Audrey stared out the window of the streetcar into the blackness of the night. All she could see were the floodlit lawns of crumbling old mansions amid the twisting branches of live oak trees, but somewhere she knew lurked Carl. And Chet. Neither of whom seemed like a good option.
She turned to Declan and asked, “Why can’t I just go to the police? Or, better yet, what if we all head for the airport and take the next flight out of here?”
Declan leaned forward. “Well, you’ve got a bit of a problem. First, what are you gonna tell the police? Some guy beat you up? You don’t have anything to show for it, thanks to me. They’ve got their hands full with gunshots and drug deals so they’ll ignore you. And the airport is a terrible idea.”
“Why?” Beth asked. “That seems like a really good idea.”
“No. This time of night, the airport’s dead. With the undead. The TSA night shift’s all scavengers. They’ll be pullin’ you out of the line for a full body cavity search that you’ll never survive.”
“The TSA’s made up of scavengers?” Syd asked.
“Did you really think they were human?” Declan chuckled before continuing, “Sorry, but I’m about your only friend in this town tonight. Now, the scavengers around here are pretty lazy, but you’ve pissed off Carl by refusing to just lie down and get killed. So he’ll be huntin’ you.”
“But,” interjected Evie, “if they’re lazy doesn’t that mean she’s safer?”
Declan shook his head. “Unfortunately, no. They’re lazy because so many stupid drunk people come into this town they don’t have to work very hard to find their dinner. But it doesn’t mean they won’t fight when their meal’s been snatched away. That’s where I come in. I’ll try to steer you clear of Carl, and if we can’t avoid him we’ll lure him into an abandoned house and set it on fire and that usually does the trick.”
“Is it that easy?” Syd asked.
“Not really,” Declan answered, somewhat cagily Beth noticed. “But we’ll do our best to outsmart him. We need to stay in public places till dawn. Carl does have a reputation around town, so he’ll be discreet. If we can make it through the night, you’ll probably live.”
“And if we don’t?” Audrey asked in a small voice.
“Then let’s hope it’s not Chet,” Declan answered.
At the sight of Audrey’s ashen face, Declan continued in a cheerful tone, “Oh, don’t worry. Carl is much stronger and smarter than Chet, there’s almost no chance Chet’d get you first. Let’s look on the bright side – you either live, or you get killed by the necrophiliac.”
“Fuck.” Audrey said as she slumped into her seat.
“Ah, why not?” Declan said, standing up and offering his hand to Audrey. “Might as well get in there before Carl wrecks you.”
Audrey narrowed her eyes. “You’re disgusting.” She looked at Declan still standing there with a smirk on his face and she spat out, “Oh, sit down!”
“I was kidding again, you know,” Declan retorted as he took his seat, “Just tryin’ to lighten the mood. But now I see why Carl’s after you,” Declan continued, pointing at Audrey, “he likes them brunette and cranky.”
“Canal Street!” The conductor’s voice startled the five of them as the streetcar hurtled to a stop.
Syd stood up and motioned toward the steps. “Come on,” she said, “let’s get off here and go to the Carousel Bar.”
Beth looked at her strangely. “Hello? That’s in a hotel, too, remember?”
Syd shook her head. “You heard Declan, we need to stick to public places. The hotel’s packed this weekend with the burlesque festival and the bar’s too small for Carl to hide. We’ll be safe as kittens.”
“And they mix an excellent cocktail,” Declan noted. Beth glared at him, so he added, “Not that I’m thirsty or anything.”
Beth followed Syd down the steps into the street as Evie, Declan, and Audrey hurried behind.
“Plus,” Syd insisted with a confidence she didn’t really feel, “nothing bad could ever happen in the Hotel Montelone.”
A chilly breeze flickered over Audrey’s bare arms as she stumbled down the steps of the streetcar. She stood rooted to the dirty sidewalk as happy tourists stumbled against her on their way to the Quarter.
Declan nudged Audrey. “Come on, let’s go.” When she resisted, he whispered in her ear, “You’ll be fine.”
Audrey turned around to glare at him. “No I won’t. How can you say that?”
Declan shrugged and said, “OK, you’ll be fine, or you’ll die. Either way, you’ll be somethin’.”
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