Being cast out was supposed to make the fallen feel regret, despair, anguish, and a whole lot of guilt. Me? Yeah, I’ll admit I felt all of those things. But mostly I was pissed as hell. I’d been purposefully dropped from the gates in a way that forced me to watch the heavens disappear as I fell and see the only life I’d known grow dimmer with each passing second. But that had been the whole point. Once I’d fallen through the thick, luminous, gold clouds that shrouded heaven, I slowed and floated in space, my body bathed in the brilliant glow of a billion stars. Even in my current situation I could still appreciate the beauty of the galaxy and the fullness of the moon, but only for the few seconds it took me to enter earth’s atmosphere and gravity grabbed my ass pulling me violently downward. I fell so fast that the frigid air rushing past me absorbed my screams and the thick stench of ozone filled my nose and mouth, burning my throat and lungs. It’s a damned good thing I blacked out long before I landed.
Searing pain woke me. Blue flames licked along my limbs before engulfing my face and torso, burning away the translucent layer of outer skin that made me invisible to humans, unless I wanted them to see me. And sometimes I did. But usually they looked right through me like I was made of glass. If they did see something, maybe a shimmer out of the corner of their eye, I’d already be long gone by the time they took a second look. As my skin sizzled, I bit my bottom lip hard to keep from screaming as I writhed and moaned in agony. I had to be quiet. There were things that lurked in the shadows ready to pounce on the weak and helpless. And I was in no shape to protect myself. Once the flames had completed their grim work, leaving my skin as cracked and blackened as a burned log, I passed out again.
The pain greeted me like an old friend when I woke for the second time. Curled onto my side, the slightest movement sent needles of pain shooting through me making my eyes water. With supreme effort I rolled onto my back. Big mistake. The searing pain quickly reminded me of my biggest loss, my wings. They were gone. Sliced neatly from my back with one swift, sharp ax blow leaving not even the slightest nub with which I could grow another set. Not that I wanted another set. I wanted my old wings back with their thirty-foot wingspan of burnished bronze feathers tipped in shimmering silver. But they’d been ceremonially burned as a warning to my fellow guardian brethren. That warning being: Don’t fuck up like this loser did.
I finally looked around to see where I’d landed. I’d been so eaten up by the pain I didn’t notice the stench of hot garbage right away. There was another sour smell mixed in with it. I’d rescued enough humans from sudden violent illnesses, poisonings, and accidental drug overdoses to recognize it immediately. Vomit. I managed to lift my head and spied a slimy pool of it on the ground about fifteen feet away. There were trash bags piled up beside me to my left and a rusted dumpster directly in front of me. I was lying behind a six story building in a shallow hollowed out ditch of broken brick that had been crushed by my body upon impact. Shards of brick dug into the gaping wounds on my back. But at least the pain kept me alert.
I slowed my ragged breathing and listened to the sounds that drifted through the thick, muggy night air of voices, talking, laughing, and yelling. There was also music. It floated all around me. They were all having a much better time than me. Not that it would take much. I had no idea what day or time is was let alone what city I’d landed in. I reached out and touched the nearest trash bag and feebly prodded and poked at the plastic until I torn open a hole big enough to fit my hand inside. I groped around the bag’s innards until I encountered something hard and round. I pulled out a dented yellow can and held it up to my face. The words Café Du Monde were written in black letters above a picture of a building. Below the picture were the words coffee and chicory. Tossing the can aside I reached back into the bag and pulled out a greasy stained envelope. The address on the front confirmed my suspicions. Chopping my wings off and kicking me out hadn't been punishment enough. They'd sent me back to New Orleans, the scene of my crime. Who said Heaven didn't have a sense of humor?
Moving wore me out so I put my head back and looked up at the stars. They were still going to shine regardless of how fucked up my situation was. I needed to get someplace safe but I could barely move. If humans found me, they’d take me to a hospital where I’d be asked a hell of a lot of questions I wouldn’t be able to answer. But humans were the least of my problems. The bounty hunters who worked for Lucifer would be out in force at night searching for lost and tortured souls to drag to hell for a bounty. I’m betting that finding a fallen angel would be like hitting hell’s powerball.
I tried to sit up and almost passed out again when I suddenly detected a presence and jerked my head to the right. A white cat sat amongst the garbage and debris staring at me with large, blue, slanted eyes. The cat had no fur and a homely, wrinkled face. I blinked and the cat was gone, replaced by a young woman as bald and hairless as the cat but much more beautiful. At first I thought she was a ghost. Her skin was so pale and translucent I could see the blue veins running beneath it. She wore a short, silver dress with a black silk scarf tied around her waist as a belt and was barefoot with a pair of black high heels dangling from her left hand. She knelt next to me and my body involuntarily tensed. She pressed a cool hand to my fevered brow.
“Kill me.” My throat was still raw from the ozone and screaming and my voice sounded as rough and harsh as wind whistling through a rusted pipe.
“Shh, don’t try and talk.” She untied the scarf from around her waist and began gently cleaning my sooty, blistered face.
“Please,” I begged. It would be so easy for her to cover my nose and mouth with the scarf and smother me. But she didn’t. A few minutes later, she spoke again.
“What’s your name?” Her voice was as soft and soothing as ointment on my burned skin.
I opened my mouth to say Xavier when suddenly she hissed. Her eyes narrowed to slits, her back arched, and her head jerked towards the back of the building I was lying behind. I looked, too. Cast against the chipped and weathered brick was a horned shadow, a demon bounty hunter. The smell of brimstone and sulfur filled the air. We both looked around wildly for the owner of the shadow but couldn’t see anything. The shadow turned sideways revealing a grotesque profile with a smaller horn sticking out of the middle of its forehead along with a pointed chin and a snout-like nose. It cocked its head back like it was sniffing the air. It must have smelled my soul, which was no longer pure. Being a fallen one meant my formerly pristine soul was now tarnished like a new house infected with toxic mold. If I made it through the night, how I lived my time on earth would determine just how much darker my soul would get. And Lucifer was always looking for new recruits.
The girl quickly gathered me into her arms. The fact that she avoided touching the wounds on my back made me realize she must have known what I was even though I didn’t exactly know what she was. As she held me close, the rapid beat of her heart echoed in my ear and the heat of her skin warmed me. I realized she was masking my scent with her own. After a few tense seconds, the shadow faded away taking its putrid stench with it. But the girl continued to hold me. My pain began to subside and I relaxed. A few minutes later, she lowered me back onto the ground and I wondered if she was leaving me there to die. Suddenly, I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone. But I wasn’t alone. She was gone. But the cat had come back, flicking its pink tongue against my hand, licking away the burnt skin and exposing the new, raw, human skin beneath while I stared up at the stars.
One Year Later
I turned off the narrow dirt road and parked next to a large uprooted cypress tree that looked hundreds of years old and now lay with its exposed roots baking in the sweltering August sun. If Katrina hadn’t uprooted it, then some other catastrophe surely had.
I pulled a handkerchief out of the back pocket of my jeans and wiped the sweat from my face then slapped at the mosquitoes feasting on my neck and forearm. I’d been driving around for half an hour trying to find a secluded spot. Now that I’d found it, it was time to get to work. After looking around first to make sure no one was around, I went to the back of my black 1967 Fleetwood and popped the trunk. Looking up at me from inside was a teenaged boy bound and gagged with terror filled eyes. The smell of piss hit me in the face. The kid had wet himself. Good. It meant my job was half done. I scowled, grabbed the boy by the front of his shirt and hauled him out of the trunk.
Once his feet touched the ground, he jerked out of my grasp and took off running. I leaned against the car with a half smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. I let the kid get a few feet away before grabbing the partially deflated basketball, that had been in the trunk when I bought the car, and slinging it hard at the back of his legs knocking him flat on his face. By the time I reached him, fat sloppy tears streamed down his face and thick snot ran from his nose. He tried to talk around his gag. I couldn’t understand him so I reached down and yanked the gag out.
“Please, mister, don’t kill me! I won’t steal again! I swear!” He started to sob. I started to soften just a little. But I couldn’t waver. I’d been hired to do a job and I wanted my client to get their money’s worth.
Darius Wade was seventeen years old and already on the slippery slope to a life of crime with arrests for shoplifting and vandalism already on his rap sheet. He’d been sent from Atlanta to live with his grandmother eight months ago when his parents shipped off to Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. His grandmother was getting too old to deal with her thug-in-training grandson. The kid was spoiled, bored and missing his parents. He was acting out and had hooked up with the wrong crowd. He was throwing rocks at the jailhouse door. And in a year he’d be considered an adult, even sooner depending on what he did, and that door would open and swallow him alive. Either that or he’d end up dead.
Darius’s grandmother didn’t want to worry her daughter and son-in-law so she reached out to Father Sims, the priest of her church. Father Sims had assured her he’d take the boy in hand. But after he witnessed the ballsy kid stealing from the donation box, Sims hired me to have a little chat with Darius and gave me a free hand at handling him any way I saw fit. In the year that I’d been here, I’d quickly developed a reputation in and around New Orleans as the go to guy for dirty jobs that straddled the line between right and wrong. Kidnapping and scaring a minor shitless in hopes of putting him back on the straight and narrow certainly fell into a gray zone. I don’t come cheap but I get the job done.
“That’s funny ‘cause I’m looking at your face, asswipe. I don’t see sorry anywhere on it. And you can save the crocodile tears. They aren’t impressing me at all.”
I loomed over Darius glaring down at him and hoped I looked scary. I was thugged out for the occasion in faded, baggy jeans and a tight, white, wife beater T-Shirt that showed off what I’d been doing for a year. I bet he thought I was an ex-con. And as far as heaven was concerned, I guess I was. I never wanted to feel as weak and helpless as I did when I’d landed in that alley a year ago and worked out religiously. Besides there wasn’t much else for me to do when I wasn’t working except think about the shit that got me clipped and there was nothing to be gained from dwelling on the things I can’t change. So working out became my therapy.
“I’m sorry! I really am!”
“Sorry you stole my money or sorry you got caught?” I lowered my already gravelly voice, which never quite recovered from the trauma of my fall, making me sound truly frightening.
“I won’t do it again, mister. I swear! Please let me go!”
“Not good enough. That money you stole from St. Jude’s was money they collected to pay me for putting the new roof on not for you to buy new kicks.” I spit a hocker near the boy’s brand new black Air Jordans. “You took hard earned money out of my pocket and now I’m gonna take it out of your ass.” I grabbed the boy and dragged him back to the car.
“I’ll take ‘em back and get your money! I still got the receipt! We can go right now!”
“That only takes care of a few a hundred bucks. What about the other grand?”
“It’s gone. I can’t get it back.”
“Why? What’d you spend it on?”
The boy didn’t answer and I kicked his feet out from under him sending him crashing to the ground. I pulled my fist back like I was going to punch him, hoping like hell I wouldn’t have to, when he finally blurted out what he’d done with the rest of the money.
“A gun!” he shouted in a shrill, high-pitched voice, “I used the money to buy a gun!”
“What the hell does a kid like you need a gun for? Is somebody messing with you?”
“Everybody in my crew’s got a gun. They said I couldn’t hang with them unless I had one. I need to be able to protect myself in case some fools roll up on me,” said Darius with his chin jutted out defiantly.
Jesus! Things were much worse than I thought. A gun was beyond bad news. It was a tragedy in the making. Darius’s bottom lip began to quiver. His eyes so defiant just a moment ago wavered under my intense stare. He was lying. The kid suddenly looked a whole lot younger than seventeen and in desperate need of a friend. I sighed and pulled a switchblade from my back pocket.
“Calm down, kid. And hold still,” I told him when his eyes got big. I cut him loose and sat down next to him on the grass. “Alright, now tell me about this so called crew of yours.”
Two hours later, I’d headed back to the French Quarter having retrieved the gun from Darius’s grandmother’s house and getting assurances from the kid that he’d be working after school everyday for Father Sims doing odd jobs around the church to earn back the money he stole. Turned out there was no crew. He’d been trying to impress some teenaged thugs and everything he’d done thus far had been to get their attention. But lucky for him they thought he was a joke. And I intended to make sure it stayed that way.
After collecting my fee from Darius’ grandmother by way of Father Sims, and setting some of it aside for food and rent, I headed straight for Zeno’s for my next order of business. Zeno’s was in the quarter on a street that five years after Katrina, was finally making a comeback, though the businesses on either side of the bar and directly across the street were still shuttered and closed with signs assuring patrons they’d be reopening and listing dates that were already three years in the past. Having been built on higher ground, the Quarter had been virtually unscathed by the hurricane. It was the lack of tourist dollars that had accomplished what Katrina couldn’t and closed many of the businesses that called the Quarter home. Zeno’s was one of many businesses now owned by one of the legion of neo carpetbaggers that infused the city once the floodwaters receded.
When I walked in it took a minute or so for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. It didn’t matter if it was day or night, it always stayed cool and dark as a cave. The usual suspects were propping up the bar and shooting the shit with George Zeno, the owner. George was like most people I’d met who moved to New Orleans. He’d been here once or twice for Mardi Gras and had such a good time he thought he wanted to live here and let the good times roll on and on. But from what I could see from the half empty bar, the good times had rolled right past Zeno’s. There were never more than a half dozen people in the place and I wondered how the hell George kept it running. But for my purposes, Zeno’s was the perfect spot to conduct some private business.
“X, my man. What can I get you?” George asked me the same question every single time I walked in and my answer was always the same.
“Corona, frosted glass, two wedges of lime.” That was usually the extent of our conversation. I wasn’t much for small talk and most of what I knew about George I’d overheard him telling other customers.
George handed me my drink, and after squeezing the lime wedges into it to make it more palatable, I chugged it down in one gulp and set the empty glass down on the bar. George didn’t mind me using Zeno’s as my office but the price was the cost of a drink, and not a soft drink. He had a business to run after all. I preferred port but purposefully didn’t drink it because I didn’t need to feed another weakness. Weakness had gotten me clipped. I tossed money and a tip on the bar and George nodded towards the back where a man sat in a booth next to the ancient Wurlitzer jukebox I used when I didn’t want people listening to my conversations. I walked over and stuck some quarters into the slot and pressed a button then slid into the booth just as Etta James began to sing “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”.
The man waiting for me wasn’t anyone you’d look at twice. He was balding and middle-aged with a paunch and even sitting in the coolness of the dark bar was sweating so much large pools of sweat were staining his blue dress shirt under the arms. He kept mopping his sweaty face. He looked like every other guy in the bar except me. But we had more in common than anyone knew. His name was Sherman Woolsey and in another life, he’d been a priest. I didn’t know why he’d been defrocked and didn’t care, though I’d heard it had something to do with a female parishioner. It usually did. All I knew for sure was that in his current job as a clerk with the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles he had access to information I needed and was broke enough to sell it.
“You got something for me?”
“Do you have my money?” His eyes darted around nervously.
“Relax, Woolsey. No one gives a shit about you. They’re too busy talking baseball.” I could hear George and the others in the background arguing about the Yankees.
“Then why’d you turn the jukebox on?”
“Music relaxes me. You got a problem with Etta?”
“Look, I’ll lose my job if anyone finds out I gave you this info.”
“No one’s holding a gun to your head and I know this isn’t the first time you’ve done this, Now,” I said, and slid an envelope across the table at him. It held the remainder of the money I’d gotten from Father Sims. “What have you got for me?”
I watched him thumb through the stack of twenties and shove the envelope into the briefcase sitting on the ground next to the booth. He pulled a manila folder out and handed it to me then stood up to go.
“This is all I could find.”
I waited for him to leave before I opened the folder. Inside were two photocopied sheets of paper, license and registration for Ava Duval, a woman who died twenty years ago. Yet I’d spent the night with her just a year ago and gotten clipped because of it. Not that having sex with her had been the entire problem. Angels have been getting busy with mortal women since the dawn of time. It’s illegal, especially for guardians. But it happens. The problem was that while I’d been with her, I’d managed to let one of my charges die. At least that’s what I’d been told when I was dragged out of Ava’s bed by members of the guardian tribunal and placed under arrest while she slept peacefully. I’ve been trying to track her down for months. It was like she’d disappeared off the face of the earth. Then I found an obit for her from 1990. The picture on the driver’s license was of a sixty-nine year old woman with a double chin and a beehive hairdo. Not my Ava by a long shot. Either I’d made love to a ghost, or the woman I’d fallen in love with, and had lost everything over, never existed.
Something heavy sitting on my chest woke me early the next morning. I reached up and my hand encountered a warm body that felt like suede wrapped around a hot water bottle. I opened my eyes to see the wrinkled, white, hairless face of, Minx, my savior. The one who’d rescued me a year ago from becoming demon chow. She meowed loudly in my ear. I grabbed her and dumped her on the floor earning me an indignant yowl.
“Scat.” I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I finally got out of bed close to noon and found Minx sitting at the kitchen table eating a banana. She was wrapped in a thick flannel robe because she’s always cold and had the Times Picayune spread out in front of her. When Minx first brought me home to her shotgun house on Burgundy Street, I had no idea she was a cat shifter. I didn’t figure out that the strangely beautiful, tall, bald woman, who’d stitched up my back and the Sphinx cat who licked me clean in the alley were one in the same until two days later when my fever broke. I’m just damned grateful it had been Minx who found me that night on her way home from a party, and even more grateful she’d brought my sorry ass home with her.
Minx was a model. Her long limbs and exotic looks made her one of the most sought after models in the world. As hairless in human form as she was in cat form, her pale, translucent skin, high cheekbones, and huge, blue eyes made her look otherworldly. Everyone else just thought she was a hot bald chick. She had the money to live anywhere in the world but the hot sultry New Orleans weather appealed to her heat seeking nature. Though we weren’t lovers, Minx and I were the perfect pair. We were both different and we both had secrets, even from each other. I’ve never told her why I got clipped and she’s never asked. And I had no idea what Minx’s real name was or where she came from. It just didn’t matter.
“I thought you were in Paris ‘til Sunday?” I grabbed a coffee mug from the cabinet above the sink, poured myself some freshly brewed chicory coffee, and took a sip and waited for the caffeine to wake me the rest of the way up. Minx let out a disgusted snort.
“I got bumped from the cover by some pop tart named Dimples. That’s the third time this year I was promised a cover and got screwed out of it by some nobody. I had to settle for measly eight-page spread. And when the November issue doesn’t sell, they’ll want me back, and I swear I’ll crawl through broken glass on my belly before I ever model for them again,” she exclaimed, haughtily.
“Don’t worry, kiddo.” I ran a rough hand over her head, which I knew she hated unless she was in cat form. “Next year you’ll still be the hottest chick in the game and Dimples will be dancing with the stars or in celebrity rehab.” Minx didn’t look convinced and just rolled her eyes.
“I saw you were getting low on elixir. So I made you some more.”
I opened the fridge where a metal rack holding two-dozen corked, glass vials of amber colored liquid sat on the top shelf. Ever since the night Minx found me, she insisted I regularly drink a concoction she made to mask my soul’s essence from Lucifer’s hunters. I knew it wasn’t just to keep me safe. I’m not that naïve. She was looking out for herself, too. I didn’t blame her. She took a big risk in taking me in. Most bounty hunters only took tarnished souls but some wouldn’t hesitate to take Minx’s soul for the hell of it. Pun intended. I had no idea what was in the stuff. She won’t tell me. But I had a sneaking suspicion her cat piss was in it. Whenever I ingested it, it produced a masking effect that lasted for a couple of days. And it seemed to be doing the trick. I hadn’t seen a demon since that night a year ago. I grabbed a vial and drained it. It tasted like licorice. I hate licorice.
“You had a message on the answering machine this morning. Sounded like it might be another job.” She pulled a piece of paper out of her robe pocket and handed it to me.
“That reminds me,” I said, opening the frig and pulling out the plastic butter tub that I kept my money in. “Here’s this month’s rent.” I tossed her a roll of twenties and she impressed me by snatching it out of the air with one hand.
“X,” she said, sighing with exasperation. “I told you don’t have to pay rent as long as you take care of the house and the yard when I’m away working. Besides, you’re going to need this if the guy who left that message is as rich as his address.”
I looked at the name and address scrawled in Minx’s looping cursive. She wrote like a sixth grader dotting the i’s with little hearts and putting smiley faces inside the o’s. Someone named Alastair Duquesne wanted me at his house that afternoon at four pm sharp to discuss a very private matter. His address was in the Garden District. Minx was right. My usual uniform of jeans and T-Shirts weren’t going to cut it this time. I doubted Mr. Duquesne would talk to me if I showed up looking like I was there to cut his grass.
“Looks like I need to buy a suit.”
“And I’m going with you.” She jumped up from the kitchen table.
“Not necessary. I’m a big boy,” I said over my shoulder on my way to the bathroom.
“With no taste,” she called out after me. ”The last time I let you go shopping alone you came home with that raggedy car and a bag full of clothes from the Goodwill that went out of style with pet rocks and Rubik’s cubes. If you had let me go with you, you wouldn’t need to buy a suit. You’d already have one.”
Women. Human or non-human they were all the same.
At four pm on the dot, I walked up the wide front steps of Alastair Duquesne’s white, double galleried, Greek revival mansion on First Street, wearing a grey Armani suit and a black silk shirt. Minx had been so proud of me getting a wealthy client she even bought me a sterling silver pen recorder. I’m not James Bond but I wouldn’t hurt her feelings for world and just smiled and put it in my suit pocket. I rang the doorbell and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass on the front door and saw a thirty-five year old man of indeterminate race with bronze skin, a slightly crooked nose, brown eyes staring from under hooded lids, and thick, close-cropped hair so dark and shiny it looked wet.
Back in my guardian days, I could change my appearance if necessary to make my charges feel more at ease on the occasions when I had to communicate with them. Usually, in dreams where I needed to tell them something important that would save their lives. Like appearing to a man in a dream as his recently deceased father reminding him to replace the battery on the smoke detector two nights before his house was going to burn to the ground. People tended to remember dreams about dead loved ones. Now I was stuck with the face I’d shown to Ava Duval for the rest of my life, which according to Minx wasn’t such a bad thing.
A maid in a black uniform let me into a foyer with marble tiles inlaid in an ornate circular pattern in the center of the shiny, dark hardwood floor, and a mahogany double staircase that wound its way up to the upper floors. A large portrait of a grim-faced, white haired man seated and wearing a Confederate Captain’s frockcoat hung on the second floor landing overlooking the foyer.
“Wait here, please, and I’ll see if Mr. Duquesne is ready for you,” she told me before disappearing.
For a man who emphasized punctuality in his phone message, Alastair Duquesne left me waiting for twenty minutes before being ushered into his study. When I finally sat down in a red leather wingback chair in front of his polished oak desk, I understood why. Despite the fact that he was well groomed and wearing a tailored suit that looked even more expensive than the one I wore, the man looked very ill. Minx had looked him up on the Internet for me before I’d left the house and I knew he was only forty. But his hair was almost white and his skin looked waxy with dark circles under his sunken eyes. His hand was clammy and cold and trembled slightly when he shook mine and I saw a bruise on the side his neck and another on his wrist. I wondered if he had leukemia.
“I’d like to thank you, Mr. Knight, for meeting with me on such short notice. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you?” He had a cultured voice with just a hint of a drawl.
“Not at all. But before we get down to business, I need to know who recommended me to you.” My services weren’t common knowledge and when people in the know sent work my way, they usually gave me a heads up first.
“Of course you do. Smart man. It’s always good to know whom you’re dealing with.” He gave me a thin smile. “Father Lejeune of St. Ursula’s recommended your services to me.”
“I don’t know a Father Lejeune. How does he know me?” I assumed that this Lejeune could have heard of me from Father Sims or any of the other priests I’d done work for, but I always felt safer not making assumptions.
Duquesne let out a harsh laugh that gave way to a fit of coughing that went on so long that I finally got up and poured him a glass of water from a cut glass decanter sitting on a side table.
“Thank you,” he said, after he took a long sip and regained his composure. I could tell he was embarrassed and I didn’t ask if he was okay. “Mr. Knight, I have a rather delicate situation on my hands and sought Father Lejeune’s advice. He discreetly inquired on my behalf about the services of a private detective and you were referred to him by at least two priests, including Father Sims of St. Jude’s. I understand you were quite instrumental in tracking down the fake contractors who bilked parishioners out of money for repairs that never got done after Katrina. You sound like the kind of man who can help me and I’m willing to pay you double your normal fee.”
Double my normal fee was a shitload of money and could only mean one thing, a shitload of work. But I leaned back in the chair and smiled.
“How can I help you?”
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat and looking a little flustered. “It involves a young woman.”
Of course it did. It always does.
“I made her acquaintance this past February at the Comus Ball. She was a very beautiful woman, and quite the enchantress. Before long, she practically lived here.”
“What’s her name?”
“She told me her name was Savannah LeMaster and that she owned a restaurant in Atlanta and was looking to open another here in New Orleans.”
“And, I’ve since found out her real name is Crystal Sneed and she’s a call girl from Hoboken who moved here and set up shop last December.”
“How’d you find out?”
“After we’d been seeing each other for about five months, I got a call from her pimp a man named Anton DePreist, a thug from Iberville, who informed me of her true identity. He even emailed me the vilest pictures as evidence. Seems Crystal saw me as meal ticket and thinking I’d marry her, left her pimp. It took him months to track her down.”
“You confronted her?”
“I did and she didn’t bother denying it. And because she knew the gig was up, she handed me a bill for services rendered that came to fifty thousand dollars.”
“You paid?” I tried not to smile.
He gave me sheepish look and took another sip of water. “I gave her five grand and told her to hit the road and if I ever saw her again, I was calling the police.”
“So what is it you want from me, Mr. Duquesne?”
“The last time she was here, Ms. Sneed took a gold signet ring that belonged to my great-great-grandfather Charles Augustus Duquesne. Its value is purely sentimental but it’s been in my family for generations. She’s holding it ransom for the remainder of the money she claims I owe her.”