14

The rule was, if a contact didn’t show up at an agreed place on schedule and if no arrangements had been made for an alternate time and place for a meeting, you returned to the rendezvous site twenty-four hours later. With luck, whatever had prevented the contact from coming to the meeting would no longer be an obstacle. But if the contact didn’t show up the second time. .

Buchanan didn’t want to think about it. He made his way through the French Quarter. Crowded, narrow streets. Dixieland. The blues. Dancing on the sidewalk. Commotion. But no costumes. This time, with no masks to hide people’s faces, Buchanan would have a much better chance to learn if he was being followed. Last time, he’d been conspicuous because he hadn’t been wearing a costume. Now, just one of the many people in street clothes, he would have a much better chance of blending with a crowd, slipping down an alley, and evading anyone who did try to follow.

With a sense of deja vu that made him wince from the memory of when the knife had entered his side, he passed the shadows of Jackson Square, studied Decatur Street, and once more crossed toward Cafe du Monde. Again the restaurant was busy, although not as much as on Halloween. To make sure that the crowd didn’t prevent him from entering, he’d taken care to arrive early, at 10:15 rather than the scheduled time of eleven when he had last been here with Juana six years ago.

He festered with impatience. Never showing it, he waited his turn and was escorted by a waiter past pillars, through the noise of the crowd, and to a seat at a small circular white-topped table surrounded by similar busy tables in a corner at the back. By chance, the table was in exactly the spot he would have chosen to give himself an effective view of the entrance.

But he wasn’t satisfied. He needed something more, another way to be sure, a further guarantee, and when he saw his chance, he stood to claim a suddenly empty table near the center of the restaurant. It was here, he remembered, that he and Juana had sat six years earlier. Not this same table. He could never be positive of that. But the position was close enough, and when Juana came in, she would have no trouble finding him. Her gaze would scan the congested room, settle on the area that she associated with him, and there he would be, rising, smiling, walking toward her, eager to hold her.

He glanced at his watch: 10:40. Soon, he thought. Soon.

His headache made him sick again. When the waiter came to take his order, he asked for the specialty: cafe au lait and beignets. He also asked for water. That was what he really wanted. Water. The coffee and the beignets were just so he’d be allowed to sit there. The water was so he could swallow more Tylenol.

Soon.

Juana.

I love you,” he had told her. “I want you to know that you’ll always be special to me. I want you to know that I’ll always feel close to you. I swear to you. If you ever need help, if you’re ever in trouble, all you have to do is ask, and no matter how long it’s been, no matter how far away I am, I’ll-

Buchanan blinked, realizing that the waiter was setting down the water, the coffee, and the beignets. After he swallowed the Tylenol, he was startled when he glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes had passed like fifteen seconds. It was almost eleven o’clock.

He kept staring toward the entrance.

Here’s the postcard I never thought I’d send. I hope you meant your promise. The last time and place. Counting on you. PLEASE.

“Is something wrong, sir?”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve been sitting here for half an hour and you haven’t touched your coffee or the beignets.”

“Half an hour?”

“Other people would like a chance to sit down.”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“Even so, other people would like-”

“Bring me another round. Here’s ten dollars for your trouble.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Buchanan stared at the entrance.

Midnight.

One o’clock. People frowned toward him, whispering.

By two o’clock, he knew that she wouldn’t be coming.

What in God’s name had happened to her? She needed his help. Why hadn’t she let him prove he loved her?

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