Through the Eye of the Serpent
The next time Don's really, truly awake again, it's in the early hours of the next morning. He must have been out for the whole day.
He supposes he'd walked back to the hotel, but he doesn't remember. He can sketchily recall, though, stepping into the lobby and being hit by a sudden crippling wave of exhaustion despite the few hours of sleep he'd gotten, stumbling into the lift while the television buzzed loudly with the report of a gang shoot-out on the bayou
He pops out into the dark and silent corridor and buys a few packets from the closest vending machine. His first thought, when he enters his room again and looks over the small amount of luggage that has somehow managed to fling itself everywhere, is that there's no reason to stay anymore.
It takes a long time to pack. It doesn't have to, but Don finds himself putting things in then taking them out again, refolding and rearranging. It almost feels like reluctance.
He wonders if it's all another dream. If what he heard and saw was nothing more than one last flashing nightly vision. If everything will go back to normal once the daylight comes again.
He makes it to the bayou in less than half an hour. The run is done on rote.
There's not even a moment of doubt before he spies the glow on the waterfront, a few hundred yards from where the St John's University back gates open out. He twists his arm to see his watch, and subtracts the hour he's still yet to set.
In the distance, he hears the first beat of a drum. It's deep, resonating, pounding in a steady rhythm that matches the rush of blood in his ears. But it's not loud, not very. It probably can't be, in an urban area like this. A chant starts up, sibilant and undulating, though he can't make out the words.
Breakfast with Lentre is back the next day, during which Don's impression of the man as quite the appreciator of food is cemented as he updates him on the researches of the previous evening.
"It fits," Don is saying. "The police told me she had a record for disturbance and trespassing, was found once at a crime scene. But she's been tracking them for years, why would she do that?"
"There are," Lentre replies consideringly, "certain individuals in the community who may trust someone like your sister more than the official force."
"But as far back as the dates go, it must have started before she made her name."
"Or when she made it." Something blooms on Lentre's face, lines suddenly smoothing out as his eyes stare somewhere beyond the back wall.
Don sits up. "What is it? What can this have to do with her Voodoo?"
"I think," says Lentre slowly, "that it may be the reason for it.
"That, I'm not really sure." And with those few words the doctor casually returns to eating his bacon.
Lentre calls the hotel room the next morning to let Don know that he's working too early to catch breakfast, but can meet up at lunchtime to talk if Don wants to drop around the hospital. The walk to Storyville is made alone once more, past the cleared-down parking lots that cut like wounds through the lines of dull brown buildings that make up the poorest district in New Orleans. The key clicks like a solitary footstep as it turns in its metal cradle, a single toe across a line. The door creaks and groans the familiar sound of tired steel as it slides upwards and slides horizontal against the roof, almost clipping Don on the chin when he doesn't move back quite fast enough. He takes a step inside, then stops, because his eyes fall on the desk.
It's empty. Well, not really, because it's still littered with Adelaide's odds and ends, but the blue folder he placed down the day before is decidedly gone.
Breakfast with Lentre seems fast becoming a routine. Don likes routines. The doctor only stays a little while this time before running off to work, though he leaves Don with a street map and tells him that the locker rental is an easy short walk.
He's right, and it's refreshing too. Walking down the New Orleans streets, he can almost pretend that he's a tourist on a much-needed holiday. Or even that he's on another visit to a sister who will be waiting for him on the other end of the journey.
Adelaide's locker is well-lit by the morning sun, and Don stands at the entrance simply staring over it all for a while. He's not sure if it's a horde, a collection dumped and left, or a reserve always ready to be dipped into. The space is quite large and not hugely cluttered, but the sheer single-mindedness in everything jumps right out at him. His eyes flick from side to side, and something on the desk glints in the morning light. Leaning in, he feels his breath catch.
It's the red coral paperweight. Not shoved in a corner somewhere to be forgotten either, but sitting on a pile of loose paper squares. She was still using it after all this time.
He snaps out of his stare after a few seconds, picking it up and setting it aside to examine the papers. Don thinks at first they may be contact details, but there's barely any information. No name, just initials, and a single odd sentence like J.L.—dog hit by car needs surgery, and C.D.S.—fears cousin has been stealing from accounts. He can't make sense of any of it.
Lentre shows neither surprise nor vindication when Don calls the next morning. Within an hour they're at the same table as the previous day though this time he's got slightly more wits about him, at least sufficient to order his usual preference of pancakes.
The man is also rather talented at making small talk, Don reflects as he opens their conversation with an offhand comment on the hotel's interior colour scheme. Probably another one of those doctor-given skills. But this morning, riding on a night's worth of confusion which he's never dealt well with, Don presses forwards.
"So, these veves. Which one was our one, exactly?"
Lentre's expression maintains that calm blandness that seems to be his reaction to everything, unfazed as usual by the abrupt topic change. He puts down his cutlery and reaches across to pluck up the salt shaker, unscrewing the lid and tipping it over so the thinnest line begins to spill onto the tabletop. Don watches with slightly raised eyebrows as the symbol from yesterday is drawn out with a perfectly steady hand, and entirely from memory.
Don jolts awake the next morning like he was burnt. He's shivering a little since he's still above the blankets, muscles stiff from apparently being in the same position all night. It's barely dawn outside his east-facing window and it can't be the light which woke him, but a feeling lingers that still makes him want to run, flee.
He strips off and doesn't bother opening his travel-case to get any more clothes, staggering to the bathroom and splashing cold water over his face and down his chest. There's no need, really, he's more awake and actually aware than he's been since he got the first call, but he squeezes his eyes shut and just lets himself feel the slow trickle of droplets against his skin. Calm, focused, just for a little bit.
It's late Friday afternoon when Don steps off the plane from Boston into New Orleans airport, breathing in the scent of long-travelled miles and the air of a different history. There's a man tooting out jazz phrases on a trumpet as he makes his way outside, perched on a street corner with a coin-lined case open in front of him. Down the road he can spy a French bakery and an antique shop, across from a long and quaintly-designed house with gardens bursting in colour. The short walk to the taxi rank is made through the sound of car horns and revving bikes, a knock on a window and a scrap of shakily-addressed paper pulled from a pocket before he lets himself fall into the passenger seat .
Don's eyes are closed as they make their way through the winding streets. He vaguely hears the trumpet melt slowly into the distance only to be replaced by another, different tunes and instruments fading in and out every few blocks, but he's not really listening. He's barely slept in the past thirty hours, yet even with the darkness behind his lids and the lulling repetitive bounce of the taxi he can't possibly drift off now.