Home > The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(2)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(2)
Author: Roan Parrish

   He focused on Gus first. She was all in one piece and was even smiling. It was her I did something bad and delightful smile, but a smile was good—at least when on a child who seemed to have been forcibly dragged home by an irate stranger.

   “Where is your coat?” is what came out of Adam’s mouth.

   Sometimes he tried to remember what it was like when he talked about things like the composition of his next shot, which restaurant’s tiramisu he preferred, or the latest cozy mystery he was reading.

   Now he said things like “Where is your coat” and “Don’t take that apart” and “If you don’t stop making that sound I might have to throttle you.” Okay, he didn’t say the last one so much as think it. Often.

   “It’s not that cold,” his wonderful, brilliant daughter said, her lips only vaguely blue.

   Adam counseled himself to breathe.

   Once he’d determined that Gus was all in one piece and frostbite wasn’t imminent, he turned his attention to the man who’d brought her home.

   “Um,” he said intelligently.

   Westley Mobray was tall and severe, with shaved dark hair and strong dark eyebrows over piercing blue eyes. Those eyes were narrowed slightly, either in anger or—if the neighborhood rumors were to be believed—because he never went outside when there was the slightest bit of light still in the sky, as it would, of course, burn him to ash.

   “She broke into my house,” he said. His voice was low and rough with disuse.

   “She’s eight.”

   Mobray cocked his head as if unsure what that might have to do with Gus’ felonious misdeeds.

   Adam sighed.

   “Gus, did you break into our neighbor’s house?”

   She squinted and screwed up her face in a way that said she absolutely had. Adam and Gus had a strict No Lying policy, which had resulted in Gus developing a keen sense of words and their exact meanings.

   “I didn’t break anything,” she settled on finally.

   Adam offered up a silent prayer to the universe that his daughter not end up in prison.

   “Did you enter without being invited?” he clarified.

   And the vampire hits just kept coming.

   She bit her lip and nodded.

   “You can’t do that, baby. It’s not safe for you and it’s not okay to intrude on other people’s privacy.”

   She looked down at her toes, the very image of contrition. Then she peeked up at him with a glint in her big blue eyes.

   “But he has lizards,” she said softly.

   “Okay, let’s get you inside,” Adam said quickly. Once Gus got going on something that fascinated her—and lizards were the most recent addition to that list—she tended to forget any reason why she shouldn’t abandon all sense (or rules) to pursue it.

   Adam passed her behind him and looked up at Westley Mobray.

   “I’m really sorry about that,” he said.

   “She climbed in through my basement window.”

   Adam winced. Gus really was remarkably resourceful. And limber.

   “I’m so sorry. I’ll talk to her. She just, uh, really likes lizards. It started as a dinosaur thing and now... Anyway. Eight-year-olds.”

   The mysterious neighbor didn’t say anything, just continued to look at Adam with a keen, curious gaze.

   “I don’t think I’m hypnotized,” Adam muttered. Would you know if you were hypnotized, or was that part of hypnosis?

   “Excuse me?” Westley Mobray said.

   “Uh, nothing. Thanks for bringing her home. I’m Adam Mills, by the way.” He stuck out his hand. “We just moved here. That’s Gus. August. But she likes Gus.”

   Mobray didn’t shake Adam’s hand—so Adam wouldn’t feel his preternatural chill?—so he shoved it in his pocket. But at least there was no chance he’d turn to stone.

   “Wes,” said the man who was probably not a vampire or a witch or a Medusa. Freak? Well, the jury was out. But Adam tended to like freaks.

   Then he turned and walked away, broad shoulders blocking the last of the day’s light.

   Inside, Gus had helped herself to a glass of apple juice and she held up the bottle to Adam angelically, to ask if he wanted some.

   He nodded and she poured him some juice. He rummaged around in the disordered cabinets, looking for something to fix for dinner.

   “Gus,” he began, assuming the lecture would flow naturally once he opened his mouth.

   “Daddy, he has the best basement,” Gus gushed. “Four lizards. One has orange and black on its back and one is red and the other two are brown and he has a snake—I don’t know what kind—and he showed me a huge, hairy spider!”

   Adam choked on his juice.

   He did not, historically, care for spiders.

   “A, um, spider?” he squeaked.

   “A turanyulla,” she confirmed.

   “Tarantula,” he corrected automatically. “You saw this when you climbed in the window?”

   “He showed me the tarantula.” She said the word slowly and carefully. “He put it right in my face!”

   Said face was lit with joy. Adam’s stomach dropped.

   “He what?”

   “I’m sorry I climbed in. It was just so interesting.”

   Interesting was Gus’ buzzword. She had discovered, rightfully, that Adam liked when she was interested in things. Now she used it like a shovel to dig herself out of every mess she got in.

   “So the, er, tarantula was placed near your, um, face?” His voice broke at the end.

   “He thought it would scare me.” She grinned hugely. “But it was so cool.”

   “Come,” he wheezed. He grabbed her hand, burst through the door and stalked to the last house on the street. Damn, it was cold.

   Wes Mobray’s house certainly did nothing to discourage rumors of his supernatural being. It was a two-story Craftsman cottage, like the one he and Gus were renting. But unlike theirs, which was painted in cheery white and blue, it wore a peeling coat of brown, and every window but two—one that must have been Gus’ basement ingress, and one small upstairs window—was covered from the inside with brown paper.

   The whole thing gave the house the look of a crumpled paper bag. A crumpled gothic paper bag.

   Adam felt a momentary pang of pity for Wes Mobray. Maligned and gossiped about by neighbors, living in this depressing paper bag of a house... But then he remembered what had brought him over here and he steeled himself to ring the doorbell.

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