Authors: Charlaine Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Urban, #Mystery & Detective, #Cozy
iji got up extra early the next day so she could work in her garden without her sister’s constant, irritating presence. It was not a huge surprise when Diederik joined her. The boy enjoyed gardening almost as much she did, though perhaps being free of Rev’s presence and being outside had as much to do with that pleasure as the actual work did.
Today, Diederik had pulled his dark hair back into a ponytail and he was wearing a cowboy hat and cutoffs. No shirt. Fiji had to glance away to stifle a giggle. Diederik looked like he was about to go on stage at a male strip club. The boy’s olive skin was a beautiful even tone all over. Fiji told herself to not drool, not even for a moment. Though her sister’s cruel words had appalled Fiji, she had to admit that this morning she noticed the way Diederik looked at her. Kiki was right. Diederik was aware that he was a man and Fiji was a woman.
To reinforce her maternal role in the boy’s life, she offered Diederik some biscuits.
at biscuits. She’d figured he would be. Diederik loved food, especially home-cooked food. Perhaps the way he looked at Fiji was because he thought of her as the source of deliciousness. She smiled to herself at the thought as they sat on the back porch with tea and a plate of buttered goodness.
“What’s your dad up to today?” she asked.
“My father is at the hotel, still, working on the Internet.” Diederik licked some butter off his fingers. Fiji looked away. “He is preparing for a packleader challenge in Wyoming.”
“Soon you’ll be going with him.”
“Yes, and I want to see some of the world,” Diederik said, slowly and thoughtfully. “I do. I don’t really remember the journey here. But I love Midnight, which my father thinks is strange. Apparently, most people my age are not content with their homes.”
“It can’t be very exciting living with the Rev,” Fiji said gently. “He is a great man and I admire him, but no one would think of him as fun.”
“In some ways, no,” the boy admitted. He pointed at the last biscuit, asking a silent question. Fiji nodded. He ate it slowly. “But he tells wonderful stories about the creation of the world and all the animals in it, including humans, and he prays very much, and he tells me how to be grateful for work and friends. And now I know how to read, and my father got me an account on the Internet, and I can go over to Mr. Manfred’s house and order books directly onto my e-reader. Mr. Bobo is teaching me how to play the piano. And Madonna shows me how to cook. And Marina who works at the hotel at night . . .” He stopped in his conversational tracks and smiled. It was a look both delighted as a child’s and satisfied as an adult’s.
“Oh, Diederik!” Fiji tried not to be taken aback by this honesty.
“But Marina, she was not a virgin,” he said anxiously. “I know that if she had never . . .”
“No, no, it’s not that. It’s the birth control issue. I know your dad talked to you about that,” Fiji said. She could not imagine the consequences if a weretiger got a human girl pregnant, especially since Marina was in her teens and clinging on to her junior college scholarship. Fiji knew Marina needed the money she earned at the Midnight hotel. She also knew that Marina’s huge extended family was a drinking and fighting clan who never missed a weekly Mass.
“She takes a pill,” Diederik said. He beamed at Fiji. “So she will not become pregnant.”
“I’m very relieved to hear that,” Fiji said. “But you know, Diederik, there are diseases people having sex can catch from each other. Some of them are very terrible.”
“STDs,” Diederik said, very matter-of-fact. “I’m a weretiger, and I can’t catch them.”
“Good,” Fiji said weakly. “That’s really good.” She took a sip from her cup. “I’m glad you’re happy here,” she said, knowing it was a weak ending to the conversation. Fiji could hear Kiki moving around in the house, and she was thankful the conversation had been concluded before her sister came out to find out who was visiting. (Kiki did not like anything happening that she didn’t know about.)
Diederik’s acute hearing had also informed him Kiki was up. He leaned over, gave Fiji a quick kiss on the cheek (just as his father had), and bounded away to find someone else to play with.
From inside the kitchen, she heard her sister say, “I smell biscuits. Where are they?”
Fiji sighed. Something else she’d have to explain.
he next morning, Bobo was glad to hear the bell ring as soon as he’d unlocked the door. For days, he’d been brooding over his catastrophic failure with Fiji. He’d called himself the chicken who wouldn’t cross the road. (What happened to the chicken who wouldn’t cross the road? Nothing. Ever.) He had made up his mind to go over to Fiji’s house and straighten things out. If she’d let him in.
But Fiji’s sister was there, and Bobo had to admit to himself he was not a fan, from the little he’d seen of Kiki. She’d visited the pawnshop, asked him a lot of questions about his romantic status and income in a not-very-subtle way, flirted with the same blatant obviousness. He couldn’t think of way to have a heart-to-heart with Fiji with her sister around.
He’d bungled asking her to go on vacation. He should have led with his strength; he should have told her he found her beautiful, and kissed her, and then asked if they could spend time together. But he’d been trying to lead up to that, and in trying not to sound presumptuous, he’d blown his chance. It had taken him too long, anyway, too long to realize that he had a wonderful woman right across the street, too long to understand that she cared about him, too long to appreciate that she was keeping her feelings clamped down so she would not intrude on their friendship. Too long to realize he felt the same way about her as she did about him. His blunder had alienated the person he most cared about.
Maybe over time she’d return to her former warmth? But Fiji seemed really, truly put out with him.
Fiji was so smart, and powerful way down deep, and the way her hair fluffed around her face . . . it turned him on. He found himself dreaming of sex with her, and (even better) after-sex, when he would put his arms around her and hold her to him and nuzzle her neck. Bobo hadn’t known guys could dream of cuddling—and it was embarrassing, sort of.
But it was also massively alluring.
It was an understatement to say that Bobo was preoccupied that morning. He scarcely registered the truck pulling up in front of the pawnshop until the bell rang. His first reaction was pleasure. He needed to think about something else.
Then he recognized the newcomer. Instantly, Bobo tensed up and retreated behind the counter. “What are you doing here?” he asked Price Eggleston. He hadn’t seen Price in months, and that had suited him just fine. Price was a right-wing fanatic, and he’d tormented Bobo and kidnapped Fiji a few months before.
“Leave,” Bobo said.
“I’m here to buy a gun,” Price said quite calmly.
Bobo glanced down to be sure he had his own gun handy. “I don’t believe you,” he said. He was almost certain Olivia had returned during the night: her car was in the parking lot behind the pawnshop. He pressed the buzzer under the counter. It couldn’t be heard up here, but it sounded in Olivia’s and Lemuel’s apartments. Lemuel would not hear the buzzer in the daytime, but Olivia would. The way Bobo’s luck was running lately, she was probably in the shower with the water turned up to full volume.
“Why not?” Price said, and it took Bobo a second or two to realize Price was responding to his statement. Finally, Bobo noticed how odd Price was acting. The man seemed almost mechanical.
“Because you can’t stand me,” Bobo said, watching Price closely. “Because we thwarted you when you wanted to beat me up and rob me last time. Because you sent a woman to pretend she loved me, in order to get information.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Price said, still very matter-of-fact. “I just want to buy a gun.”
guns,” Bobo said, even more confused and aware something was seriously off. “Why do you need to buy one from me?”
Olivia flew out of the trapdoor, her bow and arrow in hand. She’d been experimenting with holding her arrows in her bow hand and firing that way after she’d watched a video on YouTube. After hours of practice the results had become impressive, judging by the target in the open ground north of the pawnshop. She was ready to try her new technique out in live action, and she was smiling.
Bobo felt relieved now that she’d appeared, and he expected Price to back down, even leave. But Price was looking at Olivia as if he’d never seen her.
She stood, clearly ready to shoot him.
He didn’t react at all.
This situation was getting stranger and stranger.
“Olivia, this is Price Eggleston, in case you two haven’t ever met formally,” Bobo said quietly. “I figure you remember him from Aubrey’s funeral.”
“I know who he is,” Olivia said, lowering her bow perhaps an inch. “What does he say he wants?”
“To buy a gun,” Price said promptly.
“Sketchy,” Olivia said.
“But true,” Price said. “That’s what I want.”
“What do you want a gun for?” Olivia said, a question Bobo had never thought to ask.
“I’ll kill myself with it,” Price said, in an absolutely calm voice.
Olivia lowered the bow and arrow she’d held nocked and ready. She exchanged a shocked glance with Bobo.
“Why will you do that?” she asked.
“Because that’s what he wants me to do.” There was still no emotion in Price’s voice.
“Sell the man a gun,” Olivia said to Bobo, smiling again. “You heard him.”
“That’s just wrong.” Bobo glared at her.
“Even him?” She jerked her head in Price’s direction. “Him that planted Aubrey here to betray you? Him that ruined her funeral? Him that terrorized us all and had you beat up?” Olivia might have lost sight of her grammar, but she’d held on to her point. She laid down the bow and her arrows on the counter.
“Even him,” Bobo said, grinding his teeth together. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“You wouldn’t have said that a few months ago.” Olivia’s voice was almost taunting.
“I’m saying it now.”
Price had been looking from one speaker to another—not as if he understood the result of their argument meant his life or death, but more as if he were mildly curious. He shifted from foot to foot, his only sign of impatience. He’d gradually moved a little closer to them.
With a suddenness that made Bobo and Olivia both jump, Price grabbed an arrow from the counter and pounded out the front door. As they launched themselves in pursuit, Price, standing on the dirt margin at the curb outside, gripped the arrow and drove the point into his own neck.
Even Olivia shrieked.
It was a horrible death. As soon as the arrow was lodged in his flesh, Price appeared to come to his right mind, choking on his own blood and terrified. His eyes were wide with horror. He looked directly into Bobo’s face.
At least his death was quick, though it might not have seemed so to Price Eggleston.
And once again, the ambulance and the police came.