Drained: Chapter 23
Two nights after I’d been back in the palace after my trip to Washington, Rasul escorted me downstairs to read some employees for Zeke and Carolina.
The first man I read was named Bobby Burnham. He was honest, but I was puzzled as to why I saw so many images of Eric in his head. It wasn’t my place to interpret what I’d read, so when he left, I simply reported that he thought of Eric Northman a great deal when he answered the routine questions.
Later that night, the Queen entered my room. I turned off the TV and invited her to sit beside me on the bed.
“So, what did you think of the humans you read this evening?” she asked.
“They were fine. None felt any animosity towards vampires. They told the truth. One man thought of Eric a great deal, but I don’t know if that was significant or not,” I said.
“Bobby Burnham?” she asked.
“He’s Eric’s day man,” she said.
“They were all flown in from Shreveport to meet you. So, you would feel secure with those humans? Trust them?”
“Can Eric trust them?”
“Good.” She studied my face for a moment before continuing. “If you had a choice, Sookie, would you prefer to live here or in Shreveport?”
I was surprised at the question, and my heart sped up a little. I thought all my choices had been taken from me.
“Shreveport. Would I still be a prisoner?”
The Queen took a deep breath that was unnecessary and said, “I don’t like the word prisoner.”
“I’m sorry. Would I be free to come and go as I please?”
“In a way. Your days of a carefree existence are behind you, I’m afraid. You will always require a bodyguard from now on. That will never change no matter where you live. Others will want you, and I want to keep you. Keeping you here may seem barbaric to you, but I can assure you that your life belonging to another vampire monarch could be far worse.”
“I can imagine.”
“I’m not your enemy, Sookie. On the contrary. My desire is to keep you safe and happy—but in that order.” She paused for a beat. “So, you saw Eric.”
“And do you still love him?”
“Okay, I will keep that in mind.”
She stood to leave, but when she got to the door, she turned back and said, “You know, I believe Bill Compton was in love with you.”
I felt a sharp pain in my chest at the mention of his name. “Do you?”
“Yes, and now I can see why. He was balky, uncooperative, taking entirely too long to bring you in. I believe now that he had fallen in love with you and wanted to keep you for himself.”
“Thank you for telling me that.”
“I don’t blame him. I’m sorry he’s gone.”
“So am I.”
She turned to leave, but when she got to the door she said, “And I’m sorry about your brother,” without looking back.
The following day, I got my period, and decided I didn’t want to leave my room unless it was absolutely necessary. I had no idea if it would make a difference or not, but I didn’t want to be around any vampires just in case.
I had my food sent to my room during the night and tried to wake before dusk every day, although my clock had been completely turned around. Late in the afternoon, I would come out of my room and eat in the cafeteria, and then I’d find Ross and he would walk with me out onto the grounds of the palace. I wasn’t allowed to leave the perimeter because it wasn’t considered safe, of course, but at least I got some fresh air.
There were still some police officers out front, but not as many now that the news had died down some. There were still tourists and they would gawk at Ross and me as we walked or sat on a bench. It wasn’t exactly relaxing.
Then, I’d rush to get into my room before the sun set so I wouldn’t have to see any vampires. Luckily, I wasn’t needed for any readings.
I tried so hard to remember Eric’s words to be patient, but I could feel a deep depression creeping into my heart. On the afternoon Ross and I emerged to find it raining, I just went back to bed and slept, feeling very down.
At the end of the week, I was watching TV when there was a soft knock on the door and Sophie-Anne came into my room.
I sat up and made room for her, and she sat in her usual spot on the bed. She had a little cardboard box in her hand. It was similar to a cigarette box like Marlboros come in but it was longer and black.
“Can you guess what the sales of True Blood are now?” she began. I’d noticed she sometimes had an odd way of carrying on conversations.
“I would imagine they’re pretty bad,” I answered.
“Yes. The NBVA keeps declaring that nothing like the silver poisoning could ever happen again, but of course, we know that’s not true. It could happen again tomorrow.”
“I suppose so.”
“The test for silver compounds is very simple. Did you know that?”
“Recently, quite a few people came up with the idea to test True Blood, but Eric was the first one to apply for a patent for the process.”
I was surprised to hear that and my interest was piqued, naturally, at the mention of Eric’s name.
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Several companies have tried to set up vampire-only manufacturers of the tests. This week, vampires are eager to work producing the product, but can you imagine vampires working long-term at the menial tasks required in the manufacturing business?”
“We don’t make very reliable factory workers.”
I just nodded.
“So, now we have a problem. We can produce silver tests for sale that would make drinking True Blood an option again for vampires. We need vampires to drink True Blood to restore normal relations between humans and vampires, as you can imagine.”
“But what would prevent the silver tests from being tampered with just as the True Blood was? How easy would it be for a vampire hater to get a job at the plant that makes the tests?”
“Probably pretty easy.”
“Can you guess what Eric’s suggestion was to solve this problem?”
My heart swelled. “Yes.”
“If a telepath regularly read the human employees, we could guarantee that our manufacturing plant is safe.”
“Yes, you could.”
“And that would make ours the only plant to produce and sell safe testers. Can you imagine the money to be made in such an endeavor?”
“And can you imagine the problem I might have in Eric’s little plan?”
“No.” I thought it sounded like a great plan.
“How can we trust the telepath?”
I didn’t have an answer for her.
She continued, “She feels that her free will has been stolen. She thinks of herself as a prisoner of vampires. Why would she be trustworthy?”
“Did Eric have an answer?” I asked.
“Yes, he did. He told me about a place called Magnolia Grove. He told me a story of a woman who risked everything to save a vampire. I said, ‘Yes, a vampire she is in love with.’ And he said, ‘No, one she had met once.’ Is that true?”
“Rasul and your human bodyguard, Ross, confirmed that you slept in Eric’s hotel chamber while he was in his daytime rest in Washington.”
“I have never heard of a vampire trusting a human to share his daytime resting place. Ever. And Eric Northman is the most careful vampire I know. There’s a reason he’s a thousand years old.”
She handed me the little box in her hand.
It was black with red letters on the front that said “Bloodtest,” and a little drop of blood dripped from the B. Beneath the logo, in smaller letters, it said, “Vampire owned. Telepath protected.”
I smiled and looked up to Sophie-Anne. I couldn’t read her expression.
“You can open it. This is a prototype,” she said.
I tore the cellophane off and opened the lid to reveal six little white plastic tubes. I removed a tube and opened the top that was designed like the top of a bottle of vitamins or Tylenol. Once it was open, I punched through the styrofoam seal.
“The packaging is more expensive than the product,” she said.
I turned the tube over and a white paper straw fell out.
“You just stick the straw into a bottle of True Blood. It turns green if there is even a trace of a silver compound in the blood.”
“Where are these made?” I asked and held my breath.
I smiled and felt the sting of happy and hopeful tears as I said, “Thank you.”
“Oh, this isn’t for you. This is for me.”
“Okay,” I said.
“We have a meeting with Eric downstairs in fifteen minutes,” she said. “You can keep that.” She gestured to the little box I still held in my hand.