Kiss of Death
Chapter Nine

 Rachel Caine

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Eve had a look on her face as if she'd just found the Holy Grail, or whatever the Gothic equivalent of that might be. She stared, eyes gone wide and shiny, lips parted, and the glee in her face was oddly contagious. "It's for sale?" she asked. She was trying to play it cool, Claire thought, although she was blowing it by a mile. "How much?" Ernie wasn't fooled even a little bit. He rubbed his lips with his thumb, staring at Eve, and then at the car. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "I guess I could go to three thousand. 'Cause you're a friend of Grandma's." Linda said, "Don't you go cheating this gal. I know for a fact you paid Matt down at the funeral parlor seven hundred dollars for the damn thing, and it's been sitting for six months gathering dust. You ought to let her have it for a thousand, tops."
"Don't Gran me. Be nice. Where else in this town are you going to sell a hearse?"
"Well," he said, "I've been working on making it more of a party bus." It was gigantic. It was gleaming black, with silver trim and silver curlicues on the same, and faded white curtains in the windows at the back. Grandma Linda was right--it was covered in desert dust, but underneath it looked sharp--really sharp. "Party bus?" Eve said. "Yeah, take a look." Ernie opened the back door, the part where the casket would have gone... and there was a floor in there, with lush black carpet, not metal runners or clamps as there would have usually been for coffins. He'd built in low-riding seats down both sides, two on each side, facing each other. "I put in the cup holders," he said. "I was going for the fold-down DVD screen, but I ran out of money." Eve, as though in a trance, reached in her pocket and pulled out the cash. She counted out three thousand dollars and passed it over to Ernie. "Don't you want to drive it first?" he asked. "Does it run?"
"Yeah, pretty well."
"Does it have air-conditioning?"
"Of course. Front and back."
"Keys." She held out her hand. Ernie held up one finger, ran back to the shack, and returned with a set dangling from one finger. He handed them to her with a smile. Eve opened the front door and started up the hearse. It caught with a cough, then settled into a nice, even purr. Eve stroked the steering wheel, and then she hugged it--literally. "Mine," she said. "Mine, mine, mine."
"Okay, this is starting to seriously creep me out," Shane said. "Can we move past the obsessive weird love and into the actually driving it part?"
"You guys go on and take it out for a spin," Ernie said. "I'll get the paperwork ready for you to sign. Be about fifteen minutes."
"Shotgun!" Shane said, one second before Claire. He winked at her. "And you get the Dead Guy Seat."
"Wait until there are actual dead guys sitting back there." It wasn't safe to say that, not in front of Ernie and Linda; after a second, Claire saw Shane realize that. He blinked and said, "Well, maybe not. But it would be funny."
"Hilarious," Claire agreed, and went around to the back. Getting in was a bit of a challenge, but once she was sitting down, it felt kind of like what she imagined a limo would be. She looked around for a seat belt and found one, then strapped herself in. No sense dying in a car crash in a hearse. That seemed a little too tragically ironic even for Eve. "Hey, there really are cup holders."
"Fate," Eve said with a sigh. "I'm not sure fate had to burn up your car to get the point across," Shane said, buckling his own seat belt. "No, not that. The hearse. I'm going to name it Fate." Shane stared at Eve for a long, long few seconds, then slowly shook his head. "Have you considered medication, or--" She flipped him off. "Ah. Back to normal. Excellent." Eve pulled the hearse around carefully, getting used to the size of the thing. "It probably gets crap gas mileage," she said. "But damn. It's so dark!" Claire moved aside the white curtains to look out the back window as they drove past the front of the used car lot. Linda and Ernie were standing in front of the shack, waving, so she waved back. "I'm probably the first person to wave from back here," she said. "That's weird."
"No, that is awesome. Awesome in the deliciously creepy sense. Okay, here we go, hold on..." Eve hit the gas, and the hearse leaped forward. Shane braced himself against the dash. "Wow. Nice. I thought it might only go, you know, funeral speed or something."
"You're not seriously naming this thing."
"I am. Fate."
"At least call it Intimidator. Something cool."
"My car," Eve said, and smiled. "My rules. You can go buy the pink one if you want." He shuddered and shut up. Eve made the block without incident, and pulled the hearse back into the car lot about five minutes later, bumping it carefully up the drive and parking in front of the shack. As she switched the key off, she sighed and wiggled in the big leather seat in satisfaction. "This is the best road trip ever." Shane bailed out. Claire scrambled to slide out the back and found him waiting for her, grabbing her around the waist and helping her out. He didn't let go immediately, either. That was nice, and she felt herself sway toward him, as if the world had tilted his direction. "I guess we'd better go in and make sure she doesn't pay him even more money," Shane said, "because you know she would, for this thing."
"She's a giver," Claire agreed. "Also, maybe Linda's got more of those cookies."
"That's a good point." Inside, they found Eve already signing the papers. Her driver's license and proof of insurance were already on the table, and as Ernie said hello to the two of them, he gathered up her information and made a copy at the back of the office. It was small, and crowded, and pretty dusty. It looked as though Ernie was the only one who worked here, at least most of the time. Linda was leaning against the wall, staring out at the car lot through the big glass window. She looked pensive. "Is there something wrong?" Claire asked her. Linda glanced at her, then shook her head. "Probably nothing," she said. "I just wonder why the sheriff hasn't been around yet. He's usually circling the town pretty regular, and he hasn't been here yet. Deputy wasn't at the sign, either. Strange." Ernie filled out the title and handed it over, along with the paperwork and Eve's driver's license and insurance. Eve juggled all the paper to shake hands with him, and he gave her a smile that was definitely flirting. "Thanks," he said. "You staying in town long?"
"Oh--ah, no, I'm--we're heading out. To Dallas. With my boyfriend." Eve said it without too much emphasis, which was good; Claire didn't think Ernie was a bad person or anything. And Eve was cute, even when she hadn't made an effort to dress herself up Goth-style. Ernie winced. "Should've seen that coming," he said. "Well, enjoy the new ride, Eve. And don't be a stranger."
"No stranger than I am already," she promised, straight-faced, and then they went out to admire the big black hearse again. Linda moved straight past them to her own truck. "Hey," Shane called. "How about breakfast? We were going to buy--"
"No need," she said, and climbed into the cab. Through the open window she said, "I'm going to go see the sheriff, see if I can find out what the heck's going on today. If I don't see you kids before you go, have a safe trip. And thanks for livening up my week. Hell, my whole month, come to that."
"No, thank you," Shane said. "Your motel is great." She gave him a tight, quiet smile. "Always thought so," she said. "Good-bye, now." She took off in a spray of gravel, raising plumes of dust as she skidded back onto the road. Ernie, who'd come out with them, sighed. "My grandma, the race car driver," he said. "Have a good trip, now." They said their thanks, got into the hearse, and headed back to the motel. They never got there. As they passed the town limits sign, and the road rose up a little in a mini-hill, Claire caught sight of flashing red and blue lights up ahead. "Uh oh," she said. Eve hit the brakes, and she and Shane exchanged a look. "That's the motel, right? They're at the motel."
"Looks that way," Shane said. "This is not good."
"Ya think?" Eve chewed her lip. "Call Michael."
"Maybe they're--"
"What, hanging out there looking for somebody else? Call him, Shane!" Shane dialed the number of Michael's cell phone, listened for a second, then closed his phone. "Busy," he said. "We need to get in there."
"And do what, exactly?"
"I don't know! You want your boyfriend dragged out to french fry in the sun?" Eve didn't answer that. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, looking agonized, and then said, "I'll apologize later, then." She hit the gas, and the hearse picked up momentum coming down the hill. It zipped past the motel, doing way past the speed limit. One of the police cars--there were two in the parking lot--backed out and raced after them. Eve didn't slow down. She hit the gas. "Eve, what the hell are you doing? We can't outrun them in a hearse, in the middle of the desert!"
"I'm not trying to," she shot back. "Claire, look out the back. Tell me if the other car joins in." It took a few seconds, but then Claire saw another flare of red and blue flashers behind them. "They're both following," she called back. "And how is this good, exactly?"
"Text Michael," Eve told Shane. "Tell him the coast is clear and to get his butt out of there."
"What about Oliver?"
"Michael's too much of a Boy Scout not to tell him, too. Don't worry about that." Shane texted fast. "It's still kind of sunny out, you know."
"Oliver's older," Claire said. "He can stay out in the sun a lot longer than Michael. Maybe he can lead the police away, or something."
"That's up to them," Eve said. "I just need to keep driving as long as I can before we give up. The more we piss these guys off, the more chance Michael and Oliver have of getting away." It turned out, as the police cars cranked it up, that Eve's hearse really wasn't made for car- chase speeds. They were overtaken in about another mile, and boxed up in another two. Eve, surrendering, eased off the gas and hit the brakes to slow down and pull over. "Okay, here's the deal," Shane said. "Keep your hands up, and play nice. You panicked, that's all. We were telling you to pull over, but you locked up. Got it?"
"It's not going to help."
"It will if you play the ditz. Better sell it, Eve. We're in enough trouble already." The rest of it went straight out of the reality-TV-show playbook. The police ordered them out of the car, and before she knew it, Claire was being thrown up against the back of the hearse and searched. It felt humiliating, and she heard Eve crying-whether that was acting or not remained to be seen; Eve cried over smaller things. Shane was answering questions in a quiet, calm voice, but then, he'd spent a lot of time getting hassled by the Morganville police. For Claire, it was kind of a new experience, and not at all a good one. She had the deputy, she supposed; he was a tall, skinny guy whose uniform didn't fit very well, and he seemed nervous, especially when he put handcuffs on her. "Hey," Shane called as his own hands were secured behind his back. "Hey, please don't hurt her. It wasn't her fault!"
"Nobody's hurting anybody," said the sheriff from the night before. "Okay, let's just calm down. Now, let's have some names. You?" He pointed at Claire. "Claire Danvers," she said. Oh man, there went any chance at all of ever getting into MIT. She was going to have a mug shot that got pasted all over Facebook. People were going to mock her. It would be high school all over again, times a million. "Address?" She gave him the address in Morganville, on Lot Street. She didn't know what the others would have done; maybe she ought to have lied, made something up. But she didn't dare. Like Shane had said--they were in enough trouble already. Eve gave her name in a trembling, small voice, and then Shane finished things up. They both gave the Glass House address. "So, you're all, what, sharing a house?" the sheriff asked. "Where's the blond kid from last night?"
"I--" Eve bit her lip and closed her eyes. "We had a fight. A big one. He--he left."
"Left how? Seeing as the car you came in is still smoking in the parking lot back there, and it ain't going anywhere. There's no bus coming through here, young lady."
"He hitched a ride," Eve said. "With a truck. I don't know which one. I just heard it on the road."
"A truck," the sheriff repeated. "Uh huh. And he wouldn't be back there in Linda's place with the door all locked up, then."
"No sir." That, Claire reflected, might be almost true, because if Eve's gamble had paid off, Michael and Oliver weren't there any longer. Where they were was another story. "Well, we're waiting for Linda to get back; then we'll open up those doors and see what's going on. Sound okay to you?"
"Yes sir," Eve said. "Why the handcuffs?"
"You three are a bunch of desperate characters, way I see it," the sheriff said. "I find you causing trouble last night, get a report your car's been trashed by the very same boys who say you threatened them, and next thing you know, I've got one man dead and two men missing this morning. The dead one got found in his pickup truck just about a mile up the road from your motel."
"I--" Eve stopped, frozen. "Sorry, what?"
"Murder," the sheriff repeated, slowly and precisely. "And you were the last ones to see them alive." 7 For a long, long moment, nobody moved, and then Shane said, "You don't think we killed--"
"Let's just stop right there, son. I don't want to be making any mistakes about how we do this." The sheriff cleared his throat and recited something about rights and remaining silent. Claire couldn't make sense out of it. She felt sick and horribly faint. She was being arrested. She was being arrested for murder. Eve's crying was uncontrollable now, but Claire couldn't help her. She couldn't help herself. Shane stayed uncharacteristically silent as they loaded him into the back of the squad car, then put Claire and Eve in with him. The sheriff leaned in before he closed the door to look at them. He almost looked kind now. That didn't make Claire feel any less sick. "I'm going to have the deputy drive your, ah, vehicle back into town," he said. "Can't leave it out here. Might get stolen, and you folks already lost one car in Durram. Don't want it happening again." He slammed the door on them. Claire felt Eve flinch all over at the boom of solid metal. "Deep breaths," Shane said softly. "Eve. Sack up. You can't go to pieces like this. Not now." The sheriff got in the front, on the other side of a wire mesh screen. He put on his seat belt, looked in the rearview mirror, and said, "No talking." Then they drove back to the motel, where Linda's truck had just pulled in. She looked pale and worried, but she didn't betray much of anything at the sight of her three former guests in the back of a squad car. She listened to the sheriff, nodded, and went into the office to get master keys. She opened up all three rooms they'd rented. Shane let out a sigh of relief even before the sheriff went in to look around. "They're gone," he said. "They got out. Somehow."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because Michael's smarter than me, and he'd have found a way. Ow, Eve, stop squirming. Not like there's a lot of room in here!"
"Sorry," Eve said. She sniffled uncomfortably. Her eyes were red and puffy, and so was her nose, and in general she looked pretty miserable. Claire bumped shoulders with her gently. "Hey," she said. "It'll be okay. We didn't do this."
"Yeah, they never put innocent people on death row in Texas," Eve said. "Don't kid yourself. We're in big trouble. Big trouble. Like, not-even-Amelie-can-get-us-out-of-it trouble." Her eyes started to tear up again. Claire repeated the shoulder bump. "Don't. We'll be okay. We'll figure this out." Sniffle. "You're just Little Miss Optimist, aren't you? Do you come with accessories, like a glass half full and lemons to make into lemonade, too?"
"I'm not an optimist," Claire said. "I just know us."
"Damn straight," Shane said. "Look, they'll separate us at the station. Don't say anything about anything. Just watch and listen, okay? No matter what they say, just stay quiet."
"I've seen cop shows," Eve said, offended. "I'm not stupid, you know." Shane leaned forward and looked across her at Claire. "Okay, Eve's going to spill her guts the first time they look at her harshly. What about you?"
"Quiet as a mouse," Claire said. Her heart was pounding, and she wasn't sure she could keep that promise, but then again, she'd kept secrets from Mr. Bishop. This wasn't nearly as bad. Was it?