Midnight Crossroad Page 25

She parked behind the other cars, all huddled to one side of the narrow paved path that made a lazy loop through the graves. In summer, attending an interment here would be a very hot, sweaty experience. In October, it was pleasant. The minute she got out of the car, Fiji\'s hair began its escape from the barrette she\'d used to trap it.

Creek looked at the open grave as they drew near to the prepared site. It was hardly visible under all the funeral home paraphernalia, but it was there and it was waiting. In an attempt to comfort the girl, Fiji said, ’’She\'ll be here with frontiersmen and gunfighters and pioneer women.’’

Creek looked at her blankly, but after a moment she said, ’’All part of history. I see that.’’

Fiji had a moment\'s impulse to sing ’’The Circle of Life,’’ but she suppressed it sternly. Her resentment of the dead woman was getting the better of her sense of appropriate behavior. If I came as Bobo\'s representative, I\'m sure not acting like it, she scolded herself. She forced her face into strictly expressionless lines as they joined the small crowd around the tent erected over the open grave.

The earnest minister began to pray. Again.

Aubrey\'s mother, Lucyfay, who looked as though a strong breeze would blow her away, did not make a single sound during the long prayer. Destin Hamilton sat with one arm around his wife, one fist clenched on his thigh. He was visibly tense, about to explode with some strong emotion. Fiji couldn\'t pick what the emotion would be: grief, rage, impatience? It was painful to witness.

As the prayer went on and on, Fiji and all the mourners shifted and began to look around, because a sound was getting louder and closer. At first it reminded Fiji of a fleet of distant lawn tractors. Gradually, it became apparent that there was a procession drawing nearer: Motorcycles, all with the same flag attached, rumbled into the cemetery in single file. The minister gave up his attempt to be heard, and the mourners turned as one to watch the machines reach the place on the road closest to Aubrey\'s grave and then, one by one, park in a neat line facing in. Fiji counted thirty of them.

The riders dismounted and came to the grave site. Though it was impossible to read their faces, since all of them were wearing dark glasses and kerchiefs or helmets, Fiji thought their body language read self-conscious as they assembled in a group. After the noise of the motors, the appalled silence weighed heavily on the newcomers.

Two of them were carrying a folded flag. They handed it off to the leader in a clumsy bit of ceremony. The leader walked over to stand in front of the Hamiltons. He extended the flag to them. He was a tall man broad, too and wearing a black motorcycle jacket and jeans. He\'d removed his helmet.

Fiji could see, from the ripple running through the mourners, that they knew him.

’’Who is that?’’ she asked of the woman closest to her.

The woman, who was wearing a cross around her neck and a modest wedding band, said in an equally low voice, ’’That\'s Price Eggleston.’’

Fiji was not terribly surprised. Eggleston did not look stupid, but by interrupting a funeral he had to know he would offend an awful lot of people. She wondered what he hoped to achieve. She found out when most of the young people pulled cell phones from purses and pockets and began to record what was happening. They were taking photos or movies. Eggleston adopted a terribly solemn face. He held out the flag to the Hamiltons, who stared at it, appalled. They made no move to accept the triangular bundle.

’’On behalf of the Men of Liberty, I present you with this flag of our nation in remembrance of our fallen sister,’’ he said, his voice pitched to carry. ’’We will get vengeance for our fallen one. The man who killed her will not go unpunished.’’

There was no doubt in Fiji\'s mind that he meant Bobo. Before she could decide what to do, Macon Hamilton was on his feet and swinging at Eggleston. That was so exactly what Fiji wanted to do that her own fist clenched in sympathy. Unfortunately, Price Eggleston was quick on his feet for a big man, and he leaped back.

While Macon stumbled, Price Eggleston completed his mission by turning to the coffin and placing the flag on top of it. He then beat a quick retreat. The minister, trying to restore some decorum to the scene, said very loudly, ’’We now commend the body of our sister to the earth,’’ and signaled the funeral home employee to lower the casket. As it began to descend into the grave, Lucyfay Hamilton finally snapped. She launched herself out of her folding chair as if she intended to descend, too. Or maybe her goal was to remove the flag from Aubrey\'s coffin. Only a quick movement by her husband kept her aboveground.

Everyone froze in place as they watched the casket. Eggleston took advantage of the situation to walk briskly back to his MOL posse and mount his motorcycle. All the MOL people followed and got ready to leave, and the motorcycles started back up with a huge buzz. The noise galvanized the mourners, some of whom began yelling at the funeral crashers. Macon Hamilton picked up a funeral home chair and threw it at one of the motorcyclists in the exiting procession. He missed the driver but hit the passenger, who tumbled off onto the grass. The passenger\'s helmet came off. Fiji recognized Lisa Gray. Bobo had been spot-on about Lisa and her veracity.

The girl scrambled up and climbed back on behind the motorcyclist, whom Fiji figured was her husband, Cole. Without further incident (aside from a lot of screaming) the entire motorcycle contingent roared away. Fiji saw one of the flags fluttering behind a rider detach and gust onto a nearby monument, and she scuttled over to rescue it. She straightened the cloth out to have a good look. The flag depicted a mailed fist clutching a rectangular banner in the middle. On one side of the banner was printed ’’Liberty’’ and on the other side was an arrow.

Fiji looked around and didn\'t see Creek anywhere. With a pang of guilt and worry she turned in a circle to survey the cemetery. People were milling all around, and the solemnity of the occasion was simply lost. Try as she would, Fiji could not find the girl.

She hurried over to her car, clicking it open as she walked. When the locks made their little chirp and went up, Creek popped to her feet on the passenger side. Fiji sagged with relief. ’’Get in, and let\'s get out of here,’’ she called, and Creek scrambled in and buckled her seat belt. Fiji was equally hasty in her preparation, and before other mourners had gotten ready to leave, Fiji pulled her car out of the lineup and began going around the loop that would lead out of the cemetery and back to the road. She drove very slowly and carefully. Most of the people who\'d come to say good-bye to Aubrey Hamilton Lowry were now bent over their phones, texting. The funeral was already viral.

When they were halfway down the hill, Fiji passed Creek the flag.

Creek said, ’’Stronghold. The mailed fist.’’

’’That was what the guys said, right? The guys who attacked Bobo and Manfred? That they were citizens of Stronghold?’’

’’Yeah.’’

’’So they\'re saying Aubrey was one of them? They\'re trying to make her into a little martyr?’’

’’Yeah. I guess.’’

Creek was looking tragic, Fiji realized. ’’Hey,’’ Fiji said. ’’What\'s up, Creek?’’ Surely, Fiji thought, with more than a touch of exasperation, surely this can\'t still be about her deep grief for Aubrey.

Creek inhaled deeply. ’’Dad told me not to go to the funeral. But he never wants me to go anywhere, so I just blew him off. Why would people take pictures at a funeral? Well, normally they wouldn\'t . . . but when assholes show up on motorcycles and disrupt everything . . .’’

’’You couldn\'t know that would happen. No one expected that.’’ Fiji felt greatly at a loss. Most of her concentration was focused on driving through Buffalo Plain to turn onto the highway to Marthasville, but what thinking room she had to spare was occupied in (a) hoping they wouldn\'t catch up to the motorcycle group, (b) worrying about Creek, and (c) her curiosity about Creek\'s weird reaction when things went wrong at the service. ’’You\'re not supposed to be photographed?’’ she asked.

But Creek wasn\'t going to volunteer any more information. ’’Thank you,’’ she told Fiji, a bit stiffly. ’’I appreciate your getting us out of there as soon as possible.’’ The unspoken words ’’but not soon enough’’ hung in the air between them. After a minute, Fiji glanced over to see Creek\'s mouth clenched in a defiant line.

She\'s proud of being strong, Fiji thought, adding that to her growing fund of knowledge about Creek. ’’I didn\'t want to stick around, either,’’ she said. She made an effort to smile, but she kept her eyes straight ahead. ’’Once I knew that was Price Eggleston.’’

’’You know him?’’ Creek said. ’’You\'ve met him? Who is he?’’

’’I know what he\'s been doing.’’ She explained to Creek about Eggleston\'s militia, about his visit to the pawnshop and his sending the girl Lisa in to plant the camera.

’’So he\'s a rich bad guy?’’

Creek\'s been watching too many movies and not enough real life. ’’Well, he\'s better off than most people, I understand. I think it\'s his dad who has the real big money. But anyone who has to have a bunch of guns to achieve his ends, someone who doesn\'t mind beating up innocent people to get them, someone who\'s . . .’’ Who\'s willing to hurt Bobo. Who\'s willing to send a young woman in to seduce a man to get his way. Who\'s willing to kill that young woman when she doesn\'t do what he wants. ’’Yeah. He\'s a bad guy.’’

’’So you think Eggleston\'s the guy who sent Aubrey to get close to Bobo, so she could do a Delilah and find out where the guns are?’’

’’That\'s my assumption.’’

’’What do you think went wrong with that?’’

Fiji hesitated for a moment. ’’I think Aubrey did really fall in love with Bobo. I think she refused to tell Price Eggleston what he wanted to know . . . the location of the guns. That is, she told him Bobo didn\'t have any, which he doesn\'t. Price didn\'t believe her, and he killed her. Maybe by accident. I don\'t know.’’

Creek stared at Fiji, her face inscrutable. This was the Creek Fiji knew best, not the girl who\'d been panicked by a few cell phones. ’’So if he did that, you think he sent the guys to jump Manfred and Bobo that night?’’

’’Yes, that\'s what I think.’’

’’Then he deserves whatever happens to him!’’ Creek said, with some ferocity.

Surprised by Creek\'s vehemence and because she was curious to see what the girl would say Fiji told her, ’’So far, a building he owns has been burned down, and two of his men have disappeared.’’

’’You\'re not saying you feel sorry for him?’’ Creek\'s clear olive skin reddened along her cheekbones. ’’After all, he killed Aubrey!’’

’’I don\'t feel any pity for him,’’ Fiji said. ’’I\'m just saying, it\'s not like he\'s walking all over creation getting his own way.’’

There was an awkward silence. ’’He sure messed up Aubrey\'s funeral,’’ Creek muttered.

’’Yes, he did. I feel sorry for her family.’’ Though she hadn\'t liked Aubrey in life or in death, Fiji thought it was awful that the dignified farewell service her parents had planned had been disrupted by an egomaniac who loved himself more than he respected the feelings of others.

’’He should not get away with any of this.’’ Creek was clear in her judgment.

’’If he means to do evil to Bobo, believe me . . . he won\'t get away with it. And if he killed Aubrey, the police will arrest him.’’

’’You think that Arthur Smith will arrest a rich man?’’

’’I do believe he will,’’ Fiji said, and was a little surprised to find she meant it. Arthur Smith might be wily and perhaps he was politically oriented. She didn\'t know him well enough to have an opinion on that. But she did not think he was corrupt.

’’And Price killed her.’’

Again with the killing. Fiji suppressed a sigh. Creek was very hung up on that point, while to Fiji, Price\'s biggest sin was the two attacks on Bobo. She was certain about Price\'s guilt in those. ’’I\'m just guessing,’’ she said a bit too sharply. ’’But that seems logical to me.’’

Creek nodded, seeming reassured, and they rode the rest of the way back to Midnight in near silence. ’’I\'m just worried about the darn pictures,’’ she said, when they got close to town.

Were the Lovells in the witness protection program or something? Fiji wondered. What was the deal with the Lovell family and pictures? With being noticed? But there was absolutely nothing she could do about the pictures that were surely all over the Internet now, and she was a bit tired of Creek\'s company;plus, there was the Midnight habit of respecting secrets. So she made no response.

27

The next afternoon, Bobo retraced Fiji\'s route to Buffalo Plain. He\'d talked to Fiji that morning in her yard: she\'d finally made a start at getting out all her Halloween decorations. She\'d climbed down from a ladder to tell him about the funeral.

She\'d looked preoccupied, and cold, wrapped up in the battered zip-up jacket she wore for yard work. He himself was wearing his old brown corduroy coat with the toggle fastenings, a relic from his college days. Fall had declared itself overnight. The sky was a brilliant blue with a cloud scattered here and there to emphasize how radiant the day was, but the chilling wind blew steadily from the west. It tossed the leaves through the air, forcing them to somersault before drifting to the ground.

Bobo stopped to fill up his tank and get a cup of coffee in Marthasville, and the grackles in the trees around the gas station were full of noisy conversation. One strutted on the ground by his truck and cast a bright eye up at him, as if wondering if he were a source of food.


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