It's right down the block from Meilori's.
It's where Samuel McCord goes to have lunch and to chat with the famous, the infamous, and the stray hungry orphan.
The word on the French Quarter streets is that if you're so hungry you don't mind risking your life and sanity, go to Mesmer's.
According to my friends, I don't have that much sanity to lose, and anyway, I was invited by Sam himself. And he owned the place, though he joked that the cat, Mesmer, was the actual owner.
The place was just like I imagined Hicock's bar in Deadwood might have looked. The very modern and willowy Diana Krall was singing "Cry Me a River" to the jazz music of Al Dubbin and Harry Warren.
I sat across from Sam, all in black: from his wide Stetson, jacket, silk shirt, jeans, and boots. His large Spanish spurs were silver ... as was his Texas Ranger star. He smiled like a lazy wolf at me.
"So your friends who've read GHOST OF A CHANCE say they wanted you to ask me some questions about my past in that book?"
"Yes. You have to admit our time together was cut off kinda short."
A sleek tabby the size of a small dog jumped up in the empty seat next to him, causing the screech of wooden legs against wood floor. She leaned forward, looking nothing so much as if she were whispering to him. He smiled wider.
"Mesmer said it saved your sorry hide."
"She talks to you?"
"Yes. Won't talk to anyone else but me. And to her mother, Bast, of course."
"Bast is her m-mother?"
Mesmer whispered to Sam again. He chuckled. "She says you repeat the obvious a lot. But that her daughter, Gypsy, warned her about that."
"She's my cat's mother?"
Mesmer looked disgusted at me, then there was the sound of breaking dishes in the back. She stiffened. She leapt down with the grace of a stalking panther.
Sam shook his head sadly. "I warned the kitchen staff Mesmer hates butterfingers. They thought I was joking."
A few seconds later there were screams, sobs, and slamming back doors. He turned to me. "That sound like a joke to you, partner?"
"Sounds like I better have the price of this ice tea and not have to wash dishes back there."
"The tea's on me, Roland. The ice comes from the melted snow of Eden."
"You going to keep on repeating what I say, or ask me a straight-out interview question?"
"Ah, all right, how did you originally pick the spot for Meilori's, Sam?"
"It picked me, son. Back in 1848, Baroness Pontalba built me the place that came to be known as Meilori's. And before you ask -- she built it for me in gratitude for saving her life in Paris."
I opened my mouth, and he held up his right gloved hand. "Long story. Sad one. And she isn't here to give her side of it."
He rubbed his face wearily with that hand. "I didn't ask her. But ... but it meant a lot to me. First home I had since I was fifteen."
To change from what looked like a painful subject, I asked, "What do you think of modern New Orleans? It's grown so much since 1848."
"I don't see much of it, son. When I could still ride a horse down its streets, I ranged far and wide. Now ...."
His eyes looked past me down distant, painful horizons. "Now, I stay in the French Quarter. When I get to itching to see the high, lonely mountains ...."
"You risk your life foolishly by entering Elu's unstable mirrors."
I jerked at the touch of the words in the dark air. They were like icicles given life ... as if the cold moon had been given vocal chords. I looked up. Damn.
I had written of her part in GHOST OF A CHANCE. I had known sooner or later I would meet her again. I had just hoped for later ... much, much later.
Eyes of living winter looked down on me. "So do all mortals, Roland."
I started to rise. A slender hand that felt as if it had been kept in the deep-freeze touched my shoulder lightly. Long hair of winter frost trembled as her head was shaken in a gesture of "no."
"None rise for Death. All fall at her touch."
Sam, in a voice of distant thunder, said, "But not today, Rind. I invited him here."
Her smile flashed like a knife from out of the shadows. "Yes, you did. I am merely here to answer questions ... just like you, Samuel."
She sat. The corners of her full lips rose. Strange shadows masked the rest of her long face. Why haven't I described her clothes?
They kept changing. Like clouds moving over the face of a brooding moon, they continually shifted. Must have been something to do with how she was Allwheres, Everywhere at each moment. Something like that would have given me a headache.
Glittering eyes of ice stabbed into mine. "It does much worse to me than the bestowing of a headache, Little Lakota."
If Sam's customers noticed the constant change in dress, they didn’t show it. Over the years, his restaurant had become notorious for being the in-place for lovers of the occult and haters of humanity.
Made for an interesting mix. Sometimes it took all the skill he had gained from a long life as a Texas Ranger to keep things civil. Sometimes even he failed. A shudder took me, and I looked into the mirror on the wall to my left.
I didn't see my face. No, only the mahogany bear face of Sam's blood-brother, Elu, stared back at me. A chill settled deep within me.
He was wearing war paint. War paint. What was going on? Something was in the wind. And it wasn’t the coming of Summer. And with that thought, Elu disappeared. I frowned. Message delievered, Elu. Whatever the heck it was.
Rind was currently wearing a black leather Roman centurion sort of outfit. Its short kilt of leather slats showed off her long legs to advantage. The smile died from the icy face regarding me.
“End of the journey, dawn of the night,” murmured Rind.
Like most things Rind said, her words would only make sense when my world lay in ruins. Her voice was like icicles dancing across a frozen lake, and her eyes were the glowing fire of winter sunset clouds.
Blackness swirled around her like a living thing. She was of the night and of eternity. In all Sam's time with her he had never caught a complete glimpse of her long face, for to look full upon Rind was to die.
She was like The Thunderbird in that respect. But her power dwarfed even that being's frightening abilities. Good thing she was Sam's friend. Of course, she was a friend that one day would literally be the death of him. But still a friend.
Hopefully, she was my friend, too.
She was no longer dressed in a short-skirted centurion outfit of black leather. Now, she was wrapped in a form fitting toga whose dark fabric seemed to hold whole solar systems glittering within it. As Renfield always said, Rind had flair to spare.
In words of December frost, Rind murmured, "Of everything, a little stays. The line of your mother's chin stayed in your own. The dry silence of your father's desertion stayed in your heart."
Sam said low, "Rind, play nice."
She feather-stroked my cheeks so lightly the frostbite would heal in only weeks. "I will answer whatever question you ask -- except for the one all mortals fear to ask me."
Sam clucked his tongue at Rind, wet his fingers in my tea, and touched my cheek. It tingled odd. And I knew two things : my cheek was healed; and the ice in my tea was truly from the melted snow of Eden.
He turned to her. “Late at night when I drift away, I can hear you calling. And it is always the voice of a friend.”
She sharply turned her head away. “Even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart. And in our own despair, against our will, comes bitter wisdom.”
Dressed suddenly in a short-skirted version of a Nazi S.S. uniform, Rind sighed, “Our race is so used to disguising ourselves from others that we end up disguising ourselves from ourselves.”
Sam shook his head. “You think I call you friend ‘cause I don’t know you. Maybe I don’t. Then again, maybe I know you better than you think.”
The blackness wrapped tighter around her. But I still saw her outfit had changed to the blood-stained, skull-adorned armor of Kali. She turned to me sharply.
"I am called elsewhere. Ask your question of me. Now."
What would you ask Death? Think of all she has seen, of all with whom she spoke, of all the mysteries she's seen revealed. Two words blundered from my lips.
She stiffened, her nails growing long and sharp. Her eyes deepened in her face. The shadows started to part from that face. Then, they slowly masked her features again.
"The heart knows no reasons. It only feels. And you asked, not for yourself, but out of your friendship for Samuel. That is why you live."
The living shadows wrapped around her like a cloak. "Today."
And she was gone. Sam sighed like an open wound. "Son, you're gonna give me gray hairs you keep on with these questions."
"Your hair's already moon-white."
"See what you've done?"
We both laughed. But it was strained laughter. The empty chair beside Sam didn't seem to be laughing either. And it didn't feel empty at all.
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