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So she walked into the bar with Julian and Max, who said simply, "Interesting guy," as they were led to a table.

"Yeah, very interesting," Julian agreed. "I didn't trust him at first." He was watching Nikki as he spoke. "But my judgment about people doesn't seem to be great."

"Nikki, where does this guy come from?" Max asked after he'd ordered a dirty martini.

She opted for a beer, wondering if she was going to be paranoid the rest of her life. Before she could answer him, she found herself looking around the bar. But she didn't see anyone who looked suspicious, or even anyone she knew.

"New Orleans."

"Really?" Max said. "I'm sure I've never seen him before."

"I'm sure there are a lot of people here who never cross our paths," Nikki said. "And he hasn't lived here, not for a while."

"So he just kind of appeared at the right time, huh?" Max asked.

Julian started to speak. Not at all sure why, Nikki kicked him. He managed to keep quiet, but he shot her a look that said it was time she saw the psychiatrist again.

"He definitely appeared at the right time," Nikki said.

Julian added, "I'll tell you this, Max, he knows his stuff."

"So, Max, tell us more about the shrimpers," Nikki said, anxious to turn the conversation in some other direction.

Max warmed to his cause so much so that Nikki found herself drawn in, despite the fact that she'd expected to be unable to think of anything but the coming night. As she listened, though, she found herself growing indignant for the people who worked so hard, and decided that from now on she would eat only home-caught shrimp.

Even so, at the back of her mind raced a single question.

Where had Brent gone now?

And why?

At his bed-and-breakfast, Brent put through a call to Adam.

He would never know how the man managed to do it, but within twenty minutes he was able to report that Haggerty was a bona fide agent, and yes, he was known for being a loner.

Adam also managed to access the recent expenditures of Max Dupuis.

Brent ran over his expenses during the last two weeks.

There hadn't been a single charge made in the parish of New Orleans for over two weeks. He moved on, pulling up the dossiers that Adam had managed to acquire on Julian and the others. There wasn't a criminal record in the lot.

Well, except for Andrea Ciello. She had been busted and jailed several times. But she had cleaned up and made it through school. And there hadn't been a mark on her record in several years. She had attended rehab, and since then, she'd been clean.

He'd expected nothing else.

Studying everything that he had, albeit quickly, he couldn't find anything to suggest that any of Andy's close circle might have gotten involved in a major drug operation.

Julian and Nikki had indeed attended the same schools; Julian had been a year ahead of her. He'd been a theater major, an honor student. He'd done his share of work as a bartender, spent a few months in Europe, and he had performed a one-man show at a small local theater before working with the tour group.

Nothing there.

He stared at everything, shook his head and called Adam back. "Get me what you can on the two cops, Marc Joulette and Owen Massey. Oh… and anything more you can find out about the FBI agent, Haggerty. And a café, a place called Madame D'Orso's. Check out the woman who owns it, while you're at it." He thought quickly, then asked for whatever Adam could get on the voodoo shop that Nikki liked. "Contessa Moodoo's Hoodoo Voodoo."

"I can get you some records pretty quickly. Getting anything deeper on the cops and especially the fed may take a little longer."

"Do what you can," Brent said, and thanked him.

A few minutes later he was studying the newest records Adam sent, but, as Adam had warned him, there wasn't much there. Brent looked at the grainy images of the men as they appeared on his screen. In a hundred years, he would never have recognized Massey in me youthful picture he had. Joulette's image was pretty good; Haggerty must have had a hair-and-makeup artist for his official picture.

Madame D'Orso, nee Debra Smith, had come from the North about fifteen years ago. She'd gotten financing through a local bank, and was apparently paying back her loan in a timely manner.

The voodoo shop had previously been a toy store. Before she took over the location, Contessa had operated in downtown New Orleans. Having become extremely successful, she had moved to her present location, with its high overhead, nearly four years ago.

Frustrated, he logged off. He strapped on his ankle holster and snub-nosed Smith & Wesson, grabbed the packet he had acquired on Archibald McManus and hurried out.

He had to pass Marie's hotel, so he figured he would just leave the material with the concierge. But Marie exited the elevator just as he was approaching the desk. She came running toward him, took the packet and thanked him profusely.

"You're doing all right?" he asked her.

She was still bruised, but she flushed and smiled. "I'm fine. I was lucky, and you know what else?"


"I think there are ghosts."


"I think the ghost of that old slave may have saved me, and I'm going to try to do something for him."

"Marie, he's dead. He's been dead for over a hundred years. Don't go near that cemetery."

She laughed. "I know, but I'm still going to find something to do for him. And when I have it figured out, I'll call you first." She hesitated. "You know, there's something bad going on in that area."

"Don't go back at night. In fact, don't go back at all without a ranger or a group."

"I won't. I swear."

He wished Nikki would be as careful, but in a way, he understood. There was no way he would refuse to fight back if he knew that someone was after him.

He glanced at his watch and hurried on.

On a sidewalk just a few blocks away, he waited in the shadows. In time he saw Patricia and Nathan leaving her apartment, heading for Madame's. He followed them, keeping a discreet distance, doing his best to listen in on their conversation.

It was casual. Patricia said that she wanted to lead the tour that night, and Nathan said she was more than welcome to, because he was exhausted.

When Patricia went into Madame's for coffee, Brent slid into the chair opposite Nathan.

Startled, Nathan began to greet him, then went silent when he saw the look in Brent's eyes.

"I'm running out of time," Brent said flatly.

"Excuse me?"

"I've seen you at night," Brent lied. "But I haven't quite figured out where you've been going."

Nathan immediately flushed a deep red. "I—I don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"It won't take Patricia long to buy coffee. And I'll be happy to ask the question with her here."

Nathan stared at him, his color deepening even further. Finally he leaned closer over the table. "If you're suggesting that I would have hurt Andy in any way, that I would deal in drugs—"

"I'm not suggesting anything. I want the truth. And I hope it's something you can prove."

Brent glanced toward the windows. He could see Patricia at the counter. Madame wasn't there; a pretty young girl was taking Patricia's money.

"Ticktock, she'll be here any second."

Patricia had paid. She was heading toward the door.

"Good God, yes, it was another woman," Nathan blurted quickly. "But it's over. Really over. Please… I don't know what I was doing. I'd rushed into this living-together thing, and I was feeling trapped and—"

"Not good enough," Brent said.

"I met her at the bar," Nathan said, looking over Brent's shoulder. "Her name is Varina White. She's from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and she's gone, but I have a phone number. For the love of God—"

"If I find out you're lying… " Brent said softly, letting the threat hang unspoken in the air, then he jumped up. "Patricia," he said, and pulled out a chair.

"Brent, I didn't know you were here. I would have gotten you a coffee."

"It's all right. I just saw Nathan and thought I'd say hi. I've got to get going. Hey, I didn't even tell Nathan yet. Max is back. Got to meet him today."

"Cool," Patricia said, looking slightly anxious.

"Strange guy, huh?" Brent said.

"Strange, definitely. But he's a good guy. Into different causes all the time," Nathan said. He looked shaky as he poured sugar into his coffee.

"Sure you won't join us?" Patricia asked.

"No, I'll leave you two lovebirds alone. Stick close, okay?" he said. "After what happened to Nikki… "

"I intend to stick to Nathan like glue," she said.

"Good thing. See ya."

He turned and walked away. He'd learned to be a pretty good judge of character. He would bet his life that Nathan had been telling him the truth, but at the same time, he was wondering how he had managed to bully the man into doing it quite so easily.

He glanced at his watch. It was growing late. There was nothing more he could do this evening.

Swearing, he hurried toward Nikki's.

"Well, kids, stuff to do," Max said, yawning. "And sleep. I haven't done much of that lately." He turned serious suddenly, looking at Nikki. "Thanks. And I'm sorry. I guess I've dumped a lot on you lately. And I should have come back for the funeral. I'm more selfish than I knew. You've been great, keeping everything going for me."

Nikki shrugged. "Hey, you always said that you were the moneyman, that you believed in delegation."

"You should make her a partner in the business," Julian said.

Max frowned. "Hey, I just bought you drinks and a session at the raw bar," he protested. He kissed Nikki on the cheek. "Okay, major meeting tomorrow, for real," he said, looking at Julian. "I'm going to actually do some work myself. I promise," he said.