Thank you so much for your reviews and comments. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on this story.
I also want to thank Suki59 for being such a great beta on this story. She is doing an amazing job.
Eric and I spent the rest of the weekend skiing and throwing snowballs at each other. Which, when one looked back at it, was strange. Or maybe not. Maybe some of the snowballs I threw were about his not telling me important stuff and his considering, just for an unspoken moment, to be something for his child`s mother and not just for his child. I knew that those snowballs were the hardest I could make and they always hit him square in the face. I also knew that those were the snowballs that made Pam smirk.
And Eric seemed to welcome them for some odd reason. His snowballs rarely hit me very hard. He did manage to throw some at Pam who`d then declare herself out of the snowball fight.
Yeah, we`d been one small happy yet somewhat dysfunctional family at the cabin.
Back in Oslo it was work, work, work. But it felt gratifying now that we seemed to be going somewhere. April was running out but the game designers had outdone themselves, in spite of having taken time off for Easter. The additions to the game were amazing. You could have the Vikings going berserk. There were new enemies to fight and new characters to play. I especially liked the Shield Maiden who bore close resemblance to yours truly.
I was home alone, running the test version of the Shield Maiden on my laptop when the phone rang. I knew it was Bill before checking it. He always called at this hour and he`d been calling me more and more frequently now that the 17th of May was getting closer.
“I did it, Sookie,” Bill said in a tone full of joy and satisfaction.
“Really?” I asked. “He fell for it?”
“He did. He loves Elvis, apparently, and when I suggested they all dress up as the vampire characters in the game, Victor was quick to claim the role of Elvis.”
“That`s amazing, Bill,” I said. “You`re … ”
“Amazing?” he finished my sentence.
I smiled to myself. Having Bill back as my friend meant a lot to me. I just hoped I could trust him. “We`ll see on the 17th, won`t we?” I answered.
“We will, Sookie. On the 17th we`ll see Victor fall flat on his face and if you`ve been doing your job … ”
“If?” Now it was my turn to interrupt.
“Well,” he drawled. “Knowing you, you`ve done your job perfectly so since you`ve been doing it so perfectly well, media from all over the world will catch him doing it.”
“Victor has been helping me out,” I said with a laugh. “Some of the reporters I called had already been summoned by his people. They weren`t too happy about it.”
“Reporters don`t like to be summoned,” Bill stated.
“They certainly don`t. They like to be asked politely or even feel intrigued to go somewhere.”
“So which media are you sure will be there?” he asked.
I paused. The deal between Bill and me had been for him never to ask me questions. He had suggested it himself to absolve him of suspicions of being a counterspy.
“Sorry, Sookie. I forgot,” he said before I could answer him.
We were quiet for a while. I could hear him breathe but there were several moments of silence. Then he spoke again.
“I`m glad to be back in your life, Sookie.”
I thought it over. “Me too, Bill.”
“I have to ask you something, Sookie, but I want you to promise me that you won`t get angry.”
“I can`t promise you that, Bill. Not until I`ve heard your question.” I hated it when people wanted you to make that kind of promise How could you know in advance whether you would be angry or not?
“Fair enough. But I have to ask.” He exhaled so loudly I almost felt his breath on me through the phone. “Is there any reason why you`re the one handling me and not Eric?”
I thought about what he`d said, not really understanding what he meant. “Because I know you better, Bill,” I said. “Why do you ask?” Then it hit me. “Oh, you thought … that I wanted to … ”
“Yeah,” Bill said sheepishly.
“Bill, I`m married to Eric. I intend to stay married to Eric. I`m not … Bill. You mean a lot to me and I am glad we`re back to … that we`re talking again. I don`t have many friends and I really appreciate your friendship. But … ”
“I get it, Sookie. It`s fine. It was just … I guess, I hoped that ….” He cleared his voice. “I guess I`m just feeling lonely.”
“I`m sorry, Bill. I wish … ” There were a lot of things I wished but not many of them included Bill. And I definitely didn`t wish him to be a romantic partner. “I`m looking forward to seeing you again,” I said and we hung up.
“Fuck!” Eric shouted.
I turned around and looked at him. I couldn`t help smiling. He was wearing black woolen pants that ended at his knees and thick white woolen socks that went all the way down into black shoes with silver shoe buckles. On his torso he was wearing a white shirt with a scarf of many colors around his neck, a black and red striped vest and a black woolen jacket with a high collar. Add the top hat he was going to wear, he looked as if he`d jumped straight out of the 18th century. Or the 19th. I wasn`t sure.
He was wearing his bunad – the national costume everyone wore on the 17th of May. Eric had told me there were several different bunads and that they all had some kind of geographical origin.
“Let me,” I said and took the sølje – the large silver brooch he was supposed to wear – from him and put it on the scarf he was wearing.
Eric had his finger in his mouth, the finger he`d pricked on the brooch. But I knew his anger – his frustration – didn`t come from the little piece of jewelry.
Eric was nervous and so was I.
Pam had let me borrow one of her bunads and I was struggling with all the layers of wool I was supposed to wear. I looked out at the sun.
“Won`t it be too warm?” I asked.
Eric grinned. “It will. Which is why the 17th of May is also called The Big Ice-cream Day.” He pulled me into his embrace. “And when we get home, we`ll take a cold shower and then … ”
He kissed me instead of finishing his sentence. Eric apparently subscribed to the “show, don`t tell” way of saying things.
I pushed at him. “You`re not helping. Now I`m even hotter.”
“I have that effect on women,” he said nonchalantly.
“On women?” I teased.
“On you,” he said and then I got another hot kiss.
I pulled away. “Indeed you do. Now, make yourself useful and look at me. Have I put this dress on correctly? Added belts and jewelry where it`s supposed to be added?”
Eric looked at me from head to toe, giving my cleavage and the way the bunad added to my feminine figure a whistle of approval.
“If I`d known you`d be this sexy in a bunad I would have bought you one months ago.”
“You`ll get to take it off tonight if everything goes well,” I promised.
Eric grinned. Then he looked at his watch.
“We`d better get going.”
We`d arranged to meet with a couple of reporters so that they could get firsthand reactions from us when Victor hopefully ruined his company and his reputation. It could go entirely wrong, though. Victor could get so much publicity, his game would sell itself. And there wouldn`t be anything we could do about it.
“Yeah,” I said and took a deep breath.
But before I`d taken a single step Eric was in front of me and had his fingers under my chin and then his lips on mine.
“No matter what happens … with Victor or with … ” He paused. “You know I love you, Sookie.”
And then he kissed me again.
I had no idea what I`d expected from the Norwegian National Day but it was nothing like this. As soon as we walked out into the street I realized that this was so much bigger than I had imagined. I`d watched YouTube clips of the Children`s Parade and I knew most people would be wearing bunads or at least their very best clothes.
But to see the streets so full of people – children, parents, young people, old people – it took my breath away. Everyone looked happy. It was like Christmas Eve and your birthday wrapped up together with balloons, sausages and ice cream – all of which were sold everywhere.
Kids were jumping up and down in anticipation and old couples walked arm in arm as if they`d fallen in love yesterday.
Our house was just behind the King`s Castle and when we rounded the corner of the Castle Park, I stopped breathing for a few moments. All along Karl Johan, the main street of Oslo leading up to the castle, people had gathered in the thousands. Since the castle is at the top of a hill, one could see the crowds all the way down past the old university and to the parliament.
The parade would begin in half an hour and Eric and I walked down to the University Square where today`s big event would take place if Bill was correct with his information.
We met up with a couple of reporters, a television crew and ten or fifteen photographers. Eric and I greeted them all and told them where they should situate themselves to get the best view. The Norwegian national television crew was there already but Eric had told me they were there every year. They were filming many places along the parade but in thirty minutes, they would be filming here on Oslo`s main street Karl Johan.
In half an hour the King`s guards would perform their amazing show – and this was when Victor would strike. And fail. Hopefully.
The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. The trees had just sprouted new leaves in that light green shade and all the flower beds were filled with tulips in all their majesty.
And I was standing here, nervous sweat running down my back, waiting for what could be the big difference for Viking Games. And for Eric and me. I also knew that we still had major issues to deal with when this was over, but if I had been able to push that aside these past weeks, then I certainly could today.
I chatted with the reporters and Eric filled them in on what they were watching. I couldn`t help smiling when he told them where all the different bunads came from. Eric had told me it was a pastime for old ladies – learning the difference between all the various national dresses.
Then finally we saw them – the King`s Guards came up Karl Johan in their black uniforms, rifles with bayonets over their shoulders. Behind them, in the same uniforms, their marching band was playing.
Eric had told me about the King`s Guards – how they were all conscripted soldiers but practiced formations and marching so hard all year that they displayed impressive precision on the National Day. They always marched before the Children`s Parade and had their show at the University Square. Where we were right now.
And where Victor would hopefully be if Bill had played his cards right.
I scanned the crowds for Victor and his people. They should be easy to detect but I couldn`t see them. I looked at Eric and saw him glancing around too.
“What if they don`t show up?” I asked. “What if they`re doing it somewhere else?”
“He`ll be here,” Eric answered but he didn`t seem entirely sure.
The King`s Guards were almost there and then suddenly it happened. Victor jumped out in front of them in an Elvis costume – the typical white one with gems all over it – and smiled at the cameras. There was no doubt he had rehearsed this. Just like Bill had told me in those many phone calls we`d had.
“The King`s Guards,” he shouted in English. “Guards for The King.”
Loud Elvis music was played from loudspeakers wheeled out in the street and Victor did a silly dance, shaking his hips, and several other people dressed up as celebrities came forward. There was Marilyn Monroe in her white dress, Che Guevera with his cigar, someone who I believed was supposed to be Attilla the Hun, and ten or fifteen other famous characters.
And they were all wearing fangs.
Chaos erupted. The police, who clearly weren`t used to doing anything on the 17th of May but helping kids who`d lost their parents and answering questions from tourists, were trying to grab Victor and his people while the King`s Guards were approaching without changing their course. Or the way they were throwing their bayoneted rifles to each other.
That was when it happened. The guy dressed up as Rhett Butler bumped into one of the soldiers just when he was tossing it rifle. The rifle went high in the air and it seemed everyone knew its path except Victor who had his back turned to the soldiers as he was smiling for all the cameras.
Some people gasped. Some yelled out. A little girl wailed, probably sensing the fear in the people surrounding her.
But it was dead quiet when the bayonet hit Victor. The thud when it went into his backside seemed eerily loud. And then he fell to the ground, a red stain coloring his white Elvis uit.
Everything happened at once. Kids were crying out, people were yelling in anger, the police started arresting Victor’s friends – though I noticed Rhett Butler made a daring escape. Reporters were shouting into microphones in all kinds of languages and cameras were zooming in on tears falling down children’s cheeks and blood on the street.
The King`s Guards had stopped their march and stood there as still as salt pillars. I heard sirens and saw even more police coming and then an ambulance made its way through the crowds.
And all the time Eric and I gave interviews, stating how shocked we were that Victor would do something as appalling as this. That we had heard rumors that he would be here but that we didn`t know it would be this bad. That we certainly would have alerted the police if we had known but that we couldn`t imagine anyone doing something as despicable as ruining the Children`s Parade just to market their product.
That we hoped no one would buy their product in sympathy for all the children that had had their day ruined.
I hoped we would win this war of publicity but I felt bad too. Seeing the children, seeing the fear. Yes, Victor had done this but we could have prevented it if we hadn`t wanted to hurt him so badly.
Eric and I spent hours being interviewed by reporters and also by the police. I was happy to see the Children`s Parade eventually start up again over an hour late, but could see that all the children were tired from the long delay and there was no joy in their waving the flag.
We were invited to be interviewed by both NRK and TV2, the two television stations with news programs. We divided them between us and after a hasty kiss, we went in different directions.
I came home before Eric that night and immediately went to my computer to check the comments, both from newspapers but also from social media. We had a social media surveillance that calculated how positive or negative the comments on Viking Games were and I signed in to check it.
The front door opened just as I found my answer. It was positive. Very positive. And definitely negative for Victor.
Anyone claiming that all PR is good PR was wrong, apparently, but we needed to see the sales figures before we could be sure.
I turned around and saw Eric sporting a huge grin.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I could not have planned it better.”
“How`s Victor?” I asked.
Eric frowned. “He`s at the hospital. A wound to the butt cheek, I think. Nothing serious.” Then he closed the distance between us in long strides. “I seem to remember promising to fuck you in this bunad, Sookie. Or out of it, if you prefer.”
I took a deep breath. Sex was the last thing on my mind right now. It was occupied with images of sad children, crying children, exhausted children. Apparently a couple of kids had even passed out while waiting for the parade to start up again.
Everyone was furious at Victor but I couldn`t help dwelling on the fact that we`d known what he was going to do. Not in detail but enough to know that the parade would be ruined. Actually we had hoped Victor would stop the whole parade.
Now I felt sorry for the children. And I was embarrassed.
“Not now, Eric,” I said and turned back to my computer.
Eric was quiet for a moment. Then he huffed.
“What the hell happened to the fun girl I met almost a year ago? You`ve changed, Sookie, and I don`t like it.”
And with that he walked into the kitchen. He banged the pots and pans so loudly there was no doubt what mood he was in. Frustrated.
I wanted to shout at him that he`d changed too. That the life I`d had with him would have changed anyone. That …
But I stared at the computer and suddenly I found myself checking the prices for airline tickets back to Louisiana. This was when I saw that someone had used the same airline database to buy tickets recently. And that the ticket that had been bought had been for Tallinn, Estonia.
I had no problem with Eric going to visit his child.
What I had a major problem with was the fact that he hadn`t told me about it.
This is as far as the Southern Vampire Mysteries has taken the story (if you don`t count the short stories) and though Charlaine Harris will probably publish the first chapter to the next book in this series in just a couple of weeks, Dead without a Work Permit will take a different path from now on. It only has two chapters left and they are sort of my take on the ending of the tale and will not have all the details from the upcoming books. Incorporating new books into this story is hard. I`ve done it twice since I started writing Work Permit – and I decided not to do it again with the upcoming book.
The 17th of May is a very special day in Norway and it`s hard to imagine how huge it is if you`ve never seen it in person. I especially love how children take the center stage on this amazing day.
If you want to see more of it – here is a clip of the King`s guards on the 17th of May: www . youtube watch ? v = 2-mqZXzhJgg (remove spaces). Notice how they ask ladies to dance towards the end. That`s always a tradition and plenty of women stand there just for this dance.
Here are some of the national dresses – every district has its own: www . youtube watch ? v = Hs8n-280tzg