Midnight Crossroad Page 32

’’No!’’ Bobo said, protesting, but there was a sudden burst of enthusiastic conversation. The tenor of it was one of relief. The culprit would not be one of them, it would not be one of the Eggleston warriors, and August would hardly know about it.

Olivia leaned over to take Bobo\'s hand. ’’I know you don\'t want to even think about that, but what if he did? You know August ought not to be driving. But he\'s got no one to take the keys away from him. And he\'s got that big old Cadillac.’’

’’We\'ve already looked at the Caddy, and there\'s not a speck of blood on it,’’ said Arthur Smith. The bell had tinkled when he entered, but no one had paid attention.

There followed a moment of total silence. No one wanted to ask what he\'d come for.

’’I had a strange conversation with the Eggleston family this morning,’’ Smith said. He\'d taken off his hat, but now he put it back on, as though that signaled he was conducting business. ’’All three of them were coming down with a cold because they\'d been standing out in the chilly air last night. I asked them why, and they couldn\'t say. Bart was mad at Mamie for telling me that much. But they did seem to chalk that up to you, somehow, Fiji.’’

’’Oh, boo hoo hoo,’’ said Lemuel, sounding like the very embodiment of cold himself. ’’If they were foolish enough to stand out in the rain, it\'s hardly Fiji\'s fault, Sheriff.’’

’’Only if she held a gun to their heads.’’

’’The other way around,’’ said Bobo unwisely. But then the glares of everyone around him reminded Bobo that he was not going to tell the law what the Egglestons had done, and he subsided.

Arthur Smith said, ’’If you\'re not going to tell me, I could haul you all in and keep you until you told me what happened. But if you\'re all right, Fiji, and no one is going to file a complaint against anyone else, there\'s not much I can do about it. I was looking forward to an excuse to get that as**ole into jail, but if you won\'t talk . . .’’

Fiji looked at him with a bright smile. ’’I wish your staff wanted to get him in jail as much as you do. Any other news, Sheriff?’’

’’Yes,’’ Smith said. ’’I do have news.’’

His voice was so grave they all hushed and turned to him, even Lemuel.

’’It\'s strange you should have brought up August Schneider\'s car. Because we\'ve determined Aubrey Hamilton was, in fact, hit by a vehicle.’’

’’I thought I saw a bullet hole,’’ Olivia said quietly. ’’But you told Bobo she wasn\'t shot.’’

’’You saw a roundish hole. But the pathologist says it\'s not a bullet hole, but a puncture where something on a vehicle probably a truck, from the height pierced the bone. That hole enlarged as tiny pieces of the bone flaked away during the time she lay there.’’

Bobo said slowly, ’’She was hit by a truck.’’

They all turned to look at Smith, who nodded. He looked from one to the other, quizzically.

’’Oh,’’ said Manfred, finally understanding what they\'d all pieced together. He lowered his face to his hands.

’’You all know something I don\'t know,’’ Smith said. ’’I think you\'d better tell me.’’

There was a long moment, a moment when the room fell absolutely silent.

’’I don\'t guess we know anything you don\'t already know,’’ Fiji said finally.

An unhappy sheriff left a few minutes later, after threatening them all if they didn\'t tell him what he\'d overlooked.

’’He was so mad,’’ Fiji said unhappily. ’’And he seems like a nice guy.’’

’’That nice guy thought I\'d killed Aubrey,’’ Bobo reminded her.

’’That\'s his job.’’

’’All that aside,’’ said Olivia, ’’what do we do now?’’

’’When we\'re sure he\'s gone, we\'ve got to go talk to the Lovells.’’ Fiji sounded sure but still unhappy.

’’Will you explain to me what\'s going on?’’ Manfred said. He had that note to his voice, the one that tells the listener that the speaker knows he is going to receive very bad news in a very few minutes. He suspected he knew what that news was;he wasn\'t certain.

But no one enlightened him.

Lemuel glided out the door to return after a few minutes. ’’Sheriff\'s gone,’’ the vampire reported.

Olivia looked at her watch, a slim silver thing that looked expensive to Manfred\'s uneducated eyes. ’’It\'s time for the gas station to close,’’ she said. ’’We might as well go now.’’

The Rev said, ’’I\'ll go prepare.’’ And he went over to the chapel.

Manfred trailed along, feeling left out and apprehensive. No one specially invited him, but no one told him not to come, and all the others seemed to be going.

They walked in a group, their steps mysteriously matching, and Manfred found himself walking beside Olivia, who turned to look at him with something like pity. But what she said was, ’’It\'s good you\'re here. You\'re a good citizen for this place.’’

’’There are bad citizens for Midnight?’’

’’Yes, a few.’’ And she said nothing more.

35

They filed into Gas N Go, one after another, the electronic chime on the door sounding steadily, all of them but Lemuel, who vanished into the dark. Shawn was behind the cash register, clearing it out. Creek was cleaning the women\'s bathroom and had the door propped open to dispel the fumes of the cleaner. Connor was mopping muddy footprints from the floor.

’’Hey, guys,’’ said Shawn, giving every appearance of genuine surprise. ’’What\'s up?’’

Creek stood, peeled off the rubber gloves she\'d been wearing, and stepped outside the bathroom, looking at them doubtfully.

Connor propped the mop against the wall and grinned at them, happy to be interrupted. ’’Is it time to put up the Halloween stuff, Fiji? Doing it at night would be awesome! Want me to go get the Reeds?’’

’’No,’’ said Fiji.

’’Then what\'s up?’’ He looked from face to face, but there was an awareness, just below his smile, that something more important than seasonal decorations was up for discussion.

’’The sheriff just came to tell us that Aubrey died from being hit by a truck,’’ Fiji said. Though her voice was neutral, every word felt like a stone thrown at the Lovells.

’’Oh, I hope they\'re not going to arrest Bobo?’’ Shawn said. He looked genuinely upset.

’’No,’’ Fiji said curtly. She took a deep breath. ’’So here\'s what I think happened. I think the truck chased Aubrey down and hit her on purpose. I think whoever drove the truck loaded up her body and dumped it over the bluff by the Roca Fría. Or maybe the truck pursued her across the open ground to the river and knocked her over the edge.’’

’’Not in front of the kids,’’ Shawn said with what seemed like genuine indignation.

’’The kids,’’ Fiji said.

’’What?’’ Shawn demanded. He\'d gotten up, come down from the platform on which the counter was built. He faced Fiji directly. ’’You mean . . . what?’’ But there was a terrible awareness in the way he stood, as if he were bracing himself to take a blow.

’’I\'m saying that she disappeared the day the kids took Creek\'s puppy to the pet cemetery.’’

’’So?’’

’’How\'d they get the dog\'s body there?’’

’’They . . .’’ Shawn\'s face froze. Manfred could see the man\'s throat move as he swallowed. ’’They drove it over there,’’ Shawn said quietly. ’’I couldn\'t leave the store, so Connor drove the old truck with the dog in the back wrapped up in plastic.’’

’’And then?’’

’’Creek came back by herself. She said she\'d been for a walk, because she was so sad. It was only a stray, but it was a nice dog. We\'d never had one.’’

’’And why hadn\'t you had one?’’ Fiji asked.

’’Because . . .’’ Shawn said hoarsely, and then could not finish the sentence.

’’Because of Connor,’’ Creek said.

She threw her brother\'s name out like a stone into a pond, and the ripples spread and spread. Connor himself still stood by the mop, and he was still smiling, but it was like his face had frozen in that position and he didn\'t know how to change it.

’’Because he\'s killed things in the past,’’ Fiji said with certainty. ’’And you knew he would in the future. That\'s why you\'re here, why you don\'t want anyone to take pictures of you and your kids, why you try to limit their exposure to the world. But you had to let Connor go to school in Davy. You couldn\'t homeschool him, not and work full-time here at the gas station.’’

’’He promised,’’ Shawn said. The man\'s shoulders slumped. ’’He promised. We took him to therapy. We . . .’’ He looked at his son. ’’Connor?’’

Creek\'s mouth was partly open, and her eyes shone with unshed tears. She was so young, but Manfred didn\'t think any life experience could have prepared her for this moment. She\'d been facing the cluster of Midnighters, but now she turned to her right to face her brother. ’’You killed my dog?’’ she said. It sounded almost conversational.

Connor\'s smile became genuine. This smile was the worst thing of all. It was broad and white and delighted, with no hint of shame or remorse or feeling.

’’Well, I gotta say, you caught me fair and square,’’ the boy said. ’’Creek, sorry . . . but it had been so long.’’ His expression morphed into a strange mixture of rueful regret he\'d been caught misbehaving and an honest appeal for understanding. ’’It was only a stray. You can get another one, right?’’

’’You promised,’’ Creek said, in an eerie echo of her father. She looked ten years older.

’’Well . . . yeah, I know I did. But the urge comes on me, and I gotta do something. It was better killing the dog than a person, right?’’ He said that, but Fiji could tell he didn\'t feel it. He was making an effort to seem like a boy with genuine human responses.

’’But you killed a person, too,’’ Bobo said, and there was only silence.

Until Connor bolted for the back door. But that was where Lemuel had stationed himself.

There was no breaking Lemuel\'s grip.

In the end, Connor enjoyed telling them about Aubrey.

The streets had been empty, as they so often were. He\'d even seen Fiji drive off toward Davy, though she\'d seemed preoccupied and hadn\'t appeared to notice him.

’’I didn\'t,’’ she said quietly. ’’I don\'t know what I was thinking of, but I didn\'t notice him at all. Just so used to seeing the old truck.’’

’’But you said you saw Aubrey that day.’’ Bobo looked at her quizzically. ’’The sheriff told me.’’

’’I thought I was lying. But apparently, I did see her, after all.’’

Connor grew impatient at Fiji\'s interruption. ’’So I pulled up beside her and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. She laughed, said she was tempted since it was a cute guy like me asking. She said she was going to hike to the river and back, so she could surprise Bobo when he came home. She was going to tie a scarf on a tree out there to prove she\'d done it.’’

Bobo\'s head fell on his chest and his face twisted. He was squeezing back tears, and it was painful to watch.

Joe and Chuy slipped through the door and stood to either side of it, like sentinels. No one remarked on their coming or explained to them what was happening. The tingling of the electronic chime sounded weirdly commonplace in the pervading tension.

’’What happened then?’’ Fiji asked Connor.

’’So, she always flirted with me. Like that \'ordinarily I\'d love to take a ride with a cute guy like you,\'’’ Connor said, his voice high in imitation of the dead woman. ’’Bobo, I want you to know that I just wasn\'t interested in her that way.’’ Bobo did not acknowledge his words, but Connor went on, ’’I\'m not one of these guys who kills women for se*.’’ His voice was laden with contempt. ’’But it was like she wanted my attention, she had to feel like I was interested in her,’’ Connor said. ’’I didn\'t get it. But she said, \'Don\'t you dare follow me, now!\' in this chirpy voice, and she switched her butt as she walked, like she was saying, \'Yes, follow me,\' so I drove after her in the truck.’’

Aubrey\'s pathological need to be admired had met up with another pathological need.

’’She started out across the bare land to the river, and I bumped along behind her. She looked back once and laughed, and then I got a little mad, so I speeded up. She started running.’’ And Connor smiled again. ’’Then she wasn\'t laughing.’’

He stopped. He smiled. He said nothing.

’’And you hit her with the truck?’’ Shawn said, as if he were still holding out some hope that there had been a huge mistake.

’’She made a bigger thump than the dog, that\'s for sure! She actually went up in the air.’’

Fiji could not stand that Bobo was hearing this. But he would not leave, and she would not ask him to.

’’And she came down on the slope down to the river,’’ Connor said, in a matter-of-fact way. ’’I went down there to check.’’

’’Because you wanted to see what had happened?’’ Fiji said, having to struggle to get the words out of her throat.

’’Yeah, well . . . yeah. Because that\'s the moment, you know, the great moment. She wasn\'t quite dead.’’

’’Did you kill her?’’ Fiji said. Tears were streaming down the witch\'s face.

’’We keep an old poker in the truck for dealing with snakes,’’ he said. ’’Not the same one I used on Mrs. Ames,’’ he added in a careful aside.

No one spoke.


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