Night Shift Page 37

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The magic formed up nicely and began flowing toward the old woman. Fiji held Mamie’s hand, and rocked and hummed, and after a time she became aware that Mamie’s legs were quiet under the white bedspread, and that Tommy and Suzie were slumped in their chairs, asleep.

Her magic had slopped over. Not very professional.

At least Fiji herself was awake. She extricated her hand from Mamie’s and sat back. Getting to her feet, she retrieved her purse and tiptoed out of the room. Once in the bright hall with its gleaming linoleum and constant bustle, Fiji breathed a long sigh of relief.

She had done as Manfred had asked, and she’d given Mamie some relief. It wouldn’t hurt Suzie and Tommy to catch up on their sleep, either. Fiji deserved a reward, she felt. Maybe she’d stop by Sonic after she’d been to the grocery store. She glanced at her watch and called The Inquiring Mind.

Manfred answered.

“Hey, I did it,” she said. “She’s asleep and not dreaming about walking to Midnight.”

“Fiji, I owe you.”

“No, you don’t,” she said wearily. “And you might as well close up. It’s close to time, anyway, and no one’s going to come in this weather.”

“Okay. Thanks again.”

Fiji got out her grocery list, realized she couldn’t put off shopping any longer, and drove to the store. When she emerged from Piggly Wiggly, the temperature had dropped dramatically and it had begun to rain. Fiji wished she’d brought a jacket to add to her long-sleeved shirt, and it would have been even nicer if the fictional jacket had been rainproof. She turned on the heat in the car.

The rain increased in intensity as she drove toward Midnight. It was pounding down as Fiji parked behind her house and prepared to dash to the back door.

She gathered her cloth grocery bags and purse, braced herself as much as she could, and dashed the short distance to the back porch . . . only to shriek and jump back at colliding with another person.

Fiji and Teacher Reed were face to face, and he had his hand on the doorknob. He’d just come out of her house.

“Teacher, what are you doing?” she said, in what she thought was a remarkably calm voice for someone who’d been taken by complete surprise.

“Shit!” He sounded just as rattled as she had.

“Were you in my house?” It didn’t occur to Fiji to be afraid. She was growing very angry as the outrage sunk in.

“I confess,” he said, making a show of hanging his head. “I was on my way down the street, and the rain started. I got under your back porch, and I knocked. Just kind of absently, I turned the knob, and your back door was unlocked. So I went in the kitchen.”

This was a little more credible since the rain was pounding into the back porch, with about twelve inches of dry left. But she didn’t believe him. He could have sheltered on her front porch, where there was a broad covered area with chairs. He would have been welcome. But this was an invasion.

“I’m going in now,” she said evenly. “But only after I watch you leave my yard. I’m seriously upset.” That was what her mouth said, while her brain was thinking of spells to use.

“I’m really sorry I scared you, Fiji,” Teacher said, waving his hands in the air as if to pat it softer, soften the offense.

“You mistake me. I’m angry.”

Another tiny corner of her brain was wondering what it was about thunderstorms and men making her mad, since her abduction by the now-deceased Price Eggleston had occurred during just such a storm.

Teacher seemed to expect her to say something else, but Fiji stood mute. No matter how wet she was getting and how scared she was becoming, she would not enter the house until he was gone. She would not be trapped inside with him.

After a second more of waiting, Teacher dashed off into the rain. She watched him, her will pushing him away faster.

As soon as she was sure he was gone, Fiji went inside, slammed the door and locked it, and wedged a kitchen chair under the knob. And then she did something she had promised herself she would never do again, and she did it without any conscious deliberation. She called Bobo.

“Fiji!” he said, and his voice was full of surprise and happiness. Ordinarily, she would have basked in that for a moment. Instead, she said hurriedly, “Listen, the weirdest thing just happened.” She explained.

“Did he really stay in the kitchen while he was in your place?” Bobo asked.

“Maybe. I only see wet footmarks in the kitchen. But that might just mean he heard me pull up and realized he had to get out of here.”

“Or maybe he was smart enough to take off his shoes and leave them in the kitchen while he was roaming around your house.”

“That’s a horrible thought.” As the anger drained away, Fiji felt her eyes brimming with tears.

“What could he have been looking for? I’m not doubting your instincts, I’m just wondering.” Bobo sounded like he was suppressing a strong emotion himself.

“I have no idea,” Fiji said. Her hands were trembling.

“You need me there?” he asked, as though he could see her hands, too.

“No, you’ve got a customer,” she said. She’d just walked into her shop area and looked out the front window, as if being a few feet closer to Bobo would make her a bit safer. A car was parked in front, and its driver door was opening.

“Shit. Okay, I’ll come over in a while,” he said. “If anything else happens, just run over here, okay?” And he hung up, as Fiji saw a huddled figure dash up the steps to the door and enter Midnight Pawn.

The cat, she thought, as she turned away from the window. She looked under the counter to see that Mr. Snuggly was curled up in his cat bed. He blinked at her to prove he was alive, and she nodded and went into the kitchen.

Fiji gradually became calmer as she put her groceries away. “Mr. Snuggly!” she called. “Let’s talk.”

In a moment, the cat flowed in from the shop. “Is it dinnertime?” Mr. Snuggly inquired, in his bitter little voice. “The rain makes me hungry.”

“Everything makes you hungry,” Fiji said. “Where did the man go when he was in the house?”

“He left his shoes in the kitchen,” the cat replied. “And he went through our house with his socks on. But he didn’t find me! I hid very carefully.”

Fiji sat down at the table abruptly. She had hoped to hear that Teacher had done exactly what he’d told her. After a moment, she roused herself to say, “You think he was going to steal you?”

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