Nice girls dont bite the.., p.26
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.26

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 26

  Author: Molly Harper

  Unable to help Jamie, I found that distracting myself with work helped. It made me feel like a guilty, harried working mother, leaving him with Gabriel all night, but it was better than sitting around the house, staring at Jamie … which seemed to upset him.

  At the shop, I could search for exorcism tips. I could search for information about Ray McElray without Gabriel breathing down my neck, trying to assure himself that I wasn’t about go all solo vigilante on some menacing redneck. Apparently, he wanted to be with me when I went all vigilante.

  Andrea sat at the end of the coffee bar, going over the books for the quarter. Sales were looking up this week, as rumor had spread about the wedding because of Mama’s caterwauling about her “youngest girl finally getting married. ” It seemed that local vampire and human gossip worked much like celebrity politics. Sure, my neighbors and acquaintances had accused me of everything short of hog-tying Jamie in the back of Big Bertha and turning him against his will, but all of that could be forgiven and forgotten if a big, splashy wedding was on the horizon. Even if that wedding was neither big nor splashy. People I hadn’t spoken to in years came into the shop, asking about the wedding. High school classmates, even the ones who wrote “sucks” after my name on the Key Club posters, stopped by to make sure they got an invite. Mama’s friends dropped by with engagement presents, mostly cookbooks and crock pots, which was sort of ironic if you thought about it.

  I responded by looking up the cost of airline tickets to Niagara Falls.

  On the plus side, between the wedding looky-loos and the nutters who wanted me to turn them, the increased shop traffic resulted in more sales, which was starting to tilt the accounts a bit more toward the black side. This made balancing them a little less of a chore for Andrea, who preferred vaguely positive news to “we’re going brooooooke” news.

  Andrea hit the total button on the calculator and cleared her throat. “Well, we suck as ghostbusters, but we’re pretty fair book salesmen. If we continue like this for the next six weeks, we can turn around the damage done by your Jamie escapade. ”

  “I think ‘escapade’ is a slightly unfair description, but that is good news,” I said, closing the cash drawer with a final jangle. “You know, it’s been kind of nice having a boring night at work. Even if Mary Beth Cartwright, whose name I could not remember at our tenth reunion, did come in and tell me she didn’t care when or where my wedding was, she was coming because it was that important to her. ”

  “Aw, honey, weddings bring out the weird in people,” Andrea said, waving her hand at me. “Remember how pissed off my parents were that I didn’t invite them to mine? I mean, they disown me for consorting with vampires, and then they have the nerve to be ‘deeply hurt by my selfish actions’ when I don’t let Daddy Dearest walk me down the aisle?”

  “You did send them a wedding announcement. ”

  She snorted. “I did that to give me closure. And to give them one last flip of the proverbial middle finger. I did not expect terse and passive-aggressive e-mails about how hard-hearted and ungrateful I am to exclude them from my life. ”

  “You know, sometimes I worry that we’ve been a bad influence on you,” I told her. “You were such a nice girl as a human. ”

  And again, she snorted. “Please, I’m ten times happier as a vampire. My only regret is that I can’t track down a boyfriend or two and use my evil vampire powers to hypnotize him into stripping naked and dancing the Highland Fling every time he hears the word ‘hello. ’ “

  “But he would hear it several times every day,” I told her.

  “What’s your point?”

  I shook my head, wondering where my classy, demure friend had gone. “That’s just wrong … And still, even with that disturbing image burned into my cerebral cortex, this is still more fun than being at home. ”

  “Jamie still having teenage angst?”

  “Like an episode of Dawson’s Creek. ” I sighed.

  Gabriel and Dick came moseying through the front door, arguing over Dick’s illegal parking habits. Dick had driven Gabriel into town so we could take Big Bertha home. Since Gabriel’s injury, the guys were adamant that we not drive home or close up the shop on our own. And frankly, I can’t say that I blame them. Equally bad things had happened to the two of us when we’d closed up solo.

  “And the menfolk arrive to escort us defenseless females to the safety of our keep. ” Andrea sighed.

  “You have got to stop giving her Jane Austen books,” Dick told me.

  “Did you have a good night?” Gabriel asked, nudging my hair aside so he could kiss the nape of my neck.

  “We had an uneventful night, for which I am thankful,” I said. “And I am ready to go home. Who’s with Jamie?”

  “Actually, I thought it would be OK to leave him alone for an hour. He’s been behaving so well lately, it seemed sort of insulting to keep treating him like a baby. ”

  “Look at you, being all reasonable. ” I chuckled, grabbing my purse from under the counter. I paused and gave him a speculative look. “You locked up all the liquor in the house before you left, didn’t you?”

  He shrugged. “I would have set the parental controls on the cable channels, but you’ve never shown me how. ”

  I laughed, waiting for Andrea to lock and gate the front door before we split for our respective cars. I sniffed the air, wrinkling my nose at the roiling scent of burning plastic. “Do you smell that?”

  I caught sight of Gabriel’s horrified expression and turned to where he’d parked Big Bertha, nearly a block away. A small spear of flame spiked up from under the hood. The fire seemed to spring to life, sucking in air as it spread over the hood and bubbled the windshield with the force of its heat.

  “No!” I exclaimed, running toward it, but Gabriel and Andrea dragged me away. Dick sprinted past with the shop’s fire extinguisher in hand. As he sprayed the engine compartment with foam, a sickening golden glow spread inside the car. The upholstery lit up like a wick, sucking the flames into the cabin of the station wagon. Even from a distance, I could see the windows buckling under the pressure of expanding hot air.

  “Dick, get back!” I yelled, just as the windows exploded, sending shards of glass hurtling our way. Dick yelped, covering his face with his hands as he collapsed to the ground. Gabriel forced me to the concrete, then tackled Andrea to keep her from running to Dick. The fire extinguisher clattered to the ground and rolled under the flaming wreckage of my car.

  “Get inside, now!” Gabriel yelled as he pulled Dick away from the fire.

  I helped Andrea unlock the shop gate and crawl to the safety of the door. I heard the siren of a fire truck squealing down the street toward us. By the time Gabriel fireman-carried Dick into the shop, I was in full-on meltdown mode.

  “He killed Big Bertha!” I seethed. “He killed my car. ”

  “And I’m just fine, thanks,” Dick mumbled as his cheeks expelled dozens of splinters of glass. The tiny cuts healed over, leaving Dick handsome, pale, and whole.

  “Sorry, Dick, are you OK?” I asked, feeling selfish and guilty as Andrea pressed a warm cloth from the coffee bar against Dick’s bloodstained cheeks.

  “Fine,” he said, swiping at the bloodied, torn “Beer—It’s What’s for Dinner” T-shirt with disdain. “Ruined my favorite shirt, but I’m fine. ”

  Behind him, Andrea mouthed, “Thank you, God. ”

  “I can’t believe Ray did this,” I growled. “I thought he was angry with Gabriel. With the exception of trying to run me down, he hasn’t done anything to put me in danger. Why would he go destroy a car that is clearly not something Gabriel would drive?”

  I saw a guilty, furtive look flash between Dick and Gabriel.

  “What?” I demanded.

  “There was a note on the hood,” Gabriel said, pulling the paper out of Dick’s back pocket. “It was pinned to your grille with a wooden stake. ”

  ” ‘Stop hiding behind her or she gets hurt,’ ” I read aloud. “Well, that’s sort of misleading. You’re not exactly in hiding. You’ve been recovering from his arrow wounds. And he hasn’t been all that proactive, either. I mean, we’re just sitting there like dead ducks all day, and he hasn’t even made an attempt to break into the house. ”

  Cue another guilty, furtive look between Gabriel and Dick.

  I sighed. “You two should never play poker. Come on, out with it. ”

  Gabriel cleared his throat. “Erm, the reason he hasn’t tried to break into the house during the day is that I contracted with a company Dick recommended to install a comprehensive security system at the house. The contractors worked during the day while we were asleep and finished before we woke so you wouldn’t notice the changes. Everything they installed complemented the renovations you’d already done. The window panes were replaced by bulletproof glass. The sunless shades now bolt from the inside with a magnetic lock that will only release when triggered by outdoor UV sensors. The doors were bolstered with reinforced steel. And the doorknobs emit an increasing electric shock to whoever tries to use them without a key. ”

  “But why didn’t you tell me any of this?”

  “Because I didn’t want to panic you into thinking that McElray had us running scared. And you tend to get a little crazy when anyone suggests changes to the house,” he said. Dick nudged him, and he added, “And you would have objected to the cost. ”

  My eyes narrowed. “How much would I have objected?”

  “Remember last year’s tax bill? The one that made you hyperventilate into a paper bag?” he asked.

  “That much?”

  Gabriel winced. “Triple it. ”

  “Triple!”

  “Between the secrecy and the rush job and the measures they had to take to keep it from being noticeable, it added up,” he said sheepishly. “I suppose it’s too late to say it was an early wedding present. ” He tried to fake a winsome smile.

  I glared at him. “What happened to not keeping things from me anymore?” I demanded. “What happened to no more leaving me out of the loop? And how the hell has Mama been able to get into the house during the day to drop off wedding stuff if the doorknobs are electrified?”

  Gabriel cleared his throat and very softly said, “They’re electrified if you try to open the door without a key. ”

  “You gave my mother a key?”

  Dick nudged his wife toward the door. He whispered, “Run. ”

  Fortunately for Gabriel, a lady in a fireman’s uniform knocked on the shop door at that very moment, and I was unable to carry through my plan involving a more thorough smacking with Tolkien. Anna Mastrofilippo, the only female assistant chief with the Half-Moon Hollow Volunteer Fire Department, stepped through the door with a bemused, frustrated look on her round, cherubic face. Anna was one of the first graduates of my after-school program for advanced readers.

  “Miss Jane,” she said. “Would you care to explain how a half-gallon tank of gas got lodged next to your engine block with a rag wick hanging out of the spout?”

  “Anna—”

  “Look, I know weddings are expensive, but if you’re going to set fire to your own car to collect the insurance money, you’re going to have to come up with a less obvious way to do it. I’ve got to report this to the police as arson! My mama’s going to have a fit when she finds out. You know she loves you. All she talks about is that Tuesday Night Book Club that meets down here. She can’t wait for it to get started up again, even if it means that Rosie Lanier never speaks to her again. And now I have to tell her that I got you arrested and her book club shut down. ”
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