“When did you last see him?”
“Friday. When did he die?”
“How did it happen?”
“Hey, lady, I’m the cop here. I ask the questions. Why don’t we start over? I’m detective Chris Steppe, NOPD.” He pulled a pad of paper from his breast pocket, and looked down at me. “And you would be?”
“Why do I know that name?”
I explained to him who I was, how I knew Wayne, and why I’d become concerned enough to come to his apartment. While Detective Steppe scratched away at his pad, I looked around the room. Wayne’s apartment was spare with an innate elegance that was difficult to define. It might have been the warmth of the wooden floor, a scarred broad planked relic from an earlier era. Or it might have been the diaphanous curtains that covered the leaded French doors looking out on the balcony I’d seen from the street. The furnishings were simple—a sofa, a coffee table, a small Oriental rug in front of what I was sure was a decorative fireplace, a line of low bookcases on one wall, and a delicate round table of highly polished dark wood with two matching chairs. No bric-a-brac, no clutter was in sight. There was a calmness to the apartment that I could sense, despite my agitation, a calmness that must have been restful for a high-strung personality like Wayne’s.
A door from the living room opened into another part of the apartment, and I could hear someone shuffling around in there, opening doors and drawers.
“Where did you find Wayne’s body?” I asked Detective Steppe.
“At the cemetery.”
“Yeah. Ironic, isn’t it? He was found sitting up against a tomb in St. Louis Cemetery Number One.”
“What was the cause of death?”
“Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“Detective, I make my living writing murder mysteries. I read case histories, interview coroners, pore over police photos. I think I have a pretty strong constitution by now.”
“No doubt,” Steppe said, pushing his pad back down in his jacket pocket. He hesitated a bit, considering what to tell me. He decided not to. “Well, we’re not really sure anyway. We won’t know officially till the autopsy report comes in.”
“But you have an idea, right?”
“Did he die in the cemetery?” I asked.
Steppe’s eyebrows flew up. “You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?” He retrieved his pad. “Where did you say you were yesterday?”
“I didn’t,” I replied stiffly. “You didn’t ask me. But I was at Jazz Fest most of the day, and I can supply you with the names of my companions. In the evening, I went with them to Preservation Hall.”
Steppe took some more notes and I got up and paced the room, trying to get a glimpse of the layout of the rest of the apartment, and to see whoever was in the other room.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I prodded.
“Don’t really know,” he replied. “I’m not the medical examiner. Now tell me, Mrs. Fletcher, why would anyone want Copely dead?”
I whirled around. “He was murdered?”
“I didn’t say that, did I?”
“I don’t know that anyone would want Wayne dead, unless it had to do with his research.”
I gave Steppe a brief rundown on Wayne’s interest in the recordings of Little Red LeCoeur. “But he hasn’t found any so far,” I added, and then remembered that “so far” was as far as Wayne would be able to go.
“What do you know about voodoo, Mrs. Fletcher?”
“Voodoo? Barely anything at all. Why?”
“Copely was found sitting up against the tomb of Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo queen.” He paused, waiting for my reaction.
“I know that Wayne knew something about voodoo,” I replied, “but that would be true of anyone raised in New Orleans.”
“Did he ever wear a gris-gris, Mrs. Fletcher? You know about them, don’t you? They’re those pouches on a string meant to bring good luck or ward off evil.”
“I never saw one on him.”
“Well, his corpse wore one, and there’s a little more.” He was eyeing me closely now.
“His hand, Mrs. Fletcher. I saw two puncture marks.”
“Does this have something to do with how he died?”
“Probably.” Steppe was stalling.
“What could have made those marks, Detective?”
“There’s only one thing I can think of, Mrs. Fletcher.” He stared into my eyes. “Copely died from the bite of a rattlesnake.”