Midnight Crossroad Page 30

She had a few thousand things to say to Price Eggleston, but by necessity they were bottled up inside her. That doesn\'t mean I\'m powerless, she told herself sternly. I can still work magic without a voice. Or hands. Or the cat. Great-Aunt Mildred had told her that spoken spells and hand gestures were only tools to the witch, that what mattered most was intent. ’’Focus and intent,’’ she\'d said.

So this is like a test, Fiji told herself. I can do this. She could see Eggleston\'s foot very clearly, in its cowboy boot. She concentrated on the boot. She imagined it getting hot. Suddenly she realized the left foot was the one that needed to get hot;if the right one caught on fire, the truck might crash with her helpless inside it. Idiot, she scolded herself, and rubbed her cheek against her shoulder to wipe off a tear. Shoshanna Whitlock had been easy;she hadn\'t been expecting any resistance and she\'d been standing still.

This separates the witches from the wannabes, Fiji thought, and she focused on the heel of the boot. She made it hot. She thought of heat, of fire, and she sent it all into the boot. She didn\'t let herself blink, and she held herself still, and she was glad that the big man at the wheel did not seem to want to talk to her. In the movies, villains always wanted to explain themselves. It was her luck to have been captured by a villain who wasn\'t of the chatty variety.

His left foot stirred. He rubbed it across the floor mat. ’’What bit me?’’ he muttered. Instantly changing her tactic, Fiji imagined a big snake, though she wasn\'t educated enough about snakes to make it a particular pattern. She figured with the gathering darkness that Eggleston couldn\'t see down by his boot very clearly, and in this she was right. He could see the coiled shape and feel the intense heat she generated in his heel, and that was enough to make him yelp, swerve violently onto the shoulder of the road, throw the truck into park, and leap out.

Here she had a choice if the snake flowed out after him, would he run? Or should she ’’keep’’ it in the truck with her? When he drew a gun, Fiji\'s choice was made for her. She didn\'t want him firing into the truck. So out the snake went, slithering right for her abductor. The man made a sound that combined fear and incredulity, and he shot at the imaginary snake.

Fiji congratulated herself and began thinking of ways to keep him out of the truck, but she wasn\'t able to come up with anything good while her abductor was frantically searching the ground to find the corpse of the illusory serpent. This was made nearly impossible by the pouring rain and the dark sky. Lemuel will be rising soon, she thought, and though some of the feelings she\'d had for Lemuel lately had not been kindly, she looked forward to seeing him now with a passionate longing.

She tried to build an illusory wall between the man and the truck while he was still searching for the snake, but she was too uncomfortable with her wrists strained behind her, and too upset, to concentrate properly. I should have made the snake bite him, she thought. Perhaps he would have been upset enough to manifest the symptoms of snakebite. Perhaps the ’’venom’’ would have killed him.

Fiji\'s wall did not manifest successfully. All too soon, her abductor became convinced that he\'d either wounded the snake or frightened it off. He holstered the gun, and after a few more seconds of looking around during which she prayed someone was making progress in tracking her he pulled her up onto the seat and buckled her in. He went around to his side and climbed in, and the truck lurched back onto the road.

’’You\'re lucky that ole snake didn\'t bite you,’’ he told her. ’’I got no idea how the damn thing got in here.’’

I don\'t feel too lucky right now, she thought, leaning forward as far as the seat belt would permit to relieve the pressure on her arms. She began to focus on his boot again. She thought of heat. She wanted him to become convinced he\'d been bitten, somehow, and was just now feeling the full effect. She doubted his cowboy boots would even permit fangs to penetrate, but maybe he wouldn\'t believe that. In a second, he moved his left foot restlessly.

’’Ole snake,’’ he said, trying not to sound anxious. ’’Don\'t worry, lady, you\'re going to be okay.’’

She didn\'t answer. She was too busy staring at his foot.

’’Goddamn,’’ he muttered. ’’That hurts.’’

Yay! She was doing the right thing. Mildred would be proud of her.

And then his heel began smoking and burst into tiny flames.

He yelled and the truck left the road. This was maybe more success than she\'d planned on, because they careened down into a slight ditch and jolted up the rise on the other side, smacking into a barbed-wire fence. She did not let the accident break her focus this time, and the flames grew hotter. He threw the pickup into park and ejected himself from the cab of the truck again. Out in the downpour, he began stamping around on his foot. Because he\'d panicked, he didn\'t rip off the boot but stomped down into a puddle to extinguish the flame. It worked just as well, and she almost shrieked in frustration when her work again came to nothing but a delaying tactic.

Plus, this time he figured it out. ’’You did this,’’ he said, and he wasn\'t screaming at her and he didn\'t sound angry with her, which somehow made his voice all the more frightening. She thought her brain was going to pop with the effort she was making to shrink back against the seat of the pickup, imagine some way to protect herself, and rub the edge of the duct tape against the seat belt. Since he\'d only slapped it on and her face had been wet, she succeeded in removing enough of it to allow her to speak.

’’Why did you take me? I haven\'t done a thing to you.’’

’’Blame your friend Bobo. He\'s got something I want. He killed two of my soldiers. He got two others arrested. He burned down our meeting place. And he murdered a woman who was part of my movement. Lisa tells me you\'re real close to him. Maybe you\'ve taken Aubrey\'s place. So I\'ve taken someone of his, until he steps up to answer for his crimes.’’

’’Oh, bullshit. None of that is true. He doesn\'t have this cache of arms, he didn\'t kill your so-called soldiers, and your buddies deserved to be arrested. He thought the sun shone out of Aubrey\'s ass. He did not harm any of those people, and he doesn\'t have any of that stuff.’’

’’But my soldiers disappeared after I sent them to talk to him.’’

’’You mean, after you sent them into his own place of business to beat him up. Be man enough to say it.’’ She could not twist her head enough to see him well, but she hoped she was shaming him. Being diplomatic would be wiser, but she was mightily pissed off.

’’Why not? He\'s got what I need, what I want. He\'s not part of the cause. He should give up the arms that were so important to his grandfather, a real patriot. Those guns were meant for people willing to fight to sustain our liberty. Don\'t you know how close we are to Armageddon here? Don\'t you understand how fast we\'ll go under? The Mexicans will drown us. The tide will come across the border, and that\'ll be all she wrote. Unless we\'re armed and ready.’’

’’So the answer to everything is to kill people.’’

’’We gotta defend ourselves! You\'re just being a damn liberal if you don\'t see that. Aubrey understood.’’

’’Then why did you kill her?’’

He came closer to the open door. He was hopelessly soaked now. She saw that the torrent had abated to a slow but steady pelting of drops. ’’We did not kill her. He did, your boyfriend Bobo.’’

’’He did not,’’ she said again. ’’He grieves for her every day. He had no idea when we set out on that picnic that we would find her body. I was there. I know.’’

This time he did slap her, an openhanded smack to the cheek. ’’You\'re wrong, bitch. You are so wrong, and he is so guilty. I liked you better when you weren\'t talking. Shut up, now, or I\'ll tap you on the head with the gun,’’ he said, as he climbed into the truck.

That was an effective threat, because Fiji had recently read an article about how thin the skull could be. It had creeped her out. She was terrified that his ’’tap’’ could put her in a wheelchair for life. She had no idea if she had a thick skull or a thin skull, and she didn\'t want to bet on it one way or another.

He managed to get the truck back on the road after some maneuvering. She\'d hoped the tires were stuck, but no such luck. They resumed their rain-drenched trek to Marthasville . . . or wherever they were going.

’’How\'d you set my foot on fire?’’ he said suddenly.

Uh-oh. She said immediately, ’’That\'s ridiculous. I got no matches and I\'m handcuffed.’’

’’Midnight\'s got a reputation for funny people,’’ he said. ’’I think you\'re one of the funny ones.’’

’’Funny ha-ha, right?’’ she said.

’’Funny crazy,’’ he replied. She shut her mouth. But her curiosity couldn\'t let her keep quiet forever.

’’Where are we going?’’ she asked, after an interval.

’’To a place your buddies will never find. A place behind my parents\' house.’’ He laughed. ’’My mom and dad ain\'t been in it in ten years.’’

’’A bomb shelter?’’ she asked.

’’Hey, how\'d you know?’’ He was immediately suspicious and indignant.

I figured it out, idiot. ’’Not too many basements in Texas, so I figured it was a separate building. Marthasville isn\'t on a lake, so it couldn\'t be a boathouse.’’

She could almost feel his suspicious eyes dart over her vulnerable skull. She held her breath until the moment had passed when he would have hit her.

She prayed to the Goddess and her consort to get her through this mess alive, and she prayed her friends were looking for her now . . . if the damn lazy cat had done his job.

’’Did you see my cat?’’

’’What?’’ She\'d definitely surprised him with that one.

’’My cat. Did you see my cat in the store? Did you shut the door?’’

Her heart was sinking as she realized that Mr. Snuggly might be stuck in the shop with no way to get out. ’’No opposable thumbs,’’ he always said, smug as a cat could be, when she asked him to do something the least bit difficult.

’’I don\'t know,’’ Price Eggleston said with massive irritation. ’’You worried about your kitty? You should be worried about yourself. Your own pussy!’’ he said, proud of his own wit.

She had to admit she was more than a little worried about every part of herself. She wanted her friends to come after her, and she had no doubt that they would . . . if they knew she was in trouble. But that was far from certain. And Eggleston had a gun. If anyone (and anyone meant Bobo) was hurt in rescuing her, she would feel terrible forever. ’’Save me, save me!’’ had morphed into ’’Help me . . . without getting hurt.’’

Far too soon to suit Fiji, Eggleston slowed down for the first traffic light on the outskirts of Marthasville. Fiji saw the well-lit parking lot of the Cartoon Saloon shining through the downpour. She spared a thought for the handsome bouncer, who had never called her. After another light, the truck turned right. They were still not in the town, but Fiji realized they were in an older and affluent suburb. The trees were all well grown and the houses set back from the road. After they\'d driven past three homes, Eggleston turned right into a driveway that seemed very long but was probably only a quarter of a mile. The truck stopped. Her captor got out and came around to pull her out of her side.

’’Now, you shut up. Don\'t make a sound.’’

It was a huge mistake for him to tell her this, because it implied that whoever heard her would want to help her. It was also a huge mistake on his part to think his threat would be enough to silence her. She drew in a huge breath and then let it out in one ear-ripping scream. And she made it a word, so none of the people she imagined might hear her could write it off as an owl or a train or anything but a human. ’’Heeeeeelp me!’’ she shrieked.

The rain stopped.

After a second\'s shock, he backhanded her, but she drew in another breath, keeping her feet with some difficulty, and she yelled, ’’Help! Help!’’ She fell.

Lights came on maybe ten yards from where the truck was parked, and there were sounds, and then a man dashed out the back door, a thin man, with a rifle in his hands. In his other hand he held a big flashlight, and he shone it on Fiji, now sprawled on the wet ground, and her captor, who was bending over her with his fist raised.

’’Price! What the hell you doing!’’ the man barked. She could tell he was older by his voice and the way he walked.

And she heard a woman\'s voice, too, calling, ’’Bart? Who is it?’’

’’Mamie, it\'s Price, and he\'s hit some woman.’’ The older man shone the light directly in Price\'s face. ’’Son, this is low, even for you.’’ He drew closer.

’’Here, young lady, let me help you up.’’ The new arrival bent over to assist Fiji, who felt ridiculously embarrassed to have a man of his age helping her. She felt the reflex of shame that she was a round woman and not a skinny one, and therefore harder to get off the ground. But Bart Eggleston was stronger than he seemed, and soon she was on her feet, mud and grass plastered to her clothes, her hair soaking wet. And still handcuffed.

Price Eggleston was ominously silent while this was going on. Fiji had not known him long, and she\'d evaluated him as being not too bright. But he\'d been leading a pack of men, and she should have factored that in, she realized.

He said, ’’Mom, Dad, this doesn\'t concern you. This woman is not a Christian and she doesn\'t support our cause. There are certain things I have to do that I\'m not proud of, and this is one of them.’’

’’You have to throw a poor young white woman into the dirt and keep her out in the cold?’’ his mother said caustically. Price\'s mother had very black hair and dark eyes, but she was a pale woman. Probably doesn\'t tan because she thinks she might be taken for a Mexican, Fiji thought.

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