I glanced around at the shadow-filled room, empty of furniture. A couple of dusty pictures hung on the wall—an astrological chart and a pyramid with a single staring eye. It would have been dark except for diffused light from a street lamp shining through the dusty bay window panes.
Unable to stand, I shuffled and scooted toward Tex.
“Are you able to move your fingers?”
“A little. They’ve just about gone plumb numb from the cords being so tight. I can’t even feel the back of my belt.”
I managed to sit up with my back against his.
“Okay, I’m going to try to untie you.”
My fingers strained at the knots. “This is some kind of tough nylon cord.” After fumbling for several minutes, my fingers trembled from the exertion.
“I’m not able to loosen it. Can you untie me?”
After a fumbling attempt, he sighed and sagged against me. “My fingers are so clumsy that if they hadn’t lost most sensation, I probably couldn’t loosen those knots.” Then he straightened up. “Hey, just remembered I’ve got a little pocket knife! It’s in my right shirt pocket. Maybe you could wriggle it out.”
I was willing to try. We both bent into unnatural positions, and I managed to slide my hands into the pocket.”
“You feel the knife?”
“Barely, with my fingertips.” I panted from the exertion. “But I can’t grasp it.” I strained to reach deeper into the pocket.
A very unmanly giggle came from Tex. “Sorry, ma’am. You’re ticklin’ my ribs.”
The ridiculousness of our situation struck me as funny, too. Here we were, practically in each other’s faces, in who knew what kind of danger, and Tex was giggling like a schoolgirl. I started to giggle, too.
We burst out laughing until tears ran down our faces. If anyone had been watching, we would have looked like a pair of idiots. I didn’t care. A medicinal dose of hilarity did us both good.
Finally, the thought of Bad Leroy returned and I sobered. “Hold still a minute, will you? I’ve almost got it.”
Tex continued to laugh and squirm, but his spasms of hilarity worked the pocket knife into my grasping fingers. “I’ve got it! Now turn around.”
He scooted to obey, and we were soon back to back again. He extended his arms as far as he could. The small blade was difficult to open, but after a considerable struggle I managed. Then I began to saw back and forth at the cord.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the cord snapped and Tex was free.
“Glory be!” He breathed a sigh of relief and went to work untying me.
I rubbed my chafed wrists.
Tex got up, went to the door and tried to open it. “Locked. We gotta get outta here.”
“Do you think there’s anyone in the house?” I whispered, which was silly, considering we’d been hooting with laughter just moments ago.
Tex whispered back, “The place feels empty. I haven’t heard a sound since you’ve been awake.”
He blinked at me with a rather foolish look. “Why are we whispering?”
“Because we’re ridiculous,” I suppressed another bubbling gale of laughter threatening to erupt.
Surely, I’m allowed a moment of silliness after holding it together so well during my perils. Mostly well.
Okay, I’ve made some dumb mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. Time to get moving.
There must be a way to escape. “The window!” I ran to the bay windows. They were large, almost the height of a man, and they could be cranked open on their rusty hinges.
I peered out at a shadowy, tree-lined residential street. It was filled with two and three-story French and Spanish colonial shotgun houses in various states of disrepair. We were on the third floor of a house, nowhere near the Garden District, not even the low-rent end.
No traffic. No light shining from any windows. No people about.
The houses on the block had the appearance of abandonment. Boarded up windows. Others with gaping, shattered panes. Doors hung off hinges, sinister in the faint light, perhaps victims of a past hurricane.
Far away, I could see city lights reflecting off the clouded night sky.
Tex looked out on the scene, groaned and rubbed his eyes. Clearly he didn’t like what he was seeing.
At that moment, car headlights turned onto the street. We froze, hoping it would pass.
“Let’s go,” I said.
A ledge ran underneath the bay windows, perhaps wide enough for human feet. The yard seemed incredibly far below—dizzyingly so as it disappeared into the darkness. Clearly, we were on the third floor.
“Maybe we can climb our way out,” I suggested, thinking aloud.
Tex gulped. “I hate to tell you, Miss Kaytie, particularly at a time like this, but I’m afraid of heights.” His voice was sheepish.
“Well, I hate to tell you, Tex, but a time like this is when you get over it … unless you see another way out of here?”
He glanced helplessly around the room and shook his head.
“But how do we know this ledge leads anywhere?” he asked. “We might inch our way all around the house and end up back where we started.”
He had a point. I kicked off Jacqueline’s sandals.
“Okay, I’ll go first. Wait here.” I stepped over the low windowsill and climbed onto the narrow ledge. The humid night air clung to me like a damp blanket. Don’t look down.
With nothing to hold on to, I flattened myself against the wall and began to inch slowly along the ledge, hoping it was solid enough to support my weight. I didn’t want to think about how old the ledge was, or the fact it was never designed for feet. I particularly didn’t want to think about how far it was to the ground.
Eventually, I arrived at a second alcove of windows. They were dark and vacant. The ledge jutted outward under the alcove, the same as the one I had left behind.
Could I open the windows from the outside? Or break one? I had hoped for a balcony, with a veranda and wrought iron railing, the kind so common in the French Quarter. No such luck.
Then I heard it. A querulous bird sound. A pigeon was obviously unhappy that I had disturbed his roosting place.
“Move over bird!” I ordered.
A cacophony of sound erupted from an entire flock of irritated pigeons. The noise split the silence.
“Okay, all right already.” I did not want to draw any attention to myself. “ Shh! Be quiet.”
For a moment, the birds settled, clearly unwilling to move from their comfortable ledge. I inched my foot toward the closest bird.
Then it did the most brazen thing. It pecked my foot!
“Ouch! Bad pigeon. Bad pigeon!”
“Who you talking to?” Tex leaned out—very slightly—through the alcove windows.
“There’s a flock of pigeons roosting up here, and they don’t like me.”
The bad pigeon pecked my naked foot again. “Ouch!”
Enough of that. I started inching my way back toward Tex. “I’m going to try the other direction.”
“Please don’t fall.” His voice shook. ″Seeing you out there makes me as nervous as a kangaroo with a porcupine in its pouch.”
I chuckled at the image and moved past Tex toward the darker side of the house.
There I found an ancient live oak, its thick branches spreading near the roof. Perhaps we could climb our way down one of them, or at least far enough to drop without risk of serious injury. The older the tree, the greater the likelihood its branches drooped to the ground, like those at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana. These branches could be the perfect escape route.
“Tex, this way.”
“I hear you … but I can’t do it.” Tex groaned.
“Yes, you can do it,” I said. “I’m coming back for you.”