Chapter 13

My mind felt sluggish as I tried to think back to the night Eric gave me a primer on vampire politics. So much had happened since then. That night, Appius and Alexei had appeared at my window, throwing us into our current tail spin. Well, one of them at least. Eric and I knew there was trouble the minute of their arrival, but we hadn’t fully appreciated the scope.

The unstable Russian royal had been a handful to say the least. Appius’ parting gift, his marriage contract for Eric to Freyda, was the real sticking point. For the millionth time, I thanked my stars that Eric’s maker was dead and gone. I still wasn’t sure that Eric and I were on the same page with that, but this was something where we could agree to disagree. Well, ignore it at least. After living nearly 1000 years, Eric had a decidedly practical perspective on regret, which is to say he didn’t have any. I wondered if he would regret losing me if it came to that.

I roughly broke out the United States into four north-south strips, as Eric had described. I had this sinking feeling that I should have paid more attention that night, but I’d recently found out about a new body on my land during the day. By the time Eric showed up, I had my knickers in a knot. So to speak. That night, I was full of  eyes rolls and sarcasm. At least, I had checked my attitude a little and managed to absorb the basics. I made guesses here and there so there were likely some states assigned to the wrong grouping, but I reckoned it was good enough.

I sat there for a few minutes looking at my map. In school, I’d always struggled a bit with geography, but the realities of vampire politics had forced me to take notice of a few keys states. I was doing Ms. Broussard proud.

Really, I was scheming. I knew I couldn’t use The King again, but I needed a king. A queen might do too. While I had landed smack dab in the middle of the Louisiana vampire politics (thanks to Bill tracking me down for the late Sophie Anne), I mostly managed to remain on the periphery for the other rulers. Thank God.

Thanks to a couple trips, though, I knew a few of the reigning monarchs. Not well enough to call them acquaintances, but I felt confident I’d made a sufficient impression to get a nod or two. I shivered just thinking about them.

I put a little star on each state where I knew the ruler by name, a plus mark if only by sight. For Nevada and Oklahoma, I was sorely tempted to draw a skull and crossbones, but just settled for an X. For kicks, I threw in a couple states where I knew the Shreveport vamps had connections.

In all, I marked off seven states, aside from Freyda’s Oklahoma and Felipe de Castro’s swelling empire of Nevada, Louisiana, and Arkansas. After the bombing at the vampire summit in Rhodes, I wasn’t sure exactly if they’d survived. But the list was a pretty good start.

Looking at the map made me realize how much influence FDC had in our little strip of the U.S. already. If Eric got married off to Freyda, I was pretty darn sure there would be some kickbacks FDC’s way, expanding his influence over our neck of the woods.

That meant that FDC would pretty much box in the northern and eastern borders of Texas, not to mention having control of both states west of Mississippi. Those two states were probably my best bet. I had a sordid past with the kings of those states, but had done them both a service or two.

I smiled to myself at the thought of networking with the vampire rulers. I knew I couldn’t trust any of them as far I could throw them, but I thought I could rely on their very strong sense of self-preservation. Just about now, I was wishing I had checked out The Art of War from the library. Its “best of” list was likely to come in handy. I made a mental note to pick it up next time I went into town. It wasn’t my typical reading by any stretch, but not harm in brushing up on a little wartime strategy.

A few months ago, Eric mentioned that Stan was having trouble recovering from his injuries, so presumably he was struggling to keep Texas under his control. I always liked the nerdy, unassuming vamp. I knew good and well that Stan could be just as terrifying as the rest of the vampires, but there was something folksy about him that I just plain liked. And he had Barry the Bellboy in his employ.

Aside from my nephew Hunter, Barry was the only telepath I had ever met. (Well, mostly human telepath.) Every time we’ve seen each other, there’s been one calamity or another, so I didn’t know him really well. But I liked him for the most part. Together, we saved a lot of lives in Rhodes, so his heart was in the right place, even if he’d toughened up given his exposure to the vampire underground. What was I saying? I had a few hard edges myself now. Sometimes I had a hard time recognizing myself, but it pretty much boiled down to Stackhouses being survivors through and through. I’d survived so far.

Regardless, I was pretty sure Mr. Cataliades would help to broker a deal with Texas if it meant Barry Bellboy would be a bit safer. After all, Barry was his distant relative.

Mississippi was a whole nother kettle of fish. Russell Edgington was a flamboyant eccentric. For a vampire, he had a certain flair that set him apart from the rest of the undead. I wasn’t sure what to make of him after my escapades on his compound in Jackson. But at Rhodes, he seemed entertained by my leaving the remains of Bill’s maker, Lorena, in his pool and making off with Bill’s tortured corpse.

While Russell hadn’t interceded to rescue Bill, fortunately he’d let matters lie. On the other hand, his magnanimous attitude might very well have been related to his happy nuptials to Bart, the King of Indiana. I couldn’t quite count Mississippi as an ally, but he certainly would stand to gain if he played a part in reshaping the states to his west.

The more I thought about it, I was convinced that the vampires of our region had reason to be edgy about FDC’s encroachment into their turf. I wasn’t sure how much turnover was common among the vampire rulers, but since the Great Revelation, it seemed only wise to try and keep up appearances that all was well under control among the vampire rulers. While regular humans weren’t in on vampire politics, it was pretty darn clear who was in charge in each state. Queen Sophie Anne was a national celebrity during her reign in New Orleans. So much so that Victor or another minion of FDC placed a fake obituary in the Louisiana papers to explain her sudden disappearance.

All the recent changes in Louisiana and Arkansas didn’t seem to get much attention so far, but it made me curious how two recent overthrows in Arkansas had been communicated to the human population. Like Louisiana, Arkansas was mostly a poor, rural state, but it still had its movers and shakers. I’m sure they’d taken notice. If things kept up at this rate, it seemed to me that the regular human population might get even more uneasy with the undead citizens. From the vamp’s perspective, it wouldn’t be good for business.

I kept staring at the map. Something kept tickling at the back of my mind, flashing back to the night Victor arrived in my yard to take on Eric. That night, he’d come with nine other vampires and one weretiger. There were a few more Nevada vamps scattered throughout the state, having just taken care of the other surviving Louisiana sheriffs and their staffs. It had been a rough night for Louisiana. Eric’s area was the only one spared.

Because things had been so touch and go after the takeover, Eric tried to keep me at the edge of vampire business dealings. Of course, Victor had specifically requested me from time to time, so I’d met the vamps closest to him. Then, we’d made our move and taken out Victor and most of the Nevada transplants I’d met.

I wasn’t sure how many vampires FDC sent to Louisiana for the coup, but I was pretty sure his numbers were hurting. His operations in Nevada were no doubt very large since it was a tourist destination, requiring a significant vampire population. But I was pretty sure he couldn’t fully support three states at once, especially after Victor, his Louisiana regent, and crew disappeared.

Phew. I felt tuckered out. Spending a couple days in jail had taken its toll, but the ever-present threat of Freyda just weighed too heavy on my heart. I wasn’t one for politics, especially vampire politics. But I was big on survival. I hadn’t quite formulated a plan. I felt like my mind had been running all over hell’s half acre, but things were starting to come together.

I folded up my map as I walked back out to the kitchen. I couldn’t afford for the wrong set of eyes to catch sight of it. I looked around for a place to hide it and grabbed my cereal box. I slid it down inside between the cardboard and the lining. Kind of like a Cracker Jack treat, but hopefully much more useful.

I walked back through my room, shucking off my court clothes and headed for the shower. As I stepped into the steamy tub, I felt relaxed for the first time in days. It was sublime. I ignored the little voice in my head that reminded me of the water bill and just soaked up the hot water, taking my time shaving my legs. I giggled when I thought about staying in the shower until dusk. A visitor in my shower didn’t sound half bad.

Unfortunately, my water heater would certainly run out first. And I wasn’t holding my breath.

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