Night Shift Page 23

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“Tell me about it.”

As concisely as possible, Manfred related his grandmother’s warning. “She said it was waking up,” he said.

Lemuel said, “I think we are very close to catastrophe.”

“Do you know what lies underneath the crossroad?” Manfred asked.

“I suspect I do.” Lemuel laid his hand on the book.

Manfred wanted to tell Lemuel to hurry up, but a strong sense of self-preservation stopped him.

“Since I have to finish the translation, it’s slow work.” Lemuel’s tone made it clear this was not an apology, but an explanation. “I dare not skip anything. It’s too important. A crossroad is a place where hunting trails cross, a place where criminals are executed, or a place where shrines are set up. This crossroad may be all three, but I have to be sure what we’re dealing with.”

Manfred could only nod. He turned to go, but Lemuel had more to say.

“I understand Teacher went to Killeen with you today,” Lemuel observed. “What did you think of him?”

“Interesting you should bring that up,” Manfred said. “I wasn’t comfortable with him, and I don’t know why. He seems like the easiest person in the world to get along with, in general conversation, but one-on-one . . . I just can’t figure him out.”

“Did he seem to want to know you?”

“Yes, he asked several questions. I kept telling myself it was only natural when you don’t know someone, to ask those questions, but you know what? It felt like filling out a form for a job. So I tried to ask him the same questions, see how he liked it. He didn’t.” He told Lemuel about Teacher’s visit to the hardware store.

“Interesting,” Lemuel said, and dismissed Manfred by becoming engrossed in the pages of the book.

Manfred shook his head, and left. He would have been surprised to know what Lemuel did about three a.m.

 

 

7

 

 

When everyone else in Midnight was asleep, Lemuel left the pawnshop. He drifted through the night, which was as close to silent as an inhabited place can get. The electronic sounds of the stoplight were small and easy to ignore. The bugs were not too noisy at this time of year. A coyote yipped to the north, a lonely and feral comment. He listened, but the sound was not repeated.

Lemuel paused at the hotel to listen. He heard Lenore Whitefield, the manager, get up and visit the bathroom. He heard her husband snoring. One of the senior citizens on the ground floor stirred restlessly in her sleep. Lemuel moved soundlessly past the hotel, then past Home Cookin, and then drifted behind the restaurant to circle the doublewide trailer where the Reeds lived.

Grady woke up crying, perhaps sensing Lemuel’s presence, and Lemuel listened to Madonna plod into Grady’s little bedroom. Her voice and words were softer than he’d ever heard them as she gave the toddler a dry diaper and a soft kiss. Grady settled back into sleep almost immediately, but Madonna went into the kitchen to get a drink of water. Moving around the outside of the trailer, parallel to the woman inside, Lemuel followed her, his fingertips brushing the siding.

He had long wanted to search the Reeds’ trailer, but they were never gone long enough at night. He could trust Olivia to do a good job while the Reeds were gone during the day, if he could only be sure enough to tell her his suspicions.

If this had been a different day and age, Lemuel would have broken down the trailer door. Lemuel would have gone in and killed the Reeds, perhaps taking Grady to an orphanage if he was feeling merciful.

There were many things Lemuel liked about here and now. He did not have to hide what he was any more. He had friends, and a lover who accepted him for what he was. Some of his friends would willingly feed him the energy he needed to thrive. If not, he could visit a bar. He could travel, too, with some care and forethought. That delighted Lemuel, who had been tied to the area around Midnight for decades and decades.

The downside of the modern world? His natural tendency to settle things in a permanent and drastic way had to be curbed. Law enforcement was much more consistent and effective, at least in part because communication was instant. Ways of tracking those who broke the rules were scientific and relentless; or at least, they seemed so to Lemuel when he considered the past, where moving from one area to another rendered him practically invisible. Now, he had to think twice before he acted.

So he circled the trailer, pondering his options, until he had to return to Midnight Pawn because a car pulled up in front. He was in the side door and on the stool at the counter just before the customers entered, hooting and hollering and stumbling: three males, young, all drunk. Lemuel would have sighed if he’d needed to.

Predictably, the young men had come in to pawn the television that they’d probably stolen from one or another of their kin. Lemuel took a picture of them with his telephone (the novelty never ceased to entertain him) and kept the television for the police to collect, giving the kids each forty dollars, just enough to get them to leave. When their car taillights flashed, he called the highway patrol and gave them the license number.

“Lemuel Bridger, good citizen,” he said out loud after he’d hung up. “That’s me.” And he smiled, all to himself. He’d had a gulp of energy from all three. He wrote a note for Bobo and taped it to the television. The police would pick the set up tomorrow. Possibly, they would stop the boys before they’d had time to spend the money, and he would get it back.

Olivia had been out of town all day and would return sometime this night. He kept watch for her, while he sat and translated. Every now and then he would go out to look at the crossroads, but no one appeared. In between watching and looking, he translated, but it was slow going. He was ever conscious that if what he suspected was true, he was running out of time.

They all were.

 

 

8

 

 

Fiji got up extra early the next day so she could work in her garden without her sister’s constant, irritating presence. It was not a huge surprise when Diederik joined her. The boy enjoyed gardening almost as much she did, though perhaps being free of Rev’s presence and being outside had as much to do with that pleasure as the actual work did.

Today, Diederik had pulled his dark hair back into a ponytail and he was wearing a cowboy hat and cutoffs. No shirt. Fiji had to glance away to stifle a giggle. Diederik looked like he was about to go on stage at a male strip club. The boy’s olive skin was a beautiful even tone all over. Fiji told herself to not drool, not even for a moment. Though her sister’s cruel words had appalled Fiji, she had to admit that this morning she noticed the way Diederik looked at her. Kiki was right. Diederik was aware that he was a man and Fiji was a woman.

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