“Look, I admit that woman in the photograph looks a lot like me, but I’m not related to her, even though I am part Irish.” I hoped I could convince her.
“First, I don’t believe in reincarnation. And second, even if I were somehow related to Elizabeth, I don’t have the slightest idea where to find her buried treasure.”
“But you will. The tea leaves and tarot cards have predicted it for years.”
“The tea leaves and tarot cards are wrong,” I said.
“It will happen.” She folded her arms across her ample midriff with an air of having settled the entire matter. “Madame Chevalier has spoken.”
I folded my arms across my chest, imitating her gesture. “Well, rooty toot-toot, I don’t give a hoot.” I thought of a few things I’d rather say but held my tongue. My mother taught me not to use bad language.
Madame grunted. Then she moved to the door of the cabin, paused, and turned.
“I have business to take care of, but I will come back for you. You gonna be glad to cooperate with me, girl. Very glad.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
Tex scrambled to his feet. “Hey wait a minute, Miss Chevrolay! I got nothin’ to do with this. You don’t need me. Take me back to N’awlins in the boat with you now. My dispatcher is gonna be lookin’ for me, and I’ve got a wife and four kids. The twins—Monica and Unica—are just babies. They need their daddy.”
My eyes darted toward Tex. Would he really leave me here alone?
Madame didn’t bother to answer him. She clambered ponderously down the ladder. We felt the vibrations of each heavy footfall on the steps and heard the boat’s motor rev up and pull away from the fairytale house on stilts.
“Monica and Unica?” I raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“I know that sounds dumb. I got no children. Never been married to anyone. Not even close.” Tex looked forlorn and chagrined.
“I’m sorry I got you into this mess, Tex. but were you really going to get yourself out of it without me?”
“I was gonna come back for you.”
I could see that he meant it.
We stood at the doorway and peered out into the rain-drenched night. The faint glow from a few of the lantern markers reflected off the ghostly mist. Beyond those small beacons, all looked blacker than the bottom of a well on a starless night. A hungry blackness, eager to devour us in one great ravenous gulp.
The sound of the boat’s engine had quickly faded as if swallowed by the night beast.
Tex turned toward me. “Way I see it, we can wade ourselves outta here by following those lanterns, or wait till Madame Chevrolay comes back with that thug and does us in.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
“Wade? In the that swamp water? With alligators and mosquitoes and water moccasins and who knows what else out there? We need a boat, Tex.”
“Look at it this way, ma’am. Which would you rather face? A few swamp critters, or that crazy woman and her tattooed creep? She’s plumb loco if you ask me. The worst kind of loco—she’s convinced and there’s no changing her mind.”
He had a point. Still, my skin crawled at the thought of wading in swamp water filled with slimy, slithery things.
“Why don’t we just call someone for help?” I fished my cell phone out of my jacket pocket.
Tex’s eyes widened. “You got a cell phone with you?” He grinned and slapped his leg. “Well durn, gal, let’s get to it. Call the Cavalry. Get John Wayne to the rescue.”
“Let’s see.” I held the tiny phone and pondered. “Who do I know in New Orleans that could find their way around the swamps? Or better yet, who do you know that could come rescue us?”
“I know lots of people, but none of them would be willing to boat out here in in the dark of the night. We’re in Rainy Bay Bayou. I can feel it in my bones. Most folks think this place is haunted. You heard that moaning sound while ago.”
From a haunted hotel to a haunted swamp. I had certainly found my way to some weird places on this night of surprises.
Except, Madame Chevalier was no ghost. She was ample flesh and bone—some three hundred pounds of it. I didn’t know what to expect from her, and that unnerved me.
“You mean your friends wouldn’t risk facing a few ghosts to save your hide?”
“It’s not ghosts, ma’am. Probably a skunk ape. Cajun fishermen been seein’ him around this area for years.”
“Bigfoot of the swamps? You’re sure it wasn’t just Big Madame Chevalier they saw?”
With sudden inspiration, I punched in the number for information and asked for Jean Claude’s Alchemy Shoppe. Wouldn’t he know someone who fished the bayous.
The line rang.
“Where could he be? I was just there a couple of hours ago.”
Tex pulled the beaded curtain aside from the window. Our strained reflections peered back at us. However, I could see the night beginning to evaporate in a steam of crimson and purple light.
“Morning’s comin’ soon. Think your friend might have gone home to catch some sleep? Some people do that you know.”
He had a point. Jean Claude’s laboratory probably didn’t stay open all night. He should be snoozing away at this ungodly hour, but his residence had an unlisted number. There was no way to reach him.
“Why don’t we just call the emergency number?” Another moment of belated brilliant inspiration on my part. “Surely they have a river-patrol boat or something?”
Again, Tex slapped his hand across his knee. “Just one problem with that. Some cell phone servers don’t pick up GPS out in the swamps. They might run around all day trying to find us. But the fish and game agents most likely could. Why didn’t I think of that?” There was a gleam of hope in his eyes.
I punched in the number to reach information for the Fish and Game Agency. Why on earth hadn’t I thought of something like that first? I can only guess sleep deprivation had something to do with it. I could hear a reassuring ring on the line … and then my cell phone bleeped and disconnected. “No, no, nooooooo.” The battery was dead.
I tried redialing, hoping against hope there was juice enough left to reconnect me. Tex looked disheartened.
“How do you know we’re in Rainy Bay Bayou?” I asked.
“We passed Jackson Square and took a right. I knew the minute we passed the Old Mint by the sound of the pavement. I knew approximately where we were at the boat landing, and we didn’t take the expected turns for Cane Bayou or Manchac Swamps.”
My amazement obviously showed on my face.
Tex shrugged his shoulders.
“I know the city streets like the back of my hand, and I’ve been up and down the river on the Creole Queen and taken the swamp tour a few times. We’re in Rainy Bay wetlands, all right.”
“Okay. So now what? The phone’s deader than a drowned duck.”
“Guess we climb down that ladder and start wading.”
“I’m not getting my feet in that slimy muck!” My toes curled at the thought. “What if we sink in quicksand?”
“I’ll carry you on my back. Look, it’s almost daylight. That Chevrolay woman and her thug could come back here any minute. I say let’s make a run for it.”
He had a point. The thought of facing the tattooed man was enough to make me agreeable.
“Maybe we can find something in here to use for a float.” I glanced around the room again. Beaded pillows. Candles. No inflatable rafts in sight. Not even an inner tube. What I wouldn’t give for an air mattress.
Tex poked through cabinets and kitchen items. He found a wicked looking knife, probably used to filet fish, and handed me a table knife. Then he found a flashlight, candles, matches, and insect repellent.
“Good, this will keep the skeeters away.” He sprayed us down.
“What about snakes and alligators? Or leeches!” My voice quivered slightly.