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Chapter Twelve


									Chapter Twelve

At dust dark the Big Easy’s elegant skyline had already begun to sparkle with the magic of Uptown colonial mansions, waterfront casinos and festive street pageantry that only the French Quarter could create. Victor drove the rented Explorer down Interstate 10 across the Mississippi River Bridge and into the Lakeshore area close to downtown New Orleans. Nickie rode quietly, sporadically gazing at him chomp on a large banana. “What's with the bananas? You never liked them before.” “Hey, they're good for you. They stimulate hemoglobin in the blood, reduce high blood pressure, and give you brain power.” “I see,” she acquiesced. “Well then tell me, Mr. Brainpower, what is our plan now?” “Find a place to stay. Then in the morning, we drive out to BigMama's house and look for clues.” Knowing how much he loved New Orleans and how often his strained relationship with his father had kept him

away, Nickie studied his face. “You feel ok, being back home?” Victor peered out of his window at the rich heritage of his home town, the ambiance of 18th century architecture fused in with modern day skyscrapers that paved the way to the Superdome. He watched the mule-drawn carriages race pass the St. Louis Cathedral, beneath the iron lace balconies of Jackson Square and on toward Basin Street where Jazz was born. He remembered the familiar antics of the hustlers, street vendors and prostitutes as they danced a great dance of seduction, feeding the insatiable appetites of wild-eyed tourists and fueling an energy unmatched in any other city in the world. “Brings back a lot of memories,” he finally acknowledged. “Remember the first time you brought me here to meet your family?” “Treated you like a queen,” he boasted. “Put you up in that fancy hotel downtown.” “Hotel Manaco St Charles, as I remember.” He braced himself. “Oh, boy. Here it comes.”

“Yeah.” She punched his shoulder. “That's when I found out you were a lying dog. You didn't have enough money to

get a room, so you had one of your hoodlum, bellhop buddies steal the key.” “It was all for you, baby.” “There we were, layin’ up in that room like dumb stowaways. We could've gone to jail.”

He smiled. “Think of all the fun we had.” She smiled. “I admit. It was kinda special.” “Kinda!” “That's right.” She persisted. “Sounds like you need a refresher course.” “You want to go back? That would be so romantic.”

Victor swerved into the right lane. “We're already on our way.” Hotel Manaco was a glamorous fifteen story luxury hotel a few blocks from the French Quarter. Its exquisite, one-of-a-kind luxury suites with French décor and quaint sidewalk bistro drew upscale patrons from around the world. Victor and Nickie checked into a suite on the fifteenth floor, overlooking the river. They hurried downstairs to catch a session of the Winton Marseilles Jazz Ensemble and enjoy the restaurant’s famous Cajun Lobster Etouffee. Nickie kept rubbing her sheer stockings against Victor’s leg. Victor kept nibbling at her ear. Neither

could keep their hands off the other, and within an hour, they were back inside their suite. With lights dimmed and soft music playing, Victor poured champagne into two long-stemmed glasses. Nickie stood, facing him, in a white silk negligee. “Nickie, do you know how much I've missed you?” “No. Tell me.”

“Like if someone snatched my heart away, in the middle of a beat.” She leaned over with a soft kiss. ”I like that. me more.” “Since the day I saw you in front of your dorm, I've known that you were the one for me.” “I find that hard to believe. All those beautiful girls at Washington State?” “I dated a few, here and there.” “Here, there and every where, as I remember.” He smiled. “They were only distractions until you decided to give me a chance” “Sure, Mr. Star-running-back.” His voice became more serious. “Listen, I love you. don't want anyone else. believe?” Why is that so hard for you to I Tell

Nickie didn’t answer.

As the tears began to stream

down her cheeks, she pulled Victor to her in a desperate, trembling embrace. With his hands pressed tightly against

her back, he began to see flashes of her past. He could see Nickie, standing in a church, dressed in a long white wedding gown. Her mother was sitting in the front row holding a program that read: NICKIE AND SAM ... FOREVER" But there is no Sam. Just the best man, whispering to Nickie, “I'm so sorry, Nickie. He just couldn't go

through with it. That waitress at the coffee shop has his mind all screwed up”. Nickie began to cry. Heartbroken, she ran down the aisle, out of the door, and into the street. Just as quickly as they had come, the flashes were now gone. Victor gently pulled her back and gazed into her teary eyes. “Why didn't you tell me, Nickie?” “About what?” “About this Sam ... and the wedding?” Nickie pushed away abruptly. “Who told you about that?” “No one.” “Then how ... Oh God no! You had no right to do that! “I wasn't trying. It just came.” You looked inside of me!

“This is getting weird, really weird,” she said, glaring at his hands. “Nickie ...” She backed away from him. “No, don't touch me. God knows what else you'll see.” “Whatever I see won't stop me from loving you.” “How can you be sure?” she reasoned. “What if you see me and Sam in the back seat of his Chevy Camaro? then? What

“I don't care about then, Nickie. I only care about now.” Nickie paused, for what seemed to be an eternity, before taking a seat on the sofa. She beckoned for him to

sit beside her. “Sit down. I want to tell you about then.” She reached for a box of tissues to dry her eyes. “We were very young, seventeen maybe eighteen. love and I thought I was pregnant.” “So you decided to get married?” “Our parents decided for us. thing to do.” “He chickened out?” “I told you. We both were very young. He still It seemed the right It was my first

wanted to play the field.”

Victor shook his head with disdain. “Damn fool.” “Turned out I wasn't pregnant after all. But the

feeling of being left at the altar in front of all those people...” She cringed. “I said I’d never trust any man

ever again.” “I'm so sorry, Nickie. I didn't know.”

“Don't you see?

I keep waiting, bracing myself for

another fall. I keep thinking. It's just a matter of time before you hurt me too.” “I would never hurt you,” he promised. She rubbed his handsome face. “I want to believe you. But when I see you surrounded by all those floozies at work ...” “They don't mean anything to me. married you. children.” “It's been five years, Victor. can have children.” He tenderly reached out to her. “Give me your hand.” Reluctantly, she placed her hand in his hand. For a long moment, he closed his eyes. “I guess ...” “You guess what?” she pressed. “I guess we'll just have to settle for three.” I don't even know if I I love you. I

And you're going to have all ten of my

She beamed with anticipation. “Are you sure?” He flashed a mischievous grin. “But the thing is ...” He picked her up from the sofa and carried her toward the bedroom. “We need to start right away.”

They reached the bedroom, laughing, stumbling and falling into the bed. With urgent, sensuous hast, they

bore into each other, twisting and turning and sliding across the silk sheets until they exploded with ecstasy, experiencing a loving passion they had never felt before. Then, to their own amazement, as though a second bell had chimed, they started all over again. By 2am, Victor and Nickie lay in an awkward embrace, their feet against the headboard, sheets twisted around them and pillows on the floor. They were sound asleep. In the hallway outside their room, a young couple, dressed in Mardi Gras costumes, stumbled off the elevator, half drunk and disoriented. They were looking for their friend’s costume party, but couldn’t remember the room number. The boyfriend surveyed the hall. “Was it 1513 or 1515?” They swayed back and forth, trying to hold each other up. “I think ... I think they said 1514.”

“What the hell.

Try both.”

”You mean all treeee,” she slurred. The boyfriend sniggled. “You said treeee ...” “Uhh?” “Never mind.” all three room. Victor was awakened by the hallway noises. He slid He rang the doorbells and pounded on

into his pants and slippers and headed for the front door. As he opens his door, 1514, the guest across the hall, a young blond-headed fraternity type, opened his door as well. He recognized the couple. “Hey. Come on in. been waiting.” The drunken boyfriend looked at Victor apologetically. “Sorry, dud. My girlfriend is too wasted to know where the hell she's going.” “Me!” she protested. “Why you're the one who’s aneebri...acted.” “Aneebri-acted!” He sniggled again as they stagger into the crowded room and close the door. Victor was about to close his door when he spotted a bellhop, pushing a food tray onto the service elevator. the man turned to press the elevator button, Victor As We've

recognized him.

It was a homeless man, the man who had

saved Victor's life. “Hey! Hey, wait a minute!” Victor shouted.

The elevator door closed. Victor grabbed the main elevator down to the first floor lobby. He arrived just in time to see the homeless man go through the exit door leading to the parking garage. Victor hurried out behind him, only to find himself in the dimly lighted, empty garage standing alone. That was when he noticed something very peculiar. driver's door was open on the white Explorer Nickie had rented. Yet, the alarm had not sounded. The

With streetwise caution, scanning the other parked cars around him, Victor moved closer to the vehicle. He

noticed that several bags belonging to Nickie were still sitting untouched on the back seat. He surmised that

whoever was trying to steal the Explorer had evidently been frightened off. He thought, what is New Orleans coming to? Even the swankiest hotels in town are being victimized by petty thieves. And then he saw several strips of red wire on the ground. Even hotwiring a car was different now. thieves had apparently gone high tech. The

As Victor finished inspecting the interior, he thought about the homeless man. He sensed there was a method to

his madness, a pattern associated with his appearances, but what? And why did he keep running away? Victor removed the shopping bags, relocked the Explorer and headed back to his room. Across the street, a fat, balding man sat in a small U-Haul truck with a canister of C-4 explosives in his lap. He was desperately trying to catch his breathe. It had been a long time since he had to move that fast. He'd beaten the alarm, so the nagging question was who had tipped off Victor? Why would he show up at 2 am in the garage? I’ve just got to be more careful, he thought to himself. He sat the explosives aside and waited a while for his heart to stop racing. Finally, reaching into his wallet, he pulled out a photo of Joe Rickney. With a determined voice he uttered. ”Don’t you worry, Joe. Next time I’ll get that bastard. I’ll give him everything that he deserves.”

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