Warnings: Netiquette violations: language and adult situations
Further warnings: If you are a Rachel Quest fan read no further - delete now.
Disclaimer: See Prologue.
The following morning we walk down Decatur Street to the Café du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. The group wanders back to our hotel circling Jackson Square and stopping to look at St. Louis Cathedral. After all of these years I still find myself fascinated by the elaborate Mardi Gras masks and costumes decorated with sequins, feathers, and faux jewels that are for sale in the shops along Decatur Street.
Jonny keeps trying to wander into the bars that line the street. Race and I take turns steering him out of them. Benton thankfully doesn't notice these little side trips that his son is taking. Hadji smiles in amusement and is struggling to keep from laughing at the situation. Once the team arrives back at the hotel we retrieve the van and head for lunch at Lake Pontchartrain.
After lunch I give them a brief tour of the city, including the promised drive down Bourbon Street. Today's lessons consisted of discussing the architecture and history of New Orleans.
Benton asks me, "This Madame La Croix...are you sure she will be able to help me with my investigation, or that she will even be willing to help?"
"I am sure. Madame La Croix is a Mambo." I respond.
Hadji asks, "What is a Mambo?" I smile at Hadji in the review mirror. "A Mambo or a Hougnon is a priest of the Vodun religion."
"Then is Vodun different from the Voodoo that is practiced in the Caribbean?" Hadji asks.
Race tells me the story of the "Dreadful Doll" and how Jonny and Hadji reacted to their first kiss. The van rapidly fills with cries of protest from both boys. Bannon is still waxing poetically over a young lady named Denise kissing the boys on the cheek and what a big fuss they had made over their first kiss.
"Snow, a kiss on the cheek doesn't count as a first kiss." I address him in the review mirror.
"A kiss is a kiss is a kiss, Willy, regardless of where it is," he responds with smugness.
"Don't call me Willy, and I've kissed you on the cheek before on more than one occasion. It doesn't mean anything. It's no big deal."
"Don't call me Snow; what do you mean it doesn't mean anything and it's no big deal?"
"Get a life Romeo; not every female who sees you falls victim to your fatal charms." I continue, "Besides I have a feeling that Jonny's first kiss will be special; as first kisses should be." I flash a smile at my handsome co-pilot. He flushes a vivid shade of pink.
There is much jostling and elbowing going on between Jonny and Hadji. Hadji is snickering and choking, but trying hard to say something. Jonny is clearly trying to stop him. I watch the two in glimpses through the review mirror. Finally, Jonny beats Hadji to finding his voice. "It doesn't count if you're being controlled to do it." Spoken with that 'Quest pout and sulk' I have come to recognize. I look over at Benton, who looks at me. Benton turns around and looks at Race at the same time I catch Bannon's eyes in the review mirror.
Benton favors the boys with a raised eyebrow. "Anyone care to elaborate?"
Hadji sobers instantly. "He meant that a kiss is not a real kiss if some external force makes you do it; that it only counts if you are in control of the situation and not being controlled." A thought enters my mind, *Could it have been a subconscious act? No, don't even think such thoughts Wilhelmina!*
A blushing Jonny stammers out, "It wasn't my fault! I was possessed!"
"OK, I'll bite. Who did you end up kissing while possessed?" Bannon voices from the back seat. Hadji is practically lying down on the seat rolling with laughter at this point.
Jonny slumps lower in the seat. "Just some girl! Now can we talk about something else?"
I hate it when my brain starts these internal debates, *Yes, admit it Will you could have been controlling the situation. No, I wasn't! Will we are here! Yes, we are. Now shut up.* At least for now the debate has ended. I stop the van in front of a large Victorian house in the Garden District section. The main entrance to the Lafayette Cemetery is directly across the street.
Everyone gazes at the imposing house. "The house has been in the La Croix family since being built in the early 1800's. The La Croix's also own a large sugar plantation up river that is also quiet remarkable and it's even older," I tell the other passengers of the van.
Everyone is standing on the front porch behind me as I ring the doorbell. An elderly gentleman answers the door. "Good afternoon. We have an appointment with Madame La Croix at 3 o'clock," I tell him.
The gentleman's eyes grow wide. "Miss Mina is that you child?"
I can't help but smile and say, "Yes, Oncle Georges it is, but please don't tell anyone. I want it to be a surprise." The individual that I call Oncle Georges shows us into the solarium where Madame La Croix will join us shortly.
Once Oncle Georges leaves, Benton asks me if I was born in New Orleans and how did I come to know Madame La Croix.
I smile and answer, "I have relatives here and I spent a lot of time with them as a child. That is also how I am familiar with the La Croixes."
The sound of a wheeled cart being pushed and a voice softly singing is drawing closer. Benton has chosen a wing chair. The kids are looking around the room. Race sits in the wing chair next to Benton so both of them are facing the doorway. We can smell late blooming jasmine and gardenias in the garden through the open doors of the solarium. A large black cat wearing a bell on its collar strolls boldly into the room with a beautiful teenage girl.
Bandit sees the cat and takes off after it. The cat sprints for the garden with the small dog in hot pursuit. Jonny and Hadji take off after the cat and the dog. The girl takes off after the boys.
An elderly individual enters with a teacart. She begins to pour the tea without taking any notice of us.
"What Tante Louisa, are you not even going to greet us?" I ask. The person looks up, and drops the teacup she is holding. "Lawd, Miss Mina you have come home, and someone has given you a baby," she smiles at me.
Benton and Race exchange, *How does this person know that Will is pregnant?*' looks. I am not wearing maternity clothes. You wouldn't even know that I'm pregnant, unless I tell you. Tante Louisa smiles. "The baby she will have her papa's red hair and his odd shade of blue eyes."
I hug the woman and begin helping her clean up the mess caused by the dropped teacup. The two men exchange even more startled looks. One that says, *How does she know who fathered the child Will is carrying?*
A strikingly beautiful individual dressed in a very expensive suit enters the room; this can only be Madame La Croix. Doctor Quest and Race Bannon both stand. I too stand up and face the woman. Madame La Croix cries out, throwing her arms wide. "Mina, dearest you've come home! Where have you been all of these years, Child?"
"Grand-mère Chantalle! Here and there," I reply as I hug the woman who looks young enough to be my mother and not my grandmother.
The boys have returned with an angry Bandit. The teenage girl is clearly pouting over something beside the dog chasing the cat. I make the introductions for the Quest team. "Madame Chantalle La Croix, this is Docteur Benton Quest, our associate Monsieur Race Bannon, and Docteur Quest's sons, Hadji Singh, and Jonathan." I have been back in New Orleans for less than a day and I have returned to the odd cadence of my childhood.
Madame La Croix makes her introduction. "Mina, do you remember Charlotta De Mornay? This is her great-granddaughter Denise. Denise is staying with us while she is going to school here." Out of the corner of my eye I notice that Jonny and Hadji are both prepared to bolt out of the room. *What in the heck is going on with those two now?*
"Louisa, I think that perhaps the Docteur's sons and Denise would prefer to have something other than tea. I am sure that they will be able to find some common ground on which to converse," Madame La Croix speaks in her soft 'ladies never talk in anything above a whisper' voice.
"Yes, Madame. Come, Tante Lousia has fresh ice cold milk and hot cookies straight from the oven. I think we may even be able find a nice fat ham bone for Monsieur Puppy Dog." She beckons to the two teenage boys and the teenage girl. Benton and Race both nod their heads in approval while trying hard to cover their amusement at the situation.
"I am sure that they will find many things to catch up on, I mean talk about," smirks Race. Hadji and Jonny leave the solarium trailing reluctantly down the hallway after Tante Louisa and Denise. Surely, this Denise can't be the Denise of the "Dreadful Doll" incident.
"And the baby, what will her name be?" questions Madame La Croix after the teenagers have left.
I smile at my grandmother. "Rachel Elyse."
"Rachel is Jonathan's mama. It is good that you would honor and show your respect for her by doing this," Madame La Croix says as she pours out the tea.
Finally Race voices the question that has been on his and Benton's mind. "How do you know that Will is pregnant? How do you know that I'm not the father?" Madame Chantalle just laughs. Oncle Georges comes in to inform Madame Chantalle that Monsieur Armand will be home shortly from the office.
HOUGNON - a priest or priestess of good Voodoo or Vodun
MAMBO - a priest or priestess of good Voodoo or Vodun
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