Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
“I like you,” Quinn said directly. “And I have a suspicion that in private, you work magic that we don’t even imagine.”
Fiji smiled. “You’re right. I do. No double entendre.”
“You’re not going to give me a hint about Olivia? About your problems?”
“Nope. Not mine to tell.”
“So I’ll have to approach Olivia herself.” He shook his head.
“Yeah, good luck with that,” she said. She stood, which was a pretty clear signal for him to leave.
He loped back to the hotel, not quite suppressing a smile. The kiss had been rewarding.
It’s been too long since I had a good companion,
Diederik was on the brink of going out on his own.
In view of that realization, his kiss with Fiji took on a much more interesting cast.
livia said, “Telling him I’m married is sure to flush them out.”
“And that’s what you want?” Lemuel was reading the translation Christine had worked so hard on. He knew what Olivia was telling him was important to her (and therefore to him) personally, but he was pretty sure the text was even more important. At least, in the Midnight universe, and just at this moment.
“I’m tired of this underhand game. I want to know who the players are and who’s backing them.” Olivia was exercising as she talked, and the flexing of her limber body was doing nothing to aid Lemuel’s concentration. Since she’d slept extra during the day, she had cleared a space for stretching in the herd of chairs occupying the pawnshop’s center. Lemuel watched from the high stool behind the counter, the handwritten translation before him.
He tore his gaze from the papers to look at Olivia. “If your father has tracked you down to watch you, he’s done nothing to make you think he will harm you. The Reeds are acting on his behalf? They haven’t raised a finger against you. In the past three years, there’s been many a time they could have acted against you.”
Olivia paused in her squats. “Okay, I concede that.”
“The more serious threat, if I’m understanding you correctly, is that your father’s right-hand man is watching you separately and unknown to your father.”
She nodded vigorously as she began doing lunges. “He was responsible for the man who tried to grab me when I was breaking into the Goldthorpe house.”
“Yes, you heard him say the name over his . . . walkie-talkie?”
“Cell phone. Yes, I did.”
“So he seems bent on capturing you. However, we haven’t seen his agents here.”
“One of them is responsible for the hotel.”
“But which one?”
“My dad owns the company that renovated the hotel. Manfred traced it back, and back, until he got to the source. Of course, he didn’t know that the president of the company was my dad, whose name is Nicholas Wicklow.”
This was the first time that Lemuel had heard her father’s name. “Thanks for trusting me with it,” he said. “I wondered if you would.”
“My real name,” she said, with air of someone doing a very necessary but distasteful task, “is Melanie Horton Wicklow.”
“No, that’s your birth name,” Lemuel said. “Your real name is Olivia Charity.”
She smiled at him, and his heart felt at ease. “Though she always made me call her Mother, my stepmother’s name was Tiffany, and I hope she never rests in peace.”
“What about your real mother—your biological mother, as they say now?”
“I didn’t know her very well. Her name was Cara,” Olivia said. “From the pictures, I look like her. Maybe another reason for Mo—
to do what she did.”
“But you’re uncertain about your father’s knowledge of her abuse.”
“I waver back and forth,” Olivia said, almost reluctantly. “Now I feel he didn’t. But I also think you don’t know something like that if you
aren’t paying attention
“Yes,” Lemuel agreed.
Olivia sat on the floor cross-legged bent forward and stood on her hands, her legs still crossed. Lemuel eyed her with admiration and a touch of exasperation. “Woman,” he said, “we have to talk.”
“I thought we were.”
“We have to talk about another topic, as interesting as I find this rare conversation about your family.”
Olivia rolled back into a sitting stance and looked up at him, her eyebrows raised in query. “What is it, Lemuel?”
“We must call the town together,” he said. “I think we are about to be killed.”
Her phone rang.
“Olivia,” said Manfred. “We have to have a town meeting. Sylvester’s forty-eight hours are up.”
he ground floor of Midnight Pawn was far larger than it appeared from the outside. The bare boards of the old floor creaked as the people of Midnight assembled and chose seats. Part of the fun of gathering in the pawnshop was trying out the eccentric assembly of chairs that had accumulated over the years.
But those coming into the pawnshop were somber, in no mood for fun. Bobo descended from his apartment as rumpled as if he’d already gone to bed, though it was only nine o’clock. When Fiji arrived, she looked exasperated. She’d been in the middle of practicing something, Lemuel deduced, from the stained bib apron still covering her T-shirt and jeans. Also, she smelled like sage.
Manfred entered and took a seat, but he didn’t greet anyone. He sat staring down at his hands as if he had something very much on his mind. Diederik left work to run over to the meeting. He smelled of Marina Desoto. Quinn came with him. No one objected to his presence. It seemed right.
Chuy and Joe sat side by side, holding hands, Lemuel noticed. It was unusual for them to display affection in public.
Olivia had told Lemuel more than once that she didn’t understand how he could be so tolerant of other people’s sex lives and reticent about his own with her. Lemuel thought,
I have always liked privacy for myself.
And his strongest emotions were personal emotions, saved to be savored between himself and one other person.
With no fanfare or tentativeness, Sylvester Ravenwing slid silently through the door and took his seat among them. He sat by Manfred. Ravenwing nodded to Lemuel. They had met once, both out on a stormy night. Lemuel didn’t challenge the newcomer’s right to be at the meeting. He was definitely a Midnighter. Chuy and Joe, however, stared at Sylvester Ravenwing with some suspicion.
“What’s up?” Bobo asked, once they were all assembled. He was doing his best not to stare at Fiji, Lemuel noticed. And Fiji resolutely kept her face turned from him. It was sad to see trouble between them.
“I was kind of in the middle of something,” Fiji said. A couple of faces turned to her. Fiji had never sounded this snappish before.
Lemuel waited until they all were paying attention. It didn’t take long. “I just finished reading the translation of the text I hoped would explain what is happening here,” Lemuel said. “And I will tell you. Manfred has told me that Sylvester Ravenwing also has things to tell us.”
“What did you find, Lemuel?” Olivia asked. She was sitting on the edge of a wooden chair at least fifty years old.
“The creature buried under the crossroad is a demon, and he’s about to rise,” Lemuel said.
There was a long moment of silence.
“The demon’s been talking to me,” Fiji said.
Everyone else was frozen in place by this revelation. Finally, Quinn said, “Okay. Let’s hear about this. Maybe starting with Lemuel.”
“Crossroads have a lot of magical connotations,” Lemuel said. “Places to put magical sites, like cairns. Places to worship, places to bury suicides, places to execute criminals and to leave the bodies as warnings.”
“I think we’re all aware of the magic of crossroads,” Chuy said, and Joe placed a warning hand on Chuy’s shoulder.
“Not me,” Diederik said cheerfully.
Manfred cleared his throat. “Maybe I can shortcut this process. I think you’ve all met Sylvester, who’s taken over the Gas N Go. Sylvester has told me he’s my grandfather. It’s his father who’s buried out there.” Manfred jerked his head in the stoplight direction. “The demon. My great-grandfather.”
After another long, significant pause, Fiji got up and went over to the two. She looked down at Sylvester, whose dark eyes met hers with a sort of recognition, a kinship.
“You didn’t say anything when I came in the store?” she asked, because of that look.
“I had to talk to Manfred first,” Sylvester said. “And I had a hard time working up to it. But the time is close at hand. You say you’ve been hearing his voice?”
“Demons love witches, for their power. They like to consume it,” Sylvester said, in a disturbing, matter-of-fact way. “But no mistake, you have the power to imprison him again. So he wants you on his side.”
“So this demon’s tried to pull people who don’t like me to the circle, and get them to kill themselves, to make me believe he’s on my side. A
has been talking to me,” she said slowly, as if this were the worst thing that had ever happened to her. Maybe it was.
“Your father is a full demon?” said an echoing voice.
Everyone jumped, and they all looked around for the source of the voice.
“It’s Joe,” Diederik whispered. “His wings are back.”
Chuy’s were, too. The two men were standing in a haze of light, and they had drawn swords, and their wings reached almost to the ceiling.
“Yes,” Sylvester said. “I helped to imprison him. His name is Colconnar.”
“Don’t speak his name,” Chuy said, his voice echoing like Joe’s. “It’s an abomination.”
The Rev stood, too. The scrawny old man looked terrifying. “Brothers,” he said. “We all stand together this night.”
Olivia ducked her head. She whispered,
“Joe and Chuy, your presence is glorious,” said Lemuel. “But Col— the demon’s return to earth is a crisis we can forestall with Sylvester’s help.”
The swords gradually vanished, but the outline of the wings remained. Sylvester went down on one knee before the angels to show respect, and then sat. He nodded at Lemuel as if to give the vampire the floor.
“Before Christine so sadly passed away, she completed the translation. I’m glad I obtained her services, since we have only a few days to spare.” Now Lemuel was satisfied he had everyone’s complete attention.
“The witch who sent Sylvester away gave a full account of the ritual, and Arria Auclina recorded her words. We all have a part to play,” Lemuel began. “And I will ask each of you to do a few things. But if we don’t do this together, we will die. And we will just be the beginning of the death.”
Olivia took in a deep breath through her nose. “That’s an incentive,” she muttered.
Lemuel continued, “The witch then was a powerful virgin. I know that seems unlikely, but it was the case. She accepted the role of bait in luring the demon to the circle. The circle was drawn in salt and ash, and it was very large.”
“We’re going to be busy,” Diederik whispered to Quinn.
“All the people the witch assembled had a part to play,” Lemuel said. “And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this crowd echoes that one. There were angels, psychics, vampires, shapeshifters. Men and women who were brave enough to face a demon. They all focused their beliefs and what magic they had on the witch, who was powerful in and of herself. This girl was stuffed with magic in every orifice by the time the shaman started the summoning, Colconnar manifested with a roar, determined to have sex with the witch and then eat her. He never wasted part of a human.”
Everyone in the room looked as though they had something to say, but Lemuel motioned them all to be silent so he could finish this story.
“Colconnar emerged from his realm in the circle where the witch was waiting, but instead of permitting him to have sex with her, the group threw a magic net over him, imprisoning him in our world. He was sealed in the circle. Then a shaman had sex with the virgin witch on top of his prison, sealing Colconnar in the earth with virgin blood. That magic was strong enough to keep the demon buried for two hundred fifty years. But now he stirs. And we have to reenact the ritual to rebind him.”
There was a long silence.
“Is there a virgin in Midnight?” the Rev said. “I am not one.” His gaze went to Diederik. The boy turned red and shook his head.
“Me, neither,” he said.
They all exchanged glances, but it was so evident that Lemuel, Olivia, Quinn, Bobo, Joe, and Chuy did not qualify that everyone looked hopefully at Manfred. Manfred said, “Sorry, not in the club.”
“Um,” said Fiji.
All eyes went to the witch.
“I appreciate your assumption that I couldn’t possibly be, ah, untapped. But actually, technically, I am. A virgin.” She couldn’t have been more embarrassed if she’d said she was a shoplifter or an embezzler.
Sylvester nodded happily, but everyone else was clearly flabbergasted.
“Unbreached,” Lemuel said, as if he could not quite believe she understood what ‘virgin’ meant.
Fiji nodded, her lips pressed in a grim line and her eyes fixed on the floor.
“Well, damn,” said Quinn as if he were having a very pleasant fantasy.
Bobo stared at her, but she did not see him.
“Sooooo . . . what does this mean she has to do?” Manfred asked his father.
Lemuel said, “The moon is waning, and Saturday is in three days. It is also very close to Halloween, Samhain. So it’s even more powerful a day. But since Fiji has her annual party, we have to think of a way to seal off the town so no bystanders will become involved. Also, we have to draw a magic circle of large dimensions that includes the crossroad, and that circle must be reinforced with . . .” He bent to look at the translation again.
“Salt and ash. Hawthorn, probably. We can find it here,” Fiji said. She still avoided looking at anyone else. “I’ve got bulk salt from Sam’s Club.”
“Thank you, Fiji.”
“Yay, a modern twist,” Olivia muttered.
“Once the magic circle is drawn, one of us—not you, Olivia—must enter it with Fiji before it’s activated. The rest of us must focus our own power and magic and will on the circle. The one inside it with Fiji must join with her just as the demon emerges, so Fiji’s virgin blood will reinforce the spell.”
“The suicides will stop,” Chuy said with some relief.
“Yes,” said Lemuel. “Maybe some of you didn’t know this, but the Rev and I have been disposing of animal bodies every morning. Since the humans haven’t been coming, the animals have. They simply die on top of him. He’s getting their essence, and it’s strengthening him.”
“As much as people?” Bobo asked.
“I think Fiji has been turning all her will to keeping people away,” Lemuel said. “Is it not so?”
Fiji nodded. A tear ran down her face. “When I realized that most of the people he was pulling in were people who hadn’t thought good thoughts about me, or who’d actively tried to do me harm, in Price’s case, I cleansed myself of bad intent over and over. Especially after I punished Teacher for searching my house. I was scared he’d be next. Then the animals started. But that was better than the people.”
Lemuel had a hard time looking compassionate, but he did his best. “The demon fears you and he hates you, but he must not have you. If he does, it’s the end of Midnight.”
“We would all be honored,” Sylvester said abruptly. Fiji looked directly at him, surprised. “To be chosen to enter the circle with you,” he explained.
Fiji appeared to be completely flustered by all this attention and Sylvester’s obviously sincere compliment. “How will you pick?” she asked in a choked voice. “I mean, is it a magic thing, or can I . . . ?”
And then they all fell self-consciously silent as every man in the room wondered if he would be the one in the circle with Fiji.
“You can, my dear,” Lemuel said. “But I am out of the running, as wonderful as I’m sure the experience would be. The Rev and Fiji already know that Olivia and I are hitched.”
This was another stunning piece of news.
“And the hits just keep on coming,” Quinn muttered.
Joe said, “Blessings on your union.”
“This is turning out to be a completely
evening,” Manfred said, and no one contradicted him.
“So, how will you pick?” Diederik asked Fiji. The boy was wideeyed and smiling, delighted to be a man in the running for Fiji’s big evening.
Quinn said, “Son, tone it down. This is not a date to the prom.”
Suddenly, Fiji turned her back on all of them, and from the way her shoulders were shaking, Lemuel was sure she was crying.
“We’ll talk about that later,” Joe said. “And for the record, either Chuy or I can perform this act for you, Fiji, and it would be an honor and a privilege—though one that would be appreciated more by another man.”