by: Lena (Airelle Vilka)
[Rating: A healthy rated R, or perhaps even M. You've been warned.]
When you came in, the air went out
And every shadow filled up with doubt
I don't know who you think you are
But before the night is through,
I wanna do bad things with you…
~Jace Everett, "Bad Things"
New Orleans is a town filled with dirty little secrets. Bad things happen here, and sometimes, they happen to good people.
Somehow, he is usually involved.
Of course she knows who he is. He isn't exactly hard to spot in a crowd.
The family servants do not speak of him if they can help it. But it is hard for them to refuse the mistress of the house; and so, Madeline gets some answers. The Shadowman, they call him. Purveyor of the local brand of witchcraft. Madeline laughs at first, until she sees the very palpable fear on their faces. And then, she starts to pay attention.
When she goes to the market under the auspices of overseeing her servants' vegetable shopping, she sees him sometimes. Or rather, she glimpses the skull stitched into his top-hat, towering over the crowd, people parting in frightened little waves before him, as if mere proximity would curse them.
She has heard of voodoo only briefly. Fast-paced Boston living has no room for that sort of thing. Any notion of the supernatural is dismissed as children's fairytales. But Madeline is in Louisiana now, and things are different, very different. A dark undertone, like the smooth base in a jazz tune, thrums in the streets of New Orleans. It manifests itself in the songs and stories the poor people sing. It curls like a snail in horns and trumpets, slithers in narrow alleys, down the cobblestones, simmers in the bayou beyond the city borders. It prowls the above-ground graveyards like a slinking cat. And in the center of it all, the mysterious man in the skull top-hat.
She rolls his name, silently, on her tongue.
It feels like smooth, warm liquor, sliding down her throat.
"Pass me the salt, would you, darlin'?"
Madeline swallows hurriedly. The name disappears down her gullet, nudging her heart as it goes by. Surely it isn't proper to be thinking about this while she is across the table from her husband.
But then again, she has thought all sorts of things while across the table from her husband. Mostly, this is done to avoid the fact that she is across the table from her---
"Oh yes, I'm sorry," she replies hastily, handing over the salt. He grins at her through a mouthful of food.
"Mmm, thank you."
Madeline stares at him, and wonders how many poached eggs it would take to make him pop open like a seed pod. It can't be that many, considering that he already uses the extra-wide chair. Rolls of flesh covered by a sweat-soaked cotton shirt hang over his armrests.
Her mother always said that salt was bad for your health. Looking at Charles Piedmont's face makes Madeline wonder if food, in general, is bad for your health.
"You all right there, darlin'?" His small eyes crinkle with concern. Madeline waves him off.
"Of course, of course. I'm just feeling a bit overheated," she murmurs, looking down guiltily. The veranda is covered with vines and provides the best shade in the courtyard. But she needs to get away.
With a grunt and some effort, Charles rises from his chair and walks around the table. Madeline doesn't look up as his beefy hand lands on her shoulder.
"Well, you should go lie down for a spell."
She nods, and gets up, sliding his hand off her. "Mm. It sounds good, dear."
"Let Norma know if you want anythin'!" he calls after her as she picks up her parasol and heads for the cool, dark house. Behind her, Madeline can hear him settling noisily back into his chair.
She sighs again. He really is a good man, Charles. When her father had arranged her marriage and move to Louisiana, her family had painted a picture of a wealthy, eligible bachelor with a big spirit. "He has political connections," they said, "and is most appropriate for your social standing."
But that is all he is. Appropriate.
She has grown up knowing better than to expect marrying for love. But at the least, she hoped for a man who was young. And who could fit into a suit without needing alterations. And whose member she didn't have to find with torchlight and a search party.
She bites her lip to keep from laughing. Inside, she rather feels like screaming, for no reason at all. This feeling has been with her for a long, long time, and she has given up on trying to rationalize it.
I bet the Shadowman is never this frustrated, she thinks with some envy. And if he is… well, he probably does something about it.
She passes two dark-skinned boys on her way to the back patio. They are playing with a small wooden ball covered in dirty cloth. One of them is Norma's son, and helps her in the kitchen. They wave to her as she walks by. In return, she only gives them a half-hearted nod.
On the soft breeze, she hears their giggling voices behind her suddenly take on sharp tones.
"Hey Lukas, don't be hoggin' the ball! I'm warnin' ya!"
"Yeah? Or what?"
"Or the Shadowman will get ya!"
Madeline stops in the doorway of the mansion, gripping her parasol tightly, her knuckles turning white.
Damn it, she thinks. Must this man's name come up everywhere? She wants, so badly, to keep walking, to go upstairs and climb into the downy cool comfort of her bed, to be alone with her misery.
But her feet have made a decision that her brain has no say in. Before she knows it, she has whipped around and walked back to face the two children. They look up at her as the shadow of her parasol covers them.
"Missus Madeline," Lukas says. "What's wrong?"
She frowns. "What?"
"You got this look on your face," says the other boy, who is younger and is named Tom. "Like you're scared of somethin'."
"Oh, nonsense," she chides, screwing her face into composure. Why does this topic make her so unsettled? She's never even met the man.
The monster, she corrects herself. That's what Norma calls him.
"Boys," she asks sweetly, "what was that you were just saying? About that Shadowman?"
Lukas's smile fades a bit. Tom, however, just grins. "Why Missus, everyone knows that the Shadowman steals kids who be misbehavin'!"
Lukas hugs the ball protectively to himself. "He do not!"
Tom sticks out his tongue in the universal mortal insult used by six-year-olds. "Do too!"
"Boys!" Madeline stomps her sandal on the paved garden path, and the two cease at once. "Come on now. How can you be sure this Shadowman has all this power?"
Tom looks at her like she has fallen from the sky. "The stories they tell in town, Missus Madeline." He lowers his voice and leans forward conspiratorially. Despite herself, Madeline leans forward too. Behind Tom, Lukas pouts.
"The Shadowman," says the small boy, "walks 'round graveyards at night. He can talk to the spirits. And the folks that go to see him---"
He pauses. Madeline stares into his large, clear, brown eyes. They almost bulge out of his head as he breathes out, "—never come back."
Madeline lets out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She straightens up, trying to conceal excitement that has bubbled, unbidden, up to the surface. The boys, aware of it, look at her in confusion.
She coughs politely, sneaking a glance toward the edge of the gardens, where Charles is still happily devouring breakfast.
"Well, that is a mighty fine story, boys," she says, smiling widely. "I'll remember to tell it to my kids, when I have some."
Her smile fades slightly when Lukas shoves Tom aside and stands up. He barely reaches her waist, and the serious look on his face should make him look comical. But Madeline shivers a bit as he speaks.
"Mama always told me, stay away from the Shadowman," he says. "He's the devil, Missus. You don't want him messin' with you."
Madeline pats him on the head in what she hopes is a reassuring way. "Why, I appreciate your concern, Lukas. And your mama's absolutely right. I will take this advice to heart, I promise."
The boy appraises her for a few more moments. Then, he smiles, apparently mollified. "All right."
She leaves them to their ball-game and goes into the house. The boy's words are clearly a result of fear, fed by tall tales from uneducated mouths. There is no such thing as sorcery or voodoo, or somesuch nonsense.
But the man himself, this so-called Shadowman, is intriguing. She decides that she will meet him. Someday.
She gives him little thought for the next few weeks. Charles is away on business, and it is left to her to run the affairs of the house. Madeline loves doing this; it gives her the chance to feel important.
So it is with delight that she accompanies some of the household workers to town. The sun beats down, seeping through her parasol. She has Irish ancestry, and her pale face heats quickly. Once in a while, one of the women gives her water. She is more used to this than when she first arrived in New Orleans; no one can escape the sun for long, and here, you either survive or wither and die.
She meets her friend, Jeanne D'Ormande, in a little corner shop. People flit in and out, laden with pastries and other delicate, airy dishes that are the store's specialty. Madeline inhales the smell of food with pleasure.
"Maddie, over here!"
Jeanne is statuesque, dark-haired, the daughter of a Creole woman and a white man. She was not famous in New Orleans until she caught the eye of Elijah, son and heir to the D'Ormande textile fortune. There is some gossip about her, for Elijah was notoriously wayward with women. Many have asked questions about how Jeanne managed to make him settle down.
Looking at her, however, Madeline has no doubt as to why Jeanne succeeded where others failed. She has a sensuality about her, the kind that women not born with it could never imitate.
"Oh, Maddie, it's been ages! How are you feelin'?"
Madeline sits down and waves an elaborate silk fan over her face. "Just fine, as always," she lies. "How are Elijah and the children?"
"Spectacular. The little ones are so excited for their first Mardi Gras. I've been leavin' them at home all these years, and now finally they get to attend the masquerade!"
"Ah," she says, accepting some water from the waiter. "I had forgotten about that. It's soon, isn't it?"
Jeanne's pretty face turns down into a concerned frown. "Now how could you forget about Mardi Gras?"
"I… I'm not sure," she shrugs. "I've just been busy."
"With what? Oh, Maddie, don't lie to me. I know when you're not yourself," Jeanne says, sliding her chair closer. "What's botherin' you, honey?"
Madeline looks at her. She looks so happy. She wouldn't understand.
"I don't know," she finally admits, truthfully this time. "Nothing, I suppose, because I can't figure it out."
"Ah," Jeanne says knowingly. "You're probably just missin' Charles. He's been away for so long."
Madeline sighs. "Right. He has. But he returns tomorrow morning."
"Well, fantastic." Her friend doesn't seem to notice her dejected tone. "So by this time tomorrow, you should be right as rain."
"Yes." Madeline manages a watery smile. "Of course."
"In the meantime, you know what will help you feel better? Beignets! Oh, Tiana!"
A moment later, a young, dark-skinned, frazzled-looking woman reaches their table. "Yes, Mrs. D'Ormande?"
"Miss Tiana, would you be so kind as to bring this poor lady here some of your wonderful beignets?"
The young woman's pretty face beams. "Of course."
"That should do the trick. Trust me," Jeanne assures Madeline as Tiana disappears into the kitchen, "I always know what's good for you."
"Mm," she replies, nodding. "I'm glad for your—"
She stops in mid-sentence. Out the window, across the street, she sees a very familiar top-hat.
There he is, just walking along in the crowd. He is too far for her to see his face, and through the flashes of passing people and trolleys, she only catches a glimpse or two before he disappears around a corner. With a twinge of disappointment, she returns her eyes to Jeanne, and finds her friend watching her warily.
"What was that now?"
"Oh, nothing," she says hastily. "I just saw someone I recognized."
Jeanne's dark eyes widen. "The Shadowman?"
Madeline looks at her, too surprised to make up a lie. "…Yes?"
Jeanne leans forward, waving away a confused Tiana, who has appeared with the tray of beignets. Her voice is very low, almost a whisper now.
"You haven't been talkin' to him, have you?" she asks. Suddenly afraid, Madeline shakes her head. Jeanne sighs.
"Listen, Maddie," she says. "I've been livin' here much longer than you. Even before I married Elijah. So let me tell you somethin'. You don't want that man to so much as know your name. Trust me."
Madeline stares at her friend. She wasn't aware that Jeanne would even know who the Shadowman was, much less be so afraid of him.
"I don't care for dalliances, but I know they are far too common among women of our station, especially in this town," Jeanne continues in her heated whisper. Their table is tucked in the corner, far away from prying ears, although Tiana still stands by the bar, looking at them with a confused expression.
Madeline's breath is an indignant hiss of air. "I'm certainly not planning any dalliance! How could you imply--"
"Maddie," Jeanne says sharply. "I don't care if you are or not. But don't allow yourself to become intrigued by him. He does bad things to people." Her hand is gripping Madeline's. She can feel the sweat mixing in their clasped palms.
Madeline laughs nervously. "Come on, Jeanne. Surely you can't believe those silly stories."
Jeanne's eyes widen again. Then, as if some lever has been pulled, the older woman's face becomes calm and composed. She straightens up and fixes her collar.
"Of course not," she says. "I just want to make sure you're not wanderin' around the Quarter, seekin' someone whom I know to be a swindler and a money-hungry fraud."
"The Quarter?" This is news to her. She knows there are some poorer parts of town near the bayou, which she has naturally assumed to be the Shadowman's territory. But the Quarter is a wealthy area, full of dance halls and jazz music and young people.
Jeanne nods. "Yes. Around that club on Merriott Street. That's why I don't go there anymore. Rumor is he likes to frequent it."
Madeline smiles reassuringly, and pats Jeanne's hand. "Don't you worry, Jeannie. I won't go anywhere near there. I merely recognized him because some of the boys at the house were talking about him."
Jeanne sighs. "They would, of course. It's a wonder anyone goes out at night, with the awful stories these people invent."
"Mmm," Madeline agrees, motioning Tiana over. "Let us hope we never fall victim to such stories."
Something flashes in Jeanne's face again, but leaves just as quickly. "Yes," she says, biting into a beignet. "Let's hope not."
Madeline delicately sips her water, not daring to sneak a glance back at the street for fear of upsetting Jeanne. And as she finishes the last of the sweet pastries, two words flip themselves, over and over, in her head, eclipsing everything else.
Madeline dons her mask as she waves her driver off. She has just told a bare-assed, bold-faced lie. As far as the Piedmont servants know, their mistress will meet Jeanne D'Ormande at a jazz club and spend the night at her home afterwards, before returning to welcome Charles in the morning.
Therefore, there is no need to pick Madeline up at the end of the evening.
Jeanne, of course, is home, far away from the club and blissfully unaware of the purpose she is serving tonight. Which is exactly to Madeline's liking.
She adjusts her costume. It is the only one she could find on short notice, whipped up along with hasty excuses as to why she had the sudden urge to go dancing, when she hadn't done so in years.
"I just want to go listen to the music, get my mind off missing Charles for a while."
She borrowed that idea from her conversation with Jeanne.
Most of the jazz clubs, including the one on Merriott Street, routinely hold masquerade parties as part of their pre-Mardi Gras festivities. Madeline takes a deep breath, and looks up at the lit windows of the building. She is dressed like a princess, complete with a tiara and long, frilly pastel yellow skirts. She feels ludicrous, and the corset is tight around her chest.
But it's worth it, to uncover the mystery behind the Shadowman.
She shivers, and enters the club.
The place is not well lit. Smoke and music permeate every crack in the walls. Madeline keeps her mask tight on her face as she settles into a lounge chair in the corner. Most people pay her no attention, and from here, she has a great view of the front door. She doesn't see anyone who may recognize her. Merriott Street is far from her usual haunts.
The crowd is mixed, black and white musicians wailing happily on their instruments from a small stage. Some people are dancing on a floor in the middle of the large room. Others hang by the wayside, leaning on walls or in doorways, their heads close together in conversation. The music is almost deafening, and Madeline winces a bit because she hasn't been in such a loud place in a while.
New Orleans, city of music and sweat and voodoo.
Behind her mask, Madeline smiles a little. For the first time in a while, she doesn't have anyone alongside her. It reminds her of being a young woman in Boston, sneaking out after dark to smoke on the rooftop of her father's mansion. Oh, how angry he'd been when he discovered her.
She is lost in her thoughts for a long time, coming out of her trance only when the music becomes slower. Couples make their way onto the floor to the smooth sound of jazz trumpets. Suddenly, Madeline feels very alone.
And then, without warning, he walks in.
Nothing happens. The music doesn't stop. The lights don't flicker. No one pays him any attention except those closest to him. He is, after all, just a man.
He is wearing a mask, but is otherwise dressed as he usually is, in his dark breeches and jacket and unmistakable top-hat. Madeline watches as he makes his way to a corner where some young men are engaged in a card game. He doesn't sit down to join them, but instead just observes them from behind the plush velvet couch. Madeline wonders if he is looking for the card-sharks, the best players, the ones to challenge. She has heard that he is good with cards. That he's had years to practice.
After a while, he stops leaning on the wall and heads toward the door. Madeline turns her head to follow his movement until she is peeking out from behind her mask. Between her and him, the couples sway to the music.
Then, he is gone, and she is suddenly on her feet, almost knocking over a nearby waiter's tray.
"Oh, so sorry," she apologizes hastily to the young man, and pushes her way across the dance floor. A few men try to catch her hand, to dance with her. She ignores them, her eyes only on the door, and the rapidly disappearing shadow beyond it.
Halfway across the floor, she realizes that she's following this man like some kind of criminal. The thought is fleeting, however, and so is the guilt that comes with it. It is overshadowed by excitement, the possibility of finally meeting the person the entire town of New Orleans seems to be afraid of.
She reaches the door and steps into the cooler air of the street. She glances around, first left, then right, and sees a shadow disappear around a corner. She makes her way after it, past some giggling young couples and a few men smoking cigars.
She doesn't notice two of those men detach themselves from the crowd outside the club and follow her.
The music fades a little as Madeline makes her way down the cobblestones. Her mind is reeling with energy, and she realizes that she doesn't even know what she'll say when she reaches him. That thought takes the wind out of her, just a little. She stops beneath a street lamp, removes her mask, and sighs.
The street is silent, and dotted with alleys. The Shadowman has disappeared entirely. Madeline wipes her brow, careful not to smear her makeup.
"Well, Maddie," she murmurs to herself, leaning on the lamppost, "maybe it's just as well. You're a sight, running around here like some fool."
"But a pretty fool, ain't ya?"
The mask drops from her hand. She whips around to find two stocky men blocking the street. They look inebriated, and a bit disheveled. She doesn't recognize either of them.
"Uh," she manages, backtracking along the cobblestones. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I'll… be on my way now."
"Hah, you hear that, Jon?" The older man nudges the younger one with a snicker. "She thinks we're gentlemen!"
"Well, don't ya worry then," says the younger one, with a look in his eyes that makes Madeline wish she hadn't lied to her driver or to Jeanne. "We'll make sure to treat ya like a proper lady."
Her heart begins to hammer in her chest. She has nothing to protect herself with. In a second, she rips her tiara off her head, holding it in front of her like a weapon. The men pause in their pursuit, and laugh.
"Oooh, don't point that at us!"
"You don't wanna hurt yerself!"
Realizing her only chance is to run, Madeline takes a few more steps back. She tries to create a threatening stance, but her voice comes out a squeak. "Stay away from me."
The older man pauses, as if to consider this. Then he shakes his bearded head. "Mmmm…. No."
Now or never. They walk forward, and Madeline, hoping against hope for good aim, chucks the heavy tiara toward the older man's face. It's a direct hit, and he recoils with a snarl, making the younger man turn toward him. This buys Madeline a precious few seconds. She whips off her shoes and begins to run.
"Bitch!" she hears the voice behind her. "Get back 'ere!"
She continues to run, but her stupid costume skirts are heavy. She is in fairly good shape, but she knows she cannot outrun them. Her only hope is to get to a street with many people.
Follow the music.
She heads toward another side street, but it is difficult for her to follow the sounds of jazz because of the footsteps behind her and the loud pounding of her heart in her skull. Blind fear drives her forward, faster and faster down empty streets, until she reaches something.
The men are almost around the corner.
She scrambles around, looking for an alley to hide in, finds one and runs into it. But she knows they have seen her, must have heard the rustling of her skirt as it scraped along the stones. She wheezes, backtracking into the darkness, her legs almost liquid, her feet burning in pain.
The two men appear in the mouth of the alley, beneath a lamppost. In the light, she can see that the tiara has made a mark in the older one's face. A small rivulet of blood trickles down his forehead and into his beard. It's smeared over his face where he has tried to wipe it away. Madeline knows this image will be burned into her head forever.
If she survives.
Her back hits another wall, but her eyes are on them. Their faces are screwed in anger, their fat fingers flexing. The younger one is unbuttoning his belt. The older has produced a knife from somewhere.
Finally, Madeline screams.
"This here's the quiet part of town tonigh'," grins the young man. "Everyone's at the clubs. Lucky us."
They come closer. Madeline is determined to scream until her voice gives out. Maybe someone will come, before they hurt her.
In the distance, music plays, and someone sings in a rough voice.
"I got the ways and means, to New Orleans,
I'm going down by the river where it's warm and green
I'm gonna have a drink, and walk around
I got a lot to think about…"*
She closes her eyes, her mind preparing a retreat from the impending assault on her body. But before it happens, she notices something.
Silence. Total, complete silence. Madeline refuses to open her eyes, expecting their hands on her at any moment.
But the hands never come. A few seconds tick by. Finally, Madeline dares to open her eyes, just a crack.
They are still in front of her, but they are not looking at her. Their eyes are wide, terrified, and directed at something behind Madeline.
And then, she sees it, the most frightening thing she has ever seen. And yet, its presence comforts her like nothing else, because she knows exactly who is responsible for it.
It is a huge shadow, so big that it covers most of the alley as well as the shadows of the men. It is mobile, constantly changing, seemingly working on a shape of some sort. Madeline stares. The men wince, looking like they are in extreme pain or terror or maybe both. Finally, the younger one squeaks out, "I'm… I'm sorry."
The enormous shadow shifts a little.
"Didn'… didn' know…"
The shadow shifts again, and the men slump forward as if released from a grip, missing a few steps and nearly falling. Madeline watches with huge eyes as they stumble away from the alley mouth without a single glance at her, tripping over themselves in their haste to get away. The icy grip on her heart relaxes once she sees them run, but her eyes are still glued to the shadow, which dissolves and disappears. She didn't expect to meet its owner quite like this.
The men pass the corner and out of sight. Madeline walks forward and out of the alley, and listens as their footsteps fade in the distance, her heart pounding and her head spinning. If he hadn't shown up at the right moment—
Right. He's still there, behind her. Madeline takes a breath, composes herself, and turns around just as he steps into the wan light of the street lamp.
She's never been this close to him. Finally, finally, she drinks him in, careful not to show how intrigued she is. She's always seen him from afar, always wondered what he'd be like, what he'd sound like. He is the final part of this city that has been closed to her, the one mystery she has left to solve and file away in the shelves of her mind.
Her stomach is in knots beneath the laces and ties of the elaborate costume. She hovers on the sidewalk, not even daring to blink. A little bead of sweat trickles from the nape of her neck, down her spine.
Just like any other hot New Orleans night.
The Shadowman raises an eyebrow. He looks surprised to see her, a woman, alone in his territory. She wonders if she's in over her head. What if he really is the monster Norma speaks of? What is he capable of, that his very presence sent those hoodlums running for their lives?
His cane clicks on the ground as he comes nearer. His walk can only be described as "sliding." His shadow follows faithfully, although there is something wrong with it, something that Madeline can't put her finger on. She ignores it, focusing on his face.
His eyes are huge, ghostlike lamps above a thin mustache and full, dark lips. His irises are purple, although Madeline knows it's impossible to have purple eyes. They must be blue, she decides, and it's the lamplight that makes them look otherwise. He has a broad chest barely covered with a vest and jacket, but the rest of him is skeleton-thin. His shoes are expensive, as is his cane, but his hat is old and worn through in places. The skull she has seen so many times from a distance is stitched into the center of the hat. It grins at her. She has the sudden urge to grin back.
They watch each other for a few moments. Then, he gives a polite cough.
"I do apologize for that… situation. It is an unfortunately present aspect of my neighborhood."
She stares. She has expected a barely recognizable Creole or Cajun accent, with a great deal of poor man's slang. But his diction is near perfect, save for the slight New Orleans twang. His voice oozes the educated charm of city gentlemen.
No wonder his neighbors are afraid of him, she thinks. He isn't like them. Doesn't dress like them, or speak like them.
The mystery of him has suddenly deepened. She pushes her thoughts aside and drops a tiny curtsey.
"No need, sir. You frightened off those men. I believe I am in your debt."
"Now, that's a dangerous thing to say to someone like me, little lady," he chuckles. He has stepped closer now, and Madeline sees that he is at least two heads taller than she is, even without the hat. She suddenly feels very small.
"It is rare," he continues, switching his cane into his left arm and extending his right, "that someone as lovely and fine wanders into my corner of the world. Dr. Facilier. Enchanté."
She allows him to take her hand, a liberty she's given to few men. Certainly not any who weren't white; her daddy would have had a fit. His hand is warm, and she knows his grip is strong, sees the way he mitigates it as he shakes her hand. It is the first time a man has greeted her this way. As if they are already in some unspoken business arrangement. As if they are equals.
"I know who you are," she says.
His eyes gleam in his dark face. "Oh?"
She chooses her words carefully. No sense in offending a man in his own sinister alley. "There are few in this town who do not."
He gives her a small bow, top-hat teetering precariously. "My reputation must precede me in good ways, if someone such as yourself has deigned to pay me a visit."
Madeline says nothing, watching his hands resting on the crystal at the top of his cane.
"Shall we?" he asks, motioning toward the alley. Madeline looks in that direction, and sees only darkness. She remembers what Jeanne D'Ormande has said.
Facilier closes the rest of the distance between them, but does not touch her. "C'mon now, I don't bite. You didn't come all this way and endure all that adventure for nothin', did you?"
Her eyes glance from side to side. The street is quiet, and empty. Not a soul in sight.
"Avail yourself of my services, Madam Piedmont." Seeing her face, he adds, "Or would Madeline be too bold of me?"
She notices the way he speaks Madeline. In his mouth it sounds like sticky honey. "You know who I am?"
He smiles, and she can't help but think of a gator.
"There are few in this town who do not," he replies.
She maintains propriety by not smiling back. "Mrs. Piedmont is fine by me."
He looks at her for a moment. "Hmm." Then suddenly, he makes a sweeping gesture toward the back of the alley. "Come."
She follows him into the darkness, toward a dilapidated wooden door with a heavy lock. Above the threshold, there is a sign, and she glimpses the word "Emporium" before stepping through the doorway. Almost immediately, she trips over something. He seems to have expected this, because she careens into his waiting arms, almost faceplanting into his chest. She gasps, her cheeks burning in embarrassment.
"Careful of the broom," he says, releasing her. Flustered, Madeline straightens up, and looks back. There is, indeed, a broom lying across the threshold.
"Why is it there?"
He seems to have expected this too, because he speaks before she's even finished her sentence. "It's a little ward we use in my specialty. It prevents others of my persuasion from enterin' with the intent to do me harm."
Finally, she smiles. "Is that because they'll trip over it and hurt themselves?"
He stares at her, then chuckles. "Oh, I've got myself a woman with wit. Rarity among rarities."
She doesn't know how to answer, so she walks further into the room. It starts narrow, and widens out into an impressive foyer. Huge wooden shelves weave across the walls. There is a curtained-off area to the right, with some old furniture and a dresser besieged with piles upon piles of books.
"Welcome to my humble abode," he says, and she almost jumps out of her skin because he is so close. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees his shadow moving, apparently on its own.
No, it must be a trick of the light, just like the big shadow from before.
She feels his eyes on her back, watching her as she peruses his home. The shelves hold strange ornaments and trinkets, like an exhibition of some macabre museum. There are skulls (of uncertain authenticity), shrunken heads, little dolls and toys, pouches, crystals, glass vases of all sizes filled with bones and powder, and tiny little masks with legs. Every shelf is overflowing with them, and the collection disappears into the darkness of the ceiling. Several slices of moonlight peek through, possibly from windows or holes in the roof. Dusty velvet curtains, blood-red and deep blue and royal purple, hang everywhere, and Madeline is reminded of an Arabian tent.
She enters the foyer. There are several steps leading up to a small, well-lit stage, on which stands an enormous table and two chairs. He ushers her into one. "Sit there."
She obliges. Something bumps into her back, and she can swear his shadow just pushed her chair in. But that's just not possible. He is only a swindler, isn't he? She's only here to put her curiosity to rest. Isn't she?
He plants himself opposite her, his eyes hooded as he idly shuffles a pack of cards. A few minutes pass in silence. Madeline looks up and sees several wooden, painted masks on the wall above her. Some are large, some small. All have carved faces that are either smiling or frowning. She decides they are the most unsettling part of the décor, and doesn't look at them again.
Facilier looks up from his shuffling after a while.
"So," she echoes, suddenly unsure of herself. She doesn't even know why she is here, really. And from what she understands, witch doctors need a question to answer, a request to grant. But---
"You don't really know why you're here, do you?"
She looks up at him, eyes wide. He grins, showing a slight gap in between his two front teeth.
"That's all right, Mrs. Piedmont. It's my job to tell you why you came, after all." The cards flash in his hand, and suddenly, they are fanned out before her.
"Here. Pick three, and I'll tell you what I know."
She hesitates. He smiles.
"C'mon, it's on the house."
She looks at him cautiously. She doesn't want to be indebted to him, swindler or not. She pulls out the money pouch she has inside her garments. The coins clink as she places the pouch between them.
She looks down into her lap briefly, and coughs. "Um. For your services."
He stares at the money, then at her. A moment and a faint jingle later, the pouch is gone.
I'm going to pretend that didn't just happen, she thinks to herself. No one can move that quickly.
She looks up, and sees him watching her.
"Much obliged," he says. "But you didn't have to. For lovely ladies, I sometimes make exceptions."
She laughs nervously. Lovely, yes, she thinks. Lady, I doubt.
"Why?" he asks. "Because you're here without your husband? Don't worry, you're not the first, not by a long shot."
She stares at him. She is sure she hasn't spoken aloud. Then, the implication of his words worms its way into her brain.
"Not the first?"
He merely smiles, and she remembers that Jeanne had known an awful lot about him, for a white woman.
The cards are in front of her face again. "Now then. Choose three, please."
She hesitates, but only briefly this time. Then, she snatches three cards, all from different parts of the deck. They are made of a thick paper that feels rough on her skin. Facilier grins and places them face down on the table. The rest of the deck disappears, possibly into his sleeve.
"A bit of refreshment before we begin?"
Her hands shake, and she entwines her fingers together so as not to show nervousness. Yes, maybe a drink will calm her. She opens her mouth to accept, but he is already holding out an intricately carved glass, inlaid with rubies. Or some stone resembling rubies; nothing is probably what it seems in this place. Inside is a dark red liquid, which upon examination proves to be wine.
"A toast, to the future," he says boldly, raising his own glass. "To your future. May it be grand and prosperous, and may I help you to make it so."
She has the strange urge to say "amen," but she is so far from a church that she'd probably be struck dead by lightning from the Lord's hand. Instead, she just nods and takes a sip. The wine is good, very good. Smooth, like his voice.
The first card is flipped.
"This card represents your past," he says, looking at it with a bit of boredom. "You come from up north, and have ancestry across the sea." He pauses and grins. "Although a blind, deaf fool could tell you that, from your accent and hair. Red isn't something we get much of in Louisiana."
He hasn't even complimented her, but there is heat in his voice and in his eyes, and it makes her blush. She mentally chides herself-- stop acting like a schoolchild-- and takes another sip of wine.
He keeps looking at the card. "Ah, but this is somethin' else. You have fine breedin', education of the highest quality, enviable social status. Yet your fate was not to stay where you were born. Accordin' with your family's wishes, you were carted off to our little New Orleans. And the bachelor you expected was… well, a bit more than you expected."
She giggles, quite involuntarily, remembering Charles for the first time since the party. "You could say that."
He laughs, too, and the sound is deep and rich, like chocolate liqueur. "Mmm, yeah. All right, now this one is more interestin'."
He shows her the second card. It has a picture of a woman, standing alone in a field, a rake in her hand. More boldly now, she actually raises an eyebrow at him.
This is fun.
"Now, what could you possibly glean from that, Doctor?" she queries.
He grins. "Do you doubt me?"
She is afraid of him less and less, for some reason. "Yes, sir, I truly do," she says. "For you have yet to say anything that demonstrates your supposedly formidable abilities."
"Oh, I see. A challenge, is that so?" His grin stretches only wider, as if in a private joke. "All right, I'll see your verbal spar and raise you this." He wiggles the card in his hand. "Good old Charlie is a loving husband. Generous, kind, adores you, carries you around on a silk cushion."
She nods. "True."
Suddenly, his voice drops an octave or so. Madeline feels like she's a fish that's been swimming and swimming merrily along, and seen something shiny and bitten it. Facilier's next sentence sinks into her like a hook.
"But he has a grand flaw that you just can't tolerate."
Madeline's smile fades. Facilier continues.
"He loooooves to do everythin' himself. He oversees the maids, the cooks, the gardeners, why, even your hairdresser! If somethin' in the house is broken, he huffs and puffs and tries to fix it himself, no?"
She stares at him, her eyes wide. His fingers play with the card, flipping it over and over. Each time, it seems to show a different image.
How does he know all this?
How did he know it bothered me?
The old, nagging thoughts that she can't figure out are at the surface again. Was it they that led her here? Was that why she needed to talk to the Shadowman, so badly? Was that why he drew her in like a moth to light? And worse… did he know all this, beforehand?
This isn't that much fun anymore.
And after a while, she nods. "Yes. Until he is red in the face and has to be forced to sit down—"
"For a snack and a sherry," he finishes for her. She gazes at him in awe, wineglass forgotten in her hand.
Voodoo doesn't exist. Magic doesn't exist.
Suddenly, she is a little more afraid than before.
He gestures to the glass. "Have another sip. Calm your nerves. I told you, I don't bite. You ain't the first to be surprised by my particular talents."
She looks at the wineglass as if seeing it for the first time. Then, she releases it and pushes it away. "No, thank you."
His jacket-clad shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. "Suit yourself. But you look like you'll need it for this next bit."
Madeline realizes she is sweating again. He continues.
"A more timid wife would love being absolved of all responsibility, even the womanly ones. But oh no, not you. You despise it. The inactivity. The helplessness. The constant sittin' around, doin' nothin'. It stifles you."
Her stomach clenches in agreement. Facilier leans forward on his elbows, his face now inches from hers. He smells earthy, like a garden after fresh rainfall.
The world seems to move very fast to Madeline now.
She sees herself, alone in her house. No, her husband's house. Because ultimately, he is the master of everything. And though she can have anything she asks for, none of it is truly hers. Not the way she wants it to be.
Her breath is shallow now. Her mind urges him to keep talking, even as her feet want to run away.
"It reminds you," he drawls, "of every frustration, every failure you've experienced since enterin' this sad little arrangement of a marriage. And not the least of this…" His hands move again, and he holds a card up between them. It is the same card he'd been playing with. But now it has a different image.
"…is a child," he finishes slowly. "Or the lack thereof. You've been tryin' for a long time, haven't you?"
Madeline feels numb. In a few words, he has managed to lay her bare, to figure her out, and she has nothing else to tell him. She nods, meekly, and looks down at the table. There are cracks in the wood, deep scratches.
They'd started out with a handshake, equals. But she's been thrown down a few notches, hasn't she?
His long finger reaches out and hooks her under the chin, bringing her face back up to him. Normally, she'd slap someone for such a liberty, but now… well.
"So, Mrs. Piedmont," he says, relentless, "you already know what I'm goin' to say, don't you?"
She doesn't want him to say it. He does so anyway.
"He won't ever give you a child. His health is too poor, his seed poisoned by all those sweets and cakes and the myriad evils he stuffs his body with. And you're gettin' up there in years. Thirty-two is rather mid-life, ain't it, Mrs. Piedmont? You ain't got much time left, to get what you want."
Tears sting in the corner of her eyes, and she rips her face away from his hand, pulling back and almost falling off the chair. She stands up, and slaps her hands on the table, her face livid.
"And what do I want, Doctor Facilier?" she hisses, her voice tightly coiled like a serpent about to strike.
His calm expression doesn't change, and her anger suddenly fizzles out. She glares at him, irritated with herself for allowing this ---this--- possible charlatan to get the better of her.
This was supposed to be exciting, new.
But not anymore.
He holds up the third card. "Well, let's find out what you want. Or rather, what you need." He gestures back toward the chair, his smile warm and inviting. "Sit down, madam."
She narrows her eyes at him, but her energy is already gone. She slumps into the chair, her costume skirts rustling, and takes a gigantic, unladylike gulp of wine. Facilier begins to laugh.
"Well, you may not be New Orleans-born, but you've certainly got the spirit of one! A spirit as fiery as that hair on your head, I'd wager."
She slams the glass down with a metallic clank. "Just…" She sighs. "Just show me."
"Very well." He flips over the card. They both stare at it.
"Hmm," he says after a while. She looks from the card to him, and back again.
He leans back, his tooth necklace gleaming in the pale light. "Perhaps even more interestin' than the last one."
She can't control herself. "God damn it, Doctor!"
"Careful whom you damn!" he snaps suddenly. "Words have power here."
Cut off in such a way, she jerks, recoiling in fear. "I'm—I'm sorry!"
He settles back in his chair as Madeline shakes like a leaf in the wind. But after a moment, he grins. "Nah. …I'm just messin' with you."
She stares at him in shock, then leans forward. "You think this is funny, Shadowman?" she seethes.
"No," he says, looking into her eyes, and she sees the darkness sparkling in his. "But it is fun."
"I never should have come here," she fumes, knowing full well he is batting her around like a cat with a mouse, from anger to resignation and back again. He's good at it, better than any Southern woman she knows, including herself.
"Mmm," he nods in agreement. "But then you'd have never known what's been botherin' you this whole time. And most importantly… how to fix it. So I'll tell you, since you've paid me to do so."
She squashes her intense desire to leave. She is captivated by his gleaming, ghostly eyes, the barren truth in them. He must be a real monster, to present things with such candor.
"Tell me," she breathes.
"You," says Facilier, "need a place of your own. An occupation in life. You were born to rule, and you are subdued by your position. By your husband, devoted though he may be."
"I was married in the eyes of God," she snaps. "I cannot terminate my promises to Charles."
"Oh, that I know," he chuckles. "However, there are many ways to gain your independence. And I can provide you with one. I can't guarantee it will be entirely orthodox, and it won't get you the child you desire. But you'll be free, in your own way."
"What way is that?" she asks. She is angry and bewildered and frightened and hopeful, all at the same time. A little bead of sweat rolls down her forehead, through the makeup. It is hot, much too hot in this room.
"Now, I can't reveal all my secrets," he says with a smile. "Otherwise, I'd be out of a job."
She takes out her fan and waves it over herself. The chill makes the small hairs on her skin stand up. She stops because the feeling of the air is too electric, too much.
Something is going to happen right now, she thinks. Something bad. Her mouth goes dry. She licks her lips, and suddenly imagines herself walking to him, leaning down, unfastening his belt, wrapping her mouth around his--
Madeline blinks. Facilier hasn't moved from his seat. She shakes her head, stares at him, whispers, "What are you doing to me?"
He smiles again. "Now what do you mean? I'm just a poor sinner tryin' to put money in my pocket and food on my table."
"Horse-shit," she says, all grace and femininity gone and replaced by something virulent. "You're… you're… something evil. You're worse than those men in the alley."
He ignores the insult, and spreads out the deck of cards on the table. They seem to spin of their own accord.
"You know what's wrong with you now," he murmurs. "And I guarantee you, that knowledge will sit festerin' in your head for the rest of your life. Can you continue to live, knowin' that you can do somethin' about it?"
She opens her mouth, then closes it. She knows he's right. He knows it, too.
She came here for a reason, even if that reason was not what she thought it was. Would she leave here with nothing?
He looks at her. The cards stop spinning.
"Make your move," he says. "Or quit wastin' my time and yours."
Madeline looks at the front door, which seems so far in the distance of the dark room. She could leave, right now, and she knows he'll let her. She could go home, back to her bed, and pretend none of this happened.
But he's right. In the morning, and every day after, she will wake up knowing what is missing.
"Bastard," she sighs.
He grins. "I've been called worse, mon chere."
She remembers Norma's term. "Monster."
She reaches into her garments, knows she has lost to the cards. Now, payment is needed if she is to get what she wants, and get away with her soul intact.
"I don't want your money," he says as she begins to bring out the coins. "Not for this."
She looks up at him. The heat in the room is near unbearable. "What do you want, then?"
His eyes are dark violet, his gator grin stretched wide. "Well now, Mrs. Piedmont."
Her resolve crashes, because she knows exactly what he wants.
"Nothin' that you will regret givin'," he says.
And right now, it is exactly what she wants. And suddenly, she finds it physically impossible to leave this room, or even this chair. Her body won't let her, because it knows, too. And it's determined now, to have something she has never had before.
And to get to freedom, she has to go through him. Her body doesn't seem to mind this at all.
This is how a mouse must feel, at the end.
He holds out his hand, across the table.
"Except the mouse's last moments," he says, "won't be as pleasant."
Far behind her, the lock on the door clicks shut.
She reaches out, grasps his hand, and they shake for the second time.
It all spins out of control after that. He is at her side immediately, his lips descending on hers, and she loses all coherent thought. She tries to rise from the chair to meet him, fumbles, gains a grip on his jacket. He smiles into her mouth and picks her up effortlessly, setting her down on the table in front of him. Even there, she is so petite that she is barely level with him. He tugs on her lower lip, coaxes her mouth open with practiced ease. The cards flutter to the floor around them like leaves in a storm.
She can't help but marvel at the amazing dexterity with which he figures out all the little laces and buttons on her dress. All without even looking at them.
He's done this before. With whom? How many, fools just like me?
This is So Very Wrong, her conscience points out, but she's not listening, not with the distraction of his hot mouth at her neck, his breath in her ear, whispering something deep and French or Creole and improper, except that she has trouble hearing because her head is spinning and she's lost, and she thinks, It's over…
--and then, before she can settle into the warm fuzz of unreality, sensations flood in, bringing her back to him. His hands are sliding up her legs, sending shocks through her spine, and suddenly she realizes that it feels like more than two hands---she shrieks but is cut off with a crushing kiss and his tongue in her mouth, making her brain go numb. The last thing she thinks when she glances down is "oh, it's only his shadow…. but that is not normal at all…"
The night proceeds in spurts of awareness amidst a cacophony of endless, torturous, pulsating heat, hotter than the New Orleans summer. Their clothes are everywhere. She can see the strange masks on the wall, upside down because she is between the table and his body. Her hair has come loose and is spread across the table as if part of some ghastly ritual.
The pastor who speaks in her church is right, she thinks. Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden not because the serpent tempted her. It was the fruit itself. It appealed to human nature, the drive to sample the forbidden. It was prohibited, therefore tempting.
Facilier isn't temperate like Charles, doesn't touch her like a she's a virgin princess. He knows she is older and married, and deserves less cautious treatment. And so--
His mouth, slow, languorous, exact.
His fingers, strange and long and dark, splayed like tattoos over her white skin.
His touch, absolutely relentless.
His name, bursting from her, as if it had been waiting inside her body, all this time, for the right moment. And she says it, moans it, screams it, again and again until she's hoarse and she's sure she can't take anymore--- God I'm going to die, she thinks with a very realistic fear, He's going to kill me, and they'll never find me---
She remembers the look on Norma's face. Frightened, accusatory. Missus, why you even askin' about the Shadowman?
"Because I thought he might be a great lay" doesn't seem to be a good answer.
By now, she is certain the whole city can hear her. The guilt floods in. Adulteress. Harlot.
But he senses it. Whatever power he has is fearsome, because Madeline forgets the guilt the moment his mouth is on her again. Her legs are wrapped around him, her body a tight little ball of heat. She is prepared when he finally takes her. It is overwhelming nonetheless. She pulls him deeper, her nails digging into his back, maybe drawing blood. He doesn't even flinch.
Somewhere in the vicinity, something falls off a shelf and shatters. Facilier ignores it, his attention focused. Madeline follows suit.
Don't break the rhythm, she remembers a jazz musician tell his student once. And she almost laughs, right amidst the ohh and ahh and please god yes.
And later that night, at various moments, she is genuinely afraid of him. But he fills her need, the ache she has nursed since arriving to Louisiana. And she can't help needing more, all the way until sunrise.
She is awakened by a slice of sunlight on her face. There is a hole in the ceiling, and the light looks alien in the velvety darkness of the witch doctor's home.
She rolls over, and finds herself tangled in bed-sheets. When they made it to a bed, she has no idea. It must have been some time early in the morning.
Oh God, she thinks. Charles returns today.
"Don't worry," says Facilier from the edge of the bed. He is fully dressed, even the top-hat, which looks a bit ridiculous indoors. "They ain't lookin' for you. At least, not until dear Charlie arrives and discovers you missin'."
She sits up. The sheets slide down a bit, and Madeline is suddenly modest. She hugs them closer to herself, knowing it's a bit late at this point. Every muscle in her body aches. He knows this, and smirks a bit.
"It may smart for a day or so," he volunteers. "But it'll wear off, unless you decide to visit me again."
His voice is full of such guilty promise. Her insides twist into knots.
"I have to leave," she manages to say, rising from the bed and trying to keep the sheet on herself. Her clothes are folded neatly on the card table. The cards are gone. It is as if nothing happened here, no great carnal sin or anything. But Madeline knows she can never come back here. Because she will know about the bad things that happened, and he will know. She sees the masks on the wall, and realizes that they know, too.
She shivers and hastily grabs her clothes. Lounging on the bed, he watches her dress, his lips curled around a cigar. The smoke is deep purple, like his eyes. She avoids looking at him, partly due to dread and partly because she still wants him, painfully so.
This is bad.
She spins, looking for a mirror to check herself in, doesn't find one. Her hair is tangled beyond repair, but she manages to pull it into a suitable bun. It is enough, for the moment. She is almost at the door when he speaks.
"It's been a pleasure doin' business with you, Mrs. Piedmont." His voice floats through the thick, heady air, an almost palpable caress on her skin. In the darkness beyond the velvet curtains, she cannot see his face, but she sees the skull gleaming on top of his hat.
"Business?" she asks.
"Mm," he says. "Surely you remember?"
She doesn't say anything. Last night, he told her he would give her a place of her own in the world. Something that would be entirely hers. In return, he had asked for her company. And now, the transaction is complete. But how would he---
"I should get home now," she whispers.
"See you 'round," he replies with a chuckle. She doesn't wait for him to say any more, and leaves. The door slams.
A few moments later, Facilier's shadow snakes out from behind a curtain. Its Cheshire Cat grin hangs in the air, and Facilier grins along with it. Then, he settles back on the bed and inhales Madeline's smell on the sheets. His shadow cocks its head at him, quizzically.
"Sometimes, money ain't everything," he tells it in an amused tone, and scratches it under the chin. "Lonely, unhappy wives are fun all on their own."
In the darkness, he continues to smoke.
In the watery sunrise, Madeline rushes home, using a back way that she knows. She passes few people on the streets, and wraps her costume shawl around her head so that she is not recognized. As it is, no one pays her any mind. It is unfathomable for anyone to think that Madeline Piedmont would be wandering the city alone, and shoeless, before morning.
Once she is on her street, she breathes a sigh of relief. The house is still dark. No one about. No one rushing to search for her.
She looks herself over, checking for evidence of her sin. Wonders if Norma or the other girls would recognize his mark on her. She knows he had been rough with his mouth. When she finds a mirror, she must check for bruises, before Charles comes home, and cover them with a pretty scarf.
She sighs. The first seeds of deep regret take hold in her stomach and begin to wind their way up to her heart. The morning has lit up her bad choices of the previous day, right from the moment she decided to lie to Jeanne. Charles is a good husband, and he spoils her. She lives a life without worries. And yet, she has lied and run away and did everything in her power to ruin herself. She has looked for the chance at happiness from a witch doctor who lives in an alley. Worst of all, she has just spent the night with said witch doctor, from whom she was explicitly told by her dearest friend to stay away.
She shakes her head as she walks toward the house.
Foolish, weak-willed excuse for a woman. Never again, I promise.
She opens the front door, steps over the threshold carefully so as not to awaken anyone. Her bare feet tread lightly on the wood. Fumbling in the darkness, she goes for a lamp on the foyer stand.
The light floods the room, and she stares into the face of Norma.
Madeline freezes in the doorway, gasping. Norma is sitting in the chair opposite the door. Her hair is disheveled, her hands in her lap. She is still wearing her nightgown. And in her fingers, a little piece of paper is being wrung this way, then that way. This way, then that way.
"Norma?" Madeline steps forward carefully, leaning down to see the older woman's face. "Norma, what's wrong?"
The woman looks up. Tears have carved two track marks in her dark cheeks, which somehow look paler than before.
She whispers something that Madeline cannot hear. She leans closer.
"What've you done?" the woman is saying, over and over. "What've you done?"
Madeline's heart drops. "What is it? Tell me!"
Silently, Norma hands her the little paper. Madeline's hand clamps onto it, refusing to unwrap it. They stare at each other.
"The postman came early this mornin'," Norma whispers, "with a telegraph. Says Mister Piedmont died in 'is sleep las' night. He was a good man, Missus. He was a good man, and loved you. Why'd you have to go messin' with the Shadowman?"
Madeline steps back. "I didn't---"
"DON'T YOU LIE TO ME!" Norma roars, standing from the chair, knocking it over, her voice shaking the lamp in Madeline's hand. "DON'T YOU DARE LIE TO ME! I CAN SMELL HIM ON YOU!"
Madeline cringes, careens back in shock. Then she drops the piece of paper, rushes out the door past the bewildered servants who have come to investigate the noise. Her yellow princess dress drags on the garden path, and the screaming continues behind her.
"I CAN SMELL HIM ON YOU!"
Madeline goes to the market more often now, out of necessity. Norma and most of the others have left her employ, and more help is initially hard to find. Word gets around the poor folk, stories told in hushed tones.
She tries to tell herself that's ridiculous. Charles had many health problems—wheezing, a bad stomach, a bad heart. Something was bound to claim him one day.
It had nothing to do with her. Or that night with Facilier.
Eventually, she hires more servants, because money is scarce and there are many poor people willing to ignore the stories. And soon, even the stories themselves grow quiet.
But Jeanne refuses to acknowledge her. And now, Madeline knows why. Maybe, just maybe, Jeanne also gave something up to Facilier years ago… perhaps in exchange for taming the elusive Elijah D'Ormande.
She picks out a basket of apples from a street vendor. She has responsibility now, much of it. Turns out that Charles, in his generosity, had left everything, including the affairs of his entire estate and business, to her instead of his brothers. Everyone is shocked, but the will is genuine, signed by his own hand.
Now, the buyers and sellers, men in suits on business of great importance, are in her home. She handles the papers, the money. She oversees the kitchen, the maids. She does her own hair.
Freedom. She misses Charles, but… she has freedom.
It is what was promised to her.
But she can't admit it. Because it makes her an accomplice to murder. And if she admitted that, the guilt would kill her.
And so, when she sees the skull top-hat in the marketplace, she does her best to avoid its owner. But every once in a while, she can't help but sneak a glance, to see if he is watching.
And inevitably, he always is. His hand rises to his hat, tipping it slightly as a greeting. Even in a thick crowd, she knows it is aimed at her. And if she is close enough, she can see his mouth curl in a small, knowing smile.
A body for a night, in exchange for a life.
Independence, in exchange for a soul.
Receipt of goods acknowledged.
New Orleans is a town filled with dirty little secrets. Bad things happen here, and sometimes, they happen to good people.
*The song that Madeline hears in the alley didn't exist in the Roaring Twenties, and is not a jazz song, as you can guess. Forgive me. It's just too perfect for this story. It's "Bloodletting" by Concrete Blonde. I listened to it and to "Bad Things" like fifty times while writing this. The dark undertones in each song are just damn perfect for Facilier.
*Playlist while writing this: (listen while reading, it makes it more palatable, and the songs are good, I promise.)
"Bad Things" by Jace Everett
"Bloodletting" by Concrete Blonde
"Deny Me" by Soil
"Friends on the Other Side" from Princess and the Frog soundtrack
"See Through" by Megan McCauley
"Let Me Move In" by Stever
"Transylvanian Concubine" by Rasputina
"Poison" by Alice Cooper
"Revelations 22:20" by Puscifer
"Sukima" by Suilen
"When You're Evil" by Voltaire
"Uninvited" by Alanis Morissette
"#1 Crush" by Garbage
*Final Note: If someone can illustrate anything from this fic, I will love you forever. Yes, I know. I'm shameless. And he's sexy. Just draw me something good. Or bad. ;) )
*OK final-final note: I do not have red hair, nor am I Irish or from Boston. I do not own a yellow princess costume. And no, my name's not Madeline. I.E., not a self-insert. Going for the smutfic-with-a-plot thing here. But that said…would I take a crack at Dr. F, given the chance and capacity to escape without selling my soul, etc? Umm… Duh. :)