Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
ow that Midnight was again the center of a lot of attention, everyone was angry except Kiki. She had been bored already, but for the rest of the day she entertained herself with the media people, especially the fringe bloggers and those people who reported for websites like Paranormal America and Eerie Homeland USA.
Fiji had always known that her sister was a smooth liar, but she had never appreciated the scope of that talent until now. She would hear snatches of conversation in which Kiki, representing herself as a longtime resident, hinted at wild orgies and secret sacrifices. At first Fiji was entertained, but then she was embarrassed, and after a short and stern visit from the Rev, she was alert to the real harm Kiki was doing to Midnight.
With some reluctance, Fiji began to marshal her arguments, and after an afternoon in which she’d had no customers at all because they didn’t want to be somehow urged to kill themselves, she sat down with Kiki over a supper of salad greens tossed with chicken and bacon and blueberries, and sourdough bread.
“What is it? You look like you’re going to spit nails,” Kiki said, after a moment. But she wasn’t really taken by surprise. The consciousness of her outrageous behavior was there in the way she avoided Fiji’s eyes.
“You have to stay away from the news people,” Fiji said. “Or leave.” Kiki’s upper lip lifted in what was almost a snarl. “Are you gonna make me? You’re going to throw out your own sister, after I came to you for help?”
A deep voice said,
I’ll kill her for you.
Fiji froze. She did not waste time disbelieving what she’d heard. And she did not imagine she was going crazy. She had heard the voice of the thing under the crossroad.
“Why?” she asked.
Kiki looked at her oddly. “That’s what I’m asking you. I came to you to ask for some sisterly protection. Now you’re telling me I have to leave?”
I’ve been calling the ones who’ve done you wrong.
The voice was deep, and gloating, and seductive.
But I’d never met the man who shot himself,
she said, hoping he could hear her internally.
I had to get enough strength to start the summoning,
he said pettishly.
Don’t talk to me now.
Fiji took a deep breath, pushing away the outrage that such a creature would speak directly to her. She had to continue this conversation with her sister. Fiji pictured several ways she could make Kiki leave, and that helped her calm down. She felt collected enough to continue the conversation, taking care to make her tone reasonable. “Kiki, you haven’t done anything since you got here but bitch about how small and dull Midnight is. You’ve told me you don’t want to be with your husband any more, and you don’t want to help Mom with Dad. But you haven’t told me why you left your job. Were you fired? Again?”
Kiki glared at her. “Maybe I wouldn’t have had to work outside the home if my husband earned enough for us to live on. Or if I’d gotten a fair break from my own relatives,” she snapped.
“Riiiiiight. In addition to bitching a lot, you throw in a hint every now and then that you think you should have gotten a share of this house.” Fiji shook her head. “But you didn’t, because you never paid any attention to Aunt Mildred. I did, because I loved her. I was interested in her life and I admired her self-sufficiency. You haven’t offered significant help. You also haven’t offered to pay toward the household expenses. Since I’m making my own living, I don’t take that too well. So, yes, I’m telling you, you have to leave tomorrow morning.”
Fiji’s kitchen was so quiet you could almost have heard a pin drop. Instead, Fiji heard the sound of Mr. Snuggly coming in the pet door. The cat came up to the table and sat with his tail wrapped neatly around his paws. Mr. Snuggly stared up at Fiji, and then fixed his gaze on her sister.
“Effing cat,” Kiki said.
“Effing woman,” the cat said.
Kiki froze. Fiji put her hand over her mouth to cover her smile.
“What did you say?” Kiki asked Fiji. She had the suspicious look of someone who thinks she is being hoaxed.
“Not a thing.”
“You’re a ventriloquist now?”
Fiji shook her head again.
Mr. Snuggly was highly offended. “Are you implying that she speaks for me? That I don’t have a mind of my own?”
Kiki’s eyes got even wider, and she looked from the cat to her sister and back again a dozen times, as if she thought that she would discover some means of voice transfer if she could catch them at the right moment.
“So why’d you really come?” Fiji asked her, to catch Kiki off-balance.
“I really did want to get away from Marty,” Kiki said. “It’s a sour marriage, and I can’t take it anymore. And he’s not . . . he hasn’t been faithful.” It mortified Kiki to admit that, and Fiji’s heart softened for a moment. “But I can’t move back in with Mom and Dad, either, not with Dad going nuts,” Kiki continued. “All Mom does is fuss about him. He can’t be left alone in the house. Sometimes he doesn’t make it to the bathroom. I’m not a nurse. I’m not cut out for that.”
Whine, whine, whine,
boomed the voice.
You’re not like that at all.
“What happened to your job?” Fiji was maintaining her focus with difficulty.
“I got fired because that bitch of a manager thought I was taking things home with me.”
“Without paying for them?” inquired Mr. Snuggly. He licked a paw while he waited for Kiki’s answer.
“Hell, for what they paid me, they ought to be giving me clothes,” Kiki said, not even looking at the cat. She was pretending she didn’t know words were coming from Mr. Snuggly. This was turning into the most confusing conversation Fiji had ever had.
“So you were stealing.” Fiji put down her fork. “You’re lucky she didn’t have you arrested.”
“Lucky!” Kiki said bitterly. “She’s the one Marty was seeing on the side.”
“Humans!” Mr. Snuggly said, disgusted. “Ugly.” He began cleaning his other front paw.
said the voice.
“Some days I agree with you,” Fiji told the cat.
“Your effing cat
? And you’re standing in judgment on
? Who’s the crazy one around here?”
“Weird doesn’t equal morally bankrupt. You need to go in the morning,” Fiji said. “It’s not only that you’re not offering help, you’re actually embarrassing me by making things worse with the media people.”
“So I have to go back to help Mom wipe Dad’s butt? I have to find a lawyer to get divorced, and I have to look for a damn job, while you just loll around here on your fat ass,” Kiki said.
Fiji looked at her sister for a long moment. “Yep, that’s about the size of it,” she said.
There was a tap at the back door that startled both of them— though not Mr. Snuggly, who looked positively pleased.
“Yes?” Fiji said, and Diederik came in. He was obviously holding himself in check with an effort, and his face was flushed. He spoke to Kiki in a choked voice. “You may not say such things to your sister,” he said. “You may not insult someone who has been kind and loving to me since I came here. We all think Fiji is beautiful. It is you who are ugly.” The boy was so menacing that Kiki, who’d risen from her chair, took a step back.
“So that’s how it is,” Kiki said, her face red and her lips pressed tight. “Robbing the cradle, Feej? You’re smarter than you look.”
Fiji stared at her sister, for the first time seeing her as a stranger, and one she didn’t particularly like. She said. “Pack up your stuff tonight.”
Kiki’s face grew even uglier, and she planted her feet to loose a volley of anger. But then she faltered.
Diederik looked like a very big boy, or a very young man, but either way you counted him, he looked formidable, Fiji thought. And Fiji hoped that she herself was projecting the confidence she felt.
To Fiji’s relief, Kiki went into the guest bedroom without further words, slamming the door behind her. She packed as noisily as possible, slamming and banging and kneeing things until it seemed as though a poltergeist were at liberty. Fiji hoped nothing of hers was going into Kiki’s suitcase.
In the kitchen, Diederik reached out to take Fiji’s hand. She let him, and felt comfort in the contact, but Kiki had succeeded in awakening active shame in the fertile ground of Fiji’s conscience. After a minute, she withdrew her hand. “I guess you’d better leave, Diederik,” she said. “It’s going to be pretty uncomfortable here until she goes.”
“You will maybe need protection,” he said.
“I can handle her. You’re a good friend to have,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough.”
He grinned, to her surprise. “I feel strong and tough, now!”
She would not have thought so a moment before, but she could smile, too. “You are plenty strong and tough,” she agreed.
Around suppertime, Kiki came out of the guest room and marched down to Home Cookin, without saying a word to Fiji, who was making supper for both of them.
Love the atmosphere of your home,
gloated the deep voice.
The minute the sky was dark, Fiji called Lemuel. “It’s talking to me,” she said.
For a long moment, he said nothing. “I’m coming,” he said. Fiji heard him saying, “Olivia, please mind the shop for a few minutes,” and four seconds later he knocked on her back door.
“Where is the sister?” Lemuel glanced through the hall at the shop.
“She’s still at the restaurant. I’ve asked her to leave in the morning. The voice told me that he’s trying to kill my enemies to placate me. I’d ask her to leave, anyway. She’s unhealthy for the community. But in view of the voice’s agenda . . . Lemuel, what is it?” Fiji didn’t mind showing Lemuel how frightened she was.
Lemuel’s cold hand brushed her cheek. “Fiji, don’t feel singled out. Do you know why it’s speaking to you?”
“No, but I hope you do.”
“You are its target because you alone can stop it.”
“How?” She was excited and terrified by the prospect.
“I don’t know yet.”
Fiji deflated in a hurry. “Lemuel, how can you know one thing and not another?”
“Because I’m still reading the damn book, woman.”
“You need help. We need to speed this process up.”
“What is coming up on the witch calendar, Fiji?”
“That’s easy! Samhain.”
“What does this mean to you as a witch?”
“Not too different from what it should mean to the nonpagan community. It’s the day when the souls of the dead can come through. People used to dress in disguises so the dead couldn’t recognize them, and they used to leave food out for the spirits. Now we call that ‘trick or treat,’ and it’s fun for kids.” She shrugged. “Also, it’s a thin day, a day when the spirit world is close to ours, and fairies and other supernatural creatures can enter our world. There’s lots more, but those are some of the aspects of Samhain . . . which I celebrate on the night of October thirty-first. Some celebrate it on November first.” She looked askance at Lemuel. Lemuel knew that she had a big Halloween party and decorated her house starting days ahead of time.
“I think you should not have your party this year,” Lemuel said. “Fiji, I’ll do anything I can to unearth the information we need as soon as possible.”
Kiki came in the back door as Fiji was digesting this. Kiki’s expression had been angry, haughty, her jaw set hard and ready for a fight. But when she saw Lemuel, she became wary.
“Hello,” Kiki said, and realized she had to pass Lemuel to get to her room. She stopped dead.
“You’ll be leaving tomorrow?” Lemuel said directly to Kiki, his icy eyes locking on hers.
“Yes, first thing in the morning,” she said, as if the words were being wrenched from her throat.
“You are not a good woman,” Lemuel said. “I hope you will not return.”
“God, no!” Kiki exclaimed. “Not for love or money.”
“I doubt either will be offered you,” he said, and stood aside so that she could walk through the kitchen.
When the guest bedroom door was shut, Fiji said, “I’m afraid he’ll try to get her out there to kill herself tonight.”
“Olivia and I will take turns watching,” Lemuel said. Despite that reassurance, Fiji was awake for most of the night, listening for sounds of movement in her house. She got up very early, and quietly made breakfast, thinking it was the least she could do. Now, she felt vaguely guilty, though leaving might save Kiki’s life. She put on a pot of coffee and left biscuits and jelly on the table. When she glimpsed Kiki going into the bathroom, Fiji went into her own room to make her bed and pull on some clothes. Then she sat and waited, identifying each noise Kiki made until she heard the good-bye sound of suitcase wheels. After the back door slammed, Fiji emerged and watched out the back window as Kiki slung her suitcase into her backseat and got into the car herself.