Excerpt from Le Bon Dom
And here's an excerpt to whet your whistle!
“You’re anywhere,” the ghost girl said.
Hollis opened his eyes and took in the dirty, tagged plaster walls rising up in front of them. “Where are we?”
“St. Louis Number One,” she said. “I needed to make a delivery, and you didn’t seem particular.”
A cemetery? Hollis straightened in his seat, pulled out his phone, and checked the time: 11:45. Still not even midnight. How had the evening progressed so quickly and to such… What kind of results were these? Sitting outside a boneyard minutes away from a new year, a mystery ice maiden responsible for him? This night had put him so out of his element he didn’t feel like himself anymore.
Around them, seemingly from all sides, the pop and whiz of fireworks sounded. The big ones over the river wouldn’t start until the gumbo pot dropped on top of the Jax Brewery Building at midnight, but that didn’t keep the people in Treme from starting the celebration early. That was part of the reason he liked living there, the joie de vivre everyone possessed.
“What’s your name?” Hollis asked.
The rickshaw driver jumped off her seat and headed to the back of the bike. She opened a compartment under the seat and took out a large, insulated hamper. “Why?”
Hollis couldn’t answer that. “I’m Hollis.”
“And I’m your driver for the night. You can wait here. Don’t talk to strangers.”
She took the hamper and set it on top of the cemetery wall. Then she scaled the wall like someone in a Luc Besson film. Hollis couldn’t keep his gaze off her tight ass as she did it. He blinked. “Wait!” he said.
She perched at the top, looking down at him, appearing even more ethereal than she had earlier, like some kind of cat person. A light breeze ruffled her hair.
He climbed out of the rickshaw and went to the locked metal gate. He clambered over it, knowing he couldn’t even approach the grace the driver had. She watched him as he dropped to the other side, then alighted near him, her feet barely making a sound as she landed.
“Come on,” she said after she took the hamper down off the wall and started into the gloom of the cemetery.
Hollis followed her through the labyrinth of old, aboveground crypts and minor memorials. “What are we doing?”
“Hush,” she said.
They rounded a corner to see three people sitting in a small circle, a large flashlight in the middle like a campfire.
“What’s going on?”
The people glanced up as the driver and Hollis approached.
“I brought y’all a midnight snack,” the driver said.
“Thanks, Brun,” one of the three said.
“Your name’s Brun?”
“Short for Brunhilda, but don’t call her that,” someone else in the circle supplied.
“My grandmother named me,” Brun said, and then reached up to brush her hair out of her eyes.
“Who’s this guy?” the final speaker asked.
“Hollis, he says,” Brun told him. “A fare.”
They all nodded.
“I’m Silas. That’s Merrill and Kirby.”
Silas sat a little apart from the other two. Hollis could tell Merrill and Kirby were a couple.
To Hollis, the three resembled those typical wayfarer New Orleanians who came from Portland, Oregon, or sometimes Minneapolis. Silas wore a brown felt hat with a long feather in it, and Merrill wore clothes that looked as if they came from a Stevie Nicks yard sale. Kirby appeared normal in jeans and a thick Tulane University hoodie, but that was just as typical.
The three made room in the circle for Hollis and Brun, and Brun opened her hamper. She took out a few plastic containers of snacks and a Thermos. These were passed from person to person, each taking what he or she wanted. Hollis received the Thermos and took a big swig. He coughed. “Irish coffee?”
“Strong like I like,” Brun said and snatched the Thermos from him. She took a long gulp, the burn of the whiskey not seeming to affect her. The others didn’t appear too affected either. When the Thermos came around again, Hollis decided on a small sip instead. He didn’t know for certain how the booze would mix in his gut with everything else he’d had to drink that night, none of which had been whiskey until now.
“Any trouble yet?” Brun asked.
Silas shook his head. “Not so far. We’ve been fortunate.”
Hollis remembered the bizarre situation into which he’d inserted himself. “What are y’all doing here?”
“We belong to a preservation group,” Merrill told him. “On holidays—ones where people get drunk and do stupid things—we keep watch over her.” She tilted her chin toward a tomb lying deep in shadow a few yards down the walkway.
Hollis stood and wandered over to it. Of course. He knew the tomb—had seen it in artwork, on the covers of books. Over and over XXX marked its pitted marble and plaster surface. Cigarette butts, burned votive candles, and empty glass hip flasks lay at its feet along with trampled and browned flowers.
The tomb of Marie Laveau, one of the most famous landmarks in all of New Orleans, and people often did stupid stuff to it.
Legend had it, if one marked the tomb with three Xs, did some silly little dance, knocked on the tomb, or called out for Marie, then left a gift, a wish would be granted.
Hollis had never believed in that type of thing, but right now, with the promise of the new year hanging in the air, the eerie girl he’d just met, and the other mistakes of the night piled up on his conscience, he felt like he needed to change something.
It was illegal to mark the tomb, but some people still did. The kind the friends he’d just made were here to ward off.
Footsteps approached on the gravel path behind him. Hollis sucked on the end of his finger and then marked his three Xs in saliva on the marble. No real damage from that, right? Besides, the ritual depended more on the faith of the practitioner than any voodoo spirit who still lingered.
“What are you doing?” Brun asked.
Hollis turned to look at her. He’d never felt this kind of attraction to a woman before. For him, attraction meant sex, and sex only. Either his cock responded or it didn’t. If it responded, he’d fuck, teach his lover a few things about herself, and move on.
But right now he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted more in the world than to have this girl, at least for tonight.
No. Not just a night. He reached into the pocket of his peacoat. What could he leave in offering? He took out a handful of change, dropped it onto the path at his feet, and then stepped forward to meet Brun.
The heavy, deep-bass boom of the fireworks from the river reverberated off the tombs around them.
“Happy New Year,” he said and wrapped his arms around her. He looked down into her eyes. Marie Laveau, he thought, give me this one thing.
He kissed Brun, and she tasted of coffee and whiskey. He held her cold body to his, wanting her to feel his warmth, to protect her, to make her understand. The kiss pulsed through him, lighting him up from the inside and pushing heat out to the very tips of his extremities. Winter halted then, and summer bloomed in the space around them.
Hollis had never reacted to a kiss this way. At least, not since his first insecure smooches as a teenager, when the newness of the experience had been enough to excite him.
He didn’t want to, but he finally broke the kiss and pulled away, searching her eyes for some glimmer of affection, of promise. She stepped back, her eyes wide.
Whiskey. Oh boy.
Then Hollis’s head spun, and he pitched backward as he passed out.