The knocks on her door didn’t startle her. She grabbed the glass of vodka tonic on her nightstand that had left a ring of moisture on the table from the lack of coaster before she stood up to open the door for Bill.
She was expecting him. After she had left Russell’s ground-floor office, Bill was sent to meet with her at the casino to give him the list of things she required to deal with Thalia who would be working the graveyard shift that evening. How fitting, Sookie thought grimly, for it would be the last shift Thalia would have in the Mandalay before she would be sent straight to the graveyard.
With hooded gaze, she greeted Bill armed with the dark expression she reserved just for him. “Did you get it?”
By it she meant the special cocktail of downers that Bill had secured for her from the Nevada farm. It was a new designer drug that Russell had been trying to develop and perfect through his notable pharmacologists. The exceptional patent was dubbed as the new meth although it was nothing like the illicit recreational drug. It was made from a combination of downers – barbiturates – that in low doses could give the user a feeling of ‘euphoria and relaxed contentment’ while in a state of complete physical numbness. It was Russell’s most popular product because of its unique quality. It made Vicodin look like Advil or Tylenol. But the best part about the designer drug was that it was virtually untraceable. It could not be easily detected through a wide range tox screen. One had to know what to look for in order to identify its presence in the user’s blood.
A high dose of the special mix was fatal. It could paralyze anyone within seconds that – without immediate treatment – would eventually lead to death. In short, it was the ultimate weapon. The silent killer.
Bill’s eyes raked over her form, noting the glass of clear liquor in her hand that explained her heavy-lidded eyes, before he handed her a brown paper bag with two vials of ‘liquid B’.
He sidestepped her to enter the modest suite. “Are you certain you’re up for this?” he asked, scanning the rest of the room. There were empty miniscule bottles of vodka on top of the TV rack and a couple more on the bedside table. “How many drinks have you had?”
Sookie staggered back to the bed, swaying her hips theatrically thus giving him the answer to his query: More than enough.
The glass made a loud thunk when she slammed it on top of the dining trolley from when she ordered room service. She ducked behind the rolling table and grabbed one of her black stilettos at the foot of the bed and slipped it on with very little grace. She had chosen a black halter top dress to wear for tonight. It was a funeral after all.
“How are you going to pull this off when you’re drunk?”
She put on her other shoe without looking at Bill.
He grabbed her elbow and tugged it. “Sookie, are you listening to me?”
She wrestled out of his grasp and shot him a venomous look. “Touch me again and you lose a hand.” Admittedly it wasn’t the cleverest of comebacks but she had no patience to think of a more creative retort for someone as pathetic as Bill. “I will drink as much as I want because there’s no way I can pull this off when I’m lucid. Does that answer your question, Bill?” She cocked her head to the side while squinting her eyes.
Bill pressed his lips together before he gave her a terse nod.
He checked his branded wristwatch. It was almost midnight. The witching hour. “We should be going. Thalia’s shift has already started. Can you even walk straight?”
She merely smiled. “Gimme a minute to freshen up,” she replied, grabbing her red purse and the brown paper bag from the bed, before she marched to the bathroom leaving Bill to count the number of mini bottles she had downed. He came up with nine miniscule bottles of Grey Goose. The mini bar had five assorted liquors for each room. Given that it was a small suite, it still wasn’t possible that her small fridge had that many vodkas in stock. She must have requested for additional Grey Goose.
After a brief time she sauntered back to the bedroom, looking sober enough.
“Shall we?” she asked.
Bill’s wary expression was back as he trailed her to the door. “Sookie,” he started, fighting the urge to hold her hand, “I’m deeply sorry that you have to do this. ”
She pivoted to look at him. “Spare me. And don’t even pretend to be contrite. You know what kind of hell you’re putting me into the minute you decided to lure me into this god forsaken town.”
Bill dropped his gaze. “It’ll get better. We all had to go through an initiation to earn his favor.”
“Ain’t that a peach? All I had to do was kill someone to please granddaddy,” she deadpanned.
His apologetic façade faded into irritation. She could feel the anger building up in him. Soon, he would be batting for another homerun. “I have to admit, Sookie, I never thought you’d agree to this so easily.”
He was like a shark circling the water.
She took half a step closer to him, her eyes challenging him. “You think this is easy? Give me that tone again and I’ll show you how easy it is for me to take a life.” She saw Bill gulp as he chucked his hands in his pockets, fiddling for nothing in particular. She forced herself to smile as she reached for his blue pinstriped tie, patting it to his chest. “Honestly, I’m also surprised with myself. I guess I really am an Edgington after all?”
He visibly relaxed, his eyes giving her that warm glint. “You’re a brave woman. And calm, too. The first time I had to interrogate someone in the basement, I was sweating through my shirt.”
Sookie had been in the Edgington territory long enough to know what interrogation really meant. It was an adaptation of the military way: Shoot first, ask questions later. A clean shot on the arm meant they wanted answers, ergo the flesh wound. A bullet at the back of the head meant the question-and-answer portion was no longer a requirement.
She huffed through her nose before she spun on her heel to march to the door. “I guess Dante said it best when he wrote that the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in time of moral dilemma,” she said, paraphrasing an excerpt from Dante Alighieri’s poem Inferno.
Bill was fast on her trail. He chortled while rubbing his chin. “I’ll be sure to pack up enough flashlights for us,” was his attempt to lighten the mood.
Sookie made a sharp turn toward him, holding the door open. “Oh no, Bill. No one had the stomach to write about your place in hell yet.”
Bill swallowed again. She had so much anger and Bill was too close a target. She was, without question, a bitch. And a meaner bitch when drunk.
Thalia was in her usual pit in the Black Jack tables. Sookie stole a quick glance at the black dome above her head, which concealed the multiple cameras that surveyed the entire pit of Baccarat tables. She took a seat in one of the tables that had a clear view of Thalia’s pit. She nodded at the pit boss in charge of her table. The suit-and-tied pit boss, Simon, a dark Indian man with caterpillar brows and deep-set eyes, took one look at Sookie before he handed her a ten-thousand-dollar marker that Sookie quickly relinquished to the dealer, who then changed it into hundred-dollar chips.
Bill kept his eyes glued to Sookie as the Southerner started placing her bets. She wasn’t paying attention to the electronic display beside the dealer, which showed the trend of wins on the table, otherwise known as bead plate. The vertical line of red dots represented the banker while the queues of blue circles were for the player. The trend in her table was in favor of the player which tallied the most wins. Despite the obvious pattern, Sookie kept insisting on betting on the banker. Bill couldn’t help but shake his head. An inebriated Sookie was a lousy gambler, he inferred.
Sookie would bet at a regular interval, while casually tapping the lid of the white paper cup beside her dwindling stack of chips. The black lid on her cup was still sealed to keep her drink warm.
Bill was beginning to wonder if Sookie had mistaken Baccarat for Black Jack because it always took her longer to squeeze her card whenever she was dealt a face card. A face card – King, Queen or Jack – had no value in Baccarat but it was equivalent to ten in Black Jack. For the umpteenth time, he questioned her sobriety.
After a few more bets, he saw Sookie gather her remaining chips and throw them in her purse before she made her way to the 24-hour coffee shop at the back of the gaming floor. He didn’t need to follow her line of vision to know that she was following Thalia, who would be getting her usual cup of coffee for her 15-minute cigarette break in the backroom.
Without entering the bar, Bill saw Sookie go straight to the counter, placing her disposable cup on top of the wooden bar, where the orders would be placed for the customers as soon as they were ready for pick-up. Sookie made a show of checking out the pastries as she ducked her head and pointed at one of the pies inside the display cases beside the counter.
About two minutes later, the barista called Thalia’s order of caramel macchiato and Bill spied Sookie beat Thalia to her order. The casino manager didn’t look as though she noticed the switch as she grabbed the only remaining cup on top of the bar.
Before Sookie and Bill went to the casino floor, Sookie had ordered Thalia’s usual cup from the café. It was a Wednesday so Thalia would be getting the macchiato. The only time Thalia would replace her usual with a blonde roast were Fridays and Saturdays. She needed the extra caffeine boost during those days since they were the ones with the most guests.
One quick trip to the restroom later and Sookie was armed with her weapon of choice to dispose the pit boss.
Bill bit back a smile. The switch was seamless. Effortless even. Sookie gave Thalia a casual wave as the pit boss exited the café to go to the smokers’ lounge just outside the coffee shop for her nicotine fix.
As soon as Thalia was no longer in sight Bill marched into the café and took the seat across Sookie, who was looking a shade paler. “Are you alright?”
He heard one of the staff call out her order of blueberry cheesecake and he immediately stood up to get it for her.
“I don’t feel so good,” she murmured lowly, placing her palm flat against her stomach.
The alcohol in her system was kicking in, Bill thought. Or it could be that she was now realizing the magnitude of her action. “I can bring you back to your room,” Bill offered, already on his feet beside her.
She shook her head. “Not yet. I have to make sure it’s over.”
He understood her desire to finish the job. Russell was very particular about it.
It happened fairly quickly. Fifteen minutes later, he fixed his gaze on the casino entrance which would be Thalia’s point of entry from the backroom. No sign of her. Ten minutes and the Latina pit boss was still a no-show. It was past her allotted break time and Bill expected her reliever to look for her.
Then Bill’s mobile phone vibrated inside his jacket pocket and just like that he knew Thalia had succumbed to her fatal macchiato. It was Sookie’s idea to spike Thalia’s drink with liquid B.
‘Something I learned from my time in the joint,’ was her stab at dark humor when he asked her why she chose that approach in disposing off Thalia. She grudgingly dubbed it the ‘Longshadow job’.
He answered his phone and the guard-on-duty’s voice blared in his ear informing Bill of something he already knew.
He kept mum as he listened to the frantic caller. “Call 911,” Bill instructed after a while, “I’m on my way. And Thompson, keep it quiet. We don’t want to alarm our guests.”
He pushed the end call button and shoved the phone back in his pocket. “It’s done. The guard found her in the lounge, unconscious – no pulse,” he reported.
Sookie lowered her gaze to the round wooden table as she bit her lip and nodded. Her hands started shaking and Bill had to put his hand over hers to keep them steady.
“I’m a despicable person,” she mumbled, drops of tears plopping on the table. “I think I’m gonna be sick.” She clapped a hand over mouth as she fought the urge to gag.
Bill pressed his free hand on her bare shoulder. He felt her flinch but she didn’t make any further move to push him away.
“I’ll take you back to your room.”
Sookie started shaking her head but Bill was persistent as he wrapped his fingers around her elbow and pulled her up from the chair.
“I can’t pass through the casino lookin’ like this,” she whispered, grabbing her bulging handbag off the table.
“We’ll go through the private offices’ corridor. We can take the elevator from there,” Bill assured. Sookie seemed to had burned out the last of her fuel as she answered with a stiff nod.
With his hand at the small of her back he guided her to the concealed hallway where Russell’s office was located across from Bill’s. They were only a few feet away from the elevators when Sookie halted and bent over as she made a stomach-churning gagging sound.
“Shit!” Bill muttered under his breath so as not to draw attention from the two guards who were posted at both ends of the hallway.
“I’m not gonna make it,” Sookie grumbled, clutching the middle of her dress tightly, while her other hand grabbed onto Bill’s shoulder for support.
Bill looked around. There were no public restrooms nearby. Only private ones installed inside the offices. Apprehension crossed his features and Sookie bent even lower and cupped her hand over her mouth.
Unless he wanted to bathe in vomit, he had to get Sookie inside his office. Without another thought he pulled his keycard from his pocket and swiped it across the electronic lock before he punched in his four-digit code.
“Hold it, please, hold it,” he hushed as he ushered her inside his lavish bureau. Goddamned her for her inability to hold her liquor, he thought in dismay. He just had his office refurnished because it originally belonged to Victor. Bill’s office was in the Grand and it was a lot smaller than this. It would be a shame if Sookie spew her dinner all over his new carpet. He led her to the large toilet and bath that was the same as the one in the suites upstairs sans the tub. What could he say, Russell knew how to spoil his loyal staff.
Sookie dashed to the comfort room and slammed the door behind her. Bill sat behind his mahogany desk as he waited for Sookie. He couldn’t really blame her, it was a rough night. He was fixing his charcoal blazer, which was crumpled when Sookie held onto him earlier when his cell phone buzzed once again.
It was the guard who had informed him of Thalia’s demise earlier. The sentry, who Bill only knew by his last name because it was protocol to state their surnames every time they addressed a higher-up, went on to tell him that the paramedics had arrived and had performed CPR on Thalia but it was sadly too late. (Too bad Thalia. Not so much for Sookie.) The lead paramedic had already pronounced Thalia dead from heart attack but they would still need to take her body to the hospital to be looked at by the trauma team as part of the EMTs protocol.
“That’s very unfortunate,” Bill said, trying to summon enough distress in his voice. He went to the bathroom door and knocked. He heard Sookie make another retching sound and he stepped away quickly.
Thompson paused. He must have heard the noise Sookie was making. The guard went on to relay the medic’s request for Thalia’s health record that Bill could easily get from human resources’ office located at the west wing of the hotel. They also wanted to know if the hospital could get her personal information just in case she had made special arrangement for her remains.
“I will bring it to the hospital immediately. Where are they taking her?” he asked through the line.
Thalia would be taken to St. Mary’s, which would explain the quick response by the EMTs considering it was the hospital closest to the Strip.
Bill ended the call and tried knocking on Sookie’s door again. No response. He gripped the slim handle and turned it. Pushing the door in gently, he peered inside. His own dinner threatened to resurface when he saw the mess Sookie had made on the floor. It strongly resembled the lobster bisque he just had in the hotel restaurant earlier that night. He saw her beside the sink, hugging a small towel, her hair disheveled.
“I’m sorry,” she said meekly. It was the first nice word she ever said to him since she arrived at the Mandalay. “I’ll clean it up.”
Bill pushed the door all the way in as he extended his arm to her. “Don’t mind that. I’ll call housekeeping.” He offered her a tiny smile. One she returned with a little hesitation.
“Any news from Thalia?” she asked hoarsely, throwing the towel over the small puddle of vomit beside the toilet bowl.
“I have to go to the hospital to give them her personal information.”
She bit her lower lip before she stole a quick glance at the framed wall mirror in front of her. “Do you need to leave right away? I wanna make myself a bit presentable before I head out. If you don’t mind?” she slurred.
He was stunned. She was being polite. Gone was the bitch with absolutely no filter. And he found himself powerless to say no.
He bobbed his head. “I’ll have to make a quick run at the records’ office to get Thalia’s files. I’ll send someone to escort you back to your room.”
Sookie knew the sentry he was going to send wasn’t tasked to guard her. He would be in the room to keep Bill’s belonging guarded from her.
When all these were done, Sookie would have to remember to send Lafayette a thank-you card along with a big fat check. He, in all his great wisdom, had given her the best piece of advice that had proven useful for tonight’s mission.
“The only person more dangerous than a guy with a roofie, is a girl pretending to be wasted.” Sookie recalled how Lala pointed at Maudette as his example. “See how she’s rubbing her tits at Jason’s arm? And how your dumb dumb brother thought he was the one scoring because she’d had way too much margaritas?” Lala closed his eyes and shook his head. “Nah-ah. No one pays too much attention to what a wasted girl does. They could simply blame it on the booze.” He shoved Maudette’s half-filled cocktail glass to Sookie across the bar and gestured for her to take a sip. The blue-colored drink was as virgin as Sookie.
She made her way to the bar and checked the small fridge. There was a new batch of mini bottles. She smiled. Sookie wasn’t excited because of the freshly-stocked booze. They would go straight to the drain just like the others. She was more concerned with the fresh paper coasters that came along with them.
Grabbing her dark brown eyeshadow inside her red pouch, she started brushing the coaster with the shimmery powder. And like magic, a message appeared. She picked up her purse from the carpet, along with the square paper coaster, and made her way to the bathroom. Plucking a stick from the complimentary matchbook, she set the coaster on fire and dropped it in the porcelain sink. She took out two long and slim shampoo containers from that fit inside her pouch perfectly. It still had bits of shredded tomatoes and a tiny sliver of lobster meat inside from the soup she had filled them with only to spill all over Bill’s pristine bathroom. If Bill weren’t so vain, he would have noticed that everything from Sookie’s perfectly-timed breakdown in front of his office up to the spilled lobster bisque on his marble tiles were staged.
She washed the bottles clean and threw it in the bin beside the toilet bowl before she stepped into the tub and took a long warm bath.
Blasting her hair with the warm air from the blow dryer, she heard another set of knocks on her door. She tightened the robe sash around her waist before she dashed to the door and peeked through the fish eye.
Bill, the backstabbing, Compton.
With a deep breath to summon drunken Sookie back, she pulled the door open.
“I need to go back to the hospital,” was his form of greeting. She cocked her eyebrow at him drooping her eyes slightly for the inebriated effect. “Pam’s in the hospital, demanding to see Thalia’s body.”
“What?” she snapped, knotting her brows together. “How did she find out so fast?”
“Nora probably gave her the tip. The woman would do anything to get back together with Eric.” Bill spat Eric’s name with such abhorrence that a flick of spit left the side of his mouth.
“That bitch is next on my hitlist,” Sookie hissed as she twisted back to walk inside her room. “Gimme five minutes to get dressed.” Then she slammed the door on Bill’s face.
Sookie was still swaying a little as they walked side by side along the well-lighted hallway of the hospital wing that would lead them to the morgue. Bill draped an arm to support her as he led her to the nurses’ station in the middle of the long and almost empty corridor.
Their steps halted when they spotted the familiar leggy blonde leaning over the counter of the nurses’ station. Pam was just as impeccable as Sookie remembered. She was wearing white fitted slacks, black tube top and white blazer while Sookie went for a yellow spaghetti strap sundress.
Sookie was still trying to muster enough strength to face her old friend when the leggy blonde snapped her head toward them. Her tear-stricken face twisted into one of abject fury at the sight the two Southerners a few feet from where she was standing.
Her red pumps clicked furiously against the white-tiled floor that reeked of disinfectant as she rushed toward Bill and Sookie, her murderous glare directed solely at the girl with the yellow dress.
“How could you?” she whisper-hissed when she was only a foot away from the Southerners. “She had done nothing but help you time and time again and this is how you repay her?”
“Pam,” Sookie choked, reaching out to the furious blonde.
“Don’t Pam me,” she exploded, taking a step away from Sookie. “You’re dead to me. To us.”
The seething blonde aimed her vicious glare at Bill then back at Sookie before she let out a mocking snort. “You two deserve each other.” With that parting shot Pam walked away from them as she careened to the automatic glass doors of the hospital wing.
Sookie grabbed onto Bill’s arm before she buried her face on his shoulder.
“Russell already made the call. Thalia’s remains will be cremated as soon as possible. There’s nothing they could do to incriminate you,” Bill whispered while patting her back.
She sobbed for a few more seconds before she raised her head to him. Streaks of black mascara ran down her cheeks. Swatting her tears away, she reached inside her sling bag for a small pack of tissues.
“You have…” Bill said waving his finger across his face.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, dabbing her cheeks dry. “Can I?” she asked while turning her head from side to side in search of the restroom.
A man in dark blue scrubs, who was flipping the pages from his clipboard, strolled beside them. He had a scrub cap on his head – keeping his unruly dark brown hair in place – that was the same shade as his uniform. He also had a facial mask covering the lower half of his face.
“Excuse me, can you point me to the nearest CR?” Sookie asked, tapping the man at his bicep. The man nodded before he pointed at the corridor behind Sookie with a small wooden toothpick between his fingers. “Make a left after the third door.”
Sookie mouthed a short, “thanks” to the man who went inside the room that had the word MORGUE scribbled in bold letters on top of the light blue double doors.
“I’ll get Thalia’s personal effects and then I’ll meet you out front just in case Pam comes back,” Bill told her with a soft clap on her back.
Without another word, Sookie made her way into the restroom. Locking the door behind her, she walked to the counter of sinks and turned on the tap. She grabbed the edge of the tiled counter while her other hand splashed cold water on her face. She was dabbing her face dry with her silk handkerchief when the middle stall swung open. Lifting her head, she fixed her gaze on the mirror.
A pair of intense blue eyes stared back at her. He was gripping the spine of the cubicle door, watching her as she straightened her back and slowly turned around to face him.
The air was charged with unspoken vehemence and for a few seconds they just stood there in silence.
His lips pulled at the side ever so gently, revealing the smirk she had not seen for the longest time. “Well played, Stackhouse.”
She mirrored his smirk. “Touche, Northman.”
Then as though someone had pulled the trigger on the starting pistol, Eric lunged at her and mounted her on top of the damp counter. “I missed you so damn much,” he husked as he pressed his forehead against hers while his hands scrambled to touch every inch of her exposed neck, “and I’m going to break all of Bill’s fingers for touching you.”
She gasped as she tried to catch Eric’s moving lips. This wasn’t the time to be hyperverbal. Couldn’t he feel how much she wanted him to kiss her?
“Please, Eric. We don’t have much time,” she begged, slanting her head and darting her tongue out to moisten her lips.
“Let that fucker wait,” he growled as he peppered her face with lush, open-mouthed kisses.
“Jeez please, don’t have a quickie while I’m here.” A soft accented voice hushed from one of the closed cubicles.
Sookie’s eyes widened while Eric simply groaned.
As if on cue, the door of the last cubicle from the door tore open, revealing a small Latina woman with messy hair, big brown eyes and a big coffee stain on her white buttoned-down blouse.
Sookie couldn’t help but grin. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Miss Romero.”
Thalia made an exaggerated curtsy before she inched toward the couple. “I think I deserve an award for the best supporting role since I had to play dead for a significant amount of time.”
Sookie chuckled. The single most genuine laugh she had in a very long time. “Pam is giving you a run for your money, though. I think she made Bill shit in his pants out there.”
Eric wrapped his arms around her and laid his head on top of Sookie’s shoulder. “Give it to Pam. She has been practicing her lines all day.”
Sookie reached for her sling bag beside the sink and began fishing for two glass vials inside. “Does anyone order liquid B?” she crooned as she held the vials up.
“I’ll take that,” Thalia offered, stabbing her hand in the air to get the drugs. “I’ll have the DEA process it as soon I get out of town.”
“Can you get out now?” Eric asked in a frustrated tone, “I have something urgent I need to discuss with my newest spy.”
Thalia rolled her eyes. “Pam warned me about this. You are both shameless.”
Sookie would have laughed if it weren’t for Eric’s mouth latching onto hers.
Yes, no one would question the motives of a wasted girl. Luckily, Bill Compton hadn’t taken the time to have a little chat with Lafayette. If he had, he would have known there was nothing more dangerous than a girl pretending to be drunk.