Midnight Crossroad Page 26

’’Not today, bird,’’ he said, and the grackle flew away to tell its comrades. Most people hated grackles, but Bobo had enjoyed them since he\'d moved to Texas. They seemed to tell each other everything.

Bobo\'s old Garmin got him to the cemetery with only a moment of uncertainty. He spotted the fresh grave right away;it was covered with withering flowers. To his dismay, he was not alone. There was another mourner. Since the cemetery was a dead end (Yeah, pretty ironic, huh?), there was no way for him to leave unobtrusively. He decided to accept whatever was going to happen. He got out of his truck. The small form beside the grave turned to face him, and he saw it was a woman. After a second, Bobo recognized her as Aubrey\'s mother. Aubrey had kept a picture of her parents on her side of the bed.

Though Bobo dreaded this encounter, it was impossible to back down. He walked toward her, doing his best to look as nonthreatening as a big strange man in an isolated spot possibly could appear to a lone woman.

The breeze picked up Aubrey\'s mother\'s short hair and ruffled it, and made the flowers rustle on their forms.

’’I don\'t know you,’’ she said after a moment. ’’I\'m Lucyfay Hamilton.’’

’’Mrs. Hamilton, I\'m Bobo Winthrop. I didn\'t kill your daughter.’’

She stared at him wordlessly. She had Aubrey\'s eyes, he thought, but she was smaller all over than her daughter. She was only ten or twelve years older than Bobo, and if she had not been so sunk in grief, she might have appealed to him on a personal level, a realization he found shocking and confusing.

’’That\'s what the sheriff in your county tells us,’’ she said. From her tone and demeanor, he had no idea if she believed in his innocence or not.

’’I heard you all didn\'t want me to come to the funeral, so I thought I\'d come today to pay my respects,’’ he said. ’’I didn\'t think anyone else would be here.’’

’’After that man ruined the funeral yesterday, I wanted a quiet time to spend with my daughter,’’ Lucyfay Hamilton said, turning back to the grave. ’’Did you hear about that?’’

’’Yes, a friend of mine was here. I heard. And I\'ll leave you to your private time.’’ He turned to go back to his truck.

’’You can stay,’’ she said. ’’I\'ve said everything to her I had to say.’’

Bobo had no idea how to respond to that. He shifted from foot to foot. ’’I really loved her,’’ he offered.

’’That\'s what she told me. \'Mama, he loves me, and he treats me better than anybody ever has,\' she said.’’

’’You were in contact with her?’’ Bobo said. ’’I\'m sorry . . . somehow I thought that she was out of touch with you all.’’

’’She was out of touch with her father and Macon,’’ Lucyfay Hamilton said. There was a ghost of a smile on her lips. ’’Never with me.’’

’’She didn\'t talk to her father because of her first husband?’’

’’And his really, really stupid death as a bank robber? And his scumbag buddies? Yes, that might have had something to do with it,’’ Lucyfay said dryly. ’’We raised her the best way we knew how. She had to work on the ranch. She went to church. She wore nice clothes. Did she tell you my husband runs his family ranch, sits on the board of the bank?’’

’’No, ma\'am.’’ His bit his lip before he could say, She told me you were dead.

’’And then she let his stupid friends talk her into \'avenging his death\' yes, that\'s the way they put it by contacting you.’’ Clearly, she was not able to say ’’seducing you.’’ She turned away from him, to her car. ’’Well, she paid for her gullibility and her careless way with men. At least she had some happiness with you before she was murdered.’’

’’Who do you think killed her?’’ Bobo blurted.

’’Price says you did. I\'d assumed it was Price\'s little militia, or Price himself. But I don\'t believe that any longer. Price is an underhanded young man. He\'s long on charisma and short on foresight. But I don\'t think he\'s capable of killing her and then putting on the show he did yesterday. Do you understand?’’

Bobo nodded.

Lucyfay took a deep breath. ’’I think she insisted to the MOL that you were innocent of whatever they think you\'ve done. I think she said she wouldn\'t inform on you anymore. And I think one of Price\'s goons killed her, though I don\'t think Price knows that. Then he ruined her funeral, with his damn stupid flag ritual.’’

Apparently she had had her say, because Lucyfay Hamilton got into her Lexus and drove off, leaving a dazed Bobo standing by the fresh grave. He felt so wobbly that he almost sank to his knees, before he was shamed by the melodrama of the gesture. He stiffened his backbone. What\'s worse? he asked himself. To be accused of murdering the girl you loved or to be the cause of her getting murdered? His misery swept him away and swirled him around like the leaves in the wind.

Weirdly, strangely wonderfully he knew this was the moment he was touching the bottom, and he understood that from now on, however gradually, he would begin to heal.

When Bobo looked down at the flower-strewn mound, he no longer saw through it to the decayed body of the woman he\'d loved. He saw the opaque layer of dirt, the sealed coffin. He saw good-bye.

Bobo shifted uneasily, as if a long-carried burden had shifted on his shoulders. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was not any less sad, but he felt free.

28

Fiji said, ’’I\'ve come to confess, Rev.’’

The old man stood before the bench where Fiji sat, his rusty black suit blending into the darkness of the church. It was late in the afternoon, but the chapel lights weren\'t on. The room was cold. Emilio Sheehan did not reply, but then, he was a man of few words unless the preaching was on him.

’’There\'s a bad man who thinks Bobo killed Aubrey. Or maybe he\'s just pretending to think that;maybe he really wants Bobo accused of killing her because he wants to find out where Bobo\'s stashed a lot of guns.’’

’’Hmmm,’’ the Rev said. It was an experimental sound, as though he were clearing his throat before making a comment. She waited until it became clear he was not going to speak.

’’So, I try to be a good person and a good witch, but I really want to do something awful to that guy,’’ Fiji said. ’’Is it worse to sit back and do nothing while people plot against the . . . a good friend? Or is it worse to do something evil to them before they can hurt that friend?’’

The Rev did not have to think long about this. ’’We protect the people we love, and we love the people of this community,’’ he said, his expression stern and sure.

Fiji nodded to show that she accepted this as true.

’’We must wait for the evil to come to us,’’ he said. ’’But when it does, we can defend ourselves against it.’’

This was not the answer Fiji had been hoping for, and her face showed that.

’’Otherwise,’’ the Rev explained, ’’we rob the evil one of the chance to think better, to redeem himself.’’

’’Human nature being what it is . . .’’ she said angrily, and then bit her lip to make herself be silent.

’’Human nature,’’ said the Rev. ’’Well, it\'s not good, that\'s for sure. But we have to give it a chance. I gave Aubrey a chance.’’

’’What are you referring to?’’ Fiji said.

’’She cared for Bobo.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’That was true. But for reasons best known only to her, she could not stop acting interested in every male she saw.’’

Creek had said the same thing. ’’They told you this? That is, the men she, ah, made passes at?’’

’’They would not tell me such a thing. I witnessed it. And Aubrey laughed about it when I spoke to her.’’

Fiji was astonished, and not a little disgusted. ’’You mean she flirted with, say, Chuy and Joe?’’

He nodded.

’’You?’’

He nodded, a fraction of an inch dip of his chin.

’’And Teacher . . . Shawn . . . Lemuel?’’

Another nod.

Every adult male in Midnight. ’’I\'m surprised Madonna or Olivia didn\'t kill her,’’ she said in amazement, and then she froze. ’’Oh, golly.’’

’’You may have the wrong murderer, you see,’’ the Rev said. ’’Aubrey was daring the world to kill her.’’

’’So she . . . her behavior led to her own death?’’ Fiji was scrambling to absorb this.

’’Just because she threw out the dare doesn\'t mean someone should have picked it up,’’ he said. Then he turned away to kneel in prayer at his little altar.

Fiji realized it was time for her to leave.

29

When he saw all Fiji\'s preparations for Halloween, Manfred looked around his own yard and found it wanting. He didn\'t know when he\'d stop feeling the compulsion to work, so the next afternoon he walked down to Gas N Go to ask Connor if he\'d be interested in cleaning up the outside of his house.

On the occasions Manfred went to Gas N Go which Manfred had very precisely calculated could only be every third day, to avoid raising Shawn\'s hackles Manfred had observed that while Creek was usually genuinely busy, Connor was not. Manfred didn\'t know if Connor was incompetent, or if Shawn had no faith in his son\'s ability, but either Connor was doing his homework or he was employed with some job a monkey could do.

Connor seemed profoundly bored. In Manfred\'s not-too-distant experience, a bored teenager was a teenager who got into mischief. And Connor seemed reasonably intelligent and likable, on Manfred\'s brief acquaintance. If there was no one in Midnight who was closer to Creek in age than Manfred himself, there was no one who even spoke the same language as the fourteen-year-old.

When Connor arrived at Manfred\'s house after school, Manfred led the boy through the room full of computer equipment. He looked back to see that Connor had stopped, transfixed.

’’This is so cool,’’ he said. ’’What do you do?’’

Manfred tried not to sound embarrassed or apologetic when he explained his psychic online business, which was obviously not a hundred percent honest. But Connor didn\'t remark on that aspect at all, a little to Manfred\'s surprise. Instead, he was enthralled with the computers and Manfred\'s ability to make a living from them.

’’We just have an old laptop,’’ Connor said. ’’And Dad won\'t let us go on Facebook or anything.’’

Manfred tried not to look as astonished as he felt. He could not imagine two young people being without social media, especially when the Lovells lived in such an out-of-the-way spot. But given Shawn\'s aversion to his kids being noticed in any public way, it made sense.

’’There are lots of ways to get into trouble with a computer,’’ Manfred said, trying to hold up the flag for Shawn. He didn\'t want to undermine the man;that was not the way to win Shawn\'s trust, which was Manfred\'s current goal.

’’Yeah, that\'s what Dad says,’’ Connor muttered. He clearly didn\'t think the better of Manfred for having echoed one of his father\'s opinions.

Manfred felt about fifty years old. ’’Let me show you what I want you to do,’’ he said, thinking a change of subject was called for. He led Connor out into the fenced backyard, which was overlooked by the pawnshop on the left and a dilapidated and empty cottage on the right. Bobo had told him that the empty cottage, even smaller than the house Manfred was renting, had been left by its previous owner to a distant cousin, and the cousin had never taken possession of the place. It sat in dusty silence with the curtains drawn and the doors locked, and its yard was a straggly mess. Manfred had realized that his own place very nearly matched it.

’’What I want you to do,’’ he said briskly, ’’is pull all the weeds that have grown up out here and pile them in that barrel. I\'ll burn them when they dry out.’’ The old metal barrel, which had clearly been used for the same purpose in the past, was positioned just outside the overgrown hedge that encircled the backyard, just inside the chain-link fence. ’’Once the weeds are all up, the hedge needs trimming with these hedge clippers. Once those clippings are all gathered up and in the barrel, you can mow the yard. I\'ve got an old-fashioned push mower right here.’’ He still hadn\'t had a chance to get into the toolshed. The mower was parked under the eaves behind the house and covered with a tarp.

The hedge clippers were more exciting. He\'d bought them at the Home Depot in Davy, and they were gleaming.

’’At least they\'re sharp,’’ Connor said. ’’But electric ones would have been better.’’

’’This isn\'t that big a yard, and the manual ones are fine for the job,’’ Manfred said, suppressing a scowl with some effort. ’’Also, this\'ll take you longer so you\'ll earn more money.’’

’’All right.’’ Connor looked a bit happier.

’’You are on your honor, keeping track of your time,’’ Manfred said. ’’I can\'t keep looking out here to police you.’’

’’What does that mean on my honor?’’

’’That means I\'m trusting you to keep an accurate account of the time you work.’’

Connor brightened. ’’Okay. I can do that.’’

Though he prided himself on being able to read people, Manfred couldn\'t decide if Connor was excited about being trusted or if he was simply pleased at the idea of being able to hoodwink Manfred out of a few extra bucks. Maybe because the kid himself didn\'t know how he\'d react? He definitely didn\'t give out a vibe that was easy to interpret.

Connor was apparently hard at work the couple of times Manfred went into the kitchen to get water or a cup of coffee. The kid\'s going to be a good-looking man, he thought, but his social adjustment is going to be all off. I wonder what his dad thinks is going to happen when Connor and Creek are too old to keep at home, when he has to let them go out into the world? What did Shawn do that he has to keep them hidden?


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