Midnight Crossroad Page 21

Eggleston had looked at him sharply and with some contempt. ’’All right, then,’’ he\'d said, clearly angry, and he\'d accepted the low price Bobo had offered. The more Bobo thought of the conversation, the more clearly he could recall Eggleston. The man had been tall and tan, his face broad across the cheeks and narrow at the chin. Cowboy boots, jeans, western shirt. He\'d been wearing a ball cap, not a western hat.

Bobo felt as though he should tell someone about Eggleston\'s visit, but he couldn\'t think why, when he got right down to it. Since he was alone in the shop, he sat at the computer and Googled ’’Price Eggleston.’’

After five minutes of reading, Bobo was pretty happy that the man\'s ’’hunting lodge’’ had burned down. He was only theoretically sorry that Eggleston hadn\'t burned along with it.

A couple came in to see if there were any old wedding rings that might work for them, and for half an hour Bobo was busy taking out the cases of rings (some of them had been sitting in the worn velvet slots for longer than he\'d been alive) and showing them to the middle-aged couple, who seemed charmed by the assortment. They actually bought silver bands, and he entered the sale carefully. He was glad to see them smile at each other as they left the pawnshop.

Bobo had plenty to think about when he was alone once more. He reviewed his memory of Price Eggleston\'s visit to the shop. In hindsight, Bobo became convinced that the man had wanted a look at him. He was sure that Eggleston had deliberately tried to provoke a discussion about firearms, perhaps to see if Bobo actually liked guns, was adept in their care and maintenance.

Or maybe, to have a legitimate reason to meet Bobo, Eggleston had grabbed the nearest object someone might be likely to take to a pawnshop.

Bobo had to abandon this rearview reassessment when the bell over the door rang. An old, old woman came in. She moved oddly, and something about her made the hairs on Bobo\'s arms tingle, and not in a pleasant way. This was surely one of Lemuel\'s customers. She sidled through the shelves and the furniture as if she wasn\'t able to walk in a straight line, and her stringy long hair, which was as many shades of gray as a cloudy sky, slid around her face.

’’Are you the current proprietor of this establishment?’’ she asked, rolling the words around in her mouth as if she were pleased to be saying them, glad to exhibit a skill she didn\'t often exercise.

’’I am,’’ Bobo said. Perhaps Olivia might come up? She knew more about the night customers than Bobo did. But then he recalled he\'d seen her getting into her car from his apartment window, right after he\'d gotten out of bed, and he realized she\'d been leaving for the airport.

Well . . . okay. He could handle one old woman, even if she did give him the creeps. Wasn\'t he tired of being rescued all the time? No, he decided as she grew closer and he could see her more clearly. No, I\'m not. I\'d love it if someone else came in right now. Fiji, Manfred, Chuy, Connor, anybody.

’’I\'m sure you are wondering who I am and why I\'ve come to patronize your store,’’ she crooned.

’’Yes,’’ he said. That was all he could manage.

’’I mean you no harm,’’ she said unconvincingly. ’’I understand that you are a friend of Lemuel\'s and of Emilio\'s.’’

Emilio. Bobo was stumped for a second. ’’The Rev,’’ he said. ’’The Reverend Sheehan.’’

’’Yes, of course.’’ She was right up in his face by that time, and he could see a lot of detail. The view was not encouraging. The lines in her cheeks were deep enough to look etched, and she smelled like dirt and rain. ’’I could not wait until tonight to pick up the brooch Lemuel repaired for me.’’

Bobo felt a certain measure of relief. She was a legitimate customer. She wanted something tangible. She wasn\'t going to rip his throat out and feed him to the dogs. (Where had that image come from?) ’’Yes,’’ he said, hoping that this was the right customer. ’’I think the brooch you\'re talking about is right here in the case.’’ The pretty one he\'d been showing Arthur Smith, it had to be. Bobo found he was incredibly pleased to be behind a counter, which provided a handy bulwark between him and . . . ’’I\'m sorry, I don\'t know your name,’’ he said.

The thick gray brows rose. ’’And so you don\'t,’’ she said. ’’You may call me Maggie.’’

’’Nice to make your acquaintance, Miss Maggie,’’ he said, and she actually cackled with laughter. He\'d never heard anyone cackle before. It was as unpleasant as he\'d always imagined. Bobo\'s hands weren\'t completely steady, but he managed to reach under the glass counter to extricate the brooch. He looked at the little tag Lemuel had attached to double-check his memory. ’’That\'ll be twenty dollars, Miss Maggie.’’

’’Oh, that\'s dear,’’ the hag moaned, shaking her head. (He thought she might say ’’Tut, tut,’’ but she didn\'t.) ’’Oh, that\'s such a price!’’ She cast a sly glance at Bobo to see if he was going to negotiate. He gave her a level stare. ’’However, Lemuel does wonderful work, and he\'s such a sweet boy,’’ she said, seeing that Bobo wasn\'t going to cave.

Lemuel had been a boy well over a century and a half ago, by Bobo\'s quick estimation. The odds were good that Lemuel had been sweet to someone, at some point. ’’He\'s repaired it,’’ Bobo said agreeably. ’’Worth every penny.’’

She groped around inside her clothes for the money, a sight Bobo could have lived without. Eventually, she handed him twenty one-dollar bills, incredibly rumpled and soiled. She grasped the brooch as soon as he accepted the money, and she pinned it to her chest with fingers shaking with eagerness.

Suddenly, in front of him was a lovely, straight-backed woman in her forties, a woman wearing a dress with a tight bodice and full skirt. She was wearing heels, too, instead of the cracked flats Maggie had worn into the store. Her glossy brown hair was put up in a French thing he couldn\'t remember what his sister had called it on the back of her head. There was a mirror propped against one of the columns in the store, and she sprang over to eye her reflection.

’’I look lovely,’’ she said, and at least her voice was the same.

’’Yes, ma\'am,’’ he agreed. ’’You look great.’’

She gave him a gleaming sideways look. ’’Oh, you\'re just the cutest thing! If you weren\'t off-limits, I would just eat you up.’’

’’Sorry, I\'m off those limits,’’ he responded with as much of a smile as he could manage, spreading his hands in deprecation. ’’Thanks for your patronage, come again.’’ He didn\'t mean that, but the words rolled out of his mouth from long habit. He picked up his cell phone, punched speed dial at random, and when Fiji answered, he said, ’’Lemuel! I just wanted you to know that Maggie came in today to pick up her brooch. She\'s pleased with your repair. I know you\'ll get this the second you wake up.’’ He disconnected instantly before Fiji could start talking, since he had no idea how acute Maggie\'s hearing was.

Maggie was looking a bit hangdog. ’’Well, if you\'re going to be like that,’’ she said pettishly, ’’I\'ll say good-bye.’’

’’Good-bye, Miss Maggie.’’ He put as much finality into his voice as he could and still be on the side of courtesy. He didn\'t think Maggie would react well if he were rude.

The door tinkled as she left, and he heaved a huge sigh of relief. He waited for Fiji to show up, as she did a minute later.

’’Sorry I had to do that,’’ Bobo said instantly. ’’I had a hinky customer in here. I figured if she was sure someone else knew she\'d been here, she\'d leave me alone.’’

’’She must have been pretty quick on her feet!’’ Fiji looked around in confusion. ’’I didn\'t see anyone come out.’’

’’She did, though. She was scary as hell. Lemuel had told her to come back to pick up her jewelry at night I don\'t know how, because that brooch had been here at least twenty years, from the tag it had the last time I looked at it but she didn\'t do that.’’

’’Are you gonna tell him?’’

’’Absolutely. Though it does seem like I\'d be tattling to Daddy, doesn\'t it?’’ Bobo shook his head. ’’On the other hand, Lemuel will see that the brooch is gone.’’ He was relieved to have a valid (uncowardly) reason to tell the vampire about Maggie\'s visit. Lemuel\'s customers should come at night, as he bid them, in Bobo\'s view.

’’I\'m going to work on a circle of protection for you,’’ Fiji said, her mouth compressed in a tight line. She was staring off into the distance, but when she focused on Bobo, her expression softened. ’’I know you don\'t believe that\'ll really protect you,’’ she said. ’’But it can\'t hurt, can it?’’

’’Any help gladly accepted,’’ Bobo said hastily. He didn\'t want to hurt Fiji\'s feelings. She was a generous woman, and (though he\'d never said this to her) she always smelled good like laundry hung out on the line, a smell he remembered from childhood and she looked soft and warm, like a comforter you really wanted to draw on top of you on a cold night.

The front door had not closed completely when Fiji entered, and Mr. Snuggly glided in. He went right to the spot where Maggie had stood holding the brooch, and he sniffed very thoroughly. Then he yowled.

’’That\'s one smart cat,’’ Bobo said respectfully. He liked all mammals;dividing the world into cat lovers and dog lovers had always seemed weird to him.

’’You have no idea,’’ Fiji muttered. Mr. Snuggly looked up at Fiji with a bland expression and yawned, having told them how he felt about Maggie. He began to pad around the store, looking and sniffing with great curiosity.

Bobo hoped Mr. Snuggly wouldn\'t try to sharpen his claws on any of the furniture. But the cat seemed pleased to do an inspection tour without testing any of the upholstery. Finally, he stopped in front of a shelf of new items well, items new to the store and meowed. Fiji had been watching the cat\'s progress, too, and she went to his side.

’’What is it?’’ she asked the cat. He looked up at her, then at something on the shelves. Bobo was at a right angle to the cat and couldn\'t decide what Mr. Snuggly was eyeing so intently. Fiji, however, picked the cat up and said, ’’Are you showing me the old camera?’’

For a moment, Bobo expected the cat would reply. Instead, Mr. Snuggly reached out a golden paw and touched the back of the camera. To Bobo\'s surprise, Fiji put the cat down and turned the camera around, opening its interior.

’’Come look,’’ she called, and Bobo went over. He looked inside. Though the overhead lights were none too bright, he could see something small and electronic with a green light.

’’What is it?’’

’’It\'s some kind of surveillance equipment, I assume. When did this item come in?’’

’’The camera\'s been here for years. A girl was fiddling with it a couple of days ago, I think. She just came in to look around. Said she needed some furniture.’’ He scrambled to remember more about her. ’’She was real young, and she told me she was a newlywed, said she got married at the Rev\'s chapel. She finally bought a drying rack. She used a debit card.’’

’’Really.’’ Fiji\'s eyes narrowed. ’’Huh. Did she have brown hair and bad teeth?’’

’’Yeah,’’ Bobo said, with undisguised surprise.

’’Okay,’’ Fiji said. ’’I guess I need to have a talk with her. You got an address?’’

Bobo went back behind the counter and looked on the computer. ’’Here,’’ he said. ’’Here it is.’’

The girl\'s name was Lisa Gray and she lived in Marthasville.

’’What a surprise,’’ Fiji said.

Bobo said, ’’Do you know you\'re snarling? You know this girl?’’

’’Yes. I was at her wedding.’’

’’What should I do with this thing?’’ Bobo regarded the electronic item dubiously. ’’Smash it? Sell it? Put it in the bathtub?’’

’’I already took care of that,’’ Fiji told him. ’’It\'s still broadcasting, but it can\'t hear our voices.’’

She sounded very sure. ’’But if it can, it knows where we\'re going,’’ he said.


’’Yeah. We\'re going to talk to this girl. We\'re going to find out why she did this. She sure didn\'t look like any spy to me.’’

’’I know you feel like you need to go do this. But . . . well, I guess I can\'t talk you out of it.’’

’’No,’’ Bobo said. ’’I\'ll see you at six.’’

He walked with her to the door. She picked up Mr. Snuggly as she crossed the road, and put him down when they\'d reached her yard. The woman and the cat went up the walkway together side by side, and she looked down at the cat. He saw her lips move. Bobo smiled. She was talking to it.

’’You deserve a whole can of tuna,’’ Fiji was telling Mr. Snuggly as she opened her front door. ’’Let\'s get you one.’’

’’About damn time,’’ said Mr. Snuggly.


At six o\'clock, Bobo picked up Fiji and they set out to the address Lisa Gray had given when she\'d bought the drying rack. Bobo had already entered it into his GPS.

He didn\'t feel much like talking on the way to Marthasville. He was bracing himself for an unpleasant confrontation. When he rang the doorbell of the dilapidated rental house, in the middle of a row of identical dilapidated rentals, the girl he remembered from the pawnshop answered the door.

He glanced over at Fiji, and she nodded. This was the girl whose wedding she\'d witnessed. From the way her tight T-shirt fit, Bobo was as sure as shooting that Lisa was expecting a baby.

Lisa\'s reaction to seeing them was a dead giveaway. She was scared;more than that, she clearly felt guilty when she looked at him.

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