Night Shift Page 56

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“Everyone needs to hear this.”

 

 

24

 

 

That evening at Home Cookin, Quinn and Diederik were eating at the big round table the locals used, while the Rev was settled at his normal table for one. The Rev was not much one for conversation during meals, or at any time.

Soon after the two weretigers sat down, they were joined by Olivia, and then Chuy and Joe. The two men looked incomplete without Rasta.

“We can check on him with our phones,” Joe said. “We can see him in his kennel at the vet’s. We miss the little fella, but until the situation here is settled, that’s where he should stay.”

“He’s just too small a creature to handle all this,” Chuy said sadly. “The suicides, the tension, and now the smell.”

“Smell?” Diederik took a long drink of chocolate milk.

“Hasn’t the air seemed different to you?” his father asked. Quinn tried to speak gently, but there was an unmistakable chiding note in his words. Weretigers should be alert to smells and sights around them.

“It seems a little bitter,” Diederik said. “Like grapefruit, burned.”

“Not a bad description,” Quinn said, feeling relieved. “I’m wondering if you should be taken somewhere away from this. This is not a healthy place.”

“Father,” Diederik said sharply. “I’m not Rasta. I’m a man now, and I have to take my place in the world.”

Bobo, who had just entered, paused in the act of pulling out a chair. He looked at Diederik askance.

“If we knew what that place was.” Quinn didn’t think of himself as a worrier, but this evening he was troubled. The only son he was ever likely to have was in a dangerous location, where the supernatural world and the natural world felt like they were coming closer to each other every night.

“My place is here, with the people who raised me,” his son told him, with a definite overtone of “Duhhh.”

“Diederik,” said a rusty voice from the table by the window, finally breaking the silence. The boy flinched, glancing over at the Rev and then back to Quinn. What he saw in Quinn’s face made him feel even worse.

“Excuse me, Father,” Diederik said, his words tumbling over each other. “I know you’ve done your best to protect me, even if it meant your absence. I know I need to learn your business, so I can carry on. But I love it here.”

“Then you’ll be glad to know we’ve bought a house in Midnight,” Quinn said, trying to salvage the moment he’d thought would be so happy.

There was a moment of blank silence. Then Diederik started laughing, and Chuy and Joe smiled, and even the Rev looked a little less grim.

“You all are moving to town to stay?” Madonna had come to the table to take their orders. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

Everyone at the table was disconcerted, not by the purchase of a house by John Quinn, but because none of them had thought of the Reeds as permanent residents. Before Madonna could take offense at that moment of silence, Diederik picked up little Grady, who had staggered over to the table on unsteady legs, and swung him high. Grady threw up his hands and laughed, and they all laughed with him. Diederik leaned over to kiss Quinn’s cheek.

It was a very happy moment for Quinn.

Lenore Whitefield, who managed the hotel, came in then, and though the Midnighters continued to talk, they were all surprised. Lenore and her husband, Harvey (a jerk no one liked, except presumably Lenore), had kept aloof from the little Midnight community. It was natural they would not interact that often. The hotel bought its groceries in Davy. It only employed a handful of people: a cook from Davy at breakfast time, another one who came in for lunch and dinner, a maid, evening clerk Marina, and Diederik. Lenore did a large share of the maid work while Harvey sat at the desk.

Now, however, Lenore needed something. That was evident in her stance. “Mrs. Reed, do you have a moment?” she asked, perching on one of the seldom-used stools at the counter.

“I will in ten, fifteen minutes,” Madonna said, glancing at the clock by the door to the kitchen. “If you can wait that long?”

“I can,” said Lenore. She swiveled on the stool to look at the table where the others were sitting. “Hi, Diederik! Who’s your buddy?”

“This is Grady, Mrs. Whitefield,” Diederik said. He waved baby Grady’s hand at the woman. “How are you?”

“I’m just fine.” She seemed a bit bemused at Diederik’s careful manners. “Hi, Mr. Quinn. I hope you’re enjoying your stay at the hotel. We sure like to have repeat guests like you.”

“Yes, it’s very comfortable,” Quinn said. “And thanks for employing my son.”

“Not many people want to mop and clean anymore,” Lenore said, shaking her head. Her short brown hair, heavily shot with gray, was thick and wiry, giving it somewhat the appearance of a dog’s coat. The accepted opinion in Midnight was that Lenore was a nice enough person, not extremely bright, clinging to her job with desperate tenacity since it had rescued her and Harvey from dire straits. She seemed to be direct and honest.

It was a good food night at Home Cookin, but then every night was at least pretty good, ranging up to sublime. Madonna Reed might not have won any personality contests, but she could (dammit) cook. Even Chuy, who was quite the chef himself, took his hat off to Madonna, at least metaphorically.

“What are you eating tonight, Bobo?” Lenore asked.

“Catfish and hush puppies and slaw,” Bobo said. “There aren’t any bad choices, though.”

When Madonna brought in the food, Lenore looked at their plates with keen interest. As soon as all the customers had been served, Madonna came to lean on the counter to talk to her.

“What’s on your mind, Lenore?” Madonna had never wasted time on casual conversation.

“You probably know I have a cook coming from Davy to help with breakfasts for everyone, and then someone else comes to cook lunch and dinner for the residents. The nonresidents have to fend for themselves.”

Madonna nodded, and everyone at the table scrambled to say something to each other so it would appear they weren’t listening.

“Well, my morning cook is still fine. But my lunch and dinner cook is about to quit. Since we only have four residents at the moment, I think I can do lunch. Soup and sandwiches, that kind of thing. I was hoping you’d agree to do the dinners.”

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