I hoped that it would not be Dani. She was too young, and, for my selfish part, I wanted to pursue someone who was alive and would continue to be that way for a reasonable human number of years. I hoped that the heir would not be me... How could it be, since she had known me only a couple of weeks? But she did seem to know a lot about me, and had ensured I got the particular job that I had. I wondered with some apprehension whether the “find the forger and make it stop” game was some kind of test.
I last checked my watch that night around 2:30 am. I woke up in my own bed in my apartment the next morning, alone and with no memory of how i'd gotten there. This fueled my sense of alarm. I felt the tingling on the back of my neck that usually signaled a panic attack... NECK! I must check my neck! I thought wildly and ran to the mirror. No bite marks. Check. Coffee will not do in this state. I have to have some food and then get out and do something, spend this nervous energy. So it was in my slightly frenzied, not all there state that left the apartment, but the rhythm of walking slowed and steadied me a bit, and I ended up back in the French Quarter without really realizing where i'd come.
On this Sunday morning there seemed to be a few new faces and a few I'd seen before... The sickly looking man was selling the same sketches... and a print of something that almost had to be Mara's. Now we'd get to see how good an actress I might be. He looked nervous. I tried to smile. It may have been more of a leer. I asked about the painting that I was pretty sure now was one of Mara's. I wanted to see how well he could cover. He came up with some vague answers that probably would have satisfied anyone who wasn't trying to probe and poke holes. I bought one anyway. I wanted to study it. I asked if he had a card, and he did. His name was Julius Ringe.
My brain (finally) kicked into gear: I have a name, I have evidence. If I could talk to Mara again, we could make some progress. I realized with annoyance that all my contact with her had been through Dani. I would have to get Mara's info. And so... I texted Dani.
Can I get Mara's email address or phone number or something?
A few minutes later:
She doesn't really like technology and doesn't want to leave a paper trail. That's part of the reason she keeps me around. What's up?
I was alert (perhaps bordering on paranoia) for clues about Dani and her relationship with Mara. “Part of”? What was the other part?
I texted back: found the seller. Have a name and a copy. Please tell M
I have to say, I was surprised when Dani showed up at my apartment that evening to collect the info. I had expected another meeting the next week with Mara.
“Wait, why are you here? I mean, that came out wrong. I'm glad you're here but--”
“I came to get the things you mentioned. Mara wants to look at them.”
“Shouldn't I bring them myself so I can talk with her?”
“She'll tell you if she needs you.”
Lovely, I thought. I'm a not-lawyer for a not-client, who is not-alive. And on top of it, she's pushy as hell. I thought I wouldn't have to deal with that until I had real clients. And on top of all that, i'm not getting anywhere with Dani. My life, as a friend of mine likes to say, is an endless trial. I suppose that's better than unlife being an endless trial. Because then it's a little more literal. Anyway.
In the end, Mara apparently didn't need me. Dani continued to be nice to me in the office, in a sort of confoundingly cheerful way that left me distracted, but she did not and would not talk about Mara at work. Ms. Devereaux was satisfied with my work, I suppose, but she never offered to write a recommendation, and I never asked. The criticism slacked off, but not the work. I wondered how much she knew about my moonlighting or my feelings toward her niece.
Once after work, I asked Dani about the copyright case, and all she would say was that the situation was being handled. That could mean almost anything. I tried not to think about the more unpleasant possibilities.
On my last night in New Orleans, Dani and I went to a club that was known for its burgers and its jazz. We split a burger that was as big as one of our heads. On this particular night, a singer/songwriter of Celtic music had the stage.
Some of her passion floated on the smoky air and echoed around my brain:
“when time finally tempers this heart sick and sore,
and your eyes no longer dance in my dreams any more
I will still sing your praises from a time long before...”
And I wondered if i'd even have a chance to get that close this time. As if she'd heard my thought, Dani started talking:
“I know you're leaving tomorrow. I wanted to tell you I'm studying in Europe this year.”
“With Mara.” it came out like an accusation. Part of me meant it that way, but I was embarrassed that I was so obviously jealous.
“Well, yes, she's offered me a job after graduation, and sort of as an advance, she's taking care of my school expenses this year. And she's going too. To France.”
I was disappointed and trying hard not to show it.
I walked her home. On her steps, she kissed my cheek, stepped back to look at me, and ran inside without saying goodbye. I didn't sleep that night and kept playing the scene over in my mind in the car the next day on the way back home from New Orleans. I almost chucked the mojo bag out the car window in frustration, but then, maybe I had been lucky. I hadn't been turned into a vampire, and did get a kiss. It could have been a lot worse.
A few weeks later I received a postcard from her. It took me a moment to figure out what it was. I'd never seen her handwriting before, since we'd always texted, and we typed most things at the office. I read it slowly two or three times, then turned it over. The picture was two people standing behind a wrought iron fence, out of which grew a willow tree. They were talking in the sunrise. And at the bottom was her signature. I guess the cards came out right, somehow.