I jumped out of my seat to join the rest of the audience in a standing ovation. Adam stood beside me with his jaw hanging down to his clavicles. “Holy shit!”
“No kidding,” I said. “I don’t know about you, but I need a stiff drink after that.”
He paused. “You want me to get you something from the bar?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I want to go see a butcher about some blood.”
After a quick good-bye to Brooks, we left him to enjoy his post-performance glow. The plan was to hit the butcher shop on Magazine Street before heading back to Zenobia’s.
As the St. Charles streetcar rocked its way toward the Garden District, Adam and I lapsed into silence. Under different circumstances, the trolley might have been a pleasant way to see the city. But my thoughts inevitably turned to Maisie, and the nocturnal scenery only served to depress me. Spanish moss draped the trees like funeral shrouds. The old houses crouched on either side of St. Charles like mourners watching a funeral procession, their dark windows like eyes closed in grief.
Adam took my hand, his warm on my cold skin. “We’ll find her.”
I looked up into his eyes. I wanted to grab his words out of the air and cling to them like a buoy. But the practical side of me knew it wouldn’t do any good. Hope was a mirage. And reality was a harsh mistress. “You don’t know that.”
He sighed, his own frustration making his shoulders tense. “You’re right. I don’t.”
I swallowed and looked out the windows again. My hand found the two amulets— mine and Maisie’ s— as if the contact might somehow forge a real connection with her. Instead, the metal and stone just felt cold against my skin. Adam didn’t let go of my other hand, and for once, I didn’t worry about what he might think my easy acceptance of contact might mean. He was offering muchneeded comfort, and I’d be a fool to refuse it out of pride.
Gears hissed under the trolley, signaling an upcoming stop. I squinted and saw we’d finally reached Washington Street. “This is us.”
We exited the car and jogged across St. Charles to enter the stately neighborhoods of the Garden District. According to Brooks, if we kept going straight for a few more blocks we’d end up on Magazine Street. The street was dark and mostly mortal-free, except for the homeowners tucked away inside their mansions. I could just scent their blood in the damp air.
After growing up in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, New Orleans was like an entirely different country. Between the antique architecture, the slower pace of life, and the spicy southern culture, I found myself liking what I’d seen of the city. Maybe once all the drama was over, I could come back to enjoy the city’s delights.
Once we turned onto the shop-lined Magazine Street, the butcher’s place was hard to miss. Two eight-foot tall phalluses— okay, maybe they were sausages— flanked the doors and a sign on the front door read: Cajun Sausage Fest, Home of the World’s Best Boudin.
A small bell dinged as Adam I entered. The shop boasted a long meat display case and a few bistro tables pushed together in one corner. The place was empty of customers for the moment, thank the gods. Not a surprise, given the late hour. But who knew? Maybe when the bars cleared out, hordes of drunks stumbled through the doors in search of sausage.
A portly human male burst through the horizontal plastic flaps separating the shop from the work area in back. He’d pasted his thinning brown hair across a shiny pate. The comb-over, in addition to not fooling anyone, also accentuated his jowls. His apron had a threadbare appearance that indicated religious washing and heavy use. A beige short-sleeved dress shirt and brown tie— complete with a gold tiepin— peeked over the top of the apron.
When he saw us waiting for him, he paused. His eyes widened a bit and then narrowed as if he was sizing us up. I couldn’t blame him, really. I’d imagine his normal clientele didn’t include leather-clad vampires and mages in dusters.
I held up my hands. “Hi there. Madam Zenobia sent us.”
He visibly relaxed. “Alodius Thibodeaux at your service.”
I nodded. “I’m Sabina and this is my friend Adam.”
Alodius’s eyes narrowed. “Where y’all from?”
“New York,” I said automatically. Then I paused. Since when did I consider New York home? For the first fifty-three years of my life home was Los Angeles. Funny it only took a few weeks with the mages to change so much of my identity.
“Ah,” he said. The single word came out sounding like a verdict: Yankees. “So you’re an old friend of Madam Z’s, you said?”
“She’s putting us up for a few days,” Adam lied. “She said you might be able to help us acquire some ….. blood.”
“I see.” He pursed his lips and nodded. “Well, cher, you come to the right place. Alodius slaughters his own product, so we’ve got lots of fresh blood. Bovine or porcine?”
My nose crinkled at the idea of drinking pig’s blood. Not that cold cow’s blood sounded any better, I guess. “Cow’s fine.”
“An excellent choice. Most of my vamp customers prefer bovine.”
His casual attitude about discussing blood preferences with a vamp surprised me. Most places I’d been, humans were blissfully unaware of the existence of vampires. But this guy seemed like he dealt with this sort of thing all the time. I leaned forward and whispered, “You know many vampires?”
“Some. Most around here prefer to eat off the hoof, but every now and again one’ll find hisself here.” He shrugged. “You pay Alodius twenty a pint, yeah?”
I wasn’t sure what was more disturbing, his insistence on referring to himself in the third person or his prices. “I’ll take two pints to start.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’ll ring that up for you tout de suite.”
He went to a cooler behind the counter. From it he retrieved a milk jug filled with red liquid. I shared a grimace with Adam. Thank the gods I didn’t have to worry about food poisoning.
While he worked, he chatted away like a jaybird. “Y’all in town long?”
“Just got here yesterday,” I said. “Not sure when we’ll leave.”
Adam shot me a look. I frowned at him. No sense being rude to the guy. Even though he was human, he seemed friendly enough.
“Well, you came to the right place. Old Alodius has the best blood in town.”
Watching the cold cow’s blood drip into the plastic container, I had my doubts. But I figured it couldn’t be worse than the bagged blood I’d been forced to consume in New York. I had no idea how to respond, so I just made the appropriate noises. Adam was suddenly busy studying a diagram explaining different cuts of meat.