There was no sign now of Queen Regine's bright red bodice and red-striped tignon in the groups beneath the trees. The gate on the upstream side of the square opened into a muddy lane that ran past the basin and on beside a high brick wall whose top was a fringed jungle of resurrection fern. The smell of the basin was bad, with the privies of its plank-built saloons draining into it, but the stench from beyond the wall was infinitely worse.

January saw the flicker of Queen Regine's striped tignon as she turned a corner of an even muddier lane—the municipal gutters didn't extend farther inland than Rue des Ramparts, and it had rained that afternoon, as it did nearly every afternoon in summer. He followed cautiously, boots slurping in the ooze. The iron-barred gate that led into the cemetery stood ajar.

Once inside the cemetery, visibility dropped to two feet. Though light lingered in the sky, January knew it would fade fast. The ground was even wetter here, and sent up, with each step, a ghastly reek of mortality. Around him tombs rose like little brick houses in some silent, horrible city. Because the ground-water in south Louisiana lay so close to the surface, even a shallow hole would fill, and corpses buried in New Orleans earth had a way of working to the surface in the winter. After the first flood or two brought coffins bobbing down the streets—giving a new meaning to the phrase “Grandma's coming to visit”—tombs began to be built above the ground.

Some were only brick benches barely knee-high and stuccoed to protect the soft local brick from crumbling away. Others stood as tall as a man, with marble slabs on the front inscribed with the names of their occupants. Some had little railings before them of wrought iron, like yards before the houses of the dead; others were fronted with locked and gated grilles. Nearly all sported spikes or brackets, so that family members could hang wreaths of zinc or jet-bead flowers on the Feast of All Saints, when they came to patch the stucco, renew the whitewash, and picnic among the graves.

It had been seven months and a half since the Feast of All Saints, and even on tombs newly furbished up, resurrection fern had begun to sprout in crannies. Those tombs that hadn't been repaired for a year, or two, or ten, were gay little islands of greenery, with the stucco rotting away and the bricks crumbling within. Crayfish crept in and out of the cracks of such tombs, breeding it seemed by spontaneous generation in the pools where the ground lay low; three-inch roaches and palmetto bugs emerged from crevices almost visibly picking their teeth.

The smell was what one could expect. After passing through two cholera epidemics and any number of fever summers, January was only glad it was no worse. He'd heard rumors that in the rear parts of the cemetery, not only crayfish but small alligators lived in the swampy puddles, and was half inclined to believe it.

Queen Regine, of course, could be six feet from him among the tombs and he'd never see her.

He knelt almost the moment he was through the gate, picking out the tracks of her small, narrow shoes in the mud. There was barely enough light left for that.

They led away to his right, between two high sepulchres that surrounded the still-taller edifice of one of the burial-society group tombs. January followed cautiously. Once the woman he tracked guessed his presence, she would take pains to hide. With night coming on fast, he'd never find her.

Movement caught his eye and he turned. But it was only an undertaker wheeling a black-draped barrow with a little coffin. A solitary mourner followed, a woman. Not the baby's mother, January guessed, for she did not wear black, but a moss-green gown whose figurings of rust and cream blended in the twilight like the pelt of an animal half-hidden in leaves. An old family, he thought, for the pair halted at an unkept tomb whose name had been eradicated by time. The woman unlocked the grille that surrounded it; the faint scrape of metal sounded loud in the cicada-rattling dark.

Was everyone but the child's mother, and this woman, away in some summer home by the lake?

Or was there some other story there, one that nobody would ever know, in the half-secret burial of a child's coffin in the gathering dusk?

January slipped around the corner of a marble-fronted mausoleum inscribed with the name DUFRESNE, and saw Queen Regine.

She was on her knees between the two-story tomb of the Blanque family and a low bench surmounted by the statue of a sleeping baby. She dug in the earth with a stick, like a fierce child making mud-pies in the dark. But it was a deadly serious occupation, for graveyard earth, January knew, was the chief component of death-spells, of the jujus of ruin and fear. She worked furtively, glancing around her, pausing now and then to scoop up handfuls of the wet black earth and scrape them into the gourd bottle she carried tied to her belt.

January used the DuFresne tomb to shield him as he edged nearer. He could hear her voice now, a high-pitched jumble of whispered nonsense words, some garbled African, others broken bits of Spanish or Chickasaw, memorized from someone who'd memorized them herself long ago. He heard the name of the demon Ozoncaire, a favorite of the voodoos: “Hex him good, Ozoncaire, don't let him sleep nor eat till he decide this case for Bernadette Metoyer. . . .”

As he emerged around the other side of the tomb, January saw that she was burying something—a split beef tongue was what Olympe used, with the name of the judge in the court case her client wanted to win sewed up in it. He waited and watched as she lit a black wax candle and dripped some of the wax on the newly-turned earth and while she worked a few coins down into the soil.

The Queen buried the candle-stump, corked the gourd, worked a few bricks loose from the near-by tomb to cover the place so the priest of St. Jude's wouldn't see that the earth had been turned. Then she got to her feet to find January standing mere inches away.

She turned to bolt and January caught her by the arm. Her hand whipped to her tignon, and he grabbed her other wrist before she could stab him with the pin she held. She spit in his face, but he was ready for that, too, and didn't loosen his grip as many men would have. “I got a warning for you,” he said.

She froze, seeming to get smaller in his hands, like a rat pulling itself together before it bites. Her lifted lip showed sharp teeth, and gaps where the bearing of children had lost her some of them. “What I need a warning for, me?” she asked. “Ain't nobody can take me on and win, piano-player.”

“They know it's you who was hired to cross Cosette Gardinier. If ill befalls her, they'll know whose door to come knocking on.”

“And who's ‘they'?”

“Those that have her good at heart.”

The voodoo spit again, this time on the ground. “You dreamin', piano-player. There's none got that girl's good at heart.”

I have Cosette's good at heart,” replied January quietly. “And if she dies, you think

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