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Night Creature: Crescent Moon Chapter 17

I awoke to the sun and an empty bed. I tried not to be hurt. This wasn’t a relationship.

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We’d both made that perfectly clear. So why did I feel as if I’d been screwed in more ways than one?

The only indication that Adam had been here at all were his jeans on the floor and my dry clothes, neatly folded on the dresser.

My gris-gris perched at the apex. I wondered what he’d made of that Probably nothing. Having lived here all of his life, he’d no doubt seen a thousand of them.

Would it still work after being soaked by rain, then scorched by electric heat? I had to hope so, since I needed to get through the swamp without being eaten by alligators. I couldn’t believe I was putting such store in a bag of herbs, except I hadn’t seen a gator since Charlie died.

I got dressed and shoved the gris-gris in my pocket My hair was a mess, or at least it felt that way to my fingertips. I couldn’t find a mirror anywhere.

There was something odd about that, but I couldn’t figure out what without coffee. There wasn’t a pot in the house, either. Maybe Adam was just a guy’s guy – didn’t case to pimp. And really, what could he do? He was gorgeous wearing tattered pants, a two days’ growth of beard, and twigs in his hair. I wish I could say the same about myself, minus the beard, of course.

In the kitchen, I pounced at a scrap of paper on the counter, frowning at the map, which detailed a path from the shack to the mansion. There wasn’t a single personal word on the page.

What had I expected? A declaration of everlasting love?

“A little praise would be nice,” I muttered as I made my way to the door. ” ‘Hey, Diana, rabbits pale in comparison to you.'”

I snorted at my own wit. Might as well, no one else would.

The storm was gone, leaving behind a bright blue sky through which the sunshine blazed Shards of light Sparkled off the glistening droplets of rain that lingered everywhere. From the position of the sun, I’d missed not only breakfast but lunch.

In the night, the cypress trees had seemed to blot out the moon and the stars. Against the sun, they weren’t any help at all.

I glanced about hopefully, mind cursing my own stupidity when I realized I was looking for Adam. Why would he leave a map if he was going to be around? Even stupider was wanting so badly to see him.

If I wasn’t careful I’d forget every vow I’d made. I’d stop searching for the loup-garou and spend all my time in bed. The idea was far too tempting.

Annoyed with the wishy-washiness of my resolve, I forced myself to march toward the bedroom window to search for backs. The ground was damp; there had to be something. Unless there’d been nothing.

Coming around the corner of the house, I stopped dead. The earth beneath Adam’s bedroom window had been turned up, as if someone had considered planting flowers or a shrub, then changed their mind.

Except the yard was a swamp. Anything planted there would be overtaken in a month. What would be the point?

There wasn’t one, unless the ground had been dug up to hide something. The tracks of a man or a beast?

I wanted to see Adam more than ever. Instead, I followed the map, returned to the mansion, changed my clothes, and left for town.

I planned to head straight to Cassandra’s. Something weird was going on – in either the swamp or my head or both. She was the only person who’d given me any sort of answers. Bizarro as they might be.

However, as I was trolling for a parking place, I remembered the library and the newspaper articles I’d already paid for, so I swung the car around and made a slight detour.

The clippings were at the desk as Mrs. Beasly had promised, but she wasn’t When I asked for her, the girl who’d handed me the packet whispered, “You don’t know? She never came in to work.”

Now why would I know that? People ditched work all the time, though Mrs. Beasly didn’t seem the type. She was more the type to have fallen and she couldn’t get up.

“Did someone check her house?”

The young woman, who looked nothing like a librarian in the low-slung pants that barely covered her crack and the high-cut shirt, which barely extended beyond her breasts, nodded. “She’s just… gone.”

“Gone?”

“Her car, her purse, her suitcase all right where she left them, but no Mrs. Beasly.”

That was new. No animal attack, no death by strangulation. Just poof. Maybe Mrs. Beasly’s disappearance was unrelated.

I glanced at the manila envelope in my hand. But I doubted it

I thanked the girl and took a chair in the library, then dumped the clippings onto the table.

Local Man Commits Suicide at Home read the first headline. The only thing different about the second was the date – about twenty-two years later.

This went a long way toward explaining why Adam loathed the place. I wasn’t wild about the idea of multiple suicides there myself.

The information was remarkably similar in the two deaths. Law enforcement theories ranged from self-termination to murder and back again. The family was investigated. The angle of the gun, lack of motive, and concrete alibis exonerated them.

“Survived by one-year-old grandson,” I read in Grampa’s obituary, earning a scowl from the student at the next table. If she put her finger to her lip and told me to “shh!” I’d be tempted to shout. I always was.

I searched through the clippings, looking for the obituary of Adam’s father, but there wasn’t one. Odd.

And that comment Mrs. Beasly had made about the lack of girls born in the last century, I should really determine if that was true – though what it had to do with anything, I couldn’t decide.

I checked it out anyway, and unless someone had managed to birth a girl at home and keep the child off the records completely – a Herculean task even without the recent practice of assigning Social Security numbers in the nursery – there hadn’t been a Ruelle girl born in over a hundred years.

I also couldn’t find any obituary for Ruelle senior.

“loo weird.”

But not impossible.

I hadn’t asked Adam about any of this. When was the appropriate time to bring up an unfortunate tendency toward suicide in the family or their strange genetic anomaly?

When he was making me come the first time? Or maybe after the third?

I left the library, hurrying toward Cassandra’s, dodging tourists, every one of whom seemed to be headed in the opposite direction. The wail of a saxophone hovered on the humid air, the mournful sound drawing me along with the crowd to Jackson Square.

Located near the river, Jackson Square had once been a military parade ground. Now it was a civilized garden spot, bordered by shops, restaurants, and the towering St Louis Cathedral. Artists had set up booths to sell their wares, but a good share of the tables belonged to psychics and Tarot card readers as well.

In front of the cathedral, there appeared to be a party in progress. Musicians played, and if they weren’t playing they danced, while tourists tapped their feet or tossed change into the open instrument cases placed strategically on the street

Everyone was having so much fun, I wanted to. Inching closer, I let myself be carried away.

I’d never been much for jazz, but this was something special. How could they make such spectacular music when people appeared to join and leave the band at will?

“Does this happen every day?” I asked the man next tome.

“Pretty much. The players change – whoever can make it does. Isn’t it amazing?”

Definitely.

Two police cars were parked right behind the musicians. The officers listened to the music, too, but they were also watching the crowd.

“What’s with that?” I asked.

“Trying to keep the drug dealing to a minimum. Puts off the tourists.”

Such a pretty place, such beautiful music – of course there was something rotten beneath the surface.

As I watched, one of the officers separated from the others and strolled toward Muriel’s, a famous local restaurant, complete with the requisite ghost

A preppy couple was engaged in conversation with a grubby young man. When he caught sight of the cop heading his way, he took off. The couple’s eyes widened, and they disappeared almost as fast as the dealer had. The officer didn’t even spare them a glance.

Though I would have liked nothing better than to walk into Muriel’s, take a table on the terrace, sip a glass of wine while I waited for a glimpse of their ghost, I wasn’t on vacation. I was working.

I glanced at the sky. While I’d been listening to the music, the sun had fallen down, leaving dusk in its wake. I’d lost an entire day and gotten very little accomplished. Nevertheless, I really should check in with Frank.

As I exited Jackson Square, headed for Royal Street, I pulled out my cell phone. Before I could dial, I caught a glimpse of a familiar face walking toward me.

I smiled, opened my mouth to speak, and froze.

How did one greet a dead man?