There was a little pause, while he debated what to tell me. Serena liked me but I was still an outlander. So was Serena, of course, but she’d been here fifteen years. I hadn’t been here fifteen days yet. I was good for fifteen hours though.
“Sheila Lanchester is sensitive,” he said. He debated a little more. “Like she maybe hasn’t quite got the word that she has to share this planet with other people.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Things like the sound of a car starting upset her,” he went on. “And some people, you know, actually bang their car doors harder than they have to. I know. It’s hard to believe. But she swears it’s true. I know someone, in fact, that she accused of banging a door just to upset her.”
“Amazing,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I take it she comes to your garage,” I said.
“Not any more,” he said, and grinned. “You owe me, right?”
“I sure do,” I said fervently.
“Yeah. Either you carry a lot of anvils around with you or you read as much as Serena.” He looked at the book box at his feet (and its four hundred and thirty-six kindred stacked over the floor in here and the parlour). “Well, I’m gonna follow you out, when you take your van back to New Iceland. And I want you to promise to drive real slow past the Lanchesters’ house. She’ll be looking out the window because she’ll hear your engine. I want her to see your van.”
“Okay,” I said. “And you’re going to arrange for the personal protection I’m going to need after my sensitive neighbour sees the Van of the Apocalypse leaving and the Pick Up That Ate Brooklyn coming back?” This wasn’t helping my whimwhams about my first night in my new house any.
“Sure,” he said, grinning again. “I can do that.”
“And Sid —” I began.
“She’ll scream, first time she sees Sid,” said Mike. “Just warning you.”
“Oh, great,” I said. “I had less trouble with my neighbors when I lived in an apartment building with three hundred other people.”
“You only get Ryuu’s muffins if you live around here,” said Mike. “Think about it.”
“Okay, I’m thinking about it,” I said, visions of one of Joe’s minions arriving at the door with a gooey-hot pizza fading in comparison. “Hey, do you want me to roll the window down enough for Sid to stick her head out as we drive by? We’ll have to stop at the end of the road for me to roll it back up again but I’d like to get as much of the screaming as possible over with in one go.”
“It might give you a head start, but she’ll have to scream the second time too, because she’ll have had time to think about it and, you know, get more worked up.”
“This is the real reason they haven’t been able to rent Rose Manor before, right?” I said. “Neighbor from hell?” Who needs a madwoman in the attic?
“Nah. They’re really never here. Dunno why they’re here now. Maybe, they see your van and your dog, they’ll go away faster.”
“We live in hope,” I said. “I was coming to ask if you’d like a cup of tea and a sandwich.”
“That’d be great,” he said. He looked down at the van. It looked surprisingly harmless from here. “We need to hit the road before it, you know, gets too dark for your neighbor to see anything. But we’re nearly done.”
“You’re nearly done,” I said, leading the way to the kitchen. “Anything I have is yours for the asking, which at the moment is pretty much ham. And bread. And mustard. I seem to have left the butter back at the motel. There’s also high-quality dog food which I’m sure Sid would not mind sharing. And a few of Ryuu’s muffins, speaking of Ryuu’s muffins.”
“You’re on the secret take-out list already, are you? That was fast.”
“That was Sid,” I said. “Bridget is a dog person.”
“Bridget is almost as mental as my dad. When her kids were little and she was home all the time she kept adopting dogs.”
I made two ham sandwiches—it’s rude to let your guest eat by himself—while Mike wandered around the kitchen. He kept wandering as he ate his. After all that box-carrying you’d’ve thought he’d want to sit down. Maybe he didn’t like the look of the chairs any more than I did. I was half wondering if I could remember which box the pillows were in so we could both sit down and half wondering if he might know where I could get a cheap replacement stove for the thing that was listlessly attempting to boil water for more tea—when he caught sight of Caedmon.
“Oh, hey,” he said. “That’s a Guardian. I never heard that Rose Manor had a Guardian. Man, those are like the best solid-fuel stoves ever made. They’ll just about fix a flat tire and walk your dog for you.”
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