Page 30

"Well, not right away. But trust me. I'm going to wear you out. Then you'll sleep."

Only when he fell asleep and lay deeply, peacefully breathing beside her did she think about the fact that he'd been wearing his jeans.

And he'd left his shoes, with bits of damp dirt clinging to the soles, in the kitchen.

Had he been out?

The city was always alive somewhere.

But if he'd been out, why hadn't he mentioned it?

Nikki couldn't remember a time when she'd been out on the streets quite this late—or early. Though there was activity—music pulsing faintly from the strip joints—the relative quiet was actually kind of nice. Building facades were ever so slightly ghostly; lights created color as well as shadow. A few people were about—mostly drunks—but there was still something oddly enchanting about the darkened city.

She brought Brent to a place called Maxie's. It was near the casino, which provided a twenty-four-hour clientele.

It offered little other than sandwiches, but those were excellent. Nikki was ravenous, and still feeling a sense of exhilaration. She wondered if she looked flushed, her eyes as brilliant as diamonds. There was probably a lot of truth in the belief that sex made the entire world better.

Brent seemed pleased by the place, and at least as hungry as she was.

"You've never been here?" she asked him when they had both been served iced tea and po'boys.

He shook his head. "And see—I thought I knew the city backward and forward."

"Actually, you do. You came up with all kinds of tidbits today that I knew nothing about. Like the slave, Huey. That was certainly extraordinary, that a descendant of his old master was in the group."

Brent shrugged, looking down at his food. "Maybe not so extraordinary. McManus left three children all those years ago. By now there could be lots of descendants. And people have a tendency to want to explore their roots."

"Still, that she was in the crowd yesterday—that was pretty amazing."

He shrugged. "Interesting, certainly."

He wasn't looking at her, he realized. He was staring past her. He was seated with his back against the wall, facing the door, while she had her back to it.

"What?" she said, turning to look. "Mitch," she said in surprise.

Mitch was at the entrance, waiting to be shown to a table. He heard her and turned quickly. Seeing her and Brent, he appeared startled at first; then he smiled, and walked over to join them.

"What on earth are you doing out at this hour?" she asked him.

He brushed back a strand of tawny hair that had fallen over his forehead and pulled out the chair next to Nikki's. "I'm hungry. What are you doing here?"

"Same," Brent said.

Mitch grinned at Nikki. "But you—awake? That's amazing."

She shook her head and glanced at Brent. "I'm known as the deadbeat in the crowd. I'm not a late-night person."

"And I'm from a place in Pennsylvania where everything shuts down at ten, and I love it that any time of the day or night, there's something going on here," he said to Brent.

"Are you always such a night owl?" Brent asked him. His tone was casual, his smile open, but Nikki was certain that his interest wasn't casual at all.

"Actually, no. But that's my point. You may not want to be out at three or four in the morning all the time, but when you are awake, there's always something to do."

He twisted around, searching the restaurant as if he was looking for someone, Nikki thought.

Whether that had been the case or not, he found someone.

"Hey," he said softly. "Over there… in that back booth… isn't that the cop working Andy's case?"

Both Nikki and Brent twisted to look in the direction Mitch was indicating.

Indeed, it was Owen Massey. Head down, he looked haggard and worn as he leafed through a stack of pages.

"That's Massey all right," Nikki said.

"Well," Mitch said, glancing at his watch, "it's really late. Or early. I should get going."

"Get going?" Brent said to him, those steely green eyes sharp. "You just got here. Thought you were hungry."

"Oh, hell, yeah. I forgot to order and eat," Mitch said. He raised a hand, and their waitress came over. "I'll just have tea and that same chicken po'boy the lady is having," he said, indicating Nikki's plate.

The woman nodded and left them.

"So… how did you like your first day?" Mitch asked Brent.

"It was fun."

"It is fun, working with people," Mitch agreed. "Hey, should we go say hello to the detective, see if he's got anything new?"

"Actually, we should," Nikki agreed, looking at Brent for confirmation.

Brent lifted his hands. "Sure."

As they approached his table, Massey looked up. He quickly closed the manila file that contained whatever papers he'd been reading.

"Hi, Detective," Nikki said, smiling. "We saw you and just thought we should say hello."

Massey nodded gravely, looking at the three of them. "I saw you all come in," he said. "Didn't know if you wanted to be bothered or not. Especially by me."

Nikki was quick to speak. "Hey, you've been nothing but great to me. I know how hard you're trying. I appreciate your effort."

"Nothing new, is there?" Mitch asked.

"I'm afraid not," Massey said. "It could be a long haul," he said gently. He looked at Brent oddly, Nikki thought. Maybe, whether he believed in ghosts or not, Massey was hoping that Brent would come up with something for him.

"It's late for you to be out, isn't it?" Brent asked Massey casually.

"Couldn't sleep. I'm not due in for hours, but…"

"I couldn't sleep, either," Mitch said. "Strange night, huh?"

"Maybe there's something in the air. Saw a few more of your group in here not too long ago," Massey said.

Nikki was both startled and curious. "Who?"

"The handsome young fellow who's always hanging around with you, for one," Massey said.


"Yep. He was over in that corner." Massey pointed across the room. The opposite corner was very private. "He was with a woman so I didn't intrude."

"Who else was here?" Brent asked.

"That pseudo French woman."

He said it with the slightest indication of distaste.

"Pseudo French woman?" Mitch said, puzzled.

"Madame?" Nikki said. "She's nice, even if she's not really French," she said, laughing. "Her place is wonderful. Haven't you ever gotten anything there?"

"Her prices are a bit high, if you ask me." He pointed. "Looks like they just served more food over at your table."

"My sandwich," Mitch said.

"Well, we'll see you, Detective," Nikki said.

"Yep. You know, call me—"

"If I think of anything at all. Thanks," Nikki said.

She realized only after she followed Mitch back to their table that Brent had lingered and slid into the booth opposite Massey. The two were talking intently.

"What's that all about?" Mitch asked Nikki.

"Don't know."

"Hey, you think Julian got lucky with that girl from the cemetery today?" Mitch asked.

"Well, I guess he got lucky with someone," Nikki said.

Mitch frowned suddenly. "And you… who is this guy? You need to be careful right now, too. I mean, I'm not saying he doesn't seem decent enough, but… he looks pretty cozy over there right now, talking to Detective Massey."

"He's fine, don't worry. He's got an in with the police," Nikki assured Mitch.

"Oh yeah?" Mitch queried.

She nodded. "He does work for an agency that does some work for the police. I don't know the whole story, but he's definitely all right," she said.

"I thought he was working for us now."

"As long as he shows up for his tours, I don't care what else he does with his time."

"Hmm." Mitch chewed and studied the two men in the back booth.

"I think you guys are just worried about having another male in the mix."

"Maybe. But I think I'll just keep my eye on him anyway," Mitch said, sounding very much like an older brother.

She grinned. "Okay. You do that."

A few minutes later Brent returned to their table, offering no explanation. They lingered for a few more minutes, Mitch raising the idea that they should write a book of ghostly legends. "Everyone is doing it," he assured them.

"That's the problem, isn't it? Everyone is already doing it," Nikki told him.

He shook his head. "We would use our stories—"

"Most of the people working in New Orleans have the same stories. They're part of history, remember?" Nikki reminded him.

But Mitch shook his head. "Hey, Brent had great stories I hadn't heard before today. And besides, ours will be more dramatic and wonderful, like we are."

"Get started on it, then," Nikki told him.

"We'll have a truly unique book. We can put in our own ghosts, right?"

Put in their own ghosts. Like Andy.

Nikki stood abruptly. "It's really late," she said. "We have to get some sleep."

"We have to pay the check," Brent reminded her.

"I've got it," Mitch assured them. "Go ahead—I'll turn it in with my expenses," he told Nikki with a grin.

As Brent rose to join her, Massey was hurrying from his booth at the back. He shook his head. "Fool kids. There's been an attack over by St. Louis Number 1. Take care. Call me," he reminded them distractedly.

Outside, Nikki linked arms with Brent. "So what was that all about?"