Night Shift Page 74

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Diederik worried about his part in the evening’s preparations as he cleaned. The salt, now mixed with the ash of the hawthorn tree, was in a tub in the chapel. He and his father were charged with sprinkling the mixture on the circle they’d drawn around the crossroad. But if it kept raining, he didn’t know what they’d do. Underlying his worry about the weather and the excitement of the potential demon rampage, Diederik was hoping Fiji might choose him to participate in the final part of the ritual. Diederik was more than ready.

Manfred was busy with his usual workload. He paused, though, to think about Estella Hardin. He’d gone out with her a couple of times now, and those evenings had been very good. He hoped like hell he would have more evenings with Stell. But he’d been avoiding the intimacy that would lead to sex, because he simply couldn’t face having sex with Fiji (if that was his lot), and then going back to Stell, while keeping this evening’s events a secret.

Joe and Chuy missed their dog and clung to each other. They put the Closed sign on the shop’s door. No one shopped for antiques or manicures in the rain, in Midnight. And they alone had faced a demon, so they knew what could happen to them this night.

Lenore and the cook at the hotel collaborated on doing all the prep work for a Halloween dinner for the residents and those of the transient group who wanted to participate. Lenore had talked to Madonna about making a pumpkin pie and a devil’s-food cake, and Madonna was in the kitchen at Home Cookin working on those as she and Teacher did the normal lunchtime preparations.

The night before, Lenore had given Marina the task of preparing Halloween goodie bags containing hand lotion, tissues, candy corn, peanuts, an orange, and other odds and ends. Lenore had pointed out that Marina seldom had anything else to do, a point that Marina had felt was quite unnecessary to emphasize.

In truth, Marina was having a little trouble keeping up with the apparently unflagging sex drive that kept Diederik ever at her side. Marina actually thought it would be nice to have an evening off. To the girl’s surprise, after she’d prepared the goodie bags Lenore had sent her home with instructions to come back in two nights. “Take Halloween off,” Lenore had said, with a weak smile. Marina thought of calling Diederik, then decided she’d go party with her friends from school instead.

Bobo had gotten all the accounts of Midnight Pawn in order. Just in case, he told himself. Just in case. All the online forms were filled out, he’d gone over the inventory, and he’d made sure his will was in his bedside drawer. Bobo was determined to step forward for Fiji, but he wondered if he would survive the process. He wanted to be ready.

He thought of Fiji every other minute and was sorry this day would be so fraught for her. She was so kind and good.

Despite Manfred’s warning, Lenore did not keep tabs on her husband, which was a pity.

Harvey Whitefield hadn’t had a binge in a long time, but that day something about the pounding rain made his resolution collapse utterly, and he drove to Davy to a liquor store and bought a bottle of bourbon, saying nothing to his wife, who was very busy in the kitchen and in the hotel, putting out decorations for the party. That suited Harvey fine. He got a liter of Coca-Cola and a glass from the pantry, put some ice in a bucket, and retired to an empty room in the hotel to have his own private party. He watched the game show channel on the flat-screen. Though he wasn’t good at remembering the answers, the questions made him feel smart. And he was gleeful at having successfully dodged his wife.

The three senior citizens who were in the Midnight Hotel suites, waiting for an opening at the assisted-living center in Davy or the one in Marthasville, played cards and read or listened to audiobooks, according to their eyesight acuity. They liked the break in the monotony provided by the rain and thunder, and they had a pleasant, cozy, day. It got dark even earlier than usual in October. They were all glad to switch on the nearest lamp.

The four people who were “transient guests” at the Midnight Hotel went about their business. The three genuine tech support people actually drove to Magic Portal, even on a Saturday. They had a productive day at the gaming company. Their Magic Portal colleagues invited the three to a party that would start immediately after work that day, and they all accepted gladly. Working with the Magic Portal people was more fun than anything they’d ever done.

The fourth person was the man renting the second-floor front room, which overlooked the pawnshop. Lenore understood he was a writer, and that was why he stayed in his room almost all the time. There was certainly a laptop in his room, and he always seemed to be working when Lenore cleaned his room. The past two days, he’d seemed very jittery, and he was never without his phone in his hand. He’d told Lenore he might check out at any time. He seemed surprised and pleased to get a special Halloween treat brought up on a tray by the boy who usually worked in the evening.

“Why are you on duty during the day?” the man asked. “The girl quit,” Diederik answered. “Enjoy.”

Left alone with the tray, the man had to admit it looked interesting. There was a small pitcher of sangria with lots of fruit in it (carefully covered with a paper frill) and a cheese and cracker plate with a bit of honeycomb. The note on the tray said, “Have a happy Halloween!” He took the tray to his chair and table arranged by the window to keep his vigil. He drank the pitcher of sangria and picked at the cheese and crackers and honeycomb. He didn’t wake until three a.m. the next morning, courtesy of Joe and Chuy, who’d entrusted Diederik with the delivery.

Underneath the rock, dirt, and asphalt the demon Colconnar stirred. He was not quite strong enough yet. He needed more blood. He would rise. He would have the witch in every way it was possible to have her. He began summoning anyone weak enough to listen. Ah! He found someone very weak, and very close.

Harvey Whitefield had dozed off from the liquor and the drumming of the rain in the empty hotel room. He woke, thinking he’d heard someone call his name. He felt a surge of guilt, because he was sure his wife was looking for him. But to Harvey’s astonishment, the voice was one he’d never heard before. Harvey lurched to his feet, looking from side to side to find the source of the summons.

He went to the door and listened. Nothing on the landing. But he could still hear his name. He opened the door just a bit and looked around. There was no one there. He could hear, very faintly, the sound of the old geezers in the common room on the ground floor. They were talking about how to play Texas hold ’em and debating how many books Nora Roberts had written.

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