Midnight Crossroad Page 27

Not for the first time, Manfred wondered if the family wasn\'t in some witness protection program. After she\'d taken Creek to the funeral, Fiji had run into Manfred when she was checking her mailbox, and she\'d told Manfred the idea had crossed her mind. That scenario made sense to Manfred. It would explain so many things about the Lovells. But it also felt too TV-plot to be real. Besides, Shawn seemed so commonplace. What could he have done to earn him a place in the program?

Or was the man some kind of isolationist? Did he think he\'d keep his children free from all modern influences if he raised them here?

Manfred added a little sugar to his coffee, shrugged, and went back to work. Though he was curious, Manfred was honest enough to admit to himself that Shawn Lovell\'s issues were only important to him because they affected Creek.

It was still light when Connor stopped for the day. He had done a lot of clearing. He told Manfred that he\'d worked for two and a half hours and taken two breaks. The boy seemed very proud of himself. Shawn had come by to bring Connor some water. Manfred only knew this because he\'d looked out the window to see Shawn walking down his driveway, bottle in hand. I should have known Shawn would check up on him, he\'d thought, shaking his head, before he returned his attention to the screen.

Then Teacher Reed came by, just as Manfred was paying Connor.

’’Hey, man,’’ he called. ’’You taking my jobs out from under me?’’

Connor looked startled, and a little flattered. ’’No, sir,’’ he said, grinning. ’’I\'m just weeding for Mr. Bernardo.’’

’’I\'d better watch my back,’’ Teacher said with mock anxiety, and strode off about his business, whatever it had been. Manfred thought it was odd that Teacher was down this way, unless he\'d been visiting the pawnshop and just happened to spy Connor working.

’’I have to go home to cook supper,’’ Connor said. ’’I\'ll come back tomorrow to finish.’’

’’Good job,’’ Manfred said, pleased.

’’If you need that old stump pulled out,’’ the boy offered, ’’I can tie a rope to it and pull it out with Dad\'s old pickup.’’

’’Your dad might have something to say about that. Might damage the truck.’’

’’It\'s a junker,’’ Connor said dismissively. ’’He taught me how to drive on it. Course, I don\'t have a license yet. But I drive around town sometimes.’’

Manfred laughed, and said, ’’I guess I\'d better check with Bobo before I do anything that drastic to the backyard.’’ Pulling up a stump in an area where graves had to be blasted with dynamite might be a serious undertaking.

Manfred was just closing the door when he spotted Sheriff Smith parking his car in front of Fiji\'s place. The sheriff\'s visits were getting fewer and farther between. Apparently no new information had surfaced about Aubrey\'s murder. For the first time, the thought crossed Manfred\'s mind that the mystery of her death might never be solved. It would hang over Bobo forever.

And not for the first time, Manfred was profoundly glad he\'d moved here after Aubrey\'s disappearance.

30

The sheriff had been in Fiji\'s store before, but he looked around him like he\'d fallen down the rabbit hole. It was clear that he was uneasy at being in a magic shop. Especially one that was being decorated for Halloween;in the absence of any customers, Fiji had started the ball rolling.

When he entered, to the jingle of the old-fashioned bell attached to the door, Fiji was up on a ladder in the middle of the room. She was hanging a full-size skeleton from a hook on the ceiling. More accurately, she was suspending a skeleton that appeared to have been hanged with a noose.

’’Can I help you?’’ Arthur Smith asked immediately.

’’Yes, that would be great.’’ Fiji came down the ladder cautiously. ’’I seem to be an inch shorter than I need to be.’’

The sheriff smiled at her, and for the first time, Fiji thought of him as a man rather than as an instrument of her discomfiture. She estimated Smith was fifteen years older than she was, but he swarmed up the ladder with an impressive amount of ease. He completed the whole job in less than a minute. ’’Where should I put the ladder?’’ he asked.

’’It goes in the extra bedroom,’’ Fiji said. ’’The second door on the left.’’ She hurried to open the hall door for him, which she\'d had installed when she\'d decided to make the living room her place of business. She didn\'t want customers wandering through the rest of the house as though they had a right to inspect it.

The first door on the left was the bathroom, and Fiji was relieved she didn\'t leave towels on the floor or clothes strewn around. She\'d gotten in the habit of keeping it orderly since, on the rare occasion, a customer needed to use it. Across the hall, her bedroom door was shut, also a habit she\'d acquired through experience. She scurried ahead of Arthur to open the second bedroom door, on the left after the bathroom. There was a double bed, but primarily she used the room for storage. It was obvious where the ladder went;the objects in the room were stacked as neatly as a Tetris game.

Since he\'d been so helpful, Fiji felt she had to offer him some hospitality. ’’Coffee? Water? Sweet tea?’’ she asked.

’’I\'d sure like a glass of tea,’’ he said. He retreated to the shop area. When she brought his drink, she found him sitting in one of the two armchairs facing each other across a wicker table in the center of the shop floor. The table was stacked with Modern Witch, Texas Monthly, and Crafts for the Home. She placed a coaster handy.

’’So, how\'s the investigation going?’’ she asked, not knowing what else to talk about. She was not sure why he\'d dropped in.

’’I\'ve interviewed more right-wing nuts than I thought there were in Texas,’’ he said wearily. ’’And all of them are giving each other alibis.’’ He picked up the current issue of Modern Witch. ’’This is a serious publication?’’ he said. ’’You regard yourself as a witch?’’

’’Yes, it is. And I do.’’

’’You believe that you can affect the outcome of things?’’

’’I believe in the power of spells to affect events,’’ she said, measuring each word before she added it to the conversation.

’’Why did you dislike Aubrey Hamilton so much?’’

She\'d been pretty sure he\'d get around to asking her that. She knew she wasn\'t hard to read, in some respects. ’’She wasn\'t telling the truth in her relationship with Bobo,’’ she said. ’’I\'ve been his friend for some time. I\'ve seen him with other women. Aubrey was really opaque about her previous life, about how she ended up as a waitress in Davy. I thought it was a mighty big coincidence that she was working at Bobo\'s favorite restaurant, that she didn\'t have any sort of boyfriend to slow down the way their relationship advanced, that she seemed to agree with Bobo in every respect.’’

’’Most couples have some differences.’’

’’Exactly. But every opinion Bobo had, she had, too. Or so she said.’’ Fiji shrugged. ’’It just seemed sketchy to me.’’

’’And did you share these thoughts with Bobo?’’

’’No, I did not.’’

’’If you\'re such good friends, why not?’’

She stared at him, at a loss. Why not? Because I have a crush on him the size of a boulder. If I\'d really just been his buddy, I would have spoken up. ’’Because his love life is none of my business. Since he\'s a grown man and he obviously liked her a lot, I wasn\'t going to butt in and tell tales. Especially since I didn\'t have anything concrete to tell him. What was I gonna say, \'She agrees with you too much\'?’’

’’You didn\'t think of using your witch ability to expose her?’’

Suddenly Fiji\'s interior alarm system went off. She was treading on eggshells now. ’’What do you mean?’’

’’You didn\'t cast a spell on her, or ask one of your witch friends to do something?’’

’’I don\'t have any witch friends,’’ Fiji said. ’’Not any serious practitioners. Why?’’

’’When one of my deputies was going through Aubrey\'s boxed belongings, she found this. It had been in her night table drawer.’’ Arthur pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket. In it was a fishhook, and tied to the hook were three silk threads. On the other ends of the silk threads were flat patches, the ones you\'d buy at a sewing store or craft store to apply to a garment or pillow. One of them was a heart. And one of them was shaped like lips.

Though he hadn\'t exactly offered the bag to her, Fiji leaned over and took it. She looked down at it with some distaste. ’’I can only guess about the interpretation,’’ she said. ’’I suppose the hook means the spell was cast so the person owning this could get their hooks into someone. The heart means the caster wanted to get the person to love her, and the lips are for physical passion. This is just my guess.’’

’’Is this the kind of thing you do?’’ Arthur Smith looked at her with level blue eyes.

She was tempted, so tempted, to show him exactly what she could do, but that way lay disaster. It had taken her years to learn that lesson. ’’I would never create such a thing,’’ she said. ’’And it doesn\'t come from any school of witchcraft that I know about. It seems . . . made up. By someone who really doesn\'t know anything about the craft.’’

He was good at staring, she found. ’’I just about believe you,’’ he said finally.

She shrugged. ’’You do or you don\'t,’’ she said, but she felt relieved. ’’This is not my work. I don\'t know if she bought So You Think You\'re a Witch or Magic Is Us, or if someone with a little woo-woo in her system made this for Aubrey. Frankly, I have a hard time believing Aubrey would be interested in making something like this. But no true practitioner would have created it.’’ She handed the plastic bag to the sheriff. Mr. Snuggly appeared from behind the shop counter, where one of his many pillows was positioned, and came to look up at Arthur Smith.

’’Nice cat.’’ Smith\'s admiration seemed to be genuine.

’’Sometimes he\'s not as nice as he looks,’’ she said. Mr. Snuggly\'s head swiveled with uncanny abruptness as he gave Fiji what could only be described as a glare.

’’Claws the furniture?’’ Smith asked.

’’Ah, likes to wake me up in the morning,’’ she said. ’’He\'s got to have his chow.’’ The cat turned his broad golden-striped back to her in a pointed fashion.

’’It\'s just like he knows what you\'re saying.’’

’’It is, isn\'t it,’’ she said.

Smith left a moment later. He didn\'t volunteer any more information, but Fiji saw that he was driving down to the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon.

In the remaining daylight, after the sheriff had driven back to Davy, the motorcycles roared through Midnight. They all paused outside the pawnshop and milled around in a threatening manner. The inhabitants of Midnight wisely stayed inside behind locked doors. The most proactive community members, Olivia and Lemuel, were not able to respond. Olivia was on one of her mysterious trips out of town, and Lemuel was dead to the world.

Fiji called Bobo. ’’You okay?’’ she asked when he answered.

’’I\'ve got my shotgun and I\'m ready,’’ he said. ’’I\'ve called the police.’’

’’Good.’’ She called Chuy.

’’You all right?’’

’’We\'re good. We\'re ready. You need us to come to you?’’

’’No, stay inside. Bobo\'s called the police.’’

In the next minute or two all the residents of Midnight had called each other, except the Rev.

Fiji asked for the help of several goddesses. She was too frightened to run out her front door and in the door of the chapel to check on him. After all, motorcycle gangs had a bad reputation when it came to women. She was ashamed of her own cowardice. Finally, she went up into her attic, a place she avoided normally, and peered out a window, the only place she could see into the pet cemetery.

To her surprise, the Rev was digging a grave, about half human size. He\'d hung his coat on a tree branch while he worked. He was ignoring the loud engine sounds and the yells of the MOL. He didn\'t even seem to notice the noise.

She scrambled down the rickety folding ladder and closed up the attic, feeling a flood of relief. Though the MOL were buzzing and droning, Fiji could just hear the siren of an approaching police car. She ran to the front window, hoping to see them all being cuffed and thrown in the back of police cars. There was only a single patrol, but at the sight of it, the MOL group scattered like billiard balls when the break occurs. They fled in all directions across the landscape, not sticking to the roads, and the patrol car couldn\'t follow all of them at once.

In fact, it made no attempt to follow any of them.

Fiji dashed out onto her porch, her face flushed and furious, and she gestured from the patrol car to one of the fleeing motorcycles, her meaning as clear as if she\'d had a blackboard behind her. But the officer inside only pulled up in front of the pawnshop and got out of the car.

The cop was a woman, and Fiji stormed across the road to her. Manfred joined her just in time to hear, ’’So you thought if you couldn\'t get them all, you wouldn\'t get any of them?’’ Fiji was livid.

’’Car chasing motorcycle, the end\'s not going to be good,’’ the cop said in a bored way. She was a chunky woman whom the uniform did not flatter. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a tight knob on the back of her head, and her dark glasses were mirrors. Her face was hard and brown with crevices like a walnut\'s shell. ’’And they hadn\'t done anything.’’

’’Hadn\'t done anything,’’ Fiji repeated.

Manfred was afraid she was going to freeze the police officer. Now that he was close enough, he could read ’’Gomez’’ on her name tag.


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