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Night Creature: Crescent Moon Chapter 20

Cassandra and I managed to get to our feet with the aid of the tomb at our backs. My head felt as if it might split in two. The scent of burning flesh wasn’t helping.

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I tried to catch a glimpse of whoever had shot Charlie and Mrs. Beasly, but I saw no one.

The moon shadowed more than illuminated, and the graveyard was chock-full of tombs. Go figure. The shooter could be biding anywhere. However, if they had meant us harm, they wouldn’t have stopped at two bullets.

“Let’s get out of here.” Cassandra bent to snatch her knife out of the gravel.

“Now she wants to leave.”

“Don’t you?”

“I never wanted to come here in the first place.”

She ignored the comment, tugging me toward the rear of the burial ground. I hung back, peering longingly at the streetlights. “What’s wrong with the front door?”

“Those gunshots are going to bring cops, if not mugs. I know a less public way out.”

“Of course you do.”

But she had a point, so I went with her. I didn’t want to explain why there were two flaming dead people in the middle of St Louis Cemetery Number One. I doubted I even could.

Besides, if the police found Cassandra here they’d definitely think she’d been stealing bodies, and then some. I needed her free and able to help me figure out what was going on, not locked up for body snatching and desecration of the dead. If they even locked people up for that anymore, although I kind of thought they did.

She led me past a huge monument, which I recognized from the film Easy Rider. Peter Fonda had climbed up to sit in the lap of an angel. I’d thought the scene a bit sacrilegious even then. Now, in the silver-tinged night, I thought it more so.

This was a sacred place, a haunted place, a place where the living did not belong, and I wanted out of here as fast as I could go.

We left the white stone monuments behind and stepped into a small rectangle filled with more traditional markers.

“What’s this?” I whispered.

“Protestant section.”

No wonder it was so small.

“There.” Cassandra pointed to a path that seemed to cut through someone’s backyard.

“We shouldn’t – ” I began.

“What the hell!”

An exclamation from the front of the cemetery was followed by more voices and the patter of feet. Flashlight beams began to flicker round and round. I practically dived out of the city of the dead.

Cassandra and I emerged onto Robertson Street, which divided St Louis Number One from St Louis Number

Two. From the guidebooks, I knew that where we were now was even rougher than where we’d been. But after what I’d just seen, I had a hard time caring.

We cut down the side of the cemetery, headed for the lights, but when we reached Basin Street we turned in the opposite direction of the increasing number of police cars. A fire engine and an ambulance passed within minutes. They weren’t going to be much help.

“What do you think they were?” Cassandra asked.

“You first.”

“Not zombies. The powder didn’t work and – ” She shot me a sideways glance. “As far as I know, zombies don’t explode when they’re shot.”

“What does?”

“No clue. But did you see… ?”

“The fangs?”

She let out a sigh of relief. “I thought I was nuts.”

“Of course you aren’t. It’s perfectly sane to see dead people with fangs.”

And I wasn’t even being sarcastic.

“I saw the same thing you did,” I said. “But I don’t know what I saw.”

“I think I do.”

“Explain it to me.”

“Dead people rising, growing fangs, and acquiring superhuman strength. You do the math.”

I’d never been very good at math, but I could see where she was headed. “Vampires?”

“This is New Orleans.”

“You keep saying that. It’s still planet Earth, last I checked.”

“Ever hear of Anne Rice?”

“She writes fiction, Cassandra. Vampires aren’t real.”

“Then what the hell was that?”

I didn’t know, but I was damn straight going to find out

“What do you know about vampires?” I demanded.

“Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton.” She shrugged “I like vampire books.”

“And you call yourself a voodoo priestess.”

“Voodoo and vampires, not the same thing,” she said.

‘I’ll take your word for it” I went silent as we made our way to Royal Street. “What’s the common thread in all of the books?”

“The undead live forever. Coffins. Crucifix. Biting on the neck.”

“Charlie was bitten on the neck. By an animal.”

“According to legend, vampires can take the form of a wolf.”

“Bingo,” I whispered.

I couldn’t believe in the short time since I’d arrived in New Orleans I’d gone from searching for an out-of-place wolf in the swamp to chasing zombies and considering vampires. Then again, this was New Orleans.

We reached Cassandra’s shop.

“Do you have any books?” I asked.

“On the paranormal?” She unlocked the door and flicked on the lights. “I think I might”

I followed her across the shop, skirting the snake cage, even though Lazarus appeared fast asleep or dead. Considering his name, I doubted either one was a permanent condition.

Cassandra opened a glass-fronted case and pulled out one, two, three huge old volumes. Dust puffed as she set them on the counter. Then she bent and yanked another from a bottom shelf.

“We can start with these.”

I glanced at my watch. “You care if I take them with me?”

“Got an appointment?”

“Kind of.”

“Ruelle,” she guessed.

I was supposed to head into the swamp with Adam tonight. And while I’d already decided to forgo that trip in favor of researching the vagaries of the vampire nation, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to do other things with him once I was through.

My face must have revealed my intentions, because she frowned. “Be careful.”

“Why?”

“Have you ever seen him in the daylight, Diana?”

I opened my mouth, shut it again. Thought hard.

Hell.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” I insisted.

“Seems odd to me.”

Now that she mentioned it, seemed odd to me, too. Still – “If Adam wanted to hurt me he could have a hundred times over.”

“Maybe hurting you isn’t what he’s after.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

“I don’t know. You still have the gris-gris?”

I tapped my pocket. “Yep.”

“I doubt that’ll work against a vampire.” She turned away. “But this should.”

Cassandra reached into the display case near the register and withdrew a long gold chain. “Can’t hurt, right?”

“How will that help, hurt, or anything else?”

“A crucifix a day keeps the vampires away.”

I stared at the fancy chain. “What crucifix?”

“Well, not a crucifix, exactly. A cross. Times a hundred.”

She held the necklace in front of my nose. The links themselves were in the shape of tiny fleurs-de-lis.

“This should work even better in theory,” she continued. “The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the ‘Virgin Mary and, in some cases, the Trinity. Every little bit helps.”

I hesitated, but in the end, I took the gift and put it on.

“That doesn’t go around your neck,” Cassandra murmured.

“Where else would it go?”

Cassandra reached out and lifted the thing over my head. “Pull up your shirt.”

“What?”

“Relax. I’m not hitting on you. Though if I were gay, you’d definitely be my type.”

I frowned, uncertain if I should be flattered or insulted. I decided on flattered.

“Haven’t you ever seen a belly chain?” she asked.

“With a belly like mine? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your belly. Pull up that shirt.”

The idea of draping jewelry across my gut, of accenting a part of me that did not need any accenting, went against everything I’d learned as a big girl.

“Can’t I just wear it as a necklace?”

“Too easy to yank off. A protective amulet is supposed to be hidden.”

She seemed so certain – and really, what did I know about protective amulets? – I gave in and tugged up my shirt.

Cassandra quickly secured the chain. The cool links slid across my skin. Looking down, I was surprised the jewelry wasn’t tight, had in fact disappeared below the waistband of my jeans. Knowing it was there, I felt kind of sexy.

“Thanks,” I said, and really meant it. “What does fleur-de-lis mean?”

“Rower of the lily. Represents perfection, light, and life. Christian symbolism again – always in threes.”

“Understandable. Do you have a computer?”

She blinked at my speedy change of subject. “In back. Why?”

“I want to know if Mrs. Beasly was ever found. I also want to research the name on that tomb.”

Cassandra smiled. “You are good at this.”

I wasn’t so sure. I’d never found anything I was searching for. But as dream Simon had told me, I needed to believe. After tonight, I believed, all right. I just wasn’t sure in what

However, this time I wouldn’t let anything escape my attention. I was going to find a paranormal entity – be it a loup-garou, a vampire, a zombie, or something I’d never heard of – and expose it to the world. Maybe then Simon could rest Maybe then I could.

I followed Cassandra to her office. Huge, old, and slow, at least the computer worked. Arianna Beasly’s name popped up in today’s obituaries.

” ‘Heart attack after being bitten by a vicious dog,'” I read.

“Sure she was.”

“Her maiden name was Favreau, which explains where she was buried.”

“Although it doesn’t explain how she got dumped in the tomb so fast.”

I glanced up. “What?”

“I don’t know how they do things in your neck of the woods, but down here a funeral takes a few days. And that’s if there are no suspicious circumstances to warrant the police or an autopsy.”

“True.” I frowned. “Did you see any bite marks on her?”

“As many as I saw on Charlie.”

“Weird, but I guess that answers my question.”

“Which was?”

“They were bom killed in basically the same way.”

“Wound inflicted by a mystery canine,” Cassandra murmured “With said wound miraculously disappearing before the body rises and takes a little walk. So what does that mean?”

“As soon as I know, you will.” I picked up the books and headed for the mansion.

I didn’t realize how much I wanted Adam to be waiting for me until I came through the door and discovered the place empty.

Do not get used to him, Diana. You have to leave, and he doesn’t want you to stay.

I made a peanut butter sandwich and coffee – you’d think the way I ate, I’d waste away to nothing, but no such luck – then I settled onto my sleeping bag and began to read.

Unfortunately, the events of the evening had worn me out, and I didn’t get much done before I succumbed to sleep. As soon as I awoke, I spent the next day and well into the night researching.

The books were antiques, worth a small fortune. They were also full of great stuff.

“Crucifix, holy water, the Eucharist,” I murmured.

All Christian items, which was fascinating considering the idea of night-flying, bloodsucking demons was not only pre-Christian but also a belief held around the world.

“How did they protect themselves B.C.?”

Sunlight, salt, and –

“Garlic.”

Of course.

“A member of the lily family.” I fingered the fleur-de-lis chain at my waist, feeling better about it already.

I continued to read, eating another peanut butter sandwich, drinking way too much coffee. I was hyped beyond belief and chattering to myself nonstop.

“Photos not a problem.”

Which made sense. According to the photo shop kid, werewolves couldn’t be photographed. But then, what had I seen in the swamp? Lord knew.

“However,” I continued reading, “reflections are.”

I considered the annoying lack of mirrors at Adam’s cabin.

I didn’t really believe the man I was sleeping with was a vampire, did I?

“No.”

The sound of my own voice was getting on my nerves. But it was better than the sound of silence warring with the whirring confusion in my head.

I’d discovered how to kill them, how to slow them down; what I hadn’t been able to find was –

“How do I know for certain I’m dealing with a vampire?”

A shadow at the corner of my vision made me gasp and spin in that direction so fast my neck cracked painfully. Adam leaned against the wall.

“You think I’m a vampire, cher?”