Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
obo rose early in the morning and went to the front window to check for dead people. The Rev was heading away from the intersection with a wheelbarrow full of dead animals. Diederik was trailing after the old minister, so Bobo didn’t run down to offer his own help. He turned away, shaking his head. It was obvious this wasn’t going to be an ordinary day, and Bobo wondered if there would ever be an ordinary day again.
Bobo dressed with some haste, and he took his bowl of oatmeal down to the shop with him. There was a new note beside the cash register, which he read with some bewilderment.
Arthur Smith walked through the door within the hour. Since he was the sheriff, he didn’t have to wear a uniform, though he usually preferred to. Today, Smith was very well turned out in a navy blazer, sharply pressed khakis, and a starched white shirt. His tie was a cheerfully subdued plaid of blue and green and a hint of red.
“Looking good,” Bobo said by way of greeting.
“Thanks,” Arthur said uncomfortably. “Ah, I have a thing later.”
“Okay. What can I do for you before you have your thing?” Bobo added together Arthur’s discomfort, the fact that he’d been seeing Magdalena Orta Powell very steadily, and Arthur’s romantic history. Bobo suspected that Arthur was about to get married again.
“I can’t rouse your tenants.”
Of course, Bobo had heard Arthur try the side door, so this was no news to him. He had wondered if he should intervene, but he’d correctly figured Arthur would come into the shop through the front door. “The side door stays locked until one of us goes out that way, Arthur. Of course you can’t see Lemuel, it’s daytime. I can’t believe you tried. Olivia worked the counter in here last night, too. Is this about her car?” (The note had said, “Bobo, my car was stolen last night, so people may show up asking for me. Olivia.”)
“Yes, mostly,” Arthur said. He still looked grim. “Lemuel is all right?”
“As far as I know. I can go check, if you want.”
“That would be a relief to me.”
Bobo went out the side door to the landing and downstairs. He heard a little stirring in Olivia’s apartment, so he knocked softly. She opened the door so swiftly he was startled and stepped back.
“What’s up?” she said. She’d just showered, and was wrapped in a towel. Her auburn hair trickled drops of water on her shoulders.
“Is Lem okay? The sheriff is upstairs asking. What happened?” Bobo whispered.
“Lemuel’s fine. Tell Arthur I’ll be up in just a minute,” she said. “I can explain then.” Her voice was at a normal level. “You could shout and Lem wouldn’t wake up, you know.”
“Right,” Bobo said, a little embarrassed. Up the stairs he went to relay Olivia’s message. He and Arthur had a calm exchange of pleasantries until she came in. She looked pale to Bobo, but he noticed she had put on makeup and an outfit that was nicer than her usual Midnight wear.
“Arthur, thanks for coming in person about my car. Did you find it?” Olivia was all hopefulness.
“We did find your car, but I’m afraid I have bad news,” Arthur said. “There was a small amount of ash that was a different color in the front seat. We think it was a dead vampire. And the car was wrecked. It had evidently bounced around like a pinball between the cars in the parking lot at the Cartoon Saloon in Marthasville.”
“A dead vampire?” Olivia seemed genuinely startled. “I didn’t think there was enough left of them after they died. I mean, to tell a vampire was there.”
“There was a pile of flaky stuff left,” Arthur said. “I’d never seen anything like it, but I’ve read about it in law enforcement journals. It matched the pictures I’ve seen of vampire remains.” He paused. “Were you were out last night?”
“Briefly,” she said. “But most of the night, I was helping Lemuel. He had the night shift here in the pawnshop, as usual.”
“And by ‘helping’, you mean . . . ?”
“Keeping him company,” she said promptly. “He’s my sweetie.”
The idea of Lemuel as a “sweetie” made Bobo turn away with a grin.
“And when you say you were out?” Arthur was persistent. It was his job.
Olivia turned to Bobo. “Don’t get mad, but Lem and I took a walk. It was such a pretty night we couldn’t resist. And we were only gone thirty minutes. But during that time, my car went missing! Or at least, that was when I noticed it was gone.”
“I don’t suppose you left your key fob in it?”
“No,” she said. It had actually been in Lemuel’s pocket.
“Can you narrow down how long it might have been missing?”
“I used the Civic yesterday afternoon,” she said, looking thoughtful. “I drove to Davy and back. After that, I didn’t take it out. I can’t remember looking behind the store for any reason. So I guess it was stolen between five p.m. and one a.m. I hardly see how it could have been taken in the daytime, so I’d imagine it was taken after dark.”
Arthur didn’t respond to that. “Could I see your key fob?”
She pulled a key ring out of her pocket and showed it to him. “Here it is,” she said. “Plus side door key and apartment key.”
“These haven’t left your possession?”
“No,” she said.
“What about your extra key fob?”
“I checked last night, and it’s in a drawer in my apartment.”
“That was some talented vampire,” Bobo said. “Knew how to boost a car without keys. Hey, how is that possible?”
“Usually, your fob has to be within a couple of feet to open your car,” Arthur said. “But there’s a device called a power amplifier. If the fob is within a certain radius, it can open the car and a thief can start it.”
“Damn,” Bobo said, truly amazed. “I had no idea. And you say Olivia’s car is totaled?”
“Looks totaled to me,” Arthur said. “And not only did a vampire die, and the car get totaled, along with a lot of damage to others, but the Civic hit a pickup truck so hard that the woman inside snapped her neck, and the man who was with her is in intensive care. At least, that what we’re assuming happened to them.”
“That’s awful,” Bobo said. “Do you think he’ll make it?”
“Maybe,” Arthur said.
“But surely Olivia can’t be held liable for the woman’s death and the man’s injuries?” Bobo was indignant. “I mean, after all! Her car got stolen!”
“I’m really sorry for all of this,” Olivia said. “But at least the dead vampire isn’t Lemuel, and the man in the hospital may recover. I’ll try to focus on that.” She looked determined and brave. “Oh, by the way, and far down on the list, I called my insurance agent first thing this morning. Matt Wrigley. To alert him about the theft. Did he contact you?”
Arthur nodded. “One of my deputies talked to him. When he described the situation, Matt said he’d call you later today, after he’d seen your car.”
“I’ve only had the Civic for three years, and I got a great deal on it secondhand. Now I’ll have to go through the process again.” Olivia’s expression was sour.
She’s genuinely chagrined about that, at least,
Bobo thought. Abruptly, he longed to simply walk out of the pawnshop and across the road to Fiji’s place. He wanted to sit on her back porch and drink any beverage she cared to offer him. He wanted to have an ordinary conversation with her. Maybe he could hold her hand while they talked. That would be so nice. He missed her so much. She’d called him when Teacher had searched her house, but since then she’d reverted to keeping her distance.
“Bobo!” From her tone, Bobo understood Olivia had said his name several times.
“Sorry, I was daydreaming,” he said.
“If the insurance guy comes in here, can you call me to come up?” she said. “I’m going to be doing some research on another vehicle, on my laptop.”
“Sure.” That unnecessary instruction had been worth interrupting his thoughts?
“Olivia, at least you know what happened to your car,” Arthur said. He, too, did not sound pleased. “I guess it’s just an amazing coincidence that you happen to date the only vampire in a large radius, and then a vampire stole your car out of all the cars within that radius, and then that vampire died in that car after wrecking it for no reason.”
“An amazing coincidence,” Olivia agreed seriously.
And with that, Arthur left.
Olivia said, “He was looking good.” She sounded very calm and innocent.
“My guess is that he’s getting married again. He was sure dressed up.” Bobo walked to the front window and looked across the road at Fiji’s cottage.
Sylvester Ravenwing walked by.
“That’s the new guy at the gas station,” Bobo said. “What’s he doing out of the store?”
“Speaking of looking good,” Olivia said. “That guy is completely hot. And my second question would be, why’s he’s going to Manfred’s?”
They moved in unison to watch the new guy cross the lawn to the house next door.
“Huh,” said Bobo. He was curious, too.
“Interesting,” said Olivia.
And then an ancient pickup pulled up out front of Midnight Pawn, and an equally ancient man unloaded a large tin statue of a horse from the back.
“I’ll leave you to all the excitement,” Olivia said. “You better get the door for him.”
“Thanks,” muttered Bobo when she’d gone. After one more longing look across the street at Fiji’s place, he hurried to open the door.
As the old man struggled into Midnight Pawn, Bobo noticed that Ravenwing was knocking at Manfred’s door.
ello?” Manfred said. His brows drew together at seeing a stranger, which did odd things to Manfred’s piercings.
“You haven’t been in the store yet to greet me,” the stranger said.
“Ah, sorry? Who are you?”
“Okay, pleased to meet you. I’m Manfred Bernardo.” He shook Ravenwing’s hand and turned away to return to his desk. But Ravenwing didn’t budge. “Ahhhh . . . did you want to come in?”
“I do. We need to talk.”
Mystified, Manfred took a step back. “Come to the kitchen,” he said. “I have some Coca-Cola. Or tea. Or I can make coffee.”
“Tea is fine.”
Manfred led the way back, and he just knew Sylvester’s eyes were taking in the shabby, comfortable house.
Soon Manfred and his unexpected (and unwanted) guest were ensconced at the kitchen table. Manfred was vaguely aware that if he had been Fiji he could have offered cookies or something, but that was very much not the case. He did brew the tea, and during this process his unexpected visitor did not say a word.
“You were brought up by your grandmother,” Sylvester said, as soon as Manfred had put the tea on the table and pulled out a chair. No other conversational opener could have startled Manfred more.
“Why do you want to know?” he asked, then slapped himself mentally.
By the sound of it, Sylvester wasn’t asking a question but stating a familiar fact.
“I knew her,” Sylvester said, and that was another earth-shaker. “Then you probably know that after a certain point my mom couldn’t put up with me so she handed me over to my grandmother,”
Manfred said. “And Xylda and I got along like a house afire. While my mother lived with the regret she had about that, and still does. Though she’s happier now she’s married.” His eyes narrowed, he waited for Sylvester’s next move.
“I knew Xylda when she was very young,” Sylvester said. “How?” Manfred was tired of all this pussy-footing.
“We were together for a while.”
Manfred had three instant and equally violent reactions. He was struck dumb. He also had a hundred things to say. And he wanted to punch Sylvester. These did not blend well, and he began coughing.
He inhaled sharply, held the breath. Then he slowly exhaled. The biggest secrets in his family had been the identity of his mother’s father and the identity of his own. Sometimes Xylda had claimed the man she’d married had been Rain’s father. Sometimes she had just smiled when he’d asked her.
“You don’t look old enough,” Manfred said, and congratulated himself on his even voice.
Sylvester said, “She aged, but I stayed this way.”
“Are you human?” Manfred asked.
“Not completely.” Sylvester’s face impassive, which Manfred simply could not understand. He had to be having an emotion about this— regret, or . . . something? Anything?
“Are you—my grandfather?” Manfred said, almost holding his breath at the enormity of this question. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.
“I am,” Sylvester said.
Manfred’s breath whooshed out. He didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed. Mostly, he was terrified. After all these years . . . an answer. At least one. “Okay, a few questions,” he began cautiously.
“How come we don’t look anything alike? I mean, at
“I don’t always look like this,” Sylvester said.
Again, not what Manfred had expected.
he said. “I’ll come back to that later. Did you ever see my grandmother after your, um, fling?”
“I think two years is more than a fling. Yes, I saw Xylda from time to time. But not in her last ten years.”
“So you know she died?” Manfred said slowly.
“Yes. Her light blinked out in my heart.”
“Flowery. But you didn’t come to her deathbed. You didn’t attend her funeral.”
“I was very fond of her, nonetheless.”
“So just to be absolutely clear, my mother is your daughter.”
“But she’s not anything like you. Or me. And she sure as hell can’t change her appearance.”
“No. Everything skipped a generation. That happens sometimes.
Xylda told me that her grandfather was the one who’d had the power before her.”
Manfred dimly recalled Xylda telling him the same thing. “Do we have to do this question by question? Can’t you just tell me the story?” Manfred forced himself to take a sip of tea. His hands were shaking.
“I am not so good at telling histories. But I’ll do my best. I was born to Chickasaws in the area now known as Tennessee. My mother, Squirrel Hands, was a wise woman. Her husband had just died, and she was childless. She wanted a son more than anything. She knew she had the sickness in her belly, the same one that had killed her own mother.
When she met up with a demon named Colconnar—and she was never clear about how that happened, whether he had sought her out or she had summoned him—she struck a bargain with him. Her bargain was this: that in return for becoming free of the sickness, she would bear the child of Colconnar. Demons rarely breed to make their own babies, which perhaps you knew.”
Manfred shook his head faintly.
“No? Huh.” Sylvester seemed a little disappointed. “My mother got Colconnar to agree that she would have her child with her as long as she lived.”
This story is not going to end well,
he thought. Sylvester nodded gravely back. He continued, “Colconnar—my father—had said he would take the cancer away. He did. But he did not guarantee Squirrel Hands that she would be healthy, and she didn’t think of asking for that. Whether Colconnar caused it or not, my mother got an inflamed appendix, or maybe some womb infection—at least, those are my best guesses. I was about ten, maybe twelve, when my mother died, after considerable suffering. The moment she was dead, Colconnar came to get me.”
Manfred had heard stranger stories and believed them. “There were other people there?” he asked. “Members of your tribe?” Sylvester nodded.
“Did they see him?”
“How would I know? He took me. I didn’t get to do any post-abduction interviews.” Sylvester looked at Manfred as though he were wondering if his grandson was deficient.
Manfred reminded himself to be patient. “All right. So you went with your father. Did you know who he was?”
“Oh, he told me who he was right away. I believed him. If you had seen him, you would have believed him, too.” And Sylvester shivered.
Manfred tried not to think about how frightening that must have been for a preteen boy. “So were things a lot different? With your dad?
I know that’s a stupid question, but I guess I want to know how you managed . . . in demon-land. I guess it’s not actually below us.”
“Different realm,” Sylvester said. “A different dimension, I think.
Different creatures. Different laws.” All the lines of his face were drawn and grim as he told Manfred this.
“Why’d he want you?”
“Good question,” said Sylvester, for the first time showing some approval. “He was preparing me to be useful, so he could offer me to his ruler as a servant. Colconnar was proud of having a son. I would have been a rare gift.”
“But that didn’t happen?”
“Colconnar sent me out into the earth. Time had passed differently. Everything had changed. There were white people everywhere.” Sylvester Ravenwing looked sad. “He’d sent me here, though there was no town then, no Midnight. He ordered me to verify the report that a powerful witch was living in this area. Demons enjoy having sex with witches, especially virgin witches, though the witches don’t always survive it.”
Manfred winced. “So you found the witch.”
“I did, and I liked her. I was so impressed with her that I confessed why I had come. My father would be coming for her. She had had a forewarning, and she was gathering people to help her, other people with magical abilities.”
By now, Manfred could see where this story was going. “She planned to trap him?”
“Yes, grandson. She called together everyone of power she could find, because Colconnar was strong. If he gave me to his lord, the sacrifice of his son would gain him power. If he had sex with the witch, he would gain even more power. His ambition was to establish a kingdom on earth, a place all his own.”
“What about the rest of the demons? Why didn’t they want to do the same thing?”
“Do all humans want to conquer Russia? Or Australia?” Manfred had no answer for that. “So did the witch and her crew bind the demon?”
“Yes, they did.”
“I don’t know.”
“But you were here!”
“No, I was not. My presence would amplify Colconnar’s power, the witch said. And she sent me away to Tennessee.”
“So you don’t know what happened.”
“I do know that Colconnar is still trapped.”
“But not how.” Manfred slumped his face in his hands. “And there’s a demon under the crossroad. Okay, how’d you meet Xylda?”
“I traveled for years in what had become America. Sometimes I looked like my Indian self, and sometimes I looked like a white man. I kept going back to Tennessee, because it was my birthplace, and very beautiful. To my surprise, there came a sort of fashion for Indians, as we were called, and the remnants of my tribe held exhibitions there, of tribal dances and crafts and so on. Though I was a half-demon, and my Indian people knew that on some level, they still claimed me.
They allowed me to use my magic nature to train as a shaman. It was very strange to be valued rather than killed off. At one of these ‘Native American’ events, I met your grandmother Xylda. She was lonely, and she was wild and beautiful, too.” Sylvester smiled broadly. “Her gifts had made it hard for her to have friends. She was shunned in the com munity.”
I know what that feels like,
“She was delighted when we met. It was her birthday, and she had no one to celebrate it with. We came together by way of celebration, and we stayed together for two years. We were the first for each other, and I know she wore my necklace until the day she died. I could feel it.”
“The necklace.” Manfred searched his memory. “The freshwater pearls?”
“She did wear it always. But you
“She didn’t think I would make a good father for the child, when she did a reading of your mother as baby. She married a human man to teach your mother how to be human. Since I couldn’t.”
“So why are you here, now?”
It can’t be a coincidence,
Manfred thought. “You’re not just here to do your grandparental duty by me.”
“That’s the important part.” Sylvester looked even sterner than before. “I will tell you.”
Sylvester’s narrative style left a lot to be desired. Manfred was heartsick and had too much to think about to know where to begin. “Get to the point,” he said.
“However the witch imprisoned my father, the spell has lasted two hundred fifty years, and it’s about to wear out.” Sylvester was pleased to have finally gotten to what he considered the main point. “You’re going to have to do some more talking,” Manfred said.
“Everyone needs to hear this.”