Night Shift Page 38

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“Why else would he come?” the cat asked, bored. “What else is there here worth having?”

Fiji thought seriously about this question. She discounted the possibility that Teacher was actually looking for Mr. Snuggly, since Teacher did not know the cat could talk; also, he’d said in Fiji’s hearing that he didn’t care for cats. She remembered such things.

What could Teacher have wanted? Fiji didn’t have much cash in the house, and after she’d opened the till, she knew he hadn’t touched it. Mildred Loeffler’s diaries were important to Fiji, but she couldn’t imagine them being interesting to anyone else, especially since Aunt Mildred’s writing was extremely challenging to decipher.

What else?

Fiji looked around her as she went from room to room. There were only five, so it didn’t take long. She had very little jewelry of value, and her good earrings were still in her jewelry box. She had no correspondence that would be interesting, but it did seem to her that her files of business papers had been slightly disarranged. If she hadn’t known someone had been in the house, though, she doubted she would have noticed. Since Fiji considered business papers boring, she couldn’t imagine what anyone might want with them. Insurance, utility bills, bank statements, supply orders, receipts. Things she saved for the tax season, when she carted them all to a CPA in Davy.

None of the goods she sold in the shop were very valuable, either, and they were all present and accounted for. Athames (she checked those first), books, statuettes, wind chimes, incense, Ouija boards, oils, tarot decks, Wiccan calendars, candles, mortars and pestles, tote bags . . . even one little cauldron, which she’d had on the shelves for two years. Her shop was pretty “Witch Light.” Nothing really powerful to take, in and of itself.

So why would Teacher Reed search it?

After an hour of checking, Fiji was almost certain Teacher had not taken a thing.

But she felt his presence in her house now, like a horsefly buzzing around her head. This impression was almost impossible to dispel. It disturbed her greatly.

Can I kill someone for you, witch? asked the deep voice.

She didn’t answer. She knew it wasn’t wise to turn this weird conversation into a dialogue. She forced herself to get back in the thinking groove.

Fiji was fond of little Grady, and she’d always respected Madonna, if she didn’t exactly like her. Her feelings were even more wounded by Teacher’s invasion because she’d thought of Teacher himself as one of the most useful people she knew, and warm and affable, to boot.

Horns of a dilemma, Fiji thought. As she checked to make sure the front door sign was turned to Closed and gave Mr. Snuggly a treat for his accurate reporting, she wondered what the hell she was supposed to do about this.

Fiji couldn’t let Teacher get away with it. Not that I’m vindictive, she told herself, hoping that was true. But I have to have respect. And respect could only be maintained if she protected her territory and her property.

Fiji asked herself the question that had gotten her through a lot of crises. What would Aunt Mildred do? Though Fiji was not the same person as her great-aunt had been—she was essentially more social and her heart was tenderer—she was determined to stand her ground and defend her home.

It was time to assume her aunt’s mantle.

 

 

16

 

 

Fiji unlocked the drawer below her work area, a broad shelf below the high counter where she took payments. The shelf was the right height for her rolling chair, and on it she did the gift wrapping, worked on the books, and studied Aunt Mildred’s journals. These were not Mildred’s anecdotes about her own life, but an accounting of what spell she’d performed for what person, what service she’d provided, what favor she’d granted. Some of these were dubious, some outright gruesome.

But most of these transactions were pretty straightforward. “Amulet to help Hetty W find her mother’s wedding cake recipe. Successful.”

“Spell to help Julio R’s favorite cow calve. Calf lived, cow died.”

The dubious ones tended to be things like, “Provided Linda H with herbs. Early enough.” In other words, Aunt Mildred had provided “Linda H” with a mixture of herbs to cause an abortion.

The gruesome ones? It had taken a while for Fiji to puzzle them out. What “Ult” meant next to someone’s name was that Aunt Mildred killed that person.

If Aunt Mildred had kept accurate and honest records—and Fiji was assuming she had—it had been rare for Mildred to resort to such a drastic measure. She did so when she had reason to worry about her own survival.

You had to do some really careful reading to figure out those entries. “Israel T, threat. Iced tea. Ult.” The unwise Israel T had threatened Mildred with (perhaps) jail or exposure, and she had poisoned his tea.

Maybe even at a church picnic.

Aunt Mildred had been no Christian, but she had gone to church regularly; there had been an ordained Baptist minister in Midnight then, and a larger population. The church had been full on Sundays.

Fiji tried hard not judge Mildred for her actions, since she didn’t know precisely what Israel had done to her great-aunt. Mildred had had a hearty sense of self-protection.

Fiji hoped she never had to kill anyone. But she knew for sure that if she didn’t stand up for herself, she would be walked upon. Kiki’s visit had been a timely reminder.

As Fiji considered all these things, she’d been staring down into the open drawer. She’d been looking at all the little items she’d collected to keep inside it, but not really seeing them. Now that she’d reached a decision, Fiji carefully lifted the index card marked “Teacher Reed” and placed it on the counter. On top of the index card were a quarter and a nickel.

That had been her aunt’s first lesson; keep something of everyone’s, no matter if you love him or hate him.

Fiji had never loved Teacher.

Fiji lifted each coin with tweezers and dropped them in a special bowl. It had never held anything else.

Bobo came over five minutes later. Fiji gently slid the bowl behind a display on the counter before she let him in. “Are you all right?” he asked anxiously. “Did you find out if he’d searched the house?”

“Yes,” Fiji said. And then she stopped speaking.

“Talk to me,” Bobo said.

“Bobo,” she said, and then couldn’t figure out how to continue. Every time she looked at him, she could feel her heart hurting. “Listen, I’m so glad you came over and I thank you for it. But I’m going to handle this myself. I should not have called you. It’s an old habit. It won’t happen again.”

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