Cara was waiting outside in the cab and Max ran down the stairs of the guest house and cut across the courtyard. He heard the twang of an arrow being loosed from a bow. He skidded to a stop and bent backwards while a foot-long plastic arrow zoomed over him to stick its red suction cup end on a makeshift target. He got his balance and noted that the arrow had made a bullseye. He looked back the other way to see who had sent the plastic projectile on its flawless flight. Angus, Laticia, and Colby all held white plastic bows. A silver painted cardboard mail tube was strung with string over their backs to act as quivers.
“Watch where you are going, Fish! You almost messed up my perfect shot!” Laticia complained.
“That’s Princess Laticia, now!”
Max realized she was wearing a rhinestone tiara instead of her Valkyrie helm.
“Latish, your mom was only queen for one night.” Max laughed.
Laticia was about to set him straight again when Mrs. Cara stood up out of the cab and yelled, “I beg your pardon, Max Bernos!”
Max jumped. This was the tone of voice she usually reserved for “Miguel Hernandez!”
Laticia was not to be deterred from her mission to inform the misbegotten Max. “You most certainly have been misinformed. King Bacchus may serve for only one night, but the Queen of Love and Beauty is Queen for life!”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Max began to back away from her, giving a little bow as he heeded the call of his surrogate parent.
Overhearing the exchange, and collecting her youth charge, Cara called out, “Since I was Queen of Love and Beauty once, I’m positive that PRINCESS Laticia will only be a princess until it is her time to be chosen as Queen.”
Princess Laticia gave a very courtly curtsy as Angus and Colby took a knee.
“Those kids are strange,” Max said as Cara closed her door.
“Max, you have a hair out of place.” She looked at him very seriously.
Max scrambled to see himself in the rearview mirror of the cab to make sure every hair in his gelled jet black hairdo was exactly where he had assigned them. “My hair’s fine.”
Cara laughed, “Yeah, they’re strange.”
A beignet is a staple of New Orleans cuisine. It is a puffed out pastry, deep fried, and very liberally coated in powdered sugar. It is such an epicurean delight that despite the fact that the person indulging in the food is left in the aftermath almost entirely covered in powdered sugar, any true New Orleans native would risk it.
Café du Monde, the undisputed heavy weight champ of beignets was where Mrs. Cara sat across from Max who was greedily gobbling down his pastry. The café sits on the levee across from Jackson Square which was lined with mule-drawn carriages. Thousands of tourists were weaving through the scenery like ants scurrying about their adventures hungrily devouring the French Quarter’s culture. A sidewalk brass band burned through a Miles Davis classic while a muted trumpet gently caressed the melody of “My Funny Valentine”.
Cara was wringing her hands under the table trying to think of the proper way to approach the boy when she recognized the song the trumpeter was playing. “There’s nothing funny about Valentine’s Day.” She said to herself.
“Pardon me?” Max asked through a mouthful of beignet.
“Nothing. Just thinking out loud.” She was afraid the boy would clam up out of loyalty to the gang. She had to do this delicately. “Max, do you know that song they’re playing?”
“It’s called ‘My Funny Valentine’.”
Max swallowed hard at the sudden memory of losing Jesi on Valentine’s Day. She’d probably been the first person to ever believe in him. He could hear her words echo through his mind, “If you don’t believe in yourself, Fish, just believe in me, ‘cause I believe in you.” That had been enough. He forced down the tears that had threatened to leak and said, “There’s nothing funny about Valentine’s Day.”
Cara felt guilty about pulling on the boy’s heartstrings, but she needed reassurance she had him on her side.
“Max, if something happened to the boys, I couldn’t go on. When was the last time you heard from Spider?” Max felt his stomach roll and threaten to bring up the sugary treat he’d just downed. The boys had given him something he had longed for without even knowing it. They’d given him a place to belong. If he betrayed their trust in him, he might lose that gift. Still, losing Mrs. Cara’s approval would be almost worse.
Max’s head hung. “Three days, Mrs. Cara.”
“Where are they, Max?”
He roboticly answered, “They went to Our Lady Fatima Summer Retreat.”
“Max!” Mrs. Cara slapped the table with her hand. People’s heads turned to their table. Then she calmed herself. Tears had sprung to her eyes in frustration and worry. “I would never ask you to betray their trust in you.”
“But that’s exactly what you are doing, Mrs. Cara. Trust is something earned and once it is lost it can never be fully restored, my dad says.”
She leaned over and hugged the boy. “Oh Max, I’m just worried. I need to know they are okay.” Then the answer came to her, a line of questioning that would produce answers, but not cause the boy to betray his friends.
Holding his shoulders, she looked squarely into his eyes. “I know the boys can go on outings while at Summer Camp. Have they gone on any outings?”
Max smiled cunningly. “I downloaded a locator program on Tex’s phone, but they haven’t moved for three days. I pinged the phone every day and it’s still on, but no traffic, nor movement. I called Country Mike and hasn’t heard anything either.”
“I should have known Mike was in on it,too!” Cara sat back, letting go of the boy. “Do you think they are alright?”
“When I last talked to them, they were camping. The phone is in the middle of nowhere, which goes along with their camping story.”
“Then why do you look so worried?”
“It’s probably nothing.”
“Spit it out.”
“Well, I don’t want you to worry, too.”
“Just tell me.”
“The place they are camping, it’s…it’s called Murder Creek.”
Cara’s face went steely cold and rigid. “Fish, I won’t ask you to betray your brothers, but you have 24 hours to get with your co-conspirators and figure out to some way to have my son call me and tell me he is alright or all bets are off. I will become the most evil witch you have ever seen. I have not gone more than a day without speaking to my son since he was born and I don’t want to go more than the next 24 hours. Do we understand each other?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m on it.”