Night Shift Page 28

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The dog bit him.

Manfred said, “Shit!” And then he said it several more times. But he didn’t let go, which he thought was quite noble, especially since he’d never had a pet as a child. He was content to lie in the dirt for a second, listening to Rasta pant and whine and yip and snap.

Or maybe, he thought, that’s me.

Manfred was relieved to hear Joe pounding up.

“Rasta,” Joe said, “BAD BOY!” Joe was a regular runner, so he wasn’t as winded as the dog and Manfred, but since Joe’d gone from zero to warp speed, he was doing a little gasping of his own.

“Can you take him, so I can get up?” Manfred said, still feeling noble.

“You’re bleeding,” Joe said. He squatted and took the Peke, holding him to his chest while all three of them recovered.

“Yeah, well.” Manfred rolled onto his stomach and then pushed up, trying not to be obvious as he inspected his hand.

“What’s the blood from?” Joe asked anxiously. He was inspecting the dog for any sign of harm, and Rasta was trembling.

“He bit me,” Manfred said bluntly.

“No!” Joe was clearly shocked to the core. “Not Rasta!”

Manfred looked down at himself. He was literally covered in dust. (It hadn’t rained in three weeks.) “Yeah, Rasta,” he said. “I hardly bit myself!” Then he was ashamed of being so put out. “Sorry, man, but it was him,” he said in a more civil tone. “He just seemed terrified. Something scare him?”

“No,” Joe said, bewildered. “He’s been jumpy lately, but he hasn’t been scared by anything or anybody. In fact, we were happy that he’d finally gotten used to Diederik. They’re big buddies now.”

Chuy arrived at as fast a pace as Joe had. “I saw out the upstairs window. What happened?” he said, and the whole event had to be gone over again. “Manfred, I’m so sorry you’re hurt. But thanks, thanks so much.”

“De nada.”

“It’s the crossroad,” Chuy said, turning to his partner. “Joe, we’re going to have to board him with Dr. Tappet until this is over.”

Manfred’s hand was throbbing. He didn’t want to be pouty or whiny, but he was not really concerned with the dog’s neurosis just at this moment. At least he could be confident that Rasta’s shots were all completely up-to-date, since Rasta was a regular visitor to his vet, Dr. Tappet, in Davy.

“Well,” Manfred said stiffly, “I’m just going to go home and clean this up. And just for the record, I’m tired of tackling suicidal creatures.”

“We’re so sorry,” Chuy said again, looking a little confused. “Thanks for taking off after him like that. We appreciate it, Manfred.”

“You’re welcome,” Manfred said, waving his good hand weakly. He began making his way back to his own house. To his surprise and chagrin, the combination of the spurt of adrenaline, hitting the ground hard, and the bite was making him feel the tiniest bit shaky. He looked forward to shutting the door on the world and acting like a great big wuss.

He was not best pleased to see Olivia waiting.

“I saw you take off after the dog,” she said. “Figured you could use some help. It’s kind of a shock, isn’t it? Being bitten? You expect it from a wild animal, but when it’s a critter you trust . . .”

Manfred was even more ashamed when he became almost soppy with gratitude that someone understood and was worried about him, just as Joe and Chuy were worried about Rasta.

He stifled the gratitude in its birth and said, “Great,” far too gruffly. Fortunately, Olivia didn’t take offense. If he’d had the energy to be surprised, he would have been astonished at her outfit. Olivia was still in sleep pants and a T-shirt. “All you need is a teddy bear,” he said.

She laughed, a sound he seldom heard from the fearsome Olivia Charity. “I was up late last night, making sure that Kiki Cavanaugh didn’t commit suicide,” she said.

“I don’t even want to know about that. At least I didn’t have to run after her and tackle her.” At the last minute, he suppressed a natural tendency to express surprise that Olivia had been involved in saving a life, rather than taking it. It didn’t seem likely to him that Olivia had actually liked Kiki. She didn’t care for outsiders, as a rule, and Kiki was not a Midnight sort of person.

Other than the fact that Olivia killed people, she was just an ordinary Midnighter.

Other than that. He began laughing.

When Manfred was sitting in his kitchen and Olivia was looking over his scant first-aid stock, he asked the question that everyone in town was chewing over. “When do you think Lemuel will find out what’s happening?” he said.

“We all want to know,” she said. “He’s working on it almost every waking moment. I wish I could help more.” She began to clean the bite with peroxide, a process that felt every bit as unpleasant as Manfred had expected. “I hope that little rat of a dog isn’t carrying any diseases,” she said absently, bending closer to peer at Manfred’s hand.

“You know he can’t be,” Manfred said. “They take better care of Rasta than most people take of their kids.”

“Want to know what I found out?” she asked, after she’d dabbed at the torn skin on Manfred’s hand. The antiseptic didn’t sting as much as he remembered from when he was a child. Either he had improved, or the antiseptic had.

“I guess so.”

“I found out that there’s no such person as Teacher Reed.”

Manfred’s eyes opened wide, and he forgot all about his hand. “What about Madonna?”

“Not her, either. The Reeds are not real.”

“That’s interesting, but not totally unexpected,” Manfred said. When she asked him why, he told her about the uncomfortable drive to and from Killeen.

“Where did you drop him off?”

“Handyman Hardware on San Jacinto Street,” Manfred said.

“That’s a very prompt and specific memory.” Olivia had paused in her doctoring to stare at him.

“That’s because I had to remember, to tell Lemuel yesterday.”

Olivia’s eyes widened. “I haven’t talked to Lemuel enough lately,” she said. “There hasn’t been time with everything else he’s trying to accomplish. I’ve wondered about the Reeds for a while, and he asked me to avoid them.”

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