We found Lorraine’s without any trouble at all. This was disconcerting. Maybe I lived in the neighborhood or something. Maybe I had a homing instinct for purple acrylic yarn. The streetlights had come on, but at this end of the street Lorraine’s was the only shopfront with light coming out through the window. We stopped to look in. There was a big square cake on center display. The caramel-and-white checkerboard frosting looked lacquered and a small vase on a spike through its middle bloomed with plastic daisies. There was a broom with a tiger-striped handle propped next to a leopard dustpan and a peacock-feather duster of dubious provenance. There were paper cupcake cases in a variety of stripes, stars and polka dots full of what might be jelly beans on a cake stand the improbable gilt of whose edges appeared to have been slapped on by a chimpanzee with delirium tremens and whose carrying handle looked like the Seattle space needle. There was a cluster of melamine mugs festooned with smiling bumblebees and robins in aprons. At this point either my eyes or my brain started begging for mercy. I blinked. I liked the broom. Did I need a broom? Probably.
I hesitated at the door, not liking to leave my four-legged security blanket behind even for five minutes to buy milk. Besides, what if the cake stand broke out and started impaling innocent passers-by and their dogs? I didn’t trust that cake stand at all.
Someone came out the door—jingle jangle said the old-fashioned bell—automatically holding it open for me and then stopping dead as their—his—eyes fell on Sid. “Hey—isn’t that the Phantom?”
What? Did they hold a press conference? Were we on the news? Was someone about to offer me a million dollars for exclusive rights to our story? Okay, I could live with that.
“I heard—” He paused, and his eyes wandered slowly up from Sid, lingered on the black leather jacket, arrived at my face. He smiled. He had too many teeth and they were all very white. He knew he was charming. I didn’t like him.
“I heard that someone from out of town had caught him,” he said. “Her.”
“Her,” I said in what I hoped was a cool and dignified manner and was probably just hostile.
“Her,” he repeated. He bent down—he was tall—to pat her. She bore with this but I could feel her butt against my leg and she wasn’t wagging her tail. He straightened up again and reopened Lorraine’s door. “Lori—you’ve got new customers. The Phantom. And —” He raised his eyebrows at me and tried the smile again.
“Kes,” I said unwillingly.
The eyebrows went up higher. “And Kes,” he said, making it clear in the way he lengthened that one reasonably harmless syllable that it should have been Ashley or Amber.
There was a bustling, clacking noise, and a woman, presumably Lorraine, appeared in the doorway. She was short and square, and the flowers on her tunic would have looked good on a tray or a teapot in her shop window. The clacking noise was from the red patent-leather mules on her feet. Wow. “Welcome to New Iceland,” she said, bustling forward.
She’d been backlit as she stood in the doorway. I was already tired of my local celebrity and I was probably just remembering what Serena had said about her: I wasn’t really burning up from the strength of her stare. As she came into the light from her own window and the streetlight overhead and I could see her face clearly however I slightly revised this theory. And I was sure there was a faint smell of singed leather. I knew I didn’t want her for an enemy. I was pretty sure I didn’t want her for a friend either. I braced myself. What was she going to want to know? Height, weight, marital status, prior convictions, what I thought of her window display?
“We are all so glad the Phantom finally has a home,” she said. She didn’t look like an animal lover. Maybe she was just an equal-opportunity yenta. “You’re moving to this area, I believe? So you aren’t going to take him—her?—away from us?”
“Her,” I said again. “Yes. I’ve rented a house in Cold Valley.”
“Oh, Rose Manor!” said Lorraine, smiling. Her teeth were almost as big and white as Mr Love-me’s. Maybe they were related. “Yes, Maureen told me Sally had just rented it.”
Maureen? I wasn’t going to ask.
“You must be a large family?” she went on, her eyes glittering in a way that told me she already knew I had come to town alone in a small van (doubtless she was aware that it was adorned with large screaming skulls). Maybe she was counting the six rose-bushes. Because of course she also knew about the rose-bushes. With Sid and me that made eight.
“No,” I said calmly. “Just me.”
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