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Free of body, Free of soul Part Four

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PART FOUR

CHAPTER TWELVE

The Capitol building loomed into sight many miles from the centre of town, its immense size dominating the more human scale of the buildings round it as Miss Kitty glided majestically along the straight highway towards Baton Rouge, the seat of government for the State and Napoleon’s destination.

 

Emil’s reassuring presence in the front seat guaranteed that he would reach there safely, or at least the car would reach there in one piece, and also allowed him time to look over the information received from New York that morning. He had spent the day of Kuryakin’s interview sifting through the copies made in the New Orleans office of their discoveries at the Arachne foundation, before making a brief phone call to the Governor’s mansion.

 

As he expected, Huey Logue was nothing if not predictable. He greeted him like a long lost friend, the respect in his voice encouraging Napoleon in the belief that this would be one of his more successful disguises.

‘How ya getting down here, Reverend?’ Logue enquired at last, leading Napoleon conveniently to the next part of his plan.

‘Well, an old buddy of mine in New Orleans has given me the use of a mighty fine car for the time I’ll be here, so I should be with you soon, Governor, depending on whether the Lord guides me in the right paths, if you take my drift.’ Logue was not slow to pick up the hint, insisting that a driver would be found.

‘My son in law’s organisation would be pleased to help ya out, I’m sure’ he urged, promising to confirm the arrangement ‘in a heartbeat.’ Napoleon had already checked that Emil was now surplus to requirements at the Arachne offices now that the regular night guard had returned to duty, so it was with a wry smile that he spied the UNCLE agent loping along the pavement in his direction the next morning.

 

Illya returned from the interview as Solo put the telephone down. The Russian threw down his attaché case and dropped into the chair by Napoleon’s side, Murielle appearing with the customary iced tea on cue.   The girls had been waiting on the porch outside as he came in, several large bags indicating a swimming trip and a picnic, their disappointment that he would not be joining them temporarily placated by a promise to be there that evening.

 

‘So, did they hire you?’

‘Of course. I appear to have the perfect combination of the right skills and a rather obnoxiously bourgeois background that seemed to impress them’ Illya replied, unpeeling his suit jacket from his back and hanging it carefully on the chair behind him. ‘It’s very clear who the brains of the outfit is’ he continued, picking up the top paper on the table. ‘I think it’s safe to say that Mr Chauvin is rather more concerned with image than political policy statements, though he did liven up at one point until Arceneaux decided that he had given me enough information to be going on with.’ Solo nodded, finishing reading something and putting it down in a neat pile by his side.

‘By the look of these, Arceneaux is the power behind the throne and Chauvin just the glamour boy war hero they’ve decided to use up front. Hopefully I’ll be able to find out what the roles of all the rest of the folks up at Baton Rouge amount to when I visit with them tomorrow.’

 

Illya had embarked on reading the set of papers, his face furrowed as he finally laid down the last sheet.

 

‘What does this sound like to you?’ he said, turning towards his partner. Napoleon sat back on his chair and sipped his drink, the fan being the only noise in the room for several moments before he spoke.

‘It sounds like a doctoral research paper on what, human geography? Econometrics? Look.’ He spread out the papers in front of them, indicating a mass of charts and paragraph upon paragraph of a detailed social and economic analysis of the town of Napoleonville, Louisiana.

‘They appear to have made a thorough study not only of each institution, business and enterprise in the town, but of every individual residing there’ Illya said, blowing out his lips slightly. ‘I can’t imagine how they did it, but the detail is astonishing; who is employed, how much they earn, their family histories, political interests, everything!’

‘Mm, it might even outdo the intrusion rate of your average STASI officer’ Napoleon added, smiling grimly. What is of interest to me however, is just that employment statistic.’ He jabbed at a figure with his finger as Illya leaned closer. Napoleon watched as his partner’s usual seriously intent expression changed to a blinking incredulity. Illya looked up from the figures and removed his glasses. ‘Every working man’s dream’ Napoleon continued; ‘full employment, a decent place to live, no doubt a decent school for the kids, all provided in some way by our friends at the Arachne Foundation.’ Illya’s gaze returned to the figures, his brow knotted in concentration beneath the neat blond hair framing his face. He scratched his head unconsciously as he flipped between pages, until finally he stopped, drawing Napoleon’s attention to further statistics printed on another page.

 

‘Full employment, but only for men’ he said, sitting back. ‘This is like a blueprint for some kind of arcane society of a hundred years ago. When I was growing up, our government claimed to have achieved full employment, but it was for all, men and women working in equality.’ A slight smirk drifted across Napoleon’s face at the images Kuryakin’s statement conjured up, studiously ignored by his partner.

‘Well it appears from all this that Napoleonville is a social experiment being conducted by THRUSH with a view to some kind of political trade-off’ Napoleon replied, gathering up the papers, and then pulling out a larger document upon which a detailed map was drawn. ‘Presumably they’re offering social stability in return for political compliance but I’m just wondering what happens to those who don’t comply.’

 

Illya’s memory of the faces in the file he had looked at was refreshed by Napoleon pushing a copy in front of him. The crossed-out image of Buford Landry once again leapt from the page as he scanned the group, nothing obvious seeming to unite them, except perhaps, a wish to exercise their free will.

 

‘Did you find out who he is?’ he said, glancing at Napoleon and then looking at the crossed-out photograph again. Its owner stared out from the page with a different, more alive expression on his face than his fellows.

‘As a matter of fact I did’ Napoleon murmured. ‘Buford Landry was a law graduate of LSU summa cum laude no less, and until last year was active both in the civil rights movement and also with voter registration issues for blacks in this State, which, as you know is the number one hot potato round here.’ Illya looked faintly confused by the expression but said nothing, allowing his partner to continue. ‘However, there are two things of greater interest to us. Number one; Landry was standing against Chauvin in the senatorial elections, and apparently, was tipped to win, until, according to his political agent, he allegedly suffered a nervous breakdown and then disappeared from public life, and is now of whereabouts unknown.’

‘And number two?’ Illya said, looking at his partner in the intense way he did sometimes, as if nothing else in the world mattered at that moment except whatever Napoleon was going to say next.

‘Our Mr Landry was engaged to be married to none other than . . .’

‘Evangeline Houghton. I see.’ Illya stood up and walked to the window, his body somehow wrapping itself round the open door frame as he stared out into the garden for a few, long moments of time. Napoleon sat back and after checking his watch, put his hands behind his head and waited. From previous experience, he reckoned that the Russian would need a little while to consider what he had just learned, so, picking up the page of photos again, he went on,

 

‘I have a feeling that the drugs we found are connected in some way with this group.’ Illya remained at the French windows, the information about Landry and Evangeline causing a flurry of ideas to circulate in his mind, and, as he thought of the drugs, older, more disturbing memories now beginning to assert themselves. He turned eventually and contemplated his partner.

‘I imagine that they won’t want too many of those who oppose whatever is going on to disappear permanently’ he began, biting his lip slightly in concentration. ‘So, perhaps there is some kind of experimentation being conducted on those unfortunates who have taken a stand against all this’ he continued, indicating the papers in front of them. ‘Unfortunately there is a precedent. The Nazis carried out a number of bizarre experiments on prisoners as you know.’ They looked at each other for a few moments before Napoleon shoved the map forward to break the concentration of his partner on images which he personally was glad only ever to have seen in photographs.

‘This appears to be a map of the Cottonwood plantation’ he said in a slightly louder voice, making the Russian jump a little. ‘It seems to be made up of a rather large bordering on extremely grand ante-bellum house here’ he said, pointing to the right hand side of the map, ‘then over here a mighty large cotton plantation with a correspondingly impressive plant over here, judging by these photographs.’ He reached back into a case and spread out a set of black and white images over the map.

 

Illya picked up two photographs, one of the main house, a startlingly arresting building built in a Greek revival style with six huge pillars holding up two graceful stories topped by a very Grecian triangular portico, a contrast to the large but considerably humbler dwelling which stood behind the other one, the more traditional southern looking clapboarded style house surrounded by a rather well tended and beautiful garden.

 

Napoleon passed him another set of photos, this time showing the extent of the cotton production at Cottonwood. Not only did the plantation appear endless, with rows of the fluffy looking bushes disappearing towards a faraway horizon, but, to complement its size, an equally huge and extremely modern looking production plant stood near. Illya admitted to himself that when the subjects of the Deep South and cotton were mentioned, he could only think of slavery, back-breaking work and primitive processing methods. These pictures seemed to blow his thinking out of the water. This modern cotton gin, as he knew it to be called, was a vast and powerful looking machine churning out immense, compressed bales of cotton ready for spinning. The expression ‘state of the art’ came to mind just looking at it.

 

Putting them down, Illya picked up the last two photographs. Consulting the maps, it was easy to place these buildings at the farthest end of the plantation, bordering on swamp land and the bayou, the main structure backed by a series of immense and beautiful cedar trees. A series of long low huts reminding him of a military camp were situated to the side of a larger, more solid building about the same size as the smaller of the two plantation houses they had looked at. Surrounding these appeared to be a kind of farm, the various fields given over to both crops and livestock. He could just make out a few labourers by their clothing, a uniform it seemed of overalls and a very necessary broad straw hat. Illya passed the two images over to his partner.

 

‘I imagine this is where those people are held’ he said, looking back at the map for a few moments, ‘but what do you notice is not there, if I’m right?’ Napoleon stared at the photos and then looked up.

‘No way of keeping them in’ he said, staring at the photos again. ‘They could just leave if they wanted to, there isn’t even a fence, let alone guards.’

‘Exactly. So that leads me to my next question, which is . . .’

‘What are they doing to them to make them want to stay?’ Napoleon said grimly.

 

********************

 

 

The car rolled to a gentle halt outside the mansion, Napoleon giving a last glance at his appearance in the car’s mirror before the front door was swung open by an unseen hand and Governor Logue ran out and towards the car.

 

‘How de do and welcome to our humble home, Reverend’ Logue burst out, pawing Napoleon’s hand with a rather fleshy and sweaty one of his own. ‘Fleshy and sweaty’ seemed to sum him up and were the words Napoleon used to describe him later to his partner. He was a short man, barely more than five and a half feet tall, his ample figure making him seem almost square in appearance. Despite the air-conditioning system he had obviously just stepped out of, he appeared permanently hot, his face red and puffy with sweat gathering round the hairline of his silver grey hair which was swept across and stuck down in long strands over his equally pink scalp.

 

‘Well, bless you Governor’ Napoleon replied, grinning and shaking hands, ‘I can feel already that the Lord is moving mightily in this place.’

‘Amen, Reverend’ Logue enthused, his eyes lighting up as they turned towards the mansion, Emil bringing up the rear with Napoleon’s luggage.

 

The house was certainly elegant, built in a traditional style with no expense spared, but there was something missing in its newness, some qualities he remembered from the old mansion that this one lacked.

 

A couple appeared, a man and a woman, both dressed in the kind of smart, formal clothes that suggested house staff to Napoleon. As Emil dutifully followed them down one of the corridors leading off the main reception area, Logue waved Napoleon towards a large and very pleasant sitting room in the other direction.

 

Two women were standing by the fireplace, a very large portrait of a former Governor keeping them silent company until the men appeared. It was immediately obvious that they were related both to the present holder of the office and to each other, the older woman a living example of what the younger woman might become. They were identically and harshly blonde, petite in build and in Napoleon’s estimation, the older woman over made-up, the attempt to emulate her daughter resulting in a rather gross caricature of the younger woman.

 

‘Lizzie, Lucie-Mae, come and meet our guest’ Huey Logue burst forth rather excitedly. ‘Reverend, this is my lovely wife Elizabeth, and of course this is Lucie-Mae my beautiful little girl. Ladies, this here is the Reverend Jimmy Palin, come all the way from Kentucky to grace us with his presence.’

 

Napoleon was struck immediately by the differences between the two women. Elizabeth Dupré Logue, the heiress to a vast and powerful corporation, seemed, despite her rather garish physical appearance, to be unsure of herself and uncomfortable in her position as First Lady of the State. In almost direct contrast, her daughter, whom Napoleon had understood to be a ‘homemaker’, and very much in her husband’s shadow, exuded a powerfully confident air, giving him a particularly penetrating stare as he took her hand.

 

‘Reverend’ she murmured, before sliding her eyes away and accepting a glass of iced tea from the assistant standing at the side of the table. Mrs Logue seemed to come out of a reverie at that moment, and, passing Napoleon a glass, edged nearer.

‘Huey and I have been looking forward to your visit, Reverend’ she began more brightly, offering him what looked like a delicious looking piece of cake. ‘Of course you come at a particularly exciting time for our State, does he not, Huey?’ Logue looked up from his total concentration on a very large slice of cake in his hand and nodded vigorously.

‘Aah reckon so, yes indeed Reverend. In fact ah was wondering if you would be interested in joining us on a visit to the town where the Lord is moving most powerfully for good in our State, through the workings of my son in law’s organisation, ya’ understand. In fact, I am hoping and praying that come next year a young fellow from that very town will stand where I stand now, as our next Governor, the Lord willing.’

 

Napoleon put down his plate and cup and grasped Logue’s hand.

 

‘Governor, if that young man, and that place be moving in the right spirit, the spirit which cries out ‘Glory, glory!’ then I know for sure that God will magnify that place as a sign of his victory.’ There was a moment’s silence before Logue clapped Napoleon on the back, a broad grin on his face.

‘Why, thank you, Reverend! I’ll make arrangements for us all with Bill Houghton at the Cottonwood place over at Napoleonville then. That is a mighty interesting set-up he has there with a fascinating history which I know he’ll want to share with you. However, as the ladies will be reminding me, Reverend, we have the small matter of a reception to get through this evening, which we’re hoping you’ll do us the honour of attending as our special guest.’

‘It would be my absolute honour, Governor’ Napoleon replied, an oozy smile coming fairly easily to his lips as he watched Logue edging towards another piece of cake.

 

Napoleon could see from the look on Lucie-Mae’s face that she had listened to many similar conversations with many similar preachers on a regular basis.

 

‘Daddy, I’m sorry but I have an appointment at the beauty parlour so I’ll catch y’all later, OK?’ From her appearance, Napoleon wondered just what treatment she might be having, but knew better than to ask. Something about the way she moved rather determinedly out of the room made him wonder if that was her real destination. He shrugged and turned back to Lucie-Mae’s parents.

‘Excuse me, Governor, but I thought your daughter was a lawyer’ he said casually, sipping his drink. Logue frowned a little then wiped his brow with his handkerchief before finally succumbing to yet another piece of cake.

‘Well Reverend, I would have thought you knew the answer to that one’ he said, glancing at his wife. ‘In this household, and, hopefully in many more throughout this state, the place of the woman is in the home, her duty being to raise the family in the fear of the Lord, as I’m sure your wife knows.’

‘Well, God bless you, Governor, for obeying the laws of his holy book’ Napoleon gushed. ‘But I’m afraid that the Lord’s business has left me little free time to become joined in that blessed union.’ Logue smiled widely and came closer.

‘I’m sure that there are many fine Christian ladies in these parts who would love to join you in that great work the Lord has called you to do, Reverend.’ He nudged Napoleon and nodded his head knowingly. Napoleon smiled weakly and looked away.

‘I’ll pray about it Governor, I surely will’ he replied.

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

Illya’s communicator started to bleep at the exact pre-arranged time, preventing him from putting the last of his clothes into a large, dark wardrobe standing in his room, its sheer bulk leading him to contemplate that if one stepped into it, one might possibly never return.

 

‘Bonsoir, mon brave, tu vas bien?

 

Illya stared at the communicator and raised his eyebrows.

‘Yes, thank you, Reverend. Have you been engaged profitably in the Lord’s business?’

‘Yes indeedy. In fact I will be joining the Governor’s party for a little trip in your direction ere long’ Napoleon replied in a rather self-satisfied tone. He spent the next few minutes describing the Logue family, including his thoughts on the two women. ‘Call me suspicious, but I had the distinct impression that Miss Lucie-Mae is far from the little housewife she seems to be playing for all she’s worth downstairs.’ Illya sat down at the little desk provided for him in front of the window in his room, staring out at the vast parkland behind, now a series of slowly darkening shapes clumped together in the diminishing light of the evening.

‘I’ll call you rightfully suspicious’ he replied acerbically.

‘Did you have a pleasant trip down to my old township?’ Napoleon asked, not needing to even imagine the grimace his expression occasioned at the other end of the communicator.

 

Illya, being true to his new persona, had chosen to travel the fifty miles to Napoleonville using the Greyhound bus, a mode of getting around he had adopted from time to time in other parts of the country, and felt comfortable with. As usual, the clientele on the bus was composed of the usual low-paid, rather worn out looking working men and women, plus a few more interestingly attired student types, looking a little less conventional than himself. He shouldered his suitcase onto the rack above his head and then lowered himself into a seat towards the back of the bus, glancing down at the woman occupying the seat by the window. His companion for the journey was a slim woman with dark, luminous looking skin, very neat clothes and a rather elegant little straw hat fastened very securely to her tightly combed and oiled hair. He saw her eyes flicker slightly from the book she was intent on reading as he sat down, nodding to him and smiling before her gaze returned to the text.

 

Illya stared in front of him, suddenly aware of the fact that, apart from the students, he seemed to be one of the few whites at the back of the bus. He had studied the history of the State as part of his preparation, feeling an unlikely empathy with those whose lives had been blighted by the irrational power of prejudice in all its forms. He thought of his incongruous relationship with Allegra in London, the willowy Trinidadian girl and the slight Russian boy making a kind of absurd partnership that had seemed to work for them both at the time, despite the peculiarly British type of overtly polite racial discrimination which sometimes intruded on their time together.

 

From the briefcase between his knees he managed to extract a text book in French that had been provided for him along with his clothes. He could see that the girl’s interest was diverted from her book for a few moments, enough to show Illya that she seemed unfazed by its size or language. He smiled a little and mirrored her actions by glancing across at her reading material, his expression telling her of his interest and mild surprise at its subject.

 

They continued in this way, pretending to read and then glancing across at each other slyly for the next few miles, until finally Illya shut his book with a slight snap and shifted his weight towards her.

 

‘Your book, it’s a . . .’

‘It’s a breviary; ‘un livre des prières.’ She laughed softly at Illya’s quizzical expression, then, smoothing down her skirt, turned a little towards him. ‘I’m going to visit a friend before I enter.’

‘Enter where?’ he said, shaking his head imperceptibly at her words. She laughed again, a gentle, melodious laugh that made him smile.

 

‘The convent of course. I’m going to become a sister. You know, ‘une religeuse, oui?’

 

Illya raised his eyebrows slightly, now aware of a certain atmosphere building in the bus, emanating from the seats directly in front and beside the ones they occupied. He stared unblinkingly at the couple in front, who had turned slightly in their seats and were subjecting them both to an icy glare, whilst two women in the seats across the aisle muttered audibly to each other in less than flattering terms. Illya was tempted to enquire which particular prejudice they were indulging, whether it was a fear of integration or of foreigners, but after smiling frostily at them he returned to the altogether more conducive company of the woman by his side.

Vous parlez francais?’ he said, already knowing the answer.

Un peu’ she said rather self-deprecatingly, going on to explain in near perfect French about the influence of a French sister in her school life. ‘Our order was founded in France, so there are many links’ she continued, talking at length about the community of sisters and their work. It was immediately obvious from her description that this was not the kind of enclosed world he had imagined when she had first mentioned her vocation.

‘So . . .er . .’

‘Rosa, Rosa Davis. And you are . . .’

‘Er, excusez-moi, Gabriel Guerin.’ Rosa smiled broadly, grasping his hand with a warm, firm grip that resulted in an immediate wave of displeasure washing over them from across the aisle. Rosa seemed oblivious of the reaction of those round her however, fixing Illya with a long, penetrating look which made him feel instantly uncomfortable, as if she knew already that his name, his whole persona even was false. He wriggled slightly in his seat but met her gaze, telling her about himself and his studies in France and in Louisiana. She began to frown as he talked, closing her breviary and straightening the ribbons in a slow, meticulous manner before she spoke.

 

‘Napoleonville is where I’m headed’ she began slowly, looking ahead of her. ‘I’m going to visit with the priest who was working at the hospital where I trained in New Orleans, and then I’m hoping to see another old friend, ‘though I’m not sure that’ll be possible now’ she added rather mysteriously, and poignantly, Illya thought.

‘Oh, why is that?’ he replied, trying not to sound too inquisitorial. She pursed her lips slightly and looked down, a rather mournful expression filling her face. She hesitated, Illya getting the distinct impression that she was weighing up how much she could trust this foreign stranger she had only just met. Finally, after another moment’s hesitation, she began to speak.

‘She was engaged to a wonderful and truly good man’ she said, her words creating a kind of tingling reaction in Illya as she continued in rather hushed tones. ‘They attended the Cathedral together which is where we met and where Father Patrick also was attached. Buford was working with the sisters in the field of social justice while he was studying, and then of course he started his political campaigning. He was making real headway but out in the country, and especially in that town, there was something going on’ she said, her head resting back on the seat as she spoke. ‘Then suddenly we heard he had had some kind of breakdown and he just disappeared.’ She frowned again, Illya offering no comment, waiting for her to reveal the extent of her knowledge. ‘Fr Pat was sent to Napoleonville shortly after, and I moved to our hospital in St Louis. Then I gets this mysterious letter from Patrick telling me that Vangie is engaged to none other than Eddie Chauvin. I guess you’ve heard of him?’ Illya nodded, noticing that she was becoming a little more guarded in her comments. He was fairly sure that she would eventually be able to answer the questions about Evangeline and her intentions that had perplexed him ever since he had witnessed her meeting with the priest in the Cathedral.

 

‘So you are staying at the presbytère?’ he said as innocently as he could. She nodded. ‘Well, perhaps I will see you at Mass’ he continued. He felt an urgent need to talk to Napoleon, deciding that to reveal the fact of his both working and living at Evangeline Houghton’s house might make her suspect that he was indeed part of the problem ‘going on’ as she had put it, in Napoleonville. For the rest of the journey they confined themselves to discussing Paris and her nursing career, but he sensed that all the time he was talking she was attempting to make some kind of decision about him.

 

By the time the bus was nearing their destination, Illya had realised that not mentioning his connection to Evangeline would make her more suspicious and less likely to trust him when the time came to reveal himself, if it ever did. She had closed her eyes in the afternoon heat, the breviary lying wedged by her side. He coughed slightly and gave her arm a slight squeeze, her eyes instantly opening and staring at his own.

 

‘Um, Mademoiselle, I er, well I think I should tell you that I have met this friend of yours, indeed, the organisation that her fiancée seems involved with have offered me a way of continuing my studies by working at the, er, bibliotheque’ he stammered, looking downward towards his feet. Rosa said nothing, Illya feeling her stare without having to look up. Eventually he felt her place her hand on his arm.

 

‘I thought you were hiding something’ she murmured. You have no idea he thought as she seemed to be contemplating something, before drawing a small pen and a notepad out of her bag. She scribbled something hastily on the pad and then tore out the paper, thrusting it into his hand. ‘Here’ she said, as the bus drew to a slightly screeching halt, ‘give this to her when you see her, monsieur.’

 

‘Have you read it?’ Napoleon asked, glancing at himself in the mirror and looking at his watch. It was obvious from the story Kuryakin had related, and from the note, which simply stated where Rosa was staying and asked for a meeting, that she was not aware of whatever was going on between the priest, Fr Patrick, and Evangeline Houghton.

‘They’re obviously worried about whatever they’re doing leaking out’ Napoleon said, getting up. It looks as if it may be an opportune time for Gabriel Guerin to rediscover his religion’ he added. ‘But be careful, you don’t want to blow your cover until you’re absolutely sure Miss Houghton is to be trusted.’

‘I realise that’ Illya said with a slight sigh. ‘When will you be joining us?’ Napoleon was suddenly aware that the bright light shining in under his bedroom door from the corridor had been partially blocked. ‘Um, I have to go’ he murmured, ‘I have a feeling someone is close by.’ He closed his communicator and slipping it into his jacket, edged towards the door, before, without warning, yanking it open and making to walk out.

 

Lucie-Mae Arceneaux screamed slightly, putting her hand up in a rather false gesture of knocking at the now wide open door.

 

‘Oh my, Reverend’ she sighed, ‘you gave me such a fright coming out like you did, and I was just coming to see if you was fixin’ to come down to the party.’ Napoleon smiled briefly and then began to pull the door to behind him.

‘Well thank you kindly, Miss Lucie-Mae’ he began, but I have a rule which I learnt at the feet of Pastor Billy Graham regarding the female sex’ he said, looking at her steadily. She was dressed in a rather demure black dress, her hair styled into a kind of chignon, whose rock like appearance owed much to an over-application of lacquer. She twitched her mouth slightly, Napoleon working hard not to grimace at the shiny sugar pink shade thickly applied to each lip.

‘And that is, Reverend? she simpered, glancing round him at the room behind.

‘Never to be alone in a room with a woman, the exception being if she were my life’s partner’ he said solemnly, shutting the door and thanking the Lord that his partner was not smirking in the background nearby. Lucie-Mae stared at him and then shook her head.

 

‘Well that is mighty strange, considering I felt sure I could hear you talking to someone in there’ she said, turning on her heel and beginning to walk down the corridor, Napoleon slightly behind her.

‘Those were the Lord’s words I was just uttering’ he said, raising his voice slightly. ‘I was giving thanks for the blessed joy of sharing these few days with your family and all, and asking him to bless you in the great work you have set out to do in his name.’ She gave him a slightly puzzled look and then sniffed slightly, before preceding him down the stairs towards what he could hear were the sounds of a reasonably large social gathering in one of the reception rooms at the front of the mansion.

 

One of the Governor’s staff was on hand to open the double doors leading to the room, Lucie-Mae shimmying through and joining her husband, who was on the other side of the room talking to a woman with winged spectacles, whom he was sure his partner had described as Vivienne Cant, Arceneaux’s personal assistant. Surprisingly, Edward Chauvin was also present, talking to a blonde woman who seemed to be hanging on his every word, her high brittle laughter capable of being heard above the general hubbub of the room.

 

Governor Logue, his wife close to him in a tight fitting green dress Napoleon could only describe as expensive bad taste, stood in the centre of the room, a little coterie of eager looking men and women gathered round, all dwarfing him in height, but not in volume as he expounded with increasing intensity his plans for the coming year. Seeing Napoleon at the door he suddenly broke off and burst through the entourage, reminding Napoleon of a large animal suddenly finding a way out of its enclosure.

 

‘Reverend, permit me to introduce you to my friends and supporters’ he exclaimed, clapping his hands together before gripping Napoleon’s arms with a vice-like clamp and then wheeling him round each small group in turn. As he reached the last of them, he saw Andrew Arceneaux mutter something to Edward Chauvin before the two of them closed in.

‘Reverend’ Arceneaux began, Chauvin remaining silent but smiling by his side. ‘I was wondering if I could put a proposal to you regarding the Senator’s future plans.’ Napoleon worked hard to keep his rather bland expression in place, smiling amicably at the two men whilst maintaining a skilled tracking eye on a possible target he had been introduced to earlier.

 

‘Well, I’m sure if I could be of service to you . . .’ he began, Arceneaux immediately breaking in with an expression on his face that suggested an antipathy to the preacher’s usual message.

‘I’m positive you can’ he replied. ‘I’m sure that Governor Logue has made you aware of Senator Chauvin’s plans both political and personal’ he began, Napoleon watching with interest the exhibition of dominance by Arceneaux over the Junior Senator by his side. ‘Eddie and his advisors,’ he continued ‘have been debating in the last few days whether it would be. . .’ Napoleon could see that he was searching for a word that would not make whatever he was going to say sound more cynical than it was really was; ‘er, a good idea if he were to bring the date of his marriage to Miss Houghton forward.’

 

It was hard not to react to Arceneaux’s words; a more apt choice might have been ‘expedient’ Napoleon thought, maintaining his interested, serious look as the other man continued.

 

‘We were wondering, Reverend, whether you could perform the ceremony whilst you’re visiting with Miss Vangie’s family?’ Chauvin burst in. Napoleon gave himself a few moments of apparent reflection at these words before answering. The obvious wish to promote some kind of wholesome family image was instantly apparent, a wish which might put pressure on Evangeline Houghton and force her to confide in his partner.

‘I presume,’ he said slowly, ‘that your fiancée is fully in agreement with your plans?’ Chauvin looked across at Arceneaux as if needing permission to speak, before turning back to Napoleon with a rather over-confident smile set firmly across his features.

‘Why of course, Reverend. Miss Evangeline can’t wait to become Mrs Edward Chauvin and the future first lady of this fine State.’

‘Well then I would be honoured to perform the ceremony’ Napoleon replied, giving Chauvin a rather cloying squeeze of his shoulder, ‘and I pray that you and your future wife will set an example of Godly living which this country sorely needs to follow.’

‘Amen to that, Reverend’ Huey Logue burst in, beaming at each of them in turn before Napoleon managed to extricate himself and move slowly in the direction of a man standing talking to the present First Lady of the State. He had been introduced to him by Logue as Robert Daigle, a middle-ranking employee of the Bank of America and quite obviously someone who was comfortable with both Mrs Logue and her daughter. Lucie-Mae had spent enough time with her husband to prop up her role as a dutiful wife, but as the evening progressed Napoleon had watched her move round the room, subtly networking with a number of men whom he was fairly convinced were either employed by the Arachne Foundation directly, or as he suspected in the case of Daigle, had a direct connection to THRUSH itself. The body language of her conversation with the bank employee suggested strongly to Solo that it was the daughter rather than the mother who was behind the financial transactions bankrolling Arachne in Louisiana.

 

He sidled up to the pair, aware that Lucie-Mae was watching him from the other side of the room where she was deep in conversation with her husband’s personal assistant, Vivienne Cant. Mrs Logue looked up almost gratefully as he approached, and slid her arm through his. Daigle, a man of about Illya’s height and build but with nondescript brown hair cut in the kind of crew cut style favoured amongst most of the men in the room smiled very briefly, his eyes searching for someone behind Napoleon’s head.

 

‘Are you being looked after?’ Elizabeth Logue said sweetly, Napoleon nodded, becoming convinced that here was a rather vulnerable lamb amidst some very large and unpleasant wolves. As he wondered how he might move the conversation towards something which would tell him more about Daigle and his work, Mrs Logue came to his aid, explaining, much to the banker’s rather poorly concealed annoyance, his role in the bank and their connection with her corporation. ‘I don’t really do much these days, beside sign cheques, that is’ she sighed. ‘Bobby here handles all of that, with Lucie-Mae’s help of course.’

 

Daigle’s eyes glinted slightly, something in them enough to alert someone important to the situation. Napoleon felt another, firmer arm grasp him and Lucie-Mae Arceneaux’s rather powerful scent pervade the air between them.

‘I don’t think the Reverend wants to listen to those little old stories about money, ma’ she said, her smiling pink lips in stark contrast to the cold expression in her eyes. Napoleon felt the older woman shrink in her gaze, and managing to shake himself loose of Lucie-Mae, he grasped Elizabeth warmly.

‘Mrs Logue, I do feel a powerful need of something to satisfy my bodily needs’ he said, turning her round and walking off with her. He didn’t need to glance back to know that Daigle and Lucie-Mae Arceneaux were also spending a little time together, and the subject would not be food.

 

As he stuffed a rather delicious kind of shrimp canapé into his mouth, he saw Arceneaux join the group, but interestingly, it was the woman at the centre of it who gave Napoleon the distinct impression of being in control of whatever was being discussed.

 

‘You need to control your mother’s tongue before it gets us all into trouble, Lucie-Mae. Luckily it was just that fool preacher she was talking to and not anyone who mattered.’ Lucie Mae turned slightly, enough to take in the sight of the preacher sharing what seemed like a little joke with her mother amidst the canapés.

‘What do you know about him, the preacher?’ she said, not looking at her husband but continuing to watch the two by the table. Arceneaux frowned. At times this play-acting seemed intolerable, but Lucie-Mae seemed to enjoy it and for now he was cast in a role which gave him considerable power over the Miranda project, leaving her to wheel and deal with Daigle. He wondered, come Chauvin’s election and then eventually when the race for the White House began, whether she would be content to play such a shadowy role and for how long.

As if to confirm his views she said ‘tell Vivienne to contact Central and find out about him’, nodding her head towards Napoleon. ‘However he carries on, he seems a lot smarter than your average holy man, and a lot better looking too’ she added, sniffing slightly before turning and walking away from them, a hard, fake smile now ready for the next conversation of the evening.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

The parlour, as Illya discovered it to be called, was an airy room towards the back of the house, convenient for breakfast because of its proximity to the kitchen, but still a very elegant backdrop to the meal now being served as he entered. Edward Houghton, Evangeline’s step-father, sat at the side of a solid looking dark wood table, with another, younger man sitting opposite. They had obviously been there for a little while as their plates were almost cleared and only coffee remained in front of them.

 

Houghton remained seated as Illya came in, the other man staring at him before shovelling the rest of his breakfast down. He gave Houghton a look which told Illya something of their relationship, before returning to stare at the Russian.

 

‘Kane, this is Gabriel Guerin; they sent him up here to work with Miss Vangie, remember? Guerin, this is my estate manager, Kane Pierce.’ Pierce nodded, wiping his mouth with a serviette and then throwing it down on the table before getting up.

‘If he wants, A’m headin for town later, I could take him down to the library.’ His accent was strong, the word library sounding more like ‘lie-berry’ in his mouth. Houghton seemed to enjoy the contrast between the two men, his lips curling back as he glanced between them.

 

‘Kane is from the North’ he said, watching Illya’s confused expression and then glancing over at Pierce again. ‘North of the State, that is’ he added slowly.

‘Friendship, Jackson County’ Pierce added, looking anything but friendly, before finishing his coffee and moving towards the door. He stopped momentarily as he reached Illya, the bulk of his body somehow making its presence felt behind the Russian’s chair.

‘Thank you’ Illya murmured, as a large woman with a voluminous apron over her clothes came into the room carrying a plate filled with several pieces of fried bread covered in sugar, a few rashers of bacon and a couple of sausages filling the space left by the bread. He stared at it and then looked up into the face of the woman.

Pain perdu? C’est bien, ça.’ Barely concealed delight filled her face and she squeezed his shoulder before muttering ‘good, seeing how you look a skinny mullet.’ Houghton stared at her back then, after sipping his coffee, watched Illya begin to eat.

‘Dorcelia has some of the Cajun in her’ he said abruptly, ‘in case you’re wondering. Seems you’ve made a friend already, Mr, er, Guerin.’

 

They had met briefly on Illya’s arrival, but that was all, Houghton disappearing almost as soon as he had perfunctorily shaken Illya’s hand. He was left to the care of what seemed like a small army of servants in the house, a cold meal laid out for him in this same room and no sign or even mention of Evangeline Houghton at all. After what he considered a decent interval, he had gone exploring, but apart from the usual plethora of bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs, and several extremely grand rooms downstairs, he had discovered nothing of interest. Several doors had been locked however, and Illya made a mental note of them for possible further investigation when the time was right. After deciding against exploring the grounds he had waited for Napoleon’s call, only to be frustrated by his partner cutting him off before he could ascertain when the Governor’s party would be joining them.

 

After taking a relaxing shower in a small bathroom next door, he had carefully folded his clothes and stored them away in the manner he assumed Gabriel Guerin would, and then, after sweeping the room for bugs of any sort, carefully placed his suitcase on the bed and checked over the equipment he had stored in the hidden compartment at the bottom. He rammed his gun and a spare magazine under the mattress, leaving the rest of it safely stowed in the case, which he pushed into one of the deeper recesses of the voluminous wardrobe. Emptying his briefcase of the various notebooks and academic texts he had brought with him, he arranged them meticulously on the desk, before drawing out and checking another few items and then returning them to their places in and around the case. After it was all done, he had laid down on top of the bed, only the faint, rhythmic whirring of the fan and further out, the various hoots and calls of unknown birds and animals making him feel that he wasn’t completely and utterly alone.

 

As the torpor inducing heat began to envelop him in its sweaty embrace, he thought once again about his journey, and the meeting with Rosa Davis. It was clear that neither Fr Patrick nor Evangeline had confided in her for whatever reason, her very innocence betraying her into talking and sharing her thoughts with him. However he was now overwhelmingly convinced that not only had something serious, probably fatal happened to Buford Landry, but that Evangeline Houghton was engaged in some covert scheme to unmask his killers, at considerable risk to herself and anyone involved with her.

 

His communicator had interrupted any further thoughts. He fumbled it open and shuddered up to a sitting position.

 

‘Still awake?’

‘I am now. How did your evening go?’ Napoleon pulled off his tie, musing that the sober clothes were more the sort of thing his partner might choose to wear than himself.

‘Well it was interesting, I’ll say that for it. The way things are looking, I think your frank discussion with Miss Houghton might need to happen sooner rather than later.’ Illya frowned at the communicator and pulled up the pillows behind him, suddenly noticing in the mirror on the wardrobe door which had swung open of its own accord, that the fierce sun had already caught him on his face, neck and arms.

‘What do you mean?’ Napoleon hesitated, not wanting his partner to run headlong into a precipitous and ultimately dangerous act before he could arrive, but there was nothing for it. He had to allow Illya to get the situation with Evangeline under control before the ‘Baton Rouge Roadshow’ as he thought of it, rolled into town.

 

‘We’re planning on arriving next weekend, which will give you a week to deal with Miss Houghton and also to try to figure out Houghton’s role in this including the farm.’ Illya stared up at the ceiling and scratched his head, smoothing down what was left of his hair.

‘I understand about Houghton but what is the panic over Evangeline? I thought you didn’t want me to . . .’

‘I didn’t’ Napoleon interrupted. ‘However at the party tonight Arceneaux and his pet project came over and engaged me for a little ceremony at Houghton’s place in three weeks time.’

‘Which is?’

‘Chauvin’s wedding to Miss Vangie of course.’ There was silence between them, Napoleon waiting for the Russian to take his customary time of digesting what had just been said.

‘Oh.’ There was another silence before he said, ‘I presume she doesn’t know?’

‘I would hazard a guess that she doesn’t.’ Illya blew out a large sighing gasp and looked beyond himself in the mirror towards the blackened window on the other side of the room.

‘Tomorrow will be my first day at the library’ Illya replied, so I’ll try to make a good impression on Miss Houghton and then perhaps she’ll take me to Mass on Sunday.’ Napoleon had smiled at the thought.

 

Illya closed the communicator and lay back down on the bed, switching off the light to let the full moon illuminate the room. The hastening of the wedding might help him, but the sense of menace in the house and in particular the person of her stepfather had filled him with a kind of fear for her safety which he needed to respond to, whatever the risk.

 

Pierce was waiting for him at the bottom of the grand staircase in the house. He said nothing, only looking him up and down before turning on his heel and heading out of the door to a station wagon waiting outside. Illya had found a short sleeved white shirt and some dark trousers to wear, but compared to Pierce he felt excessively formal. Pierce swung the passenger door open and then walked round to the other side, a kind of sardonic grin revealing his stained teeth as Illya attempted to clear the seat of rubbish and sit down before the vehicle jerked suddenly into action and they ploughed down the drive and onto the road.

 

The plantation was about three miles out of town along a relatively peaceful country road. After a few minutes total silence, Pierce said, ‘So you fixin’ to stay in these parts?’ giving him a sly look before returning his gaze to the road.

‘It depends’ Illya replied cautiously, ‘on what is being offered.’

‘Iden it just’ Pierce muttered.

 

They screeched to a dusty halt outside a two story building on the main street. Illya jumped down before Pierce could get round and took in the scene, much the same townscape that he had encountered in small towns throughout the country, except that here he felt a sense of affluent contentment all around him, in somewhat stark contrast to the evident poverty of several communities the bus had passed through on the way to Napoleonville.

 

Pierce seemed to want to accompany him inside, pushing ahead of him to get to the front desk first. A middle-aged woman with brown curly hair and a positive expression looked up, frowning slightly through her glasses at Pierce until she caught sight of the man behind him.

 

‘Miss Norma this is . . .’

‘I know who this is, Kane Pierce, so you can move those dirty boots right out of here and leave Mr Guerin behind with me’ she said firmly, smiling broadly at Illya and coming out from behind her desk. Illya smiled innocently at Pierce, who after muttering something under his breath, sloped off, the library door slamming shut behind him with a heavy clunk.

 

‘Well hi, I’m Norma’ she said, attaching herself firmly to his arm and leading him round the front desk area through to a door towards the back of the main library. Those people either perusing the book stack or reading newspapers on the two large tables in the room looked up in a kind of synchronised curiosity as they walked through, two girls grinning slightly then nudging each other before whispering conspiratorially after a glare from a beak nosed man sitting reading a newspaper in front of them.

 

‘You’re exciting a lot of interest round here’ Norma said as she opened the door and led him through to a small corridor behind. He could see that there were a couple of offices before they reached a larger room at the end, where a few women and a man were drinking coffee behind a few easy chairs, the other side of the room appearing to be storing the periodicals for the library on a range of stout looking bookcases.

‘Coffee?’ Norma said, finally releasing him and grabbing the percolator from another of the assistants. Illya nodded, wondering where Evangeline Houghton was and when she might appear. Since his conversation with his partner, a feeling of urgency had crept into his plans, filling him with a kind of tense nervousness which he rarely suffered from. His feelings were almost immediately relieved when the door swung open.

 

Evangeline was wearing the kind of clothes Illya imagined librarians in small town America wore, but somehow she invested a rather chic quality to her blouse and skirt which the other women in the room failed to do. Unlike the last time they had met she appeared intensely serious, taking his coffee and her own from Norma’s hands and ushering him towards the door and then into her office further along the corridor.

 

The room was small, a plain wooden desk dominating, the remaining space taken up by a metal filing cabinet in the corner. Illya got the immediate impression that other, more interesting additions to the office furniture had once been here, but had very recently been put away.

 

‘I apologise for how the office looks’ she said immediately, somehow picking up on his expression. ‘Er, it seems that . ., well I . . . I am afraid that I won’t be here for much longer.’ Experience of scanning innumerable rooms led Illya’s eyes to a letter poking out of a clumsily opened envelope on top of the filing cabinet. He sat down in the chair in front of the desk, looking up into Evangeline’s eyes as she leaned back against it, the cabinet and the letter behind her.

‘I see’ he said, determined this time that just how much he saw and knew about the letter’s contents would not be revealed in his expression. ‘May I ask the reason for your departure? I was hoping that we would be working together’ he added in a rather more neutral tone. She glanced behind her and grasping the envelope, held the letter out between them.

‘My fiancé has written’ she began rather hesitantly, her face becoming slightly flushed. ‘He’s with the Governor at the moment, but they’re coming down next weekend. I . . er …. he wants us to get married straight away. I . . I don’t know ….what to do.’ She looked down, fighting her emotions, her fingers crushing the letter as she regarded the paper with a fixed stare. Illya got up and gently gripping her shoulders drew her towards him, finding her suddenly in his arms as she slid from the desk.

 

Moments felt like hours, the heat in the room crushing and intense as they stood together, neither of them speaking or moving beyond the involuntary sounds and movement of their own bodies. Illya could feel her heartbeat thudding against his own scarcely steady chest, but eventually, after gulping a few warm lungfuls of air, he forced himself to become calm and even cool in her presence. He raised his hands to her shoulders again and pushed her back carefully against the desk.

 

Her expression was intense and painful, a mixture of shock at the news and horror that she had revealed her feelings to a man whom she suspected of being someone other than he claimed to be. He said nothing, continuing to hold her from him a little until her breathing had returned to normal and she had regained her composure.

 

They stood holding each other’s gaze for a few more minutes, Illya noticing the abstract shapes of her colleagues passing by the obscured glass of her office door and fortunately not stopping to come in. As he looked, she released herself from his grasp and walked round the other side of the desk, turning her back on him and staring through the window.

 

   ‘I …. would you please not tell anyone about this … outburst of mine?’ she murmured, as she maintained her position looking away from him. Illya came round the other side, leaning slightly on the chair between them.

   ‘I think it might be a good idea if we talked, away from here’ he said quietly, letting the French accent drop. Evangeline looked round, scanning his face as if by doing this she could discover his identity.

‘Who are you, really?’ she said slowly, her tear-streaked face calming and hardening slightly.

‘Do you have a car?’ he replied, fending off her question for the moment. Evangeline frowned and then bent down slightly, dragging a small bag out of the bottom drawer of her desk, and then retrieving a set of keys from inside. Illya took them from her, handing her a handkerchief from his pocket before making his way to the door.

‘I’ll tell them you’ve had some personal news and you need to go home’ he said, leaving her standing staring at him as he opened the door and walked back up the corridor to the desk.

 

He had matched her car with its keys and driven it out onto the main street by the time she came out of the library. He could tell that she was still shaken by the last few minutes and trying desperately to hold together and understand the events which were threatening to tear her life apart, but he refrained from any comment until they had cleared the town, allowing her to regain her composure as she sat staring disconsolately out of the side window. He pulled the car over and parked beneath a wide overhanging tree by the side of the road, turning off the engine and then twisting round towards her in his seat.

 

She looked exhausted, her eyes still puffy and her complexion pale and insipid looking even in the warm light of what was approaching midday. He made no effort to do what he had seen his partner do a thousand times, to draw her closer towards him again and use his physical presence to comfort her. He thought of Marion, of her intense need of him, and of his innate reluctance to commit to her, or to any woman he had ever been involved with. Strangely, Evangeline appeared not to expect the intimacy he might offer, staying pressed against the door of the car, her eyes now searching his face again for some kind of understanding.

‘This isn’t a good place’ she said suddenly, breaking the silence between them. ‘We can go somewhere more …. isolated if you want.’ He nodded and twisted back in his seat, starting the engine back into life again and heading up the road, the only communication between them being a series of muttered instructions coming from the girl in the passenger seat.

 

They continued along the road back towards Blackoaks, passing the great gates of the house until they eventually swung off onto a narrow unmade road by the side of the estate. Evangeline continued giving him directions, Illya constantly aware that she was watching him intently, wondering whether she had made the correct decision to put herself in his hands. The road swung round the outside edge of an avenue of oaks shielding the main house from the road, until without warning it curved sharply and Illya found himself driving into the back of the house which stood behind Blackoaks itself. The narrow drive led directly to a small garage at the side, hidden from the main house by a thick hedge of magnolia.

‘Come on’ Evangeline said, already half-out of the car and squeezing herself along the wall of the garage towards the swung open doors they had driven through. Illya left the keys in the ignition and followed her into the house.

 

The room, an airy kitchen with the appearance of never having been used was silent apart from the steady tick of a clock somewhere else in the house. Illya glanced round, straining for any possible indications that someone was near, but there were none, only the clock marking time within.

 

   ‘There’s no-one around’ Evangeline said, walking out of her shoes and kicking them under the table. ‘Wait, and then we’ll talk.’ Illya frowned, uneasy at the thought of being in this house alone with her. The room, and he imagined the whole house too, seemed to be waiting for something to happen. He remained in the kitchen until she had gone upstairs and then wandered through into a wide hall from which several doors led to several equally large, equally unused rooms with equally pristine, unused furniture in them. Something inside himself urged him to overthrow this sterile perfection, to move a chair or jump onto the immaculate sofa in the sitting room, but the feeling passed, replaced by an uneasy sense of foreboding as he looked through the large windows towards the distant rooftops of the farm buildings at the edge of the plantation.

 

He returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table, gazing at his hands with their long, wide fingers as they lay on the scrubbed surface in front of him. He had a week in which to lay open the dark secret at the heart of this community and at the same time to protect this woman from the consequences of the dangerous path she had chosen to tread. The image of Buford Landry came to him, the man’s open face and dark expressive eyes challenging him to succeed where he had failed. Landry had been driven by his commitment to justice and freedom but Evangeline, her motivation appeared entirely to be driven by emotion. He wondered, not for the first time, whether it were really possible to love someone that much, that one would sacrifice everything for them. He could imagine his partner shaking his head at the idea.

     ‘Ready?’ Illya jerked his head upwards, frowning at the thought that she had got so close without him realising it. She was wearing a more casual outfit, dark capri pants and a soft pink sleeveless blouse that complimented her lovely hair, now swinging behind her in a high pony tail that seemed at odds with her sad, strained expression.

 

She went quickly to the large refrigerator lurking behind Illya in the corner of the room, and, after grabbing a soft basket, threw in an assortment of foods, together with a large bottle with an old-fashioned stopper and a couple of glasses. Throwing a small tablecloth she had wrenched out of a nearby drawer on top of it all, she brushed her hands and, grabbing the basket, opened the kitchen door.

 

He followed her out of the kitchen and behind the house towards a gate at the far end of the garden. Despite the heat, the borders of plants either side of the path seemed determined to show themselves at their best, swathes of daisy like flowers interspersed with other, spikier blooms in huge masses of blue and gold and white. Evangeline turned slightly as she got to the gate, looking back at Illya and the borders behind him.

     ‘It’s beautiful’ he said simply, glancing round. The tension in her face relaxed slightly and she smiled, at him and the garden.

     ‘They, I mean, doing all this’ she said, indicating the flowers, ‘they keep me sane. Do you have a garden, Mr Guerin?’ Illya smiled ruefully and shook his head, but his heart reminded him of the truth of her words. The last time he had had a garden in any sense of the word was as a child. The memory of his uncle’s farm instantly imprinted itself upon him. He could almost feel the roughness of the small hoe that was thrust into his even smaller hand, and see the bemused expression on his cousin Boris’ face as he demonstrated the most efficient way to make seedbeds for the root vegetables Illya loved so much. A sudden rush of emotion grabbed him at the memory of those first offerings, the little garden a bittersweet contrast to the hell that was developing around them in those long, dark years.

 

Evangeline swung the gate open and walked ahead, Illya following slightly behind, glancing around for any hint that someone was watching. The more cultivated part of the estate near the houses soon gave way to an area which was more densely wooded; fine oak trees masking them from the vast mansion behind and then, as they neared the bayou, a series of soft cypresses with gently waving moss blurring their forms.

 

They reached a small landing where a boat was moored, a simple flat-bottomed craft with one paddle obligingly left inside.

     ‘It’s a pirogue’ Evangeline said, looking rather affectionately at the boat. ‘Buford said that it was in exactly these type of boats that Lewis and Clark explored the Missouri River.’ The sudden joy of her memory almost immediately gave way to a shadowy pain which radiated across her features. Illya stepped past her, and, after jumping down lightly into the boat, offered his hand to guide her down. With the help of the paddle he pushed the boat gently away from the dock and, to the incessant calls of unseen birds, they glided slowly away and out into the bayou.

 

*************

 

Kane Pierce removed the binoculars he had been training on the boat dock and let them dangle in front of him, while he continued to stare in the direction he had latterly been pointing them towards. Everything about the man he had met this morning, and who now was with his Vangie invoked a feeling of deep, irrational hatred inside him. Ever since he had come to work here and had first set eyes on her he had known that one day she would be his, whatever anybody else said. It just wasn’t fitting that a lady like her should be with men like that Landry or this foreigner with his smart ass accent and smart ass clothes.

 

He brought the binoculars up to his face again and watched as the boat slowly edged away, the blond head of the Frenchman clearly visible as he leaned forward towards Miss Vangie. Pierce felt his lips form a snarling curl as his eyes followed the course of the craft. Mr Houghton had informed him when he’d returned from town of the imminent arrival of the Governor and his guests, which he reckoned would include Eddie Chauvin, seeing that he was bent on marrying Miss Vangie in the very near future. Pierce let the snarl in his lips develop into a fully-fledged laugh at the thought of it.

 

Eddie wouldn’t be a problem, seeing that Eddie would be more likely interested in the Frenchie than in Vangie, he was sure, in fact when it all blew up he would be there for her, just as he’d always been. With that comforting thought, he turned and headed slowly away.