Midnight Crossroad Page 28

’’They didn\'t shoot anything, they didn\'t even throw rocks,’’ Gomez said. ’’They didn\'t shout threats, even. Was I supposed to arrest them for driving in circles and looking scary?’’

’’That would have been a start in the right direction,’’ Fiji said, and her hands twitched. Mr. Snuggly was standing at Fiji\'s feet, looking up at Gomez with an unblinking feline stare. Gomez noticed the cat. ’’He\'ll know me next time he sees me,’’ she said, and laughed, but not as if she really found that amusing. ’’I\'m not much of a cat person.’’

’’Oooooh,’’ Fiji said with faux sympathy. ’’Are you scared of my kitty? Well, Mr. Snuggly ’’

’’Hi, Officer,’’ Manfred said smoothly, and Fiji felt like smacking him. But he kept on talking. ’’Thanks for coming so quickly. I don\'t know how much you know about what\'s been happening here lately, but we\'ve been having trouble with people from this group coming into Midnight and attacking us.’’ By the time he\'d finished, Fiji had calmed down a bit.

’’Not exactly the way I heard it,’’ Gomez said.

That brought both Manfred and Fiji up short. ’’What do you mean?’’ Fiji said, holding on to her composure with both hands.

’’Way I see it is you got some kind of dispute with Price Eggleston\'s political group. First the widow of one of them starts living here with one of you Midnight people, and she goes missing, turns up dead. Two of them come over here to talk to the guy she was living with, and they vanish. Poof! Then two of them come over here to find out why the first two vanished, maybe go a little overboard, and they get arrested. Then their little hunting club gets burned down. Now they come over here and let off some steam, and here I am and they\'ve left. Having done nothing.’’

Fiji and Manfred darted a glance at each other. Fiji could tell Manfred was as shocked as she was at this interpretation of events. She left it to him to answer.

’’But we don\'t know what happened to the two that disappeared,’’ he said, looking flabbergasted. ’’And we didn\'t go set anything on fire.’’

Gomez\'s eyes went from him to Fiji. Her mouth pulled up at one corner in a distinctly skeptical way. ’’Right,’’ she said. ’’Well, they\'re gone now, no one\'s hurt, and I\'m going back on patrol.’’

’’I\'m glad Sheriff Smith doesn\'t share your views,’’ Fiji said. She\'d found her voice. Mr. Snuggly stood and stepped closer to Gomez, who took a step back.

’’That\'s your assumption, that he doesn\'t,’’ Gomez said, and got back into her car. ’’Better pick up your cat,’’ she said out of the open window. ’’It would be a shame if he got run over.’’

Mr. Snuggly hissed. It was the most malevolent sound Fiji had ever heard from the cat. She was proud of him.

Gomez shut her window hastily and sped away. After her car was a cloud of dust on the Davy highway, all the people of Midnight came out of their houses and stores in the thick dusk. They gathered in front of the pawnshop, even the Rev except for Bobo, the Lovells, Lem, and Olivia.

’’I can understand why Shawn wouldn\'t want his kids to come out after that little invasion,’’ Manfred said, though no one had said a word. Fiji raised an eyebrow at Manfred, who looked embarrassed. Just then, the door of Midnight Pawn opened, and Bobo came down the steps to join them.

He looks better, Fiji thought, like he\'s put the worst behind him. She noticed, all over again, that he still looked as though he\'d lost an appreciable amount of weight, but he was clean and shaved, and his clothes weren\'t wrinkled. Overall, this version of Bobo Winthrop seemed more like the man she\'d known than he had since the picnic. However, he was exasperated, as his first words proved.

’’Why don\'t I just go to this Eggleston\'s house and turn myself over to the MOL,’’ Bobo said to the silent gaggle of Midnighters. ’’Might as well get it over with.’’

’’No!’’ said Fiji. ’’You better not, or I\'ll kick your ass, Bobo Winthrop!’’

The rest of them said something similar, though in less passionate ways. Even the Rev (though he kept glancing at his watch) told Bobo that God helped those who helped themselves. Teacher said, ’’Man, you might as well hang yourself as do that,’’ and they all nodded.

Manfred murmured to Fiji, ’’I wish Olivia and Lemuel were here.’’

’’I think they\'ve done enough,’’ Fiji said.

’’What do you mean?’’ Manfred said.

’’Oh, use your brain!’’ she said impatiently. She turned her attention back to the conversation whirling around Bobo. Joe and Chuy were telling Bobo he could sleep in their guest bedroom, and Teacher was offering to install an alarm system. Manfred offered him a couch to sleep on, and Fiji said she had a guest bedroom. The Rev informed Bobo that he would pray for him and that the Almighty Father would protect the righteous.

At that, Bobo laughed. Then he apologized. ’’I\'m sorry, Rev. I wasn\'t making fun of your religion. I was just doubting I was righteous.’’

The Rev said seriously as he said all things ’’Never doubt that you are a good man, Bobo Winthrop.’’ Then he saw that a car had pulled into the driveway at the side of the chapel. ’’I have a funeral to see to,’’ he said.

’’This late? It\'s almost dark. Whose funeral?’’ Fiji was curious.

’’I turned on the lights. Blackie the cocker spaniel,’’ he told her, and crossed the street to attend to Blackie and his owner.

As Fiji had expected, Bobo was thanking everyone and turning down their offers. ’’Thanks, Chuy, Joe. Manfred. Feej. But I\'ll stay here at the shop. After all, I have to work during the day. Lem can\'t. And if someone threw a firebomb or set a fire . . . well, I\'d have to get him out. If they come at night, he\'d do the same for me. Teacher, I\'ll take you up on the alarm system. But you may not want to fill in here until this situation is resolved.’’

’’I say yes to that,’’ Madonna said instantly. She was gently swaying from side to side, Grady asleep on her chest, his head on her shoulder. ’’I\'m sorry, Bobo, and you tell Lem we said so, too. But Teacher shouldn\'t risk his life to keep a store open.’’

’’Absolutely,’’ Bobo said, nodding.

Teacher looked as though he had his own thoughts on the subject, but he kept his mouth clamped shut. Madonna began to walk back to the diner, and after a second of looking very unhappy, Teacher followed her.

Fiji, frazzled and exasperated, bent and swooped up Mr. Snuggly, who nestled in her arms. ’’You crossed the road by yourself,’’ she scolded the cat. He looked up at her with wide golden eyes. ’’Okay,’’ she said. ’’Okay. I know you\'re a grown-up cat.’’ He stared some more. She relaxed, smiled.

’’If you\'re through communing with the cat,’’ Bobo said mildly.

’’Yeah?’’ She looked at him, still smiling.

’’I\'m gonna go clean a few guns,’’ Bobo said.

Manfred stopped him. He said, ’’Bobo, I really think you should take Chuy and Joe up on their offer. Or sleep at my place. It\'s really your place, after all, and you\'d be right next door to the shop. We\'d know if anything happened.’’

’’Or come to my house,’’ Fiji offered. ’’There\'s not a lot of room in the guest room since that\'s where I store all my extra stuff, but there\'s a bed and it\'s made up.’’

’’It wouldn\'t be so crowded if you had a storage shed,’’ Bobo said, as if that were the most important thing in the world. ’’That\'ll be the next thing I work on, I promise. If I\'m still around to work on anything.’’ He smiled to take the sting out of his words.

’’A storage shed is not at the top of my list of worries right now.’’ Spots of color burned in Fiji\'s cheeks. She looked at Manfred, silently asking him to think of something persuasive to say.

Manfred tried. ’’This Price Eggleston is trying to spy on you and scare you in all kinds of ways. Are you sure it\'s the mythical arms of your grandfather he wants? Or is there something more personal in this?’’

’’I don\'t know him,’’ Bobo said. ’’I only met him that one time when he came in the pawnshop. I can\'t think what he\'d have against me unless he got involved with Aubrey at some point, either while she was married or after her husband was shot. Maybe he honestly thinks I killed her.’’

Mr. Snuggly opened his mouth, but Fiji looked down at him and the cat yawned instead of whatever he\'d been about to do.

Manfred told Fiji, ’’It almost looked like he was going to say something.’’

’’That\'s silly,’’ she said.

The cat winked at him.

31

It rained the next day, torrents and buckets. The fierce wind drove the drops against the front of Fiji\'s place with more noise than she would have thought possible. She was so glad she hadn\'t finished her outside Halloween decorations;that was scheduled for Saturday.

Only two customers came into her shop all morning, and she spent most of her time dusting and rearranging the merchandise. She managed to break two glass figures in the process, which effectively erased her profit from the two customers. She had to warn Mr. Snuggly to stay in his cushioned basket while she swept up the glass. To be doubly sure she\'d gotten every tiny glass splinter, she vacuumed. Later that afternoon, she went back to the kitchen, leaving the hall door open so she could hear the shop bell, and started a pot of soup. It was a day that cried out for soup. She put on an Enya CD to work by.

While she chopped up vegetables and leftover chicken, Fiji thought about how to resolve the town crisis. The death of Aubrey was no longer Bobo\'s tragedy or at least, not only his. Aubrey\'s murder surely tied into the legend of the missing guns. Fiji feared that bad men would keep showing up as long as Bobo lived, in search of the mythical treasure trove of death.

Fiji heard the shop doorbell tinkle, and she dumped everything on the chopping board into the pot of chicken broth. As she washed her hands, she thought of having corn bread with the soup tonight. As she was drying them, she told herself how much better the soup would be without the corn bread, and failed to convince herself that could be so. As she hurried down the short hall to the front of the shop, she called, ’’I\'m coming.’’

She was already smiling when she stepped into the front room. The smile vanished when she saw a tall man in a cowboy hat standing in the middle of the display cases. He was draped in a cheap yellow rain poncho, dripping water all over the boards and throw rugs. She was not a psychic or a telepath, but she knew bad intentions when she saw them, and Price Eggleston meant her no good. She spun on her heel to run down the hall and out the back door, but in three big strides he went around the chairs and table, seized her by the shoulder, and wrapped one arm around her middle. Then he clapped the other hand over her mouth.

Fiji struggled with all her might, using her elbows and kicking and squirming, but he was a strong man. She caught a glimpse of Mr. Snuggly. He\'d jumped out of his basket and was hiding in the shadows under the shelves. She fought all the harder, hoping her assailant would not notice the cat and do him harm.

’’Keep still, you bitch!’’ Eggleston growled, and she kicked backward to strike his shin. He was hampered by the plastic poncho and by his instinctive avoidance of the furniture and fixtures of the shop. But when he let her down a little, enough so her feet could touch the floor, Fiji planted them on the floor and pushed backward with all her might. She succeeded in causing Eggleston to slam into a clear case full of small glass ornaments and sun catchers, and the case went over. Fiji was trying to leave a record of what had happened, and when she heard the crash as the case hit the floor, she knew she had succeeded.

But the struggle had exhausted her, and she had to catch her breath. Eggleston took advantage of her weak moment by dragging her out of the shop into the rain, leaving the shop door open. There was no traffic, no one in sight, as he wrestled her out to his truck, pinning her against it while he pulled her hands behind her and clicked her wrists into a pair of handcuffs. Even then Fiji did not quit fighting entirely. She tossed her head from side to side when he tried to place some silver duct tape across her mouth, but eventually he timed it right and sealed her lips shut. He stuffed her into the front seat before running around to the driver\'s side. He looked both ways behind him, backed out across the empty road to face west, and drove off toward Marthasville with the angriest woman in Texas sliding around on the bench seat, unable to stop herself, her hands cuffed behind her.

In the store, now silent except for the drumming of the rain on the roof, Mr. Snuggly considered his options. He could go back to sleep in his basket (he liked that idea very much), but that didn\'t seem a noble reaction. He could chase after the truck in the rain . . . he discarded that option instantly. It required too much action on his part, and though he was a very fast cat, he could not keep up with a truck. He licked his paws as he gloomily settled on the most becoming option.

He would have to go next door.

If cats could sigh, he would have, when he stepped out onto the porch and looked at the rain. But since the bad man had left the door open, he really had no excuse to linger. Mr. Snuggly glared at a cat\'s version of hell. But he gathered himself and dashed in a blur of marmalade to the cover of the nearest bush, where he took shelter. He got drenched instantly with the water that had been clinging to its leaves.

’’Curse the man,’’ he muttered, and prepared for his next sprint to the doors of the chapel. The small eave provided no cover for Mr. Snuggly at all, and he began to caterwaul. He leaped up to scratch at the wooden doors. The Rev responded almost immediately. He had to look down to see who was making such a noise at God\'s door, but when he realized Mr. Snuggly was his visitor, he stepped back and the cat shot through the aperture and into the relative peace of the chapel.


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