Night Shift Page 34

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“So that’s what you think is happening?” Fiji seemed to be considering the idea. “Maybe you’re right, Manfred. Did you ever watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?”

The change of subject left him teetering. “Ah . . . sure. My grandmother loved it.”

“Do you ever wonder if Midnight’s on the Hellmouth? Like Sunnydale?”

Manfred laughed. “That’s exactly what it feels like,” he said. “You must be Willow, and Olivia must be Buffy. And Lemuel is Angel.”

That brought a smile to Fiji’s face, too. “I would classify Olivia more as Faith,” she said. “Bobo can be Xander.”

“So Diederik would be Oz.”

For a reason Manfred couldn’t fathom, Fiji flushed.

“As long as we’re having a neighborly chat,” Manfred continued when she didn’t speak, “I’m thinking something’s wrong with the Reeds.”

She looked at him doubtfully. “You mean, they’re sick or worried or something?”

“Nope. I mean, there’s something really hinky about them. Lemuel and Olivia think so, too.”

“Oh, I agree. Even with the economic slump, them settling here is strange. But I’m just so glad they’re here. He can fix everything, just about, and getting a repairman to drive out to Midnight is not easy. And she’s such a great cook. Besides, it’s nice to have a real kid around.”

Though Manfred didn’t think much about Grady one way or another, he nodded. He didn’t want to seem anti-baby. “This is the equivalent of Tommy not wanting to question the good luck that put him in Safe Harbor,” Manfred said. “Lemuel wonders about the Reeds, too.”

“Lemuel? Then I’m glad I’m not Madonna or Teacher,” Fiji said. She stood up. “You want me to go to the nursing home this afternoon?”

“Assisted-living center,” he corrected. “They’re in the assisted wing, not the nursing home wing. And the sooner, the better. I’m sorry. I’m imposing.” Though she hadn’t said a word, he could tell from the way her mouth turned that she was reluctant.

She shrugged. “I’ll go tomorrow. Business is slow anyway.” Fiji looked tired and dispirited.

“Listen, I’ll keep your shop open.” Suddenly, Manfred realized this was the least he could do. He tried to suppress the thought that he would miss a lot of business that way, and it was probable that Fiji would not have a single customer.

She brightened. “That would be great. I don’t think Diederik’s quite up to that yet, and he’s the closest we’ve got to a free person. Teacher is measuring down at the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon, to see if he can build some internal stairs. Chuy and Joe are tired of going outside every time they go to and from the shop. And you could bring your laptop, right? Maybe you could kind of keep up with your work that way.”

Manfred brightened. “We’ll do a favor exchange, right?”

“Okay,” she said.

Manfred thought they both felt better, and he hoped Fiji could do Mamie some good.

 

 

14

 

 

Lemuel loved the fall and winter, especially after the time change. Through the years, people—including, most recently, Olivia— had tried to explain to Lemuel how a government could decide what time it was.

“I still think it’s arrogant,” he’d told Olivia. “But since I’m up while people are still awake, I like it.”

“I thought you didn’t like company,” she’d said, smiling.

“I like to talk to people. I like to be with you. I like more customers during the night.”

This was all true. Unfortunately, night customers were sometimes human, and often drunk and therefore tedious, but at least he could take some energy from them.

He was talking to a monk at the moment.

“You haven’t been hearing the giant voice?” the man in the robe asked.

“I haven’t,” Lemuel said. He did not know if the man was mad, or if there really was a giant voice. “What does it tell you to do?” Lemuel said.

“It told me to come here to kill myself, that as a man of God my death would be especially sweet, but I know that is a mortal sin,” said the self-proclaimed monk. “So I have told it to get behind me, and I decided instead I’d pawn this silver fork.”

It was a meat-serving fork, not a dinner fork, and it was very old. Since it was silver, Lemuel handled it wearing a glove. “Yes,” he said, turning it over to look at the maker’s mark, “why would a monk need a meat fork?” The front door opened, and Lemuel glanced up to see Fiji come in.

Lemuel made short work of the transaction with the monk so the man would go on his way. Fiji looked troubled, but not only that—she was exhausted.

“A real monk?” she asked, as the door shut behind the visitor.

“I don’t know. He wears a robe and lives by himself somewhere south of here, and he walked in. I am not sure how to designate him. A real monk or a false one?”

“A Catholic one?”

“He wore a crucifix. Beyond that, I couldn’t say.”

“Lemuel, I hear a voice.”

Lemuel stayed silent, because he had several different reactions. He was surprised, when he’d thought he couldn’t be surprised ever again, that Fiji had picked him to confide in. He was dismayed, because it couldn’t be coincidence that the monk had said the same thing. And he was mighty apprehensive, because this was a very ominous sign.

“You must tell me about this,” he told the witch.

And she did.

Lemuel kept his silence when she was finished. “Fiji, he’s trying to seduce you,” he said at last.

“He’s the only one,” she muttered, but Lemuel chose to ignore that.

“Who do you think it is?” Lemuel asked. He suspected he knew, but he wanted to hear what Fiji believed.

“I think it’s something bad and old, and I think it’s picking on me because, in some way, I threaten it.”

“I think you are absolutely right,” he said. “Sister, you need to leave town for a while.”

“I can’t do that,” Fiji said. “I have to keep the shop open. And I promised Manfred I would go see Mamie tomorrow afternoon. She’s being pulled to the crossroad, Lemuel.”

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