The Julius House


Chapter Fourteen



I WANTED THE YOUNGBLOODS to go to their apartment. I wanted to forget about the mad ax-man and the bones on the roof. I wanted to watch an old movie on the TV, curled up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and maybe a beer. I wanted Martin upstairs after the movie was over. Or even earlier. But his agenda was different, I realized with a sigh.

He gathered us around the table in the kitchen.

"Now, what happened yesterday?" he asked.

I told him again, and then Angel began her part, her battered face more testimony than her words.

I slumped back in my chair sullenly. A night short on sleep and two days of violent emotions were taking their toll, I was very tired and very sick of crises. I wanted this all to go away, just for a little while, so I could make one of my slow adjustments. But of course I was thinking again of the man who had run at me, and now that I was too tired to be scared, I thought more of his face. While Martin was saying something about security to the Youngbloods, something about the bushes, I realized that there had been something faintly familiar about the man. I associated him with construction, building... . The phone rang. I went to the counter to answer it. Sally Allison wanted to know all about the skeletons on the roof; she was not in her "friend" mode, but in her "reporter" mode. I told her.

"You know," she said, "the police will call in the forensic anthropologist on this one. Did you know Georgia is the only state with a forensic anthropologist on the payroll? He's never been called to a case in Spalding County before! He'll be here tomorrow."

"Wouldn't it be funny," I said, "if it wasn't the Juliuses?" Dead silence. Then Sally laughed uncertainly. "Who else could it be, Roe?" she asked, as carefully as though she were speaking to a lunatic. I thought, If I were rested I could figure this out, something important. "Never mind," I said. "See you later, Sally." I hung up, and the phone rang again. I dealt with that call. Then another. Finally, I switched off the sound and turned on the answering machine.

I sat down at the table with the others, who had been conferring in low voices all this time.

"Roe," Martin began, and I knew he was about to tell me what to do. "Martin," I interrupted. "I think Angel and I will take a few days off and fly to New Orleans."

They all gaped at me. It was very gratifying.

"I know you need to go to Guatemala, and I expect Shelby needs to be getting back to work before the other people at the plant start to ask questions, so the best thing, with the phone ringing off the wall and all, would be for me - and Angel, since you think I need a bodyguard - to just go somewhere. And I think we might go to New Orleans. It's been years since I was there." Martin looked suspicious. But he said, "That sounds good, Roe. Angel, how does that sound to you?"

"Suits me," Angel said cautiously. "I can pack and be ready to go in thirty minutes."

"That would give me a chance to look into having some security installed here," Shelby said.

"I don't want to find an armed fortress when I come back," I told him. He did not even look at Martin; give him credit for that. "I won't do anything until I talk to you both," he said.

I nodded and stood up in a very pronounced way. The Youngbloods rose instantly and left for their apartment. Martin went to the living room and looked through the crack in the drapes.

"They're leaving," he said, not turning around. "All the police. The hearse has gone."

I waited.

He finally faced me. "Roe, I don't know what to tell you now. Nothing has turned out as we planned. I wanted a good life for us, I wanted to provide for you and take care of you and I never wanted any harm or upset to come to you. I thought I could keep the gun thing separate. I thought I would go to work at the plant and come home and you would tell me about whatever you were interested in and I would enjoy it and we would make love every night." Maybe I had sort of planned on all that, too.

"Well, Martin. It looks like we're not going to have that, exactly." I walked over and put my arms around him, lay my head against his chest. He squeezed me so hard I thought I would squeak. "We'll have something different, though. If you can disentangle yourself from this arms thing..." we have a chance, I finished silently. "But," I resumed, "we can still go for part of your expectations."

"Hmmmm?"

"We can make love every night."

"Let's go upstairs."

"Good idea."

Readers, he carried me.

New Orleans. In New Orleans, Angel's battered face attracted little attention. Angel followed me grimly through the gorgeous new Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street. Angel sulkily refused iced coffee and beignets at the Cafe du Monde. Angel accepted the rooms and the service at the Hyatt Regency with calm disdain. When a tattooed man on Bourbon Street grabbed my arm and made a suggestion so bizarre and indecent that my jaw dropped open, Angel stepped up from behind me, pressed his arm in a particular spot right above his elbow, and glanced back with grim satisfaction while he rubbed his useless arm and cursed. "Why are we really here?" she asked after I'd bought my mother some antique earrings at a little shop in the French Quarter. "Let's go on the walking tour of the cemetery," I suggested. We met the tour guide at a little cafe close to the police station. The cafe was loaded with charm and fancy versions of coffee. The guide was also loaded with charm, if an offbeat brand, and I found myself as curious about his sex life as I was about the tour, which was very interesting - though I can't say Angel seemed too impressed. After we'd received the lecture about staying with the group since there'd been some muggings in the cemetery, I saw from Angel's restive gaze and alert stance that she was aching for someone to try to attack us. "Why are we really here?" she asked, as we ate in a Cajun restaurant across from the convention center.

"Let's go to the zoo tomorrow," I suggested.

When we got back to the Hyatt, I found Martin had left a voice message on my room telephone. "I'm here, I'm trying hard, and it looks possible but difficult," he said. "I miss you more than I can say." I had a sudden blur of tears in my eyes and sat on the side of my bed gripping a Kleenex. It wasn't the message I'd hoped for. Dawdling in New Orleans, having a good time, wasn't going to work. I was going to have to try Plan B. I should have called Sally Allison. It would have helped a lot. But frankly, it never occurred to me.

"Tomorrow, Angel," I said, "we're going to work."

"About damn time."

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