“It’s all right,” Jack told her, leaning forward.
“But you have two serious homicides—and I’m sure there are more crimes in New Orleans—”
“There are,” Sean said, looking at Jack through the rearview mirror. “But Jack and I have been assigned especially to these two cases.” He shrugged. “There’s really not nearly so much work when a drug pusher kills a middleman who won’t pay up, or when a husband freaks out and shoots his wife for shrinking his favorite bowling shirt in the dryer. We have a number of homicide detectives as well, so don’t worry about taking up our time.”
Grinning, Jack leaned his chin on the seat as he spoke to Maggie who turned around to smile and listen to him. “What Sean is trying to say is that we really haven’t any viable clues, and so we may as well spend our time harassing you. We’ve a lot of stuff out at labs, but nothing back in from them yet. Sean has stared at dead bodies just about as long as is humanly possible, and it’s Saturday, and we’ve both put in almost seventy hours already. And they gave us both titular promotions to keep from paying overtime, so hey, this was an okay way to spend the afternoon. And you know what?”
“No, what?” Maggie asked him, grinning.
“I invited myself to Sean’s house, and your friend, Angie, is going to come along with me.”
“Is she? Great. She didn’t tell me.”
Sean met her eyes in the mirror. “Want to just come along home with me now?” he asked.
She hesitated, then shook her head. “Hot day. I think I’ll shower and wear jeans tonight—bugs like barbecues, too.”
Sean shrugged. “As you wish.”
He left her in front of her shop, watching as she waved, then went in to talk to Gema, giving the younger woman a report on her friend. Gema seemed relieved. She was picking up the coffee pot and cups. It seemed that Maggie Montgomery was going to give her a hand in closing.
“What are you waiting for, what do you think we’ll see?” Jack asked.
Sean shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything at all that’s going on, but...”
“But what? One of those ‘gut’ things?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Sean said quietly. “Yeah.” He put the car back into gear.
Gut reaction. Jack had been right. He was actually doing the only thing he could do as a good cop. He was spending as much of his time as he could with Maggie Montgomery.
Dinner was delightful. Jack had indeed invited both himself and Angie, and apparently, Maggie thought, Sean must have decided that he should take it a step further and make it the same group they’d had the night before. The incredibly tall, black, and handsome Mike Astin had been invited, along with Cissy Spillane. It was comfortable for her to be with her friends.
Maggie wondered if it was comfortable for Sean to have two extra police officers on hand.
Sean’s father, Daniel, was nearly as tall, broad-shouldered, and striking as his son. His hair was just dusting with dignified gray; the creases at the corners of his eyes added a depth of character. He’d invited a friend as well, Anne-Marie Huntington. She was perhaps fifty or fifty-five—a one-time flower child, so it seemed, for her light hair had aged to a soft platinum, and she wore it parted in the middle and long and straight down her back. She was dressed in a soft, flowered, ankle-length gown in a flowing material, and was slim and pretty. She seemed exceptionally at peace with herself, a pleasant quality.
They talked while Cissy and Angie took a walk down by the river and the men drank beer and hung around the barbecue. Maggie learned that Daniel’s lady was a librarian, and that she had a love for both the classics and modern fiction. Maggie could well imagine that an academician like Daniel would get along well indeed with the serene librarian.
“I must admit,” Anne-Marie told Maggie, sitting across a picnic table from her on the back lawn of Oakville, “I jumped at the chance to meet you. Oh, not that I don’t enjoy Saturday nights with Daniel as it is, but ...” She paused, shrugging ruefully and sipping her wine cooler. “Well, we do have a great deal of literature on your family. I’ve always wanted to meet you.” Maggie lifted her hands, smiling in return. She was puzzled, and just a bit uneasy wondering what literature the library might have on her family.
“Well, I’m in business right in the French Quarter,” Maggie reminded her. “You could have come by and introduced yourself.”
Anne-Marie laughed softly. “Oh, dear, no! I couldn’t do such a thing. I’m from an old Southern family, and my mama would have slapped my hand had I ever thought to do anything so rude as to walk in anywhere and introduce myself—for the sake of my curiosity.”
“Well, we’ve been introduced. And please, you’re welcome to come by anytime. You might enjoy my offices. We’ve got design sketches that are decades old, fashion magazines from the eighteen hundreds
Daniel Canady slid onto the wooden bench alongside Anne-Marie. “I hope I’m included in that invitation.”
“Thank God,” Sean murmured, setting a massive platter of ribs, chicken, burgers, and hot dogs on the table. “He’d be asking me to come up with a search warrant to get in, now that he knows we’ve met.”
“Children,” Daniel said to Maggie, flashing her a warm smile. “They can be so annoying.” Anne-Marie hopped up. “Let me go for the bread and the salads.”
“I’ll help,” Maggie said.
By the time she came from the kitchen, bearing a tray of potato salad from the refrigerator, Cissy and Angie had returned, and were ready to help bring out the side dishes while the meat remained smoky warm. For the next several minutes, they all fixed their plates, reaching across one another.
Despite the fact that the sun had set, Oakville’s lawn area seemed remarkably free from bugs. The moon was full, big, and strangely, beautifully red in the night sky—it was because the sun took a while to set on these late-summer nights, Daniel explained. Sean argued the point with him lightly, and the two bantered back and forth. It seemed a nice relationship, and it gave Maggie a moment of nostalgic pain. She missed that kind of love.
They avoided talk of the murders, the guests all complimenting Daniel on his barbecue. “My own sauce,” he assured them modestly, smiling across the table at Maggie over a rib, “Thank God you’re not one of those will-o‘-the-wisp women with no flesh on her bones!”
“Dad!” Sean laughed in protest. “It sounds as if you’re implying—”
“That she does have meat on her bones. In all the right places, naturally. Although Americans do need to cut down on their consumption of red meat, meat is important to most diets. We are carnivorous creatures; we need only study the teeth God gave us. But young ladies are so diet conscious these days!
I was afraid you’d be a vegetarian!”
Maggie smiled, arching a brow to Sean. Looking back at Daniel, she shook her head. “Oh, no. I love meat. I truly enjoy a good steak, the rarer the better.”
“Ah, well, good, good for you!”
By the time they had finished eating, the bugs were beginning to come out, and they moved inside for coffee and the crème brulee Anne-Marie had made. They sat around Oakville’s library, a beautiful room with hand-carved shelving and cozy window seats. Sean sat beside Maggie on one of the love seats, sipping strong coffee. She was amazed at how natural it felt to be with him. How warm. He’d showered, and he smelled invitingly of soap and after-shave. He wore cut-off jeans and a tank top, and though he was completely casual, his clothing emphasized the sleek strength of his body. She was alarmed by the strength of the sexual urges that burned through her each time his shoulder brushed hers, or his knee touched hers, or just when he looked at her and smiled, a slow-burning fire subtly glowing deep within his eyes.
She swallowed, looking across the room to the great oak desk where Daniel had been poring through some of his very old books, giving them all bits and pieces of Louisiana and New Orleans trivia through the decades.
“Here, Son, not that the tragedies of times gone past give you any pleasure, but here’s a piece on the New Orleans Axe Man. They think he killed thirteen people, and though the relative of one of the victims claimed to have shot and killed the killer, the police never knew the truth.” He looked across the room at Sean, his eyes bright over the rim of his reading glasses.
“Dad, they didn’t have half the techniques we have now,” Sean reminded him.
Daniel shook his head. “Some crimes are never solved. You know that. You have open cases on your books. These murders have just occurred. It takes time to catch criminals. Weeks, months—years, in some instances.”
“Yeah, but we’ve got to solve these murders quickly!” Jack said.
“We’ll be victims of the good citizens of New Orleans if we don’t,” Mike Astin agreed.
“Him. Are there good citizens in New Orleans, do you think, Miss Montgomery?” Daniel queried her lightly.
“Oh, definitely! And like good citizens everywhere, they battle the crime beneath their noses and try to make it a better city,” Maggie assured him.
Daniel sat in the swivel chair behind the desk. “Now, it all depends on what we see as crimes, right?”
“Well, naturally,” Maggie agreed.
“Okay, Dad, what’s the moral dilemma we’re getting to now?” Sean asked.
Daniel stretched out a hand, indicating the book. “All right, let’s ponder this. In 1862, New Orleans is taken by the Yankees. Now, we all know that there were lots and lots of good, moral Yankees, men of character and concern. Unfortunately, one of the men taking charge of New Orleans under martial law definitely did not seem to be among their number. I refer to—”
“Beast Butler!” Jack interrupted.
“Precisely! Now, the Southern ladies of New Orleans still have kin out on the battlefields—brothers, fathers, husbands, lovers ... so they’re not friendly to the invading soldiers. All right, they are downright rude, stepping off sidewalks if the soldiers are on them, spitting upon occasion. Still, nothing that an invading soldier wouldn’t understand. But old Beast Butler puts out an order about the behavior of Southern women. Any lady acting so rudely to the Yankees was to be considered a prostitute, and treated as such.”