Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
ohn Quinn came into The Inquiring Mind the next morning with Fiji’s newspaper tucked under his arm. She realized she’d forgotten to go out to get it that morning. It had been an atypical and incredibly irritating day, and it was only nine a.m. Until Quinn entered, Fiji had been sitting behind the counter, gripping the edge with both hands, staring straight ahead with her teeth in a line, listening to her sister sing in the shower. Every word was perfectly audible, and it was all in the wrong key.
Fiji had never realized before how simple her life was merely because she was the only person living in the house. She had to make an effort to smile at Quinn, which was a first. Like most women, she’d always found it easy to be happy when she saw him. Quinn was tall, bald, and muscular, with pansy-purple eyes. Pleasant to look at, pleasant to talk to.
“Here you go,” he said, handing her the folded paper. “Thanks,” she said, and dropped it on the counter. Ordinarily, she took time during the morning to read it. Ordinarily, she was cheerful. Ordinarily, she was content in her own shop. Now, her routine was all shot to hell.
Quinn stood listening to Kiki’s dreadful warbling. He blinked a couple of times. “You have a musical visitor,” he said politely.
“Well, I have a visitor who likes to sing. Sorry for the serenade,” Fiji said. “Muzak would be better, and I never thought I’d say that.” She shook her head dolefully.
Quinn’s smile returned.
Fiji had to restrain an involuntary sigh. Despite the fact that she’d considered her affections taken until the day before, other parts of her felt free to rejoice in sexual attraction. Quinn was hot, no two ways about it.
“When did you get in to town?” Fiji asked.
“Last night. I just finished a big ascension ritual, and I missed my son. Diederik’s growing so fast!”
That was God’s truth. “The tiger growth rate,” Fiji said. “It’s just incredible. By the way, my sister doesn’t know much about supernatural stuff.”
Quinn nodded. “Like weretigers? Point taken. Before she joins us, then, Diederik tells me there are troubles here.”
“Very serious troubles. When are you going to be able to take him with you?” It would break the heart of everyone in Midnight if anything happened to Diederik. They’d all had a hand in raising him, however short a time that had taken.
“He’s almost mature,” Quinn said. “When I’m sure he can protect himself, he’ll start traveling with me.”
Weretigers were popular as fighters in the pits, a supernatural gladiatorial contest held in secret. The contest was along the order of “Two creatures enter, one creature leaves.” No one went into the pits voluntarily. Fighters were either coerced or kidnapped. More than anything else, Quinn did not want this to happen to Diederik—because it had happened to Quinn, and he still bore the mental and physical scars. And pit fighting had reduced the weretiger population down to a scary level.
“I’m pretty sure Diederik is all grown up. Marina at the hotel sure thinks so.” Fiji tried not to grin.
“I had noticed that. We’ve had the ‘safety first’ lecture.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“Who’s out there?” Kiki called from the bathroom. “You got a customer, Feej?”
“Yes, Kiki,” Fiji called back. “I’m shutting the hall door.” She stepped to the door that shut the living quarters away from the shop area, but before she could close it Kiki stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her and nothing else. Her hair was piled in a haphazard bun on top of her head, and a gust of steamy air enveloped her. She gave Quinn a look that Fiji could only term “come hither” before she sashayed down the hall to the guest bedroom, giving Quinn a great view of her rear end.
Fiji, casting her eyes up, shut the door and returned to her company. “Ew, sorry,” Fiji said.
“I’ve seen women’s butts before,” Quinn said.
“It’s just . . . she’s separated from her husband and I think she’s . . .”
“Trying to test the waters?” He smiled down at her.
“Yeah, something like that.” Fiji felt relieved. “She’s not really . . .”
“That easy?” Quinn said.
“Yeah.” Though Fiji thought maybe Kiki
pretty easy; she just didn’t want her friends to know that. Fiji struggled with the idea that Kiki’s sexual activity wasn’t her problem for all of thirty seconds. Then she admitted to herself that if Kiki were a slut, it would make her feel embarrassed for them both.
“Feej,” he said. “Everyone here knows you. We don’t know her. We don’t expect her to be like you. You’re one of a kind. My son has told me many times how great you’ve been to him, how much care you take of your neighbors, how much concern you have for this community, how much genuine talent you have.”
“You talking about Feej’s baking? Because she is a mighty fine cook,” Kiki said, opening the door from the hall. She managed to sound both sassy and provocative. Fiji couldn’t believe how quickly her sister had shoehorned herself into tight jeans, an aqua T-shirt, and no bra, a lack that was quite obvious.
“Fiji is a fine witch,” Quinn said. “I am surprised you don’t know that.”
Kiki tossed her head. “Riiiight,” she said. “You and the guy across the street have
told me that my sister’s a witch. And I’m from Area Fifty-Four. You all take yourselves pretty seriously here in Midnight. By the way, I’m Kiki Ransom. Fiji’s sister.”
“My older sister,” Fiji murmured, and winked at Quinn with the eye that Kiki couldn’t see.
“Slightly older,” Kiki amended, though with good humor. “And you are?”
“This is Quinn,” Fiji said. “Diederik’s father. You know Diederik, the young man with the beautiful eyes?”
“I see where he gets ’em from,” Kiki said. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Do you live here year round, Quinn?”
“No,” he said pleasantly. “I travel a lot. That’s why Diederik stays here.”
“So he can go to school,” Kiki said, nodding. “I get it.”
Diederik ‘went to school’ by learning from each of them. He took religion and hard work from the Rev, he learned magic and shopkeeping and reading from Fiji, he learned basic math and form-filling from Bobo, computer skills and thinking quickly from Manfred, and he learned the evaluation of old things and the way to deal with customers from Joe and Chuy. He’d even had cooking lessons from Madonna and gotten paid for his janitorial work at the Midnight Hotel.
“Yes, school,” said Quinn. “Will you excuse us a moment, Kiki? I need to talk to Fiji before I get back to the hotel for a conference call.” He turned to walk out to the front porch, and Fiji followed, a bit baffled and apprehensive. Quinn spent time in Midnight as often as he could, but she didn’t feel as though she truly knew him.
The front porch was stone, like the rest of the house, and there was a broad knee-high wall on the outer side running between the squat stone pillars. Fiji and Quinn sat on the wall. She was full of curiosity.
“As we’ve been saying, Diederik is almost the right age for me to start taking him with me,” Quinn said.
“We’ll all miss him,” she said, because that was safe and sincere, and she didn’t yet see where this conversation was going.
“Thanks,” he said. “He’s very good-natured, like his mother was. Maybe stubborn like her, too.”
Fiji nodded. She’d never met the late Tijgerin, but from what little Quinn had said she’d been determined to raise Diederik oldschool, away from his dad, and it was at least probable that her death had been a result of that decision.
“I have always planned on him learning my job, and I hope he takes to it,” Quinn said. “It would be great to have a helper, and eventually he could take on his own clients.” Quinn was an event planner for supernatural occasions, like vampire weddings, Were coming-of-age parties, packmaster contests, and other rituals too secret to be discussed.
“That sounds ideal, if he enjoys the work,” she said, still puzzled. “I know it takes a lot to get a business like yours going.”
“But he loves it here,” Quinn said. “He’s still a kid in a lot of ways. This little town is familiar to him, and he’s surrounded by friends.”
“Aw, I’m so glad he feels that way.” She beamed. It made her feel warm inside to hear that their affection for the boy was returned.
Even though Diederik’s childhood had lasted only a year.
“What I was considering,” Quinn said, after an awkward pause, “is that maybe Diederik and I might buy one of the empty cottages here, so we could spend our downtime in Midnight.”
It was a pleasant change to hear good news. “What a great idea,” she said. “He’d feel like he had a home here, and you’d have a place to spend a week or two now and then. I guess you’ve had an apartment somewhere all this time?” She hadn’t thought about it before.
“Yes, but it’s just an apartment, and I really want something more rooted. So I’d thought about checking out that one,” Quinn said, pointing at the house to the east of Fiji’s.
The house was very similar to Fiji’s, but in bad repair. It had sat empty for a long time. She had a thread of memory that the woman who’d lived in it, a widow named Gertrude something, had looked down her nose at Aunt Mildred.
“I was just wondering if that was one that interested you,” Fiji said. “No, of course I wouldn’t mind. It would be great to have someone in it.” She’d have to pay attention to whether her curtains were drawn . . . but they traveled a lot . . . she was lost in these details until Quinn said, “Earth to Fiji.”
“Oh, sorry! Just thinking about how different it would be to have neighbors,” she said. “The Rev’s not in the chapel or pet cemetery at night, ordinarily, and that house has been empty since before I moved in. It belonged to Gertrude . . . Flannigan, that was her name! She died about five years before Aunt Mildred.”
“You remember the next of kin, by any chance?”
Fiji closed her eyes to concentrate. She could almost feel Quinn looking at her through her eyelids, a strange sensation. Surely Aunt Mildred had talked about the house? Yes.
“He was named Tommy Flannigan. Thomas R. Flannigan,” she said. “He lives in Waco.”
“That’s a huge help. You’ve saved me hours in the courthouse or on the computer,” he said. “Can Diederik and I take you out tonight to say thanks?”
“Umm, well, I appreciate the thought, but there’s Kiki,” Fiji said awkwardly. She didn’t think she could stand Kiki making eyes at Quinn for a whole evening. And she didn’t even want to think about what she’d do if Kiki made a pass at Diederik.
“Then you have a rain check,” Quinn said. He gave her an unexpected kiss on the cheek before he loped off toward the hotel.
Fiji sat for a moment, smiling to herself as she thought over the conversation. After a minute, she went into the shop, where she had to answer Kiki’s million questions about Quinn. With some exasperation, Fiji said, “You haven’t even gotten rid of your current husband yet. Why start thinking about another one?”
This might have been a little too brutal: but then, most of Kiki’s questions hadn’t had to do with Quinn’s character, but with his income.
“Anyway,” said Kiki cruelly, “I don’t think he’s smitten with
Fiji said, “I never thought he was.” But she kept her eyes lowered, because after this morning, she did think that might be a possibility.
This is the darker side of my big sister,
Fiji thought. When Kiki was unhappy, she struck out against the people around her, especially the women. Kiki thought of herself as a sexual goddess.
Could she really be such a siren?
Fiji wondered. Sure, Kiki had been married twice. But did that really prove anything? Reviewing the men Kiki had married and the men Kiki had dated, Fiji thought,
I don’t think so.
Surely that couldn’t be the basis for Kiki’s self-regard. So what was her sister really good at? She certainly couldn’t sing. “Are you good at art?” she asked abruptly, and Kiki gaped at her.
“Nope, I can’t draw a lick,” Kiki said. “What a weird question.”
They were sitting at the table in the kitchen, eating lunch. Fiji poured some more tea into their glasses.
“Why’d you ask?” Kiki said, as if simply being quiet bugged her.
“I just wondered.”
“That guy Quinn said you were a witch,” Kiki said, looking off in another direction, as if merely bringing this up made her uneasy.