The beignets were certainly as good as I remembered them. Warm, slightly chewy dough, deep-fried and liberally dusted with powdered sugar, they practically melted in my mouth. The coffee was strong enough to hold up to milk and sharpened all my senses. “So, you know New Orleans?” I was grasping for the connection.
“Of course. It’s a port city. How would I not know New Orleans?”
“I–look, aren’t all genies from Saudi Arabia?”
Emmett laughed. “Nope.” He took a big bite of his beignet. “But don’t tell them that. Some think we’re demon spirits. I once encountered a young lad aboard one of the ships I worked who thought I was there to possess him and tempt him into sin.”
I laughed. “And did you tempt him into sin?”
“No, I rescued him from a brothel in the West Indies and kept him sober so the Captain wouldn’t tan his hide.”
“Why would the Captain have tanned his hide?”
“Would your boss be amused if you showed up for work with a nasty hangover? Or worse, overslept in the arms of a prostitute and didn’t show up for work at all?”
I supposed not.
“Captain Jedediah Read was quite strict about such things. He demanded a sober, hard-working crew, and paid them well. And of course, he had me. Or the threat of me. Not that he ever had to use it.” Emmett’s eyes twinkled, belying his ominous tone. “I looked out for the crew. I hadn’t the heart to see any of them tied to the mast and flayed alive.”
“All of them?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, surely there was someone on the crew you didn’t like well enough to intervene.”
Emmett looked astonished. “You think that I could be vindictive?”
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. I could, in your shoes.”
“Well, no. But there was one beady-eyed little cook…”
“Yes?” I munched my beignet and listened eagerly for 200 year old gossip.
“He was stingy with the dried fish, and let the hardtack get moldy.”
“I can imagine no one much cared for that!”
“No, and he didn’t much like it when birds nested in his beard and he grew a strange, blue, hairy mold on his backside.” Emmett chuckled, remembering. I was a bit confused about the birds, until he added, “The birds were faster than Cook. Every time he’d try to take a bit of our fresh catch, they’d beat him to it. But even they wouldn’t touch the dried kippers after a bit.”
“Oh, dear. Was he stuck at sea long?”
“Long enough to go a bit mad. Reached out one day and grabbed one of the birds – an albatross – by the wing. Twisted its neck and hung it round his own as a trophy till it stunk and nearly drove him insane. Last I saw, they were fitting him with leg-irons and there was some talk of building a madhouse, since he’d not actually committed a crime.
I made a mental note not to feed Emmett moldy hardtack or Jerry’s fish tacos. I hear leg-irons chafe the ankles terribly.
“Shall we go look for Madame de Pesée Coeurs?” That was her name. I had assumed it was hoity-toity Cajun-speak for “Lady Who Sells PCs,” but apparently it was just her name, and actual Voodoo was her game. We walked down some shady back alleys, past quaint little art and antique furniture galleries, and paused to look at photos taped to the window of a small real-estate office advertising tiny flats at inflated prices before finding the wrought iron gated courtyard marked with Madame’s sign, an ornate “P.C.”
The gate creaked open at a touch, and we entered the courtyard. Madame was seated at a tiny table, as if she had been expecting us. “Good afternoon, Madame. I don’t suppose you remember me?” I asked.
“I have been wondering what took you so long,” she answered.
“Then you do know something about that PC you sold me.”
“I know everything about everything that leaves my shop,” she answered cryptically. “Including my customers.”
Well, isn’t that special, I muttered. Aloud, I mused, “That’s a skill that’s in great demand, should you ever sell your shop.”
She gave me an icy stare. What did that woman have against me? I wondered.
“Aren’t you pleased with my gift?” she asked.
“What, Emmett’s a gift, now?” I asked. “Emmett’s a human being. You cannot give a human being to someone as a ‘gift’!” I said, indignantly.
“I was talking to Emmett,” she said, cutting me off.
My mouth hung open. “Excuse me?”
“Yes, Madame, I am grateful,” said Emmett, “but I don’t understand.”
“It amuses me,” she answered, her face cracking slightly with what might have passed for a smile but gave her a slightly terrifying appearance. “But there are limits to my patience, as you well know. How long you remain a free–man–” she snorted and shook her head at me, “–remains to be seen.”
“Well, good, you two obviously know each other and have some catching up to do. I’ll just–”
“Just what?” asked Madame de Pesée Coeurs as the wrought iron gate slammed shut on its own. “You won’t take tea with an old woman?”
Emmett took my arm and whispered urgently into my ear. “Just take the tea,” he hissed. “Trust me on this. Take the tea and be nice.”
I think I’d read this story before, but while I was wracking my brain for details of the plot, a young girl brought out a silver tea service and a plate of scones. How charming. I sighed, wondering if this was the story in which the young woman is cursed for failing to appreciate the lovely repast, or the one in which she partakes of the goodies, only to be rendered comatose for a thousand years? I could really use a libretto right about now…
“Merci, Madame.” Emmette sipped his tea and smiled. “To your health, Madame.”
Oh, God, he was beyond deferential – I had a seven-foot genie being downright obsequious to this crone. Tea and crumpets aside, let’s not forget she sold me a PC that ran on bat droppings, fingernail clippings, and blood. The fact that it disposed of certain evidence was just a convenient bonus, but would hardly be necessary if wasn’t such a power hog.
“Excuse me, Madame, but you did not explain all the, um, features of the PC when you sold it to me.”
“And you think you’ve discovered them now, do you?”
“Oh, Christ, there are more?!” I jumped up, spilling crumbs and sending a fine bone China plate clattering to the cobblestones, where it broke into seven pieces. Madame did not look pleased. She bent to pick up the porcelain shards and counted them.
“Did I mention there’s a seven year warranty?” she asked, smiling that horrible, sharp-toothed smile. She laid each of the seven razor-sharp shards out on the table in front of her.
“I don’t believe you did,” I said tensely. “I could have sworn you sold it to me ‘as is.'”
“But you seem unsatisfied, so I insist. Seven years. I guarantee it for seven long years.”
Never had a curse been spoken in such terse and civil terms.
If it wasn’t clear, I’m attempting to tame two birds with one blog – NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo – simultaneously. Throughout the month, posts tagged NaNoBloWriPoMo will be works of fiction adding up, I hope, to a ridiculously silly “novel” of at least 50,000 words. I say “I hope” because I’m blogging this one day at a time – as a committed “Pantser,” I’m learning how the story unfolds just minutes (hours, at the most) before you do.
Did you miss one? Here are the chapters, all in order (more will appear as they are posted):
- The Challenge
- Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
- It’s…Different on the Inside
- Madame and the Warranty
- Like Fireflies in a Pickle Jar
- Like Sand Through the Motherboard
- There’s No Place Like 127.0.0.1
- Drunk on Freedom, Dancing with the Jinn
- Why Me?
- The Power of Imagination and Words
- Rebellion and Revenge