Midnight Crossroad Page 14

Especially since Creek was so wonderful.

He shook himself. This was a circular train of thought and he had work to do. Manfred put the Coca-Cola in the refrigerator, the graham crackers on the shelf that served as his pantry, and the Slim Jims he slid into the drawer of his desk as emergency rations.

His phone rang, and he picked it up. ’’Bernardo the psychic,’’ he said. ’’Yes, Anita Lynn, tell me what\'s troubling you today.’’ He settled in to listen. He noticed absently that the tree outside his east window was moving in the wind.

Across the street, that brisk wind was causing Fiji trouble. Her curly hair blew around her head like a light brown nimbus, and she couldn\'t see a thing. She was kneeling next to the rose bed that ran around the low back porch, snipping the deadheads off the bushes. This was the last time she\'d have to perform the task this year. Before long, the first frost would fall, and she\'d prune the roses down for the winter and cover the soil with pine straw or hay.

Soon, very soon, she had to start putting out her elaborate Halloween decorations. What costume should she wear this year?

She was trying to think about anything besides Aubrey Hamilton Lowry.

’’Fiji,’’ called a voice, and she was surprised, when she swiveled around and looked up, to see Bobo standing to her left. He\'d come around the side of the house. His blond hair was blowing in the wind like hers, but his eyes were surrounded by dark circles and his clothes hung as though he\'d lost ten pounds in the past two days. He looked like hell warmed over.

’’Come have a seat on the back porch,’’ she said, trying to sound easy and natural. ’’I just got a little more to go.’’ Self-consciously, she bent again to finish her task, all too aware she was presenting her posterior to his view.

’’Go get a Coke out of the refrigerator if you want one,’’ she called. ’’Or put on some coffee, if you\'d rather.’’ He was out of his apartment. He\'d come to her house. She tried not to feel an ignoble blast of jubilation.

Bobo went inside and returned with a cold drink. He didn\'t speak, so neither did Fiji, and it seemed oddly companionable, her working while he watched. The sun on her back made her feel relaxed and a little drowsy. The pile of deadheads in the bucket mounded up in a satisfying way. She kept at her task until she could not find another single one to lop off.

’’I\'m scared to ask how you\'re doing,’’ she said, heaving herself to her feet and stripping off the thick gloves. It was time for her to open her shop, but this was more important.

’’I loved her, so I miss her. She died, and I\'m sad. She lied to me, so I\'m hurt. I have enemies, so I\'m worried.’’

Fiji couldn\'t think of anything to say in the face of such honesty. She dusted off her hands before placing her clippers in the bucket along with her gloves. Setting the bucket aside to deal with later, she went in to pour some iced tea and came out to sit beside Bobo. She felt ridiculous, suddenly, that when she\'d seen the gun, she\'d had a split second where she\'d believed it was possible Bobo had killed Aubrey.

But he had not told her everything. She wasn\'t in doubt about that.

’’You better tell me about the enemies part,’’ she said. She\'d brought some Keebler chocolate chip cookies, and she put them on the little table between their chairs. She didn\'t care if it was nine in the morning, they were Bobo\'s favorites. Absently, Bobo took one and ate it in two bites. Then another. She wondered how long it had been since he had something to eat.

’’My grandfather owned a lot of businesses,’’ he said. He stared across Fiji\'s well-planted backyard. Mr. Snuggly stared back, but Bobo\'s gaze didn\'t see anything closer than a thousand yards away. ’’Best of all, when I was a kid, was the sporting goods store. Before the big box stores opened in Little Rock, people would drive for miles to see it. It was really big.’’ A ghost of a smile passed across Bobo\'s face. ’’He also had a lumberyard and a construction company. He was silent partner in some other stuff. I was in and out of his and Gram\'s house my whole life. My dad worked for him. This was in Shakespeare, Arkansas.’’ He smiled at her. ’’Big fish, small pond.’’

Fiji\'s family had never been big in any size pond.

’’So I thought I was hot stuff, all the way through high school and into college. But I also came to realize it took me long enough, I was so dumb that my grandfather\'s political and social views were right up there with Hitler\'s.’’

Whatever she\'d expected, that hadn\'t been it. ’’Really that extreme?’’

He nodded. ’’Really. He would have joined something like Men of Liberty if none of his old golf buddies would have found out. I loved the old guy;since I was the oldest grandchild, oldest grandson, he made a lot of me. When he was still physically able, he took me out shooting and hunting, introduced me to lots of his cronies, encouraged me to make friends with their grandkids . . .’’

’’What did you think of that?’’

’’I never questioned it.’’ Bobo laughed, but not happily. ’’It just seemed natural to me. He would tell me why we shouldn\'t let black people of course, that wasn\'t what he called them live in the same buildings with us, date us, intermarry with us. He never got over integration, for God\'s sake. He was still pissed that black people could eat in the same restaurant as him and Gram, go to school with me and my brother and my sisters. He practically screamed at Mom and Dad to get them to send us to some private school in Little Rock or even farther, maybe Memphis, but to give my parents the credit they\'re due, they wanted us in town with them.’’

’’Good for your mom and dad. You didn\'t buy what your grandfather was selling?’’ Fiji asked. She was painfully conscious that she must not cross any number of lines. ’’How did you keep from being totally messed up?’’

’’I\'ll tell you something weird. Football and karate saved me. Football, because we were all one team and we were all colors.’’

’’Karate?’’ Fiji said. ’’Really?’’

Bobo actually laughed. ’’It was great. My sensei was this amazing Asian guy who could kick major butt before breakfast, and one of my favorite class buddies was a black guy named Raphael Roundtree. And a white woman named Lily Bard. She could knock me down with her little finger. My grandfather revered women as long as they were dependent and decorative.’’

’’So your class was a revelation to you.’’ She used the extravagant word with some hesitance. But Bobo hopped on it with glee.

’’Yeah. No one in the class thought about what color or se* they were. Gaining the knowledge was the thing. So I knew from karate and football and my own common sense that there were just as many nice black people or Jews or g*y people or whatever as the white people my grandfather thought were all so wonderful.’’ Revisited resentment made Bobo\'s face look curiously young again.

’’I\'m assuming your grandfather didn\'t have a good end.’’

Bobo sighed. ’’When he was well into his eighties, he began using the like-minded employees who worked in his sporting goods store to start stockpiling guns illegally. He was siphoning them from the stock. But my dad . . .’’ And here, for the first time, Bobo faltered.

Fiji waited patiently.

’’My father suspected his dad was up to no good. He hired a private detective to work in the sporting goods store, keeping watch and digging stuff up. The guy\'s name was Jack Leeds. Jack couldn\'t stop them from bombing a black church. People died. A child. Other people.’’ Bobo took a deep breath, almost a sob. ’’One night I can\'t remember how the men working for my grandfather found out that Jack was working undercover, but they didn\'t know who he worked for. They thought it might be the government, and as you might expect, they went a little nuts. They really hurt him.’’ Another deep breath. ’’They tortured him. Right in front of me. My grandfather made me go with him. I was too young to say no and call the cops. I was too scared and weak.’’ Bobo\'s voice was full of scorn for his younger self. ’’I was looking for a way out when Jack\'s girlfriend came to rescue him. She was the great fighter from my karate class.’’

That was a lot to figure out, and Fiji wasn\'t totally sure she had the story straight, but she put that behind her to puzzle over later. ’’So she rescued Jack?’’ Fiji liked that part.

’’Yeah. I\'m simplifying, but she did. And I just carried my grandfather out of there. He was cursing up a storm, but I couldn\'t let him stay there and keep on . . . being evil.’’

’’What happened?’’

’’All the men involved got arrested, including my grandfather.’’

’’That\'s terrible.’’ While Fiji\'s family had never been rich or influential, none of them had been arrested. Oh my gosh, I pick jail terms to be snobbish about? she thought. She said, ’’What happened after that?’’

’’While my grandfather was out on bail, he had a stroke. He never had to go to jail. But he never spoke again, and he died within three months. All the other men who were charged got prison sentences;the ones who set off the bomb in the church got life with no parole.’’

’’Which was right,’’ Fiji said. ’’Those sentences.’’ She stared at Bobo\'s face. She couldn\'t discern how he felt about these events.

’’Which was right,’’ Bobo agreed. ’’Which was what Grandfather deserved, too. But he dodged that, like he dodged all the responsibility for what he\'d done, by having the stroke.’’

Fiji found it easy to decipher her friend\'s emotion now;he was bitter.

’’The point of this story is that after the stroke, supremacist groups began to circulate the rumor that Grandfather had a huge secret cache of all kinds of wonderful weapons. And the rumor turned into a legend, which then became accepted as fact. I\'ve visited some of the websites, from organizations like Men of Liberty to After the Apocalypse, and it\'s just horrible, the way the story gathered bulk and momentum on its way downhill.’’

’’So why do they the nutcases think you know about the location of this fabulous treasure trove of weapons? I suppose this was why Aubrey was here?’’

Bobo looked as though he\'d swallowed something bitter. ’’Since it was my dad who blew the whistle on his father, the nutcases cast him as the villain. They figure my grandfather would have been too smart to tell his evil son where the arms were stowed, they say. Instead, since I was with Grandfather the evening everything fell apart, obviously I was the chosen successor. So I must know where the cache of guns is. Only now it\'s not just guns, it\'s rocket launchers, grenades, mines . . . whatever can kill lots of people at once, that\'s what I\'m concealing. That\'s the story.’’

’’And why would you be concealing all of these weapons of destruction? Rather than putting them to good use against minorities?’’

’’That\'s a good question. I\'m not sure I know why I\'m doing that.’’ Bobo smiled wryly.

’’Is this the first time? I mean, with Aubrey . . . is this the first time you\'ve been approached?’’ She didn\'t know how else to put it.

’’No. There were some guys in the pawnshop a few days ago.’’

’’So what happened?’’

Bobo looked at her, obviously torn.

She came very close to leaning over to put her hand on his, but in the end she said, ’’I\'ll keep it to my grave.’’

Bobo said, ’’Lemuel and Olivia happened.’’

Fiji\'s mouth opened to ask a question, but then the implication had had time to sink in and explain itself. ’’Good for them,’’ she said faintly. Mr. Snuggly butted her leg, and she reached down to scratch his head. The cat\'s golden eyes looked up at her. If cats had expressions, Mr. Snuggly\'s would be saying, ’’Buck up! Hang tough!’’

She smiled down at the cat. ’’I\'m glad they were there for you,’’ she said.

He smiled, too, but his was not nearly as certain. ’’I was ready to take a beating,’’ he admitted. ’’But I was mighty relieved I didn\'t have to.’’

’’Olivia recognized the gun.’’

Bobo knew what she meant the minute the words left her mouth. ’’Feej, I don\'t have any idea how that old Colt got out there. I did take it out target shooting, because I\'d never fired a gun like that, but I brought it back to the shop. Maybe I didn\'t lock it back into the case? Maybe I left it in the truck? But I know you know I didn\'t kill Aubrey.’’

’’I do know that,’’ Fiji said steadily. She suppressed the awful split second of doubt she\'d experienced. ’’And Olivia knows that, too.’’

’’Even if Lemuel thought I\'d killed her, he\'d back me,’’ said Bobo, not as if he exactly approved of that.

Fiji now had had time to think of a hundred questions about Olivia and Lemuel and their landlord protection program, but she kept them to herself. It was not the time;just as it wasn\'t the time for her strongest impulse, leading Bobo to her bedroom so she could distract him from all these worries. It was too soon, he was still struggling with his conflicting feelings about Aubrey . . . that was what she told herself.

But really, she didn\'t do it because she feared he would say no.

16

In the days that followed the first and only Annual Picnic, the residents of Midnight resumed trundling along their accustomed paths and pursuits, though they all (except Grady, Rasta, and possibly Mr. Snuggly) felt they were operating under a cloud. Manfred certainly felt that way, and when he looked at the faces of the other townspeople, he could read that in their faces, too.

Bobo opened Midnight Pawn on Thursday morning. It was garbage pickup day, and he wheeled his garbage can to the curb along with Olivia\'s, which Lemuel shared. Bobo took the time to gather all the newspapers that had collected in his driveway. Manfred watched through his front window as his landlord resumed his life, and he was glad.


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