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A Touch of Dead

Charlaine Harris

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page









  Published by the Penguin Group

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  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  Collection copyright © 2009 by Charlaine Harris, Inc.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form

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  ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Harris, Charlaine. A touch of dead : Sookie Stackhouse: the complete stories / Charlaine Harris. p. cm.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-14506-7

  1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Occult fiction, American. I. Title.

  PS3558.A6427T68 2009

  813’.54—dc22 2009028623

  For all those readers who want every last sip of Sookie


  The first time I was asked to write a short story about my heroine Sookie Stackhouse, I wasn’t sure I could do it. Sookie’s life and history are so complex that I didn’t know if I could create a coherent piece of short fiction that would do her justice.

  I’m still not sure I have, but I’ve enjoyed trying. Some efforts have been more successful than others. It’s been hard to fit the stories into Sookie’s larger history without leaving seams. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not. In this edition, I’ve tried to smooth out the edges of the story that was the most fun to write but wouldn’t fit in its chronological hole no matter how I pounded (“Dracula Night”).

  In the order in which they occur in Sookie’s life, the stories are “Fairy Dust” (from Powers of Detection), “Dracula Night” (from Many Bloody Returns), “One Word Answer” (from Bite), “Lucky” (from Unusual Suspects ), and “Gift Wrap” (from Wolfsbane and Mistletoe).

  “Fairy Dust” is about the fairy triplets Claude, Claudine, and Claudette. Following the murder of Claudette, Claude and Claudine seek Sookie’s help in determining the guilty party. Claude acquires a valuable asset in this story. The action in “Fairy Dust” takes place after the events in Dead to the World.

  In “Dracula Night,” Eric invites Sookie to Fangtasia for the celebration of Dracula’s birthday, an annual event that makes Eric almost over-the-top with anticipation, since Dracula is his hero. Unfortunately, the “Dracula” who unveils himself may or may not be the real thing. Eric celebrates “Dracula Night” before the action of Dead as a Doornail.

  After Dead as a Doornail, the news of her cousin Hadley’s death reaches Sookie in “One Word Answer.” Sookie is informed of Hadley’s demise by the half-demon lawyer Mr. Cataliades, who has a loathsome driver and an unexpected passenger in his limo.

  “Lucky” is a lighthearted story set in Bon Temps in the time period after All Together Dead. Witch Amelia Broadway and Sookie are on the hunt to find out who’s sabotaging the town’s insurance agents.

  On Christmas Eve, Sookie receives a very unexpected visitor in “Gift Wrap.” She’s alone and feeling a little sorry for herself when a wounded werewolf supplies her with a satisfying gift. I’m pleased she has such an interesting holiday before the grim events of Dead and Gone.

  I had a good time writing all these stories. Some are totally lighthearted, and some are more serious, but they all shine a light on a little facet of Sookie’s life and times that I haven’t recorded in the books. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

  Let the good times roll.



  I hate it when fairies come into the bar. They don’t tip you worth a toot—not because they’re stingy, but because they just forget. Take Claudine, the fairy who was walking in the door. Six feet tall, long black hair, gorgeous; Claudine seemed to have no shortage of cash or clothing (and she entranced men the way a watermelon draws flies). But Claudine hardly ever remembered to leave you even a dollar. And if it’s lunchtime, you have to take the bowl of lemon slices off the table. Fairies are allergic to lemons and limes, like vamps are allergic to silver and garlic.

  That spring night when Claudine came in I was in a bad mood already. I was angry with my ex-boyfriend, Bill Compton, a.k.a. Vampire Bill; my brother, Jason, had again postponed helping me shift an armoire; and I’d gotten my property tax notice in the mail.

  So when Claudine sat at one of my tables, I stalked over to her with no very happy feelings.

  “No vamps around?” she asked straightaway. “Even Bill?”

  Vamps like fairies the way dogs like bones: great toys, good food. “Not tonight,” I said. “Bill’s down in New Orleans. I’m picking up his mail for him.” Just call me sucker.

  Claudine relaxed. “Dearest Sookie,” she said.

  “You want what?”

  “Oh, one of those nasty beers, I guess,” she said, making a face. Claudine didn’t really like to drink, though she did like bars. Like most fairies, she loved attention and admiration: my boss, Sam, said that was a fairy characteristic.

  I brought her the beer. “You got a minute?” she asked. I frowned. Claudine didn’t look as cheerful as usual.

  “Just.” The table by the door was hooting and hollering at me.

  “I have a job for you.”

  Though it called for dealing with Claudine, whom I liked but didn’t trust, I was interested. I sure needed some cash. “What do you need me to do?”

  “I need you to come listen to some humans.”

  “Are these humans willing?”

  Claudine gave me innocent eyes. “What do you mean, Precious?”

  I hated this song and dance. “Do they want to be, ah, listened to?”

  “They’re guests of my brother, Claude.”

  I hadn’t known Claudine had a brother. I don’t know much about fairies; Claudine was the only one I’d met. If she was typical, I wasn’t sure how the race had survived eradication. I wouldn’t have thought
northern Louisiana was very hospitable toward beings of the fairy persuasion, anyway. This part of the state is largely rural, very Bible Belt. My small town of Bon Temps, barely big enough to have its own Wal-Mart, didn’t even see a vampire for two years after they’d announced their existence and their intention to live peaceably amongst us. Maybe that delay was good, since local folks had had a chance to get used to the idea by the time Bill showed up.

  But I had a feeling that this PC vamp tolerance would vanish if my fellow townsfolk knew about Weres, and shifters, and fairies. And who knows what all else.

  “Okay, Claudine. When?”

  The rowdy table was hooting, “Crazy Sookie! Crazy Sookie!” People only did that when they’d had too much to drink. I was used to it, but it still hurt.

  “When do you get off tonight?”

  We fixed it that Claudine would pick me up at my house fifteen minutes after I got off work. She left without finishing her beer. Or tipping.

  My boss, Sam Merlotte, nodded a head toward the door through which she’d just exited. “What’d the fairy want?” Sam’s a shifter himself.

  “She needs me to do a job for her.”


  “Wherever she lives, I guess. She has a brother, did you know?”

  “Want me to come with you?” Sam is a friend, the kind of friend you sometimes have fantasies about.


  “Thanks, but I think I can handle Claudine.”

  “You haven’t met the brother.”

  “I’ll be okay.”

  I’m used to being up at night, not only because I’m a barmaid, but also because I had dated Bill for a long time. When Claudine picked me up at my old house in the woods, I’d had time to change from my Merlotte’s outfit into some black jeans and a sage green twinset (JCPenney on sale), since the night was chilly. I’d let my hair down from its ponytail.

  “You should wear blue instead of green,” Claudine said, “to go with your eyes.”

  “Thanks for the fashion tip.”

  “You’re welcome.” Claudine sounded happy to share her style sense with me. But her smile, usually so radiant, seemed tinged with sadness.

  “What do you want me to find out from these people?” I asked.

  “We’ll talk about it when we get there,” she said, and after that she wouldn’t tell me anything else as we drove east. Ordinarily Claudine babbles. I was beginning to feel it wasn’t smart of me to have accepted this job.

  Claudine and her brother lived in a big ranch-style house in suburban Monroe, a town that not only had a Wal-Mart, but a whole mall. She knocked on the front door in a pattern. After a minute, the door opened. My eyes widened. Claudine hadn’t mentioned that her brother was her twin.

  If Claude had put on his sister’s clothes, he could have passed for her; it was eerie. His hair was shorter, but not by a lot; he had it pulled back to the nape of his neck, but his ears were covered. His shoulders were broader, but I couldn’t see a trace of a beard, even this late at night. Maybe male fairies don’t have body hair? Claude looked like a Calvin Klein underwear model; in fact, if the designer had been there, he’d have signed the twins on the spot, and there’d have been drool all over the contract.

  Claude stepped back to let us enter. “This is the one?” he said to Claudine.

  She nodded. “Sookie, my brother, Claude.”

  “A pleasure,” I said. I extended my hand. With some surprise, he took it and shook. He looked at his sister. “She’s a trusting one.”

  “Humans,” Claudine said, and shrugged.

  Claude led me through a very conventional living room, down a paneled hall to the family room. A man was sitting in a chair, because he had no choice. He was tied to it with what looked like nylon cord. He was a small man, buff, blond, and brown-eyed. He looked about my age, twenty-six.

  “Hey,” I said, not liking the squeak in my voice, “why is that man tied?”

  “Otherwise, he’d run away,” Claude said, surprised.

  I covered my face with my hands for a second. “Listen, you two, I don’t mind looking at this guy if he’s done something wrong, or if you want to eliminate him as a suspect in a crime committed against you. But if you just want to find out if he really loves you, or something silly like that . . . What’s your purpose?”

  “We think he killed our triplet, Claudette.”

  I almost said, “There were three of you?” then realized that wasn’t the most important part of the sentence.

  “You think he murdered your sister.”

  Claudine and Claude nodded in unison. “Tonight,” Claude said.

  “Okeydokey,” I muttered, and bent over the blond. “I’m taking the gag off.”

  They looked unhappy, but I slid the handkerchief down to his neck. The young man said, “I didn’t do it.”

  “Good. Do you know what I am?”

  “No. You’re not a thing like them, are you?”

  I don’t know what he thought Claude and Claudine were, what little otherworldly attribute they’d sprung on him. I lifted my hair to show him that my ears were round, not pointed, but he still looked dissatisfied.

  “Not a vamp?” he asked.

  Showed him my teeth. The canines only extend when vamps are excited by blood, battle, or sex, but they’re noticeably sharp even when they’re retracted. My canines are quite normal.

  “I’m just a regular human,” I said. “Well, that’s not quite true. I can read your thoughts.”

  He looked terrified.

  “What are you scared for? If you didn’t kill anybody, you have nothing to fear.” I made my voice warm, like butter melting on corn on the cob.

  “What will they do to me? What if you make a mistake and tell them I did it? What are they gonna do?”

  Good question. I looked up at the two.

  “We’ll kill him and eat him,” Claudine said, with a ravishing smile. When the blond man looked from her to Claude, his eyes wide with terror, she winked at me.

  For all I knew, Claudine might be serious. I couldn’t remember if I’d ever seen her eat or not. We were treading on dangerous ground. I try to support my own race when I can. Or at least get ’em out of situations alive.

  I should have accepted Sam’s offer.

  “Is this man the only suspect?” I asked the twins. (Should I call them twins? I wondered. It was more accurate to think of them as two-thirds of triplets. Nah. Too complicated.)

  “No, we have another man in the kitchen,” Claude said.

  “And a woman in the pantry.”

  Under other circumstances, I would’ve smiled. “Why are you sure Claudette is dead?”

  “She came to us in spirit form and told us so.” Claude looked surprised. “This is a death ritual for our race.”

  I sat back on my heels, trying to think of intelligent questions. “When this happens, does the spirit let you know any of the circumstances of the death?”

  “No,” Claudine said, shaking her head so her long black hair switched. “It’s more like a final farewell.”

  “Have you found the body?”

  They looked disgusted. “We fade,” Claude explained, in a haughty way.

  So much for examining the corpse.

  “Can you tell me where Claudette was when she, ah, faded?” I asked. “The more I know, the better questions I can ask.” Mind reading is not so simple. Asking the right questions is the key to eliciting the correct thought. The mouth can say anything. The head never lies. But if you don’t ask the right question, the right thought won’t pop up.

  “Claudette and Claude are exotic dancers at Hooligans,” Claudine said proudly, as if she was announcing they were on an Olympic team.

  I’d never met strippers before, male or female. I found myself more than a little interested in seeing Claude strip, but I made myself focus on the deceased Claudette.

  “So, Claudette worked last night?”

  “She was scheduled to take the money at the door. It was ladie
s’ night at Hooligans.”

  “Oh. Okay. So you were, ah, performing,” I said to Claude.

  “Yes. We do two shows on ladies’ night. I was the Pirate.”

  I tried to suppress that mental image.

  “And this man?” I tilted my head toward the blond, who was being very good about not pleading and begging.

  “I’m a stripper, too,” he said. “I was the Cop.”

  Okay. Just stuff that imagination in a box and sit on it.

  “Your name is?”

  “Barry Barber is my stage name. My real name is Ben Simpson.”

  “Barry Barber?” I was puzzled.

  “I like to shave people.”

  I had a blank moment, then felt a red flush creep across my cheeks as I realized he didn’t mean whis kery cheeks. Well, not facial cheeks. “And the other two people are?” I asked the twins.

  “The woman in the pantry is Rita Child. She owns Hooligans,” Claudine said. “And the man in the kitchen is Jeff Puckett. He’s the bouncer.”

  “Why did you pick these three out of all the employees at Hooligans?”

  “Because they had arguments with Claudette. She was a dynamic woman,” Claude said seriously.

  “Dynamic my ass,” said Barry the Barber, proving that tact isn’t a prerequisite for a stripping job. “That woman was hell on wheels.”

  “Her character isn’t really important in determining who killed her,” I pointed out, which shut him right up. “It just indicates why. Please go on,” I said to Claude. “Where were the three of you? And where were the people you’ve held here?”

  “Claudine was here, cooking supper for us. She works at Dillard’s in customer service.” She’d be great at that; her unrelenting cheer could pacify anyone. “As I said, Claudette was scheduled to take the cover charge at the door,” Claude continued. “Barry and I were in both shows. Rita always puts the first show’s take in the safe, so Claudette won’t be sitting up there with a lot of cash. We’ve been robbed a couple of times. Jeff was mostly sitting behind Claudette, in a little booth right inside the main door.”