by D.L. Glenn
A hitman from Texas & a gorgeous Cajun runaway fall in love one day in New Orleans.
|Moses and Curio|
Lemarie Leblanc rolled out from under her sleeping bag at the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza in New Orleans, trying hard not to knock over the various bottles and cans lying strewn around her. Stifling a cough and sniffling back an inadvertent sinus drain as quietly as she could, she got up on all fours and surveyed who was walking and who was not. The quiet room was a loud wreck.
Her night had been a wild one, a little blurry between the temples at times but not too bad on the fun quotient as best she could recollect. She noted she was nude below the waist so there had been some sex involved at some point. Thankfully, that part of the evening was reasonably lucid after some mental grinding and a few terse snaps of her fingers, but the initial origin of her encounter was not immediately recollected. It did not bother her all that much. Such things would come to her in time. If they did not, c’est la vie. It may have been for the best not to remember.
It was New Orleans, after all. Waking up fucked, hung over and confused in a hotel, she surmised, was probably happening in many Sunday morning hotel rooms at that very instant. It had certainly happened to her after enough random nights in the last few years for her to know it did not make her situation special in the least.
She stood up to stretch, thankful she still had a shirt on. She was not modest, but being covered meant she still had a shirt. Too many times, she had crashed somewhere and ended up losing clothes piecemeal due to making a hasty exit- for one reason or another- and not taking inventory of what was hers.
Her worldly possessions amounted to piecemeal sprinklings of clothes at various friends’ houses and whatever clothes she had at any given time in her ragged Jansport pack. The contents of the pack, which she had discreetly lifted from a transient who was going to jail for punching a tourist, the worst of sins to the cops in Sin City apparently, were both dwindling and growing at all times. It was at that instant filled with a few outfits, a worn purse and a battered make-up bag that was currently woefully under-stocked but basically serviceable. There may have been times when she was lacking food or shelter, but Lemarie could think of no time she would be without makeup.
She was missing a visual on both her skirt and her panties. Her black stockings were hanging in a bunch from the gap between the box spring and mattress of the bed in front of her. She wrote them off as the night’s activities returned to her memory. They snagged on a splintered doorjamb as she and her cohorts for the evening staggered out from the gay club OZ at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. The nylons were shot all to hell.
The tourists bought three rounds at full club price trying to score up some ecstasy tabs that never showed up. At least they had had ample weed and the bars were flooding with moist spirits that night.
Her tennis shoes were lying by her, sticking their little Nike noses out from under the bed. When she knelt down to look under the bed, she found her skirt wadded beneath it. Her lacey black panties gnarled and twisted in it.
“Good, good, good!” she whispered to herself. Biting her lip in concentration, she silently drug up her possessions.
A young couple lightly snored in the bed, passed-out, naked, their limbs entwined, across the fitted sheet. Snuggling as they were, she guessed they had been together a long time. But who knew? The notion of two betrothed souls romantically smelted into one was often lost to the come-and-go whimsy of the lascivious city. People curled up like that all the time when the comforter ended up wadded and kicked away, as theirs was. The air-conditioned room was cold. That temperature on naked bodies in a Big Easy hotel room frequently made immediate soul mates out of soused strangers. Hypothermia was a rarity when one visited the sudsy Vieux Carre with a lusting partner.
The other bed was empty but ransacked by someone at some point. Lemarie could not hear anything stirring in the john. It was just her and the naked college couple who did not know they, or she, were even in the world.
“Hell yes!” Lemarie smiled as she surveyed the room for wallets and began recollecting whatever valuables she noticed the couple possessing as their night passed. “More than I could have hoped for!”
She got her panties on and managed to slip into her tight denim skirt without causing too much of a stir. Taking a survey of the various liquor bottles, she knew if they had not had a platoon of help drinking all the alcohol lying around, all the Bloody Mary’s and BC powder on earth would not bring them solace when the sun hit their foreheads.
Her backpack was in the corner behind her where she semi-remembered leaving it. Hurrying now, she set about cramming the well-worn sleeping bag into its maw.
More details of the night before slowly found her as she worked at making her exit. As she rifled through their possessions quickly, the details only infuriated her.
The couple was a Jason and a Jennifer. There had been three more people with them but they had another room.
From Shreveport, she struggled for innocuous details. LSU-S…I think she was an Education Major. She’s about to get a fuckin’ lesson for damned sure.
She and the cute guy...she struggled for his name...Greg Bailey! They had split off from the pack, laughing and stumbling up Decatur Street and ending up making out in front of the Hard Rock. He was a nice guy, laid back and kind of shy with a great head of young Republican hair and flawless teeth that did not know how not to smile. A descendant of wealth. Everything he did in public around her and the way he carried himself had the air of one call to daddy… in it. He ingested New Orleans with reckless abandon of a laissez faire prince but was still fun to hang around and get to know better.
They took off up Decatur, she now remembered. Hit a sandwich shop to knock down his munchies, stumbled into Marie Laveaux’s to buy a gator head…she had way too many fuzzy navels somewhere along the way to ward off the staggers. She recalled with a brief smile that they made out all the way up Poydras as they made out for the hotel.
Hell yeah! Then we got busy for a while! She pondered over the interlude and found that many of those details were missing.
He said he had a rubber at least.
Lemarie thanked her stars for remembering that.
Now, if only I can ever remember if we actually used it...yes! Score one against the clap…
With her memory that far intact, she tried to understand how she ended up in a sleeping bag on the floor in another room. Her intention was for her and that Greg guy to make it a night. Her dander rose further as she finished cramming the sleeping bad into the bottom compartment of the pack.
Nice guy Greg had no such plans after his urge was purged.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Those other dickheads he was with called him up just about the time he was done with me and told him they weren’t quite done scourging the streets yet. What did dat one say? Finish up with that skank…and get his ass back down to Cat’s. And what did that nice guy Greg Not, “naw fellas, y’all have some fun out there, I’m gonna’ chill here with this nice little cutie!” Who just gave herself to him when she didn’t have to and probably shouldn't have. Nope, it was, “Woohoooo! Bourbon Streeeeet! I’m on my way, muthafuckaaas!” instead…
She glared for a moment at the sleeping couple. They were useful for an evening but depressing the next day. Many people fell into that category in her life.
Laissez les bon temps roulez, right tourists? Hot, anonymous sex with some random hot chick you can forget about comes with the vacation package, of course.
Pissed off, she had gone down to the other room and smoked some grass with the now-sleeping couple. She was determined to find a spot to sleep in for the night. Often her rental fee for a safe night under a roof and between four walls involved sex to make her intrusion a bit more tolerable. One had to pay to play and she was well versed in the rules of that game. In retrospect, she should have just left and went back to the street to see what it may still offer her to pass the night, but the couple were pretty and they brought party favors to the party. That was enough to feel them out a while at least.
Drinking and smoking hydroponic worked some magic on the three of them. The women were both gorgeous and told each other so repeatedly. Body shots of Aftershock at Jason’s urging turned the compliments into making out together for a while. For a while, the plan worked out fine, but the kink was Jenn’s tolerance being subpar for the demands of New Orleans. Seemingly, in an instant, she swooned over from giddily aroused and swan-dived straight into Sloppy Land.
Moodily swaying, Jenn swerved headlong into a surly dose of irrational accusations about Jason thinking Lemarie was hotter than she was. Despite both of her would-be lovers protesting otherwise, Jennifer got uncomfortably jealous when “that girl” started getting too much attention. Recognizing Jenn was plowed-under and no amount of persuasion was going to make it happen for the three of them, Lemarie bowed out diplomatically by feigning passing out on the floor in her sleeping bag, lest she end up in a drunken domestic. Jason killed the lights smothered her ire with whispers of his unflinching devotion in her ear. Playing possum, Lemarie heard Jason still try to screw her a few times, but Jenn only slurred angrily when she attempted lucidity and snored off into oblivion again. After a while, Jason called softly to Lemarie in the dark, but she was sleepy herself and sex with one asshole was enough for the night. Soon, he was snoring in comatose harmony with his girlfriend. Lemarie took a power nap.
And she plotted.
She would have just left the whole deteriorating scene when Jenn started to lose her manners, but she was too drunk to leave and after negotiating doses of the various uppers and smileys to maintain three straight days of clubbing all night to avoid sleeping in the street, Lemarie was practically a zombie. She needed a place to sleep. By the time she realized her legs went less than solid beneath her, the hour was too late to try to hope and pray a couch was available somewhere close by.
Forlornly awake, she stared at the unused bed as she massaged her sore neck. The empty bed belonged to that dickhead wiseass that was with them. He had never returned to the room.
LJ! She glared at the ransacked spare bed. Muthafuckin’ LJ.
Lemarie struggled for the name. She never got his proper name but surmised the initials meant Loud Jackass.
Her being found half-naked in his bed, without her crotch covered with anything less than a titanium chastity belt -with revolving three-inch razor blades- when that dude returned with a few Everclear hand grenades priming him up to attempt a two-pump and a dump was not a good idea.
My turn! My turn! C’mon, baby…Woohooooo Bourboooon Streeeeet!
She could just see that coming when she hunkered down in her sleeping bag beside their bed, hoping to hell she was out of sight and out of mind if they returned half-lit and unlucky in love for the night.
Damn drunks. Damn drunk-ass college boys, I swear…
She saw so many of their frivolous ilk pass through the town on any given weekend. The best thing that ever happened when they left was that they left. New Orleans was not a town that could refuse a stranger with a full wallet and a thirst to quench. For the most part, Lemarie was tolerant of the inundation of fresh faces amongst the streets of the city that was her own since birth. The world beyond her beaten paths of the Vieux Carre needed fresh perspectives from time to time and New Orleans certainly provided that.
Some bastards though…they got what was coming to them for their discourtesy toward the residents.
Awake and methodical now, Lemarie set about doing what she usually did when the opportunity to get some hotel rest and reload amongst such strangers with candy came her way.
First, she rifled through Jennifer’s purse and stole whatever cash she had. Jennifer apparently had some serious anxiety issues by the age of twenty that required a near-full bottle of Valiums. Lemarie figured since they were in the most festive of towns, those issues could probably hold out until she got back to Shreveport and pocketed them.
She did the same with the cash in Jason’s wallet as soon as she found it in his pants pocket. She did not bother to count it. It was a decent piece of change she could tell. He kept his fiyah-ass weed in a film canister she saw was sitting on the nightstand. That was pocketed, too.
Moving quickly and efficiently, she poked her hands in pockets, drawers and nooks. Jennifer was about two sizes larger than she was, she figured. A quick look in the hotel’s chest of drawers yielded three useable blouses- one was quite cute- and two t-shirts crammed into her pack.
The girl’s feet were exactly Lemarie’s size, so when she found a pair of LSU purple and gold pumps with little tiger-head studs across the toe, she took those on principal.
Geaux Tigers! She loved her some Purple and Gold, baby!
Sizing up the group dynamic as she finished adding their wares to her pack, Lemarie scowled as she dwelled on how dismissive of her the group as a whole had been toward her. She could not help herself when it came to holding back on a prank to sour the whole ordeal one iota further for the couple, and their friends who would have to help them out when the theft and night’s fuzzy particulars and apparent repercussions became known.
Jennifer had said at some point to her, girl to girl, she and Jason fucked like rabbits because she was on the pill and he smoked so much of that fiyah-ass weed his little swimmers were probably too bleary to see their way home. She hated a rubber, too. The spermicide always made her itch inside.
She loved it bareback, right? Hmmm. Let’s play ‘you passed out… but your man wasn’t done yet’, Jenn. Trust me, happens all the time around here...if I wasn’t so dead tired last night, this wouldn’t be a trick. It might have been my pleasure...
Lemarie shucked her panties and laid them in Jason’s clenched hand. Stifling a laugh, she opened a condom from her own purse and spat into it enough to make it look legitimately used and laid it softly on the nightstand, tip-down. She stared at it for a second. One more detail was needed.
“Oh what the hell!” She giggled and gnawed at the tip with her front teeth to tear it open just a tiny bit. When the condom was laid across the counter, it barely oozed her spit slowly down the side of the dresser.
“Bus-ted.” She sneered at Jason. “That’ll cost you eighteen years of worrying for your drunk bitch’s tirade, Richie Rich. Fuck you very much.”
She loved a good lagniappe, so she pulled out a lipstick and soon Jason’s inner thigh and neck had all the inexcusable evidence any girl could ever need to break up with him. She could just see him pleading his case for a few days, trying futilely to place all the blame on, “Hey, it was New Orleans, baby!” as Jenn and him alike wondered if he knocked up some random coonass bitch while she was passed out. She wondered if one call to Daddy would be in order for that.
In Lemarie’s mind, it served them right for keeping the company of young men such as those asshole friends of theirs, who were still on the loose somewhere in her city, as far as she knew. For all of his good traits he showed before they fucked, Greg had tossed her aside no sooner than she went to get a wet washcloth to wipe away his quickie. The offending couple had gotten her all kinds of interested in a threesome and starting that hot tickle going full-bore in her crotch as their passions were drunkenly stoked. Not seeing it through, after she was primed for the escapade, was just flat-out inconsiderate.
Ultimately, instead, she ended up balled up in her sleeping bag on the ground in a place she did not exactly want to be. Hopefully not assaulted by three drunken Sig-Ep’s at some point.
The night went as so many had for her. The morning was about to go as it did for many who wronged her as they had, fubar while hung-over.
Unacceptable party foul there, Jenn. Y’all have a good life. Hope that pill and lazy swimmer thing holds up for you. But if not, at least y’all’s kids will be way pretty.
She opened the door carefully, winked, and blew a kiss at them. Making sure mentally one final time she left nothing of hers behind and her possessions were secure in the pack, Lemarie Leblanc gave the door a sharp slam to wake them up. Knowing she had some time, before they came to properly and the hijinks between the couple ensued, she hustled down a flight of stairs one level and caught the elevator to the lobby.
Lemarie got a quick cup of black coffee in the lobby on her way out. Shouldering her backpack tightly and cinching up her purse strap so it did not flap around as she walked, she headed quickly up Tchoupitoulas toward Canal.
Her Swatch read 7:13.
Carpe diem, Curio. What to do on a Sunday…
She walked slowly so her coffee would not slosh on her. Her middle name was Curio and to most of her peoples, she was Curio. What remaining family she had left still called her Lemarie. Strangers, as well, would only know her as Lemarie. She held neither of those factions in high regard. The times when either of them was either helpful or useful to her in her life were scarce. Lemarie was also what the powers that be would call her if she were apprehended. Hearing the name rarely meant anything positive.
In her mind, she was always Curio. Her mama, the late Duchess Louellene Leblanc, called her that when she was alive and that was what she preferred.
With the coffee slammed down quickly, she was alert. Realizing she was hungry and hung over, she aimed for Jackson Square. Seven on a Sunday morning, for most folks in New Orleans, hungry and hung-over often meant swearing off the sauce forever at the jazzy Café Du Monde rather than the Stoic church.
She headed up to Decatur and made the right.
Hung over and hunching with the old Jansport heavier than the day before, walking the sidewalks was not any fun. She was envious of the tourists she passed. They carried tidy man-purses and handbags, none so heavy as to weigh the hands down to where they could not handle an arm-pumping a sloshing Solo cup or maneuver a floppy Lucky Dog to their faces efficiently.
Along the way she saw Admiral Johnson, one of the bums she had slept next to a few times over in Jackson Square or up on the levee. His constant cohort was a filthy Catahoula cur dog named Keith Moon. The dog was clearly not right in the head, probably from inbreeding. It had a motley coat of all colors, yet mostly his coat was a drab grey tinted in a shade of flea that she found reprehensible.
Keith Moon was a good boy, though. He would roll over and offer his belly for a rub for a dollar, if asked to do so. Mostly his bag of tricks consisted of shaking and convulsing like the retarded mutt he was. It was enough to keep them alive and fed. Curio constantly chided about the Admiral keeping his man on the stroll.
The Admiral certainly looked well fed and only a little disheveled on most days. There was not enough personal tragedy tainting him, per se, to keep the upturned ball cap at his feet full of loose change and singles. To assuage the condition of poor Keith Moon however, the tourists could not help but donate.
The Admiral had a sign drawn up that said, “Homeless with a dog that ate paint chips as a puppy. Please help and God bless you.” He was playing a harmonica with the dog lying there at his feet, head shaking like a palsy patient. They were both well fed at well. Keith Moon would hack at a hairball every now and then. A wretched cough would sometimes get the Admiral a nice donation by some passing animal lover. She often wondered if he was trained to do that, too.
The Admiral did play a mean harmonica. Wailing on the mouth harp already before the rising sun had cleared the levee; he was much more entertaining than Jesse the Gold Paint guy, who she could see was marching stiffly up Decatur to set up his act near Jax Brewery for the day. The bum and the dog earned far more than Jesse did. People in New Orleans could appreciate a groovy music man with a wacky, dancing dog far more than a creepy statue-dude moving like an un-oiled tin man.
Normally with her pocket full of cash, Curio would have dropped the Admiral a few dollars. He looked like he had a good night with the harmonica, though. There was a large Popeye’s bag lying close to him. The coffee house’s scrumptious beignets beckoned her far more pointedly than the notion of Sunday charity and she angled away from him.
There was a long line for beignets and coffee, standing room only in the patio, and no band yet. She waited patiently and got a dozen to mix with another cup of chicory coffee. Two hot, moist beignets did not make it from the cash register back to Decatur.
She people-watched, sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, as she idly ate her powdered sugar bombs.
It was a glorious August day. The usual south Louisiana humidity was keeping people miserable elsewhere. A nifty breeze carried a tint of petroleum down to her from the levee behind her. A cruise liner’s exhaust stack rumbled as it prepared to carry its load of people seeking a week of paradise out into the Gulf of Mexico.
She sighed as she admired the long sleek lines of the ship as those aboard readied for fun in the sun, romantic sunsets, tiki bars that never closed, chlorinated swimming pools with sunning and sighing housewives reading that book they could never have time to read with the kids around. For the guys, there was glistening bikini eye-candy, skeet shooting and hitting golf balls off the ass end of the boat, casino gambling and exuberant wives thankful for the time alone amongst three thousand strangers. They would dine at delectable twenty-four hour buffets where teeming plates of tiger prawns and prime rib would be complimentary. Their bunks were plush and there was no checkout time while at sea. If someone wished to eschew every other amenity available on the ship and hole up in their cabin to just sleep away a week, they could without question. Sighing, she rubbed her tired eyes and her stiff neck as she watched crewmembers and Hawaiian-shirted old men milling about the gangways and ladders.
Lucky asses. Just eating, drinking, sexing and sleeping. Maybe get up to go see a band, play some shuffleboard, lay out and tan, get shit-faced at ports of call that don’t smell like old piss and the dumpsters behind the restaurants...I gotta’ get my ass on one of dem one day.
Tap-dancing black urchins were just getting their act going down the block. She actually heard and saw a pair of tourists fall for the ‘where-you-got-dem-shoes?’ bit. They actually paid the fiver to the kid that pulled it off, a rarity.
It seemed to her the day was setting up to be a glorious one. Everyone had some folding money in their pockets and it was not yet eight in the morning. The bon temps of New Orleans, contrary to popular opinion, was fueled by money, not liquor.
Pigeons jerked and flapped in panic as they cooed by her feet for a taste of the doughnuts.
“In a minute, bitches. I’m hungry. Ain’t dey a dumpster around here for y’all?” She shooed them away.
There was already the evening to think about, as her morning coffee kicked in. The list of possible places to crash for the night was still in good shape. She had not used up a night at any of her regular pads. Staying out for three nights straight took some of the pressure away from some of her friends’ generosity. Lemarie was keen on spreading her time around amongst her cronies. To stay in their good graces meant staying away as much as it meant being close at times.
The stolen money was a great start for the day. Held wisely and properly set into action, it meant her night was set. She had a pocketful of cash, still uncertain how much, but she figured enough for a room. She had spot-counted at least ten twenties in Jason’s wallet as she pilfered it. That was enough for a week at some of the flophouses. Better still would be an extended stay motel or a weekly lease studio. She was only seventeen, however. No legit place would let her lease anything at that age.
Well, except Charter Arms, she frowned and shuddered as she recalled a local flophouse. The guy who owned it was creepy-ugly. He had that soothing pervert voice and a filmy cataract eye that spoke unerringly to the tits and not the eyes. She dared to stay a night or two in that place. The thin walls could scarcely stifle the noise of rented sex and ghosting junkies fighting over fallen crumbles lost into the thinning carpet in the adjacent rooms. She swore she would never return to places like those. It was a vow that she unfortunately balked at during the colder nights of winter from time to time.
Thinking of the rancid rooms, she shuddered. Sleeping there had been some of the lowest nights of her young life. That was saying a lot. With the money, she could afford better than that at the very least.
She could save the money if a friend’s pad came through for her. If she was to stay in a place, she would much rather it was on her terms rather than the whims of some host expecting some form of payment. She could get an older friend- a gay one, lest she possibly be on the hook to entertain a guy’s potential whims for a night- to sign for a room for her. That entailed cajoling someone and there was always a quid pro quo, be it sex or even time chatting to someone when she could be sleeping or partying. To not invite a chatty friend to hang with her after he or she was put out by making the effort of signing up for her room would be rude and the next time, it may be remembered when she needed that signature under different and perhaps, more needful or dire circumstances.
Tonight, there would be no clubs to have a place to be for a night. There did not need to be some all-night chat fest with some friend on coke. There did not need to be the desperate knock on her frowning aunt’s door to ask for a night on her couch. There would be no hooking up with some guy or girl, be they strange or all-to-familiar. With the money, she could purchase a fourth wakeful night stumbling the streets and perhaps that would lead to some adventure or new friend. She wanted a simple night’s sleep. After the manic path she had been on, for the summer of 1990, a simple, quiet night asleep somewhere safe and without some larcenous or licentious lease for the evening was all she wanted and dreamed about as she sipped her coffee on the bench in front of the cathedral.
Curio lived on the lam much of her teenaged life. She was good at it, but it still was a daunting task due to the state hugging its young so tightly to its empty breast, at least until they could vote and screw legally- which rated a state dole and thus gave one pertinence- if needed. Constantly, Lemarie ducked the inquiring stares of the police and truant officers who walked the streets of the French Quarter looking for young people, be they haggard runaways like her or some giddy bunch of school skippers from out-of-town taking a day off to walk in the Mecca for all things delinquent.
Living on her own completely since opting out from her last foster home, she walked the town alone with her backpack until the next sunset and she found a place to lay her head. Too many times, her head bobbed in a lap before it found the comfort of a pillow. Too young to rent, too old to know she should accede to the dictates of state law, Lemarie Curio Leblanc stared at the cathedral and bemoaned her youthful status in her very adult world.
“Fuckin’ hell. Age sucks.” She spoke suddenly aloud to herself on her lonely bench.
Watching people pass along the day with each other, each of them fully knowing from where they came from and to where they would return every night, Curio felt suddenly miserable, despite her stolen windfall. She laid her head against her pack and sighed.
The Admiral went ambling by in the distance, dancing a jig as he wailed on his harmonica. Keith Moon yapped and pirouetted at his feet.
The older tourists were out in force, hitting the shops and bodegas for whatever piece of the exotic old Vieux Carre they felt needed display in their safe world of Connecticut or Ohio or Metairie or Wyoming or Spain or wherever. The wiped-out young and the still-risqué elders were still sleeping the night off.
“Try it when you hit forty.” A deep, country voice spoke behind her. “It’s real shits and giggles then.”
Her head snapped and she saw a tall, lean man in a tight-fitted white t-shirt and a pair of grey sweat pants jogging on the pathway behind her. He did not look back at her.
She watched him as he got to the end of the path where it turned to the left and angled for Decatur.
Barely seeing his face when he turned around slightly to glance around for traffic, she could see an angular jaw line and squinting eyes. There was sleekness in his form, akin to a predatory cat. Her eyes were sharp and she liked what she saw. He was a man in full. Something in his outline uttered, “capable” to her, though she could not be certain of what he was capable.
Capable of any damned thing he wanted… She finally deemed him.
“Try it when I’m sixty-nine then, Mister Hot Old Man.” Curio snickered, chewing on the last beignet as he crossed the street and was lost in the shadow of the cathedral.
She stood up and downed the last sip of coffee. Making sure to dump the beignet kibbles and powdered sugar on the ground to tweak out the pigeons for at least an hour and, she hoped, terrorize the tourists with manic Hitchcockian assaults, she tossed her trash in a trashcan.
Lemarie made sure she crossed herself in front of the cathedral and headed down Decatur toward the French Market to get some sunglasses to match the new blouse and shoes she now owned.
Moses Holliday finished choking Alvin Trudeau to death around seven-thirty on an August morning in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The late Mister Trudeau made the mistake of opening his door to let his dog out for a pee and before he knew it, the Yorkie was clawing and barking on the wrong side of the door and a tall and powerful man was behind him. He screamed briefly before Moses got a thick wire garrote around his throat and used it to lift the much-slighter man into the air, crushing his windpipe to help with the suffocation of the noose.
“You knew better, Alvin.” Moses whispered into the flailing man’s ear. “Grizzly told me to a-tell you that, you stupid bastard.”
Alvin’s eyes bulged. He frantically tried to stop the attacker. Instinctively his hands clawed at the wire, trying to free his throat. Moses only increased the tension on the wire, quickly rewarded with the telltale flush of beet-red in the man’s face as the pressure from the increased constriction raised the blood pressure in the veins of the head.
He listened for some telltale whistle that meant the airway was still not locked up tight. There was none. The constriction was total. It was only the matter of time now.
Alvin tried to kick at Moses’ legs. His scrawny feet only bounced harmlessly against the tall man’s calves.
“Now, Alvin, that ain’t a-gonna help and you best stop it. You’re done in. Now you just let relax and let it happen, boy.”
To Alvin, Moses' slow drawl seemed more attuned to Andy talking to Opie about throwing rocks at barn than comforting a man he was murdering. Wild with panic, Alvin flailed about with his soft hands. He managed to kick Moses hard in the shin. The bony heel stung the bone perfectly.
“Dammit. Now you stop that, boy!” Moses growled now. Alvin’s panic reminded him of catching a feral cat barehanded once as a child.
“Stop thrashing, your fuckin’ fairy. It’ll be easier.” Moses grimaced and locked his elbows to his sides as he wrapped a leg around Alvin to keep his feet from feebly kicking Moses’ knees. “That shit’s annoying, shitbird. But you go on if it’ll make you feel better. I rather you just stop it and spend your time praying. It’ll help you a lot more than trying to kick your way outta’ this here pickle you’re in, boy. You’re done.”
Alvin forgot to pray as the last of his oxygen was used up. He went limp from hypoxia. Yawning, Moses picked him up a few more inches off the floor with his strong arms, watching the pink disappear at last and the blue lips and eyelids came through. He leaned back, letting his strong spine diffuse the weight and save his arms from giving out. He held him that way for a few long minutes, never relenting on the pressure even as the tiny body went limp and lifeless.
When he did finally release him, it was to duct-tape a flattened four-gallon garbage bag around the head and watch for any sign of life. Checking his neck again some five minutes later, Moses was satisfied.
Job complete, boss. Pay the man!
Alvin Trudeau had made the mistake of trying to steal from a gangster named Bertrand Fontenot. He had not been in league with “Grizzly” Fontenot for very long, only a few months, but it was long enough to know a man nicknamed Grizzly was not one who tolerated his cut of the business being pilfered.
Alvin owned an antiques store on Magazine Street that was a front for selling narcotics of all descriptions. Grizzly set the man up in the place by fronting some startup capital and making sure the local blue boys’ curiosities and any zoning problems were handled, which was an increasingly hard thing to do.
He had ties to the uptown aristocracy of the Big Easy. He touted himself as being a dealer to the highbrowed toddy and pearl-necklace culture. He fancied himself an Acadian Truman Capote, with large baggies of good coke and stout pills rather than incisive quips to keep him invited to the highball parties.
At first, he was a nice addition to Fontenot’s stable of dopemen. He moved some heavy product in a hurry during Jazz Fest and managed to luck up on a new supplier from Houston with seemingly endless oodles of brick-pack Mexican sensemilla.
Most useful was the closeted precinct captain Alvin knew intimately- a man who could schedule patrols that would leave Poydras largely unwatched at a time Grizzly needed a safe route from the ferry to his main distribution hub up on South Roman Street.
Routine traffic stops were a severe issue until that point. The city boys would be out writing speed trap tickets and happen upon some nervous driver all sweaty and nervous, check his trunk and…hello! For a glorious few months though, the route was clear of interdictions.
It could not last, however. Alvin had a fatal flaw. It turned out he was horrible at math when it came to measuring up Monsieur Fontenot’s portion of the ledger. Good math skills were as essential as discretion and product punctuality in Grizzly’s eyes.
Lack of perfection in any aspect of being in the employ of Grizzly Fontenot resulted in Moses Holliday delivering a retirement summons, in whatever way he saw fit. Sometimes it was quick and clean. Many times, if the grievance was insulting as well as poorly thought out, he may play around a while and let the less fortunate stew in agony over what they had done before it all came to an inglorious end.
The end was always the same anyway. Black nothingness. At least that was what Moses assumed. He read a great deal of theories written about the hereafter and the theological notions of mortality. Eventually, he stopped reading them. He had seen enough people pass on in his presence in various manners to shrug away anyone’s biased opinions about it. People had hope for more than they would receive in death. Most sought some notion of noble dignity and held close the notion of some higher meaning for the soul’s vessel. He did not. Having seen innumerable, usually violent, ends to those lofty vessels, he gave them no more serenity in the throes of death than he did a game animal. The living earned only grudging respect, his evil ire, his lusty companionship and his omnipresent paranoia. Their deaths earned him only money.
Moses did some deep-knee bends, arms pushed out with his fingers locked, hearing the knees pop like muffled popcorn. The Yorkie clawed at the door, barking like mad to be let in. Alvin lived in a tiny home on Burgundy between Dumaine and St. Phillip. It was close enough to the hustle of Bourbon for people to be around even at that early hour. Thinking about neighbors, he let the white bundle of joy into the house and shut the door quietly after a quick glance around.
The dog was overjoyed at being allowed back in and happily made friends with its master’s killer. He scratched the little dog’s ears for a few minutes and it tried to hump his sore shin.
“Easy there, Humpy.” He chuckled. “No need for excitement.” The dog gave up its quest for glory and sat waiting a treat.
“I’m headin' out, buddy.” Moses crumpled the used trash bag into the crotch of his tighty-whiteys. “You hold the fort. Here, lemme’ a-get ya’ a bite to eat, Little Buddy.”
Moses poured it a giant dollop of feed with gloved hands. “Pace yourself, partner.” He checked the water bowl and poured the dog a few more bowls full. “You may be here a while before they a-come by later and find Daddy.”
Certain he was print-free and leaving no trace, he eased out the way he came in.
He looked up and down on Burgundy for neighbors and saw none. With a deep breath, he walked deliberately to down to St. Ann and did some stretches.
Warmed up and eager to leave the scene, he started jogging down St. Ann toward Decatur. Drunks and merchants nodded at him as he passed. He even got a few whoops from some middle-aged, rotund housewives, as they came stumbling from Oz, Dixie cups in their hands.
“Hair of the dog, ladies?” He managed a chuckle before passing them on the run.
“Hell no, we ain’t quit drinkin’ from last night!” One of them hollered as he kept his feet moving. “God help us when we do stop drankin’ though!” She fanned herself and guffawed loudly. “God, I’m so damned horny!”
“They were showing their dicks in there!” Another bellowed as they stumbled and laughed loudly across St. Ann heading up Bourbon.
Oh. Wow. Yay. Dicks.
He marveled they assumed he cared to hear about some queer gyrating on a bar waving his meat around for the occasional five-spot.
Did they not know what town they were in?
“Cures what ails ya’, I know.” He murmured, as he crossed Royal and kept jogging. One woman yelled something about showing his but he did not look back.
His old Bronco was parked in a parking deck near the Riverwalk Mall, ready to leave when he wished. Moses felt pretty clean, insofar as how the hit had gone. No one saw him waiting for Alvin to open that door. Alvin’s business would bring people looking at who may have wanted him dead, but that was Grizzly’s problem and one that Grizzly and his brother Pete had grown very astute at handling over the years. His job was always twofold- completion and evasion. The repercussions of the Fontenots’ decisions were theirs and theirs alone.
Moses Holliday lived in Houma and did not hold randy ole Nawlins in very high regard. He was a man from west Texas, where the squinting eye could see huge tracts of shimmering desert without any sign of human existence ever having marked the earth. A land of sun-bleached infinity where, in his youth, he learned to live with himself, a horse perhaps, and often a bottle of whiskey as his only company.
Being cramped up in a perennially foul city, where the streets themselves seemed to ooze filth from every pissed-upon and unwashed crack in the pavement…it was not an easy thing for a man of wide-open expanses cleansed by boiling sun, scouring sand, and hungry critters.
He allowed himself to get stupid and go stumble the festive streets every now and then. Mostly, he preferred to do his drinking without witnesses. Witnesses were never a good thing, be they festively gawking at him or screaming in terror because of him. He had a past in the city. Murder was one crime the city never washed its hands of completely. In the early Eighties, he killed many in his role of foot soldier during the mob war that brought the Fontenots to power in the Big Easy. He was always aware that some random encounter with his past was a potential issue when he was in the city.
Besides, Moses Holliday did not need the rowdy streets of New Orleans to help ease him into a drinking mood. Though he could put down the bottle whenever a note telling him someone was in desperate need of a mortician (but was as of yet unaware) arrived at his doorstep, a great deal of his time not keeping his unique skills rehearsed was dedicated to drinking copious amounts of Rebel Yell whiskey. All of those things could be done in the city, but he would be damned if he would ever want to do so earnestly anywhere near New Orleans.
During lulls in the job, the drinking got to be a habit. Moses disdained habits. Habits were a thing he exploited as a slayer of men. Even procuring liquor and his ubiquitous Winstons made him a familiar face in the stores where he had to buy them. As a result, he often drove dozens of miles in all directions from his Houma home to stock up on food, whiskey and smokes.
Grizzly, not a slouch when it came to a daily shot of courage himself, often tried to get him to lay off the lonely juice and get out more. Sometimes there was an occasional beer can bash when the football season produced a game worth watching from a box seat. The garrulous Cajun sent women to a hotel room if he wished their company. He tried to get Moses to fish more, travel, party…hell, just have a life. Grizzly invited him on guided hunts across the nation and across its borders. He took him drinking and whoring in Mexico and Argentina sometimes. Ever the garrulous mobster, his publicity made him a pariah of sorts for Moses’ companionship. The larger than life mobster lived a little too large for Moses, so he tended to decline all but the safest and most tempting offers for carousing with his employer.
In his capacity as a unique brand of problem-solver for the mobster, his identity and job title were best kept far removed from his boss. Grizzly accepted that and complimented Moses on his caution. It still frustrated Grizzly when he tried to get Moses to join him and his brother Pete at various shindigs where Moses could meld into a crowd of strangers. Moses usually refused any such offer. The way he figured it, his life and Grizzly’s depended on it. He would tolerate having to suffer the paranoia of people around him only so much.
“You jess like da cement, Mo,” Grizzly told him many times, “all mixed up and firmly settled. You need a hobby, Tex.”
Being a mob honcho, Grizzly had his own issues. He and Moses were friends dating back to their serving together in the Corps in Vietnam. There was a debt owed from that time in-country, but he could not and would not hold Moses Holliday’s hand. If the man wanted to drink by himself in his quiet house and stare at some muddy bayou all day, so be it.
A better and safer problem solver was not to be found and if he liked the sauce, hell, who didn’t?
One reason Moses preferred to not socialize when lubricated was his tendency to throw punches. His drunken fists had cost him a few times.
Example- the thirteen months in the prison in Olla for beating a man half to death in a bar fight at Tiger Town, just down the road from Tiger Stadium after Ole Miss beat LSU badly.
The man he beat up was being a loud-ass shit-talker and made the mistake of tossing a beer with drunken malice at Moses, thinking his two friends and he could handle one mangy, red-boned Texan, clearly half-drunk himself, if he acted out of line. Moses was told, when he sobered up, that he knocked one man out-cold with a hard right cross and kicked the other friend in the groin so hard he needed surgery to repair his bladder and would probably be sterile for the rest of his life.
He beat the shit-talker in the face so hard he needed reconstructive surgery and had some lingering brain damage.
“Don’t remember none of that, Ma’am,” was the defendant’s first words to the judge at his arraignment. The defendant’s last words before his lawyer pled him out were, “But I reckon I’m not sorry. If I done that to him, he done earned it probably. Drunk or not, I try purty hard to be in the right when it a-comes to beating up on some sumbitch.”
The judge reminded him the law said he was not in the right.
“The law warn’t there that night,” He muttered to his lawyer as the bailiffs took custody. “Only folks there was just a bunch of crying-ass Hoddy-Toddy faggots and a buncha' shit-faced coonasses too drunk to jump in it with me.”
There was the four months in the Orange County Jail in Florida. Again, drinking aptly named concoctions called Irish car bombs, with some off-duty Disney employees at a Steak and Ale turned ugly when he misunderstood one man’s remark to the lady bartender. The guy asked the bartender how much “hot butt-fucking” she wanted when she got home that night. Moses heard it all wrong and demanded of the gentleman in question to, “shut the fuck up talking like that to a woman!”
The guy barely got a “Fuck off, buckaroo, she’s…!” out of his mouth before he had four teeth knocked out. Moses sobered up and learned he owed for the teeth, the bar bill and for not hearing the guy out completely. He was only picking at his fiancé at work, making an inside joke with her. She was an aspiring comedienne, who herself worked in dark-blue ink, and needed no drunk Texan to defend her honor in the least.
The best by far happened up in Tangipahoa Parish. Just six days before killing Alvin Trudeau, Moses Truitt Holliday been picked up by a cab sent from New Orleans to the Tangipahoa Parish Jail after doing 180 days of an eight-month sentence for slapping an assistant DA. The dumb broad had it in for him because he would not finger a man for an arson case she was bringing to trial.
It was a case in which Moses had his own case of dumb luck.
He was sitting on the bank of Chappepeela Lake, tight-lining for catfish. Having just baited up and found a comfy place in a reclining lawn chair to drink his canned Budweiser’s while he waited for the rod tips to start dancing, Moses was almost asleep in the high-noon sun when some hare-lipped idiot came running out of a house not far from where he sat. He tripped the guy and asked him what in the hell he was doing, scaring him as he did. Suddenly Moses smelled gas on him.
“You a huffer, you fuckin’ weirdo?” He thundered in the man’s face. Later identified as Earnest Guidry, the fiend had tried to fight his way away from Moses before succumbing to a fist to the chest that knocked the wind out of him.
The house he left erupted in flames as Guidry huffed and puffed on the ground at his feet. Guidry was thoroughly competent at starting a house afire. In less than three minutes, Moses saw all rooms were probably unstoppably ablaze. Moses usually burned down a house to foul up a murder scene as he left it. He was actually impressed at the thoroughness of Guidry’s work.
A smattering of neighbors who were at home, retirees mostly, were soon trying to use water hoses on it before the red lights of a local volunteer fire crew got there some thirty minutes later. Moses was spotted tussling with the guy and forced to explain himself before helping to man a hose when the local law pulled up. He managed to get himself arrested for public drunk when he told the cops it was not any of their damned business what he was doing in the vicinity.
Again, the beers spoke for him.
They later arrested Guidry for the arson and wanted Moses to testify. If Guidry were any good, he would not have been caught. If the prosecutors were any good, they would not need his testimony anyway. Guidry’s shoe prints were all over the place. His shoes and clothes tested positive for gas and he had the same strike-anywhere matches on his person as they found at the scene. Given his prior record and peculiar employment, as Grizzly liked to term it, Moses thought it best he stay out of it.
Along came Ellen Prudeaux. Middle-aged, ambitious, not too bright but zealous and passionate in her cross-examinations, she was a steadfast and heartless crusader for justice…in front of the Baton Rouge television cameras. She came straight after Moses when Guidry’s defense lawyer shot her case full of holes almost immediately.
Moses told her to shove it. She charged him with hindering and threatened to have him tossed back in Olla on some trumped-up probation violation. Unable to work safely while the trial was ongoing, Moses decided to make sure the trial ended as soon as possible.
Guidry managed to post bond during the trial. He should have stayed in jail and not out in public for Moses to be able to find him. Unfortunately, he had the misfortune of disappearing forever from the face of the earth- case dismissed until the defendant decided to show his face again.
Several weeks later, as luck would have it, he was well into a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 at a meat market bar called the Hanger in Hammond. An elderly gentleman, well into his own bottle of whiskey, struck up a conversation with him after noticing a USMC tattoo on Moses’ forearm. The men talked about long ago lives and were having a great time visiting.
Until Ellen Prudeaux walked in with a girlfriend. Her eyes found his face and of course, they had to sit at a cocktail booth across the bar from him.
Eyes constantly met, glares were exchanged, but nothing more happened beyond that…until Ellen Prudeaux downed her third Bloody Mary.
Moses lost her in the crowd as she went to the restroom. He paid the tab to leave.
She was suddenly nose to nose with him. Surprised and half-lit, he wobbled and clung abruptly to his barstool to avoid falling down.
“You got away light on that Guidry case, Holliday.” She sneered, trying to look like a badass Hollywood-style litigator. “But I looked you up. Nothing but a purported war hero who’s turned into nothing but a mooching drunk living on a disability check. You don’t look that goddamned disabled.”
“I tend to cry on the inside a lot. Apparently it rates a check.” Moses sneered. “I see it don’t rightly earn a lick of respect from the likes of you. Not that I want any from you.”
“Oh really?” She slurred. “You know what? I could have found some way to make that hindering charge stick to you like a shit stain. But I figure, why? Hell, you’re already a shit stain on the world. I figure if I leave you out in public long enough, your drunk ass is gonna’ fuck up somehow, somewhere. Then I’m going to make sure ole Burl Cain up at the Farm takes a real nice liking to you. Oh yes indeed. Your skinny ass will look pretty good hoeing yams out in the field every day and dancing for all the fellas with your shirt pulled up to show off your girlie parts every night for the next twenty years.”
She had stood there, swaying a bit herself, pleased that everyone within earshot had heard the rehearsed, if not slurred, speech. She had played out her L.A. Law cameo bit perfectly, right down to the deft toss of her teased hair.
Moses turned and downed his shot glass of whiskey and knocked it onto the bar. He turned in his stool to face her, sucking his teeth. Glazed from whiskey, his eyes saw red. He reeked of whiskey, greasy fries and fried steak and compared to Ellen Prudeaux he was a great picture of white trash that evening. However, few within earshot of the exchange were on her side. The older gentleman began to jump to his defense but he only smiled and held up his hand to his would-be champion.
“I’m guessing you would like a retort, Ellen?”
“I’m surprised you know that word, you sorry drunk.”
Moses only smiled and slapped her smartly across the face.
“I like the word reverberate far better. I’m a-bettin’ it fits right about now, huh?”
Pandemonium broke out and he ended up cooling his heels six months for simple assault. Ellen Prudeaux’s role in starting the fight with a man who was not accosting her brought some heat down on her boss. The older gentleman who stepped in for Moses that night was a vice-chair of the Louisiana Bar Association. He was also a fellow Marine, a veteran of the Frozen Chosin, and he heard every word she said.
She resigned soon afterward.
The silver lining for her was that the new Deputy U.S. Attorney for the Fifth Circuit, a mover and shaker named Jowanski had taken a liking to her moxie when the story made its rounds through the backrooms of the Boggs Courthouse.
She was now on his staff as an investigator…and in his bed as his lapdog.
Moses wondered if she had known he was drinking out of sorrow if she would have taken him on in the manner she did. Earlier that day, he found out his last remaining grandparent, his mother’s mother, his beloved Granna, was on her last leg. A cancer was rooted into her and she wrote to tell him that it was in her brain and she wanted him to know she loved him while she could still speak and remember him. She knew why he would not go home to see her off but knew she would see him again on the other side.
She was his last true loving link to his childhood out in Odessa, Texas. While he was reading old paperbacks and eating TV dinners in jail for slapping a woman in a bar, she passed on with only her church friends, a few step-nephews and some distant cousins to mourn her. It was one of the few true regrets in his life.
Grizzly was waiting with work for him two days after he got out. It kept him sober until it was done but there was now freedom to celebrate and a loss to mourn.
Alvin Trudeau had held up a binge that was long overdue. Moses was in New Orleans, the birds were chirping, the sun was shining and by God, there was a bar open somewhere.
He turned from Royal onto Decatur, panting. His stamina was not what it was normally. There was not much jogging happening in jail. He stopped at the corner and walked over to Jax Brewery Mall. There was a bar on the top floor but he slapped himself in the head and remembered he had no wallet on him. Everything was in the Bronco.
He passed through the mall and exited the other side, grabbing a few pulls from the water fountain in the lobby on his way through. When clear of the doors, he picked up his stride and headed down the levee side of Jackson Square.
It was a beautiful place to sit and stare at the old cathedral. Many a proposal of marriage had been made in the plaza over the centuries.
He saw old tourists shooting pictures, some bums and gutter punks lounging under the shade of the oaks and magnolias.
A vagabond girl, a right purty one, he smiled, was eating beignets from a paper bag and sipping Café Du Monde coffee with pigeons all around her peeking up her skirt. He had just about passed her when she spoke aloud.
“Fuckin’ hell.” She seemed to be sighing. “Age sucks.” Moses wondered if she even saw him coming and was thinking he was just some old guy.
“Try it when you get forty.” He winked in her direction and never looked back. “It’s real shits and giggles then.”
He could sense her watching him as he jogged out of her sight.
Probably seen a hundred old drunk farts around here. Most don’t kill people.
Recalling the rampant car thieves as he arrived at the Bronco, he dove in and cranked it to make sure he still had a battery and a running vehicle. He had only been gone about an hour. Most of the more desperate thieves who would break out a window to grab a radio probably were not up from working the night before. At least he hoped so.
The Bronco was very much a home away from home for him. He usually had the rear of it rigged as a pseudo-camper. It held clothes, camping equipment, basic hand tools, bedding, and a duffel bag chockfull of weapons behind the driver’s seat. The bag was a constant companion when he had a job to do.
Leaving the Bronco parked as such in New Orleans was a definite risk for him, probably the loosest end in the whole operation. Car thieves plundered cars in the garages in great numbers. To leave a car in a garage risked only theft. To leave it on the street guaranteed parking tickets and often towing and impoundment and that could lead to a very poor outcome.
Moses pulled out a plastic grocery bag with his go-to clothes. He stripped shamelessly in the full view of the parking deck. One thing about New Orleans he understood well, people practically lived in parking decks during the festivals and weekend trips on the cheap.
Sleeping in a car during a weekend partying on the cheap in New Orleans was quite common. More than once, he happened upon people changing clothes out of their car. Immodesty ran rampant in the Big Easy.
He stripped to his skivvies and pulled out a pair of Lee jeans and a deep green Polo shirt. Hopping on one foot, he got the pants on and tossed the shirt over his head. There was a prop necklace in the bag, a silver .45 bullet on a sterling silver chain on it. He put it on.
Finally, he decided if he was going drinking in the Vieux Carre, he should treat the streets as he would treat a cattle yard. His Justin boots came out from their box, well-worn, but still looking great. He recalled the last time he had put them on with the intention of drinking in earnest.
Damn, that was down this way, too…
In those boots, he ended up dropping a bundle of cash in Big Daddy’s titty bar and still ended up hung-over and alone somehow in a hotel.
There was a nick in the right boot’s tip that he always looked for when he slid it on his size-twelve foot. It was made by a man’s upper incisor many moons before after a wild night drinking up in a bar called the Bloody Bucket up by Port Gibson, Mississippi.
He brushed his teeth with his travel toiletry pack, rinsing but not spitting. The canteen he swigged from had Rebel Yell whiskey in it, surprising him when he first tried to rinse and expected water. There were bottled waters in the rear of the Bronco, but he figured he would need the water when the whiskey was done with later that day.
Or hey, maybe later this week? No hurries, no worries now...
Moses yawned, stretched and swigged heartily from the canteen.
Laissez les bon temps roulez, eh, Tex?
Lemarie walked up Canal Street toward Poydras, watching the traffic pick up as people went about the daily rituals of living or leaving New Orleans on a Sunday. She was full on beignets and coffee and needing a pit stop.
The backpack made it a tough job to drop into a restaurant and pee. Most of the restaurant restrooms were atrocious from the drunken habits of the local flavor. Most of the nicer restaurants would refuse people just going in and leaving when done. The fast food places merely dared you to have to go that bad. To actually enter their shitty stalls and do one’s business after three hundred staggering tourists hit the place- after having their bowels hammered by a week of spicy cuisine in the Big Easy- was a frightful undertaking from which some unlucky souls may well have never recovered.
There was always an alley to duck into, but it was a risky position. The crackheads liked to hide behind the dumpsters and ambush drunken folks needing to piss. Alleys on Canal were just as likely a target for a pretty young thing lugging a pack full of goodies and golden things that would keep them on the rock for a month, most certainly. They could mistake her for a hitchhiker tourist and that could break bad in a hurry. Those kind of laden fools vanished frequently and ended up found only when the body smelled bad enough, if found at all.
She opted to head for the Riverwalk Mall. As fast as her legs could walk, she scurried up to Poydras and made the left. Dumping the backpack with a sympathetic and delightfully effeminate Creole man working at the leather goods shop a mere two kiosks inside, she made it to the ladies’ room with little time to spare.
In the mirror after she finished, she rinsed her face and laid on her makeup. She could have kicked herself for being so disheveled in public after leaving the hotel. Just a glance in a parked car’s mirror or in her compact mirror would have told her she needed some attention to detail. Though Lemarie was usually destined for a random couch or perhaps a shared bed that was not always her first choice, she took great pride on her appearance. Her brains she may scatter across a sewer weekly, but her face, teeth and skin were cared for daily, without fail, wherever she ended up.
The upkeep took almost as much planning and luck as her sleeping arrangements. There was no insurance plan offered an occasional drifter and couch-crasher. A dentist had to be paid with cash. The doctor’s office she finally used for a bout of walking pneumonia the previous winter was the free clinic the bums used over on Corondelet.
Female issues meant making the walk of shame into the abortion clinic on Loyola with the usual protesting gaggle praying and screaming at her. She was proud she had never gotten pregnant or infected, despite a Gatling gun-worthy spraying of risk at her. As best she could, per the situation, she tried to keep their seed away from her womb. Lemarie was far removed from the church’s tight embrace, but there was one issue she still held in high regard. Raising a kid was far down her list of priorities but she would not take the easy way out of that if she turned up expecting.
Since her mother died, there was any number of people who had actually helped or really hurt with their yanked offers of help. Curio learned after a while that help was what she helped herself to.
She did not relish stealing. She did not invite sex with fellow teenagers at parties and older men at clubs to pay her part for their roof for the evening. She did those things though, and had for a long time. A mattress was softer than the pavement and buying food was better than starving. That was how her mother taught her and Duchess Leblanc was quite good at it by the time Curio began picking up pointers about how best to manage the often seedier side of quid pro quo for women in Sin City.
Above all things, she really just wanted a good night’s sleep alone, in a comfortable bed. Going to sleep knowing the environment around her would be the same as she left it the night before and would not cost her one baleful grimace in a stranger’s bathroom mirror the next morning was surely a platitude God was withholding from her since birth, for some reason or another.
She curled her lips and sighed as she stared at her sad self in the mirror.
A nice guy to spend time with would not be so bad, either. It was a long time since she had gone beyond the usual small talk with a guy and actually enjoyed a conversation. Listing the guys she had been with as of recent, it occurred to her they were all just guys, regardless of age. She could not think of a man she had met.
Her purse opened, she found her makeup bag and got her cosmetics in order. The powder laid on first; she etched around her eyelashes with the pencil of pure kohl she bought from a Turk at the French Market at least once a month, if she could. Her lashes were heavy and long.
There was no denying her Cajun lineage. She had the pert nose and heavy dark hair to prove it. She shook her hair out and brushed it. It was getting long and needed work. She decided to find a salon open and get it taken care of that day while she had the money.
Money? She realized she still had not counted the take from the hotel. The cash was still stashed…
In the backpack! Dammit! She could just see the leather guy going through her stuff. I’m a fucking idiot!
She did not like her hair as it was so she fished around her purse and found some barrettes. She pulled the jet-back mane back and got it pinned eventually. Next, she kissed her lips together and got the gloss painted over them. They were a robust pink and only needed color under the lights for effect. She had the soft lips commonly referred to, by snickering guys, as blowjob lips. Putting rouge on them was unnecessary. They were thoroughly luscious nude.
Her clothes were fine for stumbling through the streets but she thoroughly needed something just for her, not some aged collection of t-shirts and halter-tops she tried her best to match with a pair of borrowed shorts or thrift store jeans.
Her lifestyle was not conducive to power suits and church dresses of course. Curio was young, however. The teenager in her still had that girlish eye toward being fashionable and looking good in clothes, not just sexy in whatever she wore, as all guys told her she was without fail. Curio had a lot of time to look at the fashion mags and TV stars when she was lounging at a house that had cable. She knew what she should look like. What she saw in the mall restroom mirror was not it.
She was at a mall, had money, and needed some pampering after a long night in the quarter. Retrieving her money out of the backpack at the leather store, she palmed the guy who watched it for her a ten and asked him to stash it in the back a little longer.
“I’m going shopping. My name’s Curio by the way.”
“Curio? That’s so cute! Love it!” He daintily high-fived her. She looked him over. Slight and bright, his effervescence was infectious.
“What you going shopping for, Precious?” The gay clerk asked her, primping her up a little as he admired what a little makeup and a barrette had done for her. Some women just had it. It made him sick they could so flippantly flip it on when they looked that way.
“I need some clothes. I need a mani-pedi. I need a haircut and I need some stress relief. It’s been a shitty month but it’s lookin’ up today.”
“Must be a nice man in it for you. You are so lucky. My man and I are going on a cruise to the Virgin Islands soon.”
Ohhh…I want a damn cruise!
“I ain’t doing it for some man. I’m doing it for me. I’ve been on a shitty run of luck lately. But I had a nice little fortune fall in my lap and I’m thinkin’ I need some pampering.”
“Well good for you, sweetie. You are so pretty!” He folded his arms in a huff. “Makes me just sick to see you so all-that without any effort. I just figured there had to be a lucky young man out there for you.”
Curio blushed. “Thank you. You’re a doll!” She looked around the shop. “Hell, I may need a purse, too, while I’m in this joint.” She fingered a suede purse next to her, admiring the soft yet durable leather.
For some reason, Curio thought of the older man jogging by her earlier. Long, lean, fit, determined and quick with a quip. Barely looked at her like the young horn-dogs and the old perverts always did but she could sense he could see every bit of her in an instant. Judging by the state of the her street friends her age, what she saw in the teenagers on television and the hooligans running their piss streams down Bourbon and screaming for tits, she could do a lot better with that older lone jogger than any young dumb and full of cum jock she knew. Her hands caressed the leather, firm flesh toughened by the sun yet appealing to the finger’s taste.
“Hell, honey. These streets are full of stupid boys. Maybe it’s time we start looking for men. If more men figured out they couldn’t act just any old way they wanted and still have us, they’d straighten out inside a week.”
She looked at the clerk. Probably twenty-five or thirty, definitely the catcher in the sack.
“How old’s your guy?”
“I gotta’ older man, Sweetie. I’m thirty-one.”
“You don’t look it.”
His eyes brightened. “Why thank you! That’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard this week! But my man? He’s forty-eight. And you might be right. He loves me and treats me special. I think it’s actually because he’s been around a lot. He saw what the AIDS did to all those hot men who just fuck and ran with anything that would let ‘em. After he saw enough people die, he mellowed on all that kinda’ bullshit. He’s so sweet to me. I’m very lucky.”
“Sounds like you got a winner. Maybe that’s the ticket. Older and wiser and not the too-quick riser.” They giggled together.
“Snaps! You are so sweet…and so pretty! You’ll find the right one for you. How old are you, Curio?” He looked her over and decided a tan rawhide purse might suit her.
“Just a few shitty months away from eighteen. I can’t wait. Being undeage sucks bad.”
“Just a baby! Ooo ooo ooo, you so cute! You don’t even know you, yet. Hell sweetie, for that matter you ain’t even you yet. Your life hasn’t even gotten going good, girlfriend. God, I wish I had all that,” he circled his hands around her, “going for me when I was single and eighteen. I had it rough, but it made me tough to beat down now.” He flexed his tiny arms and grunted as manly as he could daintily manage. “It made me fierce!” He snapped his fingers.
Curio smiled at him but shrugged. “My life hasn’t been very good. It’s been a tough go of it.”
“I’m kinda’ out in the wind right now. I’m on my own.”
“What school do you go to?”
“I’m not.” She chuckled. “I went to Prompt Succor a while. Then I went to St. Greg’s and I got kicked out. Now I just don’t go. Hell, it’s hard enough to find a couch to crash on. School wouldn’t know what to do with me. They never did when I was a kid and now I just avoid them totally.”
“You on the streets, Curio?” The clerk frowned as a pair of young women came in and made straight for the purses. He asked if they needed help and they were just looking.
“I’m not a gutter-punk or nothin’. I mean, I have places I stay. I have to mix them around because most of the people I know like that are still in school and too many nights in a row, their parents get nosy. I have a lotta’ friends in the clubs that I hang with and crash with sometimes. I manage.”
The clerk’s eyes glazed with tears. “It’s tough, isn’t it?” He rubbed her hand, almost matronly even though he wore a thin moustache.
“It’s demanding. I grant you that. Tough comes and goes sometimes. But I keep it handled. When I hit eighteen and the law has to leave me alone it’ll work out easier.”
“I was on the street a while. It was horrible.”
“Who could leave a nice man like you on the street?”
“Daddy Big-Truck-and-Blue jeans didn’t want no homo around his house, ya’ know? God, the shit I used to have to put up with.” He frowned and drummed his fingers on the counter as he looked at her, frowning. There was the saddest tint of humiliation in her otherwise blasé wink and nod as she spoke of her existence. He knew the city. Looking at how pretty she was and how resigned she was to the status of her life, he knew from experience she could use one more friend.
“Listen, come over here.” He walked over to the register and ran off some blank receipt paper. “This here is my number and my address.” He scribbled on the paper. “I live over off Ursulines. You get in a bind, you call me. My name’s Bruce. My man’s name is Flynn Arcenaux. Don’t you do no bad shit just to stay at some house like I had to sometimes. It ain't worth your soul to have a warm be, you feel me?”
“I catch your drift, Bruce. Been there, done that already.”
“Well, it ain’t right. I’m serious.” He disappeared into the back room with her backpack and returned with a coupon for the spa upstairs.
“I wrote y name on this so give it to Liz and it’ll be awesome! I bet you could use some pampering.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“I know. I get that from you. Now you march right up there and go and get all fixed up, sweetie. You are so pretty, it shouldn’t take too much. There’s a spa up on two. Go up there and see if you can walk in.”
“Cool! Thank you! Man, my day is kickin’ some kinda’ ass today. That’s solid of you, Bruce. Thank you!”
“My fag-hag friend Elizabeth up there? She is a wonder of God with her hands. She’ll take good care of you. You can get that mani-pedi and the salon has a dreamy stylist that works Sundays named Kyle. He’s gay, too, honey, but ain’t they all when they cut hair? It’s kinda’ nice for a girl to be able to let a man fix her up without expecting something in return. I’m guessing, anyway. Hell, what do I know?”
She figured up her cash. “How much, you think?”
“Around eighty total with tips and all should get you feeling good. And I’m serious. You come back here, maybe we can talk a little bit more later!”
“Okay. Sounds great.” She looked through the bills. She was shocked to find several fifties and a hundred mixed into the smaller bills as well as the stack of twenties. “Hell, I got that covered. Hell, for that matter I’m getting the deluxe! That friend of yours give happy endings? A little lagniappe?”
She twiddled a swirling finger in the air and laughed.
“Oh my! You are a bad girl, aren’t you?”
“I can be, Bruce. But when I am, I like to think of it just being some bad things happen to nice people kinda’ shit. Sucks to be them, right? I can testify.”
Moses Holliday sat by himself as he ate his champagne brunch at the Hotel La Meridian on Canal Street. The jog and the leisurely stroll up Canal to drop by for brunch left him suddenly famished as he walked into the hotel. He inhaled a few screwdrivers, two plates of baked Salmon Alaska, a three-egg western omelet and several raspberry crepes.
A number of crusty old men and women clad in their Sunday best took note of his tattoos on his forearms. The wickedly slashing scar that ran from his elbow to his wrist down the back of the left forearm could not be missed in his short sleeves.
He did not pay them much mind. The fish was excellent; the jazz filtered in through the speakers was festive. Thus far, that morning he had killed a man with his bare hands and some baling wire. He now was eating a tasty brunch instead of being questioned while handcuffed to a chair over on Rampart Street. Nor was a coroner at the scene of his own death evaluating his body.
Life was good. He ate well.
He finished and left a ten on the table, stretching his back, as he often did, as he walked out. His back had numerous flecks of Chinese, Czech, Hungarian or Russian steel still imbedded in it. Now and again, a sliver would work itself out during a shower. He would look in a mirror and see a tiny rivulet of blood running down. Sometimes he would find the little fleck and drop it into a pint Mason jar with the others.
The jar was a quarter inch deep after almost twenty years. Most times, the flecks washed down the drain and he never knew they had left him behind until he saw the blood trickling down his wet back as he dried.
He reflected a lot that how the scars were left on him yet still they wept blood all those years later. It was at times amusing to him to ponder the inescapable fate of the rocket that hit him. The iron ore was probably mined in Canada, mixed with Chilean tungsten, sold to the USSR back in the Fifties or Sixties, refined in East Germany, and molded into rocket components at some Ukrainian foundry. It was eventually transported to some draftee rice farmer manning a warehouse down in Hanoi, allocated for some particular unit by some gook quartermaster, strapped on the back of a mule or a man and sent down southward to Quang Tri. In the midst of a pitched battle, some random NVA mortar crewman had pinned the safety pin from the head of the round, dropped it into the tube and sent as much of its shards into his American ass as they could muster.
Here it was almost twenty years later and the frags would still dig against a nerve now and again or cut themselves out when they could find a narrow piece of skin that would yield to them. His scars he could lie about, if he wished. The Mason jar reminded him of the real reason for their existence.
The sun was high on Canal as Moses turned right and took a stroll up toward Dauphine. There was a bodega with liquor ads on its windows so he turned in and soon left with a half pint of Crown Royal dumped into a twenty-four-ounce Styrofoam cup with a can of Sprite sizzling on top of it. The mix was good, just stout enough to get the kick but sweet and fizzy enough to make it easily drinkable.
“So where to, Mo?” He sat on the stoop outside the bodega, listening to the sounds of passing tourists and cars easing by. He looked at his watch. It was nearing one. He was full as a tick, had a toddy in hand, and there was a city at his fingertips full of whatever peace or battle in which one wished to indulge.
Carpe diem, Mo…
A pair of young pretty women walked by, sexy waifs in short-shorts and tank tops, hugging and giggling about something, eagerly smiling and pretty in the sunlight. It was good to be out of jail. There was a pang of dormant arousal immediately.
…In a town of endless possibilities…
Sex was not a thing that Moses Holliday had a hard time coming across if he wished. The nature of his job meant he could not have anyone steady or close to him but he was Grizzly’s fair-haired boy in many respects. The loins could have their evening out on some woman’s town with just a phone call.
From time to time, he tried dating a few women after setting up his house in Houma, mostly to no avail. One lady he had liked a lot, but she was destined for the kingdom of heaven and kept trying to take him with her. He was not a religious man, to say the least. After figuring he would not and should not dissuade her from trying to unlock the pearly gates for her own soul’s sake, he cut her loose.
There was the old flame back in Odessa, but she was of an era preceding his steady work for Grizzly. His unique employment did not allow for a woman of her breeding to be let inside his world.
That left only the bad girls working in other areas of Grizzly’s tawdry corporation. Such women were not to be trusted, with or without their clothes. Certainly, none of them had ever been to his home.
He walked up Canal and turned off on Dauphine, drinking the cocktail and looking up at the lounging locals on their patios and the tourists hanging over their balconies. His keen ear soon caught the certain sounds of hard sex, a mixed rhythm of grunts and moans ejecting from one of the patios near Rue Iberville.
Ever the student of human behavior, he paused and listened for a moment. He knew everything happening in the room in his mind. The sound of the man’s grunts had a gargling effect to them. He was panting hard. The bed was in good shape and not squeaking, but the floor itself resonated the thumps even through a thick carpet. The woman’s voice was mature; her own breathing was jetting in hoarse wheezes that did not counter directionally her man’s. It had the low tone of a woman who was bottled up a lot of her time and letting the mood of Sin City lower her inhibitions.
It was an easy call for his sharp senses to interpret the sounds. Two fat tourists away from the kids were having a go of it doggy style. The man was probably about spent and sweating. The interlude’s beginning time he could not tell but wagered it had been going on a bit.
Strangers in strange lands such as the French Quarter- where embellishment, indulgence and thicker sauces were imbibed more lavishly than were in most towns- measured every moment not in time, but in experience. They were determined to have a hurrah even if it meant taking a nitro pill or worse.
He was tickled when the man was finally done, coughing and wheezing as he dribbled his load- his lady asking him if he was okay while he panted. Moses had stopped more men’s hearts than he dared to try to count. Few of those had bothered him. Hearing some old boy keeling over from a coronary trying to rekindle some pleasure with the missus, however, he could do without so he moseyed along down the street.
He sat down on a low masonry wall at Conti, stared at by a passing horse and buggy tour as the old black guide explained how awesome whatever old building they were going by at that moment was. The brunch drinks were not mixing very well with the whiskey and Sprite in the August heat. Orange juice and blended whiskey swirled and hated each other in his belly.
His overall fullness factor probably needed involuntary adjustment but he shrugged off vomiting for the sheer hell of it. There was enough of that in the Vieux Carre already. He was stuffed with a great meal and there was no sense in wasting a twenty-five dollar brunch when a good piss and park would probably suffice.
Moses lost track of time sitting and watching folks easing down Conti. At some point he must have gotten either thirsty enough to down the drink or just plain tired of having the cup in his hand. When he finally stood up and headed up Conti back toward Bourbon for a reload, the cup was lying crushed under his boot.
There was Cat’s Meow at the next block. Three for one happy hour- every hour of every day. That sounded fine with him.
Curio waved a fistful of dollars and got the queen’s treatment at the Isn’t She Loverly Spa and Salon on the second floor of the Riverwalk. The place even had an exfoliating shower with ten angled water jets that damned near scoured the skin clean without the need for soap. There were of course, soaps at hand. High-end cosmetic soaps with unpronounceable European and Asian labels housed in tiny bottles molded into sexy forms. Oddly, not a French one amongst them, she noticed. She wondered if the stereotype about the unwashed French meant they did not go into the soap business as a prideful national enterprise but, instead, just imported them.
After a long spraying and rubbing, she slid into the fleece and terrycloth robe and went to the next room where Bruce’s friend, Elizabeth, worked her from temple to toes with a very diligent and professional set of hands. They made small talk about how nice Bruce was, how the weather was looking so nice, and how the Saints were looking with Jim Mora coaching them.
Curio found herself nearly falling asleep on the pre-warmed table. It would not have bothered her one bit to sleep with those delightfully feminine hands gliding over her. Elizabeth was pretty- a mutt blend of statuesque height, thin frame, hard English eyes and hair dyed a resonant golden hue with wide streaks of black dyed into her mane. She took her Saints seriously and she and Curio bonded over that a while.
After thirty glorious minutes, an oiled and stumbling Curio Leblanc found herself soaking her feet in a footbath with a young nail technician, a young Egyptian woman, tending to her hands and nails. They exchanged pleasantries and mutual affections for each other’s appearance.
Her name was Shirin and she had married a young navy petty officer she met back home who was from across the river in Marrero. She was a fish out of water but New Orleans was rife with those. Shirin was a very nice young woman whom Curio figured would have a very hard time in Marrero ultimately. That place could be rough.
After the flaming Kyle had her hair washed, rinsed, trimmed, and glorious, she was beaming ear to ear. Staring at her long hair blown dry and razor cut into a sculptured and layered cut that covered from her bust up until the shorter locks framed her face; she could see herself looking every bit the beautiful young woman she had managed to keep a mental picture of in her head. Having her makeup professionally done in the rear of the spa later yielded some tips she had never been taught and had just barely begun to realize on her own.
She needed clothes to finalize it but the spa treatment was as much as she dared afford.
A score like the one she had made in the hotel was a rare find. The money would have to hold her. It would buy her out of paying for a night under a roof with her sex. She could throw in on party favors and that would keep it kosher among some of her friends. No way would they toss her aside when she had weed and beer money. Sex was something any of them could get. Money was a harder commodity.
She had enough money to eat comfortably, to catch the bus uptown and get out of the Quarter for a while if she wanted to go visit other friends that lived up that way. Maybe go show up at Auntie P’s house and play some rummy.
She had an aunt still living over in the Garden District but the two of them did not speak much. Curio had lived with her a while after her mother was shot to death. Aunt Epiphany, Auntie P during the reasonably calmer times of Curio’s youth, made it clear that her late sister’s habits meant that the apple would probably imitate the tainted tree that spawned it.
Her sister was after all, a low-end stripper with no idea about which of the men she entertained in the VIP room at Big Daddy’s back in ’71 ended up begetting Lemarie. Such things did not sit well with Auntie P. After Duchess Leblanc had met her end in a hail of 9mm bullets sprayed by some crack dealers she did not pay, Epiphany reckoned nothing good would come of having a blossoming young hellion under her roof.
She was a common man-hating old spinster who- in the diary she would have strangled Curio for reading- pined for a Monsignor she knew when he was just Gilbert from over on Esplanade as a burgeoning young woman. When the first of several teenaged boys from Prompt Succor got Lemarie’s number and began calling, Auntie P got angry. When she caught Lemarie sneaking a call to one of them at two in the morning, she cast her into the hands of the state for placement.
Curio forgave her eventually, if not forgetting entirely. Auntie P was battling emphysema now. She had mellowed enough to go play some cards with her wayward niece without drama, at least. When things were at their worst, Lemarie could have a bed for a night at her house at the cost of belittlement, insult and excessive insistence of her certain eternal damnation.
Curio went downstairs and retrieved her pack from an astonished and cheering Bruce, promising him both that she would come and see him again soon and she would call him if she needed a place to sleep sometime. He helped her slide the pack on and re-primped her hair. Kyle and Elizabeth had functioned as advertised. Bruce was so thrilled he cried.
She bade him farewell and walked over to Woldenberg Park. Licking on a lemonade on shaved ice, she watched the ferry make its run from Algiers back to Canal and dump its cars.
The sun was tanning everyone that day. She could see the lobster shoulders of the tourists already at noon. It was the deceptive kiss of the gulf’s breeze that would get most of them. The wind was keeping the skin cool and they were forgetting the sun was forever watching them.
It would be a tragic, blistering agony by three o’clock for most of them.
People were in good spirits all around her. She herself felt better. The shower especially had been a Godsend. Few things helped leaven a mood after a night of useless sex, too many test-tube shooters and too much grass. Curio finished her lemonade and decided to save some money on drinks.
She and some of her running buddies always had success outside of Cat’s Meow. They gave out three drinks at a time, usually one more drink than hands to hold it. Men eagerly handed one off to flirty young women with their racks out for punctuation. Curio was blessed with ample breasts. Armed with the twins and great legs framed with short-shorts and a loose halter-top, paying for drinks was for the suckers. Freshly made-over and feeling superb, she reckoned a few charity drinks would be easily enough found.
The Admiral and the ever-twitching Keith Moon were jamming the mouth-harp on the corner of Conti and Decatur. She made sure she slid him a ten as she went by. The old man would have dutifully watched her pack for her if she had asked. He was an honest beggar. That rated alms for the poor from the nouveau riche ingénue.
Up Conti she went, pretty with her new do, but laden like a coolie with her worn pack. When she hit Exchange Alley, she ducked into one the recessed patios and dressed her usual part, ignoring the longing gaze of a silver-haired octogenarian shuffling along with a cane, walking his snow-white poodle.
Curio slid into a tight black cotton skirt. Short, of course, since her legs were shaved. Rummaging through the clothes jammed in the pack, she opted for a very tight electric-pink halter-top with a tiny LSU emblem stitched near the bust-line. It had to have been one of the ones she took from the hotel that morning. She did not recall having it prior to that. Beneath the clothes was the pair of purple and gold pumps she had taken from Jennifer. She slid them on and got everything repacked.
Curio Leblanc walked up Conti Street, worn blue backpack strapped tightly to her back, clad in stolen shirt and shoes, no panties. She shook out her trimmed hair repeatedly as she thrust every footfall with the cocky self-confidence of the striking young debutante she always knew she should have been.
Rue Bourbon was abuzz with those fortunate enough to be able to stay past the weekend. Bloody Mary’s and mimosas had yielded to hand grenades, sun-warmed brews dribbled over the lips of Dixie cups, and the ubiquitous hurricanes. Raucous music spilled from the clubs up and down the street, most of it indiscernible over the din of the pedestrians gabbing to each other and the agitated cabbies blaring horns now and again at them.
Down the block by St. Louis, a crowd of on-lookers were screaming, “Show your tits!” repeatedly at a pair of buxom girls who were enjoying teasing them from a balcony.
It was broad daylight in August on a Sunday afternoon, not Mardi Gras. There were not many police around but they were around and having breasts coming out and dancing a jig was actually frowned upon in such a circumstance.
The girls had nice ones, though. If they were shown proudly to the world, it would probably be overlooked. There was the legend of New Orleans to uphold at all times.
Moses Holliday downed one Crown and seven as soon as his trio was set up in front of him at the tiny bar in Cat’s Meow. One in each hand, he eased out of the bar and headed on loosening legs to a stoop across the road, facing the bar and watching the crowd go by.
Ahhh, the blessed anonymity of the masses.
The assassin in Moses appreciated the crowd. Every door was open to the public if they paid. All around him were alleys and hiding places. Cabs to jump in. Cheap drinks, streets littered with drunkards and people just in for a few days and not wanting to come back and give a hazily-recalled deposition a month later. Women showing their wares, oblivious to anything but the specter of fun in the Big Easy, never a bad thing.
He was not a conspicuous man in the French Quarter. His exposed tattoos were professionally inked, but merely run of the mill symbols shining on his tan arms in the bright sun. The ones on his chest and back were run of the mill as well…in prison.
His scars had tales to tell and he usually told the truth when someone asked him where he had gotten them. A number of them had come from the war America tried to forget. Some of them, however, offered only lies to be told if anyone asked. They had been a price he had paid for the job.
“You should see the other guy,” he remarked to one young man who stared at the long gash on his forearm.
“Shit, I hope so.” The guy chortled back at him, swaying slightly as he focused his eyes on the scar. “I bet that shit hurt like a motherfucker.”
Moses looked at the old slash. Memories flooded to him but they were truths he never uttered.
Why, yes, idiot. It did. Funny story, that! See, what happened was...I got a lil bit sloppy at work one night. I made too much noise getting around in a place I had some business in. That time, ole Dallas Couvillion grabbed me from behind and forced me to the ground while his big-ass cousin Dupree flipped out a fucking switchblade. I head-butted Dallas in the mouth and made him bite through his tongue and break a tooth against my head. Christ, them head cuts bleed like hell.
So anyways, he let up to grab his mouth and I rolled over and ran my K-bar under his rib from the side and twisted it side to side real quick and made his fucking liver go all to shit inside him. Bled like hell all over me. He went to screaming, “Oh shit!” and a-hollerin’ for his Mama and all the usual unpleasantness. Literally cried like a teething baby when all that bright red blood started spurting out…not that I fault him for it, most people do. You jam a K-bar in my craw and I might do the same damned thing, hell I dunno. So anyway, Dupree came in to try to hit me in the neck with that switchblade but I got my arm up and he slit it open from elbow to wrist for me.
Lucky for me, he warn’t no damn good with a knife and he was half-drunk on a suitcase of Bud Lights to boot. He stumbled over his own feet when he tried to slash my neck and fell down next to me.
I got that gloriously lucky split-second’s worth of time to react. I came down with my blade and laid half the left side of his neck open. He went to flopping and trying to scream but I got Dallas flipped offa’ me and I just dove across Dupree and grabbed his head.
I pulled it to the right until I heard a neck bone pop and he went limp with that weird bubbling sound some get when they got blood mixing with air in the larynx.
I was a little too pissed-off at myself and I guess I was way too jacked up on an eight-ball of coke to let it be at that point, best I reckon. Maybe a lil too wired and a lil’ too pissed about getting my arm sliced to shit. Hadn't been laid in a while, whatever...I dunno. Anyway, I took my K-bar and went a little wild a-hackin' and a-cuttin' that neck meat a-loose until his fuckin’ head took to bouncin’ away.
I had all kinds of dirt in that cut and I had to hold it open and pour peroxide down the whole length of the cut twice that day. Holed up and hed to wait until Grizzly got the doc to come out to Marrero where I was and he stitched it up. Lucky thing Dupree didn’t hit the artery or do too much nerve damage, yore’ darn tootin’, kid. It still kinda’ tingles all weird-like sometimes, though.
They say football is a game of inches, but so is a-gettin' stabbed, shot at, mortared or blown-up a lot of times, young man.
“Hell yeah it hurt.” Moses smiled. “Words to live by, young man.” He tapped at the scar and then pointed at the reveler. “Mark them well. Don’t…ever…fuck around on a black bitch and have her catch you with another one. They get all kinds of jealous and try to cut a motherfucker if he cheats on them with one of their own kind.” He lit a cigarette.
“You better run if you get caught. I don’t care how naked you are, podnah, run!”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” The young man tipped his beer in respect to his elder and was soon washed away in the faceless crowd.
He idly downed one of the cups and sat it beside him as he smoked. Tasting his Winston, he suddenly felt his body tense, hairs sticking straight out, goose bumps rising despite the hot sun shining on him. A gentle puff of wind encapsulated his body from behind. Though light and flippant, the almost indiscernible gust threatened to lift him from his planted boots as if it were a cyclonic whirlwind and carry him against his steely will to wherever it felt it needed him to dwell forever.
What was that line Daddy Vader had about feeling a tremor in the Force? Moses wondered. A disturbance…two powers colliding or attracting. The polarity of Fate equally pushing and pulling against two objects of like being?
Instantly Moses wondered if what they said about lightning victims who survived only to draw more lightning upon them in the future was true. When he was in basic training at Twenty-Nine Palms, a bolt of lightning had struck near his training platoon as they ran an obstacle course. Two trainees were killed and a number of them, including Moses, had taken a wallop.
He could still remember the buzzing sensation he felt just before the bolt struck a repelling tower only ten meters from him.
Ten years later, he felt the same buzz when he was fishing for some bull reds in an aluminum johnboat over in Delacroix. A thunderstorm came in from the gulf and dumped its load on him before he could make it back to the boat launch. A tree took a strike a quarter mile away, close enough for the boat to give him a little kiss from God through its metal hull. A power pole took a direct strike only three hundred yards from him as he tried to get the boat tied to the pylon so he could get into the Bronco. That strike was enough to knock him to the ground and his toes actually stung from the jolt. Lightning from any passing storm seemed to strike around him a lot ever since, he often noticed.
It was not a rush of swat people about to take him down. There was no surprise of a retaliatory Glock about to shoot him in the head. It was no speeding car with some oblivious drunk or frail old woman trying to hit the brake but flooring the gas pedal instead. It was not an overload of refined poppy sap flying him on wings of angels into oblivion until the ticket for the flight expired. He felt no pain in his chest signaling some latent aortic defect making itself suddenly and singularly known.
The buzz was there again. He could not help but look up at the sky for an ominous cloud. He was certain he was about to be struck. Yet the sun sat up in the middle of a cloudless sky, baking the bricks of Rue Bourbon.
He looked up and down Bourbon and up Conti. Nothing out of place. The disturbance grew. He felt his mouth go dry.
When he turned around to look down Conti, the source of his disturbance was obvious.
There was only one energy field that could bring his every nerve to tingling so. Moses saw the impetus for his tremor immediately.
Instead of some physical affliction or metaphysical affront, it was that most uncommon of occurrences. One of those infinitesimally rare turns of fate that stopped a person in their tracks and changed every notion of what he or she had holstered in their mind as a dutiful and common coexistence among his or her peers. It was the unforeseen beholding of one’s immediate cessation as a mere lone individual.
It was that delectable chemical catastrophe that dissolves reason, sneers at logic, crumples resolution, and smashes the levees holding fast the current that is the continuity to one's programmed course of life. It occasionally brings chaos to a stolid relationship, previously thought for years to be steadfast and heaven-sent, but rendered instantly obsolete and stifling after a mere glance at a stranger who proves to be one’s True everything.
It was that simplest of clichés. It was the butt of jokes.
It was impossible. It was unexpected and unasked for.
It was an incredibly stupid fucking thing to do.
It was love at first sight.
His fate, wrapped anew in a nonchalant, dynamic, heart-stopping joie de vivre, was approaching in high heels.
Moses Holliday, a man of sharp eyes and immediate consideration of the world he had around him at all times, rubbed his eyes, blinked, and shook his head in disbelief. A pinched-arm assurance registered within him that what he saw was there. There was no acid dripped into a cocktail.
He swore in that split second, that the new breadth of his life, forever altered in a millisecond’s gawk, would have to be held close to her. There would be the before…and an after defined by whatever remaining span of forever he managed to eke out in shared heartbeats as he walked upon the planet with her at his side.
...If he had any damned thing to say about it.
Immediately, he chided himself for so many years of a prosaic –yet often terribly eventful- existence. Sleeping alone at the end of every single goddamned one of those nights.
Wasted days and wasted nights, just like that Freddy Fender song.
Moses flew through his years in an instant. Just a blur of days misused, time squandered alone. Nights he should have died. Days he could not help but live again and again.
He thought of how he had pissed away his life just walking the earth, awaiting a call that would bring some measure of respite for an evil but devoted friend and certain tragedy for that friend’s enemy. Squandered time he would never have back, pissed away on whiskey benders and sleeping with the useless whores the boss loaned him. Months of idleness and unassuming lethargy.
All the while there was an electric soul such as the one he could feel physically feel resonating in an alluring harmony only he could discern in a restless young spirit, alive and ebullient as she walked down the brick streets. She glided amongst the tired bricks, those crumbly, timeworn one-note clay cubes of lust and ho-hum debauchery spilling from the bars around them, stamped in place by the weight of millions.
Wasted time…how much…?
Days and nights toiling at his trade of cold stabbing steel and impactful hot lead- be it in a blazing sun, freezing his ass off, hidden under deceptively peaceful stars or sodden under the darkest of thunderclouds. Endeavoring solely to rid the boss’s lurid world of a transgressing soul, his languid life was not his own.
Nor would it ever be, unless she said no to sharing hers with him.
Wasted time he could have been spending with the little spitfire, the jet-black coifed little Cajun sprite, so impossibly young and dazzling in his line of sight. Wrapped in clothes that offered her wares as a visual palette of carnality to any denizen of the seedy Vieux Carre who cared to pause and gawk at her truest colors.
Uncaring that she does…look at her! She could give a rat's ass about any one of them sumbitches!
It was just who she was.
He gauged her age at eighteen and cursed himself for gaping. Moses tried to rise and turn on his heels. Every muscle in his feet froze. Flummoxed, his motor skills were was flustered. He tried like hell to walk as far and as fast as his long legs could carry him away from the sheer absurdity of the situation. To his shock, the Texan was completely without the ability to simply mosey along.
He would not and he could not pry himself away from the electric connection that shocked him rigid in his boots.
He found himself watching without moving even an eyelash as she cat-walked freely, shoulders back, dark eyes locked on her target ahead- the next bar, he chuckled at that- oblivious to everyone around her because she melded seamlessly with her surroundings.
Moses knew, without much introspection, she was a creature of the city. Ignoring the trappings of the town, though, she was just another sight to see on the tour. Transcendent like a Bohemian whose wagon had broken down in some dump on her way to whatever nirvana she was bound for and just dancing to get money to get on her way.
For him, her casual stride was akin to the most alluring of ribald dervishes. Her subtly bemused smile was a theatrical tour de force. The people she passed, they were just props in whatever play she intended to direct on her stage. The people around her were a cast of hundreds of staggering extras milling about in their summer stock-worthy acting roles at the corner of Bourbon and Conti.
Jesus Christ shit-fire almighty!
Moses Holliday stood up, the cigarette falling from his mouth as if knocked from his lips by a hammer of the gods. His drink spilled from his hand as the hand went numb. The cup turned upside-down and hung loosely swaying between the slightest pressure of his index and thumb.
His breath held its place out of sheer panic. The irrational heart began to pound. He feared the mere sight of her might signal his mortal end. His heart and lungs were trying to dissolve every molecule of oxygen he held within them to keep his mind well-fed and focused on the most glorious sight he had ever felt. Seen was not a strong enough sense to describe the feeling.
Few things emotionally had escaped Moses throughout his life. Pain, joy, panic, scorn, pity, maternal love, paternal respect, adolescent longings, sexual adulation, job satisfaction, brotherly camaraderie, occasional piety, sorrow, regret, self-loathing, loss, fear of aging, fear of not aging…all were not unknown to him.
There had been many women who had passed through his life, when he was a younger fellow. One he had foolishly married, but it didn’t make it long at all. It was wiped from the books; he had been run off into exile, far from her and what she represented. He guessed since he had not given that woman much of a thought it must not have been love, anyway.
In an instant, the powerful and pertinent need to love and to be worthy of someone’s love found one Moses Holliday, assassin.
On thirteen distinct occasions, Moses knew he was going to take his last breath. He made his peace with that technicality in the rules of life of which so many mortals never quite come to grips. Yet he managed to soldier on, prevail against the Reaper and was still living and breathing that day.
At least he thought he was living. Until the instant, his dumbfounded eyes found Curio.
It was she, not some random bullet fired by some lucky asshole…it was she, who really took his breath away.
Curio made a beeline to Cat’s Meow, barely looking for traffic on Bourbon. She blew a kiss at a gaggle of drunken young men as they called out to her as they staggered down the street toward St. Louis, with the promise of blurry adventures some four wet bars and one Lucky Dog stop ahead.
She relished the eyes upon her. Her ass thrust out just a smidgen further than normal, hips popping and locking with every step taken. The weight of the pack pulled her stance erect and her bosom aloft.
There was never a time, since she became aware of her appearance to others being way beyond satisfactory, that she shied away from being looked over- or even better doted upon- if possible. Born to a mother with a steel needle clenched between her teeth rather than a silver spoon, her looks often kept her alive after her mother passed. Curio accepted the glances as she walked in the steadfast heels awaiting the next man’s obvious attempts at a connection that she could accept or dissuade.
After the treatment at the spa and the fresh influx of cash in her coffer, she felt truly blissful and eager to celebrate the day. The money helped alleviate the usual apprehensions she carried inside her from the time she awoke, wherever she had managed to find rest, until her head rested the next time it was able.
After dropping the c-note at the mall and not having anything but glee, a clean and polished body, and a potential emergency couch to use to show for it, she should have been sick to her stomach. Such a bounty was exceedingly rare. To piss it away on getting glamored up, in her own way, only to end up on some idiot’s couch or futon was asinine.
That day was different for Curio, though. She could not define what the intangible was, only that it colored her mood. The city’s creaky bones, the old wood and brick supporting the flow of liquid souls through its arteries, seemed to actually shine, standing erect and glistening anew as if fresh from a polishing of giddy aspirations and exposure anew to les bon temps for which it was so legendarily acknowledged. The air tasted clean, free of human waste, useless sex, and moral decay for once. The faces around her, both young and old alike, truly enjoyed being in its festive streets. Their eyes were alight, faces ebullient.
Even those who had clearly had one too many at so early an hour seem to be enjoying the futility of keeping their shit together in public. Most had a friendly shoulder to cling to lest they fall to the grimy streets. Sharing a case of the stumbles was always better with a guffawing friend.
Slinging the pack from her back, nearly dragging down a side of her top with it and letting a breast escape, Curio took her place just down from the Conti side of the bar. On that side, there was just an open wall for people to walk into and out of drunkenly without some pesky door getting in their way. Doors, for the piss-drunk, were an occasional hazard to be avoided, if at all possible.
Never moving her eyes far from her pack, she poked her head in the Cat’s Meow, checking for familiar faces. There were none and few inside looked as if they were the doting type. It took a special mix of liberal aplomb and unfettered thinking with the wrong head for a tourist or even a regular to hand over a drink to a good-looking teenage girl without pondering the legality of it, even in the city of such famed permissiveness.
Almost immediately, Curio came face to face with a trio of young men coming from the far side of Conti. She stepped in front of them and teased them ever so graciously until one of them gave the knowing look of conquest to his buddies and headed inside for a refill.
The guys tried to make nice talk a little while longer, but she only giggled and informed them there was only one of her. Having them figuratively play rock, paper, scissors over who got dibs on her was not exactly what she was into that day. Eventually, they toasted her and moved on.
Curio was thus blessed with a very tall hurricane, one of her weapons of choice and a great way to start a day in the Vieux Carre. It only got better from there.
She downed half of the drink, amazed at how well it was crafted. Many of the drinks coming out of Cat’s were just a quantity of sloppy cups. Trying to perfect a proper toddy, when they were flying out three at a time every instance the order was placed, meant only a cursory attempt at proper elixir mixing.
Must have been a slow day, the bartender put a little thought into it. Or even better, must have known I was coming. She mused the odds of that to herself as she sucked at the straw.
Nah, some barkeeps just have a lil pride and a lot of skill when it comes to pouring in a hurry. I mean, damn, is it so hard to shake a fucking mixin’ tin…?
“Howdy, ma’am. You a-sharing that stoop with anyone special today?”
A pleasant, twangy voice- with just a hint of beer-thickened tongue in it she reckoned, but that was a norm on Rue Bourbon every weekend- asked her from over her left shoulder.
Before she turned her head to match a face to the voice, she could feel just the slightest hot tingle in her earlobe. Some men had a verbal power that belied their appearance but most, Curio figured, did not. His did, however. The poignancy of those few words surprised her completely.
Immediately, in the instant it took her to face that simple query, she felt unthinkingly drawn to wanting to hear that voice as often as she could. She heard an unwieldy longing for her to say yes.
In those innocuous few words he spoke aloud, there was mellowed age and masculine steadiness swirling in a wildly erotic blender, with hints of wanton unrestraint filtered through a casual jokester’s laidback cackle sprinkled in for an eclectic dash of swagger to add an addictive, but certainly forbidden, flavor. The deep voice had sand imbedded in it, from a long time ago she could tell. Despite the bottles he had certainly drunk trying to wash the grit down and out of him, there was still grit and always would be.
He had years on her, long years whose ancient tales she immediately longed to her him describe over moonlit meals and shared caressed.
The voice alone had her interest piqued…even if it did have that casual inflection that said to her, “Of course I know you do, I was just being polite. There’s no fucking way you’re gonna’ say no.”
Nothing wrong with being sure of some things!
Curio shivered with glee. Things were suddenly looking up in the category of company.
Her head turned and there was a tall, lanky man standing in cowboy boots and jeans looking down at her, empty-handed- a rarity in and of itself on Bourbon. The answer was yes, of course. He was in like Flynn before she matched the face to the mouth whose voice stirred her. His body was a hard carapace of muscle that housed a solid man of infinite power, yet his face was paying homage to her. His eyes were piercing, yet at ease, she noted. Keen to smell the signals of a man’s dangers, her nose only smelled the potential mortar of a solid brick wall that could well house and protect her from all she feared and wanted to defend against.
“Fuck yeah you can share my stoop.” She patted a spot on the cement wall. The man gazed pleasantly at her face as he lowered himself unhurriedly beside her. “I was just having a sip and wondering what the hell I wanna’ do the rest of the day. You look like a man with some suggestions.”
“I’ve had a few sips myself and was just thinking the same thing.” He nodded and smiled.
She eyeballed him head to toe. His posture was lazy but his eyes frequently examined the street. She could tell he was not scanning around like a junkie. He was both interested in his surroundings and in whatever the street’s ebb and flow was bringing him to notice. There was just the hint of hard-edged paranoia.
There were tattoos on his forearms and she looked at them carefully. Scars, as well. A mean scar ran down the length of one arm. She could only see it when he casually turned his watch to his face.
“It’s a big city sometimes. A little bit played out for me at times, though. Be I figure I can come up with a notion or two about a day here.” Moses remarked. “What’s your name?”
“Curio Leblanc.” She thrust out her hand, sloshing the drink in circles around the rim of the cup with the other.
“Neat name. It fits you. You look like a Curio. Certainly a novel name for a novelty.”
“What makes me a novel novelty?” Her coy smile was intoxicating.
“I watched you come up Conti, Miss Curio. Posture, poise, beauty, and the sexiest swagger I may have ever seen in a woman.” He took her small hand and examined it. She let him.
“Good hands to boot.”
My God, she’s so damn young. What gives, Tex? You getting the mid-life all of a sudden?
“My name is Moses Holliday.”
She smiled at him. “I wouldn’t have placed you as a Moses.”
“My mother loved the idea of trying to give me a biblical name.” He took note of his still holding her hand and let it go. It landed on his knee. More importantly, it casually stayed there, the fingers attaching themselves so they would not slip away by accident, only by choice.
“My daddy liked Trent.” He said.
“I can see a Trent.”
“Yeah, I think so, too. I ain’t lived up to my namesake much.”
“You a bad man, Moses Holliday? More Halloween than Christmas, huh?”
“More like Good Friday. A name I never understood, by the way.”
“What’s good about nailing up a truly good man is what I mean. Ain’t many of them around, now or back then, I reckon. Good Sunday…not that makes oodles more sense. At least if you believe in a divine resurrection.”
“I see your point. Never thought about it that way.” She downed the rest of the hurricane. Her eyelashes batted at his unflinching gaze. “You a drinking man, Moses Holliday?”
“Like a fucking fish.” She giggled at that. “Time for a reload as it were and there you are sitting empty. How rude of me. What’s your poison?”
“That was a hurricane and not a bad one at all.” He stood up.
Hello! That is a tall fella’ there. Nice smile, grey eyes…never seen a shade of hazel-grey like those before. Nice body, not a muscle freak though. I give him dead-on forty, but not too much grey and he don't seem like a prissy boy in any way, shape, or form so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dye it out. Shaved this morning, didn’t put much thought into a shirt and pants though, just grabbed whatever was hanging. Thank you for having all your teeth and not staring at my boobs too much, even if I know you did all the way over here. It’s okay. I didn’t put this shirt on for nothing!
“Three hurricanes it is, then. Be right back. You’ll indulge me a round, I hope.”
“Hell yeah. It’s not like I got a full mess on my plate right now. Go grab us a drink, Moses Holliday. I’m catchin’ some shade. I just had a spa treatment and I’ll be damned if I waste a facial on a sunburn.”
“Like a cigarette?” He shook out a Winston and lit it with a silver Zippo.
“I’m out. Thank you, but I don’t think I could handle a cowboy killer like that.”
A man’s cigarette. How Stetson chic! Nice touch, Tex!
“What’s your brand?”
“Newport. Any menthol would do though.”
“Squares it beez then. Be right back.” He smiled and went around the corner into the bar. Curio chewed on ice until he came back around, cupping six drinks between two hands, the butt of the cigarette nearly imperceptible between his lips. He handed her the left hand’s complement and she carefully lipped the cups away and sat them in a row along the concrete stoop. He shuffled his own drinks between his hands and got one downed completely before setting one down and the other secured in his drinking hand. Then he sat down, his eyes looking around the intersection again for watchers.
“That was impressive. Didn’t spill a drop and you didn’t have to finger the lips.” She giggled.
“Good hands are a plus in my book. I always had good hands.” He returned to his reclining posture, half-rolling to face her.
“You do a toast very much, Moses Holliday? It’s been a great day today so far. I’m definitely feelin’ like a toast is in order.” Curio locked eyes with him, trying to figure out his angle. Some old guy just lying about next to her on Bourbon out of the clear blue was a little peculiar if he was not after something. Buying a round would usually just a down payment.
She would not judge him just yet. There was the possibility he was working the nerve up to ask her to do something so very wrong. He was a good-looking man, probably not working too hard to get laid when he wanted it. She could see herself getting smitten easily, actually.
If he don’t say something too fuckin' weird. God, the shit I hear out here from guys. If it ain’t the 'show your tits' bastards, it’s the glory hole faggots or the piss on me types. This one, though. He just seems interested. Very interested, to be sure. But what the fuck, Curio? Very interested is better than, “ditch that skank and come out with us, bro!” I like him interested, don’t I? I mean, shit…he’s sexy!
“I say, ‘cheers’, salud, prost, down the hatch, and bottoms the fuck up. Usually. Or maybe how about…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”
“I can go for that. I pursue happiness a lot. Don’t find it all the time but I fucking try!”
“Few do, Miss Curio.”
They tapped plastic glasses and their eyes met over the lip of the upturned cups. Moses downed a goodly portion of the drink. He dared not let her see him nervous. Nervous was never a trait he dared show anyone.
However, if my fucking back doesn’t stop shaking like a Jell-O shot she’ll know I’m her fucking lapdog… He inhaled deeply. But to be honest, do I care at this point? She is so goddamned gorgeous it makes little sense to try to pretend she isn’t rocking me right to my goddamned gooey center.
“We don’t have the right to happiness. Ole Thomas Jefferson made sure his lawyer ass put that in there juuust riiight. Personally, I consider it a nod by the Founding Fathers to the more basic primal needs of men. In nature, there is always a pursuit. Prey, money, shelter,” He shrugged. “Sex.” She giggled.
“All those things are rarely given to a sedentary animal. They must be pursued. Of course, you can pursue, but like any chase, it may or not be successful.” Moses raised his eyebrows as he talked. “For most, it’s not, I think. But ain’t no sense in not trying to chase down a dream if it means happiness, right?”
“All in the hunt, not the kill then, ain’t it? Chase dem dreams and den if ya’ catch ‘em, then dream of something else?” Curio took a long gulp. The rum was burning her belly in that cup.
“Perhaps. But it must suck to be filthy rich and not have any dreams. Gotta’ get old just lounging around and doing whatever all the time.”
“You ain’t rich? Hell, you gotta’ go on then, old man. I thought you was my own dreamy Daddy Warbucks. Shoo!” She playfully swept her hands at him.
“Damn! It’s like that?” He laughed and tried to get up.
“Naw,” she clasped his shoulder, a little too hard. He flopped back and rocked himself upright with some laughing effort.
Hit the sauce a little today, didn’t ya, baby’? I noticed you didn’t spill a drop when you went backward, though. Good reflexes!
“You can stay. There’s a lot more poor bastards I would rather hang around with. I met a lot of rich pricks around here. They ain’t always nice. At least you’re nice.”
“Thank you. So what do you do around here?”
Please don’t say hooker. Please don’t say escort. For God’s sake, please don’t say cheerleader at St. Alban’s. Please don’t say dancer. Please don’t say dope dealer. Please don’t say ‘whatever I want you to be…’ Because if I say ‘I want you to be all mine’ and you say ‘no way, Tex’…I’m so fucking wrecked.
“I’m kinda’ in da wind right now. I don’t really do nothing.”
“You live somewhere around here?”
She chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Not really. I mean, I live all around here but I wouldn’t say I have an address.”
“You mean you’re sleeping in the streets, Curio? What about your folks?” She could see amusement, not pity as he studied her. Admiration almost. He was a man who knew hardships. The steel in those grey eyes belied little of that. Her life was a curiosity to him, not yet a judgment.
She wondered. What made those eyes melt in her presence, yet stare so frigidly at a passing mounted cop she wondered if the horse was going to catch its death of cold and drop dead right there in the middle of a piss puddle on Bourbon Street?
It occurred to her that when he looked at everyone but her, he did not look and wonder, “friend or foe” like normal people. They were all foes. His only query, evident to her sharp eyes in even the slightest glance he needed to ascertain that fact, was in just how much foe that they might be. In her, there was only the want to see her in a manner that was far beyond mere friendship.
“Not very often. I might get shit-faced and end up passed out in the park or something but that’s kinda’ a controlled crash usually. I have friends with couches I can hit when I need to park my ass a while. I spread myself out and don’t hit one couch too much. There’s always the possibility of an occasional nocturnal activity…if a guy and I hit it off at a club somewhere. There’s been a lotta’ hotel visits lately. Not to sound too slutty or anything.” She laughed nervously at the sound of her random life. “I got no folks to speak of. I got some family living, but I’m basically an orphan I guess you can say. So you ask what I do around here...I guess the answer is not too damned much. I’m just knocking around.” She took a nervous sip of her drink.
God, I sound like such a sad whore!
“I try not to dwell on dat shit, though. I just party when I can and crash when it’s over.”
“Whatever gets you through the night. Where would you be sleeping tonight? Quick answer.” He snapped his fingers sharply. “Off the top of your head.”
He grinned and watched her think. The girl must be keeping her act together under extreme duress, yet she was still pretty as a peach and vibrant to watch as she sipped and spoke.
“Michelle’s.” Curio blurted after a second.
“She’s a bartender over at The Pub. She loves me, but I ain’t but just a little gay.” Curio giggled. “It’s been almost a month since I saw her. Probably about time to drop by and bat my eyes at her a while. At least I can drink free if I wanna.”
“And if that fell through?” He was playing devil’s advocate.
“My friend Deidra or my friend Gina’s, if her parents are out. I could drop by their houses and see if maybe they wanted to hit some clubs and see who was out tonight. I could tag along with them and then we’d see where I end up.”
“If you broke a leg and couldn’t end up on a couch, what would you do then?” He studied her from behind the steady fog of the Winston.
“I would head over to Charity some kinda way. And hope for a good pain shot and I’d be sure to tell them I thought I got exposed to TB. At least they would keep me der a lil while ‘til the test came back. Catch a nap, maybe some TV. Cafeteria’s cheap so if I was tight on loot I could eat there pretty easily.”
“Good to know. I’ll keep that in mind.” He pretended to write it down on his palm. “T…B…test. Got it.” She snickered a little. “Good option to remember.”
“Options make my rockin’ world go around. They come in soooo fucking handy.”
“No arguing that. It’s true in most worlds.” Moses lit a Newport for her.
“Where you from? Dat ain’t no swampy accent you got der, monsieur.”
“I come outta’ a little town in west Texas. I live over in Houma now.”
“All by my lonesome.”
“You like it here or there better?”
“I’m a man of many places. They’re all about the same in most ways. I do some work for a guy when he needs some odd job taken care of every now and again. Me and him was in Vietnam together. He got fingers in a lot of pies around this neck of the woods. Not the most honorable fella, but he always has work for me and that’s a friend indeed. He keeps my rent paid and the beer cold.”
“You was in Vietnam? That where you got that scar? Dat’s some rough cuttin’ right there. Shit!” She leaned in and looked the scar over.
“Naw, this?” Moses turned his arm over to show her. “That was a ‘Hey, Moses, you are a dumb shit’ night. I got in a beer bottle war between two biker bitches fighting over some chopper rider dumbass by accident one night. I felt the hit when one of them swung at the other but I was so lit I didn’t know how bad it was until I felt my hand was a-gettin’ wet.”
“Damn. What did you do when you saw that?”
“I looked down and said, ‘oh, shit.’”
“Wow. I woulda’ cried my ass off. That shit looks bad.”
“It’s only a flesh wound.”
“Nice! You get any scars from the war?”
“Oh. Hell yeah. I got blown all to hell twice. Look here.” He pointed out a few tiny pockmarks here and there on his arms.
“Those ain’t blown all to hell. Those look like you shaved your arms one day drunk with a rusty blade. Hell, they look like old track marks that healed. You ain’t some twelve-stepper trying to convert me but being all cool and easing me toward Jesus by being all cool are you?”
“Not by a long shot.”
Jesus himself would shoot me for what I did to Gerald Toussaint last year, ma’am.
Moses smirked a little and sat his drink down. He stood up and took off his shirt. Flexing forward a tad, he looked over his shoulder at her. “How’s them for love bites?”
Curio looked at the numerous scars all over his back. There was no doubting the severity of the pain.
Real war wounds…Fucking ouch!
“Damn. I take it you forgot to duck, huh, homeboy?”
“Most of that came from one rocket. A big one. 122-millimeter job they called a Kay-tusha. Blew my buddy I was just telling you about’s foot off. Killed another guy, too.”
“Man, that looks painful.” But nice and lean and fit to eat!
“It warn’t no fun. We were lucky to get out of that day alive and no more messed up than we was. Them gooks wanted a piece of us that day. I ain’t bleeding back there, am I?”
“No, why? You been in another beer bottle-swingin’ dyke-domestic today?”
You look like you very well could be in one any day you get out of bed, Tex.
“Nooo.” He mockingly sneered. “They couldn’t pick all of the pieces out when I got hit. Every now and again, a piece will work itself out. I never feel it. I just look and I got a little speck or sometimes a trickle of blood back there.”
“What do you do? That’s crazy.”
“I tend to go, ‘fuck you, gooks.’ Then I wipe myself off. If you pardon my southern French.”
“That’s wicked. It’s like they say vampires weep blood when they cry. You weep blood from your skin when you try to clean away that day you were blown up. Kinda’ cool in a way.” She took a long drink. “You got war from back then still in you then, huh? You walk around wanting some payback ever once in a while?”
Don’t lie. I see it all over you. That ain’t a peaceful face by a long shot. But I do like a little fire in a man. Too many lazy fuckers around these days...
Moses thought of the day he had been wounded. Maybe I do carry a little with me. Never thought of that, baby. But I don’t think so. Ain’t nothin’ I brung home from the war except the notion of 'better them than me.'
“I try to avoid combat these days. I like my days easy now.” He shrugged. “The war is a long time ago. Sometimes I think about it. Most times I don’t.”
Curio was feeling eyes on her. People were watching and whispering about the couple sitting and drinking. She was too young; they were grimacing at them as they carried their wallets tightly in their pockets on the bad streets. Most had the telltale look of tourists imbedded in their derision. Clearly many failed to leave the cornpone ideals back in their enclaves of morality from which they elected to vacation.
Was he a pervert hitting on a hitchhiker or something? He looked like bad news.
She saw little in him to be afraid of, she realized. Whatever he was into, it had little to do with making her uncomfortable.
And that is what I like. Comfortable as possible for as long as possible. That comes in many guises.
“You asked me what if I lost my options earlier. What are you doing? What’s yo’ options?” She flipped empty ice into the flora behind her. Moses put his shirt on.
“You mean what do I intend to do for the rest of my evening? If it’s alright with you, I would like to pick up another round in just a minute. Maybe we can head off somewhere where there ain’t so many old folks frowning and cupping their hands to the ear of the old biddy next to them and whispering, “She ain’t near about old enough to be sitting out here in broad daylight with a Dixie cup. Catching some old fucker’s bullshit full on in her pretty ear.”
You noticed them, too?
“True. They bother you?”
“Not much bothers me anymore. You get enough people shooting at you and meaning it for a while, you find few things bother you all that much.” He downed the remainder of his cup. “Question is, Mon petite, would you be willing to look past everyone looking at the pair of us and wondering if daddy and his little girl are out making up for some lost time or something if we were to hang out a while in your fair city?”
Curio looked him up and down, admiring that swagger in his smile as he looked at her for her answer.
You like me! Not these tits, not this face, not what I can do for you. You could get that anywhere, I’m bettin’. What did I do to earn that from the likes of you? Those eyes haven’t missed the slightest detail about me…hell, you watched every flicker of a leaf, every old bitch’s snickering, every damned shoe size of every bastard that has walked within fifty feet of us. You’ve looked me up and down and side to side and you barely looked away from me this whole time. I had a lot of guys in my time, Moses Holliday. I been lied to, been fucked over and forgotten and done the same thing myself. Hell, I had to fuck my way through half of the Brouilliette family to keep myself out of juvie just this last year.
I’ve known since before I got my first period how males usually are. For some reason, Moses Holliday, in you I see how men should be. And if I head off with you, wherever I end up…for some reason, I actually feel it should be.
“You think I pay any attention to people staring and sneering at me? Let them look! Honey, I know what I have. I know how good it is. I know how good it isn’t. But what I don’t know is what it would be like with you.” She leaned over, just a delectable inch too close to his ear. “But I think I want to know you very much.” She cooed.
“Then let’s stumble the streets a while. Carpe diem and all that horse shit they like to say.”
“Sure, Moses Holliday. I would love to stumble the streets with you a while. But first,” she mouthed three straws in her mouth together and emptied the hurricane, “let’s eat. All I had was some beignets early this morning. That hurricane was an ass kicker.”
“I told him hit the 151 to it.”
“Trying to get a young girl drunk and take advantage of her, Moses Holliday? That how you are?”
“I just think a hurricane oughta’ wreck some shit when it comes through.”
“Never thought of it that way. But damn skippy, you’re right.” He stood up and offered her his hand. She tucked the Newport in the corner of her mouth and picked up her two cocktails.
“Leave them. There’s a million bars to pick one up at. Cops see you and me with a drink in your hand, one might ask questions and I hate answering questions.”
“You a wanted man?” She was helped to her feet by a firm pull of his scarred arm.
“Trust me. If they knew me, they would only want me gone far from here.”
“You sound like trouble.”
“You sound like you find trouble enough without me. I’m not trouble, Mizzzz Curio. I’m a mere tourist totally infatuated with a New Orleans novelty.”
“Well, tourist,” Curio locked arms with him. “Let’s tour. And you can tell me all about being infatuated with me. That kinda’ shit never gets old to a drinkin’ woman.”
For hours they walked, schmaltzy like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton stumbling and boisterous in a lecherous southern Gotham. There were test tube shots and cigarettes, pee breaks and conversations about the city. They were touching each other’s skin accidentally by the time the sun hid behind the river levee. She was rubbing his scars on purpose when the street lamps bathed the town in its glow and the neon flashes of a hundred houses of ill repute summoned those most devoted to the revelry of the Vieux Carre on an anonymous Sunday eve.
There were awkward moments as Curio met acquaintances from all walks of her life and had to try to scratch her head and explain Moses. Rarely at a loss for words, when a friend would look at her and gawk at him with that queer cock of the head, it dawned on them …they were together. Those who knew her best just thought she was slumming somewhat, passing time on his dime until she begged off from him and went to sleep wherever she slept.
Maybe, one lad postulated after several bumps of crystal after he saw them leave Fitzell’s together giggling and staggering from both drink and humor, she was just following her nose to some powder of her own. It made sense to him, anyway. She loved a toot.
Two gay friends of hers, Damian and Frederick, took one look at Moses and nodded approvingly. If nothing else, they could see a man who could handle himself and look after her in the mean streets. They fretted over her. She was always brash and taking chances with people under her own assumption that she could fight or fuck her way out of any jam. She was too young to know there was always a man who was rougher and tougher than she was if she met enough of them. Some men were flat-out mean.
Moses may have been mean to some, but in her company, it was apparent to them he meant no harm and they could in fact detect a Texas-size scoop of genuine affection for their little Curio. It was sweet. The gay men could appreciate the absurdity of unconventional love far faster than most. They wished them well.
A guy Curio frequently had sex with challenged her at the Blue Crystal as they walked out. It was not Moses’ scene at all inside. Ravers with nose rings and androgynous notions of sex and appearance hit him full on in the face when he was dragged through the door at her insistence. By the time they went by the club, they decided some pot was in order and she went in to score up a sack.
Colin, her occasional nocturnal caretaker, sold her the grass in the ladies’ room…business was business after all. His hands started to paw at her and Curio tried to ease away from him, more concerned about presenting an appearance of potential drama too early in their relationship if she could help it. Infused with enough times in the sack with her and coupled with a belly chockfull of liquid courage, he was incensed that she could want anyone other than him. A brief argument over her sexual habits escalated into a screaming match. Colin drunkenly grabbed her by the wrist after she finally told him to fuck off…as a result of his disrespecting her choice of man to play with for the evening. She yelped and told him to really fuck off, as his grip tightened angrily.
Colin then threatened to go out there and kick the old man’s ass. There was not enough wooden door or Skinny Puppy blaring to hide the episode from Moses’ ears. Soon enough Colin was bleeding from a cracked nose and struggling to catch his wind back as he contorted in pain. He and Curio were halfway up the block before he realized the reason he could not stand up was a compound fracture of both the tibia and fibula.
A tweaking girl emerging from the sniffle-stall heard the whole thing.
“Serves you right, motherfucker! Learn some fucking manners, you fucking junkie dickhead!” She shrugged as she walked by him as he contorted in agony and bled on the ladies’ room tile. She admired the unseen act of chivalry.
Another pusher she used for an emergency couch, Stevie D, she called him, was too drunk to put together them as a couple and kept insisting Curio come back to his crib and “give him some of that sweet head again.” An embarrassed Curio saved him from a certain amount of agony by pointing out another worthy girl looking for love (a total stranger, she winked to Moses later.) Stevie took a blurry look at Moses’ scowling at him and he wisely went after the new girl.
Moses walked with her, wanting to carry her in his arms in his mind, but playing it platonic. There he was, carrying her pack, being constantly dragged by the arm into some new place else she wanted to explore, on his dime. It did not bother him though. He was exhilarated by her energy. She had a casual flirtation with the imps of the night. It was her world he was glimpsing. A nefarious realm, but nowhere nearly as dangerous as he knew existed.
To hear her speak of her life was to hear a dissertation of random encounters that left her either pissed or happy at the time depending on the outcome. When recollected they were just anecdotes of singular days cherry-picked from years of a harsh life.
There was the offhand motion of the dainty hand as she explained some drug deal that ended up funny as hell. The cackle of glee when she pointed at some girl she had made out with on the dance floor of the Blue Crystal a few months back that she wished had gone further but it was the girl’s red-week and she would be damned if she went down that way.
She would dance in the street and hoot and holler as a car of brothers drive by thumping Ice Cube, wagging a no-no finger when she was asked if she wanted to ditch the old saltine and hang with the boys a while. She was not on the market that night, she explained to Moses. He was fun and fun was to be savored as long as it lasted. Besides, she had nothing against dark meat, she tittered in his ear, but she hated a thug. A thug shot her mother over nothing. They were all equally worthless. He nodded to her and kept the fact that he killed thugs almost as a matter of principle rather than contract a secret.
Curio could tell he did something untoward for a living but she could not place him. When he dropped Colin with two fists so fast she barely saw them thrust, she discerned he did a lot more than odd jobs as he alluded. The scars and some of the ink looked like crime work. The blue tat ink looked like prison work.
“I did a little time, yeah.” She got him to admit as they ate a Lucky Dog on a stoop on Dauphine.
“What did you do?”
“Computer fraud…” He growled in a low voice.
The Whole Nine Yards joke went over her head.
“Seriously. You don’t look very nerdy to me. You kill anybody? Rob a bank?” She licked off some mustard from the wiener and winked at him. ‘Sex offender, perhaps?”
“Mostly I just got drunk and hit a few people. One was a lady District Attorney. It was a big oops.” He snorted as he thought that one through.
“No dope or nothing?”
“Sorry to disappoint you. Just hit a few people when I was shit-faced a few times. I hit ‘em purty damned hard though, I guess.”
“You hit the DA in court?”
“Nope, I was at a bar. She came up to me and insulted me some kinda’ way. I was lit up on Wild Turkey if I remember it straight. Just hauled off and hit the bitch.”
“You hit women a lot, Moses Holliday?”
“No, but trust me. She’s a disgrace to your gender. That bitch, I swear. She got in trouble for messing with me like she did. Bitch had to go work for a U.S. Attorney. Ended up fucking him. Guess you could say I hit her so hard she turned into a lawman’s cock warmer.”
“Nice. You get that ink inside the pokey?”
“These two,” he pointed at the India-inked outlines of a revolver on his left bicep and the outline of Texas on his right. “I got inside.” He lifted his shirt and pointed at the faded letters stenciled across his upper torso. “This is a blood tat. Got it in the Corps.”
“What’s it called that for” She inspected the letters as he pointed.
“Blood type. Service number. Last name. Religion. A lot of guys going into combat get them so they can be ID’ed if they get blown up too bad or maybe get hit in the head. Heads, arms and legs might get blow'ed off, but the trunk stays intact most of the time. Handy to have on there if they need to get a body ID’ed.”
“Damn. That’s messed up.”
“War ain’t purty. Otherwise we would love it too much, right?” He doubted she knew Sherman.
“That where you learned to hit Colin?”
“I don’t remember hitting anyone with a fist in the war. Maybe in a bar when I was in Danang one day, who knows? I damn sure shot a lot of gooks though.”
“What’s it like to kill someone and know you did?”
“Not too bad after a while. The kids and women things we got into sometimes,” he inhaled deeply through his nose. “Those were bad. But even that faded after a while.”
“Must have been a hard thing to do at the time though.”
Women and kids? Damn.
She unconsciously moved closer to him. The night air was cooler and her exposed skin caught up with goose pimples.
“Yeah. It warn’t pleasant. Our job was to kill people and break shit up and set it on fire. We did as we were told. You don’t send Marines to stir teapots and dust furniture. You send them to attack and defeat by whatever means are necessary. If that means telling a guy in a plane to drop five hundred pounds of TNT on a crowd or running a knife up a man’s belly before shooting him in the face, so be it.”
“You still a faithful soldier now?”
“I’m not in anymore. And I was a Marine, not a soldier. There is a difference.”
“What’s the difference? She leaned in slowly, setting a joint alight for them to share after the hotdogs were devoured.
“Parris Island mostly. The army is the army and the marines are the Marines. Best way I can explain it.” Moses inhaled the offered joint and chased it with his Winston and a sip of Mickey’s beer.
“You ever kill anybody since the war?” Her question made the beer hit the wrong pipe. He sputtered and coughed. Finally closing one eye to look at her as he winced on the acrid beer in his craw, he noted she somehow knew the answer before the question was asked.
“What makes you say that?”
“That’s not an automatic no, is it?” She toked with an amused look on her face.
“It’s okay. If some bastard needed killing, I sure as hell wouldn’t know how to do it. Even if it needed to be done.”
“Why would someone need killing?” He winced.
“When someone does some lady wrong. Maybe puts it where the sun don’t shine without an invitation, for instance. Some asshole who kills some old lady crossing a road for no reason or something. Raping a kid seems like a good reason to me, that’s for sure.” She shuddered as she spoke the last condition, her voice trailing away into a not so distant past that Moses sensed was more than horrid. “Messing with a kid oughta be an automatic execution.”
“Old ladies get killed crossing roads every day. One could argue they shouldn’t be let out the house if they can’t manage to get across the road without looking both ways. If I had a kid there’s no way I’d give anyone the time to try to shuck his drawers. Whoever should have been looking out for them should be liable, don’t you think?”
“You know what I mean. It’s a decent question. You kill anyone since the war?”
“Of course not. Next question.”
“Would you bust on me if I told you I did?”
Good God no, sweetheart. Shit happens.
“Why did you kill someone…if it may have or may not have happened? Someone hit your Granny crossing the road?” He eased closer to her, intrigued.
Her voice hushed. “About a year and a half ago, I was on the loose and I started crashing in this big-ass walk-in closet at a school friend of mine’s house. Lived in there about a month.”
“The parents knew?
“No, I stayed there all day while she was at school. Just watched TV, tried to pass by the day…get some shit figured out and all. Though I never did get a thing figured out.” She laughed. “The trouble started when her dad came home one day. I was in the shower and damn if that fucker didn’t come in and insist on helping me wash my back.”
“Nice.” Moses shook his head.
“Yeah. He was a nasty fucker, too. He was all bald and fat and shit. Eww.” Curio winced as the memory came to her. “He had that perverted low voice like, ‘hey little boy, you want some candy? Got it right here in my front pocket for ya’! Ewww!.” She shuddered again.
“How long did that go on?”
“A few weeks. Then Gracie, my friend,” she sneered, “found out somehow. She shook him down for a car he couldn’t afford and then all of a sudden she wanted a cut of his action. I did that a few times and then it just got too weird.”
“Where was her mom during all this?” Moses was incredulous.
“She worked on an airplane most of the time. When she wasn’t, she spent her time when she was home shopping.” Curio drew quotes in the air. “Shopping for cock that is. She had a black man on the side over in Marrero. Dey love dem fat white women, you know. She had a big ghetto ass and money. Like a horse to water for a ghetto rat.”
“So how does that equal to killing someone? Allegedly.”
“He went a little too far. Wanted some of his friends to get in on it. Like I was his house slut he could rent out, some damn new pet. They couldn’t ever prove it, but somehow his brakes lost fluid when he was on the way over to Mandeville on the bridge. Got himself hit by a big rig that couldn’t stop in time. Oops, motherfucker.”
“Cloak and dagger stuff, huh? How did brakes get low on fluid?”
She touched his lips. “A girl has her secrets.” She pulled up her skirt a little and he saw a tiny dagger in a sheath strapped with a belt to her thigh.
“Nice blade. Hope it’s sharp. A dull knife…”
“Will cut you faster than a sharp one. Yeah, I heard that before.” She nodded.
He turned the joint around and put it in his lips. “Shotgun?”
She accepted. The charge was heavy and she was racked with a coughing fit that he laughed at.
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear a thing you just told me for some reason. The answer is yes. Somehow, I think you know that.”
“Are you gonna’ kill me for knowing it?” The weed dribbled its paranoia on her. Why had she told? It was his face. It did not flinch in the slightest as she told him she might have killed a man. He accepted it and blew her a shotgun.
“Quite the opposite. I want you to come away with me. It’s crazy and it’s stupid and it’s doomed. But it’s the first thing I have truly wanted in a long time. I wanted it the first instant I felt you coming near me.”
“Why are you telling me this now?” Curio drained the Mickey’s she was holding.
“Too many of these, I guess. I like you, Curio. You’re a walking bundle of felonies but those are things I’m used to.”
“Ha! Curio Felony. That’s me. But I gotta’ spell it with a Ph instead of an F. More French that way. Curio Fay-Lone-Nay.” She flexed her arms in a strong man pose. Her little arms with their cute, tight muscles tickled him.
“I love it already. For some reason it suits you.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s late and I’m gettin’ piss drunk out here.”
“I’m stoned and for some reason, I’m down with leaving with you and…what?”
She watched him tense every muscle then relax and steel himself for action. An actual physical transformation morphed his body and demeanor into the form of a killer in an instant. Curio studied the lean animal as he coiled for action. The danger he exuded was a complete turn-on in an instant. There was trouble for her, but she had a ready solution.
“What?” She cocked her head, struggling to see what he saw. Finally her eyes registered the undeniable look of angered recognition on a group of tourists’ faces. Curio locked eyes with the haughty bitch leading the charge.
“That is that bitch!” Jenn’s drunken voice came ringing down Dauphine Street. The voice was slurred, abnormally loud. “Gimme' my shit back! You thieving ass whore!”
Immediately, there were shouts of anger and the thunder of feet stamping full speed up the bricks. The whole crew from the evening before was with her. Cursing and whooping wildly, the males passed Jenn by and charged up the brick sidewalk toward Curio. Jenn struggled in her heels behind them.
Moses was on his feet in an instant.
“I want my fucking shoes back!” Jenn drunkenly yelled.
Don’t blame you there… Curio sneered to herself.
She readied herself to run, cursing her own heels. Moses could not know why they were being attacked. Acute embarrassment struck her for an instant as she realized the latest instance of her tawdry existence had to be the final straw for him. She was clearly too damned much trouble for a first date, she thought.
Before Curio could even warn him, she realized it was Jenn and her crew of half-lit college boys, complete amateurs at ass kicking, who needed fair warning. Trying to sound the alarm, she managed to blurt, “Oh shit, they…!”
Before the rest could come out, Curio realized she was speaking to herself. A blur shot past her. It was a west Texas missile and it detonated amongst the would-be ass-kickers before they had time to surrender.
She watched in awe as he charged at them. The boys stopped short when he met them half a block closer to Bourbon. The big guy, LJ, went down holding his nose as it gushed an impossible amount of blood in just a few seconds. The Greg guy she had slept with not a day prior went down clutching his groin. The other pair, Jason, Jenn’s man- who undoubtedly woke up to a fight with Curio’s panties in his hand- and Nolen, the other friend from the night before, both took swift fists to their faces before they could get set to repel the assault. All four guys were on the ground in under six seconds.
Jenn suddenly was standing alone with four writhing boys around her. She went to screaming and knelt beside Jason. She was dying for all the wailing and flouncing around she was doing. Moses started to break her neck out of impulse but relented to the eyes of the crowd upon them. He ran back to Curio.
“Let’s go!” He grabbed her by an arm and half-carried her up half a block before her own feet hit their stride.
“Dude, my pack!”
“Any ID with your name on it in it?” He never let up his stride. When she struggled to get a fast gait going in her heels, he scooped her over his shoulder and carried her.
“No. I ain’t ever had ID before! What about my shit though?”
“Anything at all to say it’s yours!” They rounded the corner. Moses let her down, slowing his gait until they were walking calmly along Royal. “Think hard!”
“No, but goddammit! That’s my shit, man. It’s everything I own. My money, my clothes. My shoes!”
The first cab to pass them was hailed.
“Decatur Street, please. By way of Esplanade, si vous plait.” Moses told the Haitian driver. Looking behind him, he could not see the party chasing him. He figured they were pointing out what happened to a cop by then.
Curio patted her pockets for possessions. She came up with eighty dollars, a pack of crushed Newports, and a barren compact. She checked her face in the mirror. “Shit!” She was sniffling.
“Okay. Brass tacks.” Moses leaned to her. “You’re in the wind. Cops will be a-looking for you in all likelihood. Them assholes are gonna’ tell them a thousand things more than whatever you actually did to make them come find you. What did you do by the way?”
“I ripped them off. I crashed at their hotel room last night. When they were passed out, I ripped them off.”
She waited for the inevitable scowl of disappointment that would mean he was done with her for the night. Forever, probably.
“Fucking hell.” He chuckled and sighed. “You are a felony, ain’cha, babydoll!”
“What do you mean, brass tacks?”
“Whatever you think about me is probably not even in the ball park. But I knew the minute I saw you I wanted you around. Age, sex, weird life, whatever. It all went through my head and it still is, kinda. But wooo-wee,” he shook his head and smiled at her, “I bet you’re gonna make my life a lot more interesting.”
“My shit, man.” Curio looked over her shoulder. “It’s my life in that pack.”
“And it’s gone, I know. But here’s the deal. I have money and I’ve got a quiet place to stay. No strings. No expectations. But we gotta’ get out of here for a little bit. I’m not exactly overly welcome around here lately. You are on a camera somewhere and they can find you easy enough if they want to. Them punk ass kids got money, don’t they? Rich family? They smelled like money.”
“Probably. They were all from up in Shreveport. It seemed like they all got some deep pockets.”
“Then they will want your ass and eventually mine after that little escapade. I don’t know who they are and neither do you really.” He took a deep breath and looked at her. The enormity of her being in his presence in such a manner was suddenly far more insane. He did not dare return to normalcy as he looked at her dejected face. She was frowning and all he could think of was he wanted that frown to end immediately.
“That’s it. You’ll come with me. We’ll work it all out when we get out of here, sober up, and think it through.” He clicked his Zippo to his Winston. “That sound okay?”
She looked at his calm face. A corner of his mouth turned up and pushed an alluring dimple up to his inviting eye. It was that wry grin that slew her completely in the back seat of a fleeing cab.
“It sounds awesome.” Curio found herself dumbstruck. If either of them had any qualms, they were dissolved in the air as their eyes measured each other’s growing affection.
“Excuse me, suh. There ees no smoking in de cab.” The driver spoke to his rearview mirror as the flare of the Zippo illuminated the dark interior.
“Eat me, Papa Doc.” Moses rolled a twenty over the seat to him. “Rules are made for breaking.”
“Please, mister. I need a cigarette right now. It’s been a real shit night.” Curio stretched and leaned forward, letting the rear view’s eyes get a good long look at her exposed breasts. She wiped a tear away.
“Rules breakin’ all de time, man.” The driver pocketed the bill and rolled down Decatur.
“Good work,” Moses nodded at her. “Those get you into a lot of places, I bet.”
“These things are fucking currency.” She grasped her breasts and giggled as she sniffled. “Fuck getting beads. These get a hotel room and a spa treatment if I wave them in the right face.”
“Might be handy having you around then.”
“I’m never a dull moment, Moses Holliday. I can promise you that.” She leaned over to him, glazed eyes meeting in the glares of passing headlights and billboards beckoning tourists to spend for sin.
“Somehow, I knew that before I ever laid eyes on you.”
“Somehow, I knew this day would be different than any other I ever had.”
“Somehow, we ended up in a cab together in danger. What’s up with that?”
“Somehow, I’m really fucking liking that fact.”
“Somehow, fuckin’ hell…I’m totally into a woman half my damned age. But a goddamned awesome one…”
“Somehow, we’re kissing…”
“Somehow, we were. But we should be again…”
“Somehow, I think I’m falling for an old Vietnam vet who kicks ass to pay the rent.”
“Somehow, I’m glad you may be able to fall for me. I’m fallen for you, for damn sure.”
The ride was a blur of lush emotions and caressing hands. The driver had to remind them eventually that the meter was running as he idles by the parking garage. Not wanting to part, they nevertheless got out of the enclosed backseat kiln and were again two microscopic souls fluttering in the Big Easy.
She gave the driver a final peak for being so nice about the smoke and the shameless making-out he witnessed in his mirror. Moses fired up the Bronco and they left New Orleans. Like all men and women seeking a life of peril and adventure, they headed west. The night was just beginning to die away when they made it to Houma. She was long asleep against the window of the Ford by then. Smiling at her tiny beauty, he carried her across the threshold and into his world. Stirring briefly, she realized she was being carried. Her arms entwined around him, feeling his power as her ear was lulled into an amorous stupor by the pounding of his heart beneath it.
Curio was made comfortable in a guest room. Cognizant of her being in a man’s bed, she spent a few fateful minutes lying in wait for the sex she figured was going to happen. After an hour, he had not intruded on her. Frustrated, she wondered what the deal was but figured he had his reasons.
Probably scared I’ll chicken out. That’s gotta be it. Or maybe he figures on the long haul? He done heard me talk about having to fuck for the rent now and again and now he figures he's showin’ me he’s better than the rest of those guys. Well, I respect dat, Moses Holliday. But damn, I’m kinda’ horny, too…
She rolled on her side and listened for the sound of a restless bed calling her to make it perfect. When she heard snoring down the hall, she rolled over and slept more soundly than she had in months.
It was nine in the morning before the goose-down mattress in Moses’ spare bedroom released Curio Leblanc from its feathery embrace. She rose and stretched her arms and back. Smelling the telltale scent of bacon, she rubbed her growling belly and took in the stark room. It suddenly occurred to her finally she was in a strange man’s house and bed after an uproariously drunken ride from the wilds of New Orleans to the emptiness of a patch of swamp outside of Houma.
Another great move, girl. She sighed.
The room was spare, a man-cave but without the usual sports pennants and big screen TV. The room had racks of rod and reels mounted to the wall to her right. Old rods, she could tell. Not used for many years before he had them mounted as a display.
The entire wall at the foot of the bed was a bookshelf laden with hardbound editions of dozens of literary classics.
There was a solid wooden chest of drawers next to the doorway to her left. Expensive and solid, she noted. The wood was dust-free. She rolled out of the bed slowly and walked over to it. She rubbed her fingers along the front of the piece. Her hands felt the oily film of recent polish.
A man who cleans and takes care of what he has can’t be half-bad. Especially when what he has is worth something to him. Good to know!
She walked quietly on her bare feet across the hardwood floor to the bookshelf.
“Three sections,” she whispered and noticed her fingers were clean when she drew them across a ledge of the shelf. “A reader and a brawler. What a Renaissance man.”
Her eyes found titles of dozens of books she had heard of but never read and dozens more she did not recognize at all. The left third of the shelves were devoted to complete volumes of Time-Life books. The center was devoted to Romance authors. The right held American classics mostly- with one curiously random shelf of war novels…and combat tactics tutorials.
“Boom, You’re Dead, Asshole! Working with High Explosives for Dummies?” She nodded and smirked in admiration at a false jacket someone, she assumed Moses, had slid over one in the section she figured was nicknamed the “kill a sumbitch” section.
“Just a little light reading before I go to sleep some nights.” She heard his voice from the doorway, his eyes on her shoulders as she chuckled.
“Bang, bang. Night, night? Hope you don’t treat a lady like that in the boudoir.” Smiling, Curio looked at him as he propped up against the doorway on his tan shoulders and his own two feet. “No wonder you’re single. Too much time reading deez books and sippin’ the hard stuff.”
“Gets me through the day, I reckon. I’ve got some breakfast ready if you’re hungry.”
“I’m kinda’ hung over but I think I could eat a bite. What have you got planned for today?” She walked toward him.
“Well,” he accepted her arms around his waist and her peck on his cheek.
She laid her head against his chest, hearing the heart pound again. It had a distinct comfort for her.
“God, I’m hung over.”
“I hadn’t really thought much past cooking up some hog and eggs and taking a BC powder.” He looked into her hung-over eyes and kissed her slowly. “Maybe take you to get some clothes and stuff. Depends on you.”
“Well, first I gotta’ pee.”
“Right there.” He pointed at the door just behind him across the hall. “I laid out some toiletries for you. I’m a little shy on FDS and pads though, I’m afraid. I warn’t expecting a lady’s company. I don’t get many visitors of any kind out here much.”
Her mouth dropped. “FDS? What the hell, man! My twat don’t stink, Moses Holliday!” She giggled as she slapped his chest. “You sure some old flame didn’t leave something like that around for you to use later?”
“Don’t recall too many old flames dropping by here, cheri.” Hearing his drawl pronounce dear in French was amusing to her. She let him go and went to the restroom.
“How do you like your eggs?” He asked as the door closed behind her.
“Unfertilized!” She exclaimed through the door. Moses laughed and went to scramble up an omelet.
Curio noticed the folded towel lay neatly across the countertop. The toilet was clean; the faint scent of pine oil cleaner lingered in the room. A new toothbrush and a tiny tube of cucumber melon lotion sat on top of it. The paper holder had a fresh, unused roll of plush paper hanging on it.
“Nice touch, Tex.” She made herself at home.
Moses patted the grease off the bacon with a paper towel and laid it on two plates. A three-egg omelet bubbled slowly in an eight-inch skillet on the gas stove beside him. He slit open a pack of diced ham and a pack of shredded cheese with a steak knife and tossed a few fingers worth of each atop the bubbling egg. With a careful touch of the spatula, he folded the omelet over and held it in place until the inside hardened.
When the cheese started oozing out of the fold, he slipped it off onto the plate and arranged it in its place next to some orange slices and the bacon. He heard the faucet running in the bathroom and knew his time was still okay.
Enough to make me a quick pan of scrambled eggs.
He used his omelet time to make hers. He wanted everything to be just right and ready for her when she made her entrance. He worked fast on getting toast buttered and some mayhaw jelly stirred up and dumped on a saucer. The juice was already poured.
Scrambled eggs were a quick and easy prep. He gave them a quick burn and whipped them solid as he listened to the water stop and start in the bathroom. His mind wandered as he tried to get his head around the sheer idiocy of having a young woman brushing her teeth in his home.
Few people knew of his home at all. Next to no one even knew he lived in the house. There were a few neighbors who may see him go past in the Bronco from time to time, but no one he had ever met or freely associated with lived in Houma. The mail carrier saw him once several years prior on a Saturday afternoon but that was a fluke of bad timing. Now he had a teenage runaway that he was absolutely enamored with purtying herself up,
The girl was a fluke, just a random circumstance that could sink him. He understood that. Such occurrences were a thing that the killer Moses Holliday, every waking hour of every day he walked free on the earth, worked ceaselessly at trying to factor in and thus avoid. He had killed people off the clock to make such occurrences less likely at times. Now here was this beautiful little Cajun tart, all eighteen years of tits, attitude, and fury, brushing her teeth and probably hung over as hell. if she was anything close to feeling as he did.
Damn, he shook his head. Mo, you a-gettin’ way dumber in your old age.
He flipped the egg skillet over on his plate and tossed some bacon on it.
The light switch clicked in the restroom. How long had it been since he had heard that switch click when it was not his finger on it? Had he ever? It occurred to him that even hearing the water run in another room was an act of defiance against his unaccompanied normalcy.
He heard the door open and quickly sat down with his plate in front of him. When she appeared with her face washed and fresh, her body pressed tightly into a flannel shirt of his and her black skirt from the evening before, barefoot and glorious, Moses again forgot what he did for a living and why he was alone. There was only the wonderful presence of her near him. She was the best fluke he could have known. If she were to sink him, he noted, she was undeniably worth drowning for. There was a complete brilliance in her smile that he knew he could not be without. Her moxie was almost heady to him.
“Dammit man! You think I’m underweight or something?” She slid into her chair across from him and poked his shin with her toe. “I don't go around tossin’ my lunch or nothin', if you’re wondering. Shit!”
“I think you’re a coonass and a coonass don’t say no to food.”
“You got that right. I’m starving! Ya' gotta’ love a man who cooks something besides a fucking honey bun and a beer for breakfast.” She smiled and admired the spread.
He even cut the oranges into stars. Layin’ a little thick there, Moses. But at least I know ya’ care.
Moses watched her react to the plate.
Fuck, how gay was I cutting those stars?
The couple dove into breakfast. Both were hungrier for far more than a sunrise meal. The mutual need to find some weakness in the irrational pairing was intense. They may not have wanted to find that divisive kibble that would end their relation, but prudence demanded they make a cursory effort.
“So, Moses.” She downed some juice and smacked her lips.
“So, Curio.” He stabbed his eggs and watched her as she cut her omelet into portions. Her manner was loose but she ate properly.
“You all out here….all alone out hereee in the swamp with little ole me. You cooking me breakfaaasst…” She admired the spread as she ate. “You made out with me last night yet didn’t try to fuck me really. You kicked those guys’ asses, so I know you ain’t the shy type. So here I sit eatin’ breakfast with you way out here in God knows where. I gotta’ ask. You setting me up for something twisted?”
“Perhaps.” He stared down his nose at her and rubbed his hands maniacally.
“Goody!” She winked impishly. “I like twisted.”
“I doubt you know what twisted is, dear. Slobbin’ on a few tourists and dykes ain’t much for twisted.”
She shot him a perplexed look. He raised a calm hand.
“Don’t get me wrong, hell I admire that in you. You did what you needed to do to get by. Probably had some good times mixed in with some bad. Got fucked over and did some fucking back on a sumbitch here and there, right?”
“Life’s a bitch.” She chewed an orange. He sat his fork down and shrugged, amused.
“It’s in the past, you know. That part of you is done, if you want it to be. Those days were harsh. I’m not saying I won’t take you back to the city right now if you wish. You ain’t my slave or nothing. But I don’t wanna’ do that. I want you to stay here for as long as you want to and you want me around.”
“I do want to stay. Nice work on the produce, Tex.”
“I was curious about that brake job thing you spoke of last night. Brass tacks. You really pull that off?”
“You like a bad girl, Moses?” She cut her eyes up deliciously from her plate to his. “I tell you I offed some old pervert and made his little girl cry for daddy just for making me go down on her unshaven bushy pussy and you get all jolly and randy at the breakfast table? Is that your kink?”
“No. I’m curious how you felt afterward.”
“Worried I would get caught is how I felt. I didn’t feel bad about it. To hell with him. He was a sorry bastard.”
“You get a rush from it?”
“Not really. I got the hell outta there as soon as I heard about it. So yeah, I guess you could say I gotta’ rush-the-fuck-outta’-there rush.”
“How did you do it?”
“I punched some tiny pinholes in the line. I didn’t really plan on it fuckin’ killing him that day. I just wanted him to ass-end somebody and fuck him up so I could take the day off from fuckin’ dealin’ with his bullshit. She was on the rag so I knew I was freed up for the day if I could get him fucked up somehow. Big oops on my part.” She stiffened. “I shouldn’t be telling you all this.”
“It’s more than okay, cheri. You will never find a better set of ears to lay the whole sordid tale on. I ain’t a-judgin’, trust me”
“How can I be sure? I just met you, Moses. Fucking A! Damn hurricanes done got my tongue to flapping to you and voila! I start runnin’ my mouth too much and I end up...where exactly am I?”
“Shit! I don’t even know where that is.”
“Again, it’s quite okay. Here…” he held up his hands in surrender. “Show and tell time. How about a little ‘You showed me yours, now I show you mine?”
She wrinkled her nose and giggled. “Sounds tempting. You aren’t a bad-looking guy, by the way. I don’t think I told you that last night. You’re way past hot for an old rednecky guy.”
“Thank you. I know I told you that you were beautiful. Then and now, I’ll say it and fucking mean it. Curio, you are a goddamn gorgeous young woman.”
“I can get used to hearing that, ya’ know.” Curio cooed. “Good omelet by the way.”
“Glad you think so.” He reached around behind him and pulled out his wallet.
“This the you showing me your’s part?” Curio gripped her fork tightly, breathing in a deep breath, glaring at him suddenly.
Motherfucker! Damn, man, I like you! You better not be trying to john me…I’ll stab your ass with this fork.
He pulled out several hundreds nonchalantly. Seeing her face, he frowned back at her and shook his head. “It’s not pussy paper, cheri. I was just counting out how much I had on hand for later. I don’t hit ATMs much, you see? I had a good chunk of change on me last night. But…I pissed away some of it before I saw you and I dropped some around afterward. Chill.”
She relaxed a little. “Good. I thought for sure you was about to negotiate a fee. That’s highly rude.”
He cocked his head and shrugged. “Would I have to negotiate?”
“No, but most guys think everything they do for a woman is a negotiation. I was about to get my feelings hurt and exit stage left on your ass if you was trying to johning me.”
He looked out of the dining room window at the bayou stretching out under its Spanish moss framing for miles. The folly of her predicament being so obviously unknown to her amused him. Had his intentions been evil toward her, she was as doomed as a baby rabbit under a hungry hawk’s feet, regardless of her notions of self-defense. She sincerely believed she could get away from anything if she had the time to think of how to do so and the means to disarm her opponent through whatever means available. He found her unabashed swagger intoxicating.
“Curio, do you even know where you are?”
“Not really.” Shrugging, she continued eating. “Houma, I know you said. Out here in Acadiana, with all my bastard cousins, I guess. Look, I don’t consider it evil to pay for pussy and all. There’s worse things a man can buy than some cha-cha. But it’s fucking degrading as a motherfucker for a man to think that’s all you’re worth. I hate that shit. I ain’t a junkie. I remember you just saying you lived in Houma. I didn’t think you brought me out here just to fuck me and wave some twenties at me when you coulda just got a room in Kenner and we’d be done by now.”
“Curio, you are at least three miles from a living soul. And that’s three miles of either swamp with snakes and gators or woods with sticker bushes, coyotes and snakes. I’m not telling you that to scare you. I’m telling you that to let you know if I had evil plans they would have been in play by now. And frankly you’d be pretty fucked.”
“That’s a little creepy.”
“I didn’t intend to bring you out here to be creepy-sounding. It was spontaneous, to say the least. But the shit went down so fast last night and all. We had to break out of dodge in a hurry. Kudos to you for knowing that by the way. You’re fast on the uptake.”
“I ain’t dumb, Moses. I’ve been in some tight spots before where hauling ass immediately made more sense than sticking around with a thumb in my ass, baby. That wasn’t my first rodeo in the French Quarter, cowboy.” She giggled. “I can yippie-ki-yay my ass outta frickin’ Dodge with the best of ‘em.”
“Haven’t we all, cheri. Haven’t we all.” He inhaled a strip of bacon. “So, am I to understand you have no ID, no money, no clothes and basically no family?”
“Plus no pads, no home, no makeup, no friends here, no weed and a goddamn hangover.”
“Are pads a 911?” His eyes got big. She saw him looking at the front door, plotting. He was thinking of the nearest store, she could see it on his face.
“That would be a negative, sport. The tide along the Costa del Rouge is low at this time.”
“Good to know. So, what do you say we eat breakfast, get some hair of the dog in us, hit a mall and get you some rags? I’ll see about getting you an ID later.”
Curio nodded and went about devouring the omelet. “Sounds good. Hell,” She smiled as she saw his gears still turning. “It sounds very good.”
Moses lit a Winston and stood up. Facing the water of Flechette Bayou, murky with trees and turtle heads breaking its idyllic surface, he closed his eyes and let one more person besides himself know a terrible truth about himself.
“I think I fell in love with you the first time I saw you yesterday.” He waited a moment for the initial reaction to wane and her posed face to register her opinion of what he had said. The face that would tell him all he needed to know.
It was a dumbstruck face that met his. Just as he felt when she first neared him less than a day prior, he felt the hair on his neck rise from the jolt.
Those eyes of hers had him. Those dark and watching eyes that missed little, just as his did. Those eyes were unable to make themselves squint in disbelief. The button nose did not rise that millimeter to one side in repulsion and disapproval.
Her cheeks were flushed with hot blood, as her pulse seemed to rise in intensity.
He saw the lips quiver slightly, those pouty, red, full lips that had found his in the back of a random cab carrying them away from trouble and toward a world of tangled possibility. The lips he wanted to feel without cessation.
She dropped her fork as mindlessly his cup had slipped from his fingers on Conti, the muscles of her fingers ceasing their flex and wilting in place. The eyes glistened as a sliver of sun caught them. They widened to let the excess moisture well up in them.
“No one ever said that to me before and sincerely meant it. One look at you and I know you do.”
“I’m being sincere. It’s a hard thing for me to tell you that because I can’t believe it my damn self. Sure as hell I’m standing here in my own house a-tellin’ you this. I can’t believe I’m telling you that standing here right now. But for some reason, it needed to be said and was.” He danced nervously in place and took a drag of the cigarette. “Fuck, this is weird.”
“Moses, it’s weird, exciting, mutual and crazy all at the same time. No one would believe it possible for us to be sitting here like this. Hell, it must be love then. I felt weird this morning when I woke up. You weren’t there but I, like, …wanted you there. You can say I just got used to having someone next to me when I wake up but they are just a warm body most times. Yet here I was, in your house. I smelled the bacon and you were everywhere around me and for the first time in a long time, I woke up…” She searched for her word.
“Happy?” Moses hunched a shoulder and scratched his chin with the pad of a thumb.
“Satisfied. Content. Secure. Unafraid for once. You have no idea how nice it is to sit here, eat an omelet with a nice man who looks good and for once all my problems seem insignificant. This sounds trite, I know, but it’s nice not to be awkward with you. I can stay here and be safe with you, right?
“As long as you want. I hope you do. I want you to.”
“It's crazy, though. I mean, hell. I hardly know you and all, but for some reason, I’m sitting here and I’m not worried about my ass bein' a hundred miles from anybody, sittin' with a stranger who no one that I know knows from Adam. And I ain't scared at all. I’m wanting to be here, even though my life is a hundred miles away. It's kinda' cool. You must have a cool life out here. Mine is always hectic. Mine is…sadly random.” She sighed sadly and stabbed at the omelet. “Emphasis on sad. My life sucks, to be honest.”
Curio thought of a dozen mornings of recent. Waking up with strangers, both the ones she knew and the ones she did not. Making idle, awkward conversation that usually centered around how fubar she was or how good she made her lover feel…as much as he or she could remember anyway.
Moses put his fork down, stretched a long scarred arm across the table and clasped her hand not holding the fork.
“What if I said you can have a new life with me? What if I said your days of living hand to mouth on couches and ripping off tourists and dopers can be over from now on? What if I said you never have to look over your shoulder for someone new to fuck you over? Ever again.”
“Sounds better than limo sex with Jon Bon Jovi.” She giggled and caressed his hand. “You kinda’ got that ‘wanted dead or alive’ thing goin' for you by the way.”
“Funny you should say that.” Moses smiled. “Hot monkey sex in a limo if you want to, too.”
“Me-ow! You seem so nice.” She licked her top lip seductively. “What’s the catch, Texas? You can't be that good. It’s too good to be true.”
You got me all in some weird…Prince Charming with bare knuckles and a prison tat place right now. Gotta’ be a catch...right?
“You gonna’ pinch me in a dream in a second and I wake up on Sheila’s couch with her running a hand up my shirt asking me to wake up for Mama?” Curio pinched her wrist softly.
“A slight catch, yes. And no, no pinching you to wake you up.”
“I knew it.” She rolled her dark eyes. “Love or no love, no strapping old man with a hard ass edge to him like you got is gonna’ keep a runaway girl around forever and not expect something. Ain’t there always a catch?” She scowled and sighed. “Lay it on me, Tex. Maybe it ain’t too weird. You’re worth a lil bit of a catch, I ‘spoze.”
“Curio, the catch is I kill people for a living.” He shrugged and chewed some bacon. “I work for a mob crew.”
“Do wah?” She froze in place; her caress paused.
She realized from his nonchalance, he meant it.
“I’m an assassin, for lack of a better term. At least that’s the spooky, mysterious word people like to throw around. I don't think of myself that way really but that's what I do. In reality, I just take out trash when it stinks up my buddy's house of ill repute.”
She shook her head slowly, laughing.
He nodded his head in an apathetic retort. “It’s true.”
“Holy shit! You really kill people? Sure you do. You killed too much whiskey, cowpoke. You talking outta’ yo’ head. Holy shit, the real catch is that you’re crazy.” She giggled and rubbed his hand. “But so am I, so it’s okay. If you think you kill people, as long as one of them ain’t me, I can get by that.”
“It’s true. I work for a gangster. He’s a friend but he’s still a gangster. Someone fucks him over, he calls me and I make bad things happen for him.”
She knew from the raised eyebrows he was somehow serious. Looking out the window at the distant swamp, the seclusion of the cabin seemed a far more foreboding location.
“Wow! No shit! You ain’t pulling my leg?” She was intrigued, chewing breakfast without even realizing she was taking bites.
“I would rather rub your leg, cheri. Tomorrow or maybe a few days from now, I’ll bring you a paper with a story about a sumbitch name-a Alvin Trudeau. He went a got hisself strangled to death yesterday morning at his little home over on Burgundy. That’s what I was doing in your little ole town yesterday. Clearing up an account that was in the red too long.”
“Shit! You choked a man to death?” Her eyes were shocked. She dared not move a muscle.
“It was the easiest and the most quiet way I could pull it off in the morning. Easy and quiet are two words I try to keep in use at all times. Like I told you, I don’t like combat.”
She gulped down some juice, strangling on it for a moment as it went down the wrong pipe.
Shit, man! You are a random dude to end up with…
“He had it coming, I hope?” She coughed.
“The boss thought so. Alvin was ripping him off. The boss don’t like getting ripped off.”
“Who’s the boss?”
“Tony Danza.” He muttered as he drank some juice.
“Huh?” She chuckled as it sunk in. “Funny, asshole. Who do you work for?”
“Let’s leave the boss outta’ it for a while. He’ll come around eventually. You being here will probably not go down too well with him. Best you don’t recall what I tell you for a while, if you catch my drift.”
“Damn. So you just kill people when some guy tells you to?” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that? No problems with it? No conscience? No bad dreams or whatever? You go all psycho when you do it?”
“Not I can remember. I’m paid well to be discreet, to be brutal if necessary and to be invisible and mute. The boss and me go way back. He’s a friend more than an employer. We gotta’ nice little thing a-goin’. I do one chore for him and I do it well. I don’t reckon I’m psycho but I guess a psycho is generally the last one to know.” He chuckled. “I don’t think I am, though.”
“Psychos probably don’t make good hired killers. It ain’t good to be messed-up in the head and do what I do. You get busted or killed like that. It’s what I do for money and because I do it well I am paid well.” He rubbed her hand softly. “And I’m allowed to live a nice, quiet life without hassles.”
“How does a killer measure well?” Curio looked him up and down, seeing him with a fresh outlook.
“I’m not dead or on death row. Everyone I was paid to take care of was taken care of.” Moses shrugged. “And the paycheck’s all cleared the bank. That’s the best way I can measure well. I think I should maybe rethink it and go with excellent, since I’ve met you now.”
“That’s sweet! Are you rich?”
“I done alright. I don’t spend much. I live alone out here. Everything you see is paid for. My boss covers all expenses and he bought most of my toys I need for the tougher nuts to crack. Electronic gizmos, throwaway guns and such. Ain’t none of this you see got my name on it. He’s got a lawyer that hides me under his cloak right nicely. It works out for everyone so it suits me just fine how it’s set up.”
Curio felt a slight tingle of arousal in her crotch. There he was, a man who had whisked her away from all she knew after merely seeing her on the street. Ape shit crazy for her. Not all juvenile-horny, though she knew he would fuck her if she wanted him to and gave him the go-ahead. He was actually enthralled to be in her presence. The man wanted her happy. It was far more than she could say about a great many other guys she knew.
However, he was a professed killer. And unless he was a very odd liar, he had killed a man before having drinks on the street with her and stumbling around the Quarter until she ran afoul of some random people she had fucked over in her own life. Without really consulting her, he brought her to his world- a world that did not allow for secrets and strangers, to be sure.
Curio acknowledged he would have to kill her if she did not go along with his secret and vow to keep it as well. He would despise himself for having to silence her. It was an incredible risk for him to have even spoken to her on the stoop, she realized, with his world and his heart so exposed. He was powerful to her suddenly. An elusive executioner who by how own admission felt no trepidation about how he earned his pay. Yet there he was, lean, handsome and genteel enough to cut a juicy orange into stars and lay out toiletries for her for when she woke up on her own internal hangover clock.
What he told her meant he was probably a wanted man. He trusted her, though it could not possibly be in his nature to do so. For some damned reason, even after seeing how chaotic and rife with dark follies her life was in New Orleans, he was still safe with her knowing a terrible truth about him.
A truth few others could know safely. No one else ever trusted her as easily. Not her family, not her friends. Not herself at times.
For Curio Leblanc, companionship was a leisurely holiday that came about only with extensive planning and usually after gratification that eluded her on most occasions. Companionships of worth were founded in trust and that was a lagniappe for her random soul she was never allowed. There was now a man in her midst who sat quietly stabbing his scrambled eggs, asking, not demanding or demeaning that very thing, her companionship.
I have a companion. She swallowed hard. A man who kills for a living has me circling around his finger into a loosely wound noose that is binding me to him. Every bite of this omelet and every second I look further into those eyes that see only me and every glance at those deadly hands that only wish to hold me and I’m bound to him. And I like it. Dear Lord, I’m so fucking liking it!
“Is it hard? Killing people?” She looked at him.
He sniffled subtly and cocked his head as he answered. “It can be. Sons of bitches don’t really take too lightly to getting killt most times if they know it’s a-coming. Some are a little better at slowing down the reaper than others but so far the reaper is battin’ a-thousand. That’s why I tend to do it easy and quiet. Best they never know it’s a-coming. That’s a basic rule and probably has been as long as hunters have been killing prey. I say that, but…” Moses grinned and parsed his words carefully. “If they really pissed the boss man off bad enough, they damn sure know it’s a-coming when I decide I’m done making his displeasure known.”
“You a mean man, Moses? You all kinds of evil? You torture people and all that shit?”
“Mean is subjective, darlin’. Most people I meet end up thinking that I am, I’m sure. But I don’t meet most people without having an idea about how they’re a-gonna’ end up. Most times, there ain’t no time for draggin’ it out. I ain’t never had the urge to just fuck around with people just for the hell of it. I ain’t a sadist. I’m a trouble-shooter in the truest sense of the term. Plain and simple.”
“And me? You seem very sure you know where you and I will end up.”
“Call me a sap. I hope we end up old together.”
“That’s sweet, Moses. I kinda’ do, too. And I mean that. It ain’t bullshit. Not that I ain’t capable of spouting bullshit to some guy if he wants to hear it and all. You’re cool. I dare say you’re special.”
And way too honest! They each thought.
“Then let’s eat and go shopping.” He wiped his mouth with a paper towel. Looking her up and down, he chuckled. “You look like some fuckin’ butch lumberjack in that get-up. I saw you yesterday and you looked like a goddamned goddess. One night drinking with me and you’re already in my fucking flannel eating burnt-up hog like some trailer park princess. You deserve better than that.”
“Yesterday morning I scored enough cash off of those assholes whose asses you kicked to treat myself to a spa treatment and some clothes. Course, I stole the clothes…but it was still a treat for me. The girl had taste. You damn sure caught me in a bad way clothes-wise this morning. I really shoulda’ grabbed that pack. I need some panties, for sure.”
“Was that your first spa day?”
“The first one with that much attention paid to me. I sat in a sauna and had a half-ass massage at a place one time. The chick that rubbed me down didn’t have a clue what she was doing. Pinchin’ ass bitch. That one yesterday though was awesome. I woulda’ had her baby after she was through with me.”
He sniggered. “You get a happy ending?”
“I sure as fuck wanted one.” Curio guffawed, mouth full of omelet. “I was scared to ask. The place seemed a little high-end for those things, but of course it is New Orleans and who the fuck knows? The masseuse gave me a rubdown everywhere else. She missed the good spot though.”
“What if I told you I know one who does?”
“No shit? That’s either wild or nasty, I can’t decide.”
“Or both.” He smiled.
“Or both.” She concurred.
“She’s some kind of voodoo-doer. She does some crazy, mixed-up massage and sexual divinity ritual. They cain’t shut her down because she cites religious practice. Truth be told, she just gets paid a shitload to give handjobs and calls it doing God’s work. She ain’t picky though, she’ll rub you out, too. I reckon enough people screamed oh god as it spurted to make her case stick in court. I dunno. But she’s just over in New Iberia if you wanna’ go. It ain’t like I gotta’ be somewhere. You neither, right?”
“You’re correct, sir. Voodoo handjobs? I bet the johns don’t screw her on the payoff. She’ll hex their asses and make their dicks fall off.”
Moses shook his head. “No. That big palooka of a son of hers will crack a stiffer over the head and roll his ass over the dock to feed the gators they got in the backyard. She lives on a houseboat. Not too many folks put the stiff to her when the money is asked for. Vernice is crazy enough to do that shit, too. She’s an odd bird.”
“I bet.” Curio crammed the last strip of bacon in her mouth and kicked back from the table, licking the salt pork grease from her fingers. “Ain’t no way I’d live on a houseboat with gators in my backyard. Fuck that. Them big boys start to moanin’ when they get horny and wake me up while I’m sleepin’ and I’d probably piss myself.”
“Gators need love, too. They just paging the ladies when they do that. I hear them all the time during the season out back behind the house. I’ve run a few off from the back yard in my day.”
“Damn. Ain’t you just some kinda’ Crocodile Dundee.”
“Ain’t no Texan scared of some damned lizard.” He pulled up his shirt casually. A .45 pistol was jammed in his pants. “I got an equalizer for them.”
“Nice gun.” She was staring at the unseen piece in his jeans.
“It’s big enough to take care of most issues.”
“You don’t seem to scare easily.”
“I can get scared plenty. I’ve seen enough of the world to know there’s scary things in it.”
“What are you scared of?”
“Me? Hell you’re a hit man…with a big gun in your britches, apparently. You ain’t scared of me.”
“If you was a contract, you’d be right. The danger in you is you are closer to my heart than any knife or bullet ever got and I just met you. You gotta’ understand, I don’t have a place for a lover. Not a steady one, anyway. Things have to work a certain way for me to stay alive and working and those things have never worked where I could have someone special for myself. Now here you are. And you’re special. You was special the moment I laid eyes on you, darlin’. Sitting there right now, you can’t know how scared I am because of you right now.”
Curio looked at him, her eyes wide. She could see the firmness of his body, the steel of his spine and the toughness of his demeanor when she first saw him the day before. Together for the day, she saw his mannerisms, his jocular nature and his nobly instinctive defense of her as a woman when she was accosted. What she had not seen until that instant was that he had truly fallen for her, despite every facet of his existence telling him to vamoose from the peril of her mere presence with him.
Her mind factored in what it must have taken for a man like him to open his life to her in such a flippant fashion. What it had taken, she realized with a smile and a captured breath, was only her.
It was a new revelation for young Lemarie Leblanc. She had never been the cause of anything but paperwork, worry, scuffles, sexual gratification, the occasional fistfight and missing possessions. Now she sat at a table with a man willing to give his all for her happiness and the feeling was mutual. He gave her a worth that no one else had and he did it without thinking.
Moses reached and took her empty plate to the sink. He gave it a spraying and suddenly felt her small arms and hands grasp him around the waist and run themselves up and down his chest. He turned around as the water ceased and met her mouth with his. Their sobered worlds swirled as the friction of their collision aroused a fire within them both.
“Moses,” she broke the kiss and pressed her head to his chest. “Why are you being good to me? I done so much bad shit to myself and a lot of people. You don’t know me from Adam. You shouldn’t want to know me. Give me a few more years of fucking up and being around the people I hang with and I could be the very kind of person you could get sent to deal with. I ain’t amounted to jack squat and I don’t think I ever could.”
He stroked her hair as she sighed, the scent of her intoxicating. He felt an erection trying to start and wondered if he should be stingy with that for a while longer in case she still had a crisis of conscience.
“But you brought me out here and laid all that shit on me and didn’t bat an eyelash.” She pulled back and looked into his amused eyes. “You really feel okay with this? With me?”
He smiled, amused at her uncertainty. “Curio, I threw you in the back of a cab and we ended up out here without a soul to hear or see you ever again. I tell you I kill people and you ask me if I hold it against you because you had to scratch some backs and claw some eyes out to stay ahead of the fuckin’ nasty-ass streets of that sewer of a town. Curio, I want you here. There ain’t a goddamned thing back in New Orleans that you cain’t have with me…and without selling yourself so short to people who don’t deserve you. You fucking rock me inside already and we haven’t known each other a full day. But as corny and fucked up as it sounds and is, I felt you coming up the street yesterday, darlin’. Sure as a magnet, I was pulled to you. Call it kismet. Call it karma…”
“Call it, I looked fucking good.”
“Call it primal attraction, sure. Call it a piece of a puzzle of life I never knew I didn’t have. I never would’ve seen a woman in my kitchen, like this,” he acknowledged their embrace, “this time yesterday morning. But by God, there was something weird about the day yesterday. I couldn’t put my finger on it. The air tasted weird and I just had a kooky vibe about the whole damned day. After I snuffed Alvin, I coulda’ come home or a-jumped a plane to Aruba for a while if I wanted. Gone down to Houston, flew to Australia or fuckin’ Pearl Harbor. I got some money and God knows I got time. I just got outta’ a jail cell three days ago, for Christ sake.”
“No shit. I don’t like New Orleans usually. Partying around people ain’t my thing and there’s waaay too many people around that part of the world for me to be casual after I just choked a bastard out. And people in general make me nervous. Anyone of them can put the noose around my neck, you know.”
“Remind me to drag you to Mardi Gras. Bet you freak out in that shit.”
“Not really, there’s anonymity and cover in the masses actually. What I was getting at was I coulda’ got drunk anywhere I wanted to after the job was done. But quite out of character, there I was a-pickin’ and a-grinnin’ on a street corner. In the fucking French Quarter of all places. Twiddlin’ my dick not two miles from a murder investigation lookin’ into what I was up to. And here you come! It was a strange day and somehow I just knew then…”
He kissed her softly, sucking her bottom lip just a touch. “…as I know now, that there was no chance in hell I would let you just go by me, rock my world without even knowing I existed, and not at least buy you a drink. You changed me in an instant. Don’t know how, cain’t say why. But I know I want you here. I want you to see a world outside of the world you knew because you make me feel good and I want to make you feel good as well.”
“I’m glad I met you, Moses Holliday. Even if you have one morbid goddamn job.”
“I’m so damned happy you think that.”
“You just got out of the clink, for real?”
“Six months for assault.”
“Damn. Half a year?”
“Half a year watchin’ Donahue and Judge Wapner for two hours in the morning and watchin’ Jeopardy and Press Your Luck for an hour in the afternoon. All I did was read, eat, and work out. That’s why I decided to stay around in town a bit. And that’s why we’re here now.”
Curio grabbed his wrists and pulled him toward her as she backed out from the kitchen toward the hallway leading to the bedroom. Their eyes welded together, both were smiling as they walked to the bedroom.
“Tell you what, Moses. We’re going to go seal this deal. By that, I mean I’m horny as hell for you and I need some serious sex.”
“I’m hearin’ ya.” For the first time, he undressed her with his eyes, using the memory of her in the outfit from the day before.
“Six months? Baby, we’re gonna’ fuck like rabbits, take a shower and maybe fuck some more if you play them cards right. Then we go do that voodoo massage thingee you was talking about and go get me some decent clothes. Then we’re coming back here and do some more talking about this killer-thing you do. That shit is way random, homeboy. You a badass bitch, I bet. I like it!”
“Sounds like fun. I was kinda’ wondering, though. You wanna’ maybe get away from the state for a while? I been kinda’ cooped up on account of Louisiana a while.” They hit the door to her guest room, tearing away clothes. “I think some time somewhere else may do us some good.”
“Sounds fun. What you got in mind?”
“I dunno. We can go someplace. We can get far from here if you want. You ever been on a cruise? I know some kickass places in Cozumel and Jamaica to hang out in. It’s been a while since I was shit-faced eating at a buffet at midnight that warn’t at some truck stop in Assfuck, Georgia somewheres. You know they can do that on them cruise ships? It’s kickass.”
Curio froze, eyes wide as she beheld him at arm’s length. The possibilities of her world including his smiling presence seemed as endless as the heartbeats pounding gleefully behind her breasts. He looked at her, concerned.
“What? You don’t like cruises? We can fly someplace if you want…”
You gotta be kidding! Fuckin-A, Miss Serendipity. You are so damned kickass today!
“God, I love you!” She leapt and wrapped herself around him, their hot skin smelting to each other, welding the flesh and their dark souls simultaneously.
“This is so crazy.” He shook his head in awe of his failed prudence. A lifetime of secrecy and compulsory solitude were, in an instant, completely forgotten.
She sucked at his ear as he kicked the door closed.
“You have no idea how crazy.” Curio whispered and there was only the fervent feeling of each other’s new power.
When their souls sampled their flesh, they penetrated through any lingering reservations and plunged headlong into a dangerously new and uncertain future.
* * *