Midnight Crossroad Page 33

’’Her chest bones were all cracked. I poked a hole in one of the cracks,’’ he added, by way of explanation. He seemed lost in his reminiscence of the big moment. ’’But it did look like she\'d been shot.’’

’’So you got the gun Bobo had used for target shooting,’’ Fiji said.

’’Well, he\'d left it in his truck, and the truck wasn\'t locked,’’ Connor said. ’’But that was days later.’’

Creek squatted down as if her knees could not hold her any longer.

’’I washed the truck,’’ the boy said. ’’That same day.’’

’’Who did he kill before? This Mrs. Ames?’’ Fiji asked Shawn. But Shawn did not answer. He\'d looked at the Gorgon\'s face;it was his son\'s.

But Creek answered. ’’Three-plus years ago he killed our next-door neighbor,’’ she said. ’’My mom had just died. Connor was really not talking to anyone, and we were pretty worried about him. While Dad and I were in the backyard raking leaves, Mrs. Ames came over with yet another casserole. Connor had got it in his head that she wanted to marry Dad and replace Mom. So he hit her with the fireplace poker. She must have had a thin skull.’’

Fiji thought, I knew it. Thin skull. Connor had a bad history with fireplace pokers.

’’And you covered it up.’’ Bobo was angry;not as angry as he would be later on, probably.

’’No, we called the police!’’ Creek said, and she was a little angry, too. ’’Since he was a minor, they never tried him. The court psych evaluation said he was mentally disturbed, and his mother had just died, so they put him in a home for kids like him. He got therapy,’’ she added defensively. ’’I mean, we tried.’’

’’But then when he got out, he killed a cat,’’ Shawn said, finally finding his voice. He might have been a million years old. ’’We found it. We knew he\'d done it. So we had to move. We thought if we moved to a really quiet place, if we limited his exposure to other people . . . if we were careful to stay out of the news, all of us . . . then none of the past publicity would catch up with him, no one would know about his juvenile record, and he\'d have a chance to straighten out.’’

’’Are you happy with how that worked out?’’ Creek said to her father. ’’All that we did, coming to live here, no friends, no family, no money, we did all that for Connor, and this is what it\'s come to. I almost got to college and got away, but no, the paperwork went missing.’’ Her hands were clenched in fists.

’’I got the paperwork out of the mailbox and ripped it up,’’ Connor said.

’’What?’’ She looked at him blankly, as if his words made no sense.

And his father was looking at him the same way. ’’Connor . . . why? Why didn\'t you want your sister to go to college?’’

’’I\'d be lonely, and you\'d make me do every damn thing around here,’’ Connor said. ’’Wouldn\'t you?’’ And he actually sounded accusatory.

There fell a stunned silence. Until Connor began shifting around, looking bored and antsy. Lemuel had let go of him, but he moved a little closer as Connor fidgeted.

’’What will we do?’’ Shawn asked, as if to himself, his voice despairing. Fiji did not know if she wanted to slap him or comfort him. He looked around at the small crowd in the store, meeting their eyes in turn. ’’What will you do?’’

Fiji could not think of what to say.

’’He should die,’’ Olivia said.

None of the others offered an opinion.

’’But I\'m me,’’ the boy said. He gave a shrug, smiled. ’’I\'m just a boy.’’

’’There are plenty of boys,’’ Lemuel said. ’’As you said about your sister\'s puppy.’’

’’Uncle Lem,’’ Creek said. It wasn\'t clear what she was pleading with him to do. Maybe she didn\'t know herself.

’’Don\'t kill him,’’ Shawn begged. ’’We\'ve gone through so much with him.’’

’’But what has that gotten you?’’ Olivia said. ’’No gratitude, no obedience, no change in his behavior. Just your own lives ruined. And wherever you run, it\'ll be the same.’’

’’He\'s got the taste for it now,’’ Fiji said, almost inaudibly.

Connor didn\'t plead for his life or offer any rebuttal. He waited, with a calm face, for whatever would happen next. He could not conceive of the world going on without him, Fiji could tell.

’’What is your judgment, Bobo?’’ Olivia asked. ’’Creek lost her dog, but you lost your lover.’’

’’I wish he could understand,’’ Bobo said. ’’I wish he could be cured. But if he were, how could he live with himself?’’ He stared at the boy and seemed more puzzled than furious. ’’I don\'t think Connor will ever understand. He\'ll keep killing people as long as he\'s alive. I know Shawn and Creek will be better off without him.’’

’’But he\'s my son,’’ Shawn said. ’’He\'s my son. I can\'t bear to lose him.’’

’’Do you deny that he\'ll kill again?’’ Olivia said, oh-so-reasonably.

’’No.’’ Creek sounded sure.

’’Do you think any help you can get him will stop him? Cure him?’’ Fiji asked.

’’No,’’ Creek said again.

’’You\'re condemning more people to death if you let him live,’’ Olivia said flatly.

’’Being a parent isn\'t about being logical,’’ Joe Strong said. Those were the first words he\'d spoken since he and Chuy had entered. ’’Shawn, what Olivia says is true. He will kill again. He\'ll leave a trail of death behind him.’’ Joe didn\'t sound as though he were making a judgment, but reporting the future.

’’But I can\'t consent to you killing my son,’’ Shawn said, his voice shaking. ’’What do you expect me to say? \'Put him down, like a dog\'?’’

’’Funny you should put it that way,’’ Lemuel said, and quicker than the eye could follow he stepped forward and snapped Connor\'s neck.

36

Fiji and Manfred and Bobo walked back to their homes together, in a cluster, with Bobo and Manfred supporting Fiji. She was not crying, but she was clearly very shocked, if not in shock.

’’Was that justice?’’ she said. She sounded as though she honestly wanted to know.

’’More justice than he gave Aubrey,’’ Bobo responded.

’’But isn\'t that what separates us from . . . I don\'t know . . . barbarians?’’ Manfred said. He was deeply troubled, and he didn\'t know how to turn off the memory of Connor\'s neck snapping.

’’Barbarians.’’ Fiji laughed. The thin sound floated up through the cold air. Tonight felt like winter, and Manfred shivered. He\'d come out without a jacket, as they all had. ’’I guess we are. That was justice. He couldn\'t be cured.’’

’’You don\'t know that,’’ Manfred began, only to be cut off by Bobo.

’’Don\'t try to defend him, not now, not in front of me.’’

’’Sorry,’’ Manfred muttered, glad they\'d reached the pawnshop entrance. ’’Well, I\'ll walk Fiji home. You going to be okay? You need me to do anything for you?’’

’’I\'ll be better by myself,’’ Bobo said. ’’Thank you, Manfred.’’ He forced himself to look Manfred in the eyes. ’’This is a lot for a newcomer to absorb.’’

’’Yeah, well. Okay, we\'re off.’’ He steered Fiji across the road, with their usual careful look both ways. ’’I don\'t know why we always do that,’’ he said.

’’Because the time you don\'t look is the time you\'ll get flattened by a truck,’’ she said, and he could feel her shudder.

’’Fiji, I can\'t even think how I feel about what we just saw,’’ he said.

’’You don\'t need to know right now how you felt about it or how you\'re going to change as a result of having seen it,’’ she said. She shuddered again. ’’It\'s a good thing that everything\'s settled.’’

’’What about the sheriff? Do you think he knows about Connor\'s past?’’

’’He shouldn\'t, because Connor was a juvenile when he killed that Mrs. Ames, so he shouldn\'t be able to find out. Right?’’

’’If he does suspect Connor, what\'s he going to do when he finds out Connor is dead?’’

’’He\'s not going to know that.’’ Fiji sounded a bit astonished at the notion.

’’Why not?’’

’’His dad\'s not going to tell anyone what happened, for Creek\'s sake,’’ she explained. ’’Did you see Creek\'s face? She was glad Connor was dead. Of course, she\'ll have a hard time, but she could see the truth of what Olivia said, and she was so angry with him for so many things.’’

’’But the sheriff will want to know where Connor is.’’

’’Yeah, he will. But kids Connor\'s age run away all the time. And he may read a confession into Connor\'s absence. Which, after all, is accurate.’’

’’We didn\'t help the Lovells . . . do anything.’’ With the body, he meant.

’’Joe and Chuy stayed. Do you really think they\'d want our help?’’

They\'d reached Fiji\'s front door. Mr. Snuggly was there. He looked up at Fiji reproachfully. ’’Kept me waiting,’’ he said.

’’You could have gone around the house and gone in the cat flap at the back,’’ Fiji pointed out. ’’Tonight, Connor died.’’

’’Good,’’ said Mr. Snuggly. ’’I was tired of hiding from him.’’

’’He tried to catch you?’’

’’Yes. He liked to kill things, you know.’’ By then Fiji had opened the door, and the cat padded in.

’’Well,’’ she was saying as she closed the door behind her, ’’you could have told me.’’

37

Manfred (looking both ways) went back to his own place. He turned on the heat, a step he\'d been putting off. It came on instantly, with that burned-air smell. But the gush of warmth was a relief. Manfred went into his bedroom and wrapped up in an old quilt of his grandmother\'s before he went into the kitchen. He would not have thought he could be hungry, but apparently his stomach thought otherwise.

Though it seemed ludicrous, almost disgusting, he turned on his television. He couldn\'t bear to think of what might be happening at Gas N Go. Creek and her father had to be going through another hell, as if they hadn\'t suffered enough. And what would happen to Connor\'s body?

While he ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Manfred tried hard not to think of the terrible night the two remaining Lovells were enduring. Surely there must be some relief mixed in there, he thought. They\'re free from the prison he put them in. And then he remembered he was supposed to be watching television, and he made himself concentrate on a rerun of The Big Bang Theory. For the first time, he saw Sheldon\'s narcissism as monstrous, rather than amusing.

He settled back on the couch and presently sank into a kind of nearly sleeping dream. In this fantasy, Creek came to his door, told him she couldn\'t handle being with her father anymore, asked him to take her in and make her his . . . and said that she forgave him for standing by while her brother was executed. When he made himself get up and stumble to his bed, it was past midnight.

He found out the next day that at about that time, Creek and her father had loaded everything they had of value into the old truck and had taken off.

He discovered they\'d fled when Sheriff Smith stopped by. Shawn Lovell had left the sheriff a letter. At some time during the night, Shawn had dropped the envelope, inscribed ’’Arthur Smith,’’ into the old mail slot in the front door of the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon. Chuy had given it to Smith an hour previously.

’’Now I\'m going to tell you what he said,’’ Smith told Manfred. Manfred could only sit in his work chair and try to look relaxed.

’’In this letter, Shawn Lovell tells me that he just discovered his son killed Aubrey Hamilton Lowry. He tells me that Connor had a terrible back history of mental problems. He asks me not to blame them for leaving after Connor ran away.’’

’’What?’’ Manfred said, startled. Whatever he\'d expected, that wasn\'t it. ’’He ran away?’’ Manfred said weakly. ’’Wow, that\'s unexpected.’’

Smith raised his thick blond eyebrows. ’’He says he doesn\'t want his daughter to be tainted by the fallout from the crime and that Connor\'s confession shocked them as much as anyone else. Shawn enclosed a note from the boy. Connor says he\'s sorry for everything he\'s done. He says he\'s leaving because he couldn\'t stand being around people who cared for Aubrey.’’

In Manfred\'s opinion, this was a mighty fine letter for having been written from beyond the grave. ’’And do you believe Connor wrote that letter?’’ It was clear to Manfred that he was not putting an idea into Smith\'s head that wasn\'t already there.

’’Handwriting experts are comparing it to the boy\'s signature, but so much schoolwork is done on computers now.’’ Smith shrugged. ’’Since we\'ve got a confession that fits all the known facts and I found the boy\'s killed before . . . I called a detective in the force where they used to live, and he remembered the case very well.’’

’’Are you going to look for him? Or for them?’’ Manfred asked. He made sure his face was composed.

’’The answer would have to be, yes, we are going to look for Connor real hard. He\'ll always be a threat to others unless he has a lot of serious therapy, and probably even afterward. For Shawn and Creek Lovell? Realistically, they\'re not going to be our priority. We\'ve got actual bad guys to catch.’’

The sheriff rose to take his leave. ’’I guess I won\'t be coming back to Midnight as often,’’ he said. ’’I had never had to drive out here before Aubrey went missing.’’

’’I hope you won\'t ever have to again.’’


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