Midnight Crossroad Page 31

She felt ashamed as Mamie added, ’’Don\'t make any difference if she\'s a Christian or not, we are, and we got to treat her right.’’

’’Wait a second, Mamie,’’ her husband said. ’’Price, what are you trying to do here?’’

’’Her boyfriend is the one who killed Aubrey, Dad, and I took her so he\'d come looking for her and I could get a shot at him.’’

The older Egglestons paused.

Fiji said, ’’I\'m sorry, but your son is mistaken. If he\'s thinking my boyfriend is Bobo Winthrop, he\'s not right. But Bobo is a friend of mine, and I have to speak up for him. Bobo never killed anyone. He\'s a sweet man, and he loved Aubrey. Up until this moment, we believed that Price killed Aubrey.’’

Bart and Mamie looked at each other. ’’Come on in the house,’’ Mamie said at last. ’’Let\'s get out of this damp. Price, loose the poor girl\'s hands.’’

Price, looking very young now with his hair plastered to his head under his cowboy hat, pulled a key from his pocket. After some fumbling during which Fiji almost shrieked with frustration her wrists were free. She cried out with the relief of being able to put her hands in front of her. Her wrists had ugly chafe marks on them, but she was ready to disregard them since she had her hands back.

’’Thank you, Miss Mamie,’’ she said, because she would have shot herself in the foot rather than thank Price.

’’You\'re welcome, sweetie,’’ said the older woman. Now that she could spare a second to look, Fiji could see that Mamie Eggleston was wearing an expensive peach velour tracksuit studded with gold metal stars. She\'d slid her feet into plastic mules, which was practical, though her feet must be cold by now. Bart Eggleston was still in his jeans and a flannel shirt. What time was it? Now that Fiji could look at her watch, she realized it was barely six o\'clock.

She had a host of thoughts that wanted to be recognized, but she snapped out of her musing when she realized there was an awkward silence among the Egglestons.

’’I hope I can call my neighbor to come get me,’’ Fiji said brightly. ’’I left some soup on the stove, and my cat needs to be fed.’’ Better to know than to be kept wondering, she figured. Her answer came almost immediately.

’’Well, young lady,’’ Bart said slowly, ’’this is right awkward. We don\'t want our son to be arrested, and you seem like the direct kind of person who would want to take him to court for acting impulsively.’’

’’I\'m not sure how impulsive his act was,’’ she said, still trying to keep her voice even. ’’He had the handcuffs for my wrists and the duct tape for my mouth. He waited outside until there was no one in the store.’’ She was guessing on that one, but it was a pretty good guess. ’’I assume he\'s ready to call my friend Bobo to tell him what he has to do to get me returned. That pretty much seems like kidnapping, right?’’

The Egglestons looked even more uncomfortable, and the look Mamie cast on her son was not an admiring one or a loving one.

Fiji\'s heart sank. She\'d said exactly the wrong thing. They\'d understood that she was not going to forgive and forget. She didn\'t believe she could have convinced them otherwise, though. Of course they didn\'t want to see their son taken to jail, especially if they shared his political and social beliefs. Of course he hadn\'t wanted them to know he was hurting a woman. But now that they knew, and they\'d met the woman, they were going to give him a pass. She dared not go into the house.

For a brief second, she tried to imagine what kind of woman they would have taken into the house, given dry clothing to, called the police for. She could not come up with such a woman, not when their son\'s freedom was at stake.

I have to freeze them all, she thought. That was a spell she knew she\'d mastered.

Her fingers began making their small movements, clumsily because of the cold and the stiffness from being confined. Since Price was nearest to her, it affected him first, and in a matter of seconds he became very still. His dad said, ’’What the hell . . .’’ before he, too, turned to (frozen) wood. Mamie was smart enough to realize that something Fiji was doing was causing this extraordinary reaction in her menfolk, and she tried to cut and run, but her clogs slid in the mud of the yard, and Fiji seized her arm both to stop her from going down and to get her attention. Once Mamie looked into Fiji\'s face and Fiji repeated her hand gestures once more, Mamie was still as anyone could want.

This was so much better than using only her intent, as she had in the truck.

Fiji didn\'t know how long she had until the spell wore off;not long, she figured. She didn\'t want the Egglestons to send the police after her for theft, so she couldn\'t take Price\'s truck. Instead, she ran for the road. Fiji was not much of a runner, but she fairly scampered down the paved driveway.

When she\'d reached the road, which seemed twice as far away as she\'d remembered, Fiji turned left. That was the direction from which they\'d driven in. There were enough trees and bushes planted close to the road to afford her a place to hide if the Egglestons came after her. She ran as long as she could, and when she was all stove up, as her great-aunt would have put it, she walked as fast as she could. Every time the cold, the pervading damp, and the emotional exhaustion threatened to bring her to a halt, she thought of Price Eggleston\'s pu**y joke and kept on moving.

When she brushed up against any plant, water coursed from it to soak her even more. Tendrils of mist drifted across the road. The air was turning colder, and she had no coat, no money, no cell phone. She wondered when she\'d reach the highway. She knew she could not walk all the way back to Midnight. Maybe someone would take pity on her and let her use a phone. Maybe she could find a convenience store, and the clerk would call the police.

She saw some headlights. It couldn\'t be the Egglestons, who\'d be coming up from behind her. It might be reinforcements they\'d called for, though, she realized abruptly. Should she hide, just in case? But by that time she was too tired and befuddled to make herself plunge into the dripping undergrowth. She was shivering, and her teeth were chattering. She had her arms wrapped across her midriff, trying to hold in a little warmth. When the station wagon slowed down, her highest hope was that whoever was inside didn\'t want to kill her.

Fiji didn\'t expect that she would hear a nearly simultaneous shout of ’’FIJI!’’ that would almost knock her over with its enthusiasm, or that people would pour out of the station wagon to hug her. After a long moment, she understood that she was safe and that she would have a chance to get warm and dry. She burst into unheroic tears.

When she was in the station wagon, crammed into the backseat with Manfred and the Rev, a little voice said, ’’See, I found you! And I got wet!’’

34

So you left them standing in the rain?’’ Manfred asked, twenty-four hours later. He, the Rev, Bobo, and Lemuel and Olivia, who\'d returned that day were in Fiji\'s shop. They\'d set up the folding chairs, and it was snug. She\'d spent the day sweeping up the remains of the display cabinet and cleaning the floor, in between drinking bowls of hot soup (what she\'d left on the stove had been salvageable) and taking hot showers.

’’It had stopped by then. For all I know, they\'re still there. I really don\'t care.’’

’’And why should you?’’ Olivia said. She leaned forward to put her beer bottle on the wicker table. Fiji had made sausage balls and a dip for the carrot sticks. It had been comforting to cook, and also pleasant to be close to the warm stove.

It had taken her all night and day to feel that she was the right temperature inside and out.

Bobo had offered to close the pawnshop to come to sit with her, in case the Egglestons showed up, but she had told him she had to be by herself sometime. And she doubted Price Eggleston would show, not with the story she could tell the police.

’’Which I didn\'t tell them,’’ she had pointed out to Bobo. ’’As they can be sure by now, since the cops haven\'t shown up on their doorstep. So they won\'t come after me again.’’

’’After all,’’ said a little voice from the basket under the counter, ’’I am here to save you again.’’

’’Thanks, Mr. Snuggly,’’ Fiji said for perhaps the twentieth time. ’’How\'d that chicken go down?’’

’’You should cook chicken for me every day,’’ the cat said. ’’Now I\'m going to sleep.’’

’’Thank God,’’ Bobo whispered.

’’I heard that!’’ said Mr. Snuggly. ’’You just watch it, I\'ll sit on your face someday when you\'re . . .’’ and the cat fell asleep.

’’He really makes me glad that most cats can\'t talk,’’ Bobo said, which pretty much expressed the feelings of everyone gathered in the room.

’’He has his moments,’’ Fiji said. She cast a fond look in the direction of the cat\'s basket.

’’Ahhh . . . none of us knew Mr. Snuggly was speech-capable,’’ Olivia said, trying to sound nonchalant.

’’Well, he doesn\'t talk very much. But once he gets going, he seems to want to get his two cents into every conversation.’’ Fiji shrugged apologetically.

’’I heard that,’’ said the little voice sleepily, before trailing off into silence.

Fiji gave Olivia and Lemuel a very particular look. ’’Price Eggleston told me and his parents that he kidnapped me not only because he believes Bobo killed Aubrey, but also because two of the men they sent to beat Bobo up have vanished for good, and that Price Eggleston\'s hunting lodge has burned down.’’

Olivia looked away. Lemuel didn\'t flinch. Bobo looked acutely uncomfortable.

’’All right, don\'t admit it,’’ Fiji said. She shrugged.

’’But why you?’’ Olivia asked. ’’Why not one of the rest of us?’’

’’You remember Lisa Gray, Rev? The girl who got married over in your chapel not long ago?’’

The Rev nodded.

’’This Lisa told Price I was Bobo\'s best friend,’’ Fiji told the group, ’’so he figured Bobo would cough up the mythical arms if I was grabbed.’’

’’How could he think I killed Aubrey?’’ Bobo said. ’’Price killed her, maybe because she wouldn\'t betray me.’’

’’I don\'t think so,’’ said the Rev.

’’But if not Price, who? It\'s not like we have a lot of killers running around Midnight,’’ Fiji said.

Another uncomfortable moment of silence had all eyes trying not to turn to Lemuel and Olivia.

’’Not me,’’ Lemuel said, raising his white hands. ’’I didn\'t touch Aubrey. Olivia didn\'t, either. You can look at us accusingly till the cows come home. I would tell you how and why, if I had done anything untoward to Aubrey.’’

’’I would, too, just to stop Bobo from wondering,’’ Olivia said. She looked a bit sad. Fiji could not decide if Olivia was unhappy because all her friends in Midnight thought she was capable of murder or because the idea of losing Bobo\'s friendship made her sad.

’’But it must have been someone from Midnight,’’ Fiji said. ’’How could it not have been? Bobo was gone, but the rest of us would have noticed her going off with someone else, right?’’

’’She was in the pawnshop that day?’’ Manfred asked.

’’I forgot you hadn\'t even moved here then. You fit in really well,’’ Fiji said. ’’And that was intended as a compliment.’’

’’Yeah, I registered it as one,’’ Manfred told her. ’’So, Bobo was gone. It was over two months ago, so it was still summer, huh?’’

’’The weather was good,’’ the Rev said. ’’It was sunny and mild, and I had a funeral that day. The Lovells\' puppy.’’

’’Creek had a puppy? Sure, someone mentioned that. It got run over?’’

’’Hit-and-run,’’ the Rev said. His demeanor was always the same, but if Manfred had had to characterize the Rev\'s face at that moment, he would have said the Rev looked . . . grieved.

’’So the kids drove the body over, and we had the funeral,’’ the Rev went on after a moment. ’’Then they left. Creek said she was going for a walk. She was upset.’’

’’So Shawn was at work in the store. Creek was going for a walk, and Connor was going back to the store?’’ Bobo asked.

’’I assume,’’ said the Rev.

’’Madonna had taken the baby to his checkup in Davy,’’ said Fiji. ’’She reminded me of that at the picnic.’’

’’Where were you, Olivia?’’ There was nothing accusatory in Bobo\'s voice, but Olivia looked away nonetheless.

’’I slept in that day because I\'d gotten in from Toronto late the night before,’’ she said. ’’I was up by about two, I guess. I caught a glimpse of Aubrey as she walked west from the pawnshop.’’

’’Wasn\'t she supposed to keep the store while Bobo was gone?’’ Manfred asked.

’’No, Teacher kept the shop that day,’’ Bobo answered. ’’At least, he was supposed to. And he must have. I found two computer entries from that day.’’

’’Then who came in the shop?’’ Fiji sounded eager. ’’Maybe they had something to do with ’’

’’No,’’ Lemuel said. ’’Of course I checked the shop records, as soon as Bobo told me Aubrey was gone. There were two transactions but one was before you saw her, Olivia, and the second one . . . August Schneider pawned his mother\'s silver again. He does that three times a year, at least.’’

’’This August, he\'s an okay guy?’’ Manfred was returning from Fiji\'s kitchen with another beer.

’’August is eighty-seven if he\'s a day,’’ Bobo said. ’’I don\'t see him being able to harm Aubrey.’’

’’But what if he hit her with his car?’’ Olivia said suddenly.


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