What happens when Johnny falls asleep next to the tomb of a voodoo queen
1928 Rosewood Dobro with Silver Wings
The air was thick, warm, and wet as Johnny stepped through the back door of the Dragon’s Den and into the dirty alley that ran behind the building. Leaning back against the aging brick wall, he closed his eyes and took several deep breaths trying to clear the smoke he’d been breathing for the last several hours from his lungs. Straining his ears, he could barely hear the muddy Mississippi making its way to the gulf over the overpowering ringing in his ears. Ratman had told him to get ear plugs, but Johnny was too tough, too naïve for that. Now he understood Ratman’s suggestion and vowed to get the plugs tomorrow before his next shift started. As his head lulled to the side Johnny’s eyes opened wide and a jolt ran through his body. He needed to get home; he had to be at work at 7am for his day job. Pushing away from the wall and slinging his 1928 Dobro guitar on his back, he started walking.
Johnny was still new to the city. He’d come down once he’d been old enough to leave home. Music was all he thought about. He’d saved for five years to buy his Dobro; it was his most prized possession and his money maker. Without it, he wasn’t sure he’d have roof over his head or food in his stomach. It was a beauty, his Dobro. The body was Rosewood and the shiny metal cover plate was designed to look like silver wings.
The bells of St. Ursuline Convent rang through the morning air letting Johnny know that it was 3am. He let out a sigh knowing home was still a forty minute walk. His feet felt like tree stumps and his eyes gritty as if he’d been in a sand storm. He just needed to rest for a moment, get his second wind. Knowing the area wasn’t the best, he began thinking about a safe place to rest. Up ahead a few blocks was a cemetery that he thought would work- St. Louis #1. Who would bother him there? Everyone was dead. He hustled as best he could and found a place where he could shimmy through the bars. Then he walked around looking for the best hiding spot – he didn’t need the cops seeing him in here. He finally settled on a place that was out of eye sight from the road. As he made himself comfortable with his Dobro secure by his side he glanced at the name on the tomb and he saw that he’d chosen wisely. Marie Laveau – the famous voodoo queen. Surely she would protect him and his guitar while he slept just a few minutes. Surely she wouldn’t let any harm come to him or his livelihood. He barely had time to finish his thought before he fell into a deep sleep.
Two things sent waves of terror through Johnny as he woke. The first was that the sun had already risen; he’d slept more than just a few minutes. Second was that his 1928 Dobro guitar was gone. Johnny felt like he’d been punched in the gut repeatedly. He jumped to his feet and began searching for his guitar, a person, anything that might tell him where his beloved guitar might be. He spit on the steps of the voodoo queen’s tomb and gave a sarcastic, bitter “thanks” before heading out of the cemetery.
As he walked towards his rented apartment near Canal and Dupre Streets Johnny considered his options. He could go to the police department and file a report for the missing guitar. It seemed like the most logical choice, however he would have to admit to being in the cemetery after it was closed for the night thus risking a breaking and entering charge. Option two seemed more difficult and time consuming, but the chances of not ending up in jail were better. He could visit the local bars, music halls, and dives looking for his guitar. The silver wings on the cover plate made his Dobro easy to spot as there were only a few made in that design. But then what? How would he get it from the crook?
More depressed than he’d been in years, Johnny climbed the narrow stairs to his studio apartment above a noisy dry-cleaning business. Fortunately, the thief had left his wallet and keys. He shoved the key into the lock and opened the door. As he plopped down on the worn couch he picked up the phone to call his boss. Mr. Jasper picked up on the second ring.
“Yeah, hi, Mr. Jasper. This is Johnny,” he said as he covered his eyes with the arm not holding the phone.
“Yes, I know. I was supposed to be at work at 7 this morning. Yes, I know it is now 10:30 and I’m not there.”
“No, sir, I don’t want to be fired.”
“Well, I was leaving my night job at the Dragon’s Den around 3 a.m. I got really tired, sat down at Marie Laveau’s tomb, fell asleep, and woke up to find I had gotten robbed.”
“Yes, sir, I know it’s illegal.”
“Yes sir, I know she was a voodoo queen.”
Johnny shook his head and opened his eyes wondering why the conversation had turned from missing work to a history lesson about a long dead woman. Looking around the room for the first time since entering, Johnny’s jaw dropped.
“Uh, Mr. Jasper, can I talk to you about this tomorrow when I come in for my shift?” Johnny asked hopefully, but hung up before he could get the reply.
There, on his bed with its worn quilt and flat pillow, was his 1928 Rosewood Dobro with the silver wings. A worn piece of paper was tucked into the strings. Johnny stood up on shaky legs, plucked the paper from the guitar, and read what had been scrawled on it.
“Be safe, Johnny. And play for me. ~M.L.”