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«The Dollmaker», Amanda Stevens

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She was incredibly limber, and her ass and thighs were as tight as the skin on a snare drum. She smiled and curled a finger in his direction, inviting him in for a closer inspection, and Travis had been sorely tempted. But then she turned slowly to face him, and anger washed over him when he realized he’d been standing there gawking at a transvestite.

A throaty voice had said from the doorway, “Come on in, sugar, she don’t bite. Her name is Cherry Rose. You like what Cherry Rose got down there, no?”

“No,” Travis muttered, and turned away.

“Hey, don’t be like that!” the voice called after him. “Come on back here, baby. Cherry Rose make a real man out of you.”

Some of the tourists on the street overheard and started laughing, and Travis’s fist itched to connect with the he-bitch’s red mouth. But Bourbon Street drag queens were notorious for strapping switchblades to their thighs, and when they got all hopped up on speed, they’d as soon cut a man’s balls off as look at him.

So Travis had hurried away. But as he crossed the street he’d glanced back and noticed someone standing on the sidewalk, staring after him. Not the dancer or the hawker in the doorway, but a strange-looking woman wearing silver earrings and a flowing green skirt.

Something about the way she gazed at him startled Travis, and he’d paused for a moment to stare back at her. Then he lost her in the noisy crowd on the street and moved on.

He thought about the woman now and wondered where she’d gone off to, wondered if he might be able to find her once his business with the shopkeeper was settled.

Then again, maybe he ought to leave well enough alone and get his ass on home, where he could tell what was what. But after taking that doll, Terrebonne Parish might not be the safest place for him right now.

Suppressing a shudder, he said impatiently, “Don’t mean to rush you, ma’am, but I ain’t got all night.”

The woman looked up with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for making you wait, dear, but I rarely come across workmanship of this quality. The freckles across the nose…the tiny birthmark on her left arm…that kind of attention to detail is a Savannah Sweete trademark. I just can’t get over how meticulous she is.”


“However…” The woman’s tone sharpened, as if she was readying herself to get down to business. She was an old broad with steely blue eyes and cottony hair. Her glasses were the shape of cat’s eyes, and as she spoke, she kept slipping them off and chewing on one of the stems.

Travis frowned. “What’s wrong? You don’t like her so much all of a sudden?”

“No, it isn’t that. As I said, the doll is beautiful. But there are some fairly convincing imitations making the rounds these days. A few of Savannah’s former students have mastered her technique, and I know of one or two who have actually tried to pass off their work as hers.” The woman paused, her gaze dropping to the doll. “Do you have the certificate of authenticity?”

Travis had thought that might be a problem, but he was prepared to bluff his way through it. After all, bullshitting was second nature to him. Just like stealing. “If you’re the expert you claim to be, you should be able to tell just by looking at her that she’s the real deal.” He reached out and flipped one of the doll’s golden curls with his fingertip. “You said yourself you’ve never seen such quality.”

The woman slid the glasses up her nose and bent back over the doll. “I’m ninety-nine percent certain she’s genuine, but if you could obtain her paperwork, the value would double.”

“Sorry, but I’m offering her as is. You don’t want her, I’ll go elsewhere. I figure there’s plenty of shops and private collectors out there who’d like to get their hands on a fine piece like this.”

“Perhaps. But you have to understand my position. My livelihood hinges on my reputation. If you could at least tell me how and where you acquired her…?”

Travis didn’t like the sound of that. The last thing he needed was for the old biddy to call the cops. “Why do you need to know that?”

“As I said, I have a reputation to consider. I have to be cautious.”

This wasn’t going as well as he’d hoped. The woman was playing hardball and he now had two options. Stay and haggle or take the doll and walk. By this time tomorrow he’d probably have another buyer, but he didn’t much like the notion of driving all the way back home, knowing those glass eyes would be watching him another night.

“Okay, it’s like this. The doll belonged to my girlfriend’s kid. The little girl up and died suddenly, and my old lady can’t have a reminder like that lying around the house. She asked me to get rid of it for her. Considering everything she’s been through, I don’t see how I can worry her about the paperwork. You understand.”

“Of course I do. How awful to lose a child. And one so beautiful.” She stroked the doll’s smooth check. “I have two little granddaughters. I can’t imagine anything more tragic—”

“So we got us a deal or what?”

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