Midnight Crossroad Page 29

’’Brother,’’ said the Rev. ’’What has happened to Fiji?’’

’’A man came,’’ Mr. Snuggly said. ’’She fought and cursed like a madwoman, and I was proud of her, but he was too big and too strong. He took her.’’

’’Miss Fiji has been abducted?’’

’’Yes, indeed.’’ Mr. Snuggly, his errand complete and his duty discharged, began to clean his fur. He paused long enough to say, ’’You must do something about it. She has left the cooking thing on, which she will not do if she is not remaining in the house.’’ Mr. Snuggly was proud to have remembered that detail.

’’Thank you, Brother,’’ the Rev said, and it was his turn to consider options.

After asking one or two more questions, the Rev went next door to see the chaos in Fiji\'s normally orderly home (though the old man disliked rain almost as much as the cat, whom he carried tucked under one thin arm). Somehow the broken things on the floor made him much more anxious.

The thud of feet on the rock sidewalk leading up to the porch announced new arrivals. Bobo hurried into the room, closely followed by Manfred. Manfred had taken a moment to pull on a hooded plastic poncho, but Bobo had come as he was. His shirt was soaked with rain, and his hair clung damply to his scalp.

’’I saw a truck hauling ass away from here. What happened?’’ he asked, every line of his body tense. ’’Where is Fiji?’’

’’She\'s been taken,’’ said the Rev.

’’Little Timmy fell down the well,’’ said a tiny voice, and the two men looked around wildly to find the source.

’’Who said that?’’ Bobo asked.

’’Don\'t even ask,’’ the Rev said, with a kind of tired exasperation. ’’Let us pray for our sister, for she has been taken, and we must recover her.’’

’’What are the cops doing?’’ Manfred demanded.

’’I haven\'t called them. This is something we have to do. The man who took Fiji has had enough time to switch vehicles or possibly to reach his destination.’’

’’Have we heard from Fiji at all?’’ Bobo asked.

’’She\'s handcuffed and gagged,’’ the Rev said.

Bobo made a shocked and angry noise, as if someone had poked him with a hot needle.

’’We need to go across the street to the pawnshop, Bobo,’’ the Rev said. Manfred wondered why. ’’We\'ll take the cat with us.’’ The cat in question raised his head and looked at the Rev with his eyes slitted in indignation. ’’Manfred, if you would put the cat under your rain poncho, it would protect him on our way across the street.’’

Manfred felt almost as unhappy as Mr. Snuggly, but he lifted the poncho, scooped up the cat, and pulled the yellow plastic down over him.

The second they were inside the pawnshop, Manfred set Mr. Snuggly on the floor. The cat stretched and began inspecting all the chairs he could choose to sit in. Naturally, he selected the one Bobo favored, and in a second he was curled into a ball in the middle of the chair, purring loudly.

Bobo hardly seemed to notice but drew three chairs together around that one so that they could talk. They all sat, and the Rev told them that he had been alerted to Fiji\'s plight and he used the word ’’plight’’ by the cat.

If the Rev had had much of a sense of humor, it would have been highly gratified by the expressions on Bobo\'s and Manfred\'s faces.

’’And what\'s so funny about that?’’ said the same small, bitter voice they\'d heard in Fiji\'s store.

They both turned to look at the cat.

Mr. Snuggly said, ’’I can talk. Woo-hoo.’’

Manfred filled his lungs with an audible gasp. It appeared he\'d forgotten to breathe. ’’I thought so!’’ Bobo said triumphantly. ’’From that day I dropped the gardening fork on my toe. I knew I heard someone laughing. So, cat, you were the one who actually saw someone take Fiji?’’

The cat nodded and then closed his eyes, intending to resume his nap.

’’Wait a minute,’’ Manfred said. ’’You have to tell us all about it.’’

’’The man came in the front door, and when she came from the kitchen, he took her.’’ He put his head back down and closed his eyes.

’’She fought?’’

’’Oh, yes,’’ said the cat, opening his eyes a little, very reluctantly. ’’The case got broken, and some of the glass landed very close to me. I could have been cut! But he hustled her out into the rain and handcuffed her. I saw him when I got up on the counter to watch. He put something over her mouth and shoved her into his truck. Then I ran over to the chapel, because I knew she would give me permission to leave the grounds under the circumstances. I roused the Rev by an almost supernatural effort.’’

’’Almost supernatural,’’ Manfred repeated.

’’Yes. He heard me and listened to me, and now here I am, warm and almost dry and in a good chair. When I wake up, you can give me some salmon.’’ Mr. Snuggly\'s eyes drifted shut and he relaxed into sleep.

’’Somehow I thought a talking cat would be friendlier,’’ Bobo said. ’’Ah . . . more caring?’’

’’He might talk, but he\'s still a cat,’’ the Rev said, as if that were explanation enough.

’’Setting aside the talking cat and the fact that he doesn\'t seem too concerned about his owner, which I know is a lot to set aside, this is about Fiji,’’ Manfred said.

’’Yes, and I will say two things here,’’ the Rev told them. ’’Bobo, though God tells us not to judge, you have taken the easy way out two times in a row, or your friend down below has.’’

For a wild moment, Manfred thought the Rev\'s downcast eyes meant Bobo had a connection with the Devil, but he understood after a long second that the Rev meant Lemuel.

’’What do you mean?’’ Bobo looked bewildered.

’’Did Lemuel not settle your problem with the first two thugs this Eggleston sent?’’

Bobo flushed deep red. ’’Yes,’’ he said. ’’Lemuel and . . .’’

’’Lemuel and Olivia,’’ the Rev said. ’’And do you not suspect that it was Lemuel and Olivia who went over to Marthasville and burned down Eggleston\'s house?’’

Bobo became even redder. ’’I don\'t know that,’’ he said.

’’But you believe it\'s so.’’

Manfred looked from the wizened old minister to the big blond man, trying to absorb all these new ideas. ’’So,’’ he said cautiously, ’’you\'re telling Bobo that Eggleston wouldn\'t have resorted to kidnapping Fiji if Lemuel and Olivia hadn\'t been so drastic in their reaction?’’

’’I am saying we\'d have a much better chance of getting her back unharmed.’’

’’Okay, point taken,’’ Bobo said. ’’But what now?’’

The Rev looked almost approving. ’’Good. The right spirit will lead you into the paths of righteousness,’’ he said. ’’We must find where he has taken her, and we must rescue her, because the police will not be able to do this.’’

’’But won\'t we have to take measures as drastic as the ones you\'re condemning?’’

The Rev said very patiently, ’’Now is the time to take measures. Her welfare is at stake. It\'s not the answer to every problem. It is the answer to this problem.’’

’’If you\'re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,’’ Manfred said suddenly. He\'d just caught on.

’’Exactly. And Lemuel and Olivia are hammers.’’ The Rev nodded, glad now that he felt they were all on the same page.

’’Lem will be up soon,’’ Bobo said, glancing at a clock.

’’It\'s too bad you\'re not a tracking creature,’’ the Rev said. ’’But Lemuel will do his best.’’

’’Olivia\'s not here?’’ Manfred was looking all around him in furtive glances, worried that Lemuel would pop up out of nowhere and scare the shit out of him.

’’No, she\'s gone.’’ The Rev looked sad, whether because he missed Olivia, thought she would be useful if she were here, or regretted whatever cause had taken her away, Manfred could not decide.

’’Should we get Chuy and Joe?’’ Manfred said.

’’No, they need to stay here,’’ the Rev said, without any hesitation.

’’Teacher?’’

’’No, he would not come,’’ the Rev said. ’’Better not to ask him.’’

Manfred wondered how the Rev knew all this, and how the oldest resident of Midnight had been tacitly acknowledged leader of the Fiji rescue expedition but since Manfred himself was not qualified to take control, he was not about to ask out loud.

’’What are we going to do?’’ Bobo asked impatiently.

’’We\'re going to find Fiji and get her back.’’

’’Great. How?’’ Bobo snapped.

The Rev looked up at Bobo, but Bobo didn\'t relent.

’’As soon as Lem is up, we\'ll go. We\'ll take the cat.’’

Both the younger men looked at the Rev as if he\'d lost his mind, and so did the cat, whose eyes sprang open. Manfred thought they were lucky Mr. Snuggly\'s outrage made him speechless.

’’Mr. Snuggly, Manfred will hold you. He is a psychic, and that will help you focus.’’

’’Oh, all right,’’ the cat said sullenly. ’’I must get my feeder back.’’

Bobo looked a little punchy. ’’All this time, he\'s been able to talk,’’ he whispered. ’’And he calls Feej his feeder?’’

’’You have a vampire living in your basement, and you\'re stunned by a talking cat?’’ the Rev said, with some asperity.

’’Good point,’’ Manfred said. ’’Catch up, Bobo. Okay, so we take the cat out with us, and because he\'s . . . what, her familiar? . . . he\'ll be able to tell where Fiji is?’’

’’Yes,’’ said the Rev. ’’He is a lazy cat, but he must do that for her.’’

’’What\'s all the palaver about?’’ Lemuel said behind them, and Manfred couldn\'t help it. He jumped. Everyone except Mr. Snuggly politely ignored that.

Lemuel had come up through the trapdoor. ’’I could tell there was trouble up here,’’ he said, moving to stand beside Bobo. Lemuel was wearing starched khakis and a button-down shirt. He made it look like a costume. His pale hair was slicked back, still damp from a shower, Manfred assumed.

’’Fiji has been stolen,’’ the Rev said. ’’We think the man who took her was Eggleston. If you had not burned down his hunting lodge, we would know where she was, but since you have done that, we must look for her elsewhere. We have the cat.’’

Lemuel absorbed all this quickly. He didn\'t respond to the Rev\'s rebuke, and he didn\'t waste time raging against the kidnapper. ’’We must start now, then. How long have they been gone?’’

The Rev looked at his watch. ’’Less than an hour.’’

’’We can all get in your station wagon,’’ Bobo said, and that was another surprise for Manfred. He\'d never seen the Rev drive.

’’Do you need to change?’’ Lemuel said to the Rev, and Manfred wondered why the Rev would need different clothes.

’’Not now,’’ the Rev replied, and he left the shop, running faster than Manfred would ever have believed a man his apparent age could move.

In three minutes, he was parked in front of Midnight Pawn in an ancient station wagon. It was dark and rusty and huge, and probably steered like a boat, but in this weather, that was about what they needed. Manfred had not removed his rain poncho, and he scooped up the cat again. They scrambled out of the store and into the station wagon, and without a word the Rev drove west.

32

The rain did not slacken as they drove toward Marthasville. It beat against the road and the station wagon as if it were trying to pound them apart.

From the rear seat, Manfred, who\'d been tapping on his phone, said, ’’Price Eggleston has a home address on Rolling Hills Road. Someone named Bart Eggleston, I\'m assuming that\'s his dad, has a phone listing on the same road. From the addresses, they\'re next door to each other.’’

’’Your computer told you all that?’’ the Rev said.

’’My telephone told me all that. You really should try it sometime.’’

’’I have a telephone,’’ the Rev said. He was bent forward to peer out the windshield. ’’It stays on the wall in my house and takes messages if I don\'t want to answer it. That\'s all I need.’’

Manfred could tell from the limpness of the warm bundle under his poncho that Mr. Snuggly had gone to sleep again. So far, he was not a fan of the cat. But he would rather think about the cat than Lemuel, who was sitting beside him and behind Bobo. The vampire seemed more stone than flesh. Manfred could not imagine what Lemuel was thinking. The vampire could be lamenting the absence of his lover, he could be angry at the Rev, he could be planning revenge on Fiji\'s abductors, or he could be trying to remember if he\'d flossed that night. He could even be considering the scolding the Rev had given him.

The Rev drove as fast as he could, considering the age and size of the vehicle and the terrible weather, but there was no way they were going to catch up with the pickup truck. When they\'d gotten close to Marthasville, the old man said, ’’Manfred, wake the cat.’’

Manfred said, ’’Okay, I\'ll give it a shot.’’ He gave the cat a gentle shake and lifted up the flap of yellow plastic that had covered him.

’’I\'m awake,’’ said a peevish voice. Mr. Snuggly looked up at Manfred through slitted eyes. ’’I will know when she is close,’’ the cat said.

’’You\'d better,’’ said the Rev, very quietly.

’’No threatening the cat!’’ Mr. Snuggly said.

No one spoke after that. They all concentrated on finding Fiji.

33

Fiji was scared, and she was angry. It was impossible to say which emotion was stronger. Just after they\'d left Midnight, a moment of hydroplaning on the slick road had left her down on the floorboard, since she had no way to catch herself. Fortunately, Eggleston steadied the truck and calmed down. Fiji was glad the road west was mostly straight and the hills were gentle. She had so many thoughts running through her head that she couldn\'t seize any one of them to develop. She had wept a little (out of sheer anger, she told herself), and her nose was stopped up in consequence. Since her mouth was sealed shut, she had to concentrate on her breathing. Finally her nasal passages cleared, and she was getting oxygen in a regular amount in the normal way. It was amazing how much that helped to clear her mind.


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