Midnight Bayou Page 10


Declan leaned forward. "Do you believe it's haunted?”

Remy pursed his lips, copped the last piece of pizza. "That whole history lesson was your way of working around to asking that one question? Boy, you got the makings for a fine southern lawyer. Sure it's haunted." His eyes danced as he bit into the pizza. "House been here this long and isn't, it'd have no self– respect whatsoever. The granddaughter you mentioned. She was a Rouse on her mama's side. I know that, as I'm fourth or fifth cousins with the Simones, and the Simones come down from that line. Girl was raised, I believe, by her maternal grandparents after her mama took off with some man-so it's said. Don't know if I recollect what happened to her daddy, but others will if you want to know. I do know that Henri Manet, his wife, Josephine, and the one son-damned if I know what his name was –all died in this house. One of them doesn't have the gumption to haunt it, that's a crying shame.”

"Natural causes? The people who died here?”

Curious, Remy frowned. "Far as I know. Why?”

"I don't know." Declan had to fight off a shudder. "Vibes.”

"You want someone to come through here? Little gris-gris, little voodoo, chase off your ghost, or maybe summon the spirit for a little conversation? You can find yourself a witch or psychic every second corner in town.”

"No, thanks.”

"You let me know if you decide different." Remy winked. "I'll put you onto somebody who'll give you a fine show.”

He didn't want a show, Declan decided later. But he did want that shower, and bed. With Jim Beam buzzing pleasantly in his blood, he hauled in boxes, pawed through them to find sheets and towels. He carted what he figured he'd need for the night upstairs.

It was good old Catholic guilt rather than any need for order that had him making the bed. He treated himself to a ten-minute shower, then climbed into the fresh sheets to the sound of the incessant rain.

He was asleep in thirty seconds.

There was a baby crying. It didn't strike him as odd at all. Babies tended to cry in the middle of the night, or whenever they damn well pleased. It sounded fretful and annoyed more than alarmed.

Someone ought to go pick it up … do whatever people did with crying babies. Feed it. Change it. Rock it.

When he'd waked from nightmares as a child, his mother or his nanny, sometimes his father, had come in to stroke his head and sit with him until the fear faded away again.

The baby wasn't frightened. The baby was hungry.

It didn't strike him as odd that he thought that. That he knew that.

But it did strike him as odd, very odd, to wake, bathed in sweat, and find himself standing outside the door with the dull brass knob on the third floor.

Sleepwalking. That was something he hadn't done since childhood. But in the watery light of day it was simple enough to see how it had happened. Jim Beam, pepperoni pizza and talk of ghosts.

A little harder to accept was the gut-clenching terror he'd felt when he'd surfaced and found himself outside that third-level door. He'd snapped out of the fugue and into a nightmare of panic-one where he'd been certain he'd heard the fading echoes of a baby's restless crying.

He'd run. He couldn't have opened that door if he'd had a gun to his head. So he'd run, with his own bright fear chasing him, to lock himself back in the bedroom. Like a mental patient, he thought now over a lukewarm cup of instant coffee.

At least there'd been no one around to see it.

But if you thought about it, it was a rather auspicious first night. Cold spots, baby ghosts, fugues. It sure beat sitting in his empty town house in Boston, sucking on a beer and watching ESPN.

Maybe he would spend some time digging deeper into the history of the house. His house, he corrected, and with his coffee, he leaned on the damp iron rail of the gallery outside his bedroom.

His view. And it was a beaut once you skimmed over the wreck of the gardens.

Leaves dripped from the rain in steady, musical plops, and the air shimmered with the weight the storm had left behind. Mists crawled over the ground, smoky fingers that trailed and curled around the trees to turn them into romantic and mysterious silhouettes.

If the sun broke through, the glittery light would be spectacular, but it was nothing to sneeze at now.

There was a pond, a small one, choked with lily pads, and fields-some fallow, some already planted for a spring that came so much sooner here. He could see the thin curve of the river that ribboned its way through the deep shadows of the bayou.

A rickety little bridge crossed the water in a hump, then a dirt road pushed into the trees toward a house mostly hidden by them. He could just make out a puff of smoke that rose up to mix with the hazy air.

He'd already been up on the belvedere that morning, and had been relieved to find it, the roof, the chimneys, all in good repair. The last owners had seen to that and this second-floor gallery before they'd thrown in the towel.

It looked as if they'd started on the rear gallery as well, had started preliminary work on closing it into a screened porch.

Which might not be a bad idea. He'd think about it.

Declan wasn't certain if they'd run out of money or energy, or both, but he considered it his good fortune.

He had plenty of money, and just now, watching the steam rising over the weeds and water, plenty of energy.

He lifted the cup to his lips, then lowered it again as he saw a woman-a girl?– slip through the trees toward the curve of the river. A huge black dog lumbered along beside her.

She was too far away from him to make out features. He saw she wore a red checked shirt and jeans, that her hair was long and dark and madly curling. Was she old? he wondered. Young? Pretty or plain?

He decided on young and pretty. It was, after all, his option.

She tossed a ball in the air, fielded it smartly when the dog gave a leap. She tossed it twice more while the dog jumped and ran in circles. Then she reared back like a pitcher in the stretch and bulleted it through the air. The dog gave chase and didn't hesitate, but leaped toward the pond, shagging the ball with a snap of teeth an instant before he hit the water.

Hell of a trick, Declan thought and, grinning, watched the girl applaud.

He wished he could hear her. He was sure she was laughing, a low, throaty laugh. When the dog swam to the edge, scrambled out, he spit the ball at her feet, then shook himself.

Prev Next