Midnight Crossroad Page 22

’’I\'m sorry,’’ she said in a rush. ’’Mister, I\'m really sorry.’’ She stepped back to let them in.

Feeling old and sad, Bobo stepped in after Fiji. It was no surprise that the rent house was small, or that it was in ill repair, or that Lisa and her new husband didn\'t have much. It was a surprise that the living room was not only neat, but clean. The only sign of activity was a huge basket half full of laundry.

There was an ancient green Naugahyde couch in front of the big (and new) television, which was tuned to a game show. An old cushioned armchair was at one end of the newly polished coffee table. Lisa instantly switched off the TV and gestured to them to sit down on the couch.

The already-folded clothes from the basket were on the chipped coffee table, along with magazines, a romance novel, and a box of tissues.

Lisa sat in the flowered armchair. After her guests were settled, she muttered, ’’Okay, I did a bad thing. I don\'t know how else to say it.’’

Bobo felt his store of righteous anger seeping away. He said, more gently than he had intended, ’’Lisa, I know you remember Fiji from your wedding. And maybe you remember me;you put a spy camera in my shop without telling me. Fiji tells me your husband\'s name is Cole. Did he know what you were doing?’’

’’No, sir. And he\'s at work now. Today is my day off.’’

’’Then I\'m glad we caught you at home,’’ Bobo said. He paused, tried to think of how to phrase what he wanted to say. ’’You seem like a nice young woman. I don\'t know why you\'d cooperate with a man who wanted to do something illegal.’’ It was illegal, wasn\'t it, to tape someone\'s activities in their own place of business, without their consent?

Lisa looked miserable. She pulled some T-shirts from the basket and began to fold them, as if she had to be busy.

’’Here\'s what happened,’’ she said, not looking at either of them, concentrating on the garments she was folding with speed and precision. ’’One of Cole\'s daddy\'s friends came by, said he\'d heard Cole and I had gotten married in Midnight. He\'d also heard we have a baby on the way.’’ She glanced up, as if to see their reaction. Fiji and Bobo both nodded. ’’So he said he figured we needed money, and I said, \'Sure.\' Cole\'s got a job at Western Auto, and I got a job at Dairy Queen, and we\'re doing . . . okay.’’

’’Okay’’ must be the new ’’barely scraping by,’’ Bobo thought.

Lisa put aside the stack of folded T-shirts and started on the underwear with no self-consciousness at all. ’’But we got a baby due in five months. Babies need a lot of stuff. Our folks are just barely paying their bills, and my sister\'s still using all her baby clothes and furniture. So when he told me he\'d give me two hundred dollars if I just put a little transmitter thing inside an old camera in your store, I said I would. He said he was trying to catch you selling drugs, that he owned the pawnshop.’’

’’You knew he was lying,’’ Fiji said sternly.

’’Yes, ma\'am, I did figure he . . .’’ And tears started to roll down her face. ’’I apologize, I really do. Please don\'t send me to jail.’’

Fiji looked startled. She has a soft heart, thought Bobo. She never even thought about that.

’’Lisa, I won\'t send a pregnant woman to jail if I can help it,’’ Bobo said. ’’But I can\'t say that I\'m happy with you, either. You did a bad thing, the kind of thing that can get you hurt, or locked up, and you did it knowing you were wrong.’’ He shook his head, and Lisa\'s tears accelerated.

’’I did,’’ she said, with the air of one facing a firing squad. ’’The Devil tempted me, and I gave in.’’ She grabbed up a clean T-shirt and blotted her face with it.

’’What\'s the name of this man who came by here, Cole\'s daddy\'s friend?’’ Bobo said. And there wasn\'t any sympathy in his voice at all. He knew giving her sympathy would just make the girl weep again.

’’I shouldn\'t tell you,’’ she said.

’’You owe Bobo that, at the very least,’’ Fiji said. ’’Also, you can keep your mouth shut about our visit. You kept your mouth shut about what you put in the pawnshop, after all.’’

Lisa looked as though she were at the end of her tether. She made a helpless gesture with her hands. ’’It was Mr. Eggleston, him that owns the real estate agency and the lawn service company,’’ Lisa said. She used another tissue to blow her nose.

Bobo said, ’’We\'ll leave now, but I\'m counting on you to keep this to yourself. It\'s for your own good. You don\'t want to get drawn into this any deeper.’’

’’I will,’’ Lisa said. ’’I ain\'t gonna say a word to Mr. Eggleston.’’ She rose, and they rose with her. ’’Like I said, I never want to get mixed up in anything like this again.’’ Her nose reddened as if she were about to cry again.

Bobo gave Lisa a steady look. He\'d come loaded for bear, but all he could summon up now was pity. From the dilapidated rental house to the visible pregnancy to the low-paying jobs, it seemed that life had stacked the chips against Lisa Gray Denton. At the same time . . .

’’You really don\'t want to be involved in this, Lisa,’’ he said, and the girl looked at him with wide eyes. For a moment they gave each other a very direct look. Lisa turned to go to the door. She opened it for them, standing aside to let them pass. As they left, she wiped her cheeks again with her sleeve.

’’I\'m glad I came with you,’’ Bobo said, as he backed out of the graveled area in front of the little house.

’’Why?’’ Fiji asked, surprised and a bit indignant. ’’I could have done this by myself. She came clean right away, she was hardly threatening . . . she\'s just a baby expecting a baby.’’

’’Feej, she was lying,’’ he said. ’’I don\'t know if it was her being poor or her being pregnant or her crying that threw you off, but nothing she told us was the truth.’’

Fiji felt like someone had let the air out of her tires. ’’Seriously?’’

He paid more attention to the road ahead than it probably needed. ’’Yeah, seriously.’’

’’Why are you so sure?’’ She tried to keep the incredulity out of her voice.

’’I don\'t always know when women are lying,’’ he said painfully. ’’Like Aubrey. But this girl was just like my sister when she was trying to put one over on my mom and dad. She played the \'pitiful\' card, she left out a lot of information, and any newlywed would surely have told this \'Mr. Eggleston picked on me\' story to her husband.’’

’’Unless her husband worked for Mr. Eggleston,’’ Fiji said defensively.

’’Could be,’’ Bobo said, shrugging.

’’But you believe she planted the bug because . . .’’

’’Because she\'s as right-wing as he is? Because he gave her a lot of money and she didn\'t think she\'d get caught? Because her husband belongs to Eggleston\'s group? Take your pick.’’ Bobo almost shrugged again. ’’Any or all.’’

Fiji looked straight ahead. ’’I\'m just mad at myself now for being so gullible. I thought she was so young and remorseful,’’ she said.

’’I\'m sure she is. But she\'s other stuff, too.’’

Fiji was silent for a while. When they were well east of Marthasville, she said, ’’I don\'t know you as well as I thought I did, Bobo.’’

He found himself smiling. ’’Maybe that\'s a good thing,’’ he said. ’’Have you heard any more about the fire that took out Eggleston\'s alleged hunting lodge?’’

’’Are we going to stop there? I know where it is. It\'ll be coming up here on the right;the iron sign over the gate says \'MOL.\'’’

She\'d surprised him again. ’’How do you know that?’’ he asked.

’’Well . . . Olivia and Manfred and I spent a night over at the Cartoon Saloon,’’ she said. ’’We needed some background.’’

Bobo gave her a long look.

She said hastily, ’’Yesterday, a customer of mine from Marthasville e-mailed me to see if her order had come in. She\'d been working overtime on an arson investigation and hadn\'t had time to come to the store. I asked her how the investigation was going, because I knew whose place had burned, I heard it on the news. She told me it was Price Eggleston\'s \'hunting lodge.\' She put that in quotes. Anyway, she said they\'d found evidence that two people had set the fire.’’ She looked at Bobo expectantly.

Bobo wasn\'t sure what he was supposed to conclude. ’’I wonder how the arson investigator figured that out? That the fire was set by two people?’’

’’Footprints, I think. Though how you could say, \'These are the footprints of the arsonists,\' I don\'t know. But they found a cell phone, some other stuff, that belonged to Curtis Logan and Seth Mecklinberg, the two guys from Lubbock who went missing. Allegedly.’’

’’You\'re telling me that Olivia and Lemuel . . .’’

She nodded. ’’It\'s like having evil superhero friends, huh?’’

He shook his head helplessly. ’’I can\'t even figure out how I feel about that,’’ he said. ’’I didn\'t want to be beaten up. I didn\'t kill them. But on the other hand . . .’’

’’I understand,’’ Fiji said. ’’Hey, there\'s the gate.’’ Today it stood open. In the daylight, it was easy to see the crudely paved driveway running over a hill. They followed it. Down in a gentle dip stood an old ranch house, surrounded by yet another fence, a suspiciously high palisade fence.

’’That\'s pretty unusual,’’ Bobo said. ’’You just see wire fences around ranch houses, to keep the livestock out of the yard.’’

But the fence wasn\'t an obstacle, since this gate, too, was open. It was also scorched and sagging from its post.

Bobo said, ’’I\'m going in.’’ Fiji nodded.

It was especially rocky out here, and sparse vegetation told Bobo that there was almost no topsoil. The house had been an average-size ranch-style house with a stone chimney and foundation, and the lower part of the walls had been stone. Those were still standing. The wood in between had been consumed, and the roof was mostly gone, too.

There was a mute violence about the burned house.

A certain awareness of what had happened here crept over Bobo.

’’There was a fingerprint on a gasoline can,’’ Fiji said. ’’Curtis Logan\'s fingerprint. And a receipt from a gas station, turned out to be Seth Mecklinberg\'s debit card was the one used.’’

’’She told you all that? She must be one indiscreet arson investigator.’’

Fiji said, ’’She\'s lonely, and I acted interested. Also, it wasn\'t an act.’’

’’Wonder what would have happened if there\'d been people in there,’’ Bobo said. ’’Would they have gone through with it?’’

They didn\'t talk much all the way back to Midnight.


Manfred was busy with the woes of an eighty-year-old man from Arizona when his cell phone buzzed. He ignored it, of course, but after he\'d told the man he\'d find companionship at a church (fairly safe advice), he checked the listing. He whooped out loud. Then he sat for a moment, composing himself, before he hit ’’Call.’’

’’Manfred,’’ Creek said, sounding almost shy. ’’Thanks for calling me back. I got your phone number from Fiji.’’

’’Not at all,’’ he said, and then winced. That made no sense! he thought. ’’What can I do for you, Creek?’’

’’I was hoping you needed to go to Davy today? I need a ride to the Kut N Kurl salon.’’

’’You don\'t have your driver\'s license yet?’’

’’Dad has to take Connor to a doctor\'s appointment. I usually do that, but the doctor will want to talk to Dad. So he\'ll need the truck.’’

’’I\'ll be glad to take you,’’ Manfred said. ’’Do you have an appointment?’’

’’At three. Is that at all . . . ?’’

’’I\'ll stop by the service station to pick you up at two thirty.’’

’’Thanks, M . . . Manfred.’’ She\'d been about to call him Mr. Bernardo. He had a lot of remedial work to do.

At two twenty-seven, Manfred pulled in at Gas N Go. There were no customers at the moment. Inside, Shawn was shelving motor oil. Creek was sitting on a stool behind the register, and she grinned when he came in. Shawn gave Manfred a grim look.

’’Hey, Shawn,’’ Manfred said, doing his best to sound casual and responsible. ’’I had to go to Davy this afternoon, anyway, so it\'s no trouble for me to give Creek a ride.’’

’’All right,’’ Shawn said heavily. He straightened up and looked at Manfred without much enthusiasm. ’’Teacher Reed\'s coming over to take care of this place. I\'m leaving as soon as Connor gets home on the bus. His doctor is over in Marthasville. Be sure and have Creek home by six. She needs to watch Connor.’’

’’She\'ll be back by then for sure,’’ Manfred said. How much watching could Connor need? The boy was fourteen. ’’You ready, Creek?’’

’’Yeah, I\'m ready,’’ she said, sliding off the stool and walking around the counter. ’’Thanks for giving me a ride, Mr. Bernardo. Dad, see you later.’’

’’Okay, Creek,’’ Shawn said grudgingly. ’’You got enough money?’’

’’Yes, sir.’’

Shawn couldn\'t think of any other reason to delay Creek\'s departure, so Manfred held the door open for the girl and she flew out of the store.

Creek didn\'t wait for him to open the car door for her but scrambled inside as if she feared her father would stop her from going to Davy at the last minute. Manfred buckled up as quickly as he could, and looked both ways about ten times before he pulled out onto the Davy highway. If Shawn was watching pretty much a sure thing Manfred wanted to be sure he saw how responsibly Manfred would drive with Creek in the car.

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