Read Shop Talk Online

Authors: Carolyn Haines

Shop Talk

S
hop
T
alk

a novel by

Lizzie Hart

a division of F+W Media, Inc.

Chapter One

In the blue flicker of the television screen the movement of the tiny black antennae was quick, strobe-like. Two long, bristly legs crept onto the glass. The large, flat body of the roach finally appeared, hesitant as it left the safety of the tape deck and sped across the screen, heading straight for the bucket of extra crispy fried chicken in the commercial.

The fly swatter came out of nowhere, a black shadow of death without sound. Erik Bodene Hare’s wrist flicked, the timing perfect. The yellow plastic destroyed the roach without leaving a smear of evidence on the television screen.

“Bo, it’s getting late. How about we gas the sons of bitches?” Iris Hare put her cigarette on the lip of the ashtray and took the swatter from her husband’s big hand. “How many do you think are up in that VCR?”

“A pretty big nest.” Bo stood up, the old cowhide rocker moving softly behind him. He looked around the huge room where at least fifteen televisions mutely played sit-coms, dramas, sports events, and news. There was only the hiss of traffic outside the plate glass windows that were another, larger eye filled with light and movement. Bo’s Electronics was vast, at least three thousand square feet, not counting the apartment in back.

“How in hell did Mrs. Murdock fail to notice that roaches were pouring out of her VCR? One ran up her arm, and she just sort of shook it off. I mean, did it ever cross her mind that maybe the damn thing was clogged with roaches?”

Bo’s heavy eyebrows lifted in an arch. “You know she lost her two-year-old. I’m betting the roaches got him in the middle of the night.”

Iris’ laugh was low, sexy. “Mrs. Murdock didn’t lose a kid—” She looked up at him as she lifted her cigarette to her lips. “Did she?” she asked on a puff of smoke.

“Not even roaches would take one of those brats.” Bo went to the cabinet beneath the counter and retrieved a can of roach spray. “I hate this stuff. It’s going to destroy the environment. I’ve used so much of it, if we decided to have a kid it’d probably have six legs, all with those stiff little hairs on them.” He spoke with a soft Mississippi drawl.

“Yeah, well, when you pull the top off that VCR you’re going to unleash enough roaches to infest this end of Pass Road. I say the only good roach is a dead roach.” Iris laughed. “The only good kid is someone else’s. Someone who doesn’t visit often. Go on, Bo, gas away. We won’t be reproducing.”

Bo aimed the can at the VCR as he punched open the tape slot with the wire handle of the fly swatter. When the spray shot into the opening, a giant roach, at least three inches in length, exploded out of the slot in a flurry of wings.

“Damn!” Iris ducked as it missed her head by inches. “Kamikaze bastard!” She whipped off her shoe and threw it as the roach landed on the side of the counter. The crunch of the hard, shell-like body was loud.

“Good shot, baby,” Bo said. His finger was still on the spray. A host of dying roaches had run out of the machine. Bo took his finger off the button, lifted the can to chin level and blew on it like a cowboy cooling his six-shooter. “That’s that.”

“Let’s call it a night.” Iris retrieved her shoe. “We can put on some music and relax.”

“Sounds good. Just the two of us.” He stopped at the metal door that separated work from home.

“Your sister said she might stop by for a chat.” Iris’ voice was carefully level as she shook her long, straight brown hair back from her shoulder.

“Lucille?”

“Since she’s your only sister, I guess that’s the one.”

Bo hesitated, looking back over the cavernous room where images shifted in a palette of bright, intense colors. With the rain on the street outside and the televisions going it was almost as if the room were underwater and alive. “Did she say what she wanted?”

“Something about her writing.” Iris sighed. “I wish someone would publish her. Anyone. It’s pitiful.”

“Have you read any of her stuff?” Bo couldn’t suppress a sense of dread. His sister’s poetry had been so bad that Stone County High School teachers were still talking about it nearly twenty years later–Lucille Hare, high school poet with a real flair for making her own clothes. She’d even embroidered a poem to hang in the high school office, words that Bo sometimes saw during an anxiety dream.

“The days of life and glory, my years at Wiggins High; we write our own life story, and live until we die.”

He blinked his eyes to clear away the image of the bright red words against the white cross-stitch cloth. “Maybe she won’t come.”

“Shell come.” Iris opened the heavy metal door and stepped into the kitchen of their apartment. “I started some gumbo for supper. You want to cut up some things for a salad?”

“Sure.” Bo pulled the door shut and picked up a metal bar which he slid into place as a lock.

Iris watched him through her last puff of cigarette smoke. “You act like those TVs are going to come to life and get you.”

Bo went to the refrigerator where he found lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and onions. He piled them into one arm, using his chest for support. “Sometimes I dream that they do come to life. They have their owners in them, and they’re demanding attention.” He put the vegetables on the center aisle counter that doubled as a bar. “The worst is Mr. Haverack. You know he’s dying of cancer. Well, he’s in that TV with his head nothing but a big old knobby bone and his hair a few wispy gray clumps, and he’s telling me how he’s dying and he can’t even watch
The Law Show
to learn how to sue his doctors. He’s dying, and I’ve denied him his last little pleasure because I can’t get his television fixed fast enough. It’s terrible.”

“It’s a shame your sister doesn’t have your imagination.” Iris lifted the lid on a big pot. The smell of spicy seafood mingled with onions and tomatoes.

“If Lucille would find a boyfriend …” He didn’t finish the sentence. Lucille was thirty-four. Pretty enough. Men found her attractive …

“Your sister’s crazy as a run-over dog. She meets a man and she starts talking like one of her characters. They think she’s psycho.” Iris added a colander of cut-up okra to the simmering pot. “She needs to find a guy with the same fantasy.” Iris cast Bo a look. “Or one that’s deaf.”

“I don’t have time to run up to the nuthouse at Whitfield and audition potential mates.” Bo expertly quartered the tomatoes on a scarred wooden board.

“Maybe we could get her interested in science fiction instead of romance. I know some guys who could pass as aliens.”

Bo reached for the red pepper that gleamed like an art object on the counter. As his fingers closed around it, he heard an unfamiliar sound.

At the stove, Iris lifted the spoon and held it in mid-air. Her gaze met Bo’s. “One of those stray cats?”

0

He shook his head, listening.

The noise came again, a quiet scuttling, like something trapped in the wall or ceiling.

“One of those roaches is coming back for retribution.” Iris lowered the spoon to the stove and put the lid back on the pot.

“Listen.” Bo walked over to the metal door and put his ear against it. “It’s coming from the shop.”

“What is it?” The teasing had gone from Iris’ voice. She moved to her husband’s side and put a hand on his arm. “Should I call the cops?”

“No.” He put his fingers lightly on the metal skin, as if he could feel the sounds and decipher them with his hands. The cops were the last people he wanted to call.

“Can you tell what it is?”

Iris’ whisper was warm against his neck. She was tall, filled with energy.

A scraping sound carried through the metal. Bo lifted the metal bar and eased the door open a crack. Color images flashed on fifteen screens in the darkened television repair shop. Beyond that, the taillights of a truck glared on the wet asphalt of Pass Road, a long streak of red like the wail of a siren.

There was no movement in the shop.

“Bo …” Iris stopped as a shadow shifted on the floor in the center of the room.

“They’re on the roof.” Bo glanced up at the high ceiling where an opaque skylight looked like a closed eye. The night was overcast.

“Shit.” Iris pressed against her husband. “I’ll call the cops.”

“Okay. The cops will probably blow the shop to pieces, again, but what else can we do. They’re trying to get in through the roof.”

“Damn thieves.” Iris eased away from Bo and picked up the phone. She punched the buttons and waited for the 911 operator.

Bo’s gaze never left the skylight. A dark figure scuttled across it, and there was the sound of something scraping at the edge of the glass. Bo gripped the metal in fingers that could rework a delicate circuit board, or crush a skull.

“There’s someone breaking into our shop. Right now!” Iris’ voice rose. “No, I am not pulling your leg. They’re on the roof.” There was a pause. “Well, hold on a minute and I’ll ask how many and if they want private cells or a double.” She slammed the phone down. “They’re sending a car. I hope it gets here before we have to kill them.”

Bo waved her to his side and pointed to the shop floor. The moon had broken through the clouds, intensifying the light that filtered through the milky glass of the skylight. In the center was a tall, slender figure. His head appeared narrow. Ears, slightly pointed, were flat against his skull. A long garment swept down from broad shoulders to his feet. As Iris took in every detail of his shadowy figure, he lifted his arms and the folds of his cape spread.

“The crazy fucker’s going to fly,” Bo said, pulling Iris into his arms just as the dark shadow began to move in a forward run, arms spread wide as if he did, indeed, intend to catch the soft gulf breeze that drifted up from the beach.

Bo barely had time to tuck his head before there was the sound of glass shattering. A million pieces struck the cement floor. Among the shower of glass was the heavier thud of a solid body hitting the unforgiving floor.

When Bo looked again, the man was a curl of pain in the middle of sparkling diamonds of glass. Even as he moaned, he tried to get to his feet.

“Je-sus!” Iris shook free of Bo. “Get the pipe and smack him with it,” she said, hurrying forward into the shop.

The man groaned and tried to roll to his side. With a swift kick to his ribs, Iris knocked him onto his back. “Don’t try anything.”

“This is not the hospitality I was led to expect,” the man said between groans.

“I’ll hospitality your ass to jail.” Iris looked back at Bo, who had walked to the edge of the shattered skylight. He looked up to the black hole where a spring night glimmered down at him, the stars winking as if they were amused.

“Bo?” Iris had a faint stirring of trouble in her heart. “What is it, Bo?”

Staring up into the night, Bo didn’t move.

The man on the floor stopped moaning long enough to shift his dark gaze from one to the other. Using his good arm, he pushed himself into a sitting position and glanced around for the door. The silk-lined cape was the only thing that had saved him from serious injury when he fell through the glass.

Bo broke his communion with the night sky and turned to the man who had fallen through his skylight. He took in the long black cape lined with red silk, the black hair that was gelled rigidly back and wet looking, the dark, intelligent eyes, and the pale skin of a man who never sought the beach. But it was the stranger’s dark red lips that drew his longest gaze.

“It’s fucking Dracula,” Bo said more to himself than Iris. “This is exactly what I need.” He held out both hands. “Where else would this happen? I’m the only fool that something like this would happen to.” He took a couple of quick, unexpected steps forward. “Why are you here?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Iris saw the man tense. Without a second thought she grabbed the VCR Bo had deroached. With a heave she lifted the machine high and brought it down.

“Iris!” Bo tried to stop the blow, but he was seconds too late. The heavy metal casing of the VCR crashed onto the top of the man’s head. At the harsh jostling of the unit, three dozen dying roaches poured out of the tape slot and ran frantically around Iris’ feet. Holding the VCR, she danced and squealed.

Bo shook his head. The intruder lay motionless. A trickle of blood leaked from a head wound. Bo considered first aid but didn’t move. If the guy was a real kook, there was no telling what kind of diseases he might carry. At last he sighed and walked over to his wife. Removing the VCR from her hands, he put it down. “You cold-cocked him, baby.”

Iris nodded. “Yeah. Take a look at those lips. I haven’t seen that shade since Ted Turner colorized Barbara Stanwick.”

“Yeah, the movie ran on TNT last week.”

“Mary Tyler Moore wore almost that same shade on the show she did with Lou Grant.”

“I liked that show. Good blend of social issues and humor.”

“Good make-up. That red is perfect for brunettes.”

The man on the floor moaned and twitched.

“Actually, he should have tried a shade with a bit more magenta if he’s going to dye his hair that black.” Iris leaned down and examined his face. “And he should have shaved. Sort of spoils the effect.”

Beneath her stare, black eyes opened wide.

“He’s come to,” Iris said. She angled toward the VCR.

“Don’t hit him again, Iris. The cops will be here soon.” Bo stood his ground, watching the intruder.

“There’s no need for the police.” The red lips moved slowly, but the man didn’t attempt to rise again. He watched Iris carefully. “I’m Driskell LaMont, an acquaintance of Lucille Hare’s.”

“Well, I should have known.” Iris rolled her eyes.

“How do you know Lucille?” Bo was not so easily persuaded.

“May I sit up? My head is pounding and the floor is hard.”

Iris looked at him. “He sounds like John Travolta in
Saturday Night Fever.”

The man on the floor shifted into a sitting position, accompanied by the clink of glass falling out of his cloak. “I am Driskell LaMont of Cranberry, New Jersey.”

“A Yankee,” Iris said with contempt.
“And
a friend of Lucille’s.”

“I don’t think my sister was going to meet you on the roof of my shop. What were you doing up there?”

Driskell lifted his chin. “It’s a matter of honor. I prefer not to say.”

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