“Twice it seems there was not the blood on the victims where it should have been. And all the medical experts agree that the victims were most probably partially strangled before death at least, and that the blood soaked backward and did not spray.”
“Peter, you can’t really believe this! Why should you suddenly slay prostitutes?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know!” he moaned, and he suddenly stopped, and leaned against the building they were passing, slumping to the ground. He pressed his skull between his hands.
“Megan, I last awoke with a bloodied knife by my side. And blood on my cloak. I panicked, and washed in a butcher’s yard, and left the knife atop his work aprons. If that man should become suspect—”
“I’ve heard nothing, Peter. But you are not doing this. I promise you.” He shook his head. “What if I am losing my mind? What if I have looked at those poor, rotten-toothed, drink-laden old hags so long that I can’t bear it anymore and feel that they must be better off dead?”
“Oh, Peter! If you thought them better off dead, you’d shoot them in the heart and be done with it. And you ‘re far too moral to consider yourself the judge of who should live and who should die to begin with. And if you ever lost your mind and started killing prostitutes, you ’d not be ripping them up in such a macabre and ghastly manner! Please, Peter, this is insanity.”
“Megan, I’m scared.”
“Peter— rumors abound, I do assure you. Everyone is accused, from immigrants to midwives to royalty. The police can’t give the newspapers too much information or they’ll have nothing to work with, and so the press takes what it can and invents the rest from speculation among frightened women in the public houses. You listen to me, Peter. You’re a good doctor— and a good man. You are not a killer. That is fact!”
He nodded after a moment. “But what is happening to me? What is happening?” She smiled at him. “I guess we’ll have to consult another physician!” she told him, smiling. And he smiled as well at last.
She helped him up. She was suddenly determined that she had to keep going to the East End. At first, it had been to help the women.
Now she was determined to catch a killer. She loved both Peter and Laura. She couldn‘t bear to see them hurt. And with Peter’s desperate confession, she had realized that she just might be the only female in the East End with the power to catch the killer.
Mamie bustled over with the appetizer herself. Sean arched a brow as she set the plate on the table, sliding beside him at the booth as she made a presentation.
“Honey, there you have some of the finest steamed crawfish in all Louisiana. Escargot in butter and wine sauce, the little fried triangles there are the alligator tail, umm, let’s see, shrimp, onion strings, and Cajun potato poppers. Guaranteed to make you need another beer,” she said with a wink.
“Ah ... looks great,” Sean said.
“Where are your friends?”
“Rest rooms. Have you seen our fellow? I’ve seen a few guys in nice suits around. Slim, dark.” Mamie shook her head. “He isn’t here. And I have the oddest feeling that I’d know, that I’d feel him watching me if he were to show ... rest assured, Lieutenant. I do intend to help you get this guy.”
“Good. Thanks, Mamie. You know, we ran the sketch in the paper. Hopefully, it will keep women away from the bastard.”
“Whores, you mean,” Mamie said lightly.
“Women. And men, for that matter. Victim number two was a—”
“I was going to say man.”
“He was a pimp,” Mamie said matter-of-factly.
Sean shrugged. “All right. He was a real son-of-a-bitch, and maybe he deserved to die.” Mamie smiled. “I like you, Lieutenant, you know that?”
“In fact,” she said, lowering her voice, “I’m concerned about you.” He arched a brow.
“This is New Orleans.” Mamie said it the native way. It flowed off her tongue. Naw-leans.
He smiled, thinking of the conversation he’d had with Maggie that day. They were all getting spooked. It did seem a bit more natural that a woman like Mamie would be more attuned to occultism than Maggie.
“Honey, whether you like it or not, there is good air—and bad. The world is filled with all kinds of vibes, and it don’t matter if you’re white, black, French, English, or anything in between. There’s bad in this city right now. And I’m worried about you.”
“Mamie—I’m a cop. I carry a gun. I look after myself.”
“And you’re not stupid, and you’re no fool. But I want you to go see a woman named Marie Lescarre,” Mamie told him very seriously.
“Why?” he asked, a half-smile curving into his lips.
“Because she’s got the vision.”
“She’s a voodoo and she’s going to want to milk me for a bunch of money?” Mamie sat back, shaking her head sadly. “Boy, you need some help, and it’s simply beyond me to give it. Take your girlfriend.”
“Maggie?” he said, surprised. His eyes narrowed and he was startled to hear how defensive his voice sounded. “Excuse me, you’re saying there’s something bad about Maggie?”
“Oh, no! Why, she is one beautiful woman with a gentle voice and way, either despite her self-confidence or because of it.”
“Don’t go getting mad. I repeat, I’m not saying that the girl is evil or anything of the like. In fact, honey, she seems to have some kind of a good aura circling round her pretty little head. But something’s not right, and that I can tell you.”
“Mamie, you were the one who gave me my lead, my best clue yet. You saw a flesh and blood man, so we both know that at the very least. There’s a bad man out there, an evil man, if you will. And that’s who we’re after.”
“You should still see Marie Lescarre.” Mamie was suddenly talking fast, and he could see that Jack was returning at last. Apparently, Mamie didn’t want Jack hearing. “You can find her at Jackson Square most of the time right at dusk, selling her ‘oils.’ She’s got a license—she’s all legal. I’m not looking for police favors for anyone here, I just think you should see her!”
Mamie turned just as Jack arrived, offering him a big smile. “Sugar, you sit down and start eating! I’ll see that your waiter brings you more wine and beer.”
Mamie slipped away. Jack sat down, stuffing an alligator tail into his mouth as he did so. “Two things,” he muttered around the food, then chewed, looking at Sean unhappily.
Jack winced slightly. “Rutger’s out already.”
“What?” Sean snapped, leaning forward.
“His lawyer pitched such a fit, promised to sue the department, civil rights, the whole nine yards. But don’t worry— we’ve got armed protection on the girl.”
Sean stared at him, leaning back. “How the hell did we manage that at this time? I’d have thought we’d get a no on that with what’s going on in the city. How can the department afford more overtime?”
“Off-duty guys doing it for free,” Jack said, smiling. “You never know, huh?”
“I think I’ll still take a side trip by the hospital on the way home.” Jack nodded. “Sure.”
“You said two things.”
“Oh, yeah ...”
“What about Maggie?”
“I don’t know. You might want to caution her to be careful, huh?”
“Why? What’s going on?” Sean asked, frowning.
Jack shrugged. “Well, she seemed to be scouting the place out herself, looking for this guy.”
“What do you mean? She was on her way to the rest room.”
“Yeah, well, she was walking in that general direction. But she didn’t see me on the phone. And she was looking. Looking hard. You’ve got to emphasize to her that this guy is dangerous.” Sean sipped his beer. “Yeah. Yeah, I will.”
Maggie returned and sat down next to him. His head was suddenly pounding as he looked at her. She smiled at him. Angelically.
“See anything?” he asked her.
She frowned, beautiful eyes grave. “Like ...?”
“It seemed you were looking around,” he said, taking care not to say that Jack was the one who had been noting her movements.
“Oh ... well, naturally, I was looking for the man your artists sketched.” Naturally. Was he being ridiculously sensitive to every movement, every look ...
He felt uneasy, spooked.
Mamie had said that Maggie had an aura.
Since when had he listened to voodoo mumbo jumbo?
Blood drops had led to her doorway ...
“Maggie, when we’re through here, we’re going to stop by the hospital, do you mind?”
“Something else happened to Callie?”
“No, but Rutger’s out,” Sean said.
“Rutger’s out?” she repeated.
Jack laid a hand on hers. “Some off-duty guys are watching over her. She’ll be all right.”
“It’s just infuriating that—” She broke off, shaking her head. “What am I saying? You guys put your lives on the line, and then ...”
“The bad guys walk,” Sean said. “Sometimes it stinks. But I still believe in the law.” He sipped his beer, staring at Maggie. “Don’t you?”
She smiled. “Most of the time.”
“We’ve got this great appetizer tray and now everyone is depressed,” Jack said. “Alligator tail?” he offered Maggie.
“Don’t mind if I do,” she said.