Mike roused himself with a visible effort, like Swamp Thing rising from the murky depths. “Several thousand?” he said. “Into five figures. At least.”
“Maybe,” I said, my sympathy evaporating. It was a small van. “But you got a fabulous sandwich out of it. And the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start a durable and tenacious feud between me and my new neighbors.”
“It was a good sandwich,” said Mike, trying to look modest.
“Oh, wow,” said Serena. “Your neighbors were there? They’re never there.”
I gazed at her with as much dislike as was possible toward someone who made a pear and ginger crumble as divine as Serena’s. “If one more person says that to me, I shall become violent. I will crush your front lawn with my terrifying new juggernaut. I will order my dog to throw up on your shoes.”
“You haven’t seen our front lawn in daylight yet,” said Serena. “Nothing Merry could do to it, unless you’re planning on hiring a hydraulic hammer, in which case get the large size, okay? Our front lawn would be a lot more interesting with a couple of craters and a rock pile. And I’m sure Sid is too polite to throw up on anyone’s shoes but her owner’s. I’m sorry about the Lanchesters.”
“You know them?” I said. “This small town thing could get on my last remaining nerve.”
“Yeah. Well. You’ve signed the lease, right?” said Serena, stomping on my last remaining nerve more comprehensively. “Get used to it.” It is perhaps not generally known that even divine pear and ginger crumble will take you only so far. I repressed a snarl.
At this critical juncture of developing interpersonal relationships, there was a shambling noise behind us, like maybe Frankenstein’s monster wearing badly fitting shoes. I turned around gratefully, and there was JoJo. There might have been a smile on his face. It was hard to tell through all the hair. The bits that weren’t hairy were pierced. And he couldn’t walk properly because it was beneath his dignity to tie his shoelaces.
“Hey, JoJo,” I said.
“Hey,” he said. “Keh.”
JoJo was perhaps not a great talker. Mr Screaming Skull had done all the talking when I’d visited his garage, in that slightly too emphatic way that suggested he was used to doing all the talking. The several large, hairy, well-pierced young men lurking in the shadows had done no more than twitch slightly when he’d said their names—calling it ‘introducing’ them was a little extreme—although JoJo had stopped whatever it was he was doing long enough to gesticulate vaguely in my direction with a tool of arcane purpose that looked like something Gurgsmeel the Malevolent might have used to unpleasant effect, when Mr Screaming Skull identified him as the chosen one to fetch the van home again. I wasn’t sure in the present instance whether JoJo didn’t remember my name, or whether the bolt he was wearing through his tongue was preventing the crisp utterance of sibilants.
He was wearing a black t shirt with what I feared was a design of exploding heads on it. I didn’t want to look too closely. And I didn’t know they made even black death metal jeans that size: approximately 26 waist and 48 inseam. He’d been wearing some kind of overall at the garage. He should have been cold. Maybe what I had taken for a smile was a rictus of frostbite.
He lumbered past us and went straight to the van and put his hand on the hood like a man petting a favorite horse. Awww. He didn’t quite raise the lid but you could see he wanted to. He was right, anything might happen to a motor vehicle in my hands. I might put molasses in the radiator. (Did cars still have radiators? I knew more about horses. Horses did not have radiators.) I might put antifreeze in the gas tank. In New Iceland in April you needed to have antifreeze somewhere. Mike should not be turning a rare, valuable antique like Merry over to someone like me.
JoJo turned back to me, keeping his hand on the van. “Okay?” he said.
Okay what? “It runs great,” I said at random. I decided not to mention my doubts about the shock absorbers. “I’m really grateful to Mr Scre—er—to your boss for letting me have it at such short notice.”
JoJo now opened the driver’s door and stared at the steering wheel. Then he stared at me. I was involuntarily reminded of Sid looking at her bowl of dog food. “Key,” he said.
“Oh—uh,” I said, fishing in my pocket. String. Tissues. Jackknife. Bits of dog kibble. Three quarters and a dime. Arrgh. Ah. Keys. Including, fortunately, the two belonging to the van. I gave them to him. He was clearly about to get straight in the van and drive away.
Serena said, “D’you want a cup of coffee or anything before you go?”
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