Andy marched me to an interrogation room. This setup was different than being questioned by the Shreveport police about the murder of Kim Rowe in front of Eric’s place. That seemed much less formal, but then I hadn’t been the prime suspect. Getting cuffed, spending the night in jail, and having an attorney present put a whole different spin on things.
This was a full-on interrogation room with the stark metal table, bright overhead light, and one-way window. I imagined that Bud was inspired and got some sort of mail-order interrogation interior design kit to properly outfit Bon Temps. Aside from the string of murders a few years back, there wasn’t much crime in our little town that would require such a thing.
As I walked in, I was heartened to see my attorney, Beth Osieki, already seated behind the table. Andy maneuvered me around and helped me lower into the seat beside Beth. He then uncuffed my hands.
Sheriff Dearborn stood in the corner chewing a toothpick. He was busy deciding which interrogation tactic to use on me. From his thoughts, I could tell that he thought it was going to be tricky to surprise me. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he was pretty sure that I could read his thoughts. That put him in a tough spot. Shifting through his worries, I began to feel a little sorry for him, but then remembered his decision to arrest me. I needed to keep in mind that this time Bud and I weren’t on the same side.
Andy looked at Bud and decided to join him leaning back against the wall. His posture showed how uncomfortable he was with the situation, but he still wasn’t giving me any clues about what I was in for. With everything I’d done for him in the past, I wanted to ring his neck.
No one talked for what seemed like a really long time. I glanced at Beth Osieki hoping for a cue and realized just how nervous she was. I had guessed correctly. Most of her work before was limited to run-of-the-mill estate planning and basic civil suits. Beth Osieki was thinking she wasn’t quite cut out to represent a suspected murderer. When she saw my eyes widen, she gave me a reassuring smile despite her worries and second thoughts. Bless her heart.
Right about then, Bud decided to cut right to the chase.
“Sookie, you killed anybody?”
“Not this week.”
I was surprised to hear the edge to my voice, but that question just struck me as plain dumb. I couldn’t hardly answer honestly, well not completely honestly, since I had killed a few somebodies. Just not super recently. Like in the last 48 hours. In fact, I sort of made up for one by saving Sam’s life. I wasn’t sure if God would look at it that way, but it was a bit of a silver lining.
When I thought about it though, I wasn’t sure if I could still count the people I’d killed on two hands, especially if I included those where I was just an accessory. If I added those in but subtracted the vampires (since it was the second time around for them), I might get it back down to one hand. I nearly giggled out of nerves.
I was feeling plenty guilty about not coming clean about the people I killed in the past. Being questioned about one murder made me feel like I should give up the ghost about the ones I really did participate in. I had almost always been in a fight for my life, so it wasn’t like I just went around murdering innocents, but I was really struggling to keep it together.
For some reason, it occurred to me that my reply was very fairy like. I wasn’t exactly lying, but I certainly wasn’t telling the whole truth either.
“Now, Sookie, I don’t need any of your sass. This here is a murder investigation.”
Oh, brother. Apparently, Bud was going to try shaming me into good manners. It seemed like an odd strategy for someone accused of murder. The murderers I knew were hardly going to earn marks from Ms. Manners. In my case, it just depended on the circumstances. I could be plenty polite.
Thankfully, Beth Osieki decided to chime. “Sheriff Dearborn, can I have a moment along with my client please?”
That was just like Law & Order. I fought giggling again and ducked my head to hide my face.
With that, Bud left me alone with my lawyer. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so giddy anymore.
“Sookie, you’re in big trouble here. I am nearly 100% convinced that the police are going to press charges today.”
From what I’d picked up from Bud’s thoughts, I was pretty darn sure she was right. Bud didn’t think I’d actually killed Arlene, but he didn’t have any good leads. This felt eerily similar to his strategy of holding Jason after the string of murders in Bon Temps.
Beth explained what the process would be like, including the fact that I would be spending another night in jail. Tomorrow, I’d be headed for my first appearance in court since it was likely to be a felony charge.
I could only hope that I would be granted bail at the hearing, so that I could solve Arlene’s murder myself. I decided to settle in for a long afternoon and another long night.
When Bud returned, he gave me an appraising look, hoping that my attorney had talked some sense into me.
“Sookie, you ready to talk?”
As I nodded, he passed a cup of coffee across the table to me. It struck me as odd that Bud was serving me coffee since I had been hustling coffee to his table at Merlotte’s for years. I smiled at this strange turn of events.
I took a long sip and set my mind to the answering questions and using this as an opportunity to pick up clues to Arlene’s murder. I was pretty sure I would need to work this out myself since Bud and Andy didn’t have a sterling track record for anything above a misdemeanor or the regular DUI.
“Where were you the day before last?”
“I had the day off so I was at the house doing errands, went to breakfast with Kennedy, and then swung by the bar to talk to Sam at his trailer. Later, he picked me up and then headed out past Shreveport.”
That was true enough. I didn’t say where we were headed or why, but this would certainly check out.
“Can Sam corroborate that?”
“Where were y’all headed?”
“Out to a friend’s ranch. Alcide Herveaux? You’ve probably seen him in Merlotte’s a time or two. He owns a contracting business and comes in for lunch when a job’s in the area.”
“We’ll check that out too. What time did you make it back to your place?”
“Well, it must’ve been well after midnight. We were out pretty late.”
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to say that Sam slept over at my place or not, but I could tell that Bud noticed Sam’s truck parked in my drive way. From what he’d said to me about dating Eric before, I knew Bud would have approved of Sam much more. I didn’t particularly want to relive that discussion again or find out Bud’s opinion on my marriage. If I didn’t have to discuss it, I preferred to leave that one alone.
“Do you wear your uniform home after work?”
I was surprised by the change in questions, but relieved that Bud didn’t seem to want too many details about my night.
“Yes, I do almost every night.”
“You leave anything behind? At the bar?”
Now, I picked up on where this line of questioning was going. From Bud’s memory, I could see Arlene, blue in the face, splaying out on the parking lot behind Merlotte’s. Around her neck was a strip of black fabric. I couldn’t quite make out what it was.
Bud’s memory was tinged with disgust, frustration, and sadness. I couldn’t blame him, seeing Arlene that way made me sick to my stomach and reminded me of finding Dawn a few years back.
“Not that I recall. Our uniform’s pretty simple. Just a Merlotte’s t-shirt and black shorts. Nothing fancy.”
“Did you bring your apron home?”
“No, sir. I keep that in my locker.”
I realized that the black fabric must have been one of the apron’s we wear at the bar. I wanted to kick myself. A few weeks back, I gave new aprons to the staff with our names embroidered on them. It was part of a Booster Club fundraiser for the high school football team. Now, my personalized apron ended up being a murder weapon. That marked the first OSM of the interrogation. Not only did the police have a good reason to think I killed Arlene, I now knew that someone was determined to set me up.
“Do you share a locker with anybody?”
“No, I just bought the lockers for all the staff. There’s one for each of us with a couple spares.”
“Do you keep it locked?”
“Yes, I keep my purse in there during my shift and a spare change of clothes. I just have a little combination lock on it.”
I wasn’t sure when Bud was going to get to the point here, but I didn’t want to let on that I knew my apron had been the murder weapon. Throughout this line of questioning, Beth Osieki kept a cool demeanor. She focused on Bud’s questions and seemed pleased by my responses.
“Anybody else have the combination?”
“Just Sam. In case there’s an emergency.”
“You sure about that?”
“Bud, I guess someone could’ve seen me get into my locker. They’re out in plain sight, back in the hallway to the bathrooms and office. No telling who could’ve seen. Anyone who’s gone to the bathroom in the bar in the last few weeks.”
From the look on my lawyers face, I was pushing it again. I looked down at my hands and resolved to stick to one word answers with a couple “sirs” slipped in for good measure.
Bud paused and pulled out photos from an envelope he had placed on the table upon his return. Even though I knew what was coming, I didn’t have to feign surprise and horror.
What I lifted from Bud’s head in no way prepared me for this. The photos were much more graphic and left nothing to the imagination. I felt the tears well up in my eyes and let them flow.
In past couple years, Arlene had turned against me, against Sam. Despite the fact that she plotted to kill me, I felt sick looking at photos of her lifeless body.
Without thinking, I reached out to touch one of the photos. For some reason, I felt compelled to try to push her hair from her face and smooth it out.
It was clear from the photos that she had put up a struggle. Her clothes were torn and there were bruises on her arms. While there were signs of stab wounds, it was clear that she had been strangled. From a detail shot, I could see my name, clearly embroidered on the edge of the apron.
Now it was really clear why the Bon Temps police force had honed in on me. Here, they had a murder weapon with my name on it. They likely thought they had an “open and shut” case with that kind of evidence, not to mention the motive of revenge for her attempt on my life.
I looked up at Bud through bleary eyes. He watched me closely. His thoughts told me that he believed I was genuinely saddened by the photos, so that was a step in the right direction.
“When was the last time you saw Arlene?”
“It’s been a while. She hasn’t been working at Merlotte’s for a long time.” I paused. “Since Sam and the other twoeys came out.”
Bud nodded. He had been at Merlotte’s that night and witnessed Arlene’s reaction to the big reveal. Everyone in town was familiar with that story. It was hard to forget two prominent members of the community shifting into furry animals. Sam opted for his friendly collie form, but the late Trey Dawson was a werewolf, which was a tad more intimidating than Lassie. Thankfully, most people decided to keep coming into Merlotte’s after some adjustment.
“Sheriff Dearborn, it’s been weeks since I’ve seen her. I honestly can’t remember.”
“So, you didn’t see Arlene at the bar last night?”
“Did Arlene approach you about getting her job back? Maybe things got out of hand?”
“No, sir. She hasn’t wanted anything to do with the bar since she quit.”
“Were you aware Arlene couldn’t make rent payments? Couldn’t feed her kids?”
I shook my head. At the thought of the kids, I started crying again. I just couldn’t help it. When Arlene and I were friends, I babysat the two of them. Lisa and Coby were like my niece and nephew. At least they used to be.
“Sookie, I could see how things could get out of hand with Arlene. She had a temper to go with that flaming red hair.”
I didn’t try to answer. I opted to let Bud play out his big theory. From his tone, he was definitely hitting his Matlock stride.
“Maybe you said no and she got angry. Maybe she pushed you in the parking lot and you two got into a scuffle. You were defending yourself. Just trying to save your life when you accidently strangled Arlene.”
When Bud finished, there was definite tension in the air. He painted a pretty convincing picture and invited me to step into it. He was giving me a free pass into claiming self-defense, but I knew from his thoughts that he didn’t buy this theory. I just shook my head again.
“Sheriff Dearborn, I haven’t seen Arlene in weeks. When I left Sam’s trailer, I drove straight home. I didn’t see anybody in the parking lot.”
Sheriff Dearborn spent the morning asking me questions, changing the order here are there to see if he could trip me up. I stuck to my story, but I didn’t think I was any closer to going home.
About midday, Beth Osieki asked for a lunch break. She brought me back a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. A treat I certainly thought I deserved after being jailed up.
Eating alone with her, I took the opportunity to find out how Jason had faired. Beth confirmed that he was able to go home after just a couple hours. From the sounds of it, Michelle shamed Andy into not pressing charges.
I was so relieved that I wouldn’t have to bail both of us out after all. It was also a huge relief that Jason hadn’t spent the night in jail after coming to my defense. I needed his help on the outside.
When Bud came back, Andy was right alongside him.
“Sookie, I appreciate your cooperation this morning, but something isn’t matching up. We’re officially charging you with the murder of Arlene Fowler.”
Here I was thinking the morning had gone so well, considering. I looked to Beth Osieki. She was clearly as shocked as I was. Beth Osieki assured me she would be at the courthouse in the morning and would drop off some clothes suitable for the hearing ahead of time. In the meantime, I was hoping that my favorite demon lawyer might pop in to help out the fledgling attorney. I wasn’t sure what lay in store.
Andy cuffed me and returned me to my cell. I was by myself for the afternoon, with Mustapha standing guard outside. Since he wasn’t ready to talk to me, I tried to keep my mind busy thinking through all I had learned about Arlene’s murder, which wasn’t much.
When I worked through that, I switched to plotting against Freyda. That made me feel more trapped than ever. Sitting in my cell, I did not have many options to develop a strategy to scuttle her plan to marry Eric. I needed Eric to help build that plan.
When dusk came, I tried to be patient. I waited an hour and then another. When Bubba relieved Mustapha, they exchanged silent nods. Bubba took up his spot against the wall and resumed his quiet humming.
That night, Eric never came.