I hurried after her and she tossed me a smug look over her shoulder. She was enjoying her tattoo secret too much. I supposed I hadn’t been too forthcoming with my “Within your Light I Lose the Madness” on my back either.
“Is it a fleur-de-lis?” I asked, rolling up my t-shirt sleeve to show her the one on my insanely buff arm. “Considering there are fleur-de-lis all over the place here, you’d fit right in. And we’d match.”
Her eyes paused on my muscles briefly before her blasé look returned. “That’s pretty lame, Dex, even for you.”
“More or less lame than the cock?”
“Would y’all hurry up?” Rose yelled. They had stopped outside a bar, the slow thumping of bass pounding through the brick walls. The light inside was bathing everyone in red.
“Deep N’ Easy,” I remarked, reading the faded sign. “Just the way I like it.”
Rose shook her head, unimpressed, and we followed her inside where we lined up in front of the bouncer. I leaned into her. “You never smile, do you, Rose?”
She rolled her eyes and told the bouncer our names. He checked us off the list and told us to go inside.
Ambrosia spotted us first, waving casually from a table near the stage where the band slowly rumbled on. Like last night, it was a three piece set-up, but with a somber, coal-colored singer on acoustic guitar. His soul was bleeding out through the strings and I was excruciatingly jealous.
We sat down and Perry immediately got up and told us all she was getting the first round of drinks.
“Tell them you’re with locals!” Rose yelled after her. “Don’t let them give you the tourist price.”
Ambrosia smiled at Maximus and I and I felt strangely giddy inside. It didn’t make any sense and I had to shake my head to get rid of it. Fortunately, no one else had noticed. They were all staring at the band while Ambrosia explained who they were.
“Dead Frog’s Blood,” she explained.
“Poetic,” I said. “I guess they aren’t known for being upbeat.”
She leaned toward me, her eyes sparkling. “Oh, Mr. Foray, something tells me you know a lot about the blues. Even the blues can have a happy tale to tell.”
“Mr. Foray?” I repeated. “You make me sound so old.”
“Well, you can’t be more than twenty-five,” she said sincerely.
“Is it because I’m immature?”
“That.” She winked at me and then tossed her hair over her shoulder. “And your girlfriend can’t be much more than twenty-one.”
“She’s twenty-three,” I explained.
“And how old are you?”
I swallowed. “Thirty-two.”
“That’s quite the age difference. I’m impressed.”
I shrugged. “You gotta get them while they’re young before they know what they’re getting into.” I played it off like the age difference between us didn’t plague me from time to time. That little niggling fear that I wanted what I wanted from her because I was older and ready for more in life, while she was still young and almost virginal (well, a little more experienced after last night), and probably had fields of wild oats in her left to sow. I didn’t want to think about that.
Perry came back with the drinks: a pitcher of local brew for everyone else, a mint julep for herself, and a Jack Daniels and lemonade mix for me. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it would do the job.
We all clinked glasses across the table and got down to business. Maximus explained to Ambrosia about the haunted house we wanted to film, while Rose told her that perhaps we were better off looking into the whole zombie epidemic. Ambrosia wasn’t as thrilled with that idea.
“Rose,” she said with a smirk, “sending tourists off into the inner city isn’t the smartest thing you could do.”
“We’d be with them,” Rose said, pointing at Maximus. “We’re not tourists.”
“Right, as if that makes a difference,” she said. “I’m half black and I’d still get held up in seconds, if I was lucky. Trust me, I want to figure out what’s going on as much as you do, but I don’t think they came here to dig up Voodoo. Just ghosts.”
“Well,” Perry spoke up, a strange fire burning in her eyes as she looked at Ambrosia, “personally, I think investigating this whole zombie thing is a lot more interesting than the whole haunted house deal. I mean, I hate to sound condescending about the afterlife, but this is something new to us.”
If Ambrosia was put off by Perry’s argument, she didn’t show it. She smiled gently at her and said, “You’d be right about that. For as long as I’ve been studying Voodoo, I’ve never seen a single case of this happening.”
I laughed. “Sure, but you can’t be much older than…what, twenty-eight?”
“I’ll pretend that was a compliment. I’m twenty-six. But I’m a descendent of the great Marie Laveau. Perhaps you’ve heard of her?”
I sipped my drink. “I don’t know, I hear a lot of things. Who is that?”
Rose spoke up. “Ambrosia’s mother claimed to be the daughter of Marie’s son.”
“Not claimed,” Ambrosia said, glaring at her. “Proven. I have the DNA.”
“Even though Marie’s children by Paris both died at a young age of yellow fever,” she countered.
Ambrosia ignored her and turned her million dollar smile on us. “To get back to the story, it is fascinating, Perry, you’re right. I just don’t think it’s safe. Zombies are one thing, but those neighborhoods, the real people, they’re a much bigger threat to your safety. Maybe after you get some haunted house footage, we can look into it more.”
“That’s just what I was going to suggest,” Maximus said, directing his goofy smitten gaze at her.
Right. Suggest. Like Maximus wasn’t all about telling us what we could and couldn’t do.
“So where is the haunted house?” I asked.
“Yes, and is it anything like the haunted mansion in Disneyland?” Perry added.
With a defeated sigh, Rose told us about the house, pretty much repeating what Maximus had told us: paranormal activity had doubled, as it had in many parts of the city post-Katrina, and a lot of researchers had been in there without picking up on anything too wild. Aside from the spike in the supernatural, there wasn’t anything too unusual about the house. It was built at the turn of the century and was used as a boarding house for many years before becoming a squatter’s paradise. Then the storm surge caused the breeches in the Industrial Canal and flooded the place. It was hard to tell if anyone had died inside.
“Tomorrow night we’ll go and shoot it,” Maximus said.
“Don’t we need special permission from the city?” Perry asked.
“You don’t need permission to do anything here,” Rose said dryly. “The Wild West, remember? The City that Forgot to Care.”
To accent that last bit, the band ended with a sad crash of the symbol and Dead Frog’s Blood exited the stage and Ambrosia got up, going around to each table and collecting tips for them.
When she came back, the music had turned to CCR over the speakers and she held out her hand toward me.
“Pardon me, Perry,” she asked, though she was gazing straight at me, “but do you mind if I dance with your man?”
I could hear Rose suck in her breath across the table and was so certain that Perry was going to tell her to fuck right off, but instead she threw her head back and smiled at Ambrosia, “I don’t mind if he doesn’t mind.”
The thing was, I didn’t mind dancing with Ambrosia. I was tempted to touch her skin to feel how smooth it was. These were bad, bad urges and I didn’t really know why I was feeling them. Obviously I had a libido that just wouldn’t quit and I knew I was a pervert deep down at heart. But I shouldn’t have been thinking those thoughts with a gorgeous woman right beside me, the one that was mine, the one I loved, but I was. I didn’t understand.
Realizing that I hadn’t given her an answer and was leaving her standing there, that everyone was waiting for me to say something, I opened my mouth to say, “Actually I’d rather give the first dance to Perry here.” But I didn’t say that, because Perry looked at Maximus and said, “And while you guys dance, I’ll dance with Maximus here.”
I choked on my words before they could come out, feeling like I was kicked by a sharp-toed boot. Maximus looked just as surprised as I did, but he said, “I’d be honored, little lady,” and got out of his chair, as if he were a chivalrous gentleman doing her a favor.
Perry got out of hers, not even meeting my eyes, and together they went off to the dance floor. It took a few seconds for me to recover, so I shot Ambrosia my most becoming grin and leaped to my feet.
“You better be careful,” Rose said under her breath. I gave her a funny look, but she busied herself with her beer, like she’d never said anything.
I tried not to look at Perry and Maximus dancing together, having horrifying flashbacks to Rudy’s Bar in Red Fox, New Mexico, and once my arms were around Ambrosia and I was feeling the softness of her skin, I couldn’t even care less what Perry and Maximus were doing. All I could think about was this exotic woman in my arms, the elegance of her dance moves. Sure, we were dancing to “Bad Moon Rising,” but we managed to make it work.
“You’re an interesting man,” she said slyly, pressing herself to me. “All of you are. Your girlfriend. Rose’s ex-lover. You’re all very unique. But you’re the most unique of all.”
I raised a brow at her and grinned cockily. “Oh yeah? How so?”
She pondered the question for a moment. “You have a very large aura.”
I grinned even wider. “That I do.”
“It’s very powerful. You’re a lot stronger than you look. You’ve got a lot of willpower.”
“I do?” At the moment, I was afraid I didn’t have any. Suddenly thoughts of Perry entered my mind and my heart directed my attention across the dance floor. Perry and Maximus were dancing together. Jealousy kicked me in the gut, making me bleed, but the longer I stared at them, the more I realized how awkward they looked. Perry looked like she’d rather be getting a root canal, and Maximus was staring at Rose. Silly girl was trying to make me jealous now. God, I wished I could have been annoyed about that but I wasn’t.
I looked down at the cocoa-skinned temptress in my arms, and suddenly I had a feeling I knew what she was doing. She was a Voodoo priestess in training and one hell of a hardcore flirt.
“Thank you for the lovely dance,” I told her, my feet coming to a stop before the song was over. “But I’m afraid I’ve got a thirst that just won’t quit.” I nodded at the bar.
She smiled slyly, satisfied. “I knew it. More strength than most people, and more willpower than you think.”
I threw up my arms. “Too bad you ain’t a drink, baby,” I said lightly, and made my way over the bar. I heard her giggle behind me.