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Claim the Disappearing: 5

(I invite you to enjoy this free New Orleans novel, courtesy of the wonder that is the internet, unrolled a teensy bit at a time. If you are just joining us, feel free to return to THE BEGINNING and work your way through.)

The light slicing through the open castle door slowly contracted. The creaking of the shutting door that accompanied it was so comical, I laughed. What the hell? Had my life become a Scooby Doo movie? 

I glanced over my shoulder, but no one was there. Oddly enough, I could see through the door’s millioned windows all the way to the end of cobblestoned Montegut Street where the metal tail of an oil tanker glided above the concrete flood wall. Montegut dead-ended at three palm trees. Then a swath of sewer-soaked grass. Then the wall protecting the city against an overflow of the Mississippi River. I was looking up at the moving tanker tail, looking up at the river, looking over my head at the water snaking past the city. 

Before I ran from Mississippi to the Bywater, when Hurricane Katrina hit the city, the flood wall wasn’t there. Didn’t need it; the river levees held. The horrible destruction of the city wasn’t from breeching levees but because poorly built canal walls collapsed. Big fucking deal, right? A distinction without a difference. But levees breaching sounds romantic, and the moment I laid eyes on the castle hunkered at the end of my daily walk, I swore I would give up romance. The tanker tail moved quickly out of sight. 

A song strummed down the staircases, splitting at the top and tripping down the treads in three-part symphony. The Dauphine on the rampart. Not a drunken roaring. A lament. He had a beautiful voice. The notes rose and fell. The boy had quite the range. I started toward the stairs. 

That was one of my choices too. To march right past the three women guarding the staircases and wind my way up to the Dauphine. Hang out on the rampart with him in the silken night. Share his burgundy. Forget about preachey-judgey St. Claude with his nice threads and will-of-God devotion and really just all of the nonsense that made me conjure him in the first place. 

As if called by name, the saint appeared on the landing above the middle staircase. He perched on the edge of a marble table, hands dangling from his knees. 

“Etoile?” he asked, and I could have kissed him for using my made-up name.

“Yes, Claude?”

“Are you telling them about your ancestors?”

“Yes, Claude.”

“The truth?”

“As I know it.” 

“Don’t fudge.” He produced a peach from the folds of his magnificent robe and bit. Peach juice sluiced down his chin. He swiped it off before it could splatter the robe. “And yourself? Are you telling the truth about your own life?”

“I’m working up to it.”

“Dropping hints?”

I nodded, because while I have not told you about the evening I lay in the grass beneath the rattling pecan leaves and formulated a plan while the needlelike proboscis of a mosquito drew blood, its feathery feet kissing my cheek, I have told you my Tip-Top gifted me with an understanding of necessary killing. 

“You better make it quick.” St. Claude nodded over his shoulder. “He’s serious up there.”

“What’s his problem?” I asked, because even though I had obviously conjured him, not everything conjured in New Orleans arrives as planned. The Bywater had assented to my subconscious dreaming for reasons purely its own. 

The saint sighed. “I failed, that’s what. He doesn’t intend to assume the throne. It was my job as his tutor to feed him that pap about the burden of the crown being a suffering pleasing to God, the rich man’s duty of leadership, blah, blah, blah. He refuses to ‘play the game,’ as he puts it. You might be able to convince him, if not to govern, to at least not take his own life. Or”—he flipped his palm back and forth in a ‘who knows’ gesture—“you might not. But you won’t get the chance if you don’t hurry.” 

At the risk of his telling me exactly what he thought of me (“You are the worst kind of poser—the observing, sarcastic kind.”), I asked, “Why me? Why do you think I have sympathy for a spoiled brat heir to the throne?”

He chomped into the peach. The sound of his chewing echoed off the stone walls. When he had swallowed, he said, “I don’t. In fact, I think you might want to see him die. But I don’t want to pre-judge. 

“Either way, his decision will wash over him in an instant, and if his choice goes bad, like the cetacean he’s named for, he’ll simply arch into the air, and even two stories up is high when your landing spot is jagged chunks of stone thrust upward by tree roots.”

I glanced at my ancestor standing at the foot of the middle staircase. The first Bigmama, tall as a sequoia. The dull thrum of an overhead helicopter vibrated the castle windows. Army, no doubt. “We better pick up the pace, then.”

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