"I am doing the same," Haggerty said stiffly.
"Yeah, and I'm sure every low-down dirty drug dealer is going to be ready to talk his head off when you walk in, looking like a Hollywood G-man," Joulette said.
"You think I don't know my stuff?" Haggerty said, leaning on the desk.
"I think we all have squat so far," Joulette said, disgusted.
Haggerty was stiff as a board. He straightened again, then stared at Brent, eyes filled with suspicion.
"And you—if you get anything, anything at all, if you stumble on the smallest clue… " he said, pointing a warning finger at Brent. "I'd better hear it first thing. And if you're all so busy pounding the streets, what the hell are you doing in here?"
Joulette stood then, too. "Working something else—NOPD business, and nothing to do with your jurisdiction," he said. "Blackhawk, I'll get you those files you want."
Haggerty was frowning. "It was my understanding that Blackhawk was here on specific business," he said, his tone a warning one.
"Yeah?" Massey said. "Well, it's my understanding, straight from my lieutenant's lips to my ears, that Blackhawk is here under the highest authority, and that I'm to be as accommodating as I can be."
Haggerty leaned on Massey's desk, inhaled slowly, then exhaled. "Look, all of you. I know I'm coming on as a tight ass, but we lost one of our own. You're cops—surely you can understand how we feel about that."
"You know, Haggerty, we consider any law enforcement officer who's lost as one of our own," Massey said. "And we know our jobs. If we get anything, anything at all, we'll give it to you."
Haggerty straightened again. "All right, just as long as you remember that." He managed a very stiff "Thanks." Then, "Blackhawk, glad to meet you."
He turned to leave.
"Well, looks as if he's trying not to be a complete ass," Brent said when Haggerty was out of earshot.
"Yeah, well," Joulette said, coming back in time to hear Brent's words, "he's a little too late. He thinks we're both a pair of country bumpkins who don't know our butts from a hole in the ground."
"Maybe he was friends with the murdered agent. That's hard to swallow. Pain can make people behave badly," Brent said.
"I don't think they ever met," Joulette said.
"Still… " Brent said with a shrug, trying to be diplomatic.
Massey laughed. "There's just something about the man… oh, well. You can take the Ciello files to the conference room over there."
"Thanks," Brent said, and added no more. He knew that he had been let into the inner circle not so much because these guys had begun to accept him or even like him, but because they really hated the fed who'd been thrust upon them.
It didn't really matter. He had gotten what he wanted.
As he sat in the dingy conference room and opened the first file, he knew he had also managed to get what he needed.
"So," Patricia said, sipping a café au lait and staring hard at Nikki, "Nathan and I are doing the St. Louis cemeteries tomorrow afternoon."
"Yes, just like you always do on a Friday afternoon," Nikki said, not understanding why her friend was staring at her. They were all staring at her, come to think of it.
"Okay, what is it?" she asked.
Patricia looked at Nathan, who looked at Mitch, who in turn looked at Julian.
"What?" Nikki demanded.
"We… well, if Nathan and I take the cemetery tour, that means you and either Mitch or Julian will get the Garden District."
"Right… so?" Nikki said.
Patricia looked at her with tremendous empathy. The two of them both knew the parish of New Orleans well. They had grown up in the same basic area, but were from such different backgrounds. Patricia had gone away to school in Virginia and learned to speak without any accent whatsoever.
When she wanted to, though, she could slip back into the Cajun patois. She had come from a family of shrimpers, honest, hardworking people who often had the whole group out to the bayou for some of the best meals ever.
Just as she had felt an immediate bond with Andy Ciello, Nikki had known from the minute she met Patricia that she really liked her. She had a wonderful sense of life and fun, and a passion for her heritage. They liked to shop together, and they were both bookstore fanatics who loved to find out-of-print volumes and triumphantly share their treasures with one another.
But now Patricia was looking at Nikki as if she were an elderly relative beginning to suffer from dementia.
"Nikki," Patricia said kindly, "we don't think you should be conducting tours of the Garden District."
Nikki groaned. "I have been doing tours of the Garden District since I began working for Max."
Mitch cleared his throat, running his fingers through his hair. "Um, you hadn't lost Andy when you began. We're thinking that now—it might be hard for you."
"I didn't lose Andy!" she said, angry. She groaned inwardly at the idea that she'd misplaced a friend. She shot an accusatory stare, at Julian, who stared back blankly. "What the hell have you been saying to them?"
"Me? Nothing," he vowed, almost tipping his chair over. He must have known he looked guilty as hell. "Really."
"Madame mentioned that you were seeing ghosts," Nathan said softly.
"Well, I'm not. It's just nightmares. A natural response to trauma. And I'm just fine in the Garden District. Everybody got that? Any other order of business?"
"Just one thing," Patricia said, still sounding uncomfortable and looking at her cup of café au lait as if she wished it were strongly laced with liquor.
"What?" Nikki said, knowing she sounded terse and probably bitchy.
Patricia stared at her. "A replacement for Andy."
Nikki felt as if an icy fluid had been shot through her veins. She didn't allow her face so much as a ripple of emotion.
"Yeah, of course. I wish that Max was here, since he's supposed to approve his own employees."
"He makes you interview and hire, anyway," Julian reminded her.
She shrugged. "Still, I wish he was here."
"Why should he bother? You do everything for him," Patricia said.
"Don't worry. I'll compose a new ad and start interviewing ASAP. Does that work for everyone?"
They all looked at one another. Nathan was the first to offer a forced smile. The rest imitated it.
"Yeah, sure. Great," Patricia said. She set her cup down, giving up. "Well. I guess we're out of here, then."
"Now we come to a place where reality definitely outweighs the horrors of fiction," Nikki announced, turning to face her group as she reached Royal Street. She had a nice group tonight. No children under thirteen, a lot of couples and one girl, obviously a college student, with her glasses perched on her nose, notebook in hand. Since she was leading the tour, Julian had done the business bit, greeting the arrivals as they appeared, collecting their money and handing out tickets. She was pretty sure she had about forty people surrounding her. She preferred smaller groups of about thirty, but this size was manageable. Sometimes, in the height of tourist season, they wound up with huge crowds, and the simple logistics of speaking to that many people—getting them across streets and out of the way of traffic—were not easy. But she, along with every member of the business, had the ability to project her voice to a crowd, so she seldom had to repeat information, unless they had a wanderer who hadn't quite kept up. But that was the responsibility of the tail man—or woman—on the tour, making sure that the group was herded along like a little gaggle of geese.
"Cool house," a young man muttered, studying the building behind her and grinning.
"We've come to 1140 Royal Street, more commonly known as the Lalaurie House. It was in 1831 that Madame Delphine Lalaurie and her husband, Dr. Louis Lalaurie, bought the house from Edmond Soniat du Fossat. Reputedly, Madame Lalaurie was a great beauty, and a woman who was determined to rise high in the social spheres of New Orleans. She did so by dressing elegantly, attending party after ball after party, and gaining admiration for her grace and elegance as she moved among the elite."
People had scattered around a little on the sidewalk, looking up at the house as she spoke. The sound of a cool blue jazz tune came faintly from one of the clubs around the corner. Locals had a tendency to steer around the tour groups, and despite the occasional drunk who wandered past, the speeches usually went smoothly.
"By 1833, the admiration many felt for the beautiful Madame Lalaurie was turning to something else. Suspicion. There were rumors about screams and horrible happenings that first began to seep through the city, then rush like a current. Madame Lalaurie was married to a physician, a man fascinated by anatomy and the endurance of the human body. And then a terrible cruelty was actually witnessed. Madame Lalaurie was seen beating the child of one of her slaves. The tormented child ran away from her persecutor, headed for the balcony and was chased—until she fell. The girl died instantly."
"Was Madame Lalaurie arrested?" somebody asked.
"Well, those were different times," Nikki said softly, yet allowing her voice to carry. She loved questions. They added to the drama of any pregnant pause. "Madame Lalaurie was fined, and her slaves were taken away to be sold at auction."
"Thank heavens," a woman said.
Nikki smiled. "If only such measures had really been effective. You see, Madame Lalaurie wanted those slaves back. She led her relatives to believe that she had been poorly treated by the authorities, that the death of the girl had not been her fault. You've got to remember, slaves were property in those days. There were those who owned slaves and treated them well, but it was certainly not unheard of for slaves to be beaten for disobedience. At any rate, Madame Lalaurie convinced her relatives to buy her slaves and return them to her. So once again these poor people were in the clutches of a woman who appeared so beautiful and sweet in public, then returned to her home and… well, it was a fire that at last brought rescue workers into the house and into a den of horror that rivaled anything ever put down in fiction."