No, maybe not. The guy with her had been wearing a somber black suit.
Funeral, he realized suddenly.
He shook his head, stopped in the street. From the corner to his right, a rock band hammered out a Stones tune. From the other corner, he could hear jazz. Somewhere down the street, a blues guitar was belting out an indiscernible tune.
He swore softly.
Hell, welcome home.
Oh, yeah. It was just great to be here.
"You're going off the deep end, Nikki," Julian said. "That was just great. Throwing yourself into a group of drunks. What were you expecting? And don't even think about giving me a lecture on how no one deserves to be attacked. You went flying into a sludge of inebriated testosterone in its sweet young prime, so what were you expecting?"
"I saw him!" she said, finding the catch on the gate and pushing it open herself. Julian's words made her feel guilty—he was a good friend, and he would have defended her to the death, which, considering the drunken mood of the rowdy gang, just might have been the sad finale if it hadn't been for their strange savior—but he couldn't begin to understand how she was feeling. "Julian, I'm sorry, but… I saw him," she repeated.
"Yeah, and I saw him, too, whoever the hell he was, and I have to admit, it was a damn good thing he showed up when he did. I'm not much brighter than you are, apparently, since I got it into my head to defend you from a pack of wolves."
She waved a hand in the air. "Not him," she said, though the "him" to whom Julian was referring had been almost as disturbing as the man she had first seen. "Not… not the guy who came along and broke the whole thing up. I mean, I saw the man who was in the coffee shop that day. The day before Andy was killed."
"Okay, okay, so you saw him," Julian said, hurrying behind her to the door. "Some bum who was in the coffee shop. You saw him. Great. But… so what? Nikki, I'm sorry to say that we have tons of drunks and addicts in this city. You saw a loser in a coffee shop, and tonight you saw him again. Hell, I run into the same people I don't really know day after day. And as to this guy—you can't really think that he followed you all day, through a tour, into the night… and then went after Andy?"
She had reached her door and was suddenly so irritated that she nearly twisted her key in half unlocking the door. Before letting Julian in, she spun on him. "You don't understand. Julian, Andy said something about him."
"When? At Madame's?" he demanded. "Was he someone she knew? What exactly did she say?"
Fiercely, she shook her head. "She didn't know him, or at least I don't think she did. And she didn't say anything about him in the café. It was… in the dream. Julian, she said something about him being dead. And I… I think it's important somehow."
He stared at her wide-eyed for a moment, then caught her by the shoulders and pushed her forward, into the parlor of her apartment. Once they were inside, he closed and locked the door, then looked at her sternly. "Nikki, you had a dream. A nightmare. Weird? Yes. The mind plays tricks, but I think you're just feeling guilty about the fact that Andrea was murdered. People do feel that way—why her, why not me? Nikki, what happened was terrible, tragic things happen on a daily basis. It's just that usually bad things don't occur so close to us. So think about it—under these circumstances, it's a very normal thing that your mind might play tricks. People don't remember their dreams in detail, so you don't really know what you dreamed. Listen to yourself. You're telling me that Andy said the guy was dead, but now you're certain you saw him on the street. It's one or the other, Nikki. You've got to get a grip."
"Julian, what if—"
"I know a doctor, Nikki. A good one."
She stared back at him, her mouth open, no sound coming out. At last she found her voice. "I don't need a doctor, Julian. I need some faith here."
"Nikki, I'm sorry, but… " He stopped with a sigh, then walked into the living room, hit the light switch and sat down on the Victorian sofa. "Okay, you really believe that you had a dream, and Andy was in it—right when she was dying."
"Or being killed."
Julian sighed. "Or being killed. She was talking about the guy you'd seen at Madame's. Now, tonight, you saw the guy. What you need to do, logically, is go to the police. I think you'll feel better if you stress to Detective Massey the fact that you've seen this guy, this kind of scary bum or junkie, on the street again. Massey can hunt him down and question him."
She had been standing angrily, her arms crossed over her chest, frowning. But his words made sense.
"Well?" he demanded.
"All right. I'll go see Detective Massey. I think I can describe the man fairly well. Maybe they can do a sketch of him. And if they find him and question him… well, I'll feel better."
She was startled to realize that Julian was frowning.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head, stared at her. "Nikki… say that the guy in the coffee shop was a junkie. Hard up. And maybe a psycho to boot. And… what if he did follow us around all day?"
"What are you getting at?"
"Nothing," he replied quickly.
"What do you mean, nothing?" she demanded. "Dammit, Julian, I know you. Tell me what you were going to say."
"I'll only worry you."
"I'm worried now."
Still, Julian hesitated. She didn't intend to let him off the hook. "Julian, what?"
He sighed. "All right, you saw this guy… and who knows, maybe he did know Andy from before."
"No, she didn't recognize him."
"She didn't admit that she recognized him."
"No, I really don't think she recognized him."
"But he might have recognized her."
"You mean… from sometime before in her life?"
"Or even from the flyers."
"You mean, the business flyers we hand out?"
He nodded. "The minute you saw Andy, you called Max about using her for a new flyer, remember?"
"I'm at fault in this somehow," Nikki whispered, sinking down on the sofa beside him.
"Don't be ridiculous," Julian said firmly. "Only the killer is at fault. What I'm saying is… well, we might have a psychotic who had a thing for Andy and had been watching her. Or knew about her past. And maybe he knows that you're suspicious and won't stop hunting. And if so… well, you could be in danger, too."
She glared at him, feeling as if her flesh were beginning to crawl.
"I told you, I didn't want to worry you. And it's not like you were ever a junkie, but still, you should be careful."
She groaned, leaning back. Then she jumped up and ran around the house, checking every window to see that it was latched, and making doubly certain that the glass doors that led to the balcony from her bedroom were secured.
Julian followed her, double-checking everything.
They met in the living room and stared at one another.
"I told you I shouldn't have said anything," he told her.
"No… no, it's good to be careful," she said.
"I'm really sorry, Nikki," Julian said, running his fingers through his hair. "Most likely what happened to Andy was… random. I mean, seriously, think about it. All that's happened is that you saw a guy the day before she died, and you've seen him again. That doesn't mean anything at all. The police will probably just humor us when we go in—I mean, it's so far from any concrete evidence that anyone could base anything on. You'd have to suspect just about everyone in the city."
Nikki nodded. "Right." But she didn't agree. She couldn't shake the dream. "All right, well, it seems that we're locked up tight for the night. I'm going to bed," she told him.
She leaned over and kissed his cheek, and started for the stairs.
"You want to leave the lights on down here?" Julian asked.
"Hell, yes," she told him.
Upstairs, he headed toward the guest bedroom, and she headed toward her own. She paused at the door. "Hey, Julian."
"Thanks for staying."
"Not a problem," he assured her.
In her room, Nikki quickly changed for bed. No sooner was she under the covers, with the light out, than she jumped up and turned it back on. She was angry with herself, and maybe even a little angry with Julian. The first nights after Andy's death, he'd stayed with her. But she hadn't been afraid.
She hadn't thought that she might be stalked.
She turned the television on. The first show that popped up was about forensic files. She switched stations. The next show was about cold cases that investigators were going back into.
She tried the news, but it was no better. There was a local politician on, the man with the improbable name of Billy Banks, and he was crusading against violent crime in New Orleans, swearing that he would clean it up. He was young, in his early thirties, with the kind of personal charisma a politician prayed for. He talked about cleaning up the image of New Orleans, making it a better destination for families. The man had something, Nikki thought. Not the kind of self-righteousness that people would find offensive, but a determination to make the city better. He might well win the election, she thought; he seemed to have what it would take to breathe excitement into city government. He was a good speaker, and Nikki found herself intrigued by his speech. But then he went on to say that if he were elected, he would see to it that drugs were taken off their local streets, and then they wouldn't have tragic deaths, like that of the young woman Andrea Ciello.
Nikki hit the button on the remote and changed the channel.
The next channel she came to was playing a biography of Ted Bundy.
She swore, and at last found a kids' channel that ran old sitcoms at night.