The anger had left me with the simple act of petting the cats again. I wasn't exactly able to disobey Harry. Even as newly turned a vampire, like I was, it was obvious that there were some basics in being a vampire. You don't challenge your maker in the first twenty four hours danced in my head loudly. Seemed to be like pretty much a no brainer. Slowly the rest of the crew returned to their places in the station wagon. Erika finally gave into her inquisitive nature.
"Harry, why did you call Cinda that other name when she was asking about Mitch?" Erika gave me a long look, as if I would say something, while she waited for Harry to respond.
He laughed and said, "Erika, you just keep your eye out for deer. Okay?"
Again that command voice. Erika shuddered and her head twitched to face forward like Harry was physically pushing her. Art's eyes were still shell-shocked from the knife having been displayed. He rolled his eyes over us all in the back and dropped his glance back to the road when my eyes met his in the rearview mirror. Cinda was still out and Misty in so I knew Erika could get her answer.
She didn't disappoint me, "Erika, you mean you thought my name was only Cinda? Hell, don't you have a middle name? Or don't Special Agents come with middle names?"
Through a clenched jaw Erika replied, "Yes, but I didn't recall seeing the name Misty on your birth certificate."
Flippantly, "Guess you pulled the wrong one then. Now didn't you?" Misty smiled nearly as wickedly as I could. Her teeth weren't as sharp as mine but her green eye had that eerie glow. Someone definitely was having fun and I didn't think it was Erika.
Harry sighed and said, "Okay, enough of this. Art, are you doing alright up there?"
Art hesitantly looked to Harry in the mirror and said, "Just fine, sir, thanks for asking." The respect for Harry dripped from Art's tones. But there was another new feeling coming from Art that took me a moment to identify. Then deliciously I figured it out -- total fear. Art was completely terrified of us now. Not just Harry but Erika, Cinda and myself. I didn't know whether to be upset or relieved. I doubted he would be asking me out to another movie any time soon that was for sure.
With that the conversations dropped off and we watched the scenery go from flat to flatter with intermixed snow flurries. Deep into the night we headed up the Midwest highway towards Chicago. Erika and Misty slipped off to sleep while Harry and I watched the night fly past. We had been driving a few hours when Harry said softly to Art, "Next time we stop for gas let's find a hotel to spend the remainder of the night."
"I'm fine. I'm not tired at all. I can drive more." Art was in a hurry to get us to Mitch's house. Whoever he was -- still an unsolved mystery.
"No, I suggest we stop." Harry was pushing with that voice again. Both Erika and Cinda began to stir. The cats had long since retired to the back of the station wagon and were well curled up together. I envied their totally relaxed slumber. Their purrs were low rumbling counterpoint to the swish of the road.
Art audibly gulped and agreed, "Sure, Harry." I didn't think he had much of a choice.
Erika yawned and stretched and I swear I heard her jaw crack. She looked at Art and said in a casual tone, "So you killed your mom, huh. Did you get any jail time?"
He sighed and answered, "No, there were enough of our neighbors who knew how my mom was and during the investigation they came forward and reported all the things they had seen or heard. The local cops had come out to the house enough to know my mom was pretty off-balanced and hadn't even bothered locking me up. Hell, I stayed over at a friend's house while everyone decided what was to be done. Once the judge heard it all he called it self defense and said I was a free man."
"So then why did you run?" Misty had woken up frisky. The cats leaped into my lap and watched them talk. Both feline heads bobbed back and forth as the conversation flowed. It was nearly as hypnotic as the road.
"Because the neighbors and the judge may have thought it was okay but the rest of the folks in my town had thought my mom was a decent lady." He grunted at that idea and continued, "So I headed out. It wasn't like anyone would miss me. After all the cops kept the gun and knife so most folks figured I wasn't much of a threat anymore," here he had let loose a nervous chuckle and nobody joined him, "But I still had my car. So I went west and eventually I found your town. And yeah, I had noticed that it was getting weird around there in the past few weeks. There is something pretty wrong happening in that town definitely not the run of the mill bizarre stuff. I swear, Cinda, that I saw Louella Morton driving around naked in a car." Well, he was right about that but I wasn't going to fill him in anytime soon. Nobody explained the Cinda-Misty difference.
Now that Art was warmed up to talk both Erika and Misty rapidly fired off questions. I noticed Harry was just listening and Cinda was well buried. I wasn't particularly interested in talking with Art. He still had something about him that was making my eye teeth itch. Harry reached over and tapped my nose saying softly, "And you are so correct." I was happy he hadn't totally dismissed my feelings even if he had spared Art -- for now. The others pretty much missed his comment with Misty speaking loudly over Harry's soft words, "Hey, Art, so why did you go join the old church ladies group?"
He laughed and said, "Who else would take in this poor old orphan boy?"
I thought since he was the one who made himself an orphan it wasn't exactly a tragedy. Molestation aside, he could have left his mom, he didn't have to murder her. Even though Harry gave him a pass I still felt that there was something disturbing and off about him.
"Okay, so they did. But why did you stay in the town? It wasn't exactly a huge metropolitan Mecca." I liked how Misty referred to our town in the past tense. It was pretty much a done deal from what I saw while we sped out of town. There was probably a few hardy souls trying to stay alive but I didn't hold out much hope for them. The town would probably limp along for a few months but somehow I knew without even asking that a year or so it would be as deserted as a ghost town.
Erika added, "Yes, Art, why didn't you head out further West? What was keeping you there?"
To my dismay I caught Art's eyes flicker up in the rearview mirror and he glanced quickly at me and away before saying, "They were nice enough people living there. Up until the past few weeks."
He had that right.
Erika wasn't finished with her questions, "So, general handyman was what? Like your only job then nothing on the side or under the table?"
"Up until two weeks ago I was just the church handyman, I didn't need to do much and was given me free room and board along with some money. I was then told by Vivian Carter that there were some changes and the job would be ending in a month or so. No reason given and she said she would help me find something else." Art swerved to avoid a branch in the lane and I heard Erika suck in her fear as the car swayed. The sound and feeling strummed across my brain again. Her fear was feeding me and I felt a purr of happiness at the waves of suppressed terror riding Erika. There was something happening but I needed to talk to Harry soon and get my ground rules to playing in this new world of mine.
"But she's dead now," Misty said in her spookier voice while Erika lit another cigarette she automatically handed one over the seat to Misty. They both were filling the car with a gray cloud. The front passenger window was slightly open by Erika and the gap was steadily pulling the smoke outside. All the while the snow that filled the night was whiter than my eyes liked and the headlights of the station wagon bounced back nearly blinding me. The cats grew bored and climbed over me to the back of the wagon again.
"Yeah, she is. She left me an envelope of money and the keys to this car with instructions to head on up to Chicago after she died. She gave me the address of a place to go to for some work." Art sounded sad about Vivian's death. I thought his emotions were faked. I don't think Art really cared that Vivian was dead. From everything I saw about Art he was only worried about Art. Both the ladies seem to buy his sorrowful act. I was surprised that Erika didn't at least call him on his phoniness. But then she was operating with a head injury at least as well as whatever internal injuries she had sustained in the car wreck.
There was a turn off just a bit ahead. I could see a truck in the distance pulling off and looked over to Harry. He caught my thought and said, "Art, why don't we see if there is a motel off that exit."
Without a word Art complied. Both Misty and Erika grew quiet. The car was still slipping around a bit as we exited the highway and I heard Erika gasp more than once. I sucked in the fear from both Erika and Misty and tried to stop my trembling of desire. There were three motels off the exit. The first one was pretty shabby looking and Art didn't even slow down. The middle one appeared to be the least likely to be riddled with bedbugs. Art pulled into the adjacent parking lot without asking. The snow had been plowed roughly off to the south side in huge sloppy drifts. Yet in spite of the poorly moved snow whoever had plowed had taken the extra time to salt the lot and we had traction as we parked in the front of the motel. I heard Erika exhale sharply -- she still wasn't over the whole smashing into a tree after sliding off the highway. Not that I blamed her it was a nasty accident for her and Cinda.