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 Regresa a Mi

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evlvt



Pig
Posts : 9
Join date : 2010-07-11
Age : 58
Location : Michigan, USA
Humor : Very dry...and a little dark.

PostSubject: Regresa a Mi   Wed Jul 14, 2010 6:10 pm

Chapter I

The palatial New Orleans Opera House had been standing for over two hundred years. Wars and storms had failed to humble the grand edifice. Tonight the facade was brightly illuminated by flood light, and a huge banner flapped in the October wind.

IL DIVO
TONIGHT ONLY
HURRICANE RELIEF CONCERT

At 7 PM on this Halloween night, crowds filled the streets around the Opera House. Many of the revelers were dressed as assorted ghouls and goblins. A carnival atmosphere reigned in the city, and it didn't take much for New Orleans to throw a party.

The four members of Il Divo followed the opera director along a third floor hallway, headed for their dressing rooms. David glanced around at the ornate velvet drapes and persian rugs.
"Nice digs." He remarked.
"All of our dressing room furnishings are authentic antebellum." Stated the small, fussy opera director. "You, Mr. Marin, shall occupy the room honored by the great Caruso, himself."
"It shall now be honored by the great Carlos, himself." Carlos quipped. Urs and Sebastien snickered, and David laughed out loud. The opera director fixed Carlos with an icy glare.

"Your ancestor, the first Marin baritone also appeared here in 1855." The man informed Carlos with a fussy sniff.
"Oh no." Groaned David. "No more my grandpa was a baritone stories!"
"My great grandpapa was a famous baritone..." Began Carlos with a grin. "Just like his great grandson, the famous baritone." He finished smugly. Urs rolled his eyes and Seb faked an exaggerated yawn.

"Yes, Carlos, we know talent runs in your family." Teased Seb. "The talent for bull****!" At this comment the entire group broke into laughter, except for the opera director. He looked ready to kick them out of his theater. The group moved down the hallway. dropping the other three members at their respective rooms. Carlos and the director stood before a fourth. Shaking the director's hand, Carlos thanked him and stepped through the doorway. He closed the heavy oak door firmly behind him,eager for a little peace and quiet before the performance tonight.

The large high ceilinged room spread around him. Dark velvet drapes hid pink brick walls, and mahogony furniture added to the opulence. A large ceiling fan revolved slowly overhead.
"Nice digs, indeed." Carlos mused to himself as his eyes roamed the room, admiring a tall armoire.

Dark brown eyes met his. Eyes full of anguish. Carlos stopped in front of a large portrait. A young woman dressed in antebellum mourning clothes held a musical score in her hands. She was surrounded by symbols of early, tragic death. A burnt candle sat nearby, and a broken column surrounded by willows provided the background. Her unbound hair draped across her shoulders, ebony and shining.

Chills crawled up Carlos' spine. A loud rap on the door startled him back to the present.
"Enter." He called. Jerry, the group's assistant, carried in a plate of fruit and bottled water.
"Need anything else, Carlos?" He asked.
"No, I'm good. How long to curtain?"
"Hour exactly." Jerry replied. His eye caught the painting. "Hey, who's the babe? Gorgeous, but kinda creepy." Carlos tore his eyes away from the portrait.
"Yes." He murmured. "But her eyes are full of pain."

A knock on the door preceeded the noisy arrival of the other three members of the group. They were dressed in tuxes and sported white Phantom of the Opera masks.
"Since you refused to let us dress as Star Wars characters for the opener." David stated with a faked pout. "You must wear the mask and sing Music of the Night with us. Urs held up a fourth mask.
"Sure sure." Replied Carlos, still distracted by the painting. "It is Halloween, after all" Sebastien moved to stand beside Carlos.
"How beautiful." The Frenchman murmured. "Who is she?" Urs stepped forward to join the others in admiration of the painting.
"She's a ghost." He announced.


Chapter II

David and Sebastien burst out laughing.
"Urs, buddy. You're the most sensible of all of us!" David said. "Where did THAT Loony Tune come from?"
"One of the stagehands I was talking to earlier told me the ghost story. It's well known in the city." Urs grabbed some fruit from the plate and began popping grapes into his mouth.

"Well," Urs munched and swallowed, wiping his chin fastidiously with his hankerchief. "She was an opera soprano here in the 1850's. Her name was Aurelia Sauvage. Her wealthy family disowned her when she began performing with the opera. She fell in love with a married man, another singer, and her brother killed the man in a duel.
Shortly after the lover's death, the poor woman hanged herself in her dressing room. This room."

The room was silent.
"Any more cheerful news?" David asked quietly, glancing around the room. Urs replied slowly.
"It's said the picture cries real tears on the anniversary of her death."
"Which is?" Sebastien asked. Urs glanced at the others.
"Tonight."


"Congratulations, Dude. You've got the haunted room!" David laughed to try and lighten the mood. Carlos sighed and sat down to pull on his shoes.
"Great." He mumbled. " Like I believe in spirits." Seb walked to the door and pulled it open.


"Better you than me in the haunted room, my friend." He said with a shiver. "Let's head downstairs, this room is crappy."
"You mean creepy." Corrected David.
"Whatever." Replied Sebastien. "It's getting cold in here too."

Carlos shrugged into his tuxedo coat. Urs grabbed more fruit, joined by David. They left the room, followed closely by Seb. Carlos paused before the portrait and gazed into the painted eyes.
"Poor querida." He murmured. "Rest in Peace." He felt so depressed, he really needed a rest, he thought. Sighing, Carlos followed the others through the door. Immediately he was struck by the warmth of the hallway in comparison to the dressing room he had just vacated. His depression and fatigue vanished in an instant, he felt like his cheerful self again.

On the wall of the room behind him, slow tears began to trickle down the painted cheeks.

As the door closed, the portrait began to tremble against the wall. A thick white mist tendriled towards the door, assuming the figure of a woman. She passed through the closed portal without hesitation. Following Carlos closely down the hall, the apparition held out her arms in appeal.
"My love!" She whispered. Carlos felt his neck hairs rise at the sound of a woman's voice behind him. An icy chill crawled over his back. He spun on his heel to see the phantom bearing down upon him.

"My love!" The apparition moaned again, and tears poured without ceasing down her haggard face. Her black dress hung in tatters from her frame. Carlos could see the hallway through her misty form. Terrified beyond measure he screamed loudly, vaulting back into David.
"Carlos! Jesus, Buddy! You nearly gave us all heart failure!" David grabbed Carlos' shoulder in a firm grip. "Are you all right?" Carlos stared wide eyed down the hallway, sweat beaded on his brow. His heart pounded in his throat. The hall was empty. No chill, no see-through lady. He'd never live down the truth, he thought to himself.

Carlos wiped his brow and stuttered out a reply.
"Aaaah...nothing...a shadow. A mouse perhaps. He smiled weakly at his friends. "I do not like the mouses."
"Mice." Corrected David.
"Okaaay." Drawled Urs. Sebastien began to tease Carlos with a grin.
"No more scary stories for Little Carlito, he can't take it!" David smiled at Carlos and patted his back gently.
"Jet lag pal. It gets to all of us sooner or later. Even the Mighty Carlos."

"Five minutes, gentlemen!" Shouted a stagehand from the bottom of the stairs. Il Divo clattered down the steps and into the bright bustle of the backstage area. Carlos glanced behind him towards the stairway. Nothing. Following the others up onto the stage, he grabbed his tossed mask from Urs, and popped in on just as the curtain began to rise.


Chapter III

The first notes of "Music of the Night" filled the theater. Luckily, Seb had the first few lines and the spot was on him. Carlos could compose himself. There was no time now to think about his terrifying experience. Singing came first. Music always helped. Passera, he thought to himself.

As the rest of the group joined Seb in the chorus, the stage lights brightened. The revealing lights illuminated two small seating balconies overlooking the stage.
The mayor of New Orleans occupied one box, enjoying the music with his wife. The box opposite appeared unoccupied. Nobody noticed the pale outline of a hoopskirted figure. She leaned towards the stage, her eyes riveted on Carlos.
"My love!" She whispered.

The enthusiastic audience clapped and whistled their approval of Il Divo's salute to Halloween. As the last notes died away the the masks came off and the men began "La Vida Sin Amor". Carlos was functioning on automatic pilot, singing powerfully as usual. He just wanted the musical evening over with. He needed time to think, to find an explanation for what he'd seen upstairs. There was a sensible explanation for everything. There was. He just needed time to think.

There were plenty of mouse jokes thrown towards Carlos when the group returned upstairs after their performance.
"Let's get a drink, guys. And something to eat." Sebastien requested. Carlos stopped with his hand on his dressing room doorknob.
"Someplace quiet and fan-free." He begged.
"Sounds good, I'm starved!" David agreed.

As he stepped into his room, Carlos' breath fogged in the frigid air. The coldness of the room struck him like a fist in his belly.
"What the...Dios Mio!" The words left him in a shriek. He watched in horror as the portrait rocked wildly against the far wall. As he stood paralyzed, a hand gripped his shoulder. With a shout, he swung his fist at whoever had a grip on him.

A muscular forearm expertly blocked the punch. It was Urs.
"Hell Carlos! What's going on in here?" His eyes widened at the sight of the painting swinging. A low, ghostly sobbing filled the room. Carlos yelled directly into Urs' face.
"You had to say it, didn't you?"
"Say what?"
"Carlos is in the haunted room! What did you do, wake her up or something?"
Urs studied his friend with a frown.

"Aurelia! The woman in the portrait! The ghost you told the story about!" Carlos yelled again. At the sound of the woman's name, the portrait gave a final lurch and launched itself towards the two men.

Urs and Carlos dove to the floor as the painting smashed against the wall above their heads.
"Time to go, Carlos!" Urs screamed. His friend was slumped on the floor in a state of shock. Grabbing Carlos by the arm, Urs dragged him towards the door.
"Snap out of it, man. Go, go!" They staggered through the door as soon as Urs wrenched it open.

David and Sebastien's doors flew open. Two heads poked out into the hallway, each with a cell phone pressed to their ear. Their faces were creased in concern.
"What the hell, guys. Are we missing the party?" David flipped his cell closed.
"The painting...the lady..." Carlos stammered. Sebastien eyed Carlos with skepticism.
"Very funny, Carlos." Replied the Frenchman. "You're not freaking me out with that ghost story!" Carlos stared at the other three men. Urs smoothed back his hair with a casual hand. He stepped back and reopened the dressing room door.

Carlos gasped. The room looked completely normal. The portrait hung motionless on the wall.
"I need a drink." said Carlos. He wiped his face with a trembling hand.
"I wonder if Caruso had this trouble?" Urs murmured to Carlos.

An hour later the four sat in a small cafe on the edge of the French Quarter. They knew the problems associated with eating in a busier restaurant. The building was old and worn, but enticing scents wafting from the open door had lured the men in. When Sebastien mistakenly began to speak French, their waitress began to chatter happily in the same language.
"Here we go again." said David. "Will we even know what we're eating?"
"But this is fantastic!" Seb enthused. "French is spoken everywhere in New Orleans!" He began to order food for everyone.

Carlos sat silently, a half empty bottle of wine in front of him. He wasn't sharing. Refilling his glass, he took a sip. Finally, he felt calmer. David drummed his fingers on the table in time with the cajun music belting from the jukebox.
"How 'bout we take a walk through the Quarter after we eat?" He asked.
"Sure, sure." replied Carlos, taking another sip of wine. Urs eyed him closely.
"Better?" he asked his friend.

"Si, mas mejor." he whispered back. "Thank you, my friend. You got me out of there." Carlos shivered, suddenly chilled.
"Anytime." Urs replied quietly. Carlos rubbed his arm, wincing.
"You work out too much Urs. You don't know your own strength."
"Never too much, Carlos. You're a weakling!" Urs laughed in reply.


Chapter IV

After enjoying the spicy food, the four men walked towards the lights and music of the oldest part of the city, the French Quarter. Sebastien and David led the way, followed a few steps behind by Urs and Carlos. The warm night air reminded Carlos of Spain, as did the cobblestone streets and elaborate ironwork decorating the buildings. Moving along the street, they walked unnoticed by passersby. Early on in their success as a group, the singers had realized that the fans noticed four Divos together, not one or two.

Sebastien began reading out loud from a tourist brochure he had picked up.
"New Orleans is known as 'The City that Care Forgot' " he quoted. "Settled by French explorers in the 1600's. Now I know why I feel so at home here."
"Taken over by the Spanish." read David over Seb's shoulder. Sebastien looked teasingly back at Carlos.
"Taken back by the French!" the Frenchman cheered.
"And now owned by America." stated Urs. David began to laugh.
"Well, there goes the neighborhood."

Seb continued reading as they walked the narrow streets.
"New Orleans is the most haunted city in America." He shivered.
"Easy to believe for me." said Carlos. "This place really craps me out."
"Creeps you out." corrected David. Carlos heaved a huge sigh.
"Craps...creeps...whatever." he mumbled.
"It says they have exceptional cafe au lait here." read Sebastien. "Just like in Paris!"

By now it was almost 2 AM. The French Quarter was just warming up, the bars and clubs staying open until 6 AM or later. Walking towards the Mississippi River, the four men admired the gothic spires of St. Louis cathedral, gleaming in the moonlight. On the riverbank sat a tiny open air coffee shop, crowded with truckers and workers from the nearby market district.
The group sat at a table facing the river and breathed in the enticing aromas of fresh ground coffee and baked goods.


Sebastien studied the simple menu chalked on the wall, and then smiled at the waitress approaching their table. He
ordered beignets* and coffee. (*pronounced ben yay)
"What's a beignet?" asked David, squinting up at the menu.
"French doughnut." replied Seb. David licked his lips.
"Doughnuts are always a good thing, in any language. Set me up, Seb." the tall tenor replied.

All the friends ordered the same. Soon they were sipping sweet milky coffee from heavy pottery mugs, and munching crisp squares of dough. The beignets arrived buried in a pile of powdered sugar and made for messy eating.
"Sinful. These will cost me some hours in the gym." Urs licked powdered sugar from his fingers. Carlos just sipped his coffee and studied the dark waters of the river.
He didn't think doughnuts were a good idea after all that wine.

Urs leaned back in his chair and stretched. Two young women passing the cafe stopped and stared at the handsome Swiss. Urs winked at them, and they giggled and resumed their walk.
"So. What are we doing this weekend? We've got four days in New Orleans to ourselves." Urs questioned. Carlos rolled his eyes and began to grumble.
"You Swiss, always planning." Urs smiled at Carlos.
"Well, we should make the most of our time here. Have some fun."



David slumped in his chair. His usual jovial expression faded into a frown.
"Impossible." he stated tiredly. "I've been on the forum and the fans know we're here in the city. They're on the lookout for us. You know how they are, like bloodhounds on the scent. Any sightseeing is out of the question." he sighed deeply. David liked to sightsee.

"So we leave the city." said Sebastien. "Look at this." He held out the tourist pamphlet he'd read from previously. David grabbed the pamphlet and began reading out loud.
"'Discover the antebellum lifestyle of the Old South. Authentic, working sugar cane plantation. Manor house ca. 1830 offers elegant accomodations. Come to River Oaks plantation and discover the lazy lifestyle of the Old South.' Cool. Sounds good to me."

"Yes," sighed Carlos. "I would like the lazy for a few days."
"Fantastic!" cheered Sebastien. "I've always wanted to see a real southern plantation. How about it, Urs?" Urs smiled at his friends.
"Sure. A few days of down time won't hurt any of us." He studied Carlos.

"Well, it's 3 AM now." said David as he looked at his watch. "Let's grab some sleep and I'll rent a car in the morning."
"Excellent idea, sleeping..." yawned Carlos. David jumped up.
"Let's go." he said.



Chapter V

The sun rose hot over New Orleans the next morning, and humidity settled like a sticky blanket over the city. By 10 AM, with Carlos a no-show, his three bandmembers were pounding on the door to his hotel room. After a mostly sleepless night a bleary eyed Carlos opened the door, then retreated to the bathroom. Urs, Seb, and David trooped into the room. Urs moved to the coffee pot and switched it on. He knew Carlos wouldn't move without at least one cup under his belt.

Carlos stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Red bloodshot eyes, darkly circled, stared back.When he had dozed the night before, dreams of the woman in the painting had intruded upon any worthwhile sleep. Fragments of dreams surfaced in his mind, but he was unable to grasp their meaning.

Pounding on the bathroom door reflected the pounding in his head. He jerked the door open and snarled.
"Whoever knocks again, I will kill!" A cup of black coffee appeared around the door, held by Urs. Carlos grabbed it and slammed the door. After a few sips he felt more human, and turned on the shower.

Outside the bathroom, David began grabbing clothes lying about the room and stuffing them into Carlos' suitcase. Sebastien rolled his eyes.
"Carlos will not appreciate the way you are packing his stuff." he said. David stopped and turned to face the Frenchman.
"We'll never get out of the city at this rate. What's taking him so long in there?"
"Give him a few minutes with his coffee." Urs replied. "We'll get on the road eventually."

Sebastien called through the closed bathroom door.
"I called River Oaks this morning. We're in luck. They have four rooms open, and no other guests.
I told the lady we were petroleum engineers on a business trip." A growl was the only reply from the bathroom.

"Hope there's no questions about petroleum." David laughed. "All I know is you put it in a car, and the car goes." Urs and Seb laughed along with him. The bathroom door opened on a cloud of steam as Carlos joined them. He looked at the three men apologetically and cleared his throat.
"Sorry for the temper earlier, amigos. I had a rough night. Didn't sleep much."

"A good breakfast, then a ride in the country will work wonders." Sebastien stated firmly. He turned to David. "Can I drive?"
"Absolutely not!" Urs and David spoke as one. David laughed at Seb. "After you were almost arrested for speeding in Los Angeles? You know the rule. We drive in our home countries, and that means I'm the chauffer today."

By noon the four were headed down the River Road out of New Orleans, packed into a vintage 1968 Mustang David had rented.
"Why did you rent a convertible, David? Were there no nice, air conditioned cars?" Carlos yelled at David from the back seat, above the wind of the car's momentum. David glanced at Carlos in the rearview mirror before returning his eyes to the road.

"It's a Mustang, buddy. Classic American car. Relax Carlos, just sit back and enjoy." David yelled back over his shoulder.
"David's right man, try to relax. I'm worried about you." Urs patted Carlos on the shoulder as he spoke in his ear.
Carlos sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. Soon his eyes fluttered shut.

The Mississippi River flowed to the left of the old two lane road. On the opposite side of the road, oil refineries gradually gave way to marshy fields.
"About another half hour." David called over his shoulder towards the men in the back seat. Urs tried to stretch his legs in the cramped back seat and groaned.
"My legs are killing me, David! Were Americans shorter in the 60s?" David just laughed at Urs' pained expression. Sebastien found an oldies station on the radio and began to sing along with The Beatles.

Carlos was dreaming of the woman in the portrait. Her eyes gazed into his with love as they sang before a packed opera house. Their voices twined together in a perfect harmony, and hypnotized the audience like a drug. As Carlos finished his last note and exited the stage, a well dressed man standing in the wings seized his shoulders. Another man stepped forward as the first man held the Spaniard, and slapped him viciously across the face with a leather glove. The glove stung Carlos' face, and a tiny brass button on the cuff cut his cheek.

"I demand satisfaction Monsieur Marin! You have disgraced my sister and the Sauvage family name. Name your second!" The swarthy man who had struck him spat in a heavy French accent.
"Aurelia is her own woman." Carlos heard himself reply.
"You dare utter her name with your filthy mouth! Pig!" The man lunged for Carlos.





Chapter VI

"Carlos?" The car had stopped moving, and Carlos could hear birds singing. He opened his eyes to a canopy of trees above him.The air was heavy with humidity. Sweat beaded on his face, stinging his eyes, and his hair was plastered across his forehead. His mouth felt like a desert.

Carlos sat up, and a massive white mansion loomed before him. Smoothing his hair from his forehead he opened the car door and stood slowly, never taking his eyes from the building.
"Carlos? You awake, buddy?" David loomed over him, holding out his suitcase.
Carlos stretched and rolled his head to remove the kinks. He smiled at David and took his bag from the tall man. Urs closed the trunk and carried his own bag over to the other two men.

They looked like refugees from a Jimmy Buffett concert, their fans never would have recognized the four singing idols.
David was dressed in cutoffs and a faded t-shirt,and Urs in black shorts, tank top and ball cap. Sebastien sported a straw panama hat to top off his jeans and hawaiian shirt, and Carlos was dressed in khaki shorts and an Elvis t-shirt.


The group gazed at the enormous house before them.
"Amazing!" said Sebastien."Isn't this great? Just like 'Gone With the Wind'!"
The mansion stood raised above the ground on a tall brick foundation. Broad steps paraded up to a sweeping porch which encircled the house. Intricate iron columns and rails wound above the porch.

Three sets of wide french doors were evenly spaced along the front, the center door standing wide open in welcome. Twin balconies graced the wide windows of the second story. Geraniums and ferns spilled from clay planters scattered along the porch. Massive live oaks grouped near the house, spanish moss dripping from their branches.

The four men felt like they had stepped back in time. Rocking chairs lined the porch, providing a restful view of the river. A large white steamboat moved slowly north, muddy brown water churning in its wake. The air smelled of honeysuckle vining across the porch roof, and roses visible in the nearby gardens. No sounds of the 21st century intruded above the birdsong, and the tinkle of an unseen fountain.



Carlos felt a strange sense of dread viewing the house. The wide porch seemed to loom over him, the iron railings curving like arms to enfold him.The dark strands of spanish moss hanging from the surrounding trees reminded Carlos of the ghost's black tresses. He instinctively stepped back, right onto David's foot.

"Ow!" Carlos' boot crunched down on David's sandal clad toes.

David pushed Carlos off of his foot, shoving him into Sebastien. Seb sidestepped away from Carlos and tripped over Urs' feet. As Sebastien steadied himself, a hard push against his back forced the Frenchman against Urs. Grabbing at Urs to save himself from falling, Seb managed to pull the Swiss down with him. Both men fell into a heap on the damp ground. Seb was on his feet in an instant, temper flaring at Carlos.

"What's your problem Carlos?" Sebastien spat the words out. "Trying for a laugh?" Carlos stared at his bandmate in horror. He had clearly seen the imprint of a hand appear, then vanish on Sebastien's back as he fell into Urs.
Carlos offered a hand up to Urs, who still sat in the dirt, rubbing his shoulder.

"I never touched you, Seb. I swear." Carlos said.

"Pig! I felt your hand push me down!" Sebastien said, his face flushed with anger.

Urs and David exchanged shocked looks. Pig?
David stepped between Carlos and Sebastien, keeping the two men seperated in what was rapidly becoming a fist fight. He had experienced the two latin tempers clashing in the past.

"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" said a petite woman standing in the doorway.
Carlos felt himself blush with embarassment. They'd been caught fighting like children.
David, always the spokesman, stepped forward.

"Yes, ma'am. We're IL...Umm...electrical engineers. Yeah, here on a business trip."
The woman smiled and held the screen door open.

"Welcome to River Oaks, boys. Ya'll come right in and make yourselves to home." The dim, cool hallway beckoned the four men in out of the heat of the sun.

Sebastien glared at Carlos, his brown eyes still smouldering with anger.

"Stay away from me Marin...until you can act like an adult." His accent was thickened with rage.
Carlos drew himself up stiffly.

"Or until you believe me." He replied.

The coolness of the house felt wonderful to the four men after the muggy heat of the yard. A long hallway stretched to a rear door. creating a cool breeze throughout the first floor.
"Now, my name is Mrs.Sauvage, but please call me Marion." The woman smiled at them. "Ya'll are probably famished, so take your luggage up to any room on the second floor. I'll be in the kitchen finishing your lunch." She bustled towards the back of the house.

Carlos froze in his tracks. He turned towards the others with a panicked look on his face.
"Sauvage!? Like the ghost at the opera house?" David looked at Carlos, a frown crossing his handsome face.

"Carlos, cool it with the ghosts, will ya? This is really getting old." David said.
Carlos glanced at Urs, who shook his head slightly. Now was not the time to mention their ghostly encounter at the theater.

"Sorry guys, guess the jet lag has made me jumpy and nervous." Carlos said. "Of course there's no such things as ghosts." He forced a shaky laugh out.

The spirits haunting River Oaks plantation would make believers of them all.







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evlvt



Pig
Posts : 9
Join date : 2010-07-11
Age : 58
Location : Michigan, USA
Humor : Very dry...and a little dark.

PostSubject: Re: Regresa a Mi   Wed Jul 14, 2010 6:14 pm

Chapter VII

To the right of the men a long staircase reached into the upper level of the house. Climbing the creaky treads, they entered a wide hallway with four doors standing open. Sebastien stomped ahead of his bandmates and claimed the first room to the left, slamming the heavy door with a resounding bang. Carlos entered the first room on the right, but stopped when he noticed a portrait hanging above the fireplace. He stepped back out of the room. Enough portraits, he thought to himself.

The second room he peeked into had a peaceful landscape perched above the mantel, he sighed in relief and placed his suitcase on the bed. David took the room Carlos had abandoned, and Urs moved in next to Seb on the opposite side of the hallway.

David tossed his suitcase on the high, four poster bed and moved back into the hallway. Closing the door behind him, he stepped across to Urs' room and tapped on the door. Not waiting for a reply, he opened the door and slipped into the room.

Urs stepped from the bathroom, his long hair damp and slicked back, a towel draped around his neck.

"What's up, David? Why all the secrecy?" He studied the tall man's serious face. Sensing trouble, Urs sat on the bed and motioned David to a chair.
"Talk to me. What's wrong?"

David sat, then immediately began to fidget. Running a hand through his already touseled hair, he tapped one foot on the wooden floor restlessly.

"I'm worried about Carlos. He's acting so weird. All nervous, not like mellow Carlos at all. And Seb...saying Carlos pushed him. Calling his buddy a pig. Who calls anybody a pig anymore? Didn't sound like Seb at all." The words spilled from his mouth so rapidly Urs had trouble understanding him.

"What? Slow down, David. It's too damn hot to get so worked up." David wiped his flushed face with the back of a hand. Urs tossed him his towel and David dragged it across his face and the back of his neck. Rolling it into a ball, he pitched it back to Urs.

"Seb is acting like he normally does when his temper is up. Typically French, so dramatic." Urs said, smiling at his bandmate. "Carlos is just spooked by the ghost story from the opera house." He didn't think David was ready to hear about he and Carlos's experience after the show.

"It's more than that, Urs." David said. "Something is strange about Seb, but I can't put my finger on it. His face...He looks different somehow. I need to brainstorm." Besides a gorgeous voice, David posessed a brilliant analytical mind. He had been headed for the U.S. Air Force Academy before music had taken over his life.

Urs rose from the bed and draped the towel over the bathroom doorknob. Tamping down his own worries about the situation until he had talked with Seb and Carlos, he gave David a hand up from the overstuffed chair.

"You brainstorm, David. Tell me if you hit on anything. A little relaxation in this quiet place will fix everything, you'll see. I'll have a talk with Carlos, see what's got him so upset." As if I didn't know, the Swiss thought to himself.

"Okay, Urs. I'll leave you to it then. Let me know if I can help." David said, his face still creased with worry.
Urs slapped David on the back.

"You're a good guy, David." he said.

The door opened after a brisk knock to reveal Carlos, looking unusually glum.
"Want to eat?" He spoke as if it was the last thing in the world he desired.

"Man, I'm lovin' the food in this state!" David slapped his belly and grinned. "Let's eat!" That brought a smile to Carlos's face, and he began to play along with David's clowning.

"I'm always amazed you can sing, David. Your mouth is usually full of food." Carlos said.

David struck a dramatic pose, hand to his chest.
"It takes a lot of fuel to fire this manly body, I'll have you know." He replied in a deep voice.

"More like to fuel that big mouth of yours. The only time you're quiet is when you're eating." Urs said. "Let's go find our lunch."
David smiled, satisfied. His foolishness had lightened everyone's mood.

There was no answer to their knock at Sebastien's door, and they continued down the stairs. Urs was admiring the elaborate woodwork of the banister, running his hands lovingly along the floral carvings in the dark wood
Suddenly, the three were startled by a voice.

"All done by slaves." Sebastien said, stepping from the shadows at the foot of the stairway. Carlos took a step back away from the Frenchman.

"Slavery is a terrible thing." Urs said in a whisper.
.
"If you have them, why not use their skills? Shouldn't waste artists in the cane fields. What a waste of good money." Seb spoke as if everyone had a few slaves tucked away for personal use.
Sebastien smiled slowly, making him appear sinister in the dim light.

David walked away from the unsettling conversation, moving into the hallway. Urs following behind him. Behind them Sebastien laughed.



Carlos felt sick to his stomach. Sebastien was the kindest, most generous man he'd ever met. Yet here he was speaking of human beings as a commodity.
Stopping in front of Seb, Carlos looked closely at his friend's face. Something seemed strange about his features. Carlos couldn't think of what it was, but somehow Seb's face looked different.

"Stay away from me, Marin!" Brown eyes burning with anger met Carlos's own, and a hard shove accented Sebastien's words. Carlos regained his balance, pushing past his aggressor to rejoin Urs and David.

"This is crazy, has everyone lost their minds?" David was saying to Urs as Carlos joined them. Carlos could feel Sebastien close on his heels.
Urs murmured a reply into David's ear and led the way towards the kitchen. David turned and glared at both Carlos and Sebastien.

"Cool it guys," he said. "Try to act like gentlemen. Rumor has it French and Spanish men are refined."

Following the hall to the rear of the house, the four men passed through a formal dining room. A large swinging door let into a bright kitchen where a wide wooden table greeted them, set with blue willow dishes and baskets of fresh bread.
Tall pitchers of an amber liquid sat on the table, beaded with moisture. David's stomach growled loudly at the warm smell of home baked bread.

Their landlady turned from the open refrigerator and laughed.

"Hungry, boys? Sit right down and help yourselves. I'm just getting your salad." she said.
The four men sat, and Urs grabbed a pitcher to begin filling glasses.
David drained his glass in one long gulp, and immediately refilled it. The three Europeans, seeing his gusto, sipped at their beverages.

Urs was in heaven. The sweet drink slipped easily down his dry throat, and he felt cooler immediately. He also refilled his glass.
Marion approached the table and plunked down huge bowls of cold shrimp salad, and leafy greens. She smiled at her guests.

"Like the sweet tea? It'll cool ya'll down and relax you. This tour has you boys all worn out." She refilled the now empty pitchers with a gallon jug she removed from the fridge.

"Tour ma'am?" David said. "You must mean our tour of the petroleum plants."

Marian laughed at the innocent looks on their faces.

"You four make the least likely engineers I've ever met. I know who you are, Il Divo. My daughter listens to your music constantly. Unfortunately she's away at college, so no drooling fans for you here."

"We really just need a few days away from everything." David said.

"Your home is so lovely," said Carlos. "I could stay here forever." He spooned salad onto his plate, then passed the bowl to Urs.
Marian smiled at the four men fondly.

"You'll have plenty of peace and quiet here. No other guests, even our resident spirit is a quiet one." she said.


Chapter VIII


David paused in his construction of a huge shrimp salad sandwich. Carlos choked on a bite of his lunch, and Urs began pounding him on the back. Sebastien just smiled, and said nothing.

"Is this whole damn state haunted?" David said.

"Pretty much." Their hostess replied. "Life was short in the 1800's, disease and violence was a way of life here. Tragic events generate spirits." She refilled Carlos's glass as he recovered from his choking spell.
"Are you all right, Mr. Marin?" she asked. Carlos looked pale.

"I am well, thank you." said the Spaniard. "And I am fascinated by all the talk of spirits. Please continue." The glass in his hand shook slightly, the ice cubes tinkling.
Carlos placed the glass on the table with care. "I would like to hear the story of your ghost."

"Come on, Carlos!" said David. "There's no such things as ghosts." Urs finished his meal and carried his dishes to the sink. Their hostess was horrified.

"Mr. Buhler! You are not paying me good money to stack your dishes!" she looked ready to cry. Urs smiled over his shoulder and winked at her.

"Please, Marion." he said. "I can't tell you how nice it is to be in a home again, after months in hotels. Just to do normal things like rinsing dishes."
She blushed as the Buhler charm worked its magic on her.




"Well," said Marion, as she sliced a large pecan pie and placed generous slices in front of the men. "This house was built by my late husband's ancestor, Henri Sauvage, in 1835. He had two children, Armand and Aurelia. Aurelia was a very talented soprano who wanted to share her gift with the public, rather than a few family and friends. In the antebellum society of America, women of high society did not appear on the stage. Aurelia ran away and trained with the New Orleans Opera Company. Worse, she began an affair with a married man. Her brother Armand killed her lover in a duel, and she was found hanged shortly after."

"Wait," said Urs. "You said she was found hanged, but the story I heard said she committed suicide."

"I've always doubted the suicide story." said Marion. "I've read her diary, which was returned with her belongings to her family. She was a strong woman with a huge talent, and not a quitter. She wrote after her lover's death that she would survive despite all, because she was pregnant with his child."

"Is she here?" said Carlos. Marion wiped her eyes with a delicate embroidered hankerchief.

"Excuse me for crying, Aurelia was just so happy to be carrying her lover's child." she said with a sniff. "I know she didn't kill herself. She had plans for herself and the baby.
In answer to your question, Mr. Marin, Aurelia haunts the opera house dressing room where she died."

"Bah," said Sebastien. "Stories for children!" He shoved his chair back from the table and walked from the room.

David leaned forward across the table, fascinated by the story in spite of himself. He loved a mystery. Marion placed a second piece of pie before him, and started clearing the table.

"The brother, Armand, why does he haunt River Oaks?" David asked, between bites of pie.

"After the death of his sister, he returned home with her body. He refused to allow her the rites of the Catholic Church, and had her buried outside of the family vault as a suicide. Armand never allowed her name to be spoken in his presence again. At the age of 60 he became insane, screaming his sister's name. He told his family Aurelia was trying to kill him, and he was found dead in the garden shortly after. Armand has been seen there over the past 140 years, appearing to people and asking if they have seen his sister."

"This story would make a good opera." said David.

Carlos shivered as a chill raced up his spine.

"I will be avoiding the garden." he said. "I have no desire to see another ghost."

"'Another?'" repeated David. Carlos looked chagrined, and glanced at Urs.
Urs cleared his throat.

"Well, David..." he said slowly. "Carlos and I had a ummm...ghostly...experience, I guess you could call it. In Carlos's dressing room, after the concert. The portrait of Aurelia flew off of the wall and tried to hit us."

David's eyes grew wide as he listened to Urs. Urs, the most sensible guy in the world, David thought to himself. He became even more amazed when Carlos began to speak.

"I saw Aurelia, before the show. In the hallway. It was not the mouses." The Spaniard said in a shaky voice.

"Mice," said David in an distracted manner. His mind was racing. He wouldn't have believed anyone else who told him what Urs and Carlos had just confessed.

Marion sat down heavily next to Urs and poured herself some iced tea.

"You saw Aurelia?" she said. "Was she as beautiful as her portrait?" Carlos thought back to the ghastly vision in the Opera House, and swallowed before speaking.

"Ahhh...no, she did not look good at all, I am very sorry to say. Very scary I was." he said.

"Scared," said David. "She was scary, you were scared."

"I was f*****g terrified." said Carlos, turning to Marian. "Please excuse me, we speak very plainly in my country. I do not mean to offend, dear lady." Marian smiled at Carlos.

"My husband was an oil rigger for thirty years, Honey. There's not much these ears haven't heard before." she said with a laugh.

"But why does she haunt the opera house?" said David. "Why did she appear only to Carlos, and not to the whole group?" Carlos suddenly sat up straight in his chair and snapped his fingers.

"She spoke!" he said. "She called me 'her love'. And wept, she wept...so pitiful she was."

"Who was the lover?" said Urs. "Did she record his name in her diary?" Marion shook her head.

"No, she just called him her 'Darling'." she said, staring at Carlos. "He was a singer. She wrote often of them performing together in one opera or another."

"Could she think Carlos looks like her lover?" said David. "Why else call him her love?" Carlos looked away from their hostess. Her intense study of his face made him uneasy. Marion rose to her feet and moved to the kitchen door leading to the dining room.

"There's a tintype of the man I believe to be Aurelia's lover and the father of her child. It's with her diary, and was hidden away by Armand's wife. Follow me."


Chapter IX

Sebastien staggered into the garden, cradling his pounding head in both hands. The pain in his head had begun as he had walked from the kitchen out into the yard.
Leaning heavily against the garden gate he glanced around, unsure of his location. The last thing Sebastien remembered clearly was stumbling into Urs shortly after their arrival at River Oaks.

Dropping down to sit against the trunk of a large magnolia tree, Sebastien tried to think through the pain in his head. A few flashes of memory sifted through the fog of pain. A bedroom, eating lunch in a kitchen...The mental activity triggered a surge of pain in his head, and he leaned over and vomited into the dirt. His headache eased slightly and he leaned back against the tree. Sweat poured down his face and his shirt was soaked and sticking to his skin.

Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he kept his eyes closed. A cool breeze suddenly wafted over his damp shirt. He could smell wet earth, and the thick scent of roses.

Opening his eyes slightly, Sebastien tried to organize his thoughts. His headache was gone, and the nausea had disappeared as quickly as it had begun. As he opened his eyes fully and looked at the myriad of rose bushes surrounding him, a figure moved at the edge of his vision. Turning his head slowly he beheld the short figure of a man dressed in a black frock coat and tight trousers of the antebellum period.

The stranger moved in an instant to stand over Sebastien. He seemed to flow across the grass rather than walk. His swarthy face stopped inches from Sebastien's.
The man stared at him, dark brown eyes glaring into Sebastien's own green ones. With an angry snarl twisting his lips, the man began to speak.

"Weakling! Pig! Men were men in my day." He spoke French with a slurred accent, his words hissing at Sebastien like a snake. "I should have chosen a stronger body! Singers...you're all alike...not real men at all."

Sebastien looked up at the man, feeling trapped. The man stood so close to him he could see his own reflection in the angry brown eyes. Unable to retreat with his back firmly wedged against the tree, his mind raced like a panicked rabbit. Suddenly his natural courage took over, and he pulled himself to his feet. Swaying slightly with his back still braced against the tree, he reached out to push the man away. Both hands passed through his agressor's body without resistence, and the angry figure vanished. Sebastien slumped to the ground again, gaping at his cold, numb hands.



Chapter X

Marion led the way back down the hall to a large set of sliding doors opposite the staircase. She opened one side of the doors and David and Urs followed her into a dim, cool room. Carlos lingered in the hallway outside the library, reluctant to join the others. What David and Urs viewed as an adventure, something different, Carlos viewed as a nightmare. He hadn't even accepted the fact that he'd seen a ghost in the Opera House, before he had been attacked by a haunted painting,and seen a ghostly hand push Seb down. Now this woman, kind and normal as she seemed, was babbling on about ghosts. What did any of this ghost story have to do with him?

The library brightened as Marion drew back the heavy velvet drapes covering the french doors. Late afternoon sun slanted through the antique glass panes and the wood floor took on a rich, amber glow. The large room was filled floor to ceiling with bookcases. A massive carved desk occupied one corner of the room. The dry smell of old paper mingled with the scent of leather bindings.

David moved to the nearest bookcase and began running his fingertips gently along a row of books. Stopping, he removed a small volume and opened the cover. A smile crossed his face as he read aloud.

" Charles Dickens, 1838. It's a first edition of 'Oliver Twist'. Amazing!" He glanced at Urs, who was also scanning the titles. "What happened to Carlos?" Urs stepped back to the doorway just as Carlos entered the room and looked around nervously.

Their hostess moved around the room switching on several lamps, chasing shadows from the room. The improved lighting illuminated a large portrait above the fireplace. The squat figure of a man sat astride a large white stallion, with the River Oaks manor visible in the background.

Carlos stared at the painted figure as his heart began to surge in his chest. It was the man from his dream! He had been younger in Carlos's dream, but the sneer twisting the man's thin lips was the same, as were the dark brown eyes. This was too much coincidence for comfort. Carlos began sweating in the cool room. He wanted out of this room, this house, and this damned spooky state. The sudden surge of homesickness surprised him. Carlos Marin wanted to go home.

"Who is that?" Carlos spoke through a dry throat. Marion looked over her shoulder at him from where she was unlocking a glass case.

"The portrait? It's Aurelia's brother, Armand." she said. David moved to stand before the painting.

"Aurelia got the looks in the family, seems like." He said. Carlos cringed. After the flying portrait of Aurelia, he didn't trust any painting to stay anchored to the wall. Urs looked nervous too, as if he shared the thought.

Marion withdrew a small book and a photograph from the cabinet she had unlocked. She walked over to the men and held out the items.

"Aurelia's diary, and the tintype of the man I believe to be her lover." She said.

The three men walked over to the french doors to view the photo in the daylight. David held the small square in his large hand, peering down at it. A long, amazed whistle came from between his pursed lips. He passed the tintype over to Urs without a word. Urs studied the features in the picture for several seconds, then cursed under his breath in German. Carlos took the photo from his friend and looked down at the image.

A lean visage with a high, aristocratic nose stared back at him. Expressive brows arched above dark eyes.Thick black curls draped the man's forehead. Carlos could have been looking into a mirror. Only the vintage clothing the man wore, the high collared coat and elaborate silk cravat, dated the picture.

Carlos began to curse softly in Spanish, after a few seconds moving on to Italian, Dutch, French, German and English. He proceeded through all of the obscenities in all of the languages he knew, his voice gradually increasing in volume. The tiny crystal prisms adorning a nearby lamp began to tremble and chime.

"Anybody you know, Carlos?" David teased, looking over the Spaniard's shoulder. Urs frowned at David.

"This isn't funny, David." He said. "All of this is just too weird."

"I noticed the resemblance as soon as we met. Is this man an ancestor of yours?" Marion asked in a quiet voice.

Carlos stared at the tintype he held with a trembling hand. He slowly reached into the pocket of his shorts and retrieved an antique pocket watch. Urs and David had seen it hundreds of times over the past few years. Carlos was never without it, and had told his bandmates the timepiece was a family heirloom. The Spaniard gently opened the back cover of the watch to expose the photograph of a man fitted inside. It was identical to the tintype Carlos held in his other hand.

"My great-grandfather, Vincente Marin. The first of the Marin baritones, of whom I am the third to continue his legacy. My father gave me this watch which originally belonged to Vicente the opening night of my first opera performance." Carlos said, pride evident in his voice.

"So what's grandpa doing in Louisiana when he's supposed to be in Spain?" David asked. Carlos walked to a sofa near the fireplace and slumped against the soft cushions.
He stared down at the two photographs he held.

"Damned if I know, David. Damned if I know..." Carlos said. His friends sat down in adjoining chairs.

Their hostess approached carrying a decanter of brandy and four snifters. Placing the tray on a low table near the men, she motioned to David to pour. Carlos grabbed his glass from the American and downed his portion, savoring the burn in his chest and the calming effect of the potent liquor. He didn't know how many more shocks his nerves could tolerate. And now family was involved in this ghost business. S**t! He couldn't leave now.


Chapter XI

Silence blanketed the library. The ticking of the mantel clock seemed to echo in the stillness of the room. David stood by the fireplace, warming his brandy snifter in one hand. Urs sprawled back in his chair and idly dangled his glass between two fingers. Carlos finished refilling his snifter and placed the stopper back on the decanter. The first glass of fiery liquor had warmed his body, now he sought to warm his mind with the second.

"Are you leaving?" Marion asked, and her voice shook. "I'm so sorry for your troubles, Mr. Marin. And you too, boys." she said, turning to include Urs and David in her statement. Carlos smiled at their hostess to reassure her.

"These 'troubles' as you call them Marion, began at the Opera House, not here." Carlos replied. " My great-grandfather is somehow involved in this story, and I need to find out how and why."

"Does that mean the four of you will stay?" Marion said. "Business has been so slow since Katrina that..." She stopped suddenly and flushed with embarassment. David moved over and put his arm around her shoulders.

"Sure Marion, don't worry about that." he said. "This whole deal is getting too interesting to leave now. It's like one of those ghost chaser shows on TV." The tall blond grinned. "Just so long as nobody gets posessed." he started to laugh, then stopped and pulled out his cell phone. He scanned through the photos he had taken on tour thus far. Urs strained to look over David's shoulder at the photos his friend was scrolling through.

Stopping on a close-up of Seb's face, David and Urs both peered closely at the image. David with curiosity, Urs with a look of confusion on his face.

"That's it!" said David finally, with a satisfied look on his face. He turned to Urs so abruptly the Swiss nearly lost his footing as his friend bumped into him.

"What is what?'" Urs replied, starting to laugh. David wasn't laughing, and the humor faded from Urs's face. Carlos rose to stand on the other side of David.

"What color are Seb's eyes?" David asked. Urs and Carlos exchanged looks before Urs answered his friend.

"I don't make a habit of gazing into Seb's eyes, David, but they're kind of greeny hazely." He looked at Carlos for help. Carlos shrugged his shoulders.

"Green" Came Marian's soft voice from behind the men. She blushed as the three turned as one to stare at her. "Sebastien's eyes are green. I gave my daughter your book for Christmas. I read it first."

Carlos laughed with delight.

"Marian, are you a secret fan?" He said to her.

"I didn't want to scare you boys off by admitting it." She replied. "I supposed ya'll were tired of fans, and needed a break."

"Excuse me, Il Divo fan club members...can we get back to Seb's eyes, please?" David said, exasperated. "Okay, pay attention now. I've finally figured out what was strange about Seb's face before. Remember, Urs? Well, when I broke up the argument between Seb and Carlos out front, Seb's eyes weren't green...they were brown."

"They were dark and full of rage." Carlos added. "I too, David, noticed something odd about Sebastien's face. I could not put it into words, but you have discovered what was different about Seb." They fell silent, wondering what the change of eye color could mean. Urs broke the silence by speaking first.

"Sebastien also spoke in a strange manner." The Swiss said. "He spoke with his voice, I mean...it sounded like Seb, but the words were off somehow."
David poured himself another brandy and straightened up from the table. He began pacing, his long legs carrying him from one side of the room to the other in just a few strides. Carlos watched David pace and think. A sudden thought struck the Spaniard.

"He spoke like an old man." Carlos said suddenly. David stopped pacing and stared at Carlos.

"No..." Said Urs. "He spoke not like an old man, but like a man from another century." David pointed a finger at Urs.

"Exactly!" David said. "He used old fashioned terms like 'pig' and 'bah'. When was the last time you heard anyone use those words?"

"What words?" said a raspy voice from the doorway. It was Sebastien, looking rumpled and pale, clinging to the doorjamb to support his wobbly legs.


Chapter XII

David and Urs immediately rushed to Sebastien's aid. Supporting him under the arms, they hustled him over to the sofa before he could collapse. Sebastien's shorts and legs were covered with dirt and twigs. His shirt was soaked through with sweat. Despite Carlos's initial urge to help his friend, the Spaniard kept away from the trio at the couch. He would keep a safe distance until he knew what kind of reception he would get from Seb.

Sebastien lay back against the horsehair cushions of the antique sofa. He was sweating profusely, yet began to shiver suddenly. Marion moved to his side from where she had been standing with Carlos. Suddenly she was all business.

Bending over Sebastien she picked up his wrist and began counting his pulse, at the same time gently easing open one of his eyelids to study his pupil. She began asking him questions in a soft voice.

"Sebastien, can you hear me?" Seb looked up into Marion's face. He narrowed his eyes as if having trouble focusing them. David and Urs exchanged a relieved glance after noting Seb's eye color. Green. The two men stood together to give Marian more space with Sebastien. Walking over to Carlos, they put their heads together and spoke in agitated whispers.

"His eyes are normal again, did you see?" David said. Carlos looked at Sebastien from across the room, shaking his head.

"I don't know, guys. He was so agressive before, I just can't trust him for awhile. I feel terrible to be saying this about Seb. Mi amigo mejor, mi compadre." Tears welled in Carlos's expressive brown eyes. He didn't give his friendship easily, his life in show business had taught him that much. The other three members of Il Divo were like the brothers he'd never had.

Urs studied Carlos. Lines of strain were etched between the Spaniard's brows and beside his eyes. Two tears began to trickle down Carlos's cheeks, and he brushed them away angrily.

"Why don't you give your mom a call, Carlos? Get your family's side of the ghost story." Urs knew how to calm Carlos when the stress levels became too much for him. A conversation with his mother would ground Carlos, she would calm his fears. Urs glanced at his watch. "It's 9:00 P.M. in Spain."

Relief flowed across Carlos's face. He felt ashamed at how happy he was to leave the room, and said so to Urs and David. David smiled at Carlos, hiding his own anxiety about Seb.

"Not to worry, Buddy. We'll keep an eye on Seb. We need more background info on Grandpa, and what the family knows about his death." David was all about research in his opera studies, keeping a huge mental catalog of back stories and past singers' biographies.

"Si, a good time it is to call. It is noche de cerveza para mi padre y amigos. My mother will be alone at home." Carlos was too exhausted mentally to speak English any longer. It would be wonderful to speak his native tongue with his mother again.

Carlos walked over to the door of the library, stopping once to glance back at his friends and Marion. They clustered around the sofa where Sebastien lay, pale and quiet.
David glanced over to Carlos and gave him a thumbs up. Carlos walked slowly into the hall and moved towards the wide screened doors at the rear of the house. Passing onto a cool flagstone patio he looked across the wide back lawn for a place to relax while placing his call to Spain.

A small natural spring fed a quiet pond at the rear of the yard. Graceful willows surrounded a glade near the water, and a wooden gazebo completed the bucolic scene. Carlos smiled to himself and walked down the grassy incline to the pond. He circled the pond once, admiring the wildflowers and the swan couple in residence. Stopping with his face turned to the afternoon sun, he took huge, deep lungfuls of the richly scented air. He had felt so stifled in the oppressive air of the library that the fresh air rejuvinated him.

Entering the gazebo, Carlos was pleased to find a hammock suspended between two of the beams. Lying back happily with his head cradled in a down pillow, he dialed his parent's summer home in Spain.

Marion studied the reading on the digital thermometer she had just removed from Sebastien's mouth. The high reading caused her to arch her eyebrows in concern. She bent closer to where Sebastien lay on the couch.

"Your fever is 103 degrees." She said in a worried voice. "Do you hurt or feel sick anywhere?" Sebastien tried to smile and be polite when he wanted to whine for his mother.

"Just my head, thank you." He grimaced as nausea twisted in his belly again. "And my stomach."

"You're very kind, Marion." Urs said. "We can't thank you enough for taking such good care of Seb." Marion shrugged off his thanks.

"Nonsense, it's what any good hostess would do." She replied. "You probably won't be happy with what I have to say next, though." David ran a nervous hand through his hair and looked anxiously at Sebastien. Urs spoke up first.

"Do you think he needs a doctor?" Urs sounded completely calm. Marion nodded her head in agreement.

"I was a nurse for 25 years before we opened the house as a bed and breakfast. I don't like the symptoms your friend here has. The memory loss and blurred vision, vomiting and now this high fever. I'm concerned about dehydration. The fever could indicate an infection of some type. All of you boys are worn out, and your resistance to viruses and bacteria is probably low."

"Cool, Seb! Hot nurses in tight uniforms!" David tried to put a light spin on the serious matter as he and Urs gently pulled Sebastien to a sitting position. Marion stood and untied the apron she had been wearing over her dress.

"Let me grab my handbag and keys, there's a hospital about five miles further along towards town. David, would you run out and find Carlos? Urs and I will get Sebastien to the car."


Chapter XIII

A cool breeze wafting over the river swirled through the gazebo, and rang music from windchimes dangling overhead. Carlos could feel his body beginning to relax as he listened to his parent's phone ringing far away in Spain. His parents spent the summer months in a small casa tucked into the Spanish countryside near his father's hometown. The connection clicked open, and a woman's deep voice answered.

"Si?" Carlos could hear Il Divo playing in the background. He smiled. His mother was his biggest fan.

"Hola, Mama."

"Carlos! Why so long in calling? It's been at least a week since we've heard from you!" Carlos laughed out loud.

"It has been exactly two days, Mama. I called you when we arrived in New Orleans. We're on a break for the weekend at an old plantation." His mother began firing the requisite mom questions at him in rapid-fire Spanish.

"Eating well? Taking vitamins? Getting enough sleep? Nap during the day? Keeping your throat wrapped?" She finally stopped to take a breath and Carlos could slide in a reply.

"Si...si...si.... always, and it's ninety degrees here right now. No scarf needed for the throat." He felt like he was four instead of forty. His bandmates mothers were the same, though. Questions about health, sleep, and food filled their conversations with their sons. Carlos's mind began to wander to his present predicament as his mother rattled on.

Early evening shadows began to lengthen around him as the sun slowly dropped behind the surrounding trees. He sat up suddenly in the hammock, nearly dumping himself out onto the floor. Something rustled in the bushes nestling the base of the gazebo.

"Mama, I need to ask you something about the family. Papa's side, the Marins." Carlos interrupted his mother's monologue. "It's about great grandpapa Vicente."

"I have always believed you inherited that voice of yours from him." His mother replied in a proud voice. His personal life was tragic though, his wife despised him. They had been matched by their parents while still in their cradles, and divorce is forbidden in the Catholic Church. Vincente tried to gain her love, but after his death she refused to ever remarry, she hated him so." Carlos thought carefully about how to phrase his next statement.

"Papa always told me Vicente died in a tragic accident." He said carefully. His mother laughed.

"Your Papa always is concerned about the family honor, which is good. However, in this day and age he should start telling the true story of his grandfather's death. The family history does not need to be any more muddled than it already is." Carlos began to have a feeling of deja vu.

"I will tell you the true story, Carlos." Carlos stopped her before she could say any more.

"No Mama, let me tell you the story. Vicente was killed in a duel in Louisiana. New Orleans, in fact. His lover's brother shot him in an 'affair d'honeur' as it was called back then." His mother was silent for a moment, then sighed heavily.

"How do you know these things, Carlos? Those are the cold facts my son, however, there is much more to the story. Vicente truly loved his 'songbird', as he called his lover in his diary." She said.

"Another diary?" The words slipped from Carlos's mouth before he could stop them.

"'Another'? What are you talking about, my son? Where are you again? On a farm?"

"A plantation, Mama." Carlos laughed. "Great-grandfather's love, Aurelia, was born here. Some of her belongings are displayed. A diary in which she recorded her love affair, and a picture of Vicente." His mother gasped, and Carlos continued. "The photo matches the one in my pocket watch."

" Find out all you can about her. Is there a picture of her I might see?" His mother sounded excited. Carlos felt depressed. If only she knew the truth of his situation.

He wished he could speak to her of his ghostly encounters over the past two days. She would never believe his talk of spirits. As a staunch Roman Catholic, the only ghost his mother believed existed was the Holy Ghost.

Another rustling sound from the bushes startled Carlos. He jumped to his feet, ready for whatever came at him out of the deep shadows beneath the surrounding trees. His phone slipped from his hand.

"Carlito! Are you still there?" Mrs. Marin's voice echoed up from the floor, where his cell lay next to his foot. Picking it up, he reassured his mother.

"Si, Mama. But I need to go now." Carlos needed to focus on whatever was stalking him outside the gazebo. He said his goodbyes and flipped his phone closed. There would be no more surprising Carlos Marin again.

A scraping sound came from directly beneath the wooden floor of the gazebo. Carlos vaulted the low railing of the structure, ready to make a run for the house. Dusk was falling quickly now, and he could see lights on in the mansion and hear voices from the back yard. Insects were humming in the deeper reaches of the garden.

A warm, furry body wound itself around his lower legs,and he stumbled away from it in a panic. Running a few steps, he turned to confront his attacker. A large white cat sat calmly a few feet away, licking one paw. It stopped its bath and stared scornfully at Carlos.

"Kitty, you will be the death of me!" He wiped his brow, brushing his hair back with one hand. Turning again towards the mansion, he saw a white mist beneath the nearest willow tree. The cloud rapidly coalesced into a piller of soft white light. A human figure began forming before his eyes, but strangely, he felt no fear at all. He thought he could make out a man's face in the glow, and actually took a few steps towards the apparition.

"Carlos!" David's voice rang through the garden. "Where are you?" The shadows beneath the willow were empty when Carlos looked back.


Chapter XIV

It was a tense ride to the hospital. Sebastien was slipping in and out of conciousness, slumped between David and Urs in the back seat.

"Keep talking to him, boys. Don't let him go to sleep. We're almost there." Marion tried to keep her calm nurse's voice in place, and not give in to the fear she felt for the sweet Frenchman. Urs bent closer to Sebastien's ear and began to speak urgently in French.

"Seb! Wake up, bro. It's time to wake up now. Open your eyes!" Propped between his two friends, the sick man slowly raised his eyelids at the sound of his native language. Carlos watched with growing concern from the front seat. Panic crossed Urs's face after Sebastien had replied with a few, mumbled words.

"He doesn't know me!" Urs said in a rising voice.

"Here we are!" Said Marion in a cheery voice. "The doctors here are wonderful. You'd have to go to Tulane for better." An orderly met the car with a wheelchair and Seb was quickly whisked away. David parked the car while Marion and the others clustered in the waiting room. A few minutes after David had joined them, a nurse approached and asked for Sebastien's brother. All three men raised their hands.

The nurse studied their marked physical differences. Her eyes moved from David's blond hair and blue eyes to Carlos's dark, smouldering good looks. Exotic, almond shaped eyes met hers as Urs stepped forward.

"I'm the brother who speaks the best French, Madame." The Swiss said.

The woman looked at the men with skepticism.

"Funny..." She said. "Ya'll don't look related." Now David and Carlos joined the conversation.

"We had different mothers." David began.

"And fathers." Said Carlos, trying to help. An icy female voice cut through their voices.

"Sara Lee Morrison! I can't believe my ears. You stand here wasting time while the doctor requires an interpretor to help in the treatment of a critical patient! I believe I trained you better than this." Miss Sara Lee Morrison paled and her eyes widened in fear.

"Miss Marion! Yes, ma'am. Come with me, please, sir." Sara Lee took Urs's arm, practically dragging through the swing doors leading into the trauma unit. Marion sniffed in an irritated manner.

"She always was a mouthy little thing. Even as a student nurse. David honey, run get us some coffee, would you please? All we can do now is wait." Marion sat down and pulling a bundle of yarn from her bag, calmly began to crochet.

The waiting area was empty except for Carlos and Marion. Carlos grabbed the remote for the television mounted on the wall and began channel surfing. There were only three channels. He settled on an agricultural program about sugar cane cultivation, it was that or infomercials on the other two stations. Ten minutes into the program Carlos's head had dropped onto his chest and he was snoring softly.

David sprinted around the corner juggling three coffees and a Diet Coke on a drink tray. He was out of breath and had a panicked look on his face.

"Divas..." He gasped out, skidding to a stop before Marion and Carlos. "In the cafeteria...I was spotted...when I spoke to the woman at the counter. We need to split, Carlos." Carlos had awakened with a jerk at the word 'divas'. Anger boiled inside him, and he stood just as four women rounded the corner. Spotting the two men, they dashed across the room towards them.

Carlos held both hands out towards the women in a stopping gesture. This was quite enough today, the Spaniard thought to himself, and with Seb so sick. How dare they!

"Stop!" He roared at the top of his lungs. The nearby security guard in his booth dropped the coffee cup he had just raised to his lips. The elderly man spun around in his desk chair, mouth hanging open in shock. The four fans stopped in their tracks, astonished expressions crossing their faces.

"My friend and I are here with his aunt for a family illness, ladies." Carlos said. There was no mistaking the anger he was barely containing in his voice.
He spoke in a low voice, which still penetrated to the farthest corners of the admissions area. "We ask for a little respect in this difficult time. It is not too much to ask?" There wasn't a hint of a smile on his usually jovial face. His lips were set in a grim line and his eyes squinted in anger.

Silence fell over the room. Carlos pointed a finger towards the security guard still hiding in his glass enclosed booth.

"You!" He said. "Do your damned job!" The guard trotted over and herded the women out of the room, the women glancing back over their shoulders like startled deer. Carlos sat down again and took his Diet Coke from the tray David still held. David began to laugh and shake his head at Carlos. Marion patted Carlos's shoulder in a soothing manner.

"Dude..." said David when he had finished laughing. "You sure you need any more caffeine?"


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evlvt



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Posts : 9
Join date : 2010-07-11
Age : 58
Location : Michigan, USA
Humor : Very dry...and a little dark.

PostSubject: Regresa a Mi   Thu Jul 15, 2010 5:34 pm

Chapter XV

David crumpled his paper coffee cup and sailed it towards the trash can on the far side of the room. It had been nearly two hours since they had arrived at the hospital, and there was still no word of Sebastien's condition. Neither had Urs returned from his interpreter duties with his friend. Carlos stood by the large window of the waiting room, gazing out at the night. He hadn't said a word since his outburst earlier.

Marion walked back from a quiet conversation with the nurse occupying the triage desk. Her usually smiling face was troubled. She motioned Carlos over as she sat down next to David. Carlos's anxiety soared again, and he felt the prickling of tears in his eyes. This crisis brought to the surface his true feelings for his bandmates, his deep love for them. The brothers he had never had, thrust upon him suddenly and completely. He had shielded himself from them at first, using his cool public demeanor to protect himself from their friendly overtures. They had understood his fears of friendship, and chiselled through the walls he had built around himself. These men were now his family.

Carlos sat heavily next to Marion, who put an arm around each man before she began to speak.

"The doctor and Urs will be out in a moment. They'll be doing more diagnostics on Sebastien. His fever is up to 104 F, and they're packing him in ice blankets. Here's the doctor, now." David and Carlos looked over to where a tall, red haired woman had accompanied Urs through the doors leading from the trauma unit. Lucious, generous curves filled out her surgical scrubs and drew admiring looks from both Carlos and David. Marion rose and stepped forward to give a warm hug to the striking woman.

"Beatrice! I'm so glad you're on duty tonight! I told the boys their friend...er...brother, I meant to say, couldn't be in better hands." Marion said with a smile. David was grinning like a fool, and Carlos's eyes had glazed over at the approach of the tall, voluptuous beauty. David thought to himself that he would gladly step in front of a bus to have this angel lay her hands on him. Both men snapped back to the present when the doctor began to speak. Urs stood silently by her side.

"Marion, honey! What are you doing here? Are these gentlemen your guests?" The doctor was openly admiring David, and never once glanced at Carlos. The handsome baritone was unused to being ignored, and spoke up before Marion could reply.

"Excuse please, senorita. How is our brother? We are very worried." The doctor turned to Carlos and shook his hand. It was obvious that the lady was having difficulty tearing her attention from David.

"My name is Dr. LaBarge, and I am the chief of emergency medicine here. Let's sit down so we can be more comfortable, shall we?" David hastened to pull a chair out for the doctor at a nearby table, and Carlos did the same for Marion. Urs sat down between the two women, earning himself a glare from David who lost the seat on the doctor's other side to Carlos. After Marion introduced the two men, Dr. LaBarge opened the file she carried with her, and began to discuss Sebastien's condition.

"I'm sure you're aware of the serious condition Mr. Izambard is in. He's a very sick man. A CT scan has shown that he has sustained a severe concussion of the brain, with associated bruising of the tissue. His fever is still rising, and he has been placed in cooling blankets to try and bring it down." The doctor spoke quietly in a soft, soothing tone.

"Since a fever is not a common effect of a concussion, we are running tests at the moment for various bacterial infections, as well as viruses. Considering the large amount of overseas travelling you gentlemen have been engaged in, I suspect a bacterial infection is also affecting your...brother. Probably from bad water or unsanitary food." She looked from one worried face to another, and smiled in reassurance. "Mr. Izambard is receiving excellent care, and is more comfortable now that he's had some pain medication."

"Can we see him?" Carlos spoke up first. Dr. LaBarge smiled at the handsome Spaniard to gain herself a minute to compose her thoughts. She was having trouble concentrating with these gorgeous men arranged around her. Where had Marion met them?

"He's asleep at the moment, Mr...?" Carlos turned on his brilliant smile.

"Carlos, please, darling." Carlos replied. Dr. LaBarge's large green eyes turned suddenly frosty. She stood abruptly and picked up Sebastien's file from the table.

"As I said." She replied in a cool voice. "Mr. Izambard is resting comfortably now. The nurses will be prepping him for a few more tests soon." The gorgeous redhead shook hands with Urs and David, and gave Marion a warm hug. Turning to Carlos she gave his extended hand a brisk shake, then pulled it from his grasp.

"Oh, and Mr...Carlos....It's Dr. Darling to you." A nurse beckoned from the doors of the trauma unit, and Dr. LaBarge rushed off. Gaining the safety of the unit, Bea wiped her brow in an exaggerated gesture. Sara Lee, sitting at the nurses desk, laughed out loud.

"Aren't they something? I've never seen such handsome men! And Urs, the interpretor...what a dreamboat he is..." She said in a happy voice. "How did you like the tall blond?" Bea smiled back at her friend. Sara had some totally blond moments, like now, but was a faithful friend and a dedicated nurse.

"The tall blond had the sense to keep his mouth shut and not try to deal me. That's more than I could say for the Spanish guy. Jeez! I'm drowning in testosterone!" Bea walked towards Sebastien's bedside. "Let's get back to work."

Back in the waiting room, David punched Carlos in the shoulder and spoke in disgust.

"Way to go, Carlos! Why are you always thinking with your d**k? Hitting on the doctor. You've pissed her off now!" David glared at Carlos. "I wanted to see Seb!"

"Really, guys. Seb is asleep like the doctor said." Urs said. "He's okay right now." David spun on his heels and stomped towards the door leading to the parking lot.

"Boys, it's nearly nine o' clock. There's a place nearby where we can grab a bite to eat. How does that sound? We can all relax and recharge." Marion put special emphasis on the word 'relax'. Urs agreed immediately, and he, Carlos and Marion practically ran to catch up with David. He had the keys to the car.


Chapter XVI

A large farmhouse sat along the main street out of town. The neon sign blinking in the window advertised COMFORT FOOD in large block letters. David had said nothing on the way to the restaurant, following Marion's driving directions. Parking beneath a large live oak in the parking lot, the three men followed Marion up the brick steps and onto a broad, airy porch. Several tables occupied the outside dining area, and diners could be seen through the large windows enjoying a late supper.

Marion spoke a few words to the hostess at the door, and they were ushered through a side door off of the porch and into a former parlor. A table set for six occupied the center of the room, and a couch and several easy chairs gave the room a homey feel. Mismatched china and silver were arranged carefully on a crisp vintage linen tablecloth.

David tapped Carlos on the shoulder and they stepped to a corner of the room, away from the others. David was flushed, and looked unhappily at Carlos before speaking.

"I'm sorry, man...I can't fault you...Didn't mean to go off on you like that. I'm freaked out about Seb, know you are, too." For once, David seemed at a loss for words. Carlos smiled at his bandmate.

"Don't worry, David. I had my temper fit, you had yours. Do you think Urs will be next?" Carlos laughed to try and lighten the mood. "The beautiful doctor made my head spin. I noticed that you felt it too, David." David's eyes took on a faraway look. He sighed happily and murmured almost to himself as he and Carlos rejoined Marion and Urs.

"That face...hair...eyes...and did you notice how tall she is? I could look her in the eye. She's like a warrior princess or something. Sure hope her medicine is as good as her looks are." A waiter entered the room and passed out menus and ice water. An enticing smell drifted into the room.

"Is that chicken I smell?" David sniffed the air with appreciation. The elderly black waiter smiled at the tall, handsome blond.

"Best fried chicken in America, I say." The man replied with a smile. "Special of the day. All you can eat." David stretched back in his chair, still studying the menu.
Urs closed his menu and spoke up.

"David can eat a lot." He said. "So can I, and chicken and mashed potatoes sounds fantastic to me. Ultimate comfort food. I'll have the fried chicken, please."
The waiter scribbled on his pad, then seemed to read Urs's mind.

"Sweet tea to drink?" The Swiss tenor smiled in appreciation. He was quickly becoming addicted to the icy beverage. The waiter turned his smile upon Marion.

"Marion, what would you like?" Marion returned his broad smile.

"Chicken please, Ted. And some hot tea, please." The waiter turned to Carlos.

"Sir?" The waiter's smile faded suddenly, and he clutched the back of Carlos's chair. Carlos turned to look at the man, concern on his face. The waiter spoke in a quiet voice. "I feel spirits around you, sir. One good, one bad. Blood will protect you, sir. The blood watches over its own."

Silence engulfed the room. David and Urs stared at Carlos. A large woman wrapped in a huge apron trundled into the room laden with a heavy tray of salads. She glared at their waiter.

"Ted! I told you no talk of spirits to the customers! I'm sorry folks...when the sight grabs him, he's just gone. Oh hi, Marion...these boys guests of yours?" She stopped for breath and Marion jumped up for a hug.

"Mercy, you're a saint to take us in so late. The boys here and another man are engineers on an inspection tour. Their associate was taken ill and Bea has him at the hospital." Marion said. The guys smiled at her "cover story". Mercy passed out plates of leafy green salad to each diner. Her demeanor changed instantly when she sighted her husband still standing behind Carlos.

"Ted! Get that gentleman's order and make it snappy! No more spirit talk. Please excuse him, folks. Honey, you've got some spirit trouble going on?" She smiled at Carlos. her eyes roving his handsome face. Carlos rolled his eyes and propped his chin in his hands on the table. As usual, David spoke up first.

"You might say that, ma'am. We've certainly had plenty of trouble from them since we hit Louisiana. Our friend here, his ancestor seems to be involved in a local ghost story." He said quietly. Ted spoke up from his position beside Carlos.

"Honey wife, I told you when the feeling's strong, it never lies. Can I take your order now, sir?" The man bent over Carlos, who still sat with his chin in his hands.

"Can we talk about anything else, please?" Carlos said. He looked up at their waiter. "Red beans and rice, please. Fried okra...and a whisky, neat." David spoke up again, concern lacing his voice.

"You okay, Carlos?" Carlos felt as if his head would explode with a sudden rush of black temper. He tried to smile at his friends to reassure them, but something more like a grimace of pain crossed his features.

"No David, actually I'm not 'okay'...very much not 'okay'." Carlos's voice was harsh with stress. "I need to eat. Then drink. Then maybe drink a little more. Now there's two spirits around me this gentleman says. Plus Aurelia, my girlfriend from the Opera House." He shuddered. Ted took a crystal tumbler from a sideboard that doubled as a bar on one wall of the room. Pouring a shot of Jack Daniels, he placed it and a glass of ice in front of Carlos. The Spaniard downed the whisky in one swift draught.

"Sir! That's an insult to good sipping whisky!" Ted protested. "This is made to drink real slow." Carlos passed the glass back for a refill.

"Slow next time." He replied. Mercy marched around the table and grabbed her husband's arm.

"You. Food. Now." She spoke in a firm voice, then laughed when Ted slapped her behind and left the room. Their guests laughed at the couple's joking as Mercy refilled Carlos's glass herself and brought it to him. The large woman spoke in a soothing voice.

"You'll be fine, sir. Just remember, the dead can't hurt you. They're dead, but you have the power of life. And love." She patted his shoulder and set his glass down in front of him. "Can't fear the ghosts, sir. That just gives them more power to frighten you." Carlos took another sip of whisky.

"They are doing a very good job so far of frightening me." He said. David tried to reassure his friend.

"I'll watch your back, buddy. We just need to team up against the 'ol ghosties." He smacked one fist into the palm of his hand. "Wouldn't mind it myself, specially if they've been messing with Seb." Urs nodded in agreement.

"Who will watch David's back?" Carlos was beginning to feel the effects of the whisky. He took another sip.

"I will, Carlos." Said Urs with a serious expression on his face. Carlos leaned forward and peered at Urs through a whisky induced fog.

"Hmmm...an' your back, Urs?" The handsome Spaniard's English was beginning to fail him. "Ah, tu eres todos mi amigos."

"Me, until Sebastien is feeling bettter." Said Marion. "Here's our dinner, now." Ted and Mercy both carried huge trays piled with plates and bowls. The chicken dinner was arranged family style around the table. Huge plates of golden chicken fried to a perfect, crispy brown. Bowls of fluffy mashed potatoes, pitchers of gravy, baskets of biscuits and corn muffins, all steaming hot and smelling like heaven. A large tureen of red beans and rice was placed in front of Carlos, and he ladled them onto his plate eagerly.

David, Urs and Marion did justice to the delicious food, while Carlos ate a few forkfuls of his supper and a corn muffin. Urs groaned with pleasure after finishing his fourth piece of chicken.

"God, I can feel my arteries clogging up as we speak. My heart will never be the same, guys." He eased back from the table and staggered over to the sofa near the table.

Mercy entered the room bearing a dessert tray. When Urs saw her approach him, he groaned again and held out his hands in a pleading gesture.

"No more, please...it's death by food...I'll never recover." The Swiss pleaded. David laughed and appraised the tray of rich pastries. His eyes settled on a three layer confection liberally covered in chocolate.

"Need to keep our strength up, Urs." He said, lifting his choice from the tray. "Especially if we're going to be chasing ghosts." Carlos joined in the conversation, after remaining silent during their meal.

"They're chasing me, the ghosts I mean." Carlos said slowly, as if having trouble enunciating the words. "There's no need to chase them, I mean to say." David's cell phone rang quietly in his pocket. Glancing at the screen, he answered quickly, mumbled a few words and snapped the phone closed. He glanced at the suddenly solemn faces arranged at the table.

"It's the doctor, she wants us back at the hospital as soon as possible."


XVII

For the second time in the same day David, Carlos, Urs and Marion were racing down the road to the hospital. The drive barely took five minutes, and soon the four were walking towards the doors to the emergency room. A security guard wearing a face mask approached the group and asked them to follow him. The three Divos exchanged nervous glances with Marion, who wore a puzzled expression on her face. Urs began to feel more and more anxious as they were ushered through a heavy metal door bearing a large orange insignia and the word 'biohazard' in large red letters. The room had no windows, and the white tile walls and floor gave the impression of a large shower stall.

"Oh s**t." Said David in a quiet voice. "This isn't looking good. This place looks like the gym shower at my old high school." The security guard left the room without a word and they heard the distinct click of the door lock as he locked them in. Marion's face paled abruptly and she sank to the floor of the unfurnished room.

"Something's contaminated in the hospital." She said as the three men rushed to her side, concern on their faces. "Just let me sit for a minute, boys. My legs are kind of rubbery at the moment."

"You mean like radiation?" David sat down next to Marion. Her eyes met his in a frightened stare. David felt a chill of fear crawl down his spine. If Marion, calm, collected Marion, was worried, something was very wrong.

"More likely a biological agent. You saw the face mask. They've isolated us immediately. They're worried about germs. Viruses or bacteria." Marion said. Carlos began to pace the small confines of the room.

"It is Seb. He is sick, yes?" The Spaniard said. "We have all been together, close for the months now. We are all inseminated." David and Urs both burst into slightly hysterical laughter. Urs had tears running down his face from laughing so hard. Marion shook her head as she tried not to laugh. That anyone could laugh at a time like this amazed her. Carlos's English was funny at times, though. She finally let the humor out, and buried her face in her hands as she laughed along with the two men.

"Contaminated, Carlos. We're all contaminated." Said Urs, wiping his eyes and stifling more chuckles. "I think we need some more English tutoring." Carlos rolled his eyes.

"What's the difference?" Carlos began. Any reply was delayed by the opening of the heavy metal door. Dr. LaBarge stood framed by two large soldiers dressed in white coveralls and face masks. Her eyes swept the room and she rushed to Marion's side.

"Marion, honey! What's the matter? Are you in pain?" Marion glared at the doctor from her position on the floor.

"Beatrice LaBarge! Where the hell else am I supposed to sit?" She swept her arm to encompass the small room. "What the hell is going on, and how the hell dare you treat us like this!" Marion was cranking up into a fine rage.

"Ma'am, we need to pick up the pace here." One of the soldiers shuffled his feet as if eager to leave. Beatrice turned on the man, showing her own elevated stress levels.
The soldier wilted under her glare. Beatrice stood toe to toe with the man, green eyes boring into his.

"Soldier...are you questioning my tactics? Do you question your superior officer?" She seemed to tower over the man. David fell in love with the statuesque, auburn haired woman at that moment. She was a warrior princess in his eyes. The unfortunate man who had questioned Dr. LaBarge stammered out a reply.

"Colonel LaBarge...ma'am...sir...yes, sir. Not questioning...never, sir...ma'am." The soldier held himself at stiff attention.

Marion stood up from her position on the floor. Walking over to her friend, she put her hand on Bea's shoulder.

"Honey, what's so important that you're going all army reserve on us?" Beatrice wasn't done with her soldiers yet. She instructed the two nervous flunkies to stand outside while she spoke to her 'patients'"

"'Colonel? Wow, I'm really impressed, Beatrice. Can I call you Beatrice?" David grinned at the doctor, turning on his considerable charm. Bea gave the tall, handsome blond a tired smile.

"Oh sure, why not? Call me Bea, please. We're all going to be spending a lot of time together for the next few weeks, I'm sorry to say." David's grin grew even wider.

"Really? That's great! Because I actually think..." David was interuppted by Carlos's voice booming in the small room.

"David, stop! Let the senorita talk. Senorita Doctor Colonel, what is the problem?" Bea scanned the questioning faces before her. She sighed and began to speak.

"Okay, here's the situation. The source of your friend's concussion is still a mystery. However, Sebastien has tested positive for the H1N1 influenza virus, probably contracted during your recent tour in Central America. Swine Flu.
You three members of the band, and you, Marion must be quarantined to make sure the four of you aren't incubating the virus. I serve in the United States Army Medical Corps Reserve, and have been put in charge of your case." Urs began asking questions immediately.

"Quarantine? Here? How long? Not here in the hospital in a tiny room?" The handsome Swiss was beginning to sound panicked.

"Calm down, Urs." Said Bea with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "May I call you Urs?"

"You can call me David." Said David in an eager voice. "Or anything you want, really. Dave, Davey...that's what my mom calls me....." Bea held up her hand in David's face.

"Down boy. Save it for later." She turned to Marion. "I suggested to the Army that we could use River Oaks as the quarantine site. The area is fenced and gaited, and sentries can be posted out front. The United States government will reimburse you for your time and resources. Do you agree?"

"How is Sebastien, first?" Marion said.

"He's been moved to the quarantine area of the ICU. We're hoping the antibiotics will drop his fever, now that we know what we're dealing with. Meanwhile, I had my choice of staying here at the hospital for the next fourteen days, or accompanying the four of you into quarantine at River Oaks. I've been exposed along with the rest of you." Bea said in a resigned voice.

"All right, I agree to the use of my home for the quarantine period." Said Marion. Urs and Carlos had shocked expressions on their faces. David was the only person in the room that was smiling.

"Really? We'll all be together at that great plantation for like, two weeks? Wow! That's really great, well, not really so great..." The tall tenor was obviously thrilled at the chance to become more intimate with the lovely doctor.

"David? DAVID!" Carlos's voice boomed again in the small room. "Shut the f**k up, will you, please?" He stepped over to address Beatrice. "Surely you do not think we will be imprisoned at that plantation for two weeks or more? We will not be kidnapped like this! Urs and I are not citizens of this country, and are not held by your laws. I am leaving now!" Bea put a hand against Carlos's chest to restrain him.

"Please Carlos, try not to be upset. Swine flu is reaching pandemic proportions around the world. It won't help if everyone panics and spreads the virus by running in fear."

"I'd like to share a little virus with her." David murmured to Urs. Urs chuckled, drawing Bea's attention...and fury. She marched over to where David stood with Urs and towered over the Swiss tenor.

"Are you not hearing how serious this situation is, mister? It's time to grow up and get your heads out of fantasy land. We are all basically under house arrest for the next fourteen days." Bea's voice shook with anger, and Urs took a step back from the impressive woman. Turning back to Carlos, the doctor informed the Spaniard of his choices... none.

"I'm sorry, Carlos, but the Swiss and Spanish embassies in Washington D.C. have been notified and have agreed to cooperate fully with the situation. You two are stuck here with the rest of us, honey." Carlos's Spanish temper exploded.

"This is outrageous! I shall demand the armies of our nations come to free us! We are being held hostage!" Carlos was screaming in an impressive display of fury. Urs got a disgusted look on his face.

"Carlos! Now YOU shut the f**k up! Switzerland doesn't have an army, you fool. Just calm down, everyone." Urs assumed his usual role of peacemaker among the bandmembers.

"Am I the only person that isn't totally upset about the prospect of spending a couple weeks alone with two beautiful women?" David tried to use his sense of humor to cheer everyone's mood. He smiled to include both Beatrice and Marion in the remark. Bea sighed and looked at Marion. Both women then turned to David.

"David, shut the hell up!" They yelled in tandem. Marion then turned to Bea and spoke in a conversational tone.

"I refuse to use the F word. So crude, don't you think?"


Chapter XVIII


Two hours later, David Miller was the least cheerful member of the small group of detainees. The tall blond sat and scratched at the large hives covering his arms and chest. The three men and two women had been thoroughly disinfected in a chemical shower, then subjected to complete physical exams by biohazard-suited doctors.

David sighed, shifting on the hard bench he was seated upon. He felt as if he was living in every worse-case scenario, end of the world by disease movie he had ever seen. Carlos and Urs were understandably upset at their forced quarantine, but nobody realized how shocked and upset David was. This was all happening in America. His own country. He wasn't overseas in some tiny nation run by a dictatorship, although at the moment it certainly seemed that way. The sanitizing sprays used in the shower had irritated everyone's skin, but only David's had erupted into large, puffy blotches. All the needles and tubes during the physical hadn't helped, either. Bea had laughed at him. Laughed! It was the last thing he remembered before fainting during the blood draw.

David pressed a hand against his still queasy stomach and swallowed heavily. Now, after stealing all their clothes, and making them wear paper jumpsuits, the final insult was being loaded into the back of an Army truck for the trip to River Oaks. Carlos sat across from David on a matching bench, still sulking over the destruction of his prized Elvis t-shirt. The Spaniard's olive complexion had turned a dark red shade from the chemical bath.

Urs stood braced against the side of the truck, peering out at the soldiers accompanying their truck. After his dousing, his chin length hair had erupted into a froth of dark curls framing his face.
Bea was rummaging through a huge knapsack of medical supplies, running a checklist with Marion. Urs began to chuckle as he surveyed his bandmates, and their rough mode of transportation.

"Not our usual ride, eh guys?" He said, brushing his hair back out of his eyes after an especially hard lurch of the truck. "Where are we, Marion? The highway was not so uneven, and only took a few minutes before." Marion looked up from her work. Her eyes were heavy with fatigue, and she squinted at Urs as if having trouble focusing on the handsome Swiss.

"We're on the old secondary road that doesn't run directly through town." She said in an exhausted voice." Even though it's after midnight, a few people may notice the army truck and start wondering. This road is hardly used anymore. We're almost there."

"Good thing." David mumbled. "Or I'm gonna hurl" Sweat began to trickle down his face, which had assumed a grayish green color. Bea looked up in concern upon hearing David's weak voice. Moving to the tailgate of the truck, she popped open the canvas cover to let the cool night air pour into the stuffy interior. David's nausea began to fade immediately, and his face regained its normal color. However, his eyes were now becoming puffy from the hives. He glared at Bea through rapidly closing eyelids.

"You gonna laugh at me again, lady? I'm glad I can supply everyone with a few chuckles." He began rubbing at his face like a sleepy toddler. Bea grabbed his hands, which dwarfed her own small ones.

"Try not to scratch, David." She said in a soft voice. As she leaned in close, the scent of her hair made his head spin. "Will you let me give you something for the itching?" David was miserable enough to merely nod, feeling guilty at his childish outburst. Especially since she was being so sweet to him. The guilt disappeared a few seconds later as he felt a sharp burn in his hip.

"Hey! What the hell was that?" David yelped in painful surprise, rubbing the offended area. Bea calmly returned the used instrument to her medical bag and smiled sweetly at David.

"'That was an antihistamine delivered by pressure syringe. No worry about a needle in wiggly patients." Bea said. "You'll be feeling much better in a few minutes, and look less like Shrek."

"Gee, thanks." The tall blond said to Beatrice, sarcasm heavy in his voice. "Is that your professional diagnosis? You should be a doctor." The good doctor's reply was to stick her tongue out at him. Bea caught herself before she flipped her finger up at him, too. This wasn't her usual professional demeanor, she thought to herself. This man was bringing out the worst in her!

A large, rusty iron gate came into view. Nearly buried in tangled vines, it took several soldiers to clear the portal and open it enough for the truck to pass.

"Back gate." Said Marion. "This hasn't been opened in years." The truck swung into gear, and pulled into a driveway near the side portico of the mansion. Where elegant carriages had once discharged richly dressed planters, the olive green truck ground to a halt. Two men dressed in biohazard suits pulled down the tailgate and grabbed the bags of medical supplies Bea had scrambled together before leaving the hospital.

Urs stood up to jump down from the truck. He stopped, eyes wide with shock at the sight of the rifles their guards now carried.

"Mein Gott!" He said in a loud voice. "This is just unbelievable!" Jumping the short distance to the ground, he reached up to assist Marion in her descent. Carlos dropped lightly off of the truck and followed their hostess towards the house. A pale shape moved at the corner of his eye, but the second floor windows were dark when he swept them with a startled glance.

Warm, homey scents of the kitchen enveloped Marion's guests as they followed her through the wide back door. Bea paused to speak to the three men before they could proceed upstairs to their rooms.

"I suggest you all shower again to get the last traces of the chemicals washed away. Especially you, David. I'll bring you something else for the hives in a few minutes. Okay?" David merely nodded and gave a half-hearted wave as he followed Urs and Carlos down the hallway leading to the stairs. The three made a pitiful sight shuffling away in their white paper coveralls. David's stopping about five inches above his bare ankles, all of them covered with dirt and grease from the back of the truck. If these gorgeous men looked that rough, Bea could only wonder at how bad she looked, herself.

"Wow." Said Marion, seeming to read Bea's mind as she watched the three friends walk away. "I don't even want to know what I look like right now. I'm not even looking in the mirror until I've had my shower." Bea smiled with a rueful twist of her full lips.

"I agree completely hon, but first I need to check on my number one grumpy patient. Mr. Miller." She replied.


Chapter XIX

Urs strode into his room and immediately began ripping the paper jumpsuit from his body. Bits flew around him as he took out his rage on the flimsy garment. He finally stopped, panting, as the last scrap of paper left his body. He threw himself upon the bed, letting the gentle breeze from the ceiling fan cool his sweaty skin. Events had proceeded much too quickly for the methodical Swiss. Everything operated smoothly on the proper schedule in the world according to Urs. He sighed. Their tour schedule had imploded with the news of Seb's illness. Two weeks out of a world tour. Seven or even eight concerts, millions of dollars, and thousands of heartbroken fans. Their crew and band members depended on them for a paycheck.

Urs sat up with a start as he suddenly remembered Il Divo's massive support staff. Where were the band, roadies, dressers, grips? Were any of them sick, too? He instinctively grabbed for his cell phone, coming up empty. His phone was with the other guys' phones and David's blackberry, still at the hospital. They'd been told the items would be disinfected and returned to them the following day. Frustrated, Urs lay back against the pillows, soothed by the gentle night sounds outside his window. Enough time to call everyone tomorrow, he told himself firmly. Not like they were going anywhere. He closed his eyes for a moment to rest them. And slept.

Carlos heaved a hugh sigh of relief as the cool water sluiced down his body, taking the last of the sticky chemical residue with it. Rinsing his head again under the spray,
he shut off the water and began toweling off. Wiping the steam from the mirror over the sink, he leaned forward as the glass gradually cleared. He saw two images reflected in the mirror, his own damp face, and the misty face of a man peering over his shoulder. Turning to look, he pulled open the bathroom door to check the bedroom. Empty.
Carlos stared into the mirror again. Only his own anxious face looked back.

"If you are the ghost, leave me alone!" He addressed the empty room in what he hoped was a firm voice. "I'm too tired for this foolishness tonight. Go away, I want to sleep!" Pounding came on the wall his room shared with David's next door.

"You okay, Carlos?" David's voice was muffled by the heavy wood and plaster wall. Carlos gave a quick rap back to assure his friend of his well being.

"Fine, David. Just going to bed. Good night." He ran and jumped into the high four poster bed, pulling the covers over his head as he burrowed down.

David flicked on the light in his adjoining bathroom and stopped in the doorway, gaping at the massive bathtub crowding the small room. At least six feet long and perched on large, clawed feet, it was the size of a small rowboat. Carved of dark green marble, the tub was adorned with heavy brass taps and a huge faucet. A web of gleaming copper pipes climbed the wall behind the taps to culminate in a large free standing shower head. A wraparound curtain encircled the entire tub on a thin brass rod.

"Oh, wow!" Said David.. "I have got to get one of these!" He was stripping out of his paper jumpsuit when he was interrupted by a rap at the door. Leaving the upper portion of the garment hanging to his waist, he opened the door. Bea stood leaning against the door frame, holding a large box of oatmeal. She shook it at him.



"Here's my expensive medical treatment for your hives." She said. Taking his chin in her free hand she turned it gently from side to side, studying David's swollen eyes. "You haven't deflated as much as I'd like to see from that injection." Her eyes moved down and over his muscular chest and shoulders. "Maybe you need another one." David stepped away from Bea at the mention of another injection. She followed him into the room, kicking the door shut behind her. Moving past the tall blond into the bathroom, she placed the stopper in the tub and began twisting the heavy taps.

"That's my kind of tub." Said David with a self-concious laugh, admiring her behind as she bent over the bathtub. This was a little awkward, he mused to himself. Here he was, stripped to the waist, with a beautiful (and tall) woman drawing him a bath. Or more likely making the world's biggest bowl of oatmeal, he thought. He watched as she dumped the entire carton of oats into the swirling water, then turned to smile at him.

"In you go, pal. The water isn't very hot, but that would just irritate your skin more. I'll be glad to help you get in, if you'd like. Most accidents happen in the bathroom. I'm a doctor, you know." She openly admired his broad chest and shoulders, smiling at the surprised expression on his face. "You're the first guy I've been attracted to that was tall enough to look me in the eye." David stared into her green eyes, speechless. Bea placed her finger in the center of his bare chest and applied pressure, backing him slowly towards the waiting water. The rim of the tub bumped against David's legs and he stopped, pressed against the marble.

"Are you seeing someone?" She whispered, never taking her eyes from his. David felt his heart leap at her question. Actually jump in his chest, a little extra beat like a quick dance step. He stared at her face, memorizing the curves as he lowered his mouth to hers. She made a soft, contented sound as he raised his head to look at her again.

"Should I take that as a 'no'?" She asked with a smile. David smiled back.

"Yes. I mean no...I mean yes, I'm not in any relationship right now." He said, blushing. He sounded like a ten year old boy! So much for smooth and debonair, jet-setting, world famous tenor, David Miller. Inside the sophisticated shell he was still the geeky guy from high school. How could a beautiful, brilliant, (don't forget tall), funny woman like Beatrice ever find a guy like him attractive? Hadn't she said he looked like Shrek earlier? Bea laughed softly.

"I was only teasing when I called you Shrek earlier, David." She said, running her hands along his lumpy face. "Poor baby. Go have a soak. You'll feel better, I promise. Doctor's orders." David gave her another quick kiss, not noticing her finger tracing down his belly and hooking into the elastic waistband of his jumpsuit. With a quick tug, Bea pulled on the flimsy garment, and it tore away from David's hips.

"Let me know if there's any more hives anywhere else." She said in a teasing voice, as she quickly turned away Slinging the shredded jumpsuit over her shoulder like a trophy, she blew him a kiss and left.


Chapter XX


Carlos didn't imagine he would ever be able to sleep at River Oaks. His body hummed with the remnants of his latest adrenaline rush, and he tossed restlessly upon the tall antique bed. The bedclothes he had taken refuge beneath proved stifling in the warm room, and he cautiously eased one eye above the top of the sheet. The high ceilinged chamber was still, except for the lazy revolution of the ceiling fan above his head.

Bright moonlight poured through the french doors leading to the balcony, washing the room in cool silver light. The lack of bright colors in the normal, everyday objects scattered around gave the room an antique appearance. Carlos sat up, dropping the bedclothes to his waist, then kicking them off completely. The cool wash of the fan was a blessing against his bare skin.

Sleep would be long in coming tonight, if at all. The long, stressful day with Seb at the hospital, learning the story of Vicente and Aurelia. All of this on top of multiple ghost sightings. His head was spinning, and he wanted to try to catagorize the recent events and make some sort of sense from everything.

Propping himself up against several fluffy pillows, he idly scratched his chest, and began to compile a mental list of the paranormal occurances he had experienced in the last twenty four hours. He shook his head in disbelief as he thought of how his view of such matters had done a complete 'one eighty' as David would say. Carlos smiled as he thought of his friend and the lovely doctor,'La Roja', as Carlos had named her in his mind.

He chuckled at the thought of mild David experiencing the bold temperment that usually accompanied red haired women. Fireworks! He would enjoy the show. Americans did not appreciate the beneficial power of emotions, Carlos firmly believed. Yanks kept theirs neatly tucked away like fine linens, only to be brought forth at special moments. The Spanish knew that emotions were an essential factor of everyday life, to be enjoyed openly. Love, anger, sorrow and joy flowed like a river through daily life. Expressed fully, they freed the soul and eased the heart.

Carlos brought his mind back to the pressing matter of spirits. What he had seen at the Opera House could not be explained by normal means. The spectral woman could not be mistaken for shadows. The weeping portrait seemed authentic, although he hadn't checked behind the painting for an artificial source of tears. The wall had been bare after the portrait had taken flight at Urs and himself. Of course, they hadn't stuck around to look for rigging. The ghostly sobbing and chilling cold that had filled the dressing room was real, too. Urs had remarked later on the chill, but denied hearing the woman's crying. Carlos alone had heard the mournful weeping.

He couldn't remember the nightmares that had plagued him the previous night, but excess wine had the tendency to give him bad dreams. Carlos began recalling details of the brief dream he had experienced in the car on the way to River Oaks. The short, swarthy man in the dream he knew now to be Armand Sauvage. The soprano his dream-self had performed with, great-grandfather's lover, Aurelia Sauvage. Armand had struck him across one cheek with a leather glove, challenging him to a duel. Carlos's fingers crept to his left cheek, half expecting a small, scabbed wound to meet his touch. A cold chill crept down his spine, and he shivered as the cool breeze from the ceiling fan tickled across his bard skin. He had felt the sting of the glove's button as it had sliced his cheek in the dream. His cheek. He had felt alive in the dream, actually singing. Carlos had physically felt his throat working to express the notes. Never had he experienced physical sensations or felt pain in his dreams.

Slumping down against the mattress, Carlos hissed in a surprised breath as the memory of the ghostly handprint on Sebastien's back swam into his tired mind. Seb had been shoved into Urs by an invisible hand. He had seen it with his own eyes, appear and press into Sebastien's back, actually propelling him forward into Urs with considerable force. In the time span of a half breath the image had vanished. The puzzle of Sebastien's concussion was not solved in Carlos's memory of the incident, either. He had been looking directly at the two men at the time of their collision, and Urs had struck the ground at a much sharper angle and with greater force than his bandmate. Seb had fallen on top of Urs, cushioned from the hard ground by the body of the muscular Swiss.

"Hmmmmm" Carlos's deep voice rumbled in his chest. He often spoke aloud to air his thoughts and consider them better. "Seb sprang up from the ground like he had been burned by it. And he was in a fury, instantly and completely, not too unusual for him...Mmmm Hmmmm. That is when I first noticed his eyes so strange. Yes! Excellent! They were brown, and almost glowing with a spark of fire. Eyes like El Diablo would have." He glanced around the room again. No shadowy figures, glowing mists or flying objects. He chuckled at his thoughts. If there were nightmares tonight, he could only blame himself!

A few minutes later, he jerked awake as his head nodded onto his chest. Wiggling down into the comfortable bed, he closed his eyes and said a quick prayer for Sebastien, sick, and surrounded by strangers. Carlos had thought that he would toss and turn all night, usually better at sleeping in short cat naps than a full six to eight hour stretch. But he easily fell into a deep slumber, to dream again of times past.


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evlvt



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Posts : 9
Join date : 2010-07-11
Age : 58
Location : Michigan, USA
Humor : Very dry...and a little dark.

PostSubject: Regresa a Mi   Thu Jul 15, 2010 5:41 pm

Chapter XXI

Carlos found himself in dream form, standing in a secluded meadow behind a large, Gothic cathedral. In the distance he could hear the sounds of many horses, and an occasional steamboat whistle. The sun had not yet ripened above the levee, and mist cloaked the sky and the ancient live oaks surrounding the ancient dueling ground.


Carlos could feel the dampness of the early morning mist, clinging to his linen suit. He glanced down at his attire, and his eyes widened in surprise. Skin tight linen trousers wrapped his waist and legs. Running the full length of his legs to culminate in a buckle under his instep, this measure kept the entire garment exquisitely form fitting, especially the groin, he noted. The pants left nothing to the imagination in the macho department. The snug linen waistcoat he wore wasn't exactly comfortable, either. The heavy gold chain draping the front of his vest was the only familiar sight in this dream so far. He eased the shiny watch from the small watch pocket sewn into the waistcoat and examined it. Heavy and gleaming in the early morning sun, the cover was completely smooth, with none of the engaving and names added by later descendents.

Carlos opened the inner cover to discover the familiar portrait of Vincente that occupied this watch in the 21st century. The opposite cover opened to reveal a tintype of Aurelia, dressed as Carmen. Portraying the character in an opera, Aurelia had been allowed to drop the stern posture of most victorian photography. She sat on a pile of cushions, dressed in her scanty Spanish peasant garb. Her smile and natural spirit beamed forth at Carlos from across the centuries. He could see how his great-grandfather could have become enamored of the lady. This picture was not in the watch as Carlos had received it. Nor could he recall his father or grandfather ever mentioning it.

A tall, thin man completely dressed in black touched Carlos's shoulder,startling him back to the present. Or past, as it seemed to be. Carlos was experiencing the most amazing dream of his life. Carlos could feel Vicente's calm, and realized that his great-grandfather was the veteran of several duels. He knew he was dreaming, but could not wake himself. He found himself an unwilling passenger in his ancestor's body as the duel proceeded. Somehow he knew who this faithful servant was, and how dedicated he had been to Vicente Marin. Unto death.


"Senor Vicente, por favor." Marco spoke in a quick, panicked tone." Do not continue with this madness! This man who threatens you, he is mad, truly mad from the french pox.* His mind is as rotten as old meat.The tales are rife in the French Quarter where I drank last night. He has no plans for an honorable duel. He simply wants to murder you. Senor...I beg you!"

Vicente threw his arm around Marco's shoulder. "He will kill Aurelia. Aurelia has sworn this to me. She carries my child. Marco. So I must kill him first, in this legal manner, to protect her." Carlos's dream self was calm and assured, the veteran of several duels. Marco began to cry quietly against his master's shoulder. Vicente comforted him with a brisk hug, then the two men seperated as a carriage began to enter the dueling ground. The cathedral bells began tolling 5 A.M.

Stepping down from his carriage, Armand Sauvage surveyed his opponent. Pig! He would teach that Spanish swine a lesson. Armand blamed Vicente for Aurelia's disgrace, as he saw it. The fact that Aurelia had left home two years before meeting the Spaniard meant nothing to Armand. In the planter's crazed mind, the baritone was the cause of all of Armand's difficulties. Armand cared nothing for his sister's happiness, only the family fortune, of which he had squandered most.

Carlos could hear the sounds of the awakening city around him, and he knew these were the last moments his great-grandfather had experienced in life. Marco removed his master's tight suitcoat, and Armand's slave valet did the same for him. Another carriage pulled alongside, and a priest and a man introduced as a doctor descended from the vehicle. While Marco and Sauvage's second examined and primed the pistols to be used, the priest and Armand bowed their heads in prayer.

Carlos found himself waiting for the priest to approach him for a blessing, as was custom. As the man finished with his opponant and began to walk back towards the cathedral, Vicente spoke.

"And I, Padre? May I not benefit from the Lord's blessing?" The silent priest continued his trek, never looking back at the men who stood in the early morning light.

"Swine do not rate the Lord's glance!" Sauvage said to the Spaniard in a furious voice. "At least try to die like a man!" Armand's hands shook with a fierce tremor, and a mad light gleamed in his dark eyes.

"My manhood has never been in question." Vicente replied in a quiet voice. With an enraged scream, Armand lunged for Vicente. Grabbing a pistol from his second, he fired it directly into Vicente's chest. The Spaniard dropped silently to the ground. Marco cried out in horror, dropping to his knees and gathering his master in his arms. A second shot to the back of the faithful servant's head silenced him forever.

The attending doctor dropped to his knees next to the two men, then glanced up, shaking his head.

"Sir, I must protest! This was not an honorable affair. The authorities must be notified!" Armand stood over the three men on the damp ground, still holding the smoking pistols in his palsied grasp. His dark brown eyes blazed with madness.

"Honor has everything to do with this affair. My sister's honor." The Creole motioned to his slave. The man approached the doctor and dropped a velvet bag clinking with gold coins into the man's hand. The doctor's eyes acquired a greedy gleam.

"Of course, Sir. A completely honorable affair."

Carlos felt his dream-self rise up into the bright morning sky over the dueling ground, then begin to fall just as rapidly. Bracing himself for a hard landing, Carlos was amazed to find himself passing through the overhead tester of his antique bed and settling gently back into what he recognized as his body. He started awake and pulled himself up in the bed. Dim morning light outlined the figure of a man seated in a chair across the room. Carlos immediately assumed a defensive stance as he slowly climbed down from the high bed.

"Who are you? Get out of my room!" Carlos made ready to lunge for the intruder. His Spanish temper overruled any fear he may have felt. The dim figure in the chair slowly became clearer as the sun began gleaming through the french doors. The phantom stood, displaying a large bloodstain across his chest.

"Hello, Grandson. I have been waiting many long years for you." It was Vicente Marin.

"Shit." Said Carlos.




* Syphilis


Chapter XXII

When Marion felt anxious, she baked. This came in handy in her position as owner and cook for a bed and breakfast. Rising early the next morning, by 7 AM six loaves of bread and several dozen cinnamon rolls sat cooling on the sideboards in the large kitchen. Marion sat at the kitchen table in the silent house nursing a cup of tea, when she began hearing a one-sided conversation coming from above her head, in Carlos's room. She could not make out words, just the rise and fall of a single voice.

"This can't be happening!" Said Carlos up in his bedroom, facing what appeared to be a very solid figure of his great-grandfather. "Why aren't you peacefully in your grave?" He asked his ancestor in a frustrated tone. "First it's your creepy girlfriend, then her crazy brother posessing my friend, or something...What the hell?" Carlos sat on his bed, and glared at the apparition standing across the room.

"Well, that's a fine greeting for your forefather!" Vicente Marin, (or his ghost) replied in an angry voice which boomed forth. Carlos held his hands up in a hushing gesture, which seemed to anger his grandfather's spirit even more. He made a frightening figure, standing there in his torn, bloodied clothes. Blood continued to trickle forth from the chest wound which had taken his life.

"You will wake the entire house with your noise!" Carlos cautioned. "Ahhh...you are bleeding, sir." Motioning to Vicente's chest. "Can I get you a towel...or something?"
Like an exorcist? He thought to himself. The spirit's figure suddenly blurred, fueling hopes in Carlos that the ghost was leaving. In a moment he had re-formed, sporting immaculate tan deerskin trousers and an open throat linen shirt. Not a drop of blood was to be seen.

"I do apologize for my previous appearance. It was left over from my dream self. I usually try to keep myself in better shape, despite my unfortunate situation." Vicente stated. Carlos couldn't believe what he was hearing. This man had been dead for over a century, and he worried about how he looked? "You are the only human who can hear or see me, because you are my blood." Vicente continued. "The Fates brought you to me, grandson. Now you may assist me in my travail." Carlos began to get angry. Grandfather or no, this...creature just shows up and assumes he will help him with whatever it was ghosts did.

"My life is not at your beck and call! Who do you think you are, to order me so?!" Carlos shouted, forgetting the sleeping house around him. He held his breath and listened. Footsteps moved slowly down the hall outside his room and paused, then a quiet tap on his door. Grabbing a towel from the bathroom, Carlos wrapped his hips and answered the door. Jerking the portal open, he beheld Marion, who blushed furiously when she saw his lack of clothing.

"Oh my God! I'm so sorry!" Her deep southern accent curled around the words and for some reason excited Carlos. "I heard a cry, and I thought there was a problem." Her eyes scanned the room beyond him, and he became suddenly agitated. Carlos put a hand out and touched Marion's shoulder, as if to restrain her from entering the room. A sudden prickle of awareness ran up his arm from where his fingers brushed her skin. Jerking his hand away as Marion stepped back at the same time, Carlos stammered out an apology.

"Please excuse, Marion. I was ahhh...practicing some lines from a ummm...play. Is that fresh baking I smell?" A sudden jerk at the back of his towel threatened the stability of his dignity. Carlos grabbed the towel securely and wished for a bathrobe. His bathrobe floated off of the bed and draped his shoulders. Marion took another step away from Carlos, her eyes growing wider. Then, amazingly, she began to laugh at the horrified look on Carlos's face. Muffling her giggles, Marion leaned forward and whispered to Carlos.

"Looks like your grandpa's made his acquaintance. I've felt him around, but never have seen him, must be a blood thing. Come downstairs, there's fresh rolls and coffee. We can talk. You look like you need a shoulder to cry on." Carlos began to bristle at the thought of his macho self crying like a baby on this woman's shoulder. Marion laughed again. "Oh, to have a picture of that face! It's a figure of speech, Carlos. Someone to discuss things with, work out problems. We need to find out why your grandfather is here, and not playing a harp in heaven." She teased gently. "We certainly have time for it, now."


Carlos found himself warming to the sweet, uncomplicated woman he found before him. She understood the situation he was in, and wanted to be of assistance. He admired her petite, jeans clad figure. Soft brown hair accented deep blue eyes with a purple hint to their color. She smelled wonderful, like cinnamon and roses. His nostrils flared slightly as he inhaled her scent.

Marion caught herself just before she leaned into his warm chest. The scent emanating from his warm skin was a blend of citrus, and something darker, sandlewood, perhaps. What was happening to her? She drew back and quickly repeated her invitation for rolls and coffee, then turned and walked slowly back downstairs. Carlos found himself mesmerised by the sway of her generous hips.

"Ah! L'amour!" his grandfather began to roar with cynical laughter. "You are a true Marin, indeed. With the family eye for ze laydeez. The are like chocolates, are they not? So delicious and new in the beginning. You gorge yourself until you are fit to burst. Then, you sicken of them, their appeal lessens. Until you find the right one, like I did."

"I thought I had found the right one." Replied Carlos with more than a hint of bitterness in his voice. "She is gone from my life now."



Chapter XXIII

Carlos dressed quickly, a bit unnerved by the constant presence of his great-grandfather's ghost. The spirit commented on everything. From Carlos's underwear,

"Red? For a man?" to his casual dress of blue jeans, "Interesting, but like a servant would wear." Carlos finally put up a hand in desperation.

"Please stop talking! You are making me crazy with your jabber!" He said in a pleading tone. The spirit stopped talking in mid-word. He floated in front of Carlos, who swatted him away like a fly.

"I have not been able to make myself heard for over one hundred years, grandson. I have a lot to say. You must hear my story of love and tragedy to assist me in my quest to be reunited with my love. Now where shall I begin?" The spirit ignored Carlos's request and floated nearer, bringing a chill with him. Carlos shivered, and pulled a shirt over his head. He glared at the spirit floating in mid air directly in front of his face.

"I will help you if I can, Grandfather, but you need not hover so closely. I respect you as my ancestor but back the f**k away from me, NOW!" The force of Carlos's voice
propelled Vicente's wispy form across the room and through the french doors. Just his head reappeared through the door to the balcony.

"Ah! The Marin temper! Glad I am to see it breed so true in my grandson!" Vicente cheered. Carlos shook his head in disgust. All he wanted was a little peace and quiet.

As he entered the sunny kitchen a few minutes later, Carlos found a bit of the serenity that eluded him. The heavenly smell of fresh coffee mixed with the warm scent of cinnamon, and he began feeling calmer. Marion smiled from her seat at the table, then rose to serve him. He motioned her to remain in her place, and filled a large mug with steaming coffee. Taking a seat at the table, he drank deeply of the dark brew and smiled back at his hostess.

"We, I mean the guys and I, we can't thank you enough for having us here during the quarantine period." Marion studied the Spaniard for a few seconds.

"It was meant to be." She said. "I've learned not to fight with Fate. You waste a lot of energy, and it doesn't make a bit of difference in the end." She sipped more of her tea, then rose to offer Carlos a cinnamon roll. "Sorry there's not heartier fare, but I was more in a baking mood this morning than ham and eggs." Carlos bit into the warm, gooey confection and moaned in appreciation, licking a bit of frosting from his lower lip. Marion laughed as she watched him devour the roll in a few more bites, then help himself to a second. Her laughter was high and sweet, and she looked relaxed in jeans and a dark pink shirt. Her hair was casual and loose about her shoulders.

"I probably look a bit different than I did yesterday." She said. "I was in my 'lady of the manor mode' when you first arrived. Skirt, heels, pearls. Guests like their hostess to look like a southern lady from 'Steel Magnolias' Then I went into 'nurse mode' with poor Sebastien."

"You did not seem surprised when my grandfather made himself known to me. Are you accustomed to objects floating in the air here?" Carlos was amazed at Marion's composure during this whole situation. Other than a minor argument with hospital officials the night before, she was taking the situation better than the rest of them.

"I grew up in a house with spirits. My mother accepted their presence, and that made me accept them as a normal part of life. Or life after death , I guess you could say." Marion replied. "When I married and moved here to River Oaks, I felt almost comfortable with the resident ghosts. Except Armand.
I don't know if he's just angry and confused, or a truly evil entity. He's confined to the garden, and can't enter the house. I don't know why." She gestured to a stack of papers at her elbow. "I've been re-reading the transcripts of Aurelia's diary, trying to find out who may have killed her. Perhaps she had another lover who became jealous..."

At her words, every cabinet in the room flew open with a crash. Gorgeous pieces of bone china began flying out onto the floor. A Royal Albert teapot flew towards Marion, barely missing her head as she dove to the floor under the kitchen table. Carlos was the only one who could see his grandfather pulling dishes from the cupboards and throwing them in a pique of temper. While Marion huddled under shelter, Carlos strode across the room until he was face to face with the phantom. He began grabbing dishes from the phantom, placing them carefully on the counter.

"How dare you break this lady's beautiful things! Stop this instant!" Vicente paused for a moment, then deliberately dropped a delicate teacup onto the floor, where it sprayed into hundreds of shards. "I said stop!" said Carlos in an icy voice. "Or there will be no help for you, or your lady!" Vicente crossed his arms and pouted like an angry child. It was an eerie scene as Marion watched Carlos converse with what seemed to be empty air.

"How dare she besmirch my darling!" Vicente said, floating nose to patrician nose with Carlos. "Aurelia was never unfaithful to me!" Carlos sneered into the face so like his own.

"Such a man! Marion has offered her assistance with your problem, and this is how you thank her? You've been dead so long you have forgotten any manners you ever posessed!" Carlos was working up into a fine temper, and Marion was beginning to enjoy the show. She had never seen such a gorgeous man, if the word gorgeous could be used to describe a man. His hands waved about in the air as he spit angry, rapid fire Spanish words at his grandfather's spirit. She knew instinctively that he was defending her, and berating Vicente for destroying her china. His dark curls were mussed from him running his hand through them in frustration as he spoke. He was tense, and muscles straining against his shirt showed it.

The atmosphere in the room suddenly warmed from the dank cold that had filled it when the dishes had begun flying. Marion could feel the ghostly presence leave the room as quickly as it had arrived. Unfortunately, her china remained shattered on the floor. As she sat under the table studying the remains of her mother and grandmother's dinnerware lying shattered around her kitchen, tears welled in her eyes. That was all Carlos saw as he bent down to assist her from her temporary bunker.

Marion's eyes overflowed with tears, making them gleam like sapphires as Carlos went to his knees before her huddled form. He was horrified that her tears were caused by his ancestor's destruction. Trying to comfort her, he began to speak in a low tone.

"My dear, I am so very sorry...I have banished Vicente to my room only. Apparently I have some power over his movements because of our blood link." Marion just looked at Carlos, tears shining on her cheeks. Carlos offered his hand to assist her to her feet, and her feet crunched bits of pottery and glass under her shoes. She began to cry harder, and he put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her against his warm chest. "I'm so sorry, Mariana...so disgusted by Vicente's actions. I do not know what else to say." So he bent his head down to her upturned face, and kissed her.







Chapter XIV

Urs opened his eyes in the dim room, and for a moment he was unsure of his surroundings. It would not be the first time he had awakened on tour, unsure as to which city or even country he was in. He lay quietly in the large, four poster bed, studying the elaborate lace canopy overhead. The morning breeze whispered through the gauzy draperies covering the French doors, and a boat whistle echoed in the distance. Stretching his arms above his head, he decided to start the day with a run. Usually impossible on tour, he had to make due with treadmills in the hotels gyms. A real, outdoor jog, with the fresh air and the wind in his hair would be fabulous. He sat up against the headboard, wincing at the stiffness in his back and legs. A jog was exactly what he needed to loosen up.

Quickly donning shorts and a faded t shirt, he pulled on his jogging shoes and opened his door. He could hear faint voices from downstairs, but the hallway was empty. Loud snoring from David’s room showed the tenor’s location, but there was silence from Carlos’s room, where the baritone usually contributed to the snoring symphony. Moving quietly down the staircase, Urs could hear the voices more clearly now, emanating from the kitchen. Carlos and Marion. He craved solitude after the stress of yesterday, and unlocked the front door and stepped out onto the broad porch. He felt a wonderful freedom from care, despite his present situation. He could run the entire acreage of River Oaks if he wished, hundreds of acres of fields and woods. There had been no such freedom for the hard working Swiss since childhood.

A low mist covered the graveled road leading down to the gates. The air was thick with moisture, and Urs immediately broke into a fine sweat. His hair began to feel thick and heavy against his neck. Reaching into the pocket of his shorts, he withdrew an elastic hair tie and bound his hair back. The humidity was climbing in time with the already rising morning temperature. After warming up with a few stretches and bends, Urs trotted down the steps and crunched onto the driveway gravel. Running at a slow pace along the tree lined road, he wondered how far he would get towards the highway before being stopped by the guards.

The broad gates of River Oaks were impressive when they were open, and forbidding when closed. The black wrought iron towered at least ten feet over Urs’s head, and those of the guards on the other side of the barrier. His eyes followed a small, almost hidden path running back along the thick stone walls. A small gate just large enough for a person was embedded in the ancient wall, nearly hidden by a tangle of honeysuckle vines.

Urs’s question of how close he would be allowed was answered as he approached the gates. About twenty feet from his goal, a loud hail came from a tall U.S. Army private standing at attention. A paper surgical mask covered his nose and mouth.

“Name please, sir?” The man was completely respectful, but looked nervous, and about eighteen years old. “No closer, please, sir. Name, please?” Urs nearly laughed at the fear on the kid’s face. He wanted to run up to the gate and yell, ‘Boo!’ or better yet, ‘Achoo!’. He sobered immediately at the sight of the M-16 rifle the guard carried, complete with fitted bayonet.

“Urs Buhler.” Urs said. “Have our belongings been sent from the hospital yet? Our cell phones and other electronics were kept after we were quarantined.” The guard stepped to a nearby truck and took a large cardboard box from the cab of the vehicle. Moving towards the gates, he motioned Urs back before he opened the massive iron barrier. After Urs moved away slightly, the soldier pushed the box through the gap in the opened barrier. Relocking the gates, the soldier waved to Urs and returned to his post near the highway.

Turning back towards the mansion, Urs shouldered the box and stopped for a moment to enjoy the view. Morning sunlight beamed across the tops of the oaks lining the driveway, burning away the swirling, waist high mist. All was silent, even the birds and insects had quieted. River Oaks lay before him, serene, but he could feel an undercurrent of sadness over the house and land that depressed him.

Urs had felt these sensations since childhood in various castles, fortresses and famous sites around the world. Memories of people and events were impressed into the very rock of the buildings and land. He had learned over the years to block out the most disturbing images, but he was curious about the story of Aurelia and Vicente. Opening up a little here and there around the plantation may give them some insight into who caused Aurelia’s death. Urs hoped he could find out more of the tragic story.

Footsteps crunched on the gravel behind him and he spun around, heart pounding. The driveway was empty. Urs shivered, and began walking towards the house. Within seconds he began hearing sounds behind him again. Not stopping, he continued his slow walk, concentrating on the sounds that were becoming louder at his back.

Hoof beats, and the squeak of wooden wheels. A horse snorting with exertion, and the creak of leather harnesses added to the sounds. Glancing over his shoulder, he glimpsed a large enclosed carriage, drawn by a pair of horses materialize through the closed gates he had just left. The sentries posted by the gates never turned or noticed the apparition.

The horses proceeded at a sedate pace, then suddenly broke into a frantic trot. Urs dropped the box and began sprinting towards the front porch of the mansion. Someone else could retrieve the phones later. He could hear the carriage gathering speed as he passed the halfway point to the house. Debating the wisdom of trying to outrun horses, phantom or otherwise, he suddenly spun to his right and dove headfirst into a clump of lilac bushes. The overhanging branches completely enclosed him, and he tried desperately to quiet his harsh breathing.

The sweat pouring down his trembling body chilled as he heard the horses pause before his hiding place. The sheltering branches were pulled away by unseen hands, and Urs crouched fully exposed to the view of the occupant of the carriage. Something very dead leaned from the carriage window. Despite his horror, Urs could not tear his eyes from the vision before him.

It was Aurelia Savage. Her once lovely face was swollen and blackened, and her head lolled upon an obviously broken neck. As her eyes opened, her hands rose from her lap to point to her swollen throat. Two livid, purple handprints were imprinted upon the decaying skin. The prints then faded, to be replaced by the black and red striping of rope burns. Urs felt a great sympathy for the phantom, ghastly though she was. He spoke out loud to her without thinking.

"You were strangled! Who killed you, and your child?" His voice was gentle, as if he would frighten this long-dead woman. Urs's heart was pounding so hard it sounded like drumming in his ears. He could feel the pulse in his throat throbbing.

The driverless carriage lurched forward, and the spirit fell back into the interior of the antique vehicle. Urs blinked sudden tears from his eyes, and when he opened them again, the vision had dissolved into the morning sunlight. He remained crouched in the bushes until he began to cramp, then rose on unsteady legs to resume his walk up the driveway. He shivered in his sweaty clothing, now also damp with morning dew.

His Mama had a saying, 'Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.' Urs would be very careful of what he asked for in the future, concerning a certain murdered beauty and her growing mystery.


Chapter XXV

Sebastien was startled awake as the curtain around his hospital bed was pulled back. A shaft of early morning sun made him turn his face to the wall, away from the glare. A woman nearby spoke in a blur of English, but his tired mind was too lazy to translate. Slitting his eyes open, his gaze was met by a blank, white wall. Turning his face back towards the ceiling, he could see IV tubing and a wall of monitors over his bed.

Lying still in his bed, Seb took stock of his various aches and pains. His head no longer pounded, thank you, God, and his stomach had calmed down. However, his throat was raw when he tried to swallow, and it felt like a five kilo weight was pressing on his chest. A male nurse, masked and gowned in protective wear, came to his side immediately. A straw was placed between his lips, and he sucked in a mouthful of ice water. Bliss. Trickling down his painful throat and soothing it.

Sebastien lifted a hand to take the glass from the nurse, but it flopped back to his side. He felt as weak as a baby. Lifting the hand again, he made it as far as his nose, which was itching. His hand felt oxygen tubing pinching his nose, and he pulled at it.

"Ah ah, don't touch the hardware." A deep male voice came along with a gloved hand to restrain him. Sebastien frowned in frustration and tried to speak, but the straw was reinserted into his mouth, and he drank again in slow sips. "Can you understand me?" Seb jerked in surprise to hear French spoken. The man was speaking slowly, with a strange slurred accent. He pulled himself up slightly in the bed, and looked up at the nurse.

"Thank you....for your care, sir. What's happened to me?" He replied in French, also. It was easier for his tired brain to process. The nurse had a wide, friendly face, and tufts of bright red hair stuck out from around his cap. "Is it tomorrow, then?" Sebastien asked. He was starting to feel very weak all over, and confused. His skin was feeling tight and hot, and he ran his tongue over lips cracked with fever blisters.

"You've got a bad case of the 'flu." The nurse replied, smoothing a medicated swab over Seb's lips. "You'll be fine after a few weeks rest, but I'll warn you now. You may feel pretty rough the next couple days or so, but you're in an excellent hospital, with great nurses, if I do say so myself. I'm Rusty, by the way, but enough talk for now. I need to do my nurse stuff." Rusty covered his concern for Seb's condition with his light chatter. He purposefully refrained from mentioning swine flu, or the secondary pneumonia that was rapidly developing in his handsome patient.

Sebastien suddenly leaned forward, wracked with a sudden coughing fit. He coughed until he could clear his breathing, spitting up blood tinged mucus that Rusty carefully cleaned from Seb's lips and placed into culture tubes for the lab. He finally fell back against the pillows, pale and sweating. Sudden pain began to spear through his chest and back, and he groaned aloud, unaware that he had voiced his agony.

"Where's Urs? And Dave, and Carlos? Are they sick, too? Are they all right?" He began to panic at the thought of his friends catching this from him. Rusty put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"They're all fine for now. You need to save your breath right now, instead of talking." Rusty studied the pulse oxygen indicator and listened to his patient's chest with a stethoscope. Seb lay still and obedient, studying the ceiling above his head. Hanging a small bag next to the larger one on the IV pole, Rusty slipped a thermometer between Sebastien's lips before plugging the additional line into a port near the catheter in his wrist. Studying the high fever indicated, he smiled in reassurance at Seb. "You're a bit warmer than we like to see, my friend. It's time for you to have some more antibiotics. How's your pain level?"

"I am hurting all over. And my chest has a pain, here." Seb moved a hand to indicate the lower right area. His chest felt as if a metal band was wrapped around it, compressing his breathing.

"We can fix that, that's why you're here." Said Rusty in an overly cheery voice. "We give the best drugs. So, your drugs are antibiotics and morphine for your pain. How 'bout the pain killer first? I aim to please." He began infusing a syringe of morphine along with the drip of antibiotics.

"Well..." Sebastien began to say he'd rather not do the morphine, then his pain faded as a wave of contentment enveloped him. He took a deep breath, relieved that the previous tightness in his chest had eased. He was sure he had begun to float above the mattress, and grabbed the edge of the bed with his hand. "Wow...can I have a liter of that stuff to go?"

Rusty smiled down at his patient as he finished charting Seb's vitals on the bedside monitor. The Frenchman's cheeks were still flushed with fever, but his lips weren't as bluish as they had been after the coughing episode. His breathing had regulated under the influence of the narcotic, and his oxygen levels had risen again. The nurse raised the head of the bed more to aid Sebastien's congestion and walked over to the nearby nurses's station. It was quiet in the small isolation unit, and the one other nurse on duty constantly watched Sebastien's vitals on the monitors.

"Glad to see those O2 levels rise again after he expectorated." She said in a quiet voice. "Thought we'd have to tube him for sure." Rusty shook his head firmly.

"I'll do everything I can to avoid intubating him. He's a singer, you know. Those tubes can really mess up the vocal cords. Of course if it comes to life and death, then a respirator is a given."











Chapter XXVI

Urs sat on the wide porch of River Oaks and wiped his arm across his sweaty forehead before any more drops could sting his eyes. He pulled the elastic band confining his hair loose, and shook his head. Running a hand over his hair to smooth it back out of his eyes, he was startled by a large hand on his shoulder. Jumping to his feet, he spun around into a defensive crouch, fists at the ready. David held up his hands in protest.

“Are we a little jumpy this morning, my friend?” David started to laugh until he saw the panicked expression on Urs’s face. “Hey man, what is it?” David’s broad, good natured face became serious. “More ghosts? Everyone has seen stuff but me…” The tall blond began, when Urs put a hand up in protest

“Don’t say it, David. I warn you. Watch what you ask for. I wanted a little insight on the ghost story, and ended up being chased down the driveway by a dead woman in a carriage.”
David gazed down the driveway to the box sitting where Urs had dropped it.

“Are those our phones in the box? Why are they sitting out there?” Urs sat back down on the top step before answering David.

“Yes, those are our phones. I dropped them to run better, and ended up hiding like a coward in a clump of bushes, for all the good it did me. Where’s Carlos? I’d rather just tell this story once.” David started to laugh again.

“Carlos was kissing Marion under the kitchen table, last time I saw him. Shall we go see how they’re doing?” David trotted down the steps to retrieve the box of phones as Urs climbed to his feet and started across the porch to the front door. When his friend had returned, they entered the house together.

In the sunny kitchen the two men discovered Carlos sweeping the floor clean of shards of china, while Marion sorted through some larger pieces on a corner of the kitchen table. She paused to wipe her reddened eyes, and gave Urs and David a teary smile. Carlos stooped to dump the last of the sweepings into the trash bin, then turned to address David and Urs. The Spaniard looked rough, sweat was beading on his face and he brushed impatiently at the hair flopping in his eyes. He was unshaven, and his eyes were tired and red.

“This is all my fault, guys. My grandfather destroyed most of Marion’s beautiful china, from her madre y abuela. I feel terrible for this. I have banished him to my room, but that is another story.” Carlos moved over to where Marion sat silently observing the men, and put an arm around her shoulders in a protective gesture. “I will fix all of this, and put Aurelia and my grandfather to rest. I swear it as a Marin.” A thud came from Carlos’s room overhead, where Vicente was obviously eavesdropping.

Urs and David just stared at Carlos, trying to process his words. Then they looked at Marion, who nodded in agreement. Urs moved towards the coffee pot, pouring out for David as well as himself. David studied the ceiling of the kitchen with a puzzled expression creasing his face.

“I need coffee before any more talking. And a cinnamon roll or two. I have a ghost story now, also.” Urs spoke first, after a sip from his coffee cup. The fresh rolls and bread had been covered before the china incident, and remained unscathed. Marion began wiping the table free of china dust, and setting out plates for their breakfast. Carlos stacked cinnamon rolls on a platter and placed it on the table.

“Mine is not the ghost story.” Said the Spaniard, as he sliced bread and carried it to the table. “Mine is more the ghost dream, and when I awoke, my great-grandfather was there. He told me that I could see him because of our blood link, our family.” David was still trying to absorb all the ghost lore he had been hearing that morning as he sat munching on a roll, after swigging an entire cup of the bitter chicory coffee. Then Beatrice walked into the kitchen, and David’s mind went blank in a combined surge of lust and love as he stared at the lovely redhead. Her green eyes were sleepy, and her wild curls pulled back into a thick mass. His mind returned to their brief encounter in his room the previous night, and he smiled widely as he spoke.

“Coffee or tea, ma’am?” He stood, ready to pour for her. Bea studied David’s rumpled good looks and smiled to include everyone in the room.

“Tea, please. Thank you, David. Good morning, everyone.” Marion stood up from her chair and gave Bea a kiss. The observant doctor studied Marion’s reddened eyes, then looked in accusation at Carlos, who sat next to Marion at the table. “What has upset you, hon?” She glared at Carlos, who held up his hands in defense. Bea seemed to know instantly his involvement in Marion’s recent tears. The handsome Spaniard tried to smile and reassure Beatrice of his innocence.

“Well, senorita doctor, it is a long story. Basically my great-grandfather has been trapped here since he died, looking for his lover. Umm, he broke a bit of Marion’s china this morning and ahh…” Carlos seemed to wilt under the angry green glare of her brilliant eyes. Dios! It was as if she could see into his very mind and soul with that intense gaze.

“I’m familiar with the ghosts here at River Oaks, Mr. Marin, and I don’t remember a Spanish one, ever. Don’t blame your own clumsiness or temper on some spirit that doesn’t exist.” The tall redhead sat in the empty chair next to David, who placed a cinnamon roll in front of her. Bea immediately took a massive bite of the warm, sticky bun, covering her mouth with a napkin as she chewed. When she could speak again, it was to praise Marion’s creation. “Even better than the last batch, Aunt M. You’ve always been the best with dough.”

“ ‘Aunt’?” repeated Carlos in surprise. Marion came over to place her arms around Beatrice.

“Bea is my deceased sister’s child. Her parents were killed when she was 16 years old, the same year my husband passed away. I was the only relative willing to take and finish raising Bea, and she became my daughter’s best friend.” Laughing, Bea turned to the three friends sitting with her at the table.

“I was a handful. Fancied myself a witch, I dressed all in black, very Goth.” She confessed with a quick glance at David to see how he reacted to the word ‘witch’. He just grinned at her statement.

“I had peroxide blond hair, and both ears pierced with huge earrings when I joined Il Divo.” Now it was David’s turn to laugh.

Urs stood up from his seat and poured more coffee for everyone, then restocked the platter with more cinnamon rolls and slices of bread. Seated across from Beatrice, he helped himself to a second roll. Chewing the first bite, he studied Bea’s face as she spoke quietly to David, their heads tipped close together.

“So you believe in the ghosts, Beatrice?” Bea looked over at Urs.

“Don’t you, Urs?” Bea answered his question with her own. “I know about poor Aurelia and her tragic suicide, but she haunts the Opera House where she died.” A thunderous crash shook the kitchen as Vicente materialized through the ceiling from where he had been banished to Carlos’s room. The temperature of the kitchen plummeted immediately, but Carlos was the only one to see and hear the spirit. Vicente’s face was red with a combination of fury and grief.

“She was not a suicide!” The ghost roared at the top of his voice. The remaining china on the table jiggled softly. Marion grabbed at her remaining teapot, and began to cry again. Carlos glared at his ancestor as the other people in the room began to shiver. Carlos turned to Beatrice.

“Senorita doctor, may I introduce my great-grandfather, Vicente Marin?” Vicente floated over to Beatrice, openly admiring her curves in a way Carlos was glad David couldn’t see.
The spirit stopped in front of the woman. “Grandfather this is the doctor senorita Beatrice LaBarge. She took care of Seb at the hospital, and now is quarantined with us here for this swine flu.”

Bea reached out to touch the frigid column of empty air in front of her. She gasped as an icy wisp of air caressed her cheek. David first marveled at her curiosity, then became alarmed when she gasped. Urs watched the exchange with a resigned look on his face. He was actually getting used to this, he thought to himself.

Marion stood up and walked across the kitchen to where Carlos and Bea stood with Vicente. Having dried her tears, she now spoke in an angry tone to Vicente.

“Leave my home now, spirit! I deny you access to this house. Carlos, I apologize, however, your grandfather is not welcome inside this house. Hear me, Vincente Marin! You can talk to your grandson outside!” Marion had worked herself up into a rage, and stepped forward into Vincente’s spirit, locating him by the cold spot. She waved her hands about as if to clear a room of smoke, and Carlos watched his ancestor’s image dissolve into wisps, then disappear. The room warmed immediately, and the heavy atmosphere eased.

Urs began to slowly clap his hands. David and Bea joined in the applause as Marion took a bow. Carlos grabbed Marion in a huge hug and kissed her thoroughly, impressed by her courage. She pushed him away and fluffed her hair.

“I won’t have a rude, destructive spirit in my house, Carlos.” Marion said in a quiet voice, but she still sounded angry. “And why are you kissing me? That’s the second time today!”



Chapter XXVII


After several cinnamon rolls and cups of black, chicory laced coffee, the group gathered at the kitchen table were ready for discussion. Urs studied the dregs in his coffee cup and spoke up first.

“We need a plan on how to solve this ghostly mystery.” He said. David and Carlos nodded in agreement. Marion and Bea shook their heads in the negative.

“Research first, then a plan using the information.” Bea Said. “And I need to hear this story of Aurelia and Vicente, to help with any plan. Marion only told me a little last night before bed.” David gazed at her, his blue eyes shining in admiration.

“God, I love a brainy woman! Isn’t she fabulous?” he asked his friends. Bea batted her lashes at the men, and punched David in the arm. She was embarrassed by his enthusiasm, and amazed by the posessive tone of his voice.

“Ow! What? Can’t I praise your attributes?” David rubbed his arm and looked offended. “You’re beating on me already, my sisters will love you.” Carlos laughed, winking at Marion. She smiled back at him, rising from her seat to retrieve a notebook and pen from a nearby drawer. Morning sun beaming through the large windows made her chestnut hair glow. Carlos felt a warm rush of feeling towards her. He wanted to protect her, keep her from any danger. He realized that he was falling in love with her.

“You don’t know half of my attributes, Mr. Miller.” Beatrice said. Or my secrets, she thought to herself. “This brainy woman is calling the hospital to check on her patient before we get into any discussion.” She opened the box David had placed on the floor near the doorway, and pulled out a tiny red cell phone. Flipping it open, she began studying the text messages displayed on the tiny screen.

David, Carlos and Urs all retrieved their personal electronics from the box, and began checking messages. Their tour manager, James, had been notified the previous night of Sebastien’s illness by the hospital director. A frantic message from Sebastien’s mother was answered by a call from Urs, who spoke in soothing French to the worried woman.
Flipping his phone closed, Urs rose and walked over to the sink. Pulling a glass from the cupboard, he filled it from the tap and downed the icy water without stopping.

Marion moved to stand next to Urs. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she saw that his eyes were awash with tears. He kept his back turned towards his friends, refusing to share his emotions.

“What am I supposed to say to her, Marion? Seb’s mom, I mean. I told her it was exhaustion, and a case of flu. That, at least, is not a lie. I don’t want to scare her to death.” He spoke in a harsh whisper, and Marion could feel the waves of anguish and worry coursing from him.

“Of course you did the right thing, Urs. No need to worry Sebastien’s mother unduly. You call her back after Bea tells us how he’s doing. Meanwhile, would you help me carry this heavy bag of china pieces outside to the trash bin?” Urs jumped at the chance to do something physical, to take his mind off of Sebastien. As Marion had known he would. Over at the table, Carlos smiled as he watched the exchange between Marion and Urs. She had known exactly what to do to take his mind off his worries. He was impressed again by her wisdom and caring for others.

“She’s amazing, isn’t she?” Carlos was startled from his thoughts by Bea’s whisper next to his ear. She looked at him for a long moment with that penetrating green gaze of hers. He felt naked before her, and pulled his eyes away from hers. “Please don’t play with her emotions, Carlos. I know your reputation as a womanizer.” Marion tried not to listen in on the hushed conversation from her position by the sink, but couldn’t help herself.

“It’s a reputation put out by our publicity department, Bea. Carlos is one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. You can’t believe anything you read about us in the scandal sheets. It’s a crazy business we’re in.” David spoke in a resigned voice. Urs was just coming back through the outside door, and caught the last sentence of his statement.

“Yes, I agree with David.” The Swiss said in a bitter tone of voice. “We’re worth a lot of money to a lot of people. Publicity will say just about anything to sell one more CD.” He drew another glass of water from the tap and returned to his seat at the table. Beatrice studied Urs’s drawn, tired face with her trained eyes.

“I think ya’ll need a break from your tour, before exhaustion sets in. I hate that Sebastien is sick, but he’ll recover, and the tour will go on. Speaking of Sebastien, his fever is down, and he woke up for a bit and spoke with the nurse.” The three men smiled in relief, and David slapped a high five to Urs.

“Yes! Good ‘ol Seb, he’s a fighter!” David said. “Of course,” The handsome blond continued, taking Bea’s hand. “ a brilliant diagnosis by his gorgeous doctor has started him on the road to recovery.”

“Is he always like this?” Bea asked Urs.

“Not 24 hours a day.” Urs replied. “Maybe 18 hours of the day for clowning, the rest for eating.” Bea laughed.

“That leaves no time for siiingiiing…” David began to sing in his enormous tenor voice. Carlos joined in with some harmony, until he noticed Marion and Bea covering their ears, and even Urs wincing at the volume of their voices. Carlos slapped David’s arm to get his attention, stopping the singing.

“Do you come with a volume knob?” Bea asked David, who leered at her and wiggled his eyebrows in his best Carlos impersonation.

“I shall show you my volume knob later, my dear.”The effect was hampered by David’s fair coloring, and lack of thick eyebrows. Carlos laughed at David’s attempt, and wiggled his own brows at Marion and Bea.

“ It is best to stay with an older man, my dears. We mature like a fine wine, and I have a few years on David. I am sweeter…and more potent.” Carlos clowned right along with David, making the others laugh.

Marion wiped her eyes, which were moist from laughing. She had laughed more this morning than she had in a long time. She thought Bea looked happier than she had in years. There had been no time for any relationships while her niece was in medical school. The death of her parents had made her too serious, too sad for most men. But now Marion marveled at the way Beatrice had opened up to David, joking and laughing with the tall blond.

Marion’s thoughts then turned to the handsome Spaniard seated next to her. It had been years since her husband’s death, and she had been too busy with her daughter, her niece and her business to give any time to a relationship. Maybe now was the time. There were certainly some warm fuzzies going on when he kissed her. She was only fifty, after all. How old was the luscious Mr. Marin? Hmmmm…she’d need to…

“Marion! Hello, are you dreaming?” The luscious one was speaking to her while Bea snapped her fingers in front of her aunt’s face. Startled out of her daydream, Marion jumped to her feet and turned to hide the blush that covered her face.

“ I’m sorry, dear. I got distracted thinking of the business. I’ll need an hour or so today to deal with some cancellations. Let’s get out of this stuffy kitchen, shall we?” Marion said as she stacked dirty plates in the dishwasher. Urs stood up from his seat at the table.

“I know that we haven’t told our ghost stories yet, but I am off to a quick shower and change of clothes.” He said as he picked up his cell from the table. “I must call Madame Isambard first, though, and tell her of Seb’s condition.” Carlos also stood, phone in hand, and rubbed at the bristles on his chin.

“I, myself, am going for the shave. Better for the kissing, yes?” He said with a wink at Marion. To his surprise, she winked back at him, throwing a kiss. After Urs and Carlos had left, Bea began clearing the table, assisted by David. Marion continued filling the dishwasher.

“I’m afraid the service won’t be as efficient as usual, David. My day girls won’t be in because of the quarantine, so ya’ll will have to tidy your own rooms. Meals won’t be a problem, as Bea can help me with the cooking.” David grinned at Marion.

“Not a problem, Marion.” He replied in a happy voice. “Urs loves to cook, and Carlos isn’t the useless pretty boy he seems. He’s a pretty deep guy, Carlos, I mean. Very serious about the business, Il Divo, I mean. He does the Latin Lover bit in public because the publicity guys asked him to. He’s not usually so open with people he’s just met, Marion. I haven’t seen him so happy in a long time. The divorce hit him really hard, and came as a huge shock to him.” There was silence in the room after David’s statement. The two women exchanged looks with each other.

“I’m glad that you think Carlos seems happier here, David. He makes me feel pretty happy, too. You’re a good influence on my niece, David. She’s been far too sad and wrapped up in her career.”

“Aunt Marion, stop talking about me!” David grabbed Bea and kissed her as he engulfed her in a huge hug.










Chapter XXVIII


After Carlos and Urs had returned to the kitchen, the entire group moved outside onto the patio. The cool, plant shaded area had a large wooden table with comfortable cushioned chairs. Marion had supplied tall pitchers of lemonade and iced tea for when throats became dry from talking. And talk they did.

Bea listened in amazement to Carlos and Urs’s tale of the flying portrait, then Carlos’s dreams became the source of her amazement. The handsome Spaniard finished with the discovery of his ancestor being Aurelia’s lover. His great-grandfather had begun to haunt him after he awoke from his dream the previous night, Carlos told her. At the mention of his name, Vicente materialized at a discreet distance from the humans. Carlos was the only one able to see and hear his ancestor, but Bea and Marion could sense his cold presence.

Then it was Urs’s turn to tell of his ghostly encounter with Aurelia that morning.

“The handprints on her neck faded, and were replaced by rope marks. I think she was trying to show me she was strangled, then her killer made it look like a suicide.” Urs finished, running his hands through his chin length hair.”We need to find her killer, and free her soul. I just feel this is what she wants.”

“That is also Vicente’s wish. He is depending on me to free Aurelia’s soul, so that he may also achieve salvation with her in Heaven.” Carlos agreed with Urs.


The conversation turned to Sebastien and his bizarre behavior after tripping and falling into Urs. Carlos confessed to seeing a spectral hand push Seb into Urs ,then both men taking a nasty fall.

“Did Sebastien strike his head against anything hard enough to cause his concussion?” Bea asked, trying to find a cause for the head injury the CT scan had discovered in the Frenchman. Urs grimaced as he peeled his shirt off of his muscular shoulder to reveal a dark, ugly bruise.

“That’s what Seb’s head hit as he went down. He also took me down, I might add.” Urs said. “I hit my back against the tree, after he plowed into me. There was a good bit of force behind his head, to make a bruise like this.” Bea approached Urs and gently palpated the bruised shoulder, flexing the arm.”

“Nothing feels out of place, although there’s quite a bit of swelling.” The redhead stated with a smile at her patient. “One thing that interests me though, is that Sebastien’s concussion that was clearly visible on the CT yesterday, has vanished today.”

“Completely vanished, as in healed?” David asked. “I take it that’s not normal.” Bea’s smile faded as she thought about the medical mystery.

“No David, that is totally abnormal. The brain doesn’t heal that quickly, it’s impossible. There must be a paranormal aspect to this whole thing.” Her green eyes swept the group around the table.

“Marion, will you take notes, please?” Beatrice began to think out loud. “Now, who is the best on the computer of this group?”

“David.” Urs and Carlos both spoke up at the same time.

“Just video games and movies, or something of actual worth?” Bea asked, giving David a skeptical glance. He grinned back at her.

“I just happen to have a degree in computer science, ma’am. I know my way around the internet, and how to use my comp as a research tool.” Bea began giving orders, and planning the rest of their day like the Army Reserve officer that she was.

“Now David, I need you to look up ghosts and different kinds of spirits, see if they can possess a person, maybe to use their body or something. I just know a little bit about ghosts, myself.” Bea grabbed the notebook from Marion, who had been making eyes at Carlos, and had missed the last few notations. Sighing, Beatrice spoke a little louder, gaining the two lovers’ attention again.

“Now…who is best at reading antique handwriting and can speak French and Spanish? There is a copy of Aurelia’s diary translated into English, but we may gain extra clues or insight into her death if someone could read it in the original French”.

Urs raised his hand to volunteer to be the reader of Aurelia’s diary. He also planned on researching any contemporary news stories of the deaths of Vicente and Aurelia. Carlos also volunteered to translate Vicente’s diary as soon as his mother could e-mail the writings. Marian stated that she was excellent at deciphering difficult handwriting, after her career as a nurse. Doctors have the worst handwriting in the world. Carlos beamed a huge smile at Marion after her announcement, and took her hand in his.

“We shall make a most wonderful team to work on the diaries. With Urs’s help, of course.”
Carlos smiled into Marion’s pretty face. Bea flipped her curly red hair back out of her eyes and looked up from her notes.

“Who has laptops for research?” Urs, David and Marion all raised their hands, while Carlos shrugged and looked embarrassed.

“I told you it would catch up with you eventually, Carlos.” David laughed. “Technology always catches up sooner or later.” Carlos smiled at Marion, who immediately volunteered her laptop for her and Carlos to research the diaries. Carlos followed Marion into the house, and along the back hall to a small, bright room brimming with all the accoutrements of a modern office. A large bay window, complete with a window seat, opened upon a view of the walled rose garden. Marion sat at a delicate desk, and booted up the tiny laptop before her.

“I will call my mother in Spain and request that she e-mail photocopies of the actual pages of the book, in Vicente’s own handwriting.” Carlos said. “We shall translate it together, my dear, and perhaps solve the mystery of Aurelia’s death.” Out of the corner of his eye, Carlos noticed movement in the rose garden. It was Armand, wearing tattered grave clothes. Carlos could see the squat, dark man pacing around the enclosed area, visible through the ornate wrought iron ‘windows’ offering views through the high walls. The specter stopped and stared directly at Carlos, shaking a skeletal fist at the Spaniard.

“Do you see that?” Carlos nearly shouted the words in his shock. He stumbled back, away from the window, the hairs on his neck and arms standing upright. He was shivering with goose bumps in the warm room. “You said he could not leave the garden, correct?” Carlos turned to Marion with a pleading expression on his face. “This man murdered my great-grandfather in cold blood, never giving him a chance to defend himself in a rigged duel.” Carlos sat down on the window seat, suddenly weak in the knees.

“I am afraid, Marion. What will this ghost do to me, if he thinks that I am Vicente?” Marion sat down next to Carlos and gathered him against her. Her petite curves pressed into his firm body. Her voice in his ear, with the gentle wisps of her breath, stirred his body with a warmth he had thought never to feel again. A heady cocktail of love and desire made his head spin, and he grabbed her shoulders to support himself.

“You are in no danger, my dear. Those who are of good heart are safe from Armand. And you have a very good heart, Carlos, and a pure soul. I believe Sebastien was ill when he arrived, and had little resistance to the angry Armand. Plus, a simple little earth magic keeps him confined to the garden where he died.” Carlos stared at Marion in surprise. She prayed she would never see fear of her in those deep brown eyes.

“You know what I’m talking about, Carlos.” Marion tried to downplay her extensive talents. “A few prayers, a little salt or holy water, and bad things stay confined. I’m sure your own mother has done the same thing in a new home, having it blessed, am I right?” Carlos relaxed. Of course she was right. These simple home blessings were common in Spain, and throughout Europe. He had seen his own mother and grandmother bless their home at certain times of the year.

Marion sighed in relief when she saw Carlos relax. She had said too much, too fast, especially speaking of a binding charm as she had. She had become swept away by Carlos’s fear of Armand, and had wanted to comfort this man she was rapidly developing feelings for. It was a little more complicated than some salt and a little prayer to keep Armand confined. She thought that the veil between this world and the spirit world had been thin, due to Halloween. Because of this, Armand had been able to reach out and attack Sebastien. She gently held Carlos in her arms, and soothed his fears.




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Ella



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Join date : 2010-11-14
Age : 72
Location : Orlando, Florida, USA

PostSubject: Re: Regresa a Mi   Sun Apr 26, 2015 10:56 pm

Wow! Regresa a Mi is really exciting, Liz! I was only able to see the first page. No more is offered. Is the rest of it available?
Hope to hear from you soon.
Ella
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