December 21st, 1899
Raimond trailed Prince Draven through crowded French Quarter streets, pausing at each bar’s doorway to marvel at people celebrating in every available corner. He read the street signs as they walked. “Bienville?”
“Constructed the first levees.” Draven shook his head. “Woefully inadequate mounds of dirt.”
“We’re on Customhouse Street.”
Raimond pointed up at a shiny sign.
“I wish they would stop changing street names. Iberville was a naval hero and explorer.” Draven strode up to glass doors and allowed tuxedo-clad men to sweep them open. “Died of yellow fever, or so they say.”
Raimond shook a doorman’s hand and grinned at the infusion of knowledge he gained. “This building is elegant. The total opposite of our last stop.”
“It’s quite the jewel, though not my favorite hotel.” Draven walked directly toward a spinning red and white pole and sat down in an empty chair. “I have a standing appointment and a private barber—best in town. I suggest you have a shave as well. Lot’s more people to meet before sunrise.”
“Isn’t tonight the—”
“Longest night of the year?” Draven winked and leaned back while a barber draped his neck in steaming towels. “We’ll need every minute.”
Within the hour both men passed through the back of the hotel and into a residential alley.
“The shop on the corner belongs to a painter and metal sculptor.” Draven undid a button on his shirt. “It can get a bit warm in his studio, but the cloves—”
“I smell them from here.” Raimond walked straight through the soaring French doors, inhaling the rich scent with deep breaths. “Heavenly.”
Draven admired the glorious jumble of art and treasure while Raimond negotiated a sale and filled his pockets with hand-rolled cigarettes. He paid for another carton to be picked up later. “And who is this little beauty?” Raimond knelt and offered his hand to a grey dog.
“That’s Faith,” the artist answered. “She keeps me company when I burn the midnight oil.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Faith.” Raimond scratched her ears and she crawled into his arms.
“Faith doesn’t warm up to everyone. Sir, you must be someone special.”
Blessed Solstice to all…
Excerpt from Raimond, Chapter 28…The Hall of Villains