Midnight Crossroad Page 12

’’He was depressed?’’ Sheriff Smith asked, clearly having a hard time imagining that. Then his cell phone rang, and he got it out of his pocket.

’’Yes?’’ he said impatiently. He listened to whatever the caller was saying. Then Smith said, ’’That\'s really interesting. Thanks.’’ He hung up.

’’Bobo was depressed,’’ Fiji told him again, determined to make her point. ’’He was really devoted to Aubrey.’’

’’That\'s interesting,’’ Smith said. ’’Since she didn\'t exist.’’

11

Bobo looked over to see that Fiji was staring at Sheriff Smith as though he\'d informed her the earth was made of pie crust. He could just hear her speak. ’’How can you say that?’’ she asked, and Olivia joined her. The sheriff looked at Olivia, like every man did, but Olivia stood in front of him with her arms crossed over her middle, her face intent. ’’Let\'s hear about this,’’ Olivia said.

’’Mr. Winthrop,’’ the sheriff called, and Bobo walked over, his feet reluctant to go in the direction he had to. He could tell this was going to be a bad conversation, as if anything could make this day worse.

’’Fiji?’’ he said, when he\'d gotten to her. ’’What\'s the matter?’’ Fiji didn\'t speak, but she didn\'t leave, and neither did Olivia. Bobo thought the sheriff looked as though he\'d like to ask them to.

’’I just heard from one of my deputies,’’ Smith said, looking directly at Bobo. ’’What did Aubrey Hamilton tell you about her background?’’

Whatever Bobo had expected, it wasn\'t this. ’’What do you mean?’’ he said, floundering around in his thoughts to make sense of Smith\'s question. His head felt thick as cotton wool, his grief making him slow and stupid. ’’She was working in Davy when I met her. She was a waitress at the Lone Star Steakhouse.’’

’’What did she tell you about her background?’’

That was definitely an ominous turn of phrase, but Bobo said, ’’She told me her parents were dead and that her sister had thrown Aubrey out of the house when she\'d turned eighteen . . . and she\'d been fending for herself since then.’’

’’That\'s what she had told her coworkers at the steakhouse, too. We talked to them briefly when you reported her missing. However, one of my deputies looked a little deeper after we got the call to come out here, since she\'s the only missing person on our books. None of that is true.’’

Bobo felt the shock clear down to his bones. ’’What are you saying?’’ Bobo asked. He looked at Fiji, whose face was locked down tight, for some enlightenment.

Fiji said, ’’Sheriff, are you saying that Aubrey kind of made herself up?’’

’’That\'s right. Her name was Aubrey Hamilton, right enough,’’ Arthur Smith said. ’’But she\'s got living parents. She\'s got no sister. She does have a brother. And she\'s been married before.’’

’’But I knew her,’’ Bobo said, feeling that if he said it often enough, it would erase what the sheriff was saying. ’’I saw her driver\'s license. I met her by chance . . .’’ And then he remembered the two men who\'d come into the pawnshop. He began to let a new idea sink into his brain. ’’I thought I knew her.’’

’’How did you make her acquaintance?’’ the sheriff asked.

’’I love the Lone Star Steakhouse,’’ Bobo said. ’’I go there at least once every two, three weeks to have steak. I met her there.’’

Olivia\'s face flushed red with anger. ’’Son of a f**king bitch,’’ she snarled, and stomped away.

Bobo watched as the other townspeople gathered around her, and Olivia began to talk, her hands flying upward from time to time in outrage.

’’Olivia has no problem at all believing that Aubrey was a liar,’’ Bobo murmured, the enormity of this revelation about the woman he\'d loved beginning to sink in.

’’I don\'t, either,’’ said Fiji, almost in a whisper. She put her arm around him, awkwardly, and he could see the unhappiness in her, the unhappiness she felt on his behalf.

The rest of the Midnighters had clustered around Olivia. Even Madonna, who\'d been glowering at the crowd while she sat in the pickup with the door open, came closer with Grady in her arms.

Smith gave a loud, exasperated sigh. Bobo figured he hadn\'t planned on telling the whole community at once, or this early. But the sheriff must have decided to make the best of the situation, since he raised his voice to a public announcement level. ’’I might as well tell all of you at the same time. Aubrey Hamilton was not the woman she said she was. More accurately, she was Aubrey Hamilton Lowry.’’

The people of Midnight moved closer to Smith, Bobo, and Fiji. Bobo saw that they were all tense and angry, and if he\'d had room for any other emotion, he would have felt touched.

’’Married?’’ The Rev looked as though the word had been torn from his throat. He looked even sterner than usual.

’’Formerly married,’’ the sheriff said. ’’Though she told them at the steakhouse that she\'d gotten divorced and was in the process of changing all her legal papers back over to her maiden name. In fact, her husband, Chad Lowry, was shot and killed by police officers in Phoenix, Arizona.’’

’’Shot? Doing what?’’ Teacher asked.

’’Robbing a bank.’’

’’He was a career criminal?’’ Bobo said. He almost hoped that would be the case.

’’Not exactly,’’ the sheriff said. ’’He was a member of a white supremacist group, Men of Liberty. MOL is based in Arizona, but it has branches in all the southwestern states, including Texas.’’

’’No,’’ said Bobo. He turned to face Olivia Charity. ’’It\'s all part of the same thing,’’ he said.

’’What is?’’ Olivia said. But she narrowed her eyes at Bobo, who caught that warning a second later.

’’It\'s all part of her pattern of deceiving me,’’ Bobo said, making a good recovery. ’’I was a fool to think she loved me.’’

That made everyone acutely uncomfortable, and they all looked away. All but Fiji. He looked down into her eyes and saw nothing but steadfastness. ’’I was a fool,’’ he repeated softly.

’’Never,’’ Fiji replied. ’’She was the fool.’’

There was a shout from down the slope, and they all turned to look in that direction. A deputy came up, a woman, her black hair pulled back into a tight bun. She was carrying a plastic bag. In it was an old gun. Smith went over to her and held it up to have a good look.

They all stood silent. Bobo didn\'t know what anyone else was thinking, but he was back in that land where unpleasant revelations were the norm. He hadn\'t lived there in a while, and he hadn\'t wanted to return, ever.

Olivia was standing right behind him, he could see from the corner of his eye. She was looking at the gun. ’’I know that piece,’’ she said, making sure her voice was low, but of course, Fiji heard her.

’’From where?’’ she asked, equally quietly.

Bobo wanted to tell the truth, if only to Fiji. ’’It was in the shop,’’ he said. ’’It\'s been there for years.’’

The sheriff told them they could go home. ’’We\'ll come to talk to you individually later,’’ he said. ’’Don\'t leave town until one of us has interviewed you.’’

The trek back to Midnight seemed twice as long as the hike to the river. In silence, they straggled back to town, not talking, lost in their own thoughts. Bobo walked alone, not able to bear the company of anyone else, not even his closest friend, Fiji. When they got to the pawnshop, Bobo had already gotten the keys from his pocket, and he went in the side door and up to his apartment without a word.

12

Creek and Connor went directly to Gas N Go. Creek had begun crying on the way back to Midnight, and her brother had put his arm around her. He had looked almost proud, Fiji thought, at being the one who was standing up to adversity. She hadn\'t known Creek had ever talked to Aubrey, but maybe it was the sudden face-to-face encounter with death that had shaken the normally serene Creek.

’’The rest of you, come to the diner,’’ Madonna said from the window of her truck. ’’We got to eat this food, might as well do it there.’’ Fiji went over to Home Cookin with the rest of them, since she couldn\'t think of anything better to do. She wasn\'t ready to be alone yet. The sight of the horrible remains of Aubrey Hamilton Aubrey Lowry were still too much in the forefront of her mind.

Functioning on autopilot, Fiji helped unload the truck and spread out the food on the diner counter as it had been on the table at the riverside. Everyone filled a plate and found a place at the round table, including the Rev. The need to huddle together for comfort affected even the minister. He hadn\'t spoken since Fiji had made her discovery, but now, as the last person sat down, he raised his right hand. They all fell silent.

’’In the name of the God who made all of us, man and beast, bless this food and those who prepared it. Bless the soul of our departed sister, Aubrey. Despite her shortcomings, may she rest in peace. May we see her at the last rising and greet her with joy. Amen.’’

’’Amen.’’ The response was ragged, but it seemed to satisfy the Rev.

For all of half a minute, Fiji felt ashamed of her earlier rage against the dead woman. But when she recalled the look on Bobo\'s face as he\'d discovered Aubrey\'s true identity, the rage surged back. She looked down at her plate, suddenly realizing she was hungry. Everyone at the table seemed to experience the same appetite. There wasn\'t much conversation, but there was some serious food consumption.

After all of them had finished, they divided the remaining food. Fiji, walking home with a take-out container, found her thoughts scurrying around in her head like hamsters in a cage. She wondered if she could use witchcraft to help Bobo. She wondered how long Aubrey\'s body had lain down by the river. She wondered who had killed her and how it had been done. She imagined, somewhat vaguely, a séance conducted by Manfred, the ghost of Aubrey appearing in the darkened room. What would Aubrey say from beyond the grave? Fiji tried to remember a single memorable thing Aubrey had said when she was alive . . . and couldn\'t come up with an instance. And the gun . . . how had it found its way to the river from Midnight Pawn? Fiji knew that if Bobo had used it to kill Aubrey, he would not have left it for anyone to find. Bobo was dumb about people, but he was smart about things.

Mr. Snuggly was waiting for her, curled up picturesquely at the foot of the birdbath. He rose and stretched in the sunlight as she approached.

’’Oh, for goodness\' sake,’’ she snapped. ’’Stop being so damn cute.’’

The cat looked up at her with golden eyes, his brushy tail adorably wrapped around his pristine paws.

’’Yeah, right, it\'s your second nature,’’ she said, and the cat walked beside her to the front door. As she unlocked it, she said, ’’Wait till you find out what you missed today, Mr. Snuggly. And Rasta was there for it.’’ Mr. Snuggly gave her a contemptuous cat look and went to sit in front of his food bowl.

Fiji got some kibble and dumped it in.

13

Most of the Midnighters were wakeful during the dark hours that night.

Bobo sat in his apartment over the pawnshop, all the lights off, looking north out the rear windows at the moon glowing over the land leading to the Río Roca Fría, where Aubrey had lain decomposing for two months. He hadn\'t eaten anything, though Manfred had dropped off some food. He hadn\'t had anything to drink, either, though he\'d thought about having a traditional drinking bout.

Bobo was alternating between feeling some kind of comfort and a lot of grief. At least Aubrey hadn\'t left him voluntarily. That knowledge relieved some ache deep inside him. However, he was sure that Aubrey had met with a fate more lurid than a snakebite or an accidental fall, especially since he\'d seen the gun. Whether or not she\'d been shot, something terrible had happened to Aubrey, and someone else had had a hand in that terrible something.

When Bobo could think of anything besides his horror that a woman he\'d loved had died by violence and lain in the open for weeks, and his grief over her permanent loss, he brooded over the revelation that Aubrey had ties to Men of Liberty. He wondered if Aubrey had truly cared for him. Ever.

After a while, he moved to look out the front window, looking over the crossroads that had established Midnight. He saw lights come off and on all night as the residents of the town got up, sat for a while, returned to their beds.

Bobo felt lonelier than he\'d ever been in his life. He hadn\'t talked to his parents in a year, maybe longer, but he thought of calling his sister or his brother. In the end, he didn\'t pick up his phone.

14

The next day everything in Midnight should have resumed its pace.

Granted, that wasn\'t a very brisk pace, but everyone\'s business should have been open. Fiji opened the Inquiring Mind right on time, but she watched out her front window anxiously to see if the Midnight Pawn CLOSED sign would flip over to OPEN.

The pawnshop never opened that Tuesday, though. The CLOSED sign stayed up all day.

When she walked down to Gas N Go to get some milk, Fiji discovered Shawn Lovell was having a banner day. Some of the law enforcement officers were stopping in to top up their vehicles with gas and to get cold water and snacks. When Fiji went to the counter with her purchase, Creek was working the cash register while Shawn ran the credit cards and stocked the shelves.

’’Connor at school?’’ Fiji asked Creek.

’’Yeah, he needs to be busy, and he doesn\'t need to miss any classes,’’ the girl said. ’’For once, we could use him here.’’

’’Hey, Fiji,’’ called Shawn. ’’You doing okay after yesterday?’’

’’Yeah. At least you\'re doing good, huh?’’

Shawn shrugged as he tucked some more bags of peanuts into a clip-type dispenser. ’’I guess so.’’ He didn\'t seem happy about this rush of business. He seemed exhausted and worried. ’’Be better when Connor gets here. It\'s almost time for the bus.’’


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