On the drive to wherever they were going, Eric explained about the larger werewolf population in Mississippi, specifically in Jackson. He also mentioned something about a brand on the neck of the werewolf that he’d drained.
“I’ve seen that mark before. I was in Europe for a time during the second World War. You would be amazed how many Nazis had Were blood in them. Because it was a war there were people everywhere begging for death to take them,” he explained, keeping his eyes on the road while Sookie listened to him talk. “The first time I saw that mark was on the Were I killed when my family was slaughtered. I have been looking for Weres with that mark ever since in the hopes that it will lead me to the person responsible for the carnage. In Germany, Godric and I found several Weres bearing that mark but we were unable to find the leader.”
“But now you think maybe the leader is in Jackson?” Sookie ventured.
“Perhaps,” Eric finally glanced her way. “Or it’s possible that the group has expanded enough that there are several chapters. Either way, there is one person calling the shots.”
“What makes them so dangerous?” Sookie asked.
“These are the werewolves that drink vampire blood, Sookie,” he said, and the gravity of the situation hit her. “I just can’t figure out what they would want with you.”
“You think they wanted me? What about Bill? I mean, he’s the vampire…” she trailed off.
“That’s a possibility as well but I didn’t smell vampire on the Were and I would have if he had just gotten a fresh dose of blood,” Eric pointed out. “Besides, I’m the one who alerted Sophie the magister was coming, so perhaps Russell feels slighted that she was able to get out of there before she could be taken into custody as well. I’ll get a progress report from Nora tonight on all of that.”
Sookie sat quietly, taking it all in, trying to process everything Eric was telling her. On the surface it seemed like these were all separate incidences, but they were really one big jumbled mess. There were just too many missing pieces and unknown variables for it to all make sense. Hopefully Eric’s meeting with the queen would shed a little more light on the situation they were in.
A while later Eric pulled into the driveway of a house on Cherry Lane in Red Chute. When he parked the SUV and turned off the engine, Sookie took off her seatbelt and leaned forward to look a little closer at the house. It looked like every other house in the little subdivision. The lawn was nicely manicured and there were pretty blue shutters framing the windows of the off-white house. Sookie opened her door and slid out of the car.
“Is this where I’m stayin’?” she asked him.
“No, this is just one of my safe houses. I had Bobby leave a delivery here for me,” Eric explained, and then led them to the front door.
Just like at all of his other houses there was no key for the front door. Instead he opened the little security panel and entered the entry code to disarm the alarm the house was wired with. When the door unlocked, seemingly on its own, he pushed it open and gestured for Sookie to walk ahead of him. She stepped inside the house and it gave the appearance of being the home of any typical human. The big difference, as far as she could tell, was the absence of pictures on the walls or on the tables.
There were paintings everywhere, and she couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were originals instead of prints. She followed Eric to the kitchen where he opened the fridge to reveal several bags full of food, all of which she had to assume were for her. Eric took the bags all in one of his enormous hands, and then pointed to a gift box on the counter that was wrapped in blood red paper with a black satin bow tied around it.
“That’s for you, but I would prefer you wait to open it,” Eric told her.
Sookie smiled and said, “You didn’t need to get me anything else.”
“We’ve talked about this already, Sookie,” he reminded her.
“I know, I know and I’m not complainin’. I’m just sayin’ you didn’t have to is all,” she said and picked up the box. It had a little heft to it, but not too much. “This is a nice house,” she told him as she looked around the kitchen full of brand new appliances. She was pretty sure that the only things in the kitchen to ever be used were the refrigerator and microwave.
“Thank you,” Eric said. “I would give you a tour, but we’re running out of time.”
“Another night,” Sookie nodded, and then followed him to the front door again.
The door locked itself automatically when it closed, and after getting the food put away in the trunk of the SUV, Eric went back to enter the security code to arm the alarm again. Sookie was waiting for him in the front seat when he returned to the car. He backed out of the driveway, checking his mirrors every few seconds to make sure they weren’t being followed. It was unusual for Weres to travel alone, since the pack mentality was something that seemed to be bred into them. Then again, there were the occasional lone wolves like Tray Dawson who didn’t want to be affiliated with any one pack because it limited his options.
“So where is this mystery place you’re taking me?” Sookie asked once they were back on the highway.
“An island on Caddo Lake,” he told her. “Godric owned a house on the Texas side, which is where I will be leaving the SUV in case anyone goes looking for it. Isabel is aware that I will briefly be in her territory, and she takes no issue with that. She’s actually quite fond of you. There is a boathouse at the end of the dock that is on the property, and that is how we’ll get to the island. Unfortunately, I’ll have to bring the boat back so once I’m gone you will be alone on the island. I assume you know how to swim?”
“Are there gators?” Sookie asked.
“It’s a possibility. Hopefully you won’t need to leave the property,” Eric said tensely.
For him, this hiding place was ideal. He didn’t need to hold his breath in order to cross the water to get to the shore and if he was attacked by a gator he would have no problem fighting it off. He also had the option of flying out whenever he needed to so the boat wasn’t even really necessary. Hell, if he wanted to he could probably throw it half way across the lake just to amuse himself. For Sookie, however, it was another story and another reminder of how much more fragile she was compared to him.
Sookie didn’t have to ask what her options were if she had to flee the island. It was sink or swim, quite literally. Take her chances with the gators, or whatever else might be attacking her.
With the way Eric drove it only took a little over a half an hour for them to reach Swansons Landing, which was just minutes over the border into Texas. The cabin Eric had talked of was nothing special, and looked like just about any other fishing cabin in that part of the world. Little by little they unloaded things into the SUV, with Moli being the last of the lot. Sookie put a leash on the pup, and then the three of them headed around the back of the cabin to get to the dock.
“You remember the code I gave you for the alarm, yes?” Eric asked, and Sookie nodded. “Good. If, for some reason, you need to vacate the island there is a panic room here that is encased in layers of cement, steel, iron and silver to keep out unwanted supernaturals. It will require a thumb print in order to open it, so the only ones with access to this room are you and me. It’s as close to impregnable as a structure can get.”
Sookie nodded and followed Eric down to the dock. The boat wasn’t very big, but it was more than enough space for the two of them, her things and the dog. Eric went about releasing the boat from its moorings, and then climbed in with her. A remote activated the door of the boathouse, and Eric started the engine. He backed the boat out of its slip with ease and closed the boathouse door.
“How fast does this thing go?” Sookie asked.
“Hold on to Moli,” he said, and waited until Moli had taken a seat in Sookie’s lap before he began to increase the speed of the vessel.
She had no idea how fast they were going, but for what it felt like they may as well have been flying. The boat seemed to cut through the water like a hot knife through butter, and in no time Eric was slowing down to make his approach to the island. It was lined densely with trees, so if there was a house somewhere on the small island, it was very well hidden from any prying eyes.
“I don’t see a house,” Sookie said once the boat was docked.
“Because there isn’t one,” he winked at her.
“What do you mean? I’m camping out here?” her voice rose an octave.
“No, you’re not camping,” Eric chuckled and leapt out of the boat to secure it to the dock.
He began to pull the bags from the boat and pile them on the dock to take them wherever the hell it was he was planning to stash her. He came back for Sookie last, and lifted her easily from the boat to set her on the dock. Between the two of them they carried everything in one trip. Sookie followed behind Eric since he knew where he was going, and would warn her when there were down branches or tree roots sticking up out of the earth.
“Eric, where are we—” she started, but was cut off.
“We’re almost there,” he said, and a few moments later he came to a stop.
Sookie looked around him but saw nothing but more trees, leaves and the like.
“Uh, Eric, I hate to tell you this but there’s nothing here,” she looked up at him, perplexed but what he had up his sleeve.
“That’s what I want anyone to think who stumbles onto this island,” he told her, and then set down the bags he was holding.
He rolled over what appeared to be an extremely heavy boulder, and popped open a little door that revealed another one of his security panels. Sookie gasped in surprise as he entered the code. A bunch of branches shifted to her left, and revealed what seemed to be the opening of a cave.
“You’re safe place is a cave?” her eyebrows went up.
Eric smiled and said, “After you.”
“Eric, how am I supposed to move that big ass boulder to let myself into this place when I bring Moli out?” Sookie asked.
“Give the boulder a push,” he said, nodding to it.
Sookie nudged it and realized that while it was a little heavy, it wasn’t so heavy that it was impossible for her to move. It looked much heavier than it really was.
“On second thought, you better wait up here for me. There are steps,” Eric told her.
“Steps?” Sookie’s eyes got wider.
“Yes, going down. This island is manmade, Sookie. My safe place is completely submerged underwater,” he told her. He felt her panic a little and said, “Trust me, Sookie. You will be completely safe here.”
“I’m afraid of water,” Sookie finally confessed. When Eric looked confused she continued, “My parents drowned in a flash flood when I was a child. I learned to swim, but only because Gran insisted on it. There’s a reason I stay in my own backyard to tan instead of goin’ to any of the lakes nearby.”
“I wish you would have told me this sooner,” Eric said. “I would have found an alternative place for you to stay.”
“Well I wasn’t expecting you to put me underwater,” Sookie scoffed and laughed at the same time.
“I’m quite comfortable with water. I spent a great deal of time traveling on it as a human,” Eric informed her.
“Yes, I suppose you would have,” Sookie stepped closer to the faux cave door.
“I’ll be right back,” Eric said, and then disappeared into the cave.
She knew he was wherever he intended to be when she saw the glow of what looked like a torch coming toward her. He paused every few feet to light new torches along the walls. It felt like she was stepping into a medieval dungeon, but she followed Eric into the cave and when he pushed a button on the panel by the door, the door sealed itself shut behind them.
“Come along,” Eric reached for her hand and led her down the stairs that were light by fire.
“Is there electricity down here?” she asked.
“Yes, there is. It was a bit tricky accomplishing that, but with the invention of emergency generators that problem was tackled. Only just last year I was able to replace the old one with an indoor-safe unit that runs on fuel cells and doesn’t emit the same carbon dioxide that the old fashioned generators emitted.”
“Not that carbon dioxide is a problem for someone of your respiratory requirements,” Sookie smirked as they reached the landing. “So we’re underwater right now?”
“Surrounded by it on five sides,” Eric said, and set her bags down on the bed.
The room didn’t have much in the way of decoration, but considering what it had been designed for she wasn’t expecting much of that anyway. The walls were dingy and gray, the color of old cement. Floor to ceiling cabinets lined one wall but since the doors were closed she had no idea what they held. A small closet space held maybe a week’s worth of clothing, although knowing Eric he would probably just stay naked the whole time he hid out. There was a bank of monitors on the same wall as the closet, but they were all dark for the moment.
“What are the monitors for?” Sookie pointed.
“Security. The cameras are mounted in the trees and have night vision capability,” he explained, and after going over to a little box no bigger than a microwave and pushing a few buttons, lights came on in the room. Eric stood and turned the monitors on one by one. It seemed the entire island was under constant surveillance, including the dock where the boat was currently parked.
“Um, is there a bathroom?” Sookie asked after spying all the bookshelves along another wall. Some of the volumes on the shelves looked rather old, and some of the bindings appeared to be crudely fashioned together. The nerd in her was most curious about those, and wondered what language they would be filled with, since English most probably wasn’t it.
“There is,” Eric said, and gestured to where there was a doorway, but no door. “The shower head pumps in filtered water from the lake, and there is a toilet as well.”
“You have a toilet?” Sookie was thankful, but surprised.
“I had it installed on the chance I ever needed to bring a human down here with me, but it’s not like a regular toilet you would find in a residence or commercial setting,” he said, and Sookie imagined something like she would expect to find on a tour bus or in an RV.
Eric went over the short list of amenities the space provided. Considering how simplistic it was, the whole thing was a bit overwhelming to Sookie. It almost felt like she was in an underground bunker she would expect to see in some old propaganda movie from the 1950s when everyone was worried about nuclear war at the hands of the Ruskies.
“When did you build this?” Sookie asked.
“Construction began back in the 60’s,” he told her and the admission made her laugh internally. “You’ll be able to get cell phone reception down here. I did some testing not too long ago to make sure of that.”
He showed her how to turn the generator on and off, how to shift the cameras outside if she wanted to and how to keep the door to the ‘cave’ open if she wanted to just stand a few feet from it while Moli went outside. The place certainly didn’t have all the comforts of home, but it was a safe place to stay and no one would ever find her there, that was for sure. In the meantime, it would serve its purpose but the less time they had to spend there the better.
Sookie unpacked a few things that needed to be hung up and a short time later Eric had to be on his way to meet Nora in New Orleans. He felt her anxiety climbing gradually, but steadily.
“Sookie, everything will be okay,” Eric assured her.
“You don’t know that,” she said. “What if it’s a trap?”
“I’m a sneaky vampire, remember?” he reminded her with one of those dazzling, charming smiles. “I’ll come back to you.”
“Promise?” she asked nervously, and wrapped him in as tight a hug as she could.
He nodded and then lowered his head to kiss her forehead.