“You’re after something.”
“I’m after a lot.”
“You’re also exasperating.”
“Comes with the territory.”
“Well, for the moment, my companions have just ordered dessert—”
“And you might want to notice that your companions have just been joined by mine.” Startled, Maggie swung around. He was right. She saw Cissy’s Adonis—one of the tallest men Maggie had ever seen, black as ebony, handsome as could be—about to take the chair at Cissy’s side. Jack Delaney was drawing up a chair beside Angie, and the waiter was hovering to deliver various coffees to them all.
“They make handsome couples, don’t you think?” Sean inquired.
She looked at him. “Your tall black friend is an Adonis. But it appears as if the law is descending en masse.”
“My tall black friend’s name is Mike. You met Jack earlier. And the only reason people are usually leery of the law is if they have something to hide. Do you?”
His gaze was piercing, eyes so dark. He looked at her as if he had a unique talent for reading human souls. She hesitated just briefly.
“I told you, I didn’t murder the pimp or the girl.”
“And I’ve told you—I don’t think that you committed murder. I just wonder what you’ve got to hide.”
“Ah, Lieutenant! What you see, sir, is what there is.”
“So—will you go out with me?”
“I’m already out.”
“But you wouldn’t want to be a fifth wheel over there, would you?”
“I can be very independent.”
“Ah, but look! They’re all getting worried about us, see? Jack is straining his neck to see where I might have gotten to, and your cute little assistant is beginning to appear anxious. Maybe we should walk on over, sip espresso, and join them.”
“And maybe I should just call it an evening,” she told him.
“Well, of course we could slip away somewhere alone together. Tell me, are you living at Montgomery Plantation?”
She arched a brow. “I spend some time there. I have a complete set-up at the office as well.” She hesitated, realizing that she should have gone home, but finding that she was growing more curious about him as well.
“Isn’t there a plantation in the Canady family as well?”
He grinned, nodding. “Not what it used to be, I’m afraid, but still in the same place on the Mississippi, though there is a Burger King down the street now as well. The property isn’t the same size as it used to be.”
“A Burger King—right down the street?”
“Thank God I like Whoppers.”
She laughed lightly. “But—”
“I’m exaggerating. We’ve still got a few acres left, and the house is beautiful. Hard to keep up, but beautiful. My little sister married an architect, so we get a lot of help with repairs through workmen who owe favors—the ‘we’ being my father and I.”
“Your father’s still living. How wonderful for you.”
“Your family is ...?”
“All deceased. We were never terribly procreative, I’m afraid.”
“What a pity.”
“Because you really are lovely. You should be cloned— community beautification and the like.”
“You are a flatterer.”
“Hmm. But I can’t seem to say the right things so that you won’t be so wary of me.”
“You’re a cop.”
“And you’re innocent—remember?”
She smiled, shaking her head slightly. “It’s hard to understand just what you want.” He shrugged. “You’re the one who’s overly suspicious. I’ve been honest—and I’m an open book. I want you to think and then tell me truthfully if you might know anyone who has any idea of what is going on. And other than that ... well, I’ve already said it.”
“If there’s anything I can think of to tell you, I will,” she said after studying him carefully for a minute.
“So—do we join the others?”
“Umm ... I suppose.”
“You’ve opted out on spending the evening all alone with me, I take it. Sleeping together is out, as well?
I’m going to have to be much more subtly flattering and cajoling and work far more slowly to get you into bed?”
She smiled, studying his handsome features once again, and the teasing light of cobalt fire in his eyes.
“Don’t under- or over-estimate my innocence, Lieutenant. I’m all grown up, old enough to know my mind. I’ve nothing against sleeping with a compelling man—if and when I decide he’s what I want.” With that, she turned quickly, leaving him still sitting on his bar stool while she threaded her way through the bar area, and back to her table.
Jane Doe had been killed on a Wednesday; Anthony Beale on a Friday. The city was in an uproar, but on Saturday morning, the front page of the newspaper didn’t blast the police force half as badly as Sean had expected it might.
Instead, the article focused on the vice within the city of New Orleans, citing many bizarre crimes of the past. After all, New Orleans had always been different. Voodoo priestesses had practiced here, they still did. Cults remained, those who believed in aliens and people who believed themselves to be vampires roamed the streets, and the costumes of Mardi Gras had concealed many a criminal throughout the decades. This was the home of Marie Laveau, the most famous voodoo priestess of them all, above-ground cemeteries, and anything-goes sex clubs. There was an editorial bend in the story, suggesting that the entire city needed to be cleaned up.
Well, that might be true, Sean thought. But easier said than done.
He was sitting in the breakfast parlor at Oakville, his family “plantation” on the Mississippi.
Curiously enough, his Friday night had turned into something of a “date.” Maggie Montgomery had been charming, flirtatious, fun. They’d listened to jazz music, they’d even danced. And he’d seen her back to her office “apartment”—and gotten a handshake at the doorway.
Fine. He hadn’t pressed anything, even though his teasing words had held tremendous truths—she was quite simply the sexiest, most sensual woman he had ever encountered. Still, he had managed an incredibly casual and amused smile at her doorway—as if he could wait forever to get her with her clothes off—and then he’d driven around for an hour before deciding to come out of the heart of the city and sleep at the old family homestead.
After a very long, cold shower.
The term plantation had initially referred to a farm—and some plantations had been small, and some ostentatious. Oakville had originally been somewhere in between, yet definitely antebellum upscale. The woodwork in the house was worth a fortune itself, but Sean knew that any member of the Canady family would die a thousand deaths before allowing any of it to be cut out of the house. Oakville was typical of many a home built in the early years of the eighteenth century—a center breezeway opened to four rooms on the ground floor— now the kitchen, dining room, parlor and library—while there were five bedrooms upstairs. One was his father’s bedroom, not changed a hair since his mother died five years ago. Two were guest rooms, while his room, like his father’s, hadn’t changed much since he had left the house to go away to college—many years ago now. And like his, his sister’s room remained uniquely hers. The walls were still covered with posters of rock bands, and though Mary Canady O’Niall had been married now for eight years and had children of her own and a beautiful home in the Garden District, she still added new posters to her bedroom at Oakville now and then.
It seemed to mean a lot to his father that his children came home to Oakville.
For the first time in over fifty years, parts of the few remaining acres of property were being farmed once again. His father had a vegetable garden growing now, and he had proudly made Sean an omelette featuring his own onions and tomatoes.
Coffee here was always good as well. Bess Smith, who had been telling him what to do since he’d been in knee breeches, was still tending to the house for his father. She came Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and made the best cup of chicory-flavored coffee known to man. Sean had to admit, it was good to have his father’s omelette and Bess’s coffee as he read the newspaper.
His father, across the table from him, was studying him and shaking his head. Daniel Canady was perhaps a half inch shorter than Sean and in the last few years, had grown thin. At seventy, he had a distinguished appearance; he still stood as straight as an antebellum column. His hair remained thick and handsomely silver, and Sean had inherited his own deep blue eye color from Daniel. Daniel’s investments had kept the family in decent financial shape, which was good, since for his chosen vocation, Daniel had been an historian. He’d taught at the university for several years, and dedicated himself to writing historical nonfiction. Thankfully, he’d managed to teach Sean about investments as well, since police work payed just about as poorly as the academic field.
“You’re letting these murders get to you too much, Son,” Daniel told him.
Sean set down the paper. “Dad—we’re talking about people being decapitated.”
“Well, decapitation is one way to assure death,” Daniel said matter-of-factly. “But remember, Son, this is New Orleans. We’ve had pirate raiders, voodoo practices, zombies, and vampire cults over two hundred years of history. Hell, when I was a boy, we used to walk through some of the old graveyards on the way to school and play kick ball with the old skulls that would pop out of the broken tombs. This is a place where anything can happen—and has.”
Sean nodded. “I appreciate the help, Dad. But the problem now is that I’m senior guy on these homicides and I have the entire city staring at me. I’ve even got the governor calling daily. I’ve got to stop this killer.”