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"You've got quite a talent there," Adam told him.

Brent shrugged. "Kids like fables from any land, about any people." He stopped walking and stared at Adam. "All right, why did you track me down?"

"I need you to go to New Orleans."

Brent groaned inwardly as a wave of dread washed over him. He avoided New Orleans like the plague. Not that he disliked the city. It was full of wonderful people, great food, incredible music.

But it was one of the places a man such as himself should never go.

"New Orleans," he muttered bitterly. He stared at Adam, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I'm supposed to be back at the Pine Ridge Reservation on Tuesday," he said.

"You're needed?" Adam said.

"Every man is needed," Brent told him.

Adam smiled, looking away from the area where the festival was taking place, out to the rich areas of saw-grass that seemed to stretch forever, though the road, the Tamiami Trail, was really within a few hundred feet.

"Your eyes are green," Adam commented, looking at him again.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Brent asked.

"Well, I just listened to you give the most marvelous speech to those children. About acceptance."


Adam smiled. "Heritage is a wonderful thing. The Irish arrived after a potato famine. Italians poured into the country in the 1920s. Cubans and South Americans and immigrants from the Caribbean all came to South Florida. You know what happens after we're all here a while? We become Americans."

Brent had to smile. "And… ?"

"My point is the one you were just making. We're all many things. You're more Irish than you are Lakota. You're just an American."


"So you should support your heritage—all of it. You teach, you counsel… and then you have your special gifts. Your mother was full-blooded Irish, you know."

"Is that a comment on my 'gift'?" Brent asked.

"It's a comment on the fact that you're a mongrel, like most people. And right now the mixed-up ail-American part of you is needed," Adam said.

"In New Orleans?"

Adam looked away for a moment. "Look, I know how you feel about New Orleans. I wouldn't ask you if I didn't believe this was important."

"It's where Tania died," Brent said quietly.

"I know. I said that I wouldn't have asked you if it weren't important."

"A lot of things are important."

"I need you, Brent."

"You have other people."

Adam hesitated. "You know I always weigh what I need to do very carefully. And in this circumstance, I need you."

"I assume you're going to explain?"

"The government lost an agent."

Brent was still puzzled, and he said softly, "I'm not without sympathy, Adam, but agents put their lives on the line. And sometimes they die."

"This agent was seen walking around—after he'd been killed," Adam said.

Brent arched a brow. "All right," he said after a moment. "I guess you're going to tell me all of it?"

"I'm going to tell you everything I know." Adam assured him solemnly.

"And I'm going to guess that I already have a plane ticket?"

"You leave tomorrow."

"The new Storyville district is a great place to visit," Nikki assured the crowd around her. "As in the past, there's music and great food, but you won't find the same… business that flourished years ago. Alderman Sydney Story knew he couldn't get rid of the oldest profession as it's been called, but he was hoping to control it. I can't imagine he was happy when the red light district he worked so hard to contain was named Storyville, after him. The district limited prostitution and, in time, other vices to the area from the south side of Customhouse Street to the north side of St. Louis Street, from the lower side of North Basin Street to the lower side of Robertson Street."

"There are endless tales to go with the area. The bordellos ranged from the poor and ragged to the rich and classy, the girls from young and green to long in the tooth. But the true reigning queen of Storyville was Josie. She was born just about the end of the Civil War, raised by a very religious family, and seduced at an early age into the arms of a fancy man. But at heart, Josie was an entrepreneur. In her early days, she was red-haired and wild-tempered, and her place was known for some of the fiercest and most entertaining catfights to be seen anywhere. Then, when the brawling became too much even for Josie, she reinvented herself and ran ads for ladies of the highest rank. She managed to make a fortune and buy herself a splendid home in an affluent quarter of the city. Eventually she became obsessed with death. Not that she seemed to be terribly worried about her immortal soul. She was consumed, however, with concern regarding her physical remains. She wanted to be as grand in death as she presumed herself to be in life. So she had a tomb built, a truly magnificent tomb. It incorporated pilasters and urns and torches. And a beautiful sculpture of a woman, one foot on a step, her hand reaching for the door.

"In time Josie died and was entombed. But an heir squandered away her money. Her house was sold, as was her tomb. The new owners did not want her remains, so they were removed. In New Orleans, after a year and a day, that's no problem. Where they lie today… it's one of the best-kept secrets of the cemetery. But it's often said that Josie's spirit slips into the statue of the woman that still stands at the entry to her former tomb. Is she trying to get into heaven? Or merely beckoning others to follow her? If you happen to see the elegant statue moving, don't be afraid. Josie had a temper, but she was also a social creature, and it's said that she's merely visiting gentlemen callers who happened to have ended their days in the same cemetery."

"Where is the tomb?" a slender woman called to her.

"Metairie. It's featured on another of our tours, and we hope you'll join us for it," Nikki replied. "Well, folks, that's it for the evening, except that my colleagues—the tall, dark handsome fellow there, Julian, and the beautiful young woman to my right, Andrea—will join me in answering any questions you might have. And thank you so much for joining us. There are many tour groups here in New Orleans, so we hope we've fulfilled your expectations, and enlightened and entertained you."

The usual round of questions followed. Nikki never minded, but that night, she knew, she was glancing at her watch. At last she was able to extricate herself from the last family eager to learn more.

It had been a good evening. In fact, it had been a good day. Her ridiculous sense of foreboding hadn't meant a thing. When she finished with the family, she waved to Andy and Julian, and they headed off for Pat O'Brien's.

"Man, I have never seen so many posters up before an election," Julian commented as they passed the wooden barricade around a construction site. The posters advertised the current sensation, an older man named Harold Grant. "He looks like you, Nikki. Far too serious," Julian teased. "Maybe we need new blood running the place. Have you seen all the posters for what's-his-name?"

"Billy Banks," Andy reminded him. "Yeah, and he's a cutie. Have you seen him, Nikki? Vibrant guy, lots of charisma. Poor old Harold probably doesn't have a chance against him."

"Some people don't vote for a candidate because he's cute," Nikki said.

Julian shrugged. "They're both swearing they're the one who can clean up crime in the parish," he said. "Politicians. Who do you believe?"

"None of them," Andy said.

"Hey… lots of people out tonight," Julian said, forgetting politics as they neared their destination.

Despite the popularity of the place—an absolute must for tourists—they were able to garner a table. It was almost as if Max could see them in his mind's eye from wherever he was, because they had just started on their first round of Hurricanes when Nikki's cell rang.

"Drunk yet?" Max asked her.

"Funny," she told him.

A soft chuckle came over the phone. "Come on, kid. Celebrate. Let yourself go. Drop down among the mortals and do a little sinning, huh?"

"Who is it?" Mitch asked, over the din.

"Is it Max?" Julian demanded.

She nodded, pressing the phone closer to her ear and mouthing, "He wants to know if we're drunk yet. He's telling us to celebrate."

"Tell him I'm on my way to happily inebriated—since he's picking up the tab," Nathan yelled, slipping an arm around Patricia's shoulder. "And Tricia's doing fine, too."

"Hot time tonight, huh?" Julian asked.

Patricia laughed. "Like he needs to get me drunk at this point."

"Just… perky," Nathan teased, hugging her.

"Would you guys quit with the sex thing? At least until you see the rest of us coupled up for the night, huh?" Mitch said. "By the way, Nikki, make sure you're hearing Max correctly. He's telling you to celebrate, not to be celibate."

"Funny, Mitch," she mouthed.

"What was that Mitch said?" Max asked. He said something else, but the music was playing and there were voices all around.

Nikki waved a hand at them, frowning. "I can't hear you, Max," she said.

The others ignored her.

"You won't see me coupled up—not in the near future," Andy said. "A voodoo queen warned me to watch out for strangers," she assured them.

"Max?" Nikki said, narrowing her eyes fiercely at the others.

"I'm here, Nick," he said. "I just called to say that you're doing a great job—one of the travel magazines just rated us as the top tour bargain in the Big Easy. So tell Nathan to drink himself silly. And you do the same."

She realized that the idea actually appealed to her. What had it been? The weird junkie at Madame's yesterday? That sense of foreboding this morning? The back-to-back tours she had done that day? She needed to take it a little easier. Once Max got back, she was going to tell him that they needed to hire more people.