Halfway to the Grave

Page 56

I sent a glance heavenward before pinching Timmie when he started to back away.

"Don't mind her, honey, sometimes she forgets her manners. Mom, do you want Timmie to call you Justina? Or Ms. Crawfield?"

She was still giving me that how-could-you glare, but her frostiness lessened. "Justina's fine. It's nice to finally meet you, Timmie. Catherine's told me how you helped her kill those demons. I'm glad to know there's someone else out there ridding the world of them."

Timmie looked like he was about to faint. "Let's get some coffee," I said, practically shoving him before he started babbling out a denial. "You stay here, Mom. His place is next door, we'll be right back!"

As soon as we were in Timmie's apartment, I snatched him close and lowered my voice. "My poor mother! She has her good days and her bad ones. The doctor's supposed to adjust her medication, but you never can tell when one of these spells will hit. Don't pay attention to that killing and demon talk. She's real Pentecostal. Believes in slaying of the spirit and so on. Just nod your head and try not to say much."

"But-but..." Timmie's eyes couldn't get any wider. "Why did you tell her I'm your boyfriend? Why doesn't she know about your real one?"

That was a good question. I cast around for an answer. Any answer.

"He's English!" I settled on desperately. "And Mom...Mom hates foreigners!"

She stayed an hour. By the time she left, I was a nervous wreck, and so was Timmie. He'd drunk so much coffee, he practically had the shakes even though he was sitting down. I'd attempted to steer the conversation to college, the orchard, my grandparents, or anything else that didn't contain the word vampire. Every chance I got, I made pitying expressions behind her back, or twirled my finger near my temple in the universal gesture for insanity.

Timmie tried to be supportive during my mother's "spell." "That's right, Justina!" he said more than once. "We're going to knock those demons out and slay them with the power of Jesus. Hallelujah, can I get an amen?"

In fact, he affected such an overly zealous attitude that as I walked her to the door, she drew me aside and muttered that he was sweet-but possibly a fanatic.

When she was finally gone, I leaned against the door and closed my eyes in relief.

"Thank God," I grumbled.

"Sure," Timmie agreed. "Amen!"

"You can stop that," I said, giving him a tired smile. "I owe you one, Timmie. Thanks."

I had just put my arms around him in a hug of gratitude when the door opened behind me without a knock.

"Am I interrupting something?" a coolly pissed, accented voice asked.

This time, my glance heavenward was in silent challenge. Is that how it is? Fine, then, bring it! Let's see what You've got!

Timmie jumped like he'd been stabbed. "Ungh!"

I didn't know what that meant, but the sight of him leaping away with a hand shielding his groin had me turning around in irritation.

"Dammit, tell him you're not going to neuter him!"

Bones folded his arms and regarded Timmie without pity. "Why?"

I gave him an evil look. "Because if you don't, I'm going to get really, really celibate."

My glare told him I meant it. He made an acquiescing motion that nevertheless sent Timmie bolting in the opposite direction.

"Don't fret, mate. You can leave with your stones intact, but remember, pretending to be her boyfriend was just that. Don't let the fantasy go to your head."

"You heard that?" Now I waved a frantic, mental white flag at the sky. Okay, You win!

His mouth twisted. "Death to all demons, can I get an amen?"

Great. "Look, I'm sorry, but I went a little nuts when she accused me of-of drinking!"

"You do drink," he countered, not getting it.

"No!" I tapped my neck. "I mean of drinking."

Timmie looked thoroughly confused, but understanding dawned on Bones's face.

"Bloody hell," he said finally.

I nodded. "In a nutshell."

Bones turned back to Timmie. "Private time, lad. Say goodbye."

It wasn't the nicest way he could have worded it, but from the set of his shoulders, it could have been worse.

"Timmie, thanks so much again, I'll see you in the morning," I said with another smile.

He looked glad to be on his way and made a beeline for the exit. Just as he was out the door, however, he stuck his head back in.

"I don't mind foreigners. God save the queen!" he squeaked, and ran.

Bones arched a brow. I sighed.

"Didn't hear that part? Never mind. Don't ask."

Chapter Eighteen

TWO WEEKS WENT BY, BUT WE DIDN'T FIND anything more about Switch. What was worse, even the few police reports that had been filed on the missing girls suddenly disappeared from record. Hennessey was covering his tracks faster than we could follow them.

"This makes no sense," Bones fumed. "Hennessey's been snatching up girls for the better part of six decades, and he's never been this careful before. When things got messy, he'd leave. Pick another area to spin his web. I can't fathom why he's taking the time to mesmerize their families, why he's making the additional effort to have the police reports disappear, or what he's up to!"

We were back at the cave, so we could talk without having to worry about one of my neighbors overhearing. The walls were thin at my apartment. I didn't want to dwell on all the nonconversations Timmie must have already listened to when Bones spent the night.

"Maybe he's tired of running," I offered. "He's comfy, wants to stay awhile, and knows if the headlines start blaring about a serial killer, the police will have to get serious. Then he'd have to lay low or get out. What if that's his motivation?"

Bones threw me a look while bent over his laptop. "I've considered that, but there has to be more. Lola said he had new protection, remember? That's the wild card. Whoever they are, he's being a damned sight more discreet for them, and it begs the question why. They're either vampires or humans of prominence, is what I reckon. People with reputations to protect."

I didn't know much about the vampire world, so I wasn't going to be any help there. I did know a thing or two about the breathing community, however, so I felt my pulse entitled me to speculate.

"Corrupt cops? Maybe a police chief? Some of those reports could have been accidentally lost, but not all of them. Say you're the chief of police, or you're running for sheriff, whatever, and you want to get some easy cash while still making the public believe you're competent. A bunch of disappearances would look bad. So you try to get your business partner to clean up his act, and maybe you tip him off as to where he can find some vulnerable girls. God, if it was a sheriff, he could invite Hennessey to pick his favorites out of a lineup at the local stockade! Then he could make the records disappear as well. What if all such a person asked for in return was that Hennessey control public outcry? It's not such a big price to pay, is it?"

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