Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas #1)(7) by Charlaine Harris

Bobo gaped at her. “I had no idea. And it’s not on the sign. Does anyone ever go to it?”

“I do, pretty often. Though I’m not exactly a Christian. Once in a blue moon, someone else will come, someone he’s helped. But hold on, we’ve gotten off topic. Let’s circle back around to the picnic plan.”

“That might be a nice outing. I haven’t hiked over there in a long time. Since . . .” His voice trailed off.

Since before Aubrey left you. She restrained herself from gritting her teeth and growling. “We ought to do it. That would be nice for the new guy. Manfred.”

“You like him?” Bobo asked.

Fiji looked at him uncertainly. Was Bobo teasing her? Did he seriously believe she would enjoy, at twenty-eight, having a crush on the new kid in school?

After a second, she decided there were no overtones. Bobo was making a casual inquiry . . . at least, she was fairly sure. “He seems okay,” she said. “Unusual job, unusual guy. Lemuel sure took a shine to him.”

“Really?” Bobo looked surprised. “Huh. That’s good, I guess.”

She nodded. “I thought so.”

“Too bad Lem can’t go to the picnic, then.” Bobo appeared to be considering. “Nah, we couldn’t have it at night,” he concluded. “There’s no light out there at all. Even if we went on a full-moon night, it would be too dark to hike out there. Picnics are a daytime thing.”

“So we just need to pick a day and ask people,” she said. “What about next Monday? A week from yesterday? I’ll ask around.”

“Sure, great,” Bobo said. He did seem to be a little happier. “I can bring the beer and some soda.” He looked down at his watch. “I better go open the store. Not that anyone hardly ever comes in this early.”

“Lem still working five nights a week?” Midnight Pawn was open from nine in the morning to six at night, then eight at night until six in the morning, six days a week. It was closed for twenty-four hours on Sunday. On Monday, Teacher took the day and Olivia took the night shift, if it suited them, but more often than not the pawnshop was closed on Monday. That gave Bobo and Lemuel two days and nights off.

“We’re thinking of hiring someone,” Bobo said. “This piecing Monday together as we go is getting old. We need someone reliable, someone who can maybe come in at other times when we’re busy. But yeah, Lemuel is always there five nights. Sunday and Monday nights off.”

“I wonder what Lemuel does when he’s not working,” Fiji said. “On his times off.” There was a moment of silence. “Better not to know, I guess.”

“Yeah. Better not.”

Fiji hesitated. She wanted to ask, Did you ever wonder if he knew anything about what might have happened to Aubrey? But she didn’t speak. He would have asked Lemuel if the thought had occurred to him, because he’s just that transparent, she thought.

After Bobo went back to Midnight Pawn, Fiji propped her feet up again with a sigh, though it was more regretful than contented. In a moment, she’d have to give up her garden and her comfort and get cleaned up for work, but usually work was enjoyable, if not exactly fun. And she had the picnic to look forward to. But her thoughts about Aubrey had stirred up an unpleasant nest of feelings.

Fiji had not liked Aubrey Hamilton; in fact, she’d loathed her with an intensity almost amounting to hate. Guilt stirred in Fiji’s gut as she remembered all the bad energy she’d sent Aubrey’s way. Had she ever wished Aubrey was gone, never to be heard from again? Sure, many times . . . in fact, every time she’d watched Aubrey cling to Bobo’s arm and rub herself all over him. And then Aubrey had actually done just that. She’d disappeared.

Because most of the residents of Midnight were quite perceptive, Fiji had never discussed Aubrey with any of them, before or after the vanishing. She knew her dislike would be easy to read . . . if they hadn’t picked up on it already. Instead, she’d cast a spell. If it worked, everyone in Midnight should have been able to perceive Aubrey’s true nature; but if the other Midnighters had suddenly opened their eyes to Aubrey’s awfulness, not one of them had mentioned it.

And now no one would, because Bobo was miserable that Aubrey had left him, and everyone loved Bobo.

Fiji frowned at Mr. Snuggly. For the first time, she realized that in her thoughts she’d been putting Aubrey in the past tense. Bobo might be grieving because she’d left him, but Fiji could tell he also lived in anticipation of the day when Aubrey would return to her senses and come back to Midnight, to Bobo.

Fiji didn’t believe that was going to happen. She didn’t think she’d ever see Aubrey again.

As it turned out, she was wrong.


Manfred’s cell phone rang early Saturday morning. “Manfred,” said Fiji’s voice. There was a whoosh in the background, and Manfred peered out his front blinds with his phone to his ear, to see her standing in her yard with her own cell phone, a truck running between them and making her hair even more tousled by the wind of its passing. “The Rev needs a witness. You want to come over to the chapel?”

“Right now?” Manfred looked at the “reading” he was typing onto the screen. I sense you are involved in great turmoil right now. The way will be made clear. You will get a sign in the next three days pointing the way to the solution to your problems. In the meantime, be careful whom you trust with your secrets. Someone close to you does not wish you well. Since he’d had no clue about Chris Stybr (sometimes he had a genuine impression about the seeker, but this Chris could be a man or a woman or a hermaphrodite for all Manfred knew), he’d had to resort to the tried and the very likely true.

“Well, they want to get married now, so yeah,” Fiji said, with more than a touch of impatience. “If you can come?”

“On my way,” Manfred said. Typing swiftly and accurately, he created another sentence of bullshit (You will be interrupted in a task unexpectedly) and sent it off. Then he was out the door, locking it behind him as he always did. He looked both ways, just in case, but as usual there was not a car in sight on Witch Light Road. Even Fiji had vanished. He’d pulled on a hoodie; it was just cool enough that another layer didn’t seem ridiculous. Manfred craved the hint of fall. He had no idea what the Rev needed, but he was so curious about the older man and his chapel that he found himself a little excited by the summons.

He mounted the rickety wooden steps of the Wedding Chapel (defiantly constructed of wood and painted white, except for the double doors, which were brown) and stepped inside for the first time. The floor was constructed of boards, too, recently painted battleship gray. There were four long benches at the front of the chapel, which must serve as pews. They were white like the walls. Against the rear wall, there was an altar, a simple table with a picture mounted above it. Instead of Jesus being surrounded by little children, he was standing in the midst of a throng of animals. Manfred was both fascinated and curious.

A small cluster of people turned to look at him. The Rev, in his customary black suit and white shirt (complete with hat and bolo tie), held up his hand in blessing. Manfred found this disconcerting. The Rev’s narrow, lined face was dominated by small eyes overhung by shaggy brows. It was hard to tell because of the brows, but Manfred thought the Rev’s eyes were weirdly yellowish. The old man was holding a Bible and a pamphlet. There was a lectern at his side, and on it was a white certificate.

Fiji was wearing a long brown skirt and she’d pulled on a patchwork sweater over a turquoise T-shirt. She looked exactly like a mildly eccentric young woman who claimed to be a witch.

At a quick glance, he knew he hadn’t met the wedding couple before. They were both in dire need of an orthodontist, and they were painfully young. Her hair was a pleasant light brown, and his was a few shades darker. They looked poor and terrified at their own daring . . . yet excited and happy. All at the same time.

As Manfred joined the little group, he nodded to the Rev, who nodded back. Without further ado, the Rev opened the pamphlet and began to read a very bare-bones marriage service. The depth and richness of his voice was a shock to Manfred, who’d expected something much rustier. “Lisa Gray, Cole Denton, you’ve come here to be joined in holy matrimony in front of these witnesses . . .”

In wavering voices, the two impossibly young people pledged to take care of each other for the rest of their lives. When the Rev had pronounced them man and wife, the kids kissed each other and smiled, full of a foolish happiness. From the fit of the bride’s tight jeans, Manfred suspected there was another person present in utero.

Manfred joined Fiji in clapping enthusiastically, and he was smiling because the kids were smiling; but his inner cynic gave this marriage two years, at most. I’m the Scrooge of weddings, he thought. Well, his mom hadn’t set a very good example; he’d never met his father. In fact, he didn’t know who his father was.

The Rev didn’t seem to be troubled by any doubts. He showed them their wedding certificate after he’d signed it. “I’ll mail this to the county clerk right away,” he assured them. “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”

Wasn’t that from the Episcopalian prayer book? Manfred wondered. He’d been to church a few times with his mom.

“Thanks, Reverend Sheehan,” said the girl, and her face passed into prettiness as she gave the old man a hug.

“We’re really grateful,” said the boy, and shook the Rev’s hand with enthusiasm. He bashfully handed the minister a ten-dollar bill.

“Thanks, son,” said the Reverend Emilio Sheehan, with genuine gratitude.

Then the young married couple left for whatever honeymoon they could manage, and the occasion was over. Fiji raised her hand in farewell. Manfred duplicated her gesture as he, too, turned away. He’d have liked to manage a conversation with the Rev, but the minister didn’t seem as interested in Manfred as Manfred was in him. Manfred took a moment to study the license on the wall, which proclaimed that Emilio Sheehan was ordained by the Church of the Ark of God to perform weddings in the state of Texas. So, this was the real deal. Manfred felt subtly reassured.

As he left the chapel, which was all of twelve feet wide and fourteen feet deep, he walked slowly to take a longer look around. He realized he was in an old building, at least in American terms. Except for the benches, the wood of the building was roughly cut, and when he looked at the planks closely, he could see that the nails holding them together were old and irregular. The heat was apparently provided by a wood-burning stove at the front of the church. To cool the space in the summer, there were fans hanging down from the ceiling, so there was electricity. There was not a closet or a bathroom: one room was what you got.

Manfred and Fiji descended the wooden steps, both watching their feet with some care because the boards shifted a little. Manfred cast a glance under the structure. Mr. Snuggly was peering out at him, and he waved at the cat. Mr. Snuggly pointedly looked in another direction. A pebble path ran the short distance to the rutted driveway, which led past the chapel to the gate in the fence surrounding the pet cemetery.

Manfred glanced behind him to see if the Rev was also leaving the gloomy building. But the door had fallen back into place, and it did not reopen. Did the old man stay there all day in the bare room, waiting for whoever might come? How did he keep from madness?

“So, you do that often?” he asked Fiji, because he didn’t want to think about the Rev going mad.

Fiji smiled. “Nah. And usually, when he asks me, I call Bobo and he walks over. But I could see he had a pawnshop customer this morning, so I called you. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No,” Manfred said, surprised to discover that was the truth. He hastened to add, “Some days I might be too busy, though.”

“Gotcha.” She turned to go back to her house. Manfred saw that Mr. Snuggly had bypassed them somehow and was now sitting right on the boundary between Fiji’s lush and lovely yard and the bare weedy ground in front of the chapel. His tail was curled around his paws. He could have been a striped statue for sale in a home decor shop. This was a cat who had mastered the art of stillness.

The sight of the pet sparked a thought. “Do you ever have to go to the pet funerals?” Manfred asked. The discreet sign at the side of the church, along the narrow driveway that led to the back, had fascinated him since he’d first read it.

“Not too often. And I don’t have to do anything, just so you know. Weddings, maybe seven, eight times a year. The pet funerals . . . the Rev will call to see if I’ll come stand with the bereaved owner . . . just to be a shoulder to cry on . . . oh, not more than twice a year.”

“So, does he pay you for this?” The second the words left Manfred’s mouth, he knew he’d made a mistake.

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