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.The previous night's storm had passed, ushering in a warm and sunny day full of the false promise of spring.Before him lay a wide driveway of white gravel.A small army of valets and caddies were busy ferrying expensive cars and gleaming golf carts here and there.Beyond the driveway was a swimming pool, sparkling azure in the late-morning light, empty of swimmers but surrounded by sunbathers drinking bloody Marys.Beyond the pool lay an expansive golf course, immaculate fairways and raked bunkers, over which strolled men in pastel-colored blazers and women in golf whites.Beyond passed the broad brown swath of the Mississippi River.There was a movement at his side."Mr.Pendergast?"Pendergast looked up to see a short, rotund man in his late fifties, wearing a dark suit, the jacket buttoned, and a deep red tie bearing only the subtlest of designs.His bald pate gleamed so strikingly in the sun it might have been gilded, and identical commas of white hair were combed back above both ears.Two small blue eyes were set deep in a florid face.Below them, the prim mouth was fixed in a business-like smile.Pendergast rose."Good morning.""I'm Portby Chausson, general manager of the Bayou Grand Hotel."Pendergast shook the proffered hand."Pleased to make your acquaintance."Chausson gestured toward the hotel with a pink hand."Delighted.My office is this way."He led the way through the courtyard into an echoing lobby, draped in cream-colored marble.Pendergast followed the manager past well-fed businessmen with sleek women on their arms to a plain door just beyond the front desk.Chausson opened it to reveal an opulent office in the French Baroque style.He ushered Pendergast into a chair before the ornate desk."I see from your accent you're from this part of the country," Chausson said as he took a seat behind the desk."New Orleans," Pendergast replied."Ah." Chausson rubbed his hands together."But I believe you are a new guest?" He consulted a computer."Indeed.Well, Mr.Pendergast, thank you for considering us for your holiday needs.And allow me to commend you on your exquisite taste: the Bayou Grand is the most luxurious resort in the entire Delta."Pendergast inclined his head."Now, over the phone you indicated you were interested in our Golf and Leisure Packages.We have two: the one-week Platinum Package, and the two-week Diamond Package.While the one-week packages begin at twelve thousand five hundred, I might suggest upgrading to the two-week because of the--""Excuse me, Mr.Chausson?" Pendergast interrupted gently."But if you'd allow me to interject for just a moment, I think I could save both of us valuable time."The general manager paused, looking at Pendergast with an expectant smile."It's true I did express some interest in your golf packages.Please forgive my little deception."Chausson looked blank."Deception?""Correct.I merely wished to gain your attention.""I don't understand.""I'm not sure how much plainer I can express myself, Mr.Chausson.""Do you mean to say"--the blank look darkened--"that you have no intention of staying at the Bayou Grand?""Alas, no.Golf is not my sport.""That you deceived me so that you could.gain access to me?""I see the light has finally dawned.""In that case, Mr.Pendergast, we have no further business to discuss.Good day."Pendergast examined his perfectly manicured fingernails a moment."Actually, we do have business to discuss.""Then you should have approached me directly, without subterfuge.""Had I done that, I would almost certainly never have made it into your office."Chausson reddened."I have heard just about enough.I'm a very busy man.Now, if you'll excuse me, I have valid guests to attend to."But Pendergast showed no signs of rising.Instead, with a sigh of something like regret, he reached into his suit jacket, withdrew a small leather wallet, and flipped it open to reveal a gold shield.Chausson stared at it for a long moment."FBI?"Pendergast nodded."Has there been a crime?""Yes."Beads of sweat appeared on Chausson's brow."You aren't going to.make an arrest at my hotel, are you?""I had something else in mind."Chausson looked hugely relieved."Is this some kind of criminal matter?""Not one related to the hotel.""Do you have a warrant or subpoena?""No."Chausson seemed to regain much of his poise."I'm afraid, Mr.Pendergast, that we shall have to consult our attorneys before we can respond to any request.Company policy.So sorry."Pendergast put away the shield."Such a pity."Complacency settled over the general manager's features."My assistant will show you out." He pressed a button."Jonathan?""Is it true, Mr.Chausson, that this hotel building was originally the mansion of a cotton baron?""Yes, yes." A slender young man entered."Will you kindly show Mr.Pendergast out?""Yes, sir," the young man said.Pendergast made no effort to rise."I wonder, Mr.Chausson--what do you think your guests would say if they were to learn that, in fact, this hotel used to be a sanatorium?"Chausson's face abruptly shut down."I have no idea what you're talking about.""A sanatorium for all kinds of nasty, highly communicable diseases.Cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever--""Jonathan?" Chausson said."Mr.Pendergast won't be leaving quite yet.Please close the door on your way out."The young man retreated.Chausson turned on Pendergast, sitting forward, pink jowls quivering with indignation."How dare you threaten me?""Threaten? What an ugly word.'The truth shall make you free,' Mr.Chausson.I'm offering to liberate your guests with the truth, not threaten them."For a moment, Chausson remained motionless.Then--slowly--he sank back into his chair.A minute passed, then two."What is it you want?" he asked in a low voice."The sanatorium is the reason for my visit.I'm here to see any old files that might remain--in particular, those relating to a specific patient.""And who might that patient be?""John James Audubon."The general manager's forehead creased.And then he smacked his well-scrubbed hand on the desk in undisguised annoyance."Not again!"Pendergast looked at Chausson in surprise."Excuse me?""Every time I think that wretched man is forgotten, somebody else comes along.And I suppose you'll be asking about that painting, as well."Pendergast sat in silence."I'll tell you what I told the others.John James Audubon was a patient here nearly one hundred and eighty years ago.The, er, health care facility closed down more than a century ago.Any records--and certainly any painting--are long gone.""And that's it?" Pendergast asked.Chausson nodded with finality."And that's it."A look of sorrow came over Pendergast's face."A pity.Well, good day, Mr.Chausson." And he rose from the chair."Wait a minute." The general manager also rose, in sudden alarm."You're not going to tell the guests." His voice trailed off [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]