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Night Creature: Crescent Moon Chapter 18

My stopping in the middle of the sidewalk had screwed up the flow of people, but since this was New Orleans no one shoved or cursed me. Most of them had drinks in their hands, and at this time of the day were mighty mellow.

Except for Charlie, who took off like the drug dealer had only a moment ago.

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I wasn’t much for running, but I leaped into the narrow street, dodging cars, horse-drawn carriages, and people who’d gotten sick of stumbling along the crowded, broken cement.

I might have been mistaken about the identity of the last dead man I’d seen walking. Him I hadn’t known personally.

Besides, why would Charlie run if he didn’t have something to hide? And being a zombie? Big secret.

I couldn’t believe I was even considering such a thing, but hey – this was New Orleans and he was a dead guy.

As I ran, I reached for my zombie-revealing powder, sending up a murmur of thanks when I found it in my pocket. Now all I had to do was catch him.

Easier said than done. My chest tight, my lungs burned. I might be able to kick ass in a self-defense class, but jogging I sucked at Charlie was pulling away from me.

He turned a corner several blocks ahead. By the time I got there, he was gone.

I’d chased him out of the touristy section and into a slightly run-down area where small jazz clubs lined the street Mostly empty now, a few stood open as employees prepared the places for the evening. All of them had interesting names like The Spotted Cat.

A thin, elderly black man swept dust out the front door of a building without a name. As I passed he nodded, smiled, and murmured, “Ma’am.”

“Did anyone run through here just now?”

He shook his head but kept his eyes on his broom. I frowned. He had to have seen Charlie. Unless my quarry could just up and disappear.

For all I knew, he could.

I retraced my steps to Jackson Square, where the party continued. I no longer had any desire to linger. The sun was completely gone.

At Cassandra’s, I burst in, then stared. Detective Sullivan appeared as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

“Ms. Malone. What are you doing here?”

“Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“I have questions for Ms. – ” He broke off with a scowl and turned back to Cassandra. “What’s your last name?”

“Priestess Cassandra is good enough.”

“I am not calling you Priestess.”

“Cassandra’s fine, too.”

Detective Sullivan’s face got so red I was tempted to help him loosen his tie. However, I didn’t think he’d appreciate the gesture. The man probably slept in a suit.

Although – my gaze lowered to that tie, imprinted with a tiny Lucy holding a football for a clueless Charlie Brown – I was starting to think Sullivan wasn’t as humorless as he pretended to be.

“You two know each other?” he managed.

“Yes,” Cassandra and I said at the same time.

“How?”

“I came in to shop.”

“For what?’

“What are you, a cop?” I quipped.

He blinked, a confused expression replacing his annoyance. “Well, yeah.”

Cassandra laughed, then turned the sound into a cough. I took pity on the man and answered his question – kind of.

“I heard this was an interesting place. Came in, looked around, and – “

“We bonded,” Cassandra put in.

“Bonded,” he repeated.

“I liked her; she liked me. Pals.” Cassandra crossed her middle finger over her index finger. “We’re like this.”

Now I was the one who choked on a laugh.

Sullivan didn’t appear convinced, but he let the matter drop. “I’m investigating a missing person.”

I thought of Mrs. Beasly. The New Orleans PD was really on the ball.

“Well, not exactly a person,” the detective said, and Cassandra and I exchanged glances. “At least not anymore. There’s a body missing from the morgue.”

I started, but the detective was staring at Cassandra and not at me. He didn’t notice my reaction. Cassandra did, but she was savvy enough not to ask why that information disturbed me.

“Whenever that happens,” Cassandra murmured, “the voodoo priestess is always the first suspect.”

“Because?’ I asked.

“Zombies.” Cassandra rolled her eyes. “What else?”

“You can’t believe Cassandra is raising zombies,” I demanded, even as my mind raced.

I’d come here halfway believing I’d chased a zombie out of Jackson Square. I should tell Detective Sullivan, but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.

“I don’t believe it,” he muttered.

“He’s from out of town.” Cassandra smirked.

I didn’t bother to point out that she was, too. Cassandra seemed as much a part of New Orleans as the humidity and the jazz.

“His superior ordered him to come,” she continued.

Sullivan made an impatient sound. “I don’t understand this place.”

“You’re not supposed to.” Cassandra patted Sullivan’s arm. “Since you didn’t find the body in my closet, is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No,” he snapped, and headed for the door. He stopped with his hand on the knob. “I was going to come and talk to you tomorrow, Ms. Malone. Have you seen Adam Ruelle?”

“Yes.”

“And you gave him my message?”

“Yes.”

“He didn’t call.”

“Sorry.”

Sullivan cursed. “I don’t have the manpower to beat the swamp for him. All I want to do is ask a few questions.”

“You really think Adam strangled a perfect stranger with his bare hands?” I asked.

“Someone did.”

True.

“Funny that you should call the victim a stranger,” he continued.

“Funny ha-ha? Or funny weird?”

Sullivan’s lips didn’t even twitch. “The victim had no ID, he doesn’t match any missing persons report; no record of anyone of his description entering by public transportation; fingerprints don’t pop in the FBI files.”

“Maybe it was a plain old robbery on Bourbon Street,” Cassandra said, “and someone dumped the guy there so they’d have enough time to get out of Dodge.”

“Tourists have hotel rooms, rental cars. One thing they don’t usually have is a fully automatic rifle.”

My mouth opened, then shut. “Isn’t that illegal?”

“Extremely.”

“How do you know the gun was his?”

“His fingerprints were all over the thing. Besides, if it was a robbery, why leave a gun like that lying around? Thing has to be worth some money, even without the weird bullets.”

“What kind of weird?” I asked.

“Silver.” He opened the door. “Who uses silver bullets?”

Without waiting for an answer, the detective left.

Cassandra and I stared after him, then looked at each other. “Uh-oh,” we both said at the same time.

“Appears you aren’t the only one searching for a loup-garou,” Cassandra murmured.

“I am now,” I said dryly.

“You should be careful. Someone doesn’t want the beast found.”

“Seems to me like someone doesn’t want the beast killed.”

Cassandra’s lips pursed. “You’ve got a point”

I shook my head, gave a little laugh, even though I didn’t find much of this funny. “Is everyone around here nuts?”

“That’s rhetorical, right?”

“Silver bullets, missing bodies, zombies.”

“Welcome to New Orleans.” She tilted her head. “You look like you haven’t slept at all. Did something happen in the swamp?”

I’d planned to tell her of Charlie; I’d forgotten about the wolf and Simon.

“It was probably just a dream,” I muttered.

Cassandra’s eyes sharpened. “Dreams have meaning. Tell me.”

So I did.

“The wolf sounds like a dream.”

“My dead husband at the window doesn’t?”

“In this town – not so much.”

A chill passed over me that had nothing to do with the overactive air conditioner. Simon was dead. I’d buried him years ago. I didn’t believe in ghosts or zombies or werewolves. Really.

“You said there weren’t any tracks.”

“There could have been. The ground was all turned up.”

Cassandra frowned. “Odd, but maybe it was like that even before your dream.”

Maybe. But I doubted it

“You’re intent on finding a loup-garou,” she continued. “You see one at the window. Simple wish fulfillment.”

“And Simon?”

“Could be the same thing. You miss him, he’s there.”

I wrinkled my nose. “His ghost?”

“Why not?”

“Why now?”

“Guilt?”

I stilled. I hadn’t told Cassandra about doing the horizontal mambo with Adam Ruelle, but from the lift of her brow, she knew anyway.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty, Diana. Your husband’s gone; you’re not.”

“I understand that here.” I pointed to my head. “But here?” I patted my chest. “Not so much.”

Her sigh was long and sad. “I know.”

From the expression on her face, she did know, and I wanted to ask who she’d lost, how long it had been. After all, we’d bonded. But she shook off the sadness, smiling brightly, and I got the distinct impression her past was off-limits.

“You want to tell me why you came careening in here like something was chasing you?”

“Oh, yeah! Charlie Wagner.”

Cassandra’s smile faded. “How did you – ?”

“What?”

“His body is the one that’s missing.”

“Which might be why I saw him on Jackson Square.”

Her gaze sharpened. “Did you use the powder?”

“He took off. Disappeared.” I paused. “Can a zombie disappear?”

“Not that I know of.”

Was I having this conversation?

“Where did you lose him?” Cassandra demanded.

“Frenchmen Street.”

She grabbed a huge purse from under the counter, then chose items from the shelves and shoved them inside. “Let’s go.”

“Where?”

“Frenchmen Street.”

“Because…?’

“Zombies aren’t the smartest beings on the planet. They follow orders, then return to their master.”

“I don’t believe this,” I muttered.

“You do, or you wouldn’t be here.”

The woman was right too often for her own good.

“You have the powder?” she asked as she locked the door behind us.

“Yep.”

“OK. We find him, reveal him, put him back where he belongs.”

“Which is?”

She frowned. “Good question. I’ve never heard of a zombie being raised before they were buried. But then again, they aren’t exactly buried around here. Encrypted. Is that a word?”

“Got me.”

Cassandra led the way, moving at a fast clip down Royal Street, then turning on St. Peter and heading for Jackson Square. Night had fallen; the moon that rose was just over half-full. Where had the time gone? I’d need to wait over a week to search for the loup-garou again.

And was I really adjusting my job because of the phases of the moon? Yes. The unbelievable became more believable with every passing hour.

“Can’t we do this in the daytime?” I asked.

“No.”

“I saw him in the daytime.” I frowned, remembering. “Well, not exactly daytime, but it wasn’t night, either.”

She stopped, turned, and put a hand on my shoulder. “It isn’t that we can’t wait; it’s that we shouldn’t Zombies are rarely raised for the good of mankind. The longer Charlie’s waltzing around, the more trouble he’ll cause.”

“You’re the expert.”

We started walking again.

“What did he look like?” she asked.

“Charlie.”

“I mean was there any decay? What about his throat wound?”

I shook my head. “He looked the same as the day I met him.”

She stopped again, right inside Jackson Square. The artisans and psychics were still there; the music had stopped.

“You’re saying his throat wasn’t bloody and gaping? His body hadn’t started to rot?”

“I think I’d have noticed.” Along with everyone else on the street

She bit her lip and stared at the ground. “Weird.”

“What are you getting at?”

Cassandra lifted her troubled gaze to mine. “Ever seen Night of the Living Dead?”

“No.”

“Zombies aren’t supposed to appear alive. They’re a walking corpse.”

“The movie could be wrong. And wouldn’t that be a shock?”

She didn’t answer, which was answer enough.

“You don’t think so.”

“No.” She cut past the cathedral, and I followed. “Maybe Charlie is too newly dead to decay.”

“Then how did he heal his throat wound?”

“Yeah.” She glanced at me. “How did he?”

“You’re the voodoo priestess.”

Cassandra scowled. “Whoever did this has power beyond anything we can imagine. Not only was Charlie raised; he was healed.” She shook her head. “I don’t like it”

I had to say I wasn’t crazy about it, either.