1 Week earlier
Eric Northman had been sitting under the cover of the enclosed back porch with book in hand, Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for far longer than he had planned. The cover and spent pages were firmly folded over the spine straining the book to its confines. He sat semi reclined with his long left leg resting on the outdoor coffee table. Across from him sat his ‘progeny’ Pamela Ravenscroft although she went by her last name’s abbreviation, Raven, these days. To him she would always be Pam, Pamela when she was insolent, and he continued to address her as such.
She had her feet tucked under her behind as she simultaneously chewed a piece of gum, smoked a cigarette and played Fruit Ninja on her smartphone. Eric observed what a fucking shame it was to be so talented in multitasking when it was spent on such futile pursuits. He checked his watch observing they had now been wasting thirty-eight minutes waiting upon the marital drama that was apparently unfolding indoors. He returned his attentions back to Tomáš and Tereza hoping that the reason for their required presence would be explained soon.
Domestic disputes were not an unusual occurrence in the Edgington-Angelis household but Eric and Pam could not remember when the tempers had flared this high in a long time. Apparently some sort of standstill had been reached as the back door swung open with an emotionally wrought Talbot heaving in its frame. Pam didn’t’ even bother to look up at the new presence whilst Eric merely lifted his eyes and brow momentarily from his book. Uncharacteristically Talbot didn’t admonish either of them for desecrating his outdoor furniture with their rampant placement of their feet.
“Russell will see you know,” Talbot announced trying to regain some semblance of calm as he ushered the two visitors in.
The home was nothing if not a testament to the couple that resided in it. It was flamboyant, lively and stuffed to the brim with antiques and trinkets. They fully lived up to all the clichés expected of a same sex partnership but it did resound of them and their commitment to each other regardless.
On the high backed burgundy sofa sat Russell Edgington in a purple silk brocade morning jacket with black lapels and matching pyjama pants. His coiffed hair contradicted his just out of bed look, as did the late time of day.
“Eric my dear boy have a seat.” He motioned for Eric to sit in the club chair nearest him. He patted the seat beside him as Eric was lowering himself to Pam, “Come my little Raven sit beside Papa.” His heavy Mississippi accent was present as ever, despite not residing in the state for well over thirty years.
Pam plonked herself down unceremoniously rolling her eyes at him and his familiarity. Russell gave her a stern look and held out his hand in front of her mouth at which she expelled her piece of chewing gum. At the familiar sight Talbot came running in uttering words of disapproval at her lack of decorum in his native Greek whilst carrying in tissues and hand sanitizer. The gum was quickly disposed of as if it were chemical waste and everyone including Eric was subjected to a cleansing with a round of the hand sanitizer serum.
Talbot situated himself at his partner’s feet on the plush Oriental rug. His head rested on his knees whilst looking up at him adoringly. Russell’s hand swept through his thick dark curls in a rhythmic soothing. His eyes moved between the blues of his ‘adopted’ children as he steeled himself for the conversation that lay ahead. It was a strange sight to behold, the couple that seemed to be screaming their lungs out mere minutes ago was now the picture of affection.
“I will need you two to take over the remaining jobs that are on the books,” he started, receiving a positively annoyed look from his ‘son’ and a rather indifferent one from his ‘daughter’. Eric was never one to enjoy a disrupted routine or order. Pam was always happy to torture or kill shit.
“For how long?” Eric asked trying to calculate and reconfigure the possibilities.
“Six months. Maybe a little more maybe a little less.” It was at this point that Talbot started crying profusely. Talbot was known for his high dramatics but even to Pam and Eric’s observations this was highly out of character for the Greek. “After that the business is all yours.”
“I don’t understand,” Pam spoke for the first time that evening.
“Talbot and I will be going to Greece and after a while I won’t be.”
“Won’t be what?” Pam asked still confused.
“He won’t be at all Pam. He’s been given six months to live,” Eric explained whilst running several sets of scenarios simultaneously at his assaulted timeline. Russell smiled proudly at Eric, he always had been quick on the uptake. The blunt statement summarising the situation at hand had forced the news to settle amongst all present painfully. Talbot had begun heaving through his tears, pulling away at Russell’s heartstrings.
“Puppet don’t cry it’ll all be alright,” he hushed at his beloved partner of many years. His soothing words had the opposite effect as Talbot sprang to his feet and like a caged animal paced back and forth rapidly screaming in a mixture of Greek and English how everything was decidedly not alright.
“How?” Pam asked as a single black tear fell through the heavily made up corner of her eye as she continued to watch the disintegration of her makeshift family.
“The old prostate. I knew the little pleasure button would be my downfall one day,” he chuckled which only further fuelled Talbot’s outrage.
“There is no treatment possible?” Eric questioned tentatively through the background noise that was Talbot’s incoherence.
“It has spread further than they would like. It would extend my existence for a few extra months at best but that wouldn’t be a life worth living.”
“This is what has Talbot so upset. You are refusing further treatment,” Eric ascertained as two fingers circled the right temple of his forehead.
“Always so perceptive my dear boy,” Russell smiled with dewy eyes at Eric.
“So this is goodbye?” Pam asked with a tremor-laced voice her tears barely remained contained. Russell grasped her dainty little hands that had caused so much destruction of many in an attempt to calm her nerves.
“I hope you will join us in Greece as soon as all outstanding jobs are finished. But I leave the decision up to you.” Pam nodded without hesitance whilst Eric had remained his stoic self.
“We’ll see,” Eric responded even though he was speaking only for himself.
Present day 3:23 am
Eric removed his leather gloves after he finished placing the firearm back in its holster. He laid two fingers on her pulse counting to twenty thrice whilst carefully avoiding the mess she had expelled around her. He tapped her cheeks gently.
“Wakey, wakey,” he spoke. His face was hovering mere inches from hers. Her chocolate brown eyes flew open locking onto his blue orbs whilst she released another scream that was rubbing her trachea raw and assaulted his eardrums.
“Shhh.” He spoke the most menacing command she had ever received in her life shutting her silent immediately albeit not belying the fury that was present in her eyes. Eric really didn’t know what to do next; no one had made it to this point alive before. He lifted himself from his crouched position pulling her up with one hand attached to hers. She looked up at his tall form wondering if this was the same man that had chased her out of her home or perhaps that had been his evil twin. His face was strangely kind, he almost seemed nice.
Only noticing her wetness now she gazed down at her soiled flannel bottoms wincing at the pungent ammonia smell. This night just kept on getting better.
“Come let’s get you cleaned up,” he spoke softly. Not entirely sure how to respond to her bipolar assailant she simply nodded and followed him as he held her hand in his. It certainly beat having a gun pointed at her.
Arriving back at the farmhouse he shoved her into the bathroom as he set about disabling the wired phone and removing the battery from her cell phone. Sookie peeled herself out of her urine soaked clothing whilst admonishing herself for her embarrassment to her would be assassin. There were more important things to worry about, like getting out of this situation alive. Focus Sookie!
A tentative knock disrupted her thought process. She peered through the door keeping her body hidden from sight.
“I brought you some clean clothes.”
“Erm. Thank you,” she said somewhat startled.
“Thank you, Eric,” she reiterated.
“You’re welcome, Sookie,” he smirked at her.
She gulped audibly at hearing him speak her name and quickly shut the door on him. This was apparently not a random act he knew exactly who she was, which meant someone wanted her dead. Somehow she was still alive after all the early morning’s events and anything had yet to make sense to her. She took deliverance of her clothes and wondered hopefully if perhaps this was all a figment of her imagination induced by sleeping pills. The cool water beating down on her in the shower confirmed otherwise. She groaned discontentedly with that revelation.
“Hi,” she spoke nervously as she reappeared out of the bathroom holding a plastic garbage bag with her soiled clothing. She found him languidly lying on her grandmother’s bed seemingly counting a strange sequence of numbers aloud. Upon her reappearance he lifted himself off the bed towards her. He took the bag of soiled clothing from her wordlessly as his other hand latched onto hers again as he proceeded to lead her out of the room.
She noticed that all the boxes that had been knocked over in the struggle had been meticulously returned as if nothing had occurred. The bag she had packed for her moving trip to Arlington stood by the doorway alongside her purse and shoes.
Her eyes landed on a picture of herself with a white rose painted in her hair and a single red tear on her cheek. The film of the photograph was grainy it had obviously been taken of her in an unaware moment. Apparently this man had been stalking her for at least a week. She remembered vaguely when she had worn that particular outfit.
“What is this?” she gestured at the photograph.
“It’s a message for Bill.”
“Ah of course. You will know him as Connor.” She just looked at him confused but she was too frightened to contradict him.
“Who’s the message from?”
“His mother.” That was definitely not the answer she was expecting. As far as she knew Connor’s parents had died just like hers. She turned to him with a steel resolve staring him down with all her might.
“If this is my friends and brother’s idea of scaring me off marrying Connor. Please give them this message: Fuck off!” She spun on her heels in pursuit of her phone to call her beloved fiancé ready to vent regardless of the early hour. Before she managed to get so far Eric had grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him once again.
“I am not here on the behest of your friends and family,” he spoke coolly the threat of him clearly present in his voice. “I will, however, agree with them that your fiancé is bad news.”
She huffed at him in exasperation. Sookie had gotten so used to everyone around her disapproving of her relationship. Now even strange assassins were judging her in the middle of the night and he knew absolutely nothing about her.
Eric pulled a manila file folded in half lengthways from his inner jacket pocket and thrust it at her. She looked at it questioningly as she read her name written on it sideways.
As she opened it as the smell of damp leather lingered through it and up her nostrils. It was a smell she had always associated with her long deceased father. She wondered not for the first time what her father would have thought of her engagement as she traced his name as it appeared in her family tree.
“What is this?” her voice came out barely above a whisper.
Eric took the file from her hands again and led her to the large oak dining table that had been worn down by generations of Stackhouses. He placed a picture of her in the middle of the table and assembled the other loose papers and pictures around it in different constellations. When he was done the documents were neatly arranged next to each other. It was almost as if he had used a ruler as a guide.
He pointed to the picture of Connor, “This is Bill Compton. Known to you as Connor Thompson, an alias, not his first and most definitely not his last. This is Lorena Krasiki she is the one that ordered the hit on you. She is Bill’s stepmother and rumoured lover.”
“What! This is insane! You expect me to buy this drivel?”
“Do what you will with this information. I am merely presenting you the facts. Shall I continue?” She nodded in response curious what other fantastical lies this man had in store for her. Sookie figured as long as he wasn’t strangling her to death she’d play along.
“Lorena is a Madam, she runs a brothel under the guise of a members only club, Cherry Wood House.” A flicker of recognition ran across her face the colour raised by her earlier ire now shaded pale. “Bill or rather Connor has spoken to you of this?”
“Yes, his place of employment,” she spoke carefully.
“Well at least he is creative with the truth. Cherry Wood House has been a brothel since well before the American Revolution run by the Comptons. Correct me if I am wrong but you were a virgin before you met Connor.”
“That’s absolutely none of your business!” she fumed.
“I will take that as a yes then. You see under the leadership of Lorena Cherry Wood House has become somewhat of a specialty destination. It has traditionally catered to the echelons of society and the prices are steep. The clientele is peculiar and Lorena furnishes that through procurement. This is where Bill, or Connor if you will, comes in. He was sent here to recruit you to work in Cherry Wood House.”
Sookie gasped at him, “I would never do that willingly!”
“No woman besides Lorena works in Cherry Wood House willingly. The standard practice is as follows; the virgin,” he points at her picture before continuing, “is often the result of a tip off. In your case it was your cousin Hadley Dellahouse she works for this woman Sophie-Anne Leclerq.”
Sookie followed his gaze from her cousin’s picture next to her brother up to the picture of the red headed woman above Lorena’s picture.
“Hadley’s alive?” she gasped with the newfound knowledge.
Eric looked into her eyes and saw them filling with hope. “Yes, she is an exotic dancer. Sophie is a fair boss, she is known for her positive reinforcement. She encourages her staff to provide leads so to speak. A successful recruit earns the informant a percentage.”
“A percentage of what?”
“The spoils of your maidenhood of course. Are you aware of the concept of grooming?”
“Beyond that of your appearance?” He bobbed his head in acknowledgement. “Yes one is groomed to prepare for a certain position or purpose.”
“Exactly. This is Bill’s expertise, he inserts himself in the targets life. He severs their social ties.” Eric turned over the pictures of Tara, Lafayette. “He creates discord between her and her family and encourages her not to work and let him be the sole provider. He never pressures them for sex, being extremely understanding and the epitome of an old fashioned gentleman. A marriage proposal is not out of the question.” Sookie couldn’t help but look down at the antique ring that had stood so proudly on her hand till that moment.
The pictures of Sam and Jason met the same fates as those of her friends. Their overturned faces now blank rectangles.
“The purpose is to isolate the victim, tying herself to him as the life vest on the sinking ship that her life has become. He encourages her to follow him back to his hometown of Washington DC where he is urgently needed back as his family business is all of a sudden faltering. He then introduces her to his stepmother.”
He moves her picture in between Bill and Lorena’s.
“It is here that he reveals his true name, for he is old money and he only hid his identity to protect his family business and to assure himself that your love was for him and not his family wealth. However the financial situation is worse than anticipated. Lorena will confide this into the victim urging her to keep it from Bill. Of course being the good-natured virgin that she is she offers to help however she can. Lorena will of course refuse her initially and praise her future daughter in law and builds up a relationship of confidence.”
The picture of Sookie was pushed further towards that of Lorena.
“At some point a situation will occur where a crippling debt will be settled in exchange for a night of passion. Lorena will of course tell you this in secret and admits that she would have undergone the humiliation herself to save her beloved husband’s legacy and to sustain it for poor Bill. However her body has been crippled by the treatments for ovarian cancer. This not only renders her unable to satisfy a man carnally it meant she never was able to give her dearly departed husband any children which they so desired. She hugs you and tells you softly that she considers you the daughter she had always hoped to have. In truth Lorena has never spent a day in a hospital, not even when her husband was exhaling his last breaths in one. Now there are two possible outcomes to this conversation.”
Her picture was moved so it sat exactly in the middle between Bill and Lorena and elevated till it created a perfect isosceles triangle.
He continued moving her picture to the left in the direction of Lorena. “If the grooming took full effect the virgin will willingly offer to take Lorena’s place. The sacrificial lamb will be led to a room with a two-way mirror where Lorena instructs her to wait for her gentleman caller whilst she is sold off to the highest bidder in the room next to her. Now this earns Bill and Lorena the highest price.”
“What’s the other outcome?” Sookie dared to ask interrupting his long speech.
He moved her picture in the opposite direction placing it by Bill’s photograph.
“She doesn’t offer and Lorena urges her to tell Bill on her behalf of the dire financial situation. Of course Bill does not encourage her to offer herself. He will play the downtrodden shamed blue blood, which causes a strain in their relationship. If at this point she still does not offer willingly they switch to plan B. A different set of customers is called upon. Men who revel in an unwilling conquest especially a virginal one. This group is smaller and more cautious about their pursuit so the pay out is lower albeit still a high one.”
“This can’t be true,” she breathed uneasily becoming nauseated at the thought alone.
“I’m not finished yet,” he spoke to her, appraising if she was still able to listen before he continued. “To recuperate the cost and achieve a similar revenue of the plan A girls the hymen is reattached by a doctor on their pay roll and she is sold on to the next group of bidders for as long as the hymen lasts.”
“And after all that?”
“The fate for plan A and plan B girls is the same. In both cases Bill abandons his ‘love’ obviously tainted by another man. They are left in an unfamiliar city with a broken heart, no money, no job and no life to return to. It isn’t long before they return to selling themselves as ladies of the night. Plan A girls might get a friendly recommendation from Lorena. Plan B girls mostly end up working the streets.”
He moved her picture away from Bill back into the centre and flipped it over leaving only the faces of Bill, Lorena, Sophie Anne and Hadley facing upwards.
“Payday,” he said gesturing at the remaining faces. “To the victors go the spoils.”