“She’ll see you now,” Ambrosia said, coming back into the room. “She’s awake. I’m just going to bring her tea, but you guys can go right ahead. She’s a bit tired and you might not get much from her, but I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you, Rose.”
The way that Ambrosia said Rose threw me off a bit. Now I had to wonder if there was bad blood between these two. Perhaps the young Voodoo apprentice was worried about Rose stepping on her toes. Or vice versa.
I kept my observations to myself as we walked down the darkened hall, the matte lamps that hung overhead in shapes of flowers flickering as we went under them.
Rose knocked on the door at the end and slowly opened it when she didn’t hear a response.
Here the room was dark, all the blinds drawn shut, the air cool and damp. There was a large white, four-poster bed at the end with mosquito netting draped all around it, a ghostly look. I could see the shape of a small woman sitting up in the bed, just her hazy, dark outline through the netting. It gave me the fucking creeps.
“Mambo Maryse?” Rose asked gently as she slowly approached the bed. The three of us hung by the door, watching her, unsure of what to do. I grabbed Perry’s hand. To reassure her, of course.
Rose drew back the netting and we all tensed up. She was going to be dead, with spiders coming out her eyes and a snake for a tongue, I just knew it. But all we saw was a skinny little white lady with long grey hair, nestled into a mound of fluffy pillows. It was too dark in the room though to figure out where she was looking, even though enough light had come in through the curtain to be reflected in her eyes.
“Can you hear me?” Rose asked, standing at the foot of the bed. “Ambrosia said it was okay to talk to you. I have some friends here you’ll want to meet.”
Maryse didn’t move or make a sound. Rose went for the curtains. “Here, I’ll let more light in.”
“No!” Maryse suddenly screeched, her voice hoarse and louder than I expected. “The light, it burns.”
Christ, what was she, a vampire?
Rose spun around and nodded frantically. “Okay, okay, don’t worry. We’ll leave it dark. I didn’t know.”
“Of course you didn’t know, you’re barely around,” the Mambo sniveled, settling back into her pillows. “Everyone is shunning me, including you.”
Rose sighed and looked over at us, as if we were supposed to say something. The thing is, I didn’t know what. The whole Voodoo zombie angle was Rose’s idea, not mine. I wanted that haunted house and I had a feeling an ailing Voodoo priestess would be no help with that.
“Maryse, I have some people here I’d like you to meet. Ambrosia told you about them, didn’t she?”
“Ambrosia tells me a lot of things. I never listen.”
Wow, being Maryse’s apprentice was starting to sound like a pretty shitty job. I started to wonder what Ambrosia’s deal was when I felt my gaze being drawn to the bed. Maryse was staring right at me, I could feel it.
“Who is that young man?” Maryse asked in weird disbelief, a crooked finger extended in my direction.
I pointed at myself. “Me?”
“You seem familiar.”
Well, that certainly wasn’t possible. I looked up at Maximus hulking over me and elbowed him. “This guy, I’ve heard you met him before.” I shot him a look to step forward. Apparently he was feeling nervy too.
He cleared his throat and came toward her, one slow step at a time. “Mambo Maryse. Do you remember me? It’s Maximus.”
She fell silent. The whole room did. Outside, you could hear the crickets and cicadas, the drone of dragonflies. Finally she said, “I don’t think I know you. Who is this man, Rose?”
Rose tilted her head at him apologetically before answering her. “He was my…we worked at the bar together. I know you can’t really see him now, but he was tall, handsome, with red hair. We were…together. A lot. You know him, Maryse.”
More silence. I was about to say “Ouch” on his behalf, since he failed to make an impression on her over the years, but suddenly Maryse sat up straighter, her posture rigid in the dim light.
“Jacobs,” she whispered.
The way she said his last name made chills run down my back, stopping at my balls, and continuing to my toes. Perry applied pressure to my hand, perhaps feeling the same way. Except for the balls part.
“That’s right,” Maximus said, his voice shaking a little. “Maximus Jacobs. I used to be in love with your Rose here.”
“But…” Maryse trailed off, shaking her head. “You’re mortal.”
Rose and Maximus’s eyes flew to each other, both of them wide and shining with horror.
“Of course he’s mortal,” Rose said quickly, trying to laugh it off. “He—”
“No,” she interrupted Rose, her focus back on him. “No, you changed. You’ve gone rogue. I remember now.”
I raised my hand even though she probably couldn’t see me. “Uh, miss Voodoo lady? I hate to break it to you but this dude’s been mortal for a long time. He was my college roommate and I drank him under the table time and time again.”
“You,” she seethed, her finger pointing at me again. I cringed a bit, feeling like she was poking into my soul. “You. I know you, I know about you! You’re the exception.”
I raised my brows and looked down at Perry. She was shaking her head in confusion. “Exception to what?”
“Get out,” she suddenly yelled, her glinting eyes on Perry now. “Get out, all of you, you too, Rose! I’m tired of people just showing up in my life and wanting things from me, disturbing everything. You’re all a bunch of idiots, dabbling in things you don’t understand, bending the laws with no regard for this world or the one next to us, or the one above us or the one under us. I’m too old to deal with this baloney anymore.”
And with that she flopped back on the bed and pointed at the netting. “Now close the netting and leave.”
Rose quickly did as she asked, looking flustered, and we all got out of that room as quickly as we could. Rose closed the door behind her and we scrambled out into the kitchen just as Ambrosia was coming toward us with a pot of tea.
She gave us a waning smile. “I suppose I should have warned you that she’s got a bit of dementia and has been talking gibberish for the last few days now.”
“Yeah,” I said carefully, “a little warning would have been nice.”
She beamed at me, her teeth so white, lips so full. I felt kind of dazzled. “I’ll go bring her the tea, but I’d love to talk to you guys more about all of this, even if she doesn’t want to. I have a friend whose blues band is playing in the city at Deep N’ Easy. Why don’t we all meet there tonight? I’ll even put you on the guest list.”
I looked to the others for their opinion. The women looked less enthused than the men, but Rose still nodded brusquely and said, “Sounds good, see you there.”
We left Maryse’s swamp house in a hurry, and all I could think about as we got back in the truck was how that frail old witch said she knew me. She obviously did have dementia, I mean she was surprised that Maximus wasn’t immortal anymore and probably saw a bunch of pixies dancing around her head, but it was the conviction in her words that was doing me in.
I had too many strange messages for one day. The Big Easy was turning out to be harder than I thought.
“Well, what did you think about that?” Perry asked as we closed the bedroom door behind us. It was the first time we’d been alone since the morning, and the whole drive back into NOLA was filled with shitty radio, none of us even daring to talk about what had just happened. Well, I wanted to talk about it, but both Rose and Maximus were so uncomfortably tight-lipped that I wouldn’t even get any joy out of ribbing him.
I walked straight over to the bed and flopped face-down on it. I felt utterly and completely drained. I turned my face to look at her. “Come lie with me,” I mumbled against the sheets.
She lay down beside me, on her back, her eyes on the ceiling. “That was weird.”
“What isn’t weird anymore?” I pointed out.
“True,” she said, folding her hands across her stomach. She turned to look at me, her expression earnest. “Have you seen that woman before?”
“The crazy Mambo?” I shook my head. “No, never. Granted, I couldn’t really see her since she’s apparently a vampire as well. But no. You believe me, right?”
“Of course I do. I just think it’s weird.”
“As weird as her saying Maximus is immortal?”
“If not weirder. Obviously she is just a crazy old kook.” Crazy, and yet part of me wanted to believe her.
“She’s white, too,” she said. “I expected her to be Haitian or something.”
“Well, Ambrosia’s of mixed descent.”
At the mention of Ambrosia’s name, Perry stiffened. Interesting. It really did seem like my woman was jealous and I was finding it immensely flattering. I spent so much time wondering about Perry’s true feelings for me, if they were more than a sexual fixation, so it was really nice to see she cared about me at least that much. I really hoped I wouldn’t use it to my advantage, because that was definitely something the old Dex would do—make them jealous to see if they cared.
Nope, I told myself, you have to be more mature than that. I reached over and tugged at the band of her leggings, trying to get her attention.
She relaxed and smiled at me. “Hey. Sorry, I guess I’m just tired too. Jet lag finally catching up to me.”
“We could nap until we went to the bar.”
“Right. Like we would ever just nap.”
I frowned in mock disgust. “Hey, you don’t see me pawing you right now, do you?”
I turned over on to my side and pulled her to me, wrapping my arm around her waist until she was pressed up against me. “Let’s just sleep,” I whispered in her hair. “We’ve earned it.”
We were out in seconds flat.
Deep N’ Easy was located on Frenchman street, just out of the Quarter. Perry and I trailed behind Rose and Maximus as we walked down the rough sidewalk, peering at the never ending vibrancy around us, from the open-air bars spilling out onto the street, to the endless music coming out from all directions, to the various tattoo shops.
I pointed to one of them. “Ever think of getting a tattoo?”
She shrugged and bit her lip. “I have some ideas…”
“Tell me,” I said. I never pegged Perry to be one of those types; she seemed too indecisive for that.
She shook her head, suddenly coy. “No, it would be a surprise.”
“A surprise?” I both loved and hated surprises. “Is it a picture of my cock? Did my letterman jacket give you the idea?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not telling you.” She kept walking, trying to catch up with Maximus and Rose. I waited a few beats, concentrating on her, hoping I could get a thought out of her and find out what the surprise was. All I got was the sharp stab of a headache instead.