Since Halloween was just a couple of nights away, the population of the French Quarter was higher than usual. Instead of flashing to the store and risk being seen materializing out of thin air, we drove. We had to park several blocks away and then walk through the Quarter, weaving our way through the sea of inebriated humanity. When I’d first come to New Orleans, this overwhelmingly vulnerable mass of humans was both a temptation and an annoyance. But now, being in the middle of all that energy put a little extra spring in my step. For a city so focused on the past and so intimate with death, New Orleans was very much alive.
Giguhl, on the other hand, wasn’t so enchanted. “This sucks balls,” he groused from my arms.
“Ixnay on the talking in publicay,” Adam said.
The demon cat hissed in response. You’d figure he’d eventually get used to the fact that he simply couldn’t be seen in public in his seven-foot-tall, green-scaled demon form. “Just think of it this way,” I said, keeping my eyes forward, “if you couldn’t change into the cat body, you’d never be able to leave the house.”
“Humph.” The pissy feline flexed his claws against the sensitive skin of my inner arm.
“All right, you two,” Adam sighed.
I pressed my lips together and sidestepped a drunk coed puking in the gutter outside of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. I soldiered ahead, determined not to let the demon’s bad mood or the specks of puke on my boots ruin my mood. I’d been traveling so much on council business that having a few days to hang out with the old gang in my new hometown felt a little bit like a vacation. Maybe it’s twisted and selfish to look at hunting down a drug-addicted mage who may or may not be in major trouble as a lark, but whatever. I never promised to be selfless. I’d only promised to help.
A few moments later, we arrived at Zen’s shop. The double doors out front were wide open and a warm glow from inside invited passersby to duck in and explore. And there was plenty to see. Every inch of wall space was filled with masks and shelves full of colorful bottles and gourd rattles and crosses and skulls. The air smelled of dust and dried herbs and something dark and spicy I couldn’t begin to identify. When we walked in, a little silver bell rang near the back of the store, where a curtain separated the selling floor from the offices in the back. To the right of that was a staircase that led to the sleeping quarters upstairs and Zen’s workshop.
Zen came out from behind the curtain. When she saw us standing there, she whispered something to the girl behind the counter and walked over to join us. Her braided black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a long, loose gown covered in a batik print. On another woman the dress would have looked frumpy, but she managed to make it look both elegant and earthy. Her face was tense and she didn’t waste breath with pleasantries. “Brooks is upstairs.” Then she turned on her heel and made her way up the steps, expecting us to follow.
She led us to the second-floor workroom, where she made all of her tinctures, poultices, and gris-gris bags. Drying chicken feet hung alongside bundles of sage and other herbs dried from long lines attached to the ceiling. A long wooden table, glossy and dark with age, bisected the room. Brooks stood on the side opposite the door when we all filed in. In front of him was a thick, leather-bound book, which he closed when we entered. “Where y’at?” His tone lacked the jovial Southern charm it normally contained.
Giguhl leapt off my shoulder onto the table and went to his friend. “How you doing?” He plopped his furless butt right next to the diary. I noticed Zen’s eyebrows rise, but she didn’t protest the cat tainting her sacred workspace.
Brooks shrugged and pushed his thick black frames higher on his nose. “Worried.”
“Is that Cadence’s diary?” I asked, ready to get down to business.
“Yeah. I hate to invade her privacy, but it’s all we have to go on.”
“Did you find anything?” Giguhl prompted.
Brooks nodded. “She had several diaries in her apartment, going back years. This one covers the last four years.”
Adam tensed beside me. A quick look in his direction and I realized he was staring at the book in question as if it were a snake. That’s when it hit me that the same diary that could help us find her might also contain secrets about her and Adam that he might not want me to know.
Part of me, the side ruled by the demon of bad choices, wanted to grab it and flip back to the time when she and Adam were together. But my more practical angelic side reminded me that picking that particular scab would only lead to unnecessary pain. The old me would have told the angel to take a hike and tackle the Changeling for the diary, but the new me, the one who enjoyed happiness and peace in my life, grabbed her man’s hand and squeezed. This was awkward for me, but it had to be hellish for Adam.
He squeezed back and forced a smile before releasing my hand. “So what did you find out?”
Brooks didn’t quite meet Adam’s gaze. A sure sign he’d read the pages my bad-choices-side wanted to read so much. “For the last couple of weeks, her entries have mentioned the same name repeatedly.”
“Well?” Giguhl asked.
Oh shit, I thought. “Damascus White, as in the leader of the New Orleans vampire coven?”
Brooks nodded and held up the book. “The weird thing is that even though she’s pretty detailed with her entries, whenever she mentions Damascus, she’s very sketchy.” He opened the diary and read from it. “This entry is dated a week ago. ‘Damascus called again. He won’t take no for an answer.’”
Adam and I exchanged a look. “Why would the leader of the vampire coven be asking out a mage?” I asked.
“You’re assuming a lot,” Zen said. “He could have been asking her anything.”
I nodded. “True. But still, with his resources, it seems odd he’d resort to asking a mage for help.”
“Have you met him?” Brooks asked.
I grimaced and shook my head. “Not formally.”
“Wait,” Giguhl said. “Does that have something to do with what you said last night about not being on good terms with NOLA’s vamps?”
I hesitated before nodding.
Several pairs of judgey glances shot my direction. “What did you do?” Giguhl asked on a sigh.
“It’s all because of that time we came here to look for Maisie.” My grandmother, Lavinia, had kidnapped my twin sister, Maisie, and brought her to New Orleans a couple of years earlier. Adam, Giguhl, and I had spent a few weeks in the Big Easy looking for Granny Dearest and ended up having a huge battle in a cemetery that ended in her demise. Good riddance. “I guess Damascus took over as the leader after a lot of New Orleans’s vampires got recruited by Lavinia and her goons. Apparently we killed several of his friends, though.”