant of his, after all.
A notification popped up from Facebook. Danielle tapped it and just about had a heart attack when she saw who had messaged her. KQX Management!
“Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod!” Danielle quickly read through the message but all she saw at first was ‘congratulations’, ‘winning’ and ‘private meeting’. She had to read it twice before the full message sank in.
Dear Danielle Jenkins,
Congratulations! We are delighted to inform you that you have won a private meeting with Eric Northman of Scar Tissue. Your name was chosen at random from the band’s Facebook fan page.
Please contact Andre Paul via email at Andre.Paul@gmail.com as soon as possible to arrange a date and time for your meeting.
Team Scar Tissue,
It was a dream come true.
Danielle read the message over and over, even pinching herself a few times. She wanted it to be real. There was nothing Danielle wanted more than to meet Eric. She was positive that as soon as their eyes met he would fall in love with her. No question.
She quickly switched over to her email app to send Eric’s manager a message. There was no way Danielle was going to let this opportunity slip through her fingers. Her response was quick, confirming her interest in a private meeting with Eric Northman. It didn’t matter what it took to make it happen. If she had to run away to do it, she would.
Waiting for a response was going to be the hardest part.
Danielle grabbed her phone and dialed her best friend’s phone number. Ashley was going to be so jealous!
“Hola,” she answered.
“Ash! Ohmygod, you’re not going to believe this! I just got a message telling me that I won a private meeting with Eric Northman!” Danielle said excitedly.
“Nuh uh! Shut up, you did not!”
“Swear to God! I swear on my first child with Eric it’s true.” That was serious.
“Holy shit. How did that happen?” Ashley asked.
“Someone from the management team picked my name randomly and told me to message them. I can’t believe it,” Danielle said. She was on the verge of tears and then her iPad alerted to a new email.
Andre had replied.
“How do you know it’s legit?” Ashley asked.
“Uh, duh, the message was sent from the management team’s Facebook account. I’m not dumb, Ashley,” Danielle said defensively.
“I’m not saying you’re dumb, Dani, I just don’t want you to get scammed. There’s some sick assholes in the world.”
Danielle knew that too. She had seen that show about catching pedophiles, but this was different. Andre freaking Paul had messaged her back!
“Don’t worry, Ash, this is totally safe and totally legit. Ohmygod they want to set up the meeting at one of the swank hotels in the freaking French Quarter! Dude, this is going to be so awesome! He’s going to meet me, we’re going to fall in love and live happily ever after,” Danielle gushed. She burst into hysterical, excited tears.
In just two weeks she was going to meet the love of her life face to face. It was the best day of her life so far.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Sookie?” Sam asked as she picked up the last bag and slung it over her shoulder.
“This isn’t working anymore Sam. You slept with Calli. I can’t just look the other way,” Sookie replied. She could take some responsibility for what happened. Her job had become her biggest priority. It occupied most of her time and even when she was off the clock she was usually thinking about her cases.
Such was the life of a special agent for the FBI.
Her caseload took her all over the country, sometimes for months at a time. It was part of working in behavioral sciences. There were times when she didn’t see her family or friends for months because of a killer she was chasing, but Sookie was relentless. When she was thirteen her cousin Hadley was violently raped, brutally murdered and then callously dismembered. Because Hadley’s body had been scattered in a Mississippi bayou before DNA testing was available, the pieces of Hadley’s body that had been discovered three years after she went missing stayed in an evidence locker until it could be matched to her by mitochondrial DNA.
Her killer had never been caught but more pieces of her body were located in and around the bayou. Fingers, vertebrae, part of her radius and fragments of her femur had been found. Striations on the radius and on what was thought to be her pelvis was what told the forensic examiners that Hadley had been dismembered.
To say Sookie had nightmares would be an understatement. They learned that Hadley had been raped when the killer sent a taunting letter to the police detailing the crime, along with a lock of Hadley’s hair as proof.
By then Sookie was almost done with high school. Hadley should have been almost done with college or cosmetology school. She had talked about wanting to be a hair stylist and open up a place with her best friend, Janice Herveaux. Losing Hadley was something Sookie never got over. She had admired her cousin, looked up to her for guidance. Hadley was the big sister Sookie never had.
Losing her so suddenly and violently had been traumatic for most of the family, but it lit a fire in Sookie. It made her want to make sure no other family suffered the way hers had. The Stackhouse family also had a history of psychic activity running through it. Her great-great-grandma was a Seer. Her great-uncle was telekinetic. Her grandfather was telepathic. It seemed Sookie had gotten a little something too, since she had visions from time to time.
People didn’t quite understand how it worked. She couldn’t see her own future or maybe she just didn’t want to. It was because of that, that she hadn’t known Sam and Calli were getting so close. While it didn’t justify Sam’s cheating, Sookie understood it was because he wasn’t getting what he needed from her. Truthfully, it had been over between them for a while, but neither of them was willing to pull the trigger.
“I never wanted to hurt you, Sook,” he said. Coming from anyone else she would have laughed, but Sookie believed him. Sam’s picture was in the dictionary under the definition of ‘nice guy,’ that’s how nice he was. There wasn’t a malicious bone in his body.
“I know, Sam,” she replied. There was an awkward moment before he leaned over to kiss her goodbye. All the spark that had once been there was long gone.
You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips. And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips… Okay, Maverick, let’s get this show on the road.
For the time being Sookie was going to be staying with Sara Weiss, a fellow agent assigned to a different department than her. She exited the house she had been sharing with Sam and went out to her Jeep Wrangler. It was packed pretty full but Jason had already taken her furniture across town to Sara’s. The family owned a fifty acre horse ranch and riding school. There were two houses on the property, a rancher’s living quarters, three stables, a barn and two guest houses. Sookie was going to be staying in one of the guest houses over near the river.
She was happy to be getting to a more rural part of Tennessee. Sookie had grown up in a small town in northwest Louisiana. It was a one stoplight kind of place with residents that were mostly descendants of the original settlers. The Stackhouse family went back six generations there before her ancestors had come over the Atlantic from Europe just after the American Revolution. Genealogy was a big deal in the South. Knowing one’s roots made it easier to know where a person was going, according to Sookie’s grandmother.
She watched in the rear view mirror as she drove away from the house. Sam owned a bar just off of Beale Street. He was originally from Texas so they a few things in common when it came to being Tennessee transplants. They had started out friends and things had evolved, as things sometimes did.
She was moving closer to Chattanooga, about four hours east of Memphis. Southern Hollow Stables sat on prime real estate with the Tennessee River on either side of it. Sara and her husband lived on the west side of the property, while his parents lived on the east side, closer to downtown Chattanooga. There was a guest house on either side of the property as well. She would be able to see the main house from where her guest house was and Sara had warned it wouldn’t be unusual to see horses go galloping by with their equestrian students astride them, but Sookie wasn’t worried about that.
Her grandfather was a pecan farmer so she was used to moving around on horseback to get from place to place. In fact it was her first mode of transportation. From an early age Sookie had learned how to traverse the woods to get from her grandparents’ house to her parents’ house. Up until a few years prior there had still be posts on Main Street in her hometown for people to leave their horses at while they did their banking or stopped at the post office. She missed the simplicity of her hometown.
Or maybe it was her childhood she missed more.
Sookie hit the power button on her radio. Luke Bryan began to play and she decided to shake off whatever bad feelings she had over the way things ended with Sam. On one hand she wanted to believe it was inevitable. None of her relationships ever lasted for too long. Sam was the longest of the bunch and that was only because they were friends first.
Most guys got annoyed with her constantly choosing her job over them. It was hard to say how many birthdays she’d missed because she was working a case. Sookie had a tendency to get tunnel vision and maybe she took her cases a little too personally. She reported to Assistant Director Sophie-Anne LeClerq and while she knew Sophie valued her work, she was also constantly being told to slow down. Sara had even advised that Sookie take a few steps back, maybe some time off to reconsider her priorities.
She took that to mean she was being too ambitious.
It was fine for men to be career obsessed and driven, but she was supposed to take some time to check her bio clock for malfunctions?
Fuck that noise.
Yet it wasn’t really a request as much as it was an order.
Sookie didn’t want to admit it, but she was feeling a little burned out. She had been burning the candle at both ends for so long she hardly knew what day of the week it was anymore.
So she was going to take her bosses “advice” and get a little perspective. She was going to use the time to figure out her next move, maybe put in for a transfer somewhere else. Maybe it was time for a change of scenery to restart her. Maybe she would even go north for once in a her life. Maybe find a nice cabin up in Upstate New York or a place over in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There were lots of options and not a whole lot tying her to any one place considering the amount of traveling she did.
Sookie spent a good amount of time in the air, going from one side of the country to the other in search of whoever she was trying to bring to justice. The bureau was well aware of her personal tragedy and she knew there was concern that she was trying to use it to bring closure to her family. Sookie never denied working the case on her own time. She had been doing that since she was able to get a copy of the police report. Once she’d become an official member of the law enforcement community, the state police had been willing to show her the file.
There was some pretty gruesome stuff in there but sadly, in the time since then, Sookie had seen much worse. It was both a blessing and a curse to know that Hadley, on the scale of atrocities, hadn’t suffered nearly as badly as some victims had.
Stops had to be made along the way to refuel and stretch her legs, but Sookie made it all the way to Chattanooga before supper time. The Weiss children were playing in the front yard, chasing the family dog. It was a Jack Russell Terrier/Beagle mix named Delilah, and she was quite possibly the cutest dog on the planet. Friendly as sin, too.
Sookie’s camouflage green Jeep came to a stop in the driveway in front of a beautiful brick “cottage” that was built back in the 1930s. Delilah, of course, had to come and check out the visitor. She barked but didn’t lose her shit the way some dogs would. As soon as she caught on to Sookie being friend and not foe, Delilah was trying to lick her face off.
“Okay, down, Delilah,” Sookie said firmly as Sara came out of the house.
“Delilah get down right now!” Sara ordered and the dog finally stopped jumping up. Delilah gave Sookie appropriately shamed eyes and then went back to playing with the kids. “I’m so glad you made it in one piece,” Sara said as she approached.
“Me too. There was some nasty construction there for a bit but I managed.” Sookie closed the door of the Jeep after pulling her purse off the front seat.
“Well come on inside and I’ll get you your keys and whatnot,” Sara told her. “Logan, you stop throwing mud at your brother, you hear me?”
“Yes, Mom,” Logan answered with a roll of his eyes.
“You roll those eyes again and I’ll be rolling the backside of your head,” Sara threatened. Sounded just like Sookie’s grandmother, making her fight a chuckle as she followed Sara up to the house.
“Seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact that we share DNA I don’t know if I’d even like ‘em sometimes,” Sara said.
“And y’all wonder why I don’t have any,” Sookie laughed.
“They’re not too bad most of the time. Right now they just have too much energy. Their father was in charge of giving them their afternoon snack and I’m convinced he gave them donuts sprinkled with crack or something.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“Let’s just say there’s a reason why Aaron is over by his folks’ place right now,” Sara snickered.
The interior of the house was rustically but elegantly decorated. Beams were exposed along the ceiling in the living room, and there was lots of stone work in the dining room/kitchen area of the house. The wood was all richly stained and Sookie didn’t even mind the Texas longhorn and skull that was mounted near the top of the stairs leading into the kitchen. It was a spacious kitchen with a long island running down the middle of it.
“I’m in love with your kitchen,” Sookie told Sara. “I don’t get to do much cooking but when I do, I go all out.”
“Same here. Actually, Aaron does most of the cooking around here. He doesn’t have much choice,” she said somewhat sheepishly.
There was a noted difference in Sara after she had her twins three years prior. She had five kids total but in the last year especially, it was obvious she was feeling guilty over the amount of time she had to spend away from her family. It was understandable. Maybe that was why Sookie didn’t want to have kids yet? She knew if she took that step she was going to want to devote most of her time to being a mother and she wasn’t ready to give up her career with the bureau just yet.
The grass behind the house was so green. The house was situated on a hillside so the “basement” level was tucked partially into the earth. A view like the one Sara had was positively stunning.
“Miss Memphis yet?” Sara asked.
“Not hardly,” Sookie laughed. “I’m sure there are things about it I’ll miss and I know I’ll miss Sam…”
She could play Brenda Badass all day long but the simple truth was, she was in love with Sam. At least she had been. Finding out he had been cheating on her with Calli wasn’t easy. Never one to let her emotions get the better of her, Sookie had maintained a stiff upper lip in his presence, choosing only to fall apart when she was alone in the shower and she was sure he couldn’t hear her. It wasn’t as if she had neglected him on purpose or because she was tired of being his girlfriend. In fact, it was never intentional when she let her relationships slip away from her.
It didn’t matter, however.
Neglect was neglect, and there was only so many times a person could try to get someone’s attention before they gave up and moved on to someone else. Someone they didn’t have to work so hard to get to notice them.
She had taken Sam for granted and she knew it. She had abused his friendship and it wasn’t fair. Sookie had figured there was plenty of later to hold out for, but Sam had other ideas. She knew he wanted marriage and children. They weren’t getting any younger, either. She was already thirty-two and Sam was about to turn thirty-six. Time wasn’t slowing down for either of them.
“How did he take it when you told him you were moving so far away?”
“There were no histrionics, if that’s what you mean. He was disappointed but I think Sam knows something wasn’t quite right between us even if Calli hadn’t come into the picture. I think that’s the hard part, you know? Accepting that we were doomed to go our separate ways even without her.” Sookie turned and accepted the cup of coffee Sara offered her.
“It’s not easy keeping things together with jobs like ours,” Sara agreed. “I know Aaron has trouble with it sometimes and I don’t travel nearly as much as you do.”
Of course it was different because Sara had kids that depended on her being there for them. They weren’t going to be as understanding of why she wasn’t always around like most moms were, especially in their neck of the woods. Moving to Chattanooga was really only possible because of the internet.
There was no bureau office in Chattanooga. Sookie was going to continue to report to Sophie-Anne in Memphis for the time being. There was a regular flight from Memphis to Chattanooga that took just under an hour and a half but it could get expensive if she had to fly back and forth too often.
Sara turned on the TV in the kitchen and said, “I hope you don’t mind. I’m just waiting for the weather. The kids want to go swimming tomorrow if it’s going to be warm enough but I think the water’s still too cold for that.”
It was only mid-April so Sara was probably right in her estimation. It was getting warmer every day but it took time for water to catch up with the air.
“In other news tonight, fifteen-year-old Danielle Jenkins is still missing. The Chattanooga teen disappeared last Thursday. Authorities believe she was headed to New Orleans but so far no one has reported seeing her in that area. Danielle was last seen at her area high school Thursday afternoon. She is five-foot-three with shoulder length brown hair, hazel eyes and weighs approximately 125 pounds. She answers to the name Dani and has a tulip-shaped birthmark on her inner right arm. If you have seen Danielle Jenkins, please contact the Chattanooga police department,” the news anchor said.
Sookie shook her head while Sara said, “I bet that case will land on your desk if her body is found in Louisiana.”
“Mine? Why me?” Sookie asked, but she knew why.
Danielle Jenkins was a pretty young woman with a bright smile and hope in her eyes. Just seeing her picture put a flash of something in Sookie’s mind that made her stomach turn.
A bayou after dark…
Snakes hissing in the water and in the trees overhead… Crickets chirping in the distance…
The mugginess of early Southern spring… Itchy carpet rubbing against her skin… The unmistakable smells of copper, sex and violence…
“I think I know where she is,” Sookie whispered, which was a surprise only to her.