Midnight Crossroad Page 16

He unlocked his front door in a daze and barely made it to the bedroom before he crumpled. He toed off his shoes, pulled off his blue jeans, and crawled under the blanket.

And he was out. He didn\'t think he\'d changed positions all night when he opened his eyes to find sun streaming around the edges of the bedroom curtains.

Getting up was an unexpectedly painful process. Since Manfred had never been in a serious fight before, he was not prepared for how sore he\'d be. He hadn\'t realized he should take some pain reliever, or at least soak in a hot tub, before he slept. This is what it must feel like to be old, Manfred thought, as he hobbled into the bathroom. After a hot, hot shower, two Advil, and a multivitamin, plus some toast and Coca-Cola, Manfred could walk without looking weird. But as he went to his desk, he still felt tender and achy in many places.

He gripped the back of the chair, telling himself to sit, but he stood in the middle of the floor indecisively. He felt that he should do something . . . go see Bobo, drive to the jail in Davy, call someone. But if Bobo was as uncomfortable as he was, he wouldn\'t want to be bothered by Manfred\'s dropping in, and what would he do at the jail? Yell at the men who\'d attacked him? And who should he call? His mother would just freak out.

He\'d finally resigned himself to sitting down at his computer (with a definite feeling of anticlimax), when there was a knock at the door. He hobbled over to open it. He was astonished to see that his caller was the Rev. He was just beginning to say, ’’Please come . . .’’ when the Rev began speaking himself, in his rusty voice. He put his thin mummy hand on Manfred\'s head.

’’Lord, thank you for saving this thy servant Manfred from serious harm. Thank you for his courage in defending our brother Bobo. Bless him in his endeavors and keep him in the councils of the wise.’’ The Rev walked away.

Bemused, Manfred watched the older man stride over to Midnight Pawn, presumably to bless Bobo in the same manner. He wasn\'t surprised that his cell phone began to ring, or that the caller was Fiji.

’’The Rev gave you a blessing,’’ she said. ’’I saw it out the front window. What happened last night? Because I\'m really, really tired of being left out.’’

’’You didn\'t hear me scream like a stuck pig?’’

’’No! What time was that?’’

’’A little after ten,’’ he said. ’’Bobo and I got jumped on our way home from Joe and Chuy\'s.’’

’’Is Bobo all right?’’ He couldn\'t miss the alarm in her voice.

’’Sure, though I have a broken leg and a concussion,’’ he said, and then had to listen to Fiji apologize for several seconds before he could break in to tell her he had exaggerated.

’’I do have an herbal remedy that would make you feel better,’’ she said tentatively. ’’It\'s nothing crazy. I mean, it\'s all natural.’’

So was pig shit, but Manfred refrained from saying that. ’’I\'ll give it a try,’’ he said bravely. ’’I\'ve never been in a real fight before, and it didn\'t agree with me.’’

’’Not a good part of a balanced lifestyle,’’ she said, a hint of laughter in her voice, and after a few minutes she was carrying a mug across the road, its contents steaming.

’’Drink all of this,’’ she said. ’’And if it works for you, I don\'t mind making you some more.’’

Manfred supposed you would call it tea, because it was made from steeped vegetation. The hot drink didn\'t taste good, but it wasn\'t disgusting, either. Since he didn\'t want to offend Fiji and she was standing right in his living room with her eyes on him, he sipped until it was gone. He handed Fiji the mug. Instead of thanking her and making it clear he needed to get right back to work (his original plan), he found himself sitting on the couch in the former dining room with Fiji, telling her all about the evening before. She listened with wide eyes.

’’So they said they lived in the free state of Stronghold and they actually mentioned the Men of Liberty,’’ she said when he was finished. ’’And that their two buddies had come here and never returned to this fabulous free state, which I suspect is nowhere but in their little minds?’’

’’That sums it up,’’ Manfred agreed. Fiji\'s face did not adapt to ’’grim’’ and ’’serious’’ very well, but that was how she looked. ’’Do you know anything about the two vanishing friends?’’ he asked.

’’No, I do not,’’ she said very firmly. ’’I never saw them and I don\'t know where they are now.’’ Manfred thought she was being at least partially truthful. ’’But I think it\'s very suspicious that they say they belong to the same organization of wackos that Aubrey\'s deceased husband belonged to.’’

Another knock caught them both by surprise. Manfred glanced out the peephole before he opened the door. Arthur Smith had been able to hear him walk across the creaking wooden floor, so Manfred figured he had to let him in. ’’Sheriff,’’ he said, ’’What can we do for you today? My neighbor is here, so maybe you can kill two birds with one stone.’’

’’Ms. Cavanaugh,’’ the sheriff said, ducking his head and removing his hat. ’’You doing okay today?’’

’’Yes, fine, thank you,’’ Fiji said. ’’I brought Manfred one of my herbal remedies for soreness. Manfred, are you feeling better?’’

’’I am,’’ he said, trying not to sound surprised. He shifted his shoulders experimentally and bent to touch his toes. Yes, he was actually almost pain-free.

’’The two men who attacked Mr. Bernardo and Mr. Winthrop have gotten a public defender,’’ Arthur Smith said. ’’And on the advice of their counsel, they\'re not talking to me anymore. They\'ve abandoned their Men of Liberty spiel, since I think the lawyer told them it made them sound crazier and more dangerous than just saying they jumped some guys in the alley because they thought they were being jumped themselves.’’

’’What were they doing in the alley behind the gas station, anyway? I\'m sure you asked them that.’’

’’They don\'t seem to feel they have to explain their presence,’’ Arthur Smith said dryly. ’’That\'s what the lawyer told them to say.’’

’’So . . . are they going to get out of jail?’’ Fiji looked as though Smith had told her the truth about Santa Claus.

’’They may,’’ Smith admitted. He ran a hand over his close-cropped hair. He\'d settled on a straight-backed chair opposite the couch, and he turned his hat in his hands as he sat there. ’’Of the two, only one of them has any kind of arrest record, Zane Green, and that was one incident, a bar fight. The guy he beat up didn\'t press charges.’’

’’A bar close to here?’’ Manfred asked.

’’Yeah, the Cartoon Saloon.’’

Manfred started to ask where that was, but Fiji shot him a narrow-eyed look that said, Don\'t draw attention to this by asking about it.

Instead, he said, ’’So the whole incident\'s over for now is what you\'re telling us. And you\'re not getting anywhere on Aubrey Hamilton\'s death?’’

’’I wouldn\'t say that. The coroner confirmed the body is that of Aubrey Hamilton Lowry, and her parents are claiming the body for burial when we release it.’’

Fiji looked startled, as if the concept of Aubrey\'s parents taking charge was a surprise to her. ’’Of course there\'s no reason why her parents wouldn\'t grieve, though Aubrey was . . .’’ she murmured, and then stopped abruptly. In a more public voice, Fiji said, ’’I hope they\'ll keep Bobo in the loop about the funeral plans. That would mean a lot to him.’’

The sheriff, who had gotten up to leave, looked at Fiji as if she\'d grown another head or begun talking in Urdu. ’’That\'s hardly likely,’’ Smith said. ’’They think he killed her.’’

Manfred, who had turned to Fiji, saw all the color drain from her face and then flood back. He thought she might faint, and he was glad she hadn\'t stood up.

’’He loved her,’’ Fiji faltered. ’’They can\'t think that.’’

Arthur Smith looked at her with a lot more interest. ’’Think about it, Ms. Cavanaugh. She comes here to live with him, she vanishes, her body turns up in a riverbed close by. He didn\'t report her missing right away. We might think his reasons are understandable, but the Hamiltons don\'t. He admits he didn\'t search for her. She\'s the widow of a white supremacist. You know those men Mr. Bernardo\'s attackers claim are missing? They\'re white supremacists, too. Though Green and Spratt call themselves \'patriots,\' it\'s clear they\'re in the same boat politically.’’

’’But he thought she\'d gone all on her own,’’ Fiji said stubbornly. ’’Why would he look for someone who\'d kicked him to the curb?’’

’’On the other hand, who else had reason to want her dead?’’ His eyes were intent on her face.

’’Given the company she kept . . . the, ah, associates of her husband . . .’’ But she couldn\'t say anything else without revealing information she wanted to keep quiet more importantly, information that Bobo wanted to keep quiet. She found herself on her feet, feeling a little wobbly but practically bursting with things she wished she could say.

Smith said, ’’Just because she hung out with a crowd we consider over the political edge doesn\'t mean her death was anything but personal. Or even accidental. The medical examiner\'s still looking at her.’’

Manfred said, ’’Fiji, don\'t worry, they\'ll find out who did it, and that person won\'t be Bobo. Sheriff, thanks for coming by to let me know about those guys. If you need me again, you know where I am.’’ He was all smiles and geniality as he walked Sheriff Smith to the door, but when the door closed behind him, Manfred turned to give Fiji a very grim face.

’’From the way you\'re looking at me, I screwed up,’’ she said.

’’Of course you did,’’ Manfred said. ’’You acted like you were defending your kid from a bully. Bobo\'s a grown man. He can look out for himself. The more you go on the defensive, the more Smith\'s going to think there\'s a great reason you\'re protecting Bobo.’’

Fiji muttered, ’’Aside from the fact that I\'m an idiot?’’

’’I know you\'re not. I know you\'re his good friend.’’ Out of mercy, Manfred did not say, Because you\'re clearly nuts about him. Also, he had no desire to be frozen into a statue for an indeterminate length of time.

’’So, you\'re going to the Cartoon Saloon with me, right?’’ Fiji said.

’’Wait, are we police? No, we\'re not going there.’’

’’But we have to find out more. Why didn\'t the other guy in the fight press charges?’’

’’Why? Maybe because he didn\'t want to spend time in court, or because he decided he\'d been in the wrong, too? Or maybe he just wants to wait until he can catch this Zane guy alone in an alley and get his own revenge.’’

Fiji was practically tapping her foot, waiting for him to finish speaking. ’’We have to try to find him,’’ she said, and Manfred threw up his hands.

’’Okay! Okay! But we\'re not going by ourselves.’’

’’Olivia,’’ Fiji said, and the proposed expedition suddenly became a little more interesting to Manfred.

’’You think she\'d go with us?’’

’’I think if I ask her the right way, she will,’’ Fiji said. She looked at her watch. ’’She\'s not going to be up for a while, so I\'ll try her this afternoon.’’

’’What about Lemuel? He\'s pretty, uh, capable,’’ Manfred offered.

’’He doesn\'t go out much,’’ Fiji said. ’’I mean, he only goes out at night, and most nights he\'s working in the pawnshop. Besides, he\'s too scary and no one would talk to us.’’

Manfred did not want to think about this too closely, or at all. ’’So why do you want to take Olivia?’’

Fiji\'s eyes went wide. ’’She\'s very good at finding out things,’’ she replied. ’’That\'s kind of her business. And we\'ve got to get a name.’’

’’Really? What does she do?’’ Manfred didn\'t realize he\'d gotten into forbidden territory until he saw Fiji give him a very direct look. ’’Okay, okay, I overstepped. You ask her. Let me know what she says.’’

’’I\'ll do that.’’ Fiji went to the door. ’’I hope the tea helped.’’

’’Yes, thanks,’’ he said, rotating his shoulders. ’’I\'m lots better.’’

’’Great!’’ Her smile was radiant. ’’That was Aunt Mildred\'s recipe.’’

Manfred was almost curious enough to ask what had been in it, but he was afraid to find out. He said, ’’She must have been a great witch.’’

Fiji said, ’’You have no idea.’’ She was all cheer when she left. He saw Mr. Snuggly sitting at the edge of her yard, obviously waiting for her. As Manfred watched her cross the road, he saw the sheriff coming down the steps of the pawnshop. Manfred thought of going over to see Bobo to check out what the sheriff had told him, but then he thought twice. As he\'d just pointed out to Fiji, Bobo was a grown-up, and he could handle himself.

17

Arthur Smith had found Bobo sitting in his favorite chair, but Bobo was sitting forward with his elbows on his knees, his hands covering his eyes. When he lowered them, he looked exhausted.

’’The gun we found down by the river,’’ the sheriff had said.

Bobo had nodded.

’’Came from this pawnshop, according to our records.’’

Every gun coming into the shop was entered on the computer and law enforcement had access to all such reports.

Bobo had nodded again.

The sheriff waited for more explanation, more reaction, more anything. But Bobo had only said, ’’I didn\'t kill her.’’


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