Dax wasn’t expecting me, but he was definitely glad to see me. The look in his eyes made me glad to be wearing Jacqueline’s pretty pink sundress instead of Jack’s flannel shirt and baggy trousers.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my beautiful wife, Mrs. Larue. Sit down.” His smile widened. “What in the world are you doing out in public? Don’t you know the police are looking everywhere for you.”
“Yeah, well, let them find me. I have an airtight alibi.” I took a chair. “Why didn’t you catch that flight back to Chicago today? Did they keep you so long that you missed your flight?”
“Truth is, I stayed in New Orleans hoping to find you. You may have guessed that the crime scene investigators were still in our suite when you called, and they were all ears. Just so you know, they, uh … they’re aware that we aren’t married.”
I was slightly embarrassed about how that shared room might appear, even though the police didn’t know me from the man in the moon. I’m sure my mother would not approve. And actually, I did not stay the night. I had most definitely planned to leave as soon as I got my story, and that plan happened anyway when I climbed into the cab with Madame Voodoo-Who’s-It.
“Yes, go on. I would expect you to tell the truth about the sleeping arrangements.”
“I tried to play along with them, make them think I wanted to flush you out of your hiding place. That’s why I mentioned catching my plane back to Chicago. I hoped they wouldn’t bother following me.”
“Why, Dax.” I gave my most dazzling smile. “You stayed in town because of me?” That thought pleased me even more than his admiring glances.
“I couldn’t fly away and leave a lady in distress, now could I? Especially the beautiful Miss Kaytie Flame, who invited herself to share my taxi and my room, and then stood me up for our dinner date.”
I felt even more pleased. He hadn’t abandoned me after all.
Dax still wore the same red pullover—the one that looked so good on him. He probably hadn’t been to bed all night either.
Not surprising, with a CSI team and a dead gypsy woman in his room.
“So, the police released you and then you checked out of the Lafitte?”
“Not long after you called. I came here and got busy on my laptop, pulling up parish records and old newspaper stories about the Lafitte Hotel. I found a property abstract which dates back to the 1950s from the Orleans Parish Land Records office. I think you’ll find it very interesting.”
He motioned for me to move to his side of the table so I could view his screen. We sat there almost shoulder to shoulder. I could smell his aftershave.
“The place was originally a sugar plantation built in the early 1800s by an Irish couple, Michael and Elizabeth O’Hara.”
So … Madame Chevalier had not made up that part. Maybe she was telling the entire truth, at least as she perceived it.
The waitress saw that I had changed tables and brought me a second glass of tea.
Dax continued. Years went by before a distant cousin, Navy Captain, Rex O’Hara, shows up on the deed. He added on a wing and made it into a hotel. His wife took over the title in the late 1970s.”
I opened my mouth to ask a question, but he stopped me. “Just hold on a minute. The story about this woman is going to knock your socks off.
“According to articles I found in the archives of the New Orleans Times, the owner, Captain Rex, married a much younger African woman, Maggie, who wanted her name on the title along with her brother-in-law. Maggie claimed her great-great grandmother by the name Magnolia was a former slave in the O’Hara plantation house. Her story was that Magnolia had been promised a portion of the O’Hara wealth during Civil War years.”
So, here she was —Magnolia’s great-great granddaughter. The obvious link to Madame Chevalier, who could conceivably be the great-great-great granddaughter of the slave woman. “Okay,” I said. “Knock my socks off.”
He continued, his eyes on the screen.
“Rex’s brother, Ronald, was the one who’d put his money into the place and made it a profitable business. Rex wanted the hotel to go to his brother alone after his death, even though Maggie had born him three children. That didn’t sit well with Maggie.”
I could imagine her concern.
Dax gave me one of those wait-till-you-hear-this looks. “Now here’s where it gets real interesting. The will was never finalized. Rex died in a fire that damaged part of the place. At the time, people suspected Maggie of arson, but it was never proved. When Rex died, the hotel reverted to her.”
Somewhat horrified at the thought, I asked, “Do you think she wanted the hotel badly enough to murder her own husband?”
“Maybe. Depends on how badly she felt her children might be left out.”
I pictured a desperate African woman. Three children. A much older husband. Maybe she thought they would be without any means of support. But murder?
“By this time, building codes were more stringent in New Orleans. Maggie had a financial struggle to repair the fire damage. She began telling fortunes and developed quite a following of wealthy New Orleans patrons. Soon, she managed to reopen the place, renaming it Legende de Lafitte Hotel. That’s when the story of the ghost lady first gained attention. I suspect Maggie spread the tale to draw business. It worked. The place was profitable again.”
Possibly a murderess, and likely also a witch. I wasn’t surprised. “So, she invented a ghost to draw guests.” That made sense, considering how the city of New Orleans has always attracted supernatural thrill seekers. Voodoo practitioners. Hoodoo, and who knew?
“Now here’s the really knock-your-socks off part.” Dax’s eyes sparkled. “Before old Maggie died, she drew up a will leaving the place to four persons as joint heirs and co-owners. Three were her own children, designated as great-great-great grandchildren of the plantation’s slave woman Magnolia. The third was a child yet to be born to unknown parents … a child by the name of.… Kaytie Flame O’Hara.”
My name? In the will? The statement threw me for a loop.
After a speechless moment, I stammered denials. “H-how could she know my name? It’s a weird coincidence. There’s no way. It’s not me!!”
You are not who you think you are. Both Count Ribaldo and Madame’s words echoed in my mind. With a sudden chill, I remembered how Madame Chevalier had said the spirits revealed my exact name to her. Had those same spirits also whispered to Maggie?
Dear Lord, what am I dealing with here?
Dax arched his eyebrows. “You’ve got to admit; your name is somewhat unique. Your middle name is Flame, right? I found it in a back issue of Beyond Fantasy.”
His dark eyes, like the velvet of a starless midnight sky, stared straight into my own.
“An unusual name,” he said, “and a very unusual coincidence, wouldn’t you agree?”
Dax was right, of course. I’ve never met a single person with my exact same name. Lots of Katies, Kaydees, and O’Haras too. But never anyone with the middle name of Flame.