Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
"Fuck a duck, we're outta luck. We're not gonna be here on the 19th," I muttered, wiping my brow. That's the beautiful curse of New Orleans; no matter the season, the city swelters, and so do the people in its bowl.
"For a reporter you're not very observant," Lauren said. "Ron, that sign's been there for years — look, the paper's all yellow. And hello — can't you see past the dust in the windows? There's nothing inside. Nada. This store wasn't open last night."
We thrashed it out over daiquiris. Detective work is thirsty work.
"If there was no lady and no mask store," I asked, "then what the hell is happening? I mean, we both partied plenty — "
Lauren waved her hand as she sipped. Nice manicure, red polish. Matched the daiquiri. "Nothing we did explains what we did. I saw your mask. You saw my mask. We both heard the woman. And what was up with that hair? I know you like the curls, rondavis, but that was a hot mess on that woman's head."
"Look, all I know is that was a classic folie à quatre. Madness among the four of us," I said. "And it's not madness if all four of us saw it. It's reality, whether we want to believe it or not."
"Or it's mass hysteria." Lauren stood up. "Or someone slipped something into our drinks. That one bleach-blonde porker bought us shots, remember? I didn't want to take them but Adam and Willard were all like, 'Hey there.' What is it with you guys and bleach blondes, anyway? She looked like a Hillbilly Ho to me."
"I apologize for my gender, but don't include me in that group. I'm partial to brunettes," I said. "I remember those shots — wasn't it Stoli and schnapps and cranberry juice?"
"That's a panty dropper," Lauren corrected me. "That's the round that hot boy bought us. I definitely remember him. The ho served up the vodka and Kahlua and lime." She made a face. "They tasted like lake water. Lakes are so fucking filthy, don't you think?" Then: "I think we need to figure out what that crazy woman was talking about. What was it? Scooby-Doo?"
"Ruby something," I said. "Or rouge. Or roux. Roo-ga? Roo-ga-do?"
"Rougarou? Parlez-vous de la Rougarou?"
We both turned to the sound of the voice and beheld a kid — she couldn't have been more than 10, maybe 11, with a head full of red — staring at us with adult bemusement.
"Bonjour," Lauren said, turning on her Cali girl smile. "Qu'est-ce qu'un Rougarou? Mon ami et moi ne sont pas familiers avec ce mot."
The girl curtsied. "Vous trouverez bien assez tôt. Méfiez-vous de la nuit. Le Rougarou réclamera vos âmes." She gave me a little wave and walked away.
"What was that all about?" I asked. "A, what did she say, and 2, when did you start speaking French?"
"I don't," Lauren said. "What are you talking about?" She looked at her watch. "Four o'clock. We gotta bounce. Let's see what sort of beard Adam's got going now."
We saw a lot more than that.