She nodded, not looking at either of them.
“Hey, girl! Snap out of it!” Cissy said, coming around in front of her. “Are you alone here? I thought I heard voices.”
“I’m—I’m alone,” Maggie said at last. She shrugged. “Last-minute customer.” Angie had walked to the door. “Whoa! Good-looking boy. Wonder who he was shopping for?”
“His newest love, I imagine,” Maggie murmured.
“Who does a man buy nice clothing for?” Maggie said, forcing her voice to be casual. “The love of his life, I imagine. Except that he didn’t buy anything.”
“Oh, well. Hey, are you sure you won’t come with us?” Angie asked her.
Maggie narrowed her eyes at her friend. “Is Sean going to be with them?”
“No, honey. Sorry,” Cissy said.
“Maybe I’ll come with you then,” she said. “I won’t stay too long, I’ll just get something to eat with you guys.”
“You’ll be good company,” Angie said. “The guys are kinda glum tonight.”
Cissy looked at Angie. Angie looked at Cissy, then at Maggie. “You haven’t heard the news yet, huh?” She tapped her temples. “How dumb of me—Angie and I just heard the report upstairs. Another body has been found.”
Another body. Maggie felt as if she was choking.
“Oh?” she murmured.
“Another hooker. Pretty girl, the newscaster was saying. Had a little boy. What a shame, huh? We really need to stick together. We can’t be letting you wander around alone, no matter what’s going on in your love life.”
“And this girl was ... mutilated?” Maggie asked.
“They’re not saying a lot, just warning single women to be very careful and not go anywhere alone.”
“Well, I won’t go to dinner with you if you don’t let me leave.”
“We’re going to be with two cops,” Cissy said. “We’ll have dinner and see Maggie home.”
“I’ll just stay in the city tonight. You can walk me right back here, how’s that?” Cissy and Angie looked at each other and shrugged.
“Sure,” Angie agreed.
It was true. Though they tried to be decent dates, both Mike the Adonis and Jack the charmer were down. The body had actually been found yesterday, but they’d kept it out of the news until the evening, trying to ascertain an identity on this one in order to notify next of kin before getting involved with the barrage the press was sure to put on them as soon as the news was out.
Angie reminded the two of them that although they were cops, they couldn’t expect to cure all the ills in the world. Mike agreed, but said, “It’s just this case. It’s just so damn bad.”
“All killings are bad,” Maggie reminded him.
“Yeah. You’re right. It’s just Sean is getting heat on this one. It’s tearing him up. We’ve got something of a break on the case, though.”
“Oh?” Maggie asked.
“Well, we’re not supposed to say too much. But we may have something of a description of the killer.
That’s going to help a hell of a lot. It may actually be the break we need.”
“A description?” Maggie murmured.
“Hey, Maggie, sorry, we really can’t say more, you know?” Jack said.
“I know. It’s all right,” she told him.
When they finished eating, they all walked back to the shop.
“Go on up and lock yourself in,” Jack told her gruffly.
“I will. Thanks, guys. Good night.”
She entered the building, and knew they were waiting to hear her twist the bolts. Dutifully, she did so.
Then she leaned against the ground floor door to the upstairs offices. She bit into her lower lip, and thought again that missing Sean, even if they’d really only had one night, was like missing a limb. And she was scared. Unnerved.
She suddenly ran upstairs, determined to act, and drew out her phone book, looking up street addresses. Then she hurried back downstairs, and let herself out of the building.
The night was dark. The full moon had waned.
She started walking down the street quickly, searching out faces as she went.
He was dreaming, and he knew he was dreaming, but it was damned real. He tried to fight it; to wake up.
He was riding a horse. A handsome gray gelding that moved with the speed of lightning.
All around him, he could hear the thunder of hoofbeats. He rode hard, knowing that everything hinged on his ability to find and defeat his enemy. He felt the horse, felt the heat of the day, felt sweat trickling down his neck. He was wearing wool, and the sun was merciless.
Then he heard himself. He was hurtling out some kind of loud, shrill yell, a sound that was fierce and savage, and startled him so badly that...
He woke up, fighting left-over vestiges of the dream. Oh, wow. He’d just been riding. He hadn’t known where he was going, only that he was searching for an enemy.
Great. Maybe he could go galloping through the streets of New Orleans and catch the killer.
He stretched, aware that he had dozed off on the sofa, staring at his television screen. He should have been dreaming about murder victims. Thankfully, however, the news about the latest find had been carefully doled out to the press, and by some miracle, the newscasters were being responsible and panic might be kept down to a minimum.
At the moment, though, it was two prostitutes and a pimp who had been killed. The moral majority liked to believe that such a killer would never be a threat to decent people. Maybe that was helping to keep the panic down, to keep much of the city halfway sane. Then again, New Orleans was a city fond of sin, the forgivable kind of sin. And God knew, soon enough, the populace would see the victims as humans, and not as sinners. Soon enough, the entire city would be up in arms.
He tensed, stretching, reminding himself that he just might have a chance at the killer now. He had an artist’s rendering of the man’s face, and he had Mamie back at work, waiting, watching.
He rose, walked into the kitchen, and got himself a bottle of beer. He looked around, feeling bleary-eyed.
Sean owned the hundred-and-fifty-year-old building he lived in on Conte Street in the heart of the city. It was in good repair, not so much because he was able to put any time or effort into it, but because he rented the ground floor to a friend of his sister’s who ran one of the finest Cajun restaurants in the city.
Grateful to Sean who had given her six months free rent when she started her business, Danielle Bonet now made sure that the place was painted, reroofed, and repaired at the slightest hint of trouble. She also sent her own cleaning woman in twice a week, sent up delectable things to eat, and saw to it that his shutters, drapes, and upholstery were kept in good form. Due to her, his living quarters in the city were consistently pleasant, and home was a haven from the office and the world.
He lifted his beer bottle. “To you, Danielle. Thanks.”
He chugged down a few long swallows of beer, feeling restless. There were things he could do. He’d already been to the hotel room where the most recent victim had been killed. It had appeared spotless.
Evidence experts had, however, lifted numerous prints, and they were sifting through them.
They’d also found minute quantities of blood, and a veritable rain of semen. Still, it was difficult to imagine that such a violent murder could have occurred there, and been cleaned up so well.
There were other things he could do. He could go hang out at Mamie’s bar, watch, and wait. He could interview more employees at the hotel. But he had felt that he was spinning wheels, that he was exhausted, that he needed a night’s rest.
Now, he was wishing he was at a bar.
He was startled when his bell rang. In a lousy mood for company, he answered the door as he was—shirtless, barefoot, his beer bottle in his hand, his hair in disarray, the first two buttons on his button-fly jeans unbuttoned.
He was absolutely amazed to throw the door open and find Maggie Montgomery standing at his doorway.
His brow arched.
“I ... just came by to say that I’m sorry.”
He didn’t open the door for her to come in. He felt very wary. Still hurt.
“I heard about the third victim. I’m so sorry.”
“Did you do it?”
“Did you do it?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then why are you sorry?”
She threw up her hands, apparently at a loss. It looked as if she was about to turn away. “I’m sorry for the human loss, and I’m sorry that it makes life even harder for you.” She looked like a million bucks. She was in white tonight, a sleeveless white dress that showed off her perfect tan and her long legs. Her hair was like dark fire against it. She smelled delicious. She started to turn.
She was going to walk away.
“Why are you really here?” he demanded curtly.
She spun back around.
“Why are you really here?”
“How nice, how pleasant Why not, ‘Please come in, can I get you some wine, a bottle of beer, how have you been—’ ”
“No niceties—I wouldn’t want to get too involved,” he told her dryly. “You asked me to leave your house, remember? So, what are you doing here?”
“If you’re going to be rude and unobliging—”
“I never said I’d be unobliging. I just want it up front, out loud. What are you doing here?” She hesitated, then it seemed that she saw no other choice than to be as blunt and callous as he.
“Well, frankly, the sex. It was really great. But if you’re busy ... or happy with your beer bottle, I can always come back at a better time.”
“There’s no time like the present,” he told her. Then he reached out, and pulled her into the apartment.
He fumbled for the hall table so that he could set down his beer bottle. Then he dragged her into his arms.