She sat at the corner table in the Frenchmen Street Coffeehouse, waiting
for Mr. Right. Normally she wouldn't be caught dead doing the singles
scene at a yuppie hangout, but she needed to meet a man and she was positive
it would happen tonight. When he walked through the door, she'd recognize
Three men and one woman had hit on her before he arrived. He didn't fit her criteria for handsome, but was eye-catching in his black slacks and short sleeved, black silk designer shirt. He wore a cell phone on his belt and Bruno Magli's-the kind made famous by O. J.-on his feet.
Eye-catching or not, she was about to write him off as unworthy of her interest when he ran his fingers through his shoulder length hair, and she caught a glimpse of the cobra tattoo on his forearm. She was considering that tattoo when he started walking toward her.
Their eyes met and she smiled. The corners of her mouth trembled with an excitement she could barely suppress.
He stopped right in front of her, took her hand, and gazed deeply into her eyes. "Let's go out to the patio. It's getting a little too crowded in here."
Just like that. No introduction or anything. And just like that, she was certain she had her man.
She reached for her coffee and purse, slung the straps of the oversize bag over her shoulder, and rose to follow him.
She paused at the French doors taking it all in. The patio was surrounded on three sides by a vine-covered brick wall. Wrought iron chairs and tables with Cinzano umbrellas surrounded a central fountain. Tiny, white fairy lights, half of which were unlit, were attached to the brick walls. It had rained recently; the deserted patio smelled of dampness and decay. She hesitated for a moment longer, trying to decide what to do.
He'd already picked a table off to the side. She got a partial view of the cobra tattoo as he wiped the chairs with a handful of napkins. The tattoo clinched the deal.
They both sat.
His hand settled over hers as if it belonged there. "I'm Jack."
Now that she'd made up her mind, anticipation raced through her bloodstream like a double shot of tequila, chasing away any trepidation she might have felt. "I'm Dianna."
He flashed a smile, showing even white teeth. "Dianna, the huntress, huh?"
She slid her hand from under his and placed her large purse on an empty chair. "And what exactly does that mean?"
"Don't go all frozen on me. You're here. It's singles night. And looking the way you do, I figured you were out hunting. It was a lame joke."
"Such a rush to judgment can't be good for your social life."
Another flash of teeth. "I'm doing okay. But babe, if you're not in the market, why are you advertising?" He eyed the low-cut blouse she wore, and the black satin bra that was clearly visible through the diaphanous fabric.
She gave an uneasy laugh. "I guess I see your point. And what about you? Are you hunting? Or do you come here because you like the taste of the coffee?"
"I figure you already know the answer to that. But just to make myself clear, I don't want a picket fence, a mortgage, screaming babies, or a lasting relationship." He ran his hand over her arm from shoulder to wrist. The gesture was both proprietary and self-assured. "But the one thing I can promise is that I'll show you a good time."
She took a quick sip of coffee. His words triggered a memory. Her hand shook, but she didn't try to hide it.
She took her time sipping the strong brew. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered a few sweet nothings in his ear. He turned his head slightly, until their lips were a breath apart. She closed the gap.
They spent the next few minutes giving each other tonsillectomies. Until he grabbed her breast.
She straightened and pushed him away. "Hey don't you know the meaning of the word finesse?"
"I thought this was where we were going. You can't blame me for being eager to get there." He put his hand on her thigh and began to work his way upward under her short, flared skirt. "Relax. Let me give you what you need."
"Not here. Not now, Jack. I need a little adventure first."
A predatory grin curled his lips. "What do you mean, adventure?"
She leaned in close and whispered.
A multitude of expressions flitted across his face while he listened. His eyes widened with delight. "I like a woman who likes adventure. You tell me where and when."
"First you need to go back inside and pretend that you didn't get lucky. I'll let you know when I'm ready to play."
He chuckled softly, rose, and disappeared through the French doors.
She stayed to finish her coffee, stretching it out as long as possible, letting the excitement build. When she couldn't stand the anticipation a moment longer, she picked up her cup and purse, and went inside. She handed the cup to a passing waitress, along with a note for Jack, and left the coffeehouse.
She slowly walked down Frenchmen Street. Decrepit shotgun doubles with decaying gingerbread trim intermingled with two bistros, a small sushi bar and two taverns that had the word dive written all over them. Thunder rumbled in the distance and a light mist began to fall.
About halfway down the second block, she stopped and placed her bag on a stoop. It was quieter here, closer to Washington Park where the area was more residential. She reached in and found her leather flats-no need to risk damaging her favorite pair of Manolo Blahnik's on the cracked sidewalks. It was then that she heard someone whistling Love is A May Splendid Thing. Good old Jack following orders.
Minutes later, she reached the end of Frenchmen as it intersected Esplanade Avenue and North Peters. The Governor Nicholls Street wharf lay just ahead of her. She stepped onto the train tracks in front of a warehouse. The mist turned into a light rain, and she hurried into the shadows, around the back of building.
From here, she could look out over the Mississippi River. The dark waters swirled and lapped the shoreline in front of her, the currents made even more treacherous by the coming storm. The smell of rotting vegetation, which not even rain could wash clean, hung in the air.
Less than a minute later Jack joined her. "I love playing games."
"Oh, I thought you would." She emphasized her words by waving the pretty little gun she'd picked up that afternoon.
"Baby, that thing better not be loaded," he said. "Either put it away or I'm leaving."
"No you can't leave. I'm here to deliver a message from Cindy. You remember Cindy, don't you?"
"I don't know anyone named Cindy."
"Now that's original. How could you forget someone you spent hours brutally raping and torturing?"
His arrogant smile, which had been there moments before, vanished completely. "I have never raped anyone in my life." Suddenly, his expression turned hopeful. "Are we playing the game now?"
She chambered a round into the pistol. "This is no game, Jack."
He looked around at the deserted loading dock. "Why are you doing this?"
"I told you. Haven't you been listening? Because I talked to Cindy for a really long time, I know you're the one who violated her."
"Hey, hold up a minute. I'm not into rape, even the role-playing kind."
"Don't lie to me. Admit the truth and you might just get out of here alive."
"I don't believe this. You're playing some weird game. This is the way you get your thrills, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I love it when a man's knees start knocking."
He ran his fingers through his hair and glanced around again. "An old friend predicted that if I kept doing the one-night stands I'd eventually run into psycho broad. Why didn't I listen?"
She smiled and stroked the pistol. "No one ever listens. We all do what we must, to hell with the outcome. Now why don't you be a good boy and toss me your phone?"
A heavy shudder shook his body. "Take the damned thing." He unhooked it from his belt. "I should have known that no woman with your looks is ever this easy to get. I guess you're into stealing phones and making drug deals, huh? Here, take the phone, I'm leaving." He threw it at her.
She caught it with her free hand. "No, Jack, you can't leave yet. You said you wanted excitement; well let me give you a little. I want you to back up closer to the river."
"Please, tell me one of my buddies put you up to this."
"I'm deadly serious. Either you do as I say, or I'm going to put a bullet in your kneecap. The round's already chambered. Waste not, want not. Your choice."
"You are insane."
"I'm not. Don't ever call me crazy. What I do, I do for Cindy"
Fear glittered in his eyes. "Look, this is just too sick even for a guy like me. Just let me walk away."
"I see you've finally gotten the picture." She followed him as he backed toward the river. "But I'm still a bit disappointed in you, Jack. When you're on the receiving end, then you don't do too well, do you? But you didn't give Cindy the option of quitting, did you? Where's your sense of fair play?"
"What can I say to convince you that I don't know anyone named Cindy?"
She heard the resignation in his voice and felt cheated. "Well, nothing, not unless you want to beg a little. Cindy says you spent hours torturing her. She begged."
He gazed over his shoulder at the river. "I-ha-have friends I'm supposed to meet. If I don't show up, they'll call the cops. Let me go before you get caught."
"Yeah, right. Pull the other one, Jack. As if you actually have people in your life who care that much about you."
"I swear I didn't do anything to anyone named Cindy. What you're doing makes no sense."
She aimed the Beretta at his head. "Oh but it makes a lot of sense to me." She pulled the trigger once, then again.
She looked down at him. A couple of bullets and he'd become a lifeless heap of designer clothing.
She moved swiftly, pushing Jack down the embankment with her foot, watching him tumble into the Mississippi River. The body floated in the water, before the current caught it and took it under. It appeared briefly farther down the river, and then disappeared.
The rain quickened, coming down in sheets. She stepped back into the deeper shadows of the warehouse, removed her wig, and her clothing, stripping down to the skin. She let the rain wash over her, making her clean again. Then, from her purse she took a long skirt and an over-large blouse she'd purchased from a thrift shop in San Francisco, and pulled them on. She knew she looked like a street person now. No one ever noticed them.
After dumping her clothing into the river, she used Jack's cell-phone to dial the number.
"Hello." The voice sounded preoccupied.
"I have some wonderful news."
"Cindy? Is that you? Where are you? Dear Lord, please Cindy, listen to me."
"Dr. Morrison, how many times do I have to tell you that Cindy's gone? I'm Diana. Diana the huntress."
"Cindy, tell me where you are. I'll come get you. You need help. You're ill."
"Not any more. I've found the man who raped Cindy. It's over."
There was a long pause.
"Dr. Morrison, are you still there? I thought you'd be thrilled to know it was finished."
"But it's not, is it, Cindy? We've gone through this before."
"This time I'm right. He had a cobra tattoo on his arm."
"Don't you remember? That's what you said the last time, too."
Uncertainty clouded her mind. She wondered if Dr. Morrison was right, had she killed before? No, of course she hadn't.
Anger, always close to the surface, replaced her misgivings. Who did Dr. Morrison think she was? "I won't let you do this to me. I won't let you make me doubt myself. I needed to do this. Aren't you the one who said Cindy needed closure?"
She didn't wait for Dr. Morrison to answer. She threw the phone into the river, walked to the front of the warehouse and down the train tracks, coming out onto Dumaine.
She headed west toward North Rampart where she'd parked her car. Maybe she would check out a few tattoo parlors along the Gulf Coast. She needed to find the man with the cobra tattoo. He was the one who had raped Cindy.