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Night Creature: Crescent Moon Chapter 19

Frenchmen Street was deserted except for bartenders, waitresses, and local musicians ready to play a set for tips.

“Won’t get busy here until after nine or ten,” Cassandra said. “If you like, once we’re done, we can hang out and listen to the best jazz in town.

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I wasn’t sure what to say. We’d come after a zombie, and once we put him back… wherever… Cassandra wanted to listen to music and drink wine spritzers.

When in Rome, I guess. By then I probably would need a drink.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Now we start walking through alleys, peeking in bars.”

“Seems a little half-assed to me.”

“You got a better idea?”

Actually, I did.

“Hey, Charlie!” I shouted. “Chaaaaaaarlie!”

One bartender and two waitresses stepped onto the sidewalk, saw us, shrugged, and went back to work.

I glanced at Cassandra. “You said names have power.”

“I did, didn’t I?” She took a deep breath and shouted, “Charlie!”

Farther down, past the jazz clubs, a head poked out between a grocery store and an abandoned building. I recognized that head even before Charlie stepped into the flare of a streetlight.

“Bingo,” I whispered.

“Get the powder.”

I did as she said, and each of us took a little into our hand.

“Remember, blow it right into his face.”

We took one step in Charlie’s direction and he ran.

“Hell!” Cassandra snapped, and started to run, too. “He isn’t supposed to run.”

I hustled after her. I had longer legs, but Cassandra had less weight on hers. “Why not?”

“Because it should be all he can do to shuffle. This guy is weird.”

“This guy is dead.”

She didn’t bother to answer. Charlie was too fast to keep up a conversation and keep up with him.

He led us away from the dewy lights of Frenchmen Street, down roads I couldn’t name without a sign, past signs I couldn’t see without a light. Cassandra didn’t seem disturbed, but then, she probably knew where we were going.

Nevertheless, I didn’t think it was a good idea to chase a corpse all over New Orleans when all we had for protection was a zombie-revealing powder that might or might not work.

“Maybe we should let him go,” I wheezed.

“Not on your life.” Cassandra wasn’t wheezing, of course. “This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a zombie. I’m not giving up the chance to – “

Ah, she did have to take a deep breath. I felt so much better.

“To what?”

She frowned, her gaze flicking past me. “That’s Louis Armstrong Park.”

I stopped running.

Louis Armstrong Park was not a place we wanted to be after the dark. The only place worse was –

“He’s going into St. Louis Cemetery Number One.”

That.

All the guidebooks said, in big, bold, red letters, not to enter any of the cemeteries at night. And not because of a zombie problem, either. There was a certain diceyness, even in the daytime, that made it best to visit in groups.

Up until about eighty years ago, this part of New Orleans had been known as Storyville and was the only legal red-light district in the country. Customers could peruse a book that listed the bordellos and even had pictures of the prostitutes. Jazz flourished, too, since the musical movement was not considered legitimate until much later.

Even after prostitution became illegal again, Storyville remained the place to find a certain kind of girl well into the 1960s.

A police station had been built nearby. However, the area still had a dangerous aura that never seemed to go away.

“Let’s go back to your place.” I tugged on Cassandra’s arm.

“No.” Her mouth thinned into a stubborn line.

“Why are you so obsessed with this?”

Her face took on a faraway expression, and for an instant I thought she might confide in me; then the stubbornness returned. “I have my reasons. You still have your powder?”

“Yes. But I’d feel better if I had a gun.”

I thought about the one Adam had given me, which was still locked in the trunk of my car, where it was going to be of so much use to us.

Without commenting, Cassandra reached into her bag and withdrew a very long knife. I gaped. Who was this woman?

“Uh, it probably isn’t a good idea to walk around with that.”

She lifted a brow. “Believe me, in this neighborhood, it is.”

“There’s no one here but us.”

“You’re wrong. They’re all over the place.” She headed for the cemetery.

The back of my neck tingled. Who were “they”?

Not wanting to be left alone, I scurried to catch up just as Cassandra reached the front of St. Louis Cemetery Number One. Barbed wire lined the top of the stone fence. The front gate was iron and sported a big lock.

I breathed a sigh of relief until Cassandra reached out and gave it a shove. The gate slid open.

“Damn it,” I muttered.

She cast me an amused glance. “How do you think Charlie got in?”

“He couldn’t just slide through the walls?”

“He’s a zombie, not a ghost.”

“You’re sure about that?”

Cassandra lifted a palm filled with powder. “Let’s find out”

Without wailing for me to agree or disagree, she slipped through the gate. I glanced longingly at the street, which was lit up like the Superdome on Super Sunday. There were lots of cars and even a few non-zombie people; I wanted to stay.

“Diana!” Cassandra snapped.

I couldn’t let her go alone, so I followed her inside.

The half-moon only shone enough light into St Louis Cemetery Number One to make the shadows dance and the white stone gleam. Other than that, darkness reigned.

“Watch your step,” Cassandra murmured. “A lot of the old markers are crumbling. Easy to trip.”

“Where are we going?”

“Best place to look for a zombie would be Marie Laveau’s tomb.”

“If you say so.”

The crypt of the New Orleans voodoo queen wasn’t very far from the front gate. Tall but otherwise unimpressive, it was tucked among many others. I wouldn’t have taken the white boxy monument for anything special if not for the flowers in front of the door and the Xs drawn on the walls.

“What are those?” I whispered.

“People believe if they mark three Xs on Marie’s tomb, scratch the ground three times with their feet, or rap three times on the grave, their wish will be granted.”

I started to hum “Knock Three Times.”

Cassandra snorted, then moved closer to the tomb and rapped on the door. Once. Twice. Three times.

I froze as the sound echoed in the stillness of the night. As I half-expected someone to answer, my head snapped around when a bell began to ring somewhere in the cemetery.

“Dead ringer,” Cassandra murmured, and started in the direction of the sound. Since I had no desire to stay behind and see if her rapping had woken the voodoo queen, I followed.

“What the hell is a dead ringer?”

“You never heard the expression?”

“Sure. But it means someone who resembles someone else. What does that have to do with a bell in the cemetery?” I rubbed my arms against a sudden chill. “In the dark, in the night”

“This place was opened in 1789, back when they didn’t know yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes. People thought it could be passed from person to person, be they living or dead.”

“Understandable.”

“So they placed the cemetery outside the city limits in an attempt to keep the fever away. But so many died, and so many panicked, sometimes people got buried before they were dead.”

“Bummer.”

She turned and lifted a brow in my direction. “Times ten. Because of the unique burial practices here, the tombs are opened to inter new bodies. When they started to find fingernail furrows in the doors, they came up with a brilliant idea.”

The bell suddenly stopped ringing, and the ensuing silence was so loud, I could hear both of us breathing.

Cassandra pointed to a crypt. “They installed a bell on top, with a string leading inside. People were told if they suddenly awoke in a dark, enclosed space all they had to do was find the string and ring the bell. The cemetery attendant would come and let them out.”

“Pretty smart.”

“Not bad,” she agreed. “Except when people began to see the folks they’d only buried a few days ago walking around on the street they were understandably freaked. They coined the term dead ringer to explain the phenomenon.”

I contemplated the now-silent bell. “So who was ringing this one?”

“Let’s find out.”

“Let’s not.” I grabbed at her arm, but she was already gone.

The door to the tomb faced away from us. Before we could turn the corner, a loud thunk split the night.

Cassandra stopped so fast, I ran into her back. “Sounded like a door,” she whispered.

“Are there still cemetery attendants?”

“No.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

Together we peeked around the corner and discovered Charlie helping a woman out of the crypt. The name on the tomb read: Favreau. I filed that away for later use.

“You take him; I’ll take her,” Cassandra ordered, and stepped out of hiding.

Both Charlie and the woman growled at us.

“Mrs. Beasly,” I blurted.

She gave no indication that she heard me or that she knew her name, just continued to snarl in tandem with Charlie. I hadn’t thought a person could snarl, and while Cassandra and I were too far away to be sure, I could swear both of them had fangs.

Cassandra cut a quick glance in my direction. “You know her?”

“Missing librarian.”

No wonder they couldn’t find her. Why search in a crypt marked: Favreau?

“Is she dead?” I asked.

“You see a lot of live people climb out of tombs snarling?”

“Not lately.”

When the two stalked in our direction, Cassandra hurriedly lifted her palm and put her lips near her wrist. I did the same.

“Now,” Cassandra ordered.

We exhaled; the powder flew, coating their faces in pale yellow particles. Slowly my arm dropped back to my side as Charlie and Mrs. Beasly stopped walking and started coughing.

I waited for them to shrivel, disintegrate, disappear. But they didn’t

Charlie smacked me in the chest with the flat of his hand. Any air I had left in my lungs rushed out as I sailed backward and slammed into a crypt wall. I collapsed, too stunned to move.

Cassandra’s knife flashed; Mrs. Beasly hissed as smoke rose from the cut in her forearm. She recovered quickly, backhanding Cassandra hard enough that she joined me on the ground. Mrs. Beasly was far too strong to be a live little old lady.

The two advanced. I tried to get up, but I was still loopy. Cassandra didn’t look much better; she was going to have a shiner in the morning.

She glanced around for her knife, but the weapon had clattered in another direction when she was hit. Not that it had done her any good against a superhuman zombie librarian.

Was that redundant?

The two paused a few feet away, their bodies blotting out the light of the half-moon so that a silver halo appeared behind their heads. I couldn’t see their faces, but the mumbles coming from their mouths were more animal than human.

“I don’t think that zombie powder works,” Cassandra murmured.

Two sharp reports split the night Charlie and Mrs. Beasly jerked once and then exploded in blazing balls of fire.

“I don’t think they’re zombies,” I said.