Home > Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2)(11)

Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2)(11)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"I have no way of knowing. I know they might come true." Xylda looked at me now, and her blue eyes really saw me. "In the time of ice, you'll be so happy," she said.

"Good," I said, having no idea what she was talking about. But that was the way of conversations with Xylda, if you could call this a conversation.

"You can't keep lying," Xylda said gently. "You have to stop doing that. It won't hurt anyone."

"I think I'm truthful," I said, surprised. Many things I could be accused of, and my accuser would be right. But not this.

"Oh, you're truthful about the things that don't matter."

"Did someone come to Memphis with you, Xylda?"

"Yes, Manfred did."

"Where is Manfred?" I wasn't completely sure who Manfred was, but learning someone had charge of Xylda was a relief.

"He's parking the car. There wasn't a space."

"Oh, good," I said, relieved to hear such a prosaic explanation. Tolliver arrived at the table with our drinks. Xylda seemed glad to get the coffee, which was redolent of vanilla and sugar, and she swirled in even more sugar with the little brown plastic stirrer. Mine was regular coffee, and Tolliver had gotten hot chocolate. "Tolliver, Xylda says Manfred is with her."

He raised his eyebrows in query, so he didn't know who that was, either. I shrugged. "She says he's out parking the car."

Tolliver stood and stared out the glass windows, then began waving vigorously to someone. "I think I spotted him." he said, sinking back into his chair. "He's coming in." Tolliver was smiling broadly.

"He's a good boy," Xylda said. She smiled at us. "Listen, I hear you found the Morgenstern girl." Suddenly, she sounded completely practical and all present and accounted for, mentally.

"Yes," I said.

"You know, they called me in."

"Yeah?"

"It wasn't the boy," Xylda said. "There was passion involved. But there was no sex with the little girl."

"Okay," I said. "Then why was she killed?"

"I don't know," Xylda said. She looked down into her coffee cup.

See what I mean about psychics being very little help?

"But I know you'll find out," Xylda said, and she looked up at me very sharply. "I won't be there to see it, but you'll find out."

"Are you going to a different city? Have you got another booking?"

"Yes," she said quite definitely. "I have another booking. You know, I'm the real thing, and people know that when they meet me."

"Yes, they do," Tolliver agreed, and then a thin young man came up to us, dressed all in black. This was Manfred, I assumed.

"I saw her surprise you," Manfred said cheerfully. "Sorry about that. Are you her friends? She said she had to meet some friends here."

Amazing. Xylda's psychic ability had led her to meet with us outside a Cineplex. Manfred was a narrow-shouldered young man in his late teens or early twenties. He had a narrow face and slicked-back peroxided hair, a matching goatee, and at least one tattoo visible on the side of his neck. He had a face decorated with many piercings and his hands were covered with silver rings.

He matched Xylda, in an odd sort of way.

"I'm Tolliver Lang and this is Harper Connelly," Tolliver said. "Are you related to Xylda?"

"This is my grandson," Xylda said proudly.

I was willing to bet that few grandmothers would be able to look at Manfred's extreme facial embellishment without wincing, much less with Xylda's simple pride. There was much to Manfred that met the eye, and quite a lot that didn't--and his grandmother was certainly psychic enough to sense that.

We told the young man we were pleased to meet him, and we explained that we crossed paths with Xylda professionally from time to time.

"She jumped up this morning, right at the breakfast table," Manfred said. "She said we had to go to Memphis. So we got in the car, and here we are." He seemed proud of having taken his grandmother so seriously, of having gotten her here on time to keep her self-appointed rendezvous.

"You know the body was found," I said to Xylda, who'd finished her coffee before the rest of us had begun to sip at ours.

"Yes, and I knew it was going to be found in a graveyard," Xylda said. "I just didn't know which one. I'm glad you found the girl. She's been dead a long time."

"Since the day she vanished?" I asked.

"No, not quite," Xylda said. "She lived a few hours. Not more than that."

I was actually relieved to hear this. "That's what I thought. Thanks for telling me," I said. I wondered if I should relay this bit of information to the police or to Tabitha's family. After a moment's consideration, I realized that was a very bad idea. If it had been hard for the police to believe me, it would be impossible for them to give Xylda any credence. If you could say anyone looked like an ex-hooker turned professional psychic, Xylda would be the picture you'd come up with. Police aren't inclined to trust either one, and Xylda reinforced that distrust with every sentence she uttered.

"I Saw it," Xylda said. I could hear the capital letter in her voice. Her grandson Manfred smiled at his grandmother, the epitome of pride. It was obvious Manfred simply didn't care that almost everyone in the shop had taken a moment or two to stare at our little group. I thought that was extraordinary, especially for a young man hardly out of his teens, if indeed he was. I realized that Manfred and Victor Morgenstern were very close in age. I wondered what the two would make of each other, and found the idea of their conversation almost unimaginable.

"Xylda, have you caught a glimpse of who took her?" Tolliver asked. He spoke very quietly, almost inaudibly, because there was no doubt people were listening.

"It was for love," Xylda said. "For love!" Xylda spoke right out.

She smiled at each of us, a distinct and separate look, and then she told Manfred it was time for her nap.

"Sure, Granny," he said. He stood and pulled her chair back for her. I hadn't seen a man do that in years. As Xylda picked up her purse and began to shuffle toward the door, the fascinated gaze of the other patrons following the progress of the enormous plaid coat, Manfred bent to take my hand. "A pleasure to see you," he said, and he suddenly sounded older than his years. "If you ever need a buddy to hang with, Harper, I'm willing to jump in there."

The look in his eyes told me that no matter how old Manfred was chronologically, biologically he was a fully developed male. Suddenly I felt very self-conscious and ridiculously flattered.

"I hear you," I said, and Manfred kissed my hand. Because of the piercings, the effect was strange. I felt a little tongue, a little brush of soft hair from the goatee, and surely a cold metallic touch from a stud in his mouth. I didn't know whether to laugh, or shriek, or pant.

"Just think of the kids we would have," Manfred said, and I opted for smiling.

"That's a step too far, there," I said. "You were doing great, up until the kids."

"I'll remember," he said, smiling back. "Next time I won't make the same mistake."

When they left, I turned to Tolliver to ask him what he'd gotten out of Xylda's tangled contribution. Tolliver was staring after Manfred with no friendly face.

"Oh, get real," I said. "Tolliver! He's years younger than me!"

"Right, maybe three," Tolliver said, and I remembered that Tolliver was three years older. "He's got balls, I'll give him that."

"Probably pierced ones," I said, and Tolliver gave me a startled look and an unwilling laugh.

"What would you say if I got a tattoo and a ring through my eyebrow?" he said.

"I'd definitely want to watch," I said. "And it would be interesting to see what kind of tattoo you picked." I looked at him for a moment, trying to imagine Tolliver with a silver hoop in his eyebrow or nostril, and I grinned. "And where you put it."

"Oh, if I ever got one, I'd get it on my lower back," he said. "So I could cover it up almost all the time."

"You've put thought into this."

"Yeah. A little."

"Hmmm. You've picked out the tattoo?"

"Sure."

"What?"

"A lightning bolt," he said, and I couldn't tell if he was serious or not.

Chapter seven

DURING our cab ride back from the suburban Cineplex to the downtown hotel, I had a little time to think. Xylda was nuts, but she was a true psychic. If she said Tabitha had lived a few hours after the abduction, I believed her. I should have asked different questions, I realized. I should have asked Xylda why Tabitha's abductor had kept her alive for that long. A sexual reason? Some other purpose?

"Did it seem to you that Xylda was nuttier than usual?" Tolliver asked, echoing my thoughts to an eerie degree.

"Yes," I said. "The kind of nutty that made me wonder how old she really is."

"She couldn't be over sixty, right?"

"I would have said younger, but today..."

"She looked okay."

"As okay as Xylda ever looks."

"True. But she seemed to walk just fine, and maneuver all right physically."

"But mentally, she was quite a bit more off... so vague. 'In the time of ice, you'll be happy.' What the hell does that mean?"

"Yeah, that was weird. And the part about being truthful."

I nodded. " 'The time of ice.' She could have told us things that would have been a hell of a lot more to the point. Maybe it's the loss of Robert that's thrown her for such a loop? Not that she was ever Miss Stability. At least Manfred seems to be taking good care of her, and he respects her talent."

"Think we should mention that guy we met in San Francisco to the Morgensterns? Think they'd be open to a clairvoyant?"

"Nah," I said instantly. "Tom will make something up if he doesn't get a genuine reading."

"So would Xylda."

"But only when it didn't matter, Tolliver." He looked at me as if he couldn't see the difference.

"Like if it was some teenager visiting her on a dare, wanting to know if she'd be happy in the future, Xylda might make up stuff so the kid would leave confident and cheerful. That kind of thing, that can't hurt. But if a lot depended on it, if the client took her seriously, Xylda wouldn't say, 'Oh yes, your missing son is really alive,' unless she got a true vision. Tom will tell you something under any circumstances, whether or not he really knows anything. He'll just make it up."

"Then I won't mention him," Tolliver said, though he sounded a little huffy. "I was trying to think of some way to help them get through this, and I think the only way they're going to come out the other side of it is to find out who did kill Tabitha. That is, if it really wasn't one of them."

"I know," I said, surprised at his irritation.

"What did you get from her yesterday? When you were standing on the grave?"

I was very reluctant to return to that moment. But then I thought of the faces of Diane and Joel Morgenstern, and the cloud of suspicion surrounding them, and I knew I had to return to Tabitha's last resting place.

"You think we could go back to the site?" I asked. "I know there's no physical remains there, but it might help."

Tolliver never questioned my professional judgment. "Then we'll go," he said. "But I think we better go tonight, so no one'll follow us. We won't want to be in a cab for that."

I agreed, especially after I caught our current cabbie's curious look in the rearview mirror.

"You want him to drop us off on Beale?" Tolliver asked. "Maybe we could go listen to some music before supper?"

I glanced at my watch. It seemed unlikely that there would be good blues playing at five in the afternoon. "Why don't you go?" I suggested. "I'll go back to the hotel and take a nap."

So Tolliver got out at B.B. King's Blues Club on legendary Beale Street, and reminded the cabbie where he was to drop me off. The cabbie made a face, said, "Sure, man, I little on the protective side," the man said when I was paying him. "Your man is a worrier."

"Yes," I said. "My brother."

"Your brother?" The cabbie looked at me, half-smiling, sure I was pulling his leg.

I told him to keep the change because I was kind of rattled, and I scrambled out of the cab and into the hotel without looking around me, which was stupid.

For the second time that day, someone seized hold of me. But this time it was a man, an angry man. He grabbed me as I walked into the lobby, and he marched me over to a chair before I could even be sure who he was.

Dr. Clyde Nunley was slightly better dressed than he had been the morning before. This afternoon he looked like a typical college professor in his sport jacket and dark slacks. His shoes needed shining.

"How'd you do it?" he asked me, still gripping my arm.

"What?"

"You've made a fool out of me. I was standing right there. Those records were sealed. I watched over them. No one else had read them. How did you do it? You make me look like an idiot in front of the students, and then your damn pimp calls me to ask me for my money."

I was disgusted, and I realized Dr. Nunley had been drinking.

I tried to yank my arm away. He'd scared me, so now I was proportionately angrier.

   
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