Midnight Crossroad Page 19

Both men turned to the front door as it flew open.

Fiji came in, skidding to an abrupt stop when she realized both men were sitting calmly. ’’Oh!’’ she said. ’’Ummm, I saw your car outside, Sheriff . . . and I wondered if everything was okay over here.’’

’’As far as I\'m concerned,’’ Smith said mildly. ’’How do you feel, Mr. Winthrop?’’

’’Call me Bobo. I\'m feeling okay, the way things are now,’’ Bobo agreed. He smiled at Fiji, who\'d been all wound up to attack and now was floundering to deal with the rush of adrenaline. ’’You\'re so great to come to my rescue, Feej. I have the best neighbors.’’

’’We feel the same way about you,’’ she said, almost at random. She\'d caught her breath, and now she drew herself up with some dignity. ’’Okay, you obviously don\'t need me, so I\'ll get back to work.’’

’’Hey, let\'s go to the diner tonight,’’ Bobo suggested out of an obscure sense of obligation. He was relieved when Fiji nodded and spun around to leave, her long skirt swirling around her legs as she pushed out the front door. A gust of wind turned her curly hair into a tornado around her head. She\'s a woman full of movement, he thought.

’’Monday. It\'s not open,’’ she said over her shoulder.

’’Then we\'ll go to the Barbecue Shanty in Davy.’’

’’Okay, come by when you\'re ready to eat,’’ she called over her shoulder. She obviously wanted to say more, but she bit down on the words.

’’Thanks,’’ Bobo called, loud enough for her to hear as the door swung closed behind her. ’’And that\'s why I live here,’’ he told the sheriff.

’’Because everyone loves you?’’

’’Oh, I don\'t think that\'s true at all,’’ Bobo said. ’’But we do help each other out.’’

’’To the extent that one of your buddies might kill Aubrey Lowry if they discovered that she was exploiting you?’’

Bobo looked stunned. ’’No, of course not! That\'s so drastic. Besides, no one knew Aubrey\'s background until you told us.’’

Smith looked skeptical, but he didn\'t press his question. ’’What was Aubrey like? Did she ever express any extreme political views to you?’’

Bobo resigned himself to a painful conversation. ’’Aubrey was . . . she loved the outdoors. She loved shopping on the Internet. She liked cowboy boots and blue jeans, and she was a barrel rider in her teens. She grew up on a ranch. At least that was what she told me. Was that true?’’

Smith nodded. ’’True.’’

Bobo looked away for a moment. ’’Okay, good. Of course, she also talked about her dead parents, and you tell me they\'re alive. She told me a lot about her nonexistent sister, not a word about the brother you said she actually has. Had. But she never discussed politics. Never said anything extremely right-wing. That would have been a red flag, for sure.’’

Bobo climbed off the stool and opened a little refrigerator on the floor behind the counter. He asked Arthur Smith if he wanted a Coca-Cola, and Smith said, ’’No, thanks.’’

After Bobo got back on his stool and popped the tab on his drink, he said, ’’I\'m assuming you know all about my grandfather.’’

Sheriff Smith didn\'t answer. He\'d taken off his hat and was twirling it slowly, his fingers working their way around the brim.

’’So you do,’’ Bobo said, nodding gently. ’’Well, I\'ve definitely swung the other way. I\'m pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-whales and tuna and wolves and every damn thing you can think of.’’ He put the mended brooch back in the case in front of him and regarded the other man very seriously. ’’If there\'s anything in my life I wish I could erase, that time I spent listening to my grandfather spitting out hate would be what I\'d pick.’’

The sheriff looked down at his hat as he said, ’’You know it\'s all over the Internet hate groups that you have some fabulous cache of guns and grenades and rocket launchers hidden away somewhere. That you can\'t get rid of \'em and you can\'t destroy \'em, so you\'ve hidden them. And all those hate groups feel that you owe them that cache, because of your grandfather\'s martyr status.’’

’’His legend is bigger than he was,’’ Bobo said, with a kind of sad anger. ’’I can\'t show you any such treasure cave.’’ He sighed. ’’I can\'t imagine why they think I\'d hold on to such a stockpile.’’

Arthur Smith stood. He was not a tall man, but he was a serious man, and his presence was large. ’’All right, Bobo. You take care. I\'m sorry we had to search your place.’’

Bobo shrugged, in an unhappy way. ’’That\'s okay. I know you had to do it. Her parents have all her stuff?’’ Two days ago, two deputies had shown up with a warrant to remove Aubrey\'s belongings. Since they\'d all been boxed up and in the pawnshop storage closet, that had been quick enough;but they\'d had to comb Bobo\'s apartment in case he\'d forgotten anything.

’’Yeah, they\'ve filled out the paperwork. There wasn\'t anything you wanted?’’

’’Nah. I\'ve got pictures and memories, and none of her stuff ever belonged to me in any sense. She didn\'t bring any furniture or appliances, other than the toaster and the air filter and her grandmother\'s sewing machine. I made sure that went with the other stuff.’’

’’Okay, then. I\'ll be in touch.’’

’’Thanks. Do you know when the funeral will be?’’

’’Her parents don\'t really want you to know, and they don\'t want you there. I don\'t know any nice way to tell you that.’’

Bobo felt like he was shrinking moment by moment. Everything of hers was gone. They\'d take her memories from him if they could. He wasn\'t a person who\'d cared about Aubrey, not to them. He was the person who\'d ended her life. He shook his head to dispel the sensation. ’’Well, I won\'t try to go since they don\'t want me,’’ he said. ’’But . . . they know I\'ve got an alibi that held up, right?’’

’’I made sure they knew,’’ the sheriff said. He seemed sympathetic. ’’Their good sense hasn\'t caught up with their grief and anger.’’

Bobo nodded. He could understand that. ’’Okay, then. I hope you find out who did this.’’ He didn\'t think he\'d really breathe deeply again until Aubrey\'s murderer was caught and imprisoned.

Arthur Smith concentrated on his hat brim. ’’For what it\'s worth, I believe you. But I have to investigate, and I have to be impartial, and I have to evaluate the evidence on its own. So far, the evidence says you\'re telling the truth. But if anything I find contradicts that, I\'m going to come down on you like a ton of bricks.’’

’’And I\'d expect that. Hey, we\'re bonding.’’ Bobo smiled.

The sheriff smiled back, albeit reluctantly. ’’You people who live in Midnight. You\'re all marching to the beat of a different drummer.’’ Hat back on his head and tugged into position, he half turned, ready to leave.

Bobo smiled more broadly. ’’You hit the nail on the head. We are different, Arthur Smith. I\'m the most average person you\'ll meet here.’’ The smile faded.

The sheriff thought of another question. ’’And now I\'ve got to go bother some of your neighbors. Is Olivia Charity around? I understand she has an apartment below the store?’’

Bobo said, ’’Yeah. You can see if she\'s awake, but please knock softly on the door marked B. The guy who rents A works nights, so he sleeps days. That\'s why he wasn\'t on the picnic.’’

’’Lemuel Bridger? I haven\'t met him yet. I definitely need to talk to him. I\'m interviewing everyone who knew her. I guess that would naturally include him since he lived in the same building.’’

’’Yes, he knew Aubrey, though I don\'t think he knew her well. But you\'ll have to wait until it\'s dark. He really can\'t wake up when he\'s deep asleep.’’

Sheriff Smith looked at Bobo, a little skeptically. ’’Even if I pound on his door, he won\'t wake up?’’

’’You really don\'t want to do that,’’ said Olivia, and the sheriff jumped.

She\'d come into the pawnshop from the door that led onto the landing. Her feet were bare, and the rest of her was swathed in a pair of blue fuzzy pajamas decorated with sheep. ’’I\'d be glad to talk to you right now, Sheriff. Did you want to come down to my place? I\'m sure Bobo\'s got things to do.’’

’’That\'d be fine.’’ The sheriff followed her to the door to the stairs. He turned before he went through it. ’’Oh, Bobo? One more thing you ought to know. Aubrey\'s brother, Macon. He\'s pretty upset about Aubrey. If you meet him, watch out.’’

After the door had closed, Bobo said, ’’Thanks, Sheriff. \'Hey, Bobo, there\'s this guy who wants to kill you because he thinks you killed his sister. So you watch your step, now!\'’’

Bobo got off the stool. The sheriff had left the velvet chair facing the counter, so Bobo turned it to face the street door, its proper position. He retrieved a Craig Johnson novel from a nearby piecrust table and settled down to read, the Coca-Cola on a coaster on the table beside him. Somehow, his conversation with Arthur Smith had cleared his mind. He was officially not a suspect. He was not going to be arrested for murder. On the other hand, the publicity about Aubrey\'s death had resurrected all the gossip about his grandfather, and Aubrey\'s family hated him, including Aubrey\'s unknown brother.

’’Two steps forward, one step back,’’ Bobo muttered out loud. He glanced up just as a car paused at the stoplight outside, and he smiled as he remembered Fiji dashing to his rescue. It would be nice to go to dinner with her tonight, resume his normal life.

Not his old normal in which the woman he loved had left him because he\'d done something awful that he couldn\'t fathom, the old normal in which he waited to hear from her every day.

It would be the new normal;the world in which Aubrey had never loved him, had told him many lies, and had vanished through violence.

21

The next night, at the diner, the Rev preached after his dinner. He finished his food, patted his lips with his paper napkin, and stood up, turning to face the round table.

In a surprisingly deep, sonorous voice, he began to give them the Word as he interpreted it. Bobo put down his fork and folded his arms across his chest, prepared to listen. Olivia looked down at her plate regretfully and followed suit. On her left, Manfred was just beginning to cut his meat, but Olivia laid a hand on his arm. ’’Nope,’’ she whispered, not turning her gaze away from the Rev. ’’Respect.’’

Another mysterious Midnight rule. Manfred resigned himself to waiting until the Rev was through, but he was peeved. He\'d come in late, and he\'d just gotten served sadly, not by Creek, but by Madonna. His food was hot and smelled delicious, but here he sat, still and hungry.

As he listened, Manfred became interested despite himself. This was not the fire-and-brimstone message he\'d been expecting, but an elaborate explanation that began with the Garden of Eden, detailing how God had created creatures that combined the features of animals and man, the were-creatures so feared today. The Rev believed that key verses had been deleted from the Bible so that bad men could repress the were-creatures, so that they would be humbled away from their pride in their superiority. The Rev believed that men only had power over the two-natured because of their vast numbers and their willingness to kill what they didn\'t understand.

It was confusing but fascinating, even though Manfred\'s mouth was still watering over the baked chicken and green beans with new potatoes that were cooling on his plate. The Rev certainly knew his Bible, and he knew a lot of extra scripture besides, verses that had been ’’left out.’’ Manfred now heard a few of those verses. ’’I\'m amazed at how convincing that sounds,’’ he whispered to Joe on his left. To Manfred\'s embarrassment and surprise, Joe seemed offended at his skepticism. Again, Manfred was at a loss.

For five more minutes the Rev rambled, and even Madonna stood behind the counter at attention during the impromptu sermon. Abruptly, the small man came to the end of what he had to say, and he concluded with ’’Amen!’’ His congregation echoed the word with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The Rev gave a decided nod, as if he were satisfied with the response. Then he stalked from the diner, his hat firmly planted on his head, his back straight as a ramrod.

’’How often does he do that?’’ Manfred asked, hoping it was okay to inquire.

’’Not often. Usually means he\'s worried about something,’’ Joe said. ’’I didn\'t mean to go all righteous on you, but the Rev believes what he says, and we go along with him. You don\'t want to upset him.’’

Manfred said, ’’Of course I don\'t want to be rude to him . . . but you sound almost scared.’’

’’You would be, too, if you ever saw him angry,’’ Joe said, and then firmly turned the conversation in another direction. ’’Bobo, I saw the sheriff\'s car at your place yesterday. Everything okay?’’

’’The sheriff said they\'re satisfied with my alibi. Apparently, I\'m in the clear.’’ Bobo didn\'t look particularly happy, though. ’’And here\'s another thing,’’ he said. ’’The gun, the one they found? It was from the shop, which I knew when they held it up. That day we found her.’’

Everyone around the table froze for a moment. But Manfred got the distinct impression this was not news to several of the people at the table.

’’But Smith said she wasn\'t shot,’’ Bobo added.

Manfred said, ’’Great, man. Congratulations.’’ Then he realized that this was not the happiest wording, and he ate another bite of chicken. This is one of those nights I wish I\'d stayed at home and opened a can of soup, he thought.


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