Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
Ace Books by Charlaine Harris
The Midnight, Texas, Novels
The Sookie Stackhouse Novels
DEAD UNTIL DARK
LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS
DEAD TO THE WORLD
DEAD AS A DOORNAIL
ALL TOGETHER DEAD
FROM DEAD TO WORSE
DEAD AND GONE
DEAD IN THE FAMILY
DEAD EVER AFTER
A TOUCH OF DEAD
Ace Books Edited by Charlaine Harris
THE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE COMPANION
Ace Books Edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner
DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Ace Anthologies Edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner
MANY BLOODY RETURNS
WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE
DEATH’S EXCELLENT VACATION
HOME IMPROVEMENT: UNDEAD EDITION
AN APPLE FOR THE CREATURE
GAMES CREATURES PLAY
Berkley Prime Crime Books by Charlaine Harris
The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries
A BONE TO PICK
THREE BEDROOMS, ONE CORPSE
THE JULIUS HOUSE
DEAD OVER HEELS
A FOOL AND HIS HONEY
LAST SCENE ALIVE
POPPY DONE TO DEATH
The Lily Bard Mysteries
The Harper Connelly Mysteries
AN ICE COLD GRAVE
SWEET AND DEADLY
A SECRET RAGE
Berkley Prime Crime Anthologies Edited by Charlaine Harris
CRIMES BY MOONLIGHT
InkLit Graphic Novels by Charlaine Harris
InkLit Graphic Novels by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden
CEMETERY GIRL: BOOK ONE: THE PRETENDERS
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2016 by Charlaine Harris, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Night shift / Charlaine Harris.
pages ; cm.—(A novel of Midnight, Texas ; 3)
ISBN 978-0-425-26322-8 (hardback)
PS3558.A6427 N54 2016
Cover illustration © Hugh Syme.
Cover photograph: Clouds © Mr Twister / Shutterstock.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
Map illustration by Laura Hartman Maestro.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For the people who’ve kept me floating all these years: Paula Woldan; my literary agent, Joshua Bilmes (go, JABberwocky!); my left coast agents, Steve Fisher and Debbie Deuble Hill at APA; my website mods (you know who you are, VK, LB, MS, ME); the great staff at Penguin (past and present); and most of all my husband, Hal.
I appreciate all the great advice I’ve gotten from my writer buddies Dana Cameron and Toni Kelner, aka Leigh Perry. Joshua Bilmes really helped me out on this one, too. Witch and writer Ellen Dugan was especially generous with her time and expertise. All the mistakes I may have made are due to my own frivolous nature.
he first suicide arrives one October night.
He is a middle-aged man with a scruffy beard. He parks his battered pickup in front of the Midnight Hotel. The six-to-midnight clerk, a junior college freshman named Marina Desoto, later tells Deputy Anna Gomez that when she saw the pickup pull to the curb, she assumed the driver would come in to rent a room. Marina does not add that she had been a little excited at the prospect, since in the months she has worked at the hotel only six people have asked for a room during her shift.
Marina’s hope is dashed pretty quickly.
Peering out the glass door, she watches the man fall out of the pickup “like he was drunk,” she tells Deputy Gomez and Sheriff Arthur Smith.
Since Gomez knows Marina’s family, she also knows Marina is fully conversant with the behavior of drunk people.
“What did he do then?” the deputy asks.
“He walked funny, kind of leaning, like a big magnet was pulling him into the middle of the crossroad. And then he . . .” Marina’s voice trails off, and tears roll down her face. She lifts her hand to her head, forefinger pointed and thumb cocked, and mimes pulling a trigger.
“You saw this from the front desk?” Smith asks. He’s checked the line of sight, and he’s skeptical.
“No, you can’t see the whole intersection from the desk,” Marina says immediately, but not as if she’s really thinking about the question. “I had gotten up and walked to the door to lock it, after I saw him get out of the truck. Because he was acting so weird.”
“Smart,” Gomez says. “So he was just carrying a gun in his hand?”
“He pulled a gun out of his waistband. And he shot himself.”
Gomez makes herself keep her eyes on Marina, though she’s tempted to turn to look at the dark heap still crumpled by the road. An ambulance is waiting to take the corpse to the nearest medical examiner’s office.
“He didn’t say anything? You didn’t see him make a phone call?” Sheriff Smith says instead, going over ground already covered. He’s seen a cheap cell phone in the man’s shirt pocket.
“No sir,” Marina tells him. “He didn’t do nothing but get out and shoot himself.” And she starts crying again. Deputy Gomez sighs and pats Marina on the shoulder.
Anna Gomez has never liked Midnight, and its people are all guilty until proven innocent to her, no matter what her boss says. But even Gomez can’t hold the Midnighters responsible for this suicide, though she’d love to find a way.
Gomez gives in to the prickling on her skin and turns to look around her, feeling the eyes on her. The locals are awake and watching. Though this is surely a normal human reaction to a lot of lights and sirens late at night, it doesn’t make her feel any more comfortable.
Midnight and its people give Gomez the creeps. But she has to admit, none of them approach her to ask questions, and none of them try to get close to catch a glimpse of the body.
It never occurs to Anna Gomez that this is because they are all well aware of what a body looks like.
he next night, almost all the people in Midnight went up the steps to gather in the pawnshop owned by Bobo Winthrop, owner and proprietor, who worked the day shift there.
Midnight Pawn was a very old store with wooden floors that creaked in a friendly way. It was crowded with many curious items. The big open area at the front of the shop was hospitably full with chairs of all descriptions and ages, which made it made a natural meeting place. The counter, with its high stool, was to the left, parallel to the wall. Normally, that was where Bobo sat when there were customers.
But when there weren’t, like tonight, Bobo sat in his favorite velvet chair. It was very old, and the velvet was worn, but Bobo found it comfortable and stylish. He’d positioned it to give him a good view of his domain, from the loaded shelves that held the strange discards of the human race, to the display cases in which objects gleamed and glittered. There was a whole shelf of sanders, for example. And one of bubblegum machines. And jewelry, both real and fabulously fake.
And there was one secluded corner full of magical items. Fiji Cavanaugh, the witch who lived across Witch Light Road, had suggested that Bobo let her inspect those before they were placed on display.
Tonight, Fiji came in first. She smiled at Bobo and found a place to sit where she could see everyone. The witch, a brown-haired woman in her late twenties, was literally well rounded and had lovely skin, at least in part because she kept it protected from the Texas sun.
The Rev and his ward, Diederik, took up chairs beside Fiji. The Rev was a sparse man; short in stature, short of words, thin and bony and dry. His thinning dark hair was combed straight back. The Rev always wore the same ensemble: a white shirt, black pants, a black coat, and a black cowboy hat and boots. He sported a string tie with a turquoise stone fixing it around his neck. Wearing the same ensemble every day simplified his life.
The Rev’s companion, Diederik, provided a sharp contrast. Diederik radiated health and vitality. The boy looked as though he were nineteen, perhaps entering college like Marina Desoto, but that wasn’t so. Diederik had a broad olive face, wide violet eyes that slanted a bit, and dark thick hair. He was built like a wrestler, and he moved with grace.
Before he settled into his chair, Diederik gave Fiji a kiss on the cheek. She smiled at the boy, hoping the smile held nothing but motherly interest. When she’d met him a few months ago, he’d been a little boy. Now he was a full-grown male with a lively interest in females.
Fiji looked over at Olivia Charity, the only other woman present. Did Olivia, too, have a few slightly conflicted feelings about Diederik? But she sensed Olivia didn’t; that in fact, he was barely a blip on Olivia’s radar.
But Olivia let Fiji know who she was thinking about. “Lemuel’s still working on those books,” she said to Fiji, who hadn’t asked. “In fact, he eats, drinks, and sleeps those damn books.”
“Golly,” said Fiji, who couldn’t think of anything more helpful to say. Lemuel could focus like a laser beam, but she’d never seen him that concentrated on anything. The volumes in question had been hidden in the pawnshop for decades, and for decades Lemuel had looked for them. Then Lemuel had sold the pawnshop to Bobo, staying on as night manager. Bobo had found the cache, not realized its importance, and moved it up to his apartment, planning to examine the books someday. Now Lemuel had discovered he couldn’t read the script in one, and naturally, that was the one that was most important, though Fiji didn’t know why.
Chuy Villegas and Joe Strong, the couple who ran the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon, nodded easily to Bobo as they entered. Chuy patted Fiji’s shoulder. Diederik rose and hugged them, and scratched their dog’s head. The two took odd chairs, side by side, and set their little Peke, Rasta, down. He snuffled around the room, visiting everyone in turn, and then settled by Chuy’s feet.
Manfred Bernardo, the psychic who rented the house next door from Bobo, hurried in and threw himself into a chair by his landlord. He gave everyone a wave or a word. Manfred, almost as small and spare as the Rev, was pierced liberally and with great effect, and lately he had begun getting tattoos. He pulled up his T-shirt sleeve to show the new one on his left shoulder, an ouroboros, to Fiji, and she shook her head, smiling.
“Why volunteer for pain?” she said.
“It’s for my art,” Manfred said dramatically, and they all laughed. Manfred regarded the tattoo with admiration. “Actually, I think it makes me look badass.”
No one raised the topic of the evening.
They were all waiting on Lemuel, who would be there when the sun set.
In October, the sun went down a little before seven thirty p.m. One of the clocks in the pawnshop chimed the half hour, and a minute or two later, Lemuel Bridger came up from his basement apartment. There was a sense of completion when he took his place in the circle to Bobo’s left.
The two were as much of a contrast as the Rev and Diederik. Bobo always seem relaxed, and now that he was in his thirties his blond hair was a little faded, and his blue eyes were a little sad. But he still could have been featured in an advertising campaign for something casual but expensive, like sunglasses. Lemuel could never pass for human. He was too white, white as bleach, and his eyes were a strange gray. He didn’t even move like a human being.
“Did anyone know the man who killed himself last night?” Fiji asked the little crowd. “Joshua Allen, right, Manfred?”
“That’s what they said on the news.”
“I didn’t know him,” Lemuel said. His hoarse voice was at odds with his white, gleaming appearance. “But I knew the first one.”
There was a moment of absolute silence.
“The first one. The first what?” Olivia said.
“The first suicide.” Lemuel’s pale eyes went from one of them to another. If he was looking for someone to nod in agreement, he was disappointed.
Fiji was stumped. “Are you looking back a decade or something?” Vampires could lose track of time.
“I’m looking back a week,” Lemuel said, in a bored way. “The first one was at three in the morning last Tuesday. A homeless woman stabbed herself to death right under the traffic light. I knew her, a little. Her name was Tabby Ann Masterson.”
Even Olivia had not expected this bombshell. “You didn’t tell me,” she said.
“I could not imagine that it had anything to do with Midnight,” he said. “No one was awake but me.”
Lemuel was up all night, of course. Though the pawnshop was up a few steps from the ground level, and though he was often behind the counter, the pawnshop sat at the northeast corner of the only intersection in Midnight: the crossroads of Witch Light Road and the Davy highway. And from behind the counter, Lemuel could get a somewhat abbreviated view of what was happening there. If he happened to be closer to the window, his view would be unobstructed.
Fiji smiled to herself at the long silence. Even if Lemuel had said he’d been facing the wall when it happened, none of them would have dared to question his word. Lemuel, the oldest of the town’s inhabitants by a century, was not a joker, a kidder, or a fantasist.
“I’ve met Tabby Ann,” she said. “She used to come by my place, looking for my aunt. Evidently, Great-Aunt Mildred used to give her leftovers. I gave her some food once, but the next time I wasn’t there, and she peed on my back porch. I cast a spell to find out who had done it, because Mr. Snuggly didn’t see.”
“Where is her body, then?” Manfred asked. “Tabby Ann. What did you do with her?” There was another profound silence. “Wait, sorry, don’t need to know.” He waved his hands, palms forward, warding off unneeded information.
Lemuel smiled at Manfred, briefly. “Tabby Ann Masterson was a homeless woman,” Lemuel said, “as you call it now. I knew her during her better days, when she had a man and children and a home. She had no one left any longer.”
“Two suicides,” Joe Strong, who looked exactly like his name, said. “In the same spot, in the same town. Joshua Allen can’t be a copycat, since he couldn’t have known about Tabby Ann.”
Manfred said, “The article I read about him online said he was an itinerant laborer.”
“Which is another way of saying he didn’t belong anywhere.” Olivia’s voice was harsh. “But why choose Midnight for his death? Could it be a coincidence?”
Fiji felt doubtful, and she saw that same expression on the faces of everyone around her.
Bobo said, “This seems like a magic thing.” These were the first words he’d spoken all evening. Bobo had seemed a little broody for days, though no one was sure why. Fiji, who was always aware of Bobo, was a little hyped up by the fact that she was almost certain that he was staring at her even when she wasn’t speaking. She didn’t know why; she sadly suspected it was not for the same reason she liked to look at him. In fact, looking at Bobo was one of her favorite things to do.
Fiji made herself concentrate on the moment as she brushed her wild hair away from her face. “It would have to be because this is a crossroads,” she said slowly. “It might be a coincidence that two people committed suicide here in a week, but they killed themselves in the same spot. That just can’t be a coincidence.”
Reluctantly, Chuy Villegas raised a hand. When they all looked at him, he said, “The ghosts have been agitated.”
Manfred sat up straight and stared at Chuy. Short and swarthy and in his forties, Chuy did not look like the kind of man who would talk about ghosts in a very prosaic way. (Manfred himself, with his piercings and tattoos and dyed platinum hair,
look like such a person.) “You see ghosts?” Manfred said, keeping his voice matter-of-fact with an effort.
“We do,” said Joe. Joe was just as muscular as his partner, but taller and fairer.
“Do you see Aunt Mildred?” Fiji asked, startled. Her great-aunt had left her the cottage she lived in, and Fiji had adapted to life in Midnight as if she’d been born to it.
“All the time,” Chuy said.
“She’s okay?” Fiji looked anxious.
“Right as rain,” Joe reassured her. “But lately, along with all the other ghosts, she’s been breaking routine.”
wanted to ask what “routine” was for a spirit, but that would be veering off the subject. “Maybe I can ask some questions later,” he said. Chuy nodded and looked resigned.
“So they are feeling the pull of the crossroad, too,” Lemuel said, though not as if he were completely sure. “Or maybe something is coming to Midnight, something bad, something we should be afeared of.”
Fiji cleared her throat. “I think it must be already here. Otherwise, why two deaths on the same spot?”
Diederik said, “Can we kill it?” The boy was definitely excited.
“Not until we know what it is and what the consequences would be.” Joe turned to Lemuel. “Is this what you’ve been looking for in the books? Facts about something magical here in town?”
“I’m working on a translation,” Lemuel said rather coldly. “The books are all books written by vampires. For a few of them, the volume I have is the only volume remaining in the world. As I examined them, I found one that I thought would lead me to information about Midnight. It seems to be a history of magical sites in this country, from the map included. I had to find someone who could tell me what language the book was written in.”
“When was it written?” the Rev said.
“It was written a couple of hundred years ago, so it is the most recent of the books. But it was written in a language that has not been spoken for two thousand years, or longer.”
The Rev nodded. Fiji could not tell if the ancient minister was glad, surprised, or irritated at this information.
“Who would be the intended reader of such a book? And how come you have to translate it?” Fiji was curious. “If it’s about America, shouldn’t it be in English?”
Lemuel said, “It was written by a vampire who was touring the U.S. before I was born.”
“But the book’s only a couple hundred years old?” Fiji didn’t get it.
“Yes. I believe from the binding and the printing that this book has only been around for two centuries, give or take. And it may have been written long before it was printed.”