anyone's going to listen when you say it was someone in the girl's own family behind it?”

Queen Regine tried to pull her arm away; anger blazing in her hot little eyes. “The poison won't kill her. Her mama just want her sickly, to stay out of the way when Yves LaBranche come around courtin' the older girl. LaBranche been lookin' on that Cosette a little too close.”

“That's what they tell you,” retorted January. “Cosette was like to die two nights ago. So maybe somebody else added a bit to what you gave the candy-lady on Rue Burgundy, thinkin' if the girl does die it'll be easy for you to take the blame.”

The accusation of the old woman who sold pralines along the Rue Burgundy was a shot in the dark—January only knew Cosette was deeply fond of the pink-dyed coconut candles—but he saw the anger and alarm flare in the mambo's eyes. Then rage took their place, and she jerked on her hands again, her little wrists like sticks, lost in January's vast grip.

“You lyin', piano-player,” she snarled. “You take your hand off me! No man lay a hand on Queen Regine!”

“Let the girl alone. I'm warning you.”

You warning me? I warning you, piano-player!” And she pulled hard at his grip, so that when he opened his hands suddenly she staggered back, and fell over the low tomb with its chipped marble child. Furious, she sprang to her feet, no more now than a shadow in the darkness, a shadow from which one single skinny finger, clotted with graveyard dirt, stabbed out at him.

“You keep your silence, and you stay out of this matter if you know what's good for you! You think 'cause your sister a voodoo you got a suit of armor, but you don't! I curse you! In the name of the Baron Cemetery, in the name of the Guede, in the name of the Grand Zombi, I curse you, to the ruin of all you touch, and the destruction of all you hope!”

In the blackness her eyes had a slick silver gleam, like a demon's eyes in shadow. Her voice turned shrill and nasal, like the voices of those ridden by the Guede spirits in the voodoo ceremonies along Bayou St. John.

“Guede-vi, take the gold from out of his hands! Guede-Five-Days-Unhappy, tear the roof away from over his head! Marinette-of-the-Dry-Arms, take his wife from him and let him walk the roads of the earth to search for her, and men hunting behind him and even the priests of God raising their hands against him!”

She stepped back into the darkness, and her voice came to him, normal again. “You leave me alone, piano- player! You will curse your own hands that you raised against me!”

He heard the slop and squeak of her feet, running away into darkness.

Far off a cannon sounded, signaling curfew for all people of color, slave or free—except, of course, those whose professions made life more convenient for white men, like hack-drivers and musicians and waiters and the stevedores who unloaded cargoes on the levee, even at this slow season, far into the sweltering nights.

The drums in the square had ceased. Like the voice of angels rebuking some pagan chant, churchbells floated out over the lamplit town, calling the faithful to evening Mass. January, who had gone to early Mass that morning, wiped the old woman's spit from his cheek with his bandanna and resisted the urge to head straight for the mortuary chapel of St. Jude that stood at the corner of the cemetery, to confess and take Communion again.

Confess what? That he believed that the name of the Guede spirits had the power to harm him?

Oh, God will appreciate hearing that.

He made his way out of the graveyard, walking carefully, for it was well and truly dark now and he had no desire to stumble into the brimming brown fluids of the gutter of the Rue des Ramparts.

Along that street, lamps had been lit in a few of the small pastel cottages, where placees would be setting tables for a light supper for when their protectors dropped by, seeking quiet and relief after the inevitable and interminable Sunday-dinner gatherings of French Creole families. Most of those houses were dark. Placees, protectors, and families alike had retreated to the cooler precincts of Milneburgh or Spanish Fort, or Mandeville on the other side of the lake, leaving the city to the mosquitoes and to the sweltering poor. The Americans, in their own faubourg of big wooden houses and wide yards on the other side of Canal Street, had retreated to such northern resorts as White Sulfur Springs or to the White Mountains of New England. Along the levee the river was low. Most of the big side-wheel steamboats lay drawn up at the wharves to wait until autumn brought higher water and the successive harvests of corn, cotton, and sugar to turn a profit again.

January looked for Olympe as he passed Congo Square, but only a few market-women remained, gathering the last of their produce into baskets and folding up the blankets on which it had been spread. The smell of ashes vied with the stink of sewage and the cemetery reek in the air.

Except for the gambling-parlors along Rue Orleans and Rue Royale—which never closed and never emptied— New Orleans was dark, and quiet save for the roar of the cicadas and the incessant whine of mosquitoes in January's ears.

No, he admitted to himself, he didn't think Queen Regine's curse, or the power of the Guede spirits, would be able to harm him.

But poison, and surreptitious fires set in the kitchen while he and Rose slept, were another matter. They had bought their house from the French Creoles who owned it for nine thousand dollars, of which half had been paid immediately and another twenty-five percent was due in September, three months away. January didn't think the DeLaHaye family would remit a penny—or allow more time on the loan—should the house itself burn down one night.

He found himself listening behind him, all the way down the breathless street, for the whisper of the voodoo's feet and the rustle of her skirt. He heard nothing.

But he knew she was there.


The house January and Rose bought when they married the previous October stood on Rue Esplanade, and before this corner of the old French town had been built up, it had been surrounded by extensive grounds. January

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