“You, missy, have to stop being so damn cute,” I told her, bringing her to me and kissing her on the lips.
Maximus cleared his throat. “Glad you guys like it, it’s a bed and breakfast with the tastiest beignets you’ll find in the city. Well, aside from Café Du Monde, if it’s still there.”
I pulled away from Perry and eyed him. He didn’t look too pleased at our PDA, and I was wondering when he’d start questioning what was happening in our relationship. Obviously he knew that we were together now, and judging from the beady look in his eyes, he obviously didn’t like it. Tough tits, ginger.
The look got even worse when we went to check in and I told the pucker-faced, extremely spritely receptionist that we would only need two rooms, not three.
“I see,” she said, studying Perry and I. “I wasn’t aware that there was a couple staying here.”
“Neither was I,” Maximus said under his breath.
“Sorry,” I told her, jerking my head in his direction, “this one here made the booking without consulting us first.”
She adjusted her glasses. “Yes, well, since it was such a last minute reservation, I’ll just cancel the room without penalty. Probably better that way anyway—it is the haunted room.”
“Haunted room?” Perry spoke up, looking frazzled.
The woman smiled. “It’s just George, the resident ghost. He’s a friendly one, don’t worry.”
“Friendly, sure, I’ve heard that before,” I said. She gave me an odd look and I didn’t bother trying to explain myself. The day I met a friendly ghost was the day I came up with better analogies.
Both of our rooms were on the third floor, overlooking the street, with a shared balcony connecting us through French doors.
Perry and I tossed our bags on the bed and surveyed the quaint room. It was a little too old lady-ish for my liking, like the receptionist decorated it, but Perry seemed absolutely enthralled. I guess there was a romantic, girly-girl somewhere beneath that Mastodon t-shirt.
“I guess the bastard wants to keep an eye on us,” I told her.
“I heard that,” came his muffled voice through the wall. Oh great, and the walls were paper-thin too. Though that made me extremely glad that I’d remembered to pack something.
“What’s so funny?” Perry asked.
I wiped the smile off my face. “Nothing, just trying to look on the bright side. Shall we unpack?”
“No time,” Maximus said from the doorway. Shit, he was just everywhere, wasn’t he?
“Can’t you just give us a few minutes alone?” I asked.
“Sorry I’m such a cockblocker—”
“At least you’re apologizing this time.”
“—but there’s someone I want you to meet and I’m not sure if we’ll miss her or not.”
I raised my brow. “A…a her? You’ve had contact with the female species? I don’t believe it.”
He pointed at Perry. “I’ve had intimate contact with this one.”
“You son of a bitch,” I snarled, ready to jump him.
“Guys!” Perry yelled, putting her arm out in front of me. “Dex, calm down. You, ginger balls, you shut the fuck up.”
I laughed. “Ginger balls, that’s my girl!”
He smiled venomously at her. “The very balls you—”
Before I had a chance to knock his face in, Perry was there first, kicking him right in the shin with her Doc Martens. Her violence surprised even me, and I stood there, shocked and impressed. And maybe a bit scared.
Maximus was shocked too, groaning and rubbing his leg. “Have you gone fucking crazy, Perry?”
She put her hands on her hips. “Maybe I have. If you say another fucking thing about what happened between me and you, I’m going to show you what else I can do to your balls, you hear me?”
“Jesus,” he swore, straightening up, “all right, all right. You’re not much of a little lady after all, are you?”
“I never was. Now tell us where the hell you want us to go and who the hell you want us to meet and why.”
Maximus looked at me and I shrugged. I was going to let Perry do her thing. This inner bitch of hers was giving me a hard-on.
“All right,” he said, wincing a bit as he shook out his leg. “There’s a girl I used to know, our contact. I want to see if she still works at the bar, the one I used to work at. It’s just here in the Quarter on Royal Street.”
“So let me get this straight,” she said slowly, “this girl is our contact and you don’t even know if she still works at the same place. Haven’t you been in contact with her?”
“Not since I left.”
I frowned at him. “Maximus, you do know what the term ‘contact’ means, don’t you? It generally means you’ve been in contact with the person.”
“Yeah, well I reckoned there wasn’t time. Besides, we don’t need her, we can investigate the haunted house on our own. I just thought we should get her involved.”
“Why?” Perry asked, leaning back on one leg, full of attitude.
He slowly tilted his head back and forth, considering the question. Finally he said, “Because she’s a lot like you guys.”
“What do you mean like us?” I asked warily.
“She sees ghosts, too. She’s…pretty special.”
“And what’s her name?” Perry asked. “This special ghost girl?”
“Rose,” he said, almost sadly. “Her name is Rose.”
And with that, he turned and left the room, heading down the staircase. I had a feeling that Rose was more than just a contact to him. How much more, well I guess that was something we were about to find out.
I nodded at Perry. “Grab your purse. At least we’re going to a bar.”
I think we were all going to need a drink at this point.
We got to the bar by walking down Bourbon Street for a bit, just to get a feel for the place. Perry and I stopped at one of the bars that were open to the street and ordered two sickly sweet Hand Grenades to go, sucking back on that antifreeze while we navigated the early crowds and puking frat boys who’d probably been drunk all day. And how could you not be? I mean booze to-go? Public drinking was encouraged? Suddenly every bad vice I had was begging to come back.
Rose’s bar on Royal Street was further away from the touristy crowds, a large place filled with live jazz, crazy cheap drink specials, and locals having a good time. I was in heaven, especially with the hot woman at my side.
“Do you see her?” I asked Maximus as we stood in the doorway, surveying the room. Most people were sitting near the jazz band, though a few of them were playing pool, and a handful were sitting at one of the two bars.
He shook his head.
“What’s the name of this place?” Perry asked.
“It’s nameless,” he said absently, walking toward the jazz set-up, searching the seats in front of it. A lanky woman with giant breasts and an afro to match was singing sweet sadness, while two old hep cats played easy drums and mellow bass.
“Ugh, this makes me want to play,” I mumbled to myself, feeling the energy of the music seeping through my bones, revving my engines.
“The bar has no name?” Perry went on, still stuck on it.
I nodded to a coaster on the closest table. “Nameless is the name.”
“What happened to your hand grenade?” she asked, noting my empty hands.
“I drank it.” I turned to her. “Do you think they’d mind if I went up there and sang?”
She frowned at me. “Don’t you dare.”
“Hey, I know you find my voice sexy.”
“Dex, you’re one of the best singers I know and I’d love more than anything if you were to sing for me. But please don’t go tossing that woman out of the way. Let’s not get ourselves kicked out when we just got here.” She appraised me more closely. “You’re in a real shit disturber mood today.”
I couldn’t argue with that. “Maybe the drummer would let me take over. He’s got to be what, ninety-years-old? If he keeps playing, he could die.”
“Dex,” she warned. “Come on, let’s get you another drink while he looks for her.”
“Yes, a drink oughta have me thinking clearly.”
We went to the closest bar and took a seat. There was no bartender, so I leaned over to the man next to me, an old grizzled thing with a beard that reached the table and said, “So if there’s no bartender, do we just help ourselves?” I reached over the bar in jest when suddenly I was face to face with a woman.
“You touch any of my booze and I’m putting this shotgun under your chin,” she said, her voice sounding as sweet as she looked, contrasting with her threat. She was around my age, maybe a bit younger, late twenties, and slender with a wide, tanned forehead, grey-blue eyes and curly, white-blonde hair that frizzed a bit at the ends. Pretty thing.
I grinned at her and raised my hands. “I don’t see a shotgun.”
“It’s under the bar, aimed at your gut.”
I cocked my head at her. “Are all bartenders this paranoid in the Big Easy?”
“Sugar, this is my bar and I’m as paranoid as I need to be.”
The bearded man next to me snorted. “He’s a tourist, Rose, just let him pass a good time and charge him the tourist price for drinks.”
I exchanged a glance with Perry. So this was Rose. Well, well, well. I felt a bit smug knowing that we’d found her before Maximus did.
“You’re Rose?” Perry asked.
“Tourist price?” I added.
“Yeah I’m Rose,” she said, folding her arms. “What’s it to y’all?”
My, she was a prickly little thing wasn’t she.
“Oh, well, we’re here with a friend that says he used to know you. Wasn’t sure if you still worked here or not,” I explained.
She squinted at me. “Work here? I own the place now. Have for the last four years. Who is your friend?”
Oddly enough, I didn’t find it was my place to say. Either that, or I wanted to see what her reaction would be to seeing him, not just hearing about it. Was she going to jump across the bar and beat him up (cuz she seemed like the type to put those ginger balls in a vice), or would she act like she’d never seen him before? I didn’t know what their history was, and guessing was half the fun, especially when it came to bodily harm inflicted on him.
I was about to look behind me and see if I could spot him in the depths of the place, but she let out a small gasp and I knew she saw him.
Her eyes went wide, her hand went to her chest, and she said, “My sweet Lord.” I looked over and saw Maximus, halfway across the room, just staring at her, like he was frozen in a dream. I turned back to Rose and saw a wash of sadness come over her brow. Sorrow and regret.
Ah fuck, I couldn’t take any pleasure in this; this was ending up being a lot more sensitive a thing than I had originally thought.