“This city… it’s dirty… dirty in ways no kid should see…”
Aaron ‘Lucky’ Johnson
Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007
GM: “That was fun,” Hillary says as the pair exit the AV Club’s claimed classroom on Brother Martin’s campus. “They forgot to do my audition though, now that I’m thinking about it.”
Emil: “Well I think you more than displayed your talent to them. You’ve got yourself a real feel for storytelling, Hill.” Emil smiles at her, some hollywood apartment picket fence vision of the future passing through his head.
GM: “Glad you think so,” Hillary smiles as the two get in her car. “My mom says so much of connecting with audiences is being able to tell stories.”
Emil: “And the hardest part of any story to write is the ending. And you figured one out in a few minutes. Maybe you should go ask them for a writer’s credit,” Emil jokes, only a little more than halfway serious.
GM: “Oh I think most of it was that Cécilia girl,” Hillary says as she twists the ignition and pulls the car out of the lot. “It was really fun doing this though. Nothing at stake. Politics with my mom can just get so ugly.”
Emil: “That sucks,” Emil responds after a moment. “Well, at the very least you can say that you argue your points well. People don’t like to see their worldviews challenged, especially if the challenge has legs. Do you ever just talk with her about nothing?”
GM: Hillary actually takes a moment to answer that. “We try to, but she’s always so busy. Half the time it just turns back to the Malveauxes.”
Emil: “They’re donors to the school, right? Why do you think your mom so obsessed with them?” Emil doesn’t want go give bad advice, but he’s also uneasy in saying this, not wanting to take up more of Hillary’s day with the same politics she is stressed about.
GM: Hillary’s expression already looks tired. “Because they make her job hell. Or, well, one of them does. Nathan Malveaux’s the minority leader and state GOP chair. Our party has the House, the Senate, and the governor’s mansion. We should be able to get done anything we want, right?”
“Nathan’s made it his personal mission in life to gum up everything. He drags out debates as long as possible on the Senate floor. He turns the atmosphere completely toxic. He accuses opponents of corruption and drags up scandals all the time. Most of them totally baseless but convincing-sounding. He files lawsuits against legislation my mom’s passed for being unconstitutional. He plays to the media and turns every day into a new crisis, with Dems being out to drag the state to hell and himself as the only person who can stop them. He just sucks of all the oxygen out of the room.”
“And forget ever getting anything bipartisan done. If my mom wanted to re-pave a highway, he’d scream it was her fault it needed to be re-paved, he’d scream it was only costing so much money because she was embezzling it, he’d scream we were wrong to re-pave the highway in the first place, he’d scream it’s my mom’s fault when it hasn’t been re-paved, he’d scream he’s filing a lawsuit because re-paving highways the way we’re doing it is unconstitutional, and then once the highway was finally re-paved, he’d scream he could have done it ten times better and how the people of Louisiana deserve more from their leaders.”
Hillary heaves an angry sigh.
“He just obstructs everything. Turns everything into a war. I can’t even imagine how big a headache he’d be if we didn’t, you know, control every branch of the government. And he’s working like a demon to change that. The state’s trending redder. He makes it feels like we’re losing even when we’re winning.”
Hillary makes a face. “Ugh. I feel like I’m buying into his whole… crazy world just saying that, making it about ‘winning.’ Things used to be a lot more bipartisan. There used to be a lot more people working together across the aisle.”
She sighs. “And look, there I go, ranting all about him. This is how half the conversations with my mom always go these days.”
Emil: Emil takes in the bulk of the information abstractly; he never was one for politics. But for Hillary’s sake, he tries to internalize the context. “Hey, don’t be too harsh on yourself. His presence in your life is clearly distressing to you, you have the right to speak your mind if it will help you vent. And Hill, it sounds like you and your mother are fighting the same struggle. So why are things getting ugly between you two?”
GM: Hillary sighs again as Gentilly’s rows of palm tree-interspersed homes roll past the window. “They’re not ugly between us, it’s just… everything always turns back to politics. And you heard how ugly that is.”
Emil: Emil sighs in turn. “I can understand that. It’s part of the reason my mom divorced my dad. I was a little too young too catch it back then, but my dad was always stuck in his casework. Like, come to think of it, I don’t really have any memories of him except for when he was taking me on the job or telling me about this or that mystery that was eluding him.”
GM: “Wait, really? Your dad took you out on patrol as a little kid?” Hillary sounds faintly horrified. “No offense with him working there, but NOPD’s probably the dirtiest, most violent, most corrupt police department in the country. All sorts of stuff could’ve happened to you.”
Emil: “Jeez. When you put it like that,” Em says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I dunno. When I was a kid, nothing really felt dangerous. It was just me and my dad. And if something happened, well that was nothing a hug and a beignet couldn’t fix. I was just born into it I guess,” Emil responds, shrugging away the thought of his father willingly putting him in mortal danger.
GM: “You’ve talked about him a few times. Actually, more than a few. How was it he died?” Hillary asks.
Emil: “Well, I guess you could say that the divorce was what did him in, but that would be ignoring the ballistics evidence,” Emil responds automatically. He has a few of those lines queued up whenever he’s asked about Dad. Might not be the healthiest response, but it certainly makes things simpler.
GM: “Someone shot him?” Hillary repeats. She sounds surprised, though Emil has to wonder just how much after the NOPD remark. “I’m so sorry, that must have been awful. Did they ever find out who?”
They did, as it turned out. Two hopped-up gangbangers who the senior Kane still managed to put down. It was an open and shut homicide.
Emil: But that’s just the police. Emil knows how this works. Of course they said they found the guys who did it. He was one of them. Someone needed to pay for their man. And if the lie wasn’t from the police, those gangbangers couldn’t have just been random shmucks. Of course not, there’s no tragedy in that. No story. Just an incident. And when it comes to a man like his father, his death had to have meaning. At least a scrap of a reason. Something?
“No, I didn’t,” he responds, just a little too late and a little too wrong to be a satisfactory answer.
GM: Late and wrong or timely and right, Hillary’s response is at least appropriate enough. “Wow. I can’t imagine what that must be like to have hanging over you.” After a moment she asks, “Have you visited his grave lately?”
Emil: “I actually haven’t. I don’t like being alone in cemeteries. It’s harder to ignore that no one is responding to you when you don’t have someone there to believe with you that someone is listening.” Emil feels the pull of the weight of the topic on his jowls; he feels it aging him. Killing him.
GM: That downward pull is mirrored on Hillary’s facial muscles too, though hers looks more puzzled than haggard. “That someone is listening?”
Emil: “My dad. That he’s listening when I visit him.”
GM: “Oh. Well, that makes a lot more sense.” Hillary shakes her head. “People can just believe a lot of crazy stuff around here.”
“We could stop by, though, if you wanted to. You wouldn’t have to be there alone.”
Emil: “Yeah. I think that would be nice.”
But as the two cruise down the road, Emil wonders instead:
Who or what else could be listening to the mourners of New Orleans?
Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007
GM: Like anything else in this city, you can do it easy if you’re willing to do it dirty.
Emil hasn’t been to St. Louis Cemetery #1 before. Hillary explains that it’s closed to the general public. Only tour groups are allowed inside (they cost about $20), with special visitor’s passes for historians and anyone with family interred in the famous cemetery. When Emil asks if vandalized graves are why the place is closed off, Hillary nods. Morbidly enough, cemeteries in New Orleans are hotbeds of crime and gang activity. It’s not a good idea to visit by oneself, especially at night. You might never walk out.
“Some gangs are even into the whole voodoo thing,” Hillary says. “There’s been some really… creepy reports, but it’s not like the cops are going to make cemeteries part of their patrol routes. So they try to just keep people out.”
The two could visit with a tour guide, and probably pay off the guide not to make a fuss if they split off from the group. “People do stuff like that all the time here,” Hillary casually tells the still-recent California transplant.
Emil, though, wants to visit in the evening when there isn’t a tour going on. Hillary is leery of visiting a later hour, and suggests afternoon instead. A Qeeqle search says the last tours only start at 1 PM.
Getting the pass itself is relatively painless, even if the pair end up visiting Sunday instead of Monday. It gives Emil time to go through his dad’s box.
It’s 3 PM when he and his girlfriend drive out to Tremé. The neighborhood looks poor and crime-ridden. On the way over, Emil sees yellow ‘POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS’ barricade tape, NOPD cars, and personnel surrounding a motionless body. A wild-eyed, handcuffed man screams obscenities and froths deliriously from one of the cars’ backseats. Several cops are laughing.
Hillary tells him to just drive faster.
St. Louis Cemetery #1 itself well earns Mark Twin’s nickname: “the Cities of the Dead.” Everything about the eerily quiet cemetery’s character bolsters the illusion of days long gone by. Signs of age are everywhere: broken shells and cobblestones, dredged from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, form the alleys, and the crumbling, chipped above-ground crypts hold the dead. The disorderly layout of the tombs and burial plots are a labyrinth that Emil supposes only the dead themselves could easily navigate.
The dead are a lot more at home here. They don’t have to deal with the heat, either. The subtropical New Orleans sun is as skin-baking as ever, there’s virtually no shade, and the heat-absorbing oven vaults block any semblance of a cool summer breeze while doing nothing to stifle the muggy humidity. Many of the family tombs also bear cryptic symbols, as well as signs of vandalism and and too-modern urban decay: cigarette butts, discarded needles, and even used condoms. Emil can only imagine what moribund, demented souls would require such in this place.
It’s a well-known factoid the dead aren’t buried in New Orleans. They’re interred. The ground is too wet—as early colonists discovered, to their horror, when the region’s periodic rains and floods washed back up their loved ones’ decayed corpses and sailed them down the city’s muddy streets. Above-ground mausoleums keep the dead where they’re supposed to be. Even when actual burials are more feasible today, history is too ingrained. And so the dead continue to make their homes within crumbling, neighborhood-like rows of house-sized crypts in a moribund parody of suburbia, all so they might not disturb the living.
“Cities of the Dead” feels all-too apt.
Like any city, some residents live large and others live small. In contrast to the massive intergenerational mausoleums that belong to historied families such as the Malveauxes, Earl Bradford Kane’s posthumous home is a modest burial vault.
There’s little to distinguish it from its neighbors—apart from how it’s open when all the others are closed, and the stooped, shabbily-dressed figure who’s is rummaging through what’s aside.
Emil: Upon seeing the man digging through his father’s vault, Emil tells Hillary to stay back a bit, and walks up to the man, giving him a performance derivative of the stern intensity his father used to give his soon-to-be arrests. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
GM: The man abruptly spins around at Emil’s voice. He is a short, weaselly-looking fellow with dark yet pasty skin, wide lips, and an oddly depressed-looking nose. His beady eyes are gray and watery.
“What a faggot!” he shouts in a shrill voice.
Hillary, watching from some distance behind Emil, warily reaches into her purse.
Emil: “Excuse me, what?” Emil responds, so surprised he defaults to politeness before returning to his senses. “Get the fuck away from the vault!”
GM: The young man seems to almost jump at Emil’s voice, glances furtively at the vault, and then suddenly grins.
“I bet…” he turns at looks at the name, “Earl Kane, I bet he’s a faggot! Bet he’s getting bumfucked and screaming like a bitch! Bet these condoms are his! What a faggot! What a queer! What a sissy! I bet he CRIES when he CUMS, if he can even GET hard, that BALL-SLURPING BOYWHORE!”
The young man turns and hacks a glob of spit at the vault’s plaque. Wet saliva slowly trickles down over the inscribed ‘Kane.’
“What the fuck!?” Hillary exclaims bewilderedly, pulling a canister of pepper spray out of her purse.
Emil: A number of thoughts flit through Emil’s head as the man barrages him with insult soup: Oh God he’s nuts. Do they even lock these vaults?
When the glob of spit hits the nameplate of the vault, Emil feels an awfully hot knot forming in his throat. Following the saliva with his eyes, he then makes the startling realization that his father’s vault lacks a key feature: his father.
“Who the hell are you?” Emil spits out, the knot feeling thicker and hotter by the moment.
GM: The man runs up to Emil, shoves him in his chest, then dances away and thrusts a finger at him.
“Nigger! Fag! Niggerfag! Nigger nigger nigger NIGGERFAG! You like it in the ass! HE’S A FAG, YOU’RE A FAG!”
Emil: Emil rights himself from the push, then takes out his Nokia N95. There’s a disgusted look on his face as he snaps a picture of the vulgarity-spitting man before starting to videotape.
“Hillary, can you call the service number? Or the police? My dad’s body is missing.”
GM: The man doesn’t stand still though. Neither does Hillary.
There’s a low hiss as Emil’s girlfriend depresses the pepper spray. The man lithely dances away, then shoves Emil again, harder. He hits the ground with a painful thud as the man laughs, “Thanks for the phone, FAG!” and snatches it out of his hands.
“Hey!” Hillary yells. She goes for the pepper spray again, but she’s too slow as the still-laughing man runs up and shoves her, too. She awkwardly hits a mausoleum wall as the man snatches her purse and takes off running.
Not before he whirls and kicks her between the legs. Hard. Hillary screams and crumples.
“THANKS, CUNT!” he shouts over his shoulder.
Emil: Emil gets off the ground with a grunt, unable to stop the man from hurting Hillary. Dammit.
He rushes over to Hillary’s side, wrapping his arms around her and asking her as calmly as he can, “Are you okay, Hill?”
GM: “No! I’m not okay!” his girlfriend shouts, clutching her groin. “Just because I don’t have balls doesn’t mean that doesn’t hurt! Ow ow OWW!”
“Why didn’t you stop him!” Hillary is full-on crying. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into going to a cemetery by ourselves!”
Emil: “You’re right, Hill, this is my fault. I should’ve stayed with you. I’m sorry,” Emil says, that red hot knot melting into shame. “What’s important is that you and I will be okay. We’re going to be okay.”
GM: “Wh—no! You shou—oww! You just let him beat you—oowwww! Up! And shit-talk your dad, you just let him!”
Hillary is not feeling better, and she doesn’t want to stick around. She wants to go home—and since they both lost their phones, they can’t even call someone about this.
Emil: Emil is reluctant to simply leave. His father’s missing for God’s sake! Emil insists they look at the vault before they go. That’s what they came here for in the first place. Maybe the clearly mentally ill man left some identifying information, and if that fails, Emil will rummage through his pockets for a tissue or a container and will quickly scoop up a sample of the glob of expectorant covering his father’s name.
GM: “What are you talking about! I want to get out of here!” Hillary exclaims when Emil brings up his dad’s body. It’s plain she didn’t catch (or simply doesn’t remember) what he said when the man was attacking them.
She pauses, though, when Emil explains someone has absconded with his father’s remains, and gives a confused look. “What? Why would someone… owww… take your dad’s body?”
Emil: “Hell I’m as confused as you are, let’s check out that vault.” He leads, first walking up to the vault and peering in, before doing any further investigation.
Emil lets his arm stretch somewhat inside the vault. He feels the oven-like heat emanating from the humidity drenched walls, and out of fear of getting burnt, decides against feeling the sides for evidence of, well maybe a body? That’s what the use these vaults for right? Instead, he pulls his arm out and gives it a visual inspection, noting the lack of fresh stains on the stone and the prevalence of dust, which puts him into a coughing fit as he pulls his head out of the hole. He’s not quite sure, but he has a hunch that his father may never have actually been in this vault. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s had the pleasure of undergoing the slow cremation in this particular vault for years. Another thing, and Emil isn’t going to push his head back into that dusty oven again to check, but he thinks he saw a portion of the floor of the vault where the dust had been disturbed, like something was there. Again, he’s not quite sure… but he thinks he caught a glimpse of letter paper in the tomb before the man ran off.
GM: Hillary gives him a still-flummoxed look. “So you think someone stole his body, years ago? I mean, there’s obviously no body there, and we didn’t see that guy running off with it. But why would someone do that?”
Neither of the two college students, however, can readily answer that question. Now that they’ve looked out, Hillary wants to get out of here, pronto. She still really hurts from where “that crazy” kicked her and she doesn’t feel safe. What if gang members or “some other crazy” come by?
The two also notably lack phones. If they want to call the cemetery caretakers, like Emil brings up, they’ll have to do it from somewhere else anyway.
Emil: Emil looks at the open vault with some hesitation. It’s not like he can do much in the way of dealing with it at the moment, but it feels wrong to leave the spot exposed. Nevertheless, he agrees with Hill that it’s best to leave.
GM: Hillary tells Emil to take her back to her mom’s house, who usually spends weekends in the city. “Guess I’ll have to get all my credit cards canceled now,” she sourly remarks.
She doesn’t talk much for the rest of the drive.
Emil: Emil gets the car back in one piece despite the ruckus of the city, frustrated that the universe has conspired to ruin what he had hoped would be a very peaceful moment but curious still at what God has in store for him. To be frank, Emil’s father has been missing from his life more than he has been a fixture, so perhaps God intends to provide some closure if he ever finds the body, or perhaps just intends to maintain the status quo. God does work in mysterious ways.
At the same time, God works through man, and Emil feels the need to find the man, whether more for retribution or collecting that letter. It is at this point that Emil remembers the tissue in his pocket, covered in the spit he cleaned off his dad’s name, and promptly gags as he stores it in his glove compartment and makes a mental note to bleach his pockets with the nearest bottle of Tide he can find.
Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007
GM: The nearest bottle might be in the well-to-do-looking Touro house where Emil drops off Hillary. She doesn’t invite him in, though, and gets out of the car with a somewhat flat-sounding, “Bye.”
Emil: Upon concluding that unless he finds the fuck who kicked Hillary and took their belongings, she is never going to let that down, Emil puts the car into drive and heads to find the nearest payphone. He’s gotta act fast if he wants to be anywhere close to successful.
GM: The payphone has a phone book with a listing for St. Louis Cemetery #1 that Emil looks up (504-596-3050). The man he tells his story to makes a disgusted remark about “degenerates” and says he’s calling the police about this. Desecration of graves is a crime. It carries a fine up to $500 and imprisonment up to six months, in fact.
Emil: Emil thanks the man for listening to his situation and acting to help mend the experience, but he has a few requests he would like to make. First of all, he wants to know if there’s any surveillance footage taken inside or at the entrance to the cemetery, as the attacker took several of their personal belongings and assaulted him and his girlfriend. If possible, he would like to look at it so he can make a full report to the police himself. Secondly, he wants to know if the cemetery stores burial records he could look into.
GM: “Nope. No surveillance,” the man answers. “When there’s problems we call the cops, for all the good it does.”
St. Louis Cemetery is owned by New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries, which maintains an office space in the CBD. They store records there for burials in all of their cemeteries.
Emil: Emil thanks the man nonetheless and hangs up, before looking through the phone book once again to find the number of New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries. He types in 504-596-3050, and awaits a response.
GM: The exact same guy he just spoke to picks up.
“New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries, how can we help?”
Emil: “Hi, I’m looking for records regarding…” The realization that this is the same man he just spoke to hits Emil mid-sentence, but he’s already halfway into the sentence so he might as well finish it. “…burial vaults in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.”
GM: “You don’t say. I just spoke to a completely different kid asking about the same thing,” the man answers dryly.
He listens to Emil’s requests, then says, “Mm-mm. Sure, we can pull all that up. Might take a while though. Why don’t you stop by our office and make an offering to the collection plate?”
Emil: He considers the theological ramifications of making a tithe to what he suspects is directly the Catholic church, given that their definition of monotheism is shaky at best, but pushes that feeling down, he’s got a dead dad to find. God will forgive him for his forced generosity. Probably.
“You know I think I will. I’m actually gonna come on over right after this call, no doubt.”
GM: The man says goodbye and hangs up. Emil drives to an impassive gray office building in the CBD. The interior lobby has some Catholic iconography and a labeled picture of the Archbishop Orson Malveaux, an obese but imperious-looking man clad in archaic ceremonial vestments. His unsmiling visage surveys Emil and all else within the lobby with a distinct sense of ownership.
The man Emil spoke to on the phone is a mustached, middle-aged Hispanic man in a white office shirt and tie. He holds out a hand and says he’ll get Emil’s donation to a collection plate that the college student does not see.
Emil: Emil takes out his wallet, the tough, darkly stained leather one his mom said used to be his dad’s, and retrieves a crisp fifty dollar bill he earned last week writing a web crawler for a grad student’s research. He eyes the portrait above him with some trepidation. Is this a collection plate or a bribe? Is that just how things work around here?
“I hope this comes to good use, for the sake of my father.” Emil hands the man the bill, hoping that’s enough for the Catholic God to hear his request.
GM: “It sure will,” the mustached man answers as he tucks the bill away. “Now, so far as your guy…”
There are many prior internment requests at the senior Kane’s burial vault. It is not part of a family plot and has housed a long list of individuals bearing different surnames, and dating quite far back. The earliest names are barely legible.
Details of who requested and paid for the burial of Emil’s father aren’t included in the ledgers, but Emil is aware that it’s standard policy for the police department to do that. Especially when the deceased officer has died in the line of duty.
“Solemn honor” is the only way to adequately describe how the widow and surviving family of an officer who’s made the ultimate sacrifice are treated. The department falls over itself to make things as easy for the survivors as they possibly can. They take care of everything. They pay for everything. Everything from 24/7 support, prepared meals, and personal protection to a vigil around the casket to burial with full military honors is quite common. The mayor or police chief usually says some words at the funeral.
Emil’s father was interred in 1992, quite some time ago. The name before then, Russell Evans, was interred in 1990. Before him was Rose Sanders in 1988. Dates before then vary in length, but are always by at least two years. There are no names after the senior Kane’s. He’s had the vault to himself for 15 years.
When Emil queries the employee he spoke to earlier, “to be clear on the rules of this,” the man answers that standard policy is to wait two years before reusing burial vaults. Families can, however, pay for the cemetery to wait a longer period. Sometimes they also don’t have to. Sometimes a vault simply happens not to get reused, “although that’s pretty much up to chance.”
The longest families can pay them to wait is 25 years, although they can pay more than once. “But if you’re going to that much effort, you might as well just get ’em their own plot.”
Emil: Emil is increasingly hoping that he will not have the pleasure of being buried in this city. He was taught Jews never cremate bodies. They said that when the Mashiach comes, and God raises the dead, our souls will all return to the bodies we left in the ground. But in New Orleans, what is there to come back to being? Living dust? On the bright side, at least with the plot leasing you’ll have a couple other dust piles to keep you company.
“Say, if you happen to know any groundskeeper who has been working at the cemetery for a while, who you know pays good attention, I’d want to give a donation to the collection plate in his name, for taking such good care of the plot while I’ve been out of town. I just need a name is all, maybe a number, you understand,” Emil adds.
GM: “Barnard Lejeune,” the man says without missing a beat. He provides a number too. “Been working the grounds for a pretty long while. Longer than I’ve been here.”
Emil: Emil takes out a less crisp twenty he was saving for purchasing some sweet pastries for him and Hill this evening, and places it on the table. “May this be a blessing for Mr. Lejeune. And if you ever have any need of someone who knows their way around machines and mysteries, give me a call,” he says, taking out a sharpie and writing his number on the bill. “By the way, whom should I say referred me to him?”
GM: “Abel Seco, and you bet,” says the man, pocketing the bill.
Emil: “Pleasure. My name is Em.” Emil holds out his hand.
GM: Abel shakes it. “You got mine.”
And a lesson in how things are done in this city, it looks like.
Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007
Emil: After exchanging pleasantries and collecting a copy of the documents he requested, Emil heads back out to his car, and heads directly to the police station.
GM: The Criminal Investigations Unit where his dad worked is located just around where the CBD recedes into Mid-City. There’s a sense of things falling apart, getting worse, or at least less cared for. Buildings are smaller, shorter, dirtier. Haughty and coldly assured working professionals give way to sullen and resentful working-class joes and janes.
The police station squats on the divide between those two worlds like an overlarge guard dog, raspily panting menace. It’s a featureless, brick-shaped and fortress-like building, all hard concrete, blunt angles, and few windows.
Several police are beating a prone and handcuffed man. They shout obscenities as they kick his stomach and stomp his face in broad daylight. A few passersby sneer or glare, but most just walk faster.
The building’s interior looks aging and neglected, its seats hard and uncomfortable. The woman at the front desk is doing her nails and doesn’t look up at Emil when he approaches.
Emil: “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m looking to speak to a few friends of my father. Are either Otis Wiggons or Lucky Johnson on the premises today?” Emil says in as polite a voice as he can muster.
He remembers his dad saying those names while on the job. Though when you’re a kid it’s hard to tell the difference between shooting the shit and cursing someone out. He’s hoping with these folks it’s the former, though anger sticks better in the memory than happiness. So maybe the latter would be preferable.
GM: The woman keeps painting her nails.
Emil: “That’s an elegant color on you, ma’am,” Emil tries.
GM: “Goes with my skin, right?” she remarks cheerfully. It’s blue. Her skin is dark.
Emil: “It sure does. Where did you purchase it? It’s got to be a specialty boutique to get that nice a finish, no?” Emil smiles at the woman.
GM: “It’s Pangloss,” the woman mentions. “My cousin works at their plant in St. Claire. She gets me free jars sometimes.”
Emil: “Gotta love family. My mom used to take me to the local Sephora kiosk to help her pick out her shade. She said I had good color sense. But she only ever wanted blue,” he chuckles. “You could bet your bottom dollar I got pretty darn good at telling the difference between good and bad shades of blue.”
GM: “Yeah, I like blue. ’S a good color. My favorite one.”
She looks Emil over. “You were here for somethin’?”
Emil: “Yeah actually, I wanted to talk to a couple old friends of my father, Officer Kane. Are Otis Wiggons or Lucky Johnson around?” Emil repeats.
GM: The woman picks up her phone and dials a number. “Aaron? There’s a kid here to see you.”
There’s a pause. “Says he’s an Officer Kane’s boy.”
She looks up after another pause. “Second cubicle.”
Emil: “Thank you, ma’am.” Emil says before walking past the entrance, to the cubicles. Upon reaching the second, he knocks on the cubicle wall. “Officer Johnson?”
GM: Emil makes his way past another station with a desk sergeant and receptionist who direct him upstairs. He finds himself in a common office area with about a dozen cubicles and alternately typing and chattering cops. A large board by one of the walls has a long list of what looks like ongoing investigations, along with who’s assigned to what.
The man Emil finds in the second cubicle looks anything but lucky. He’s in maybe his 40s, 50s at most, but there are deep and haggard lines on his dark-skinned face unaccompanied by the smaller, more numerous wrinkles actual age would bring. His hair is graying and receding. He wears a wrinkled blue dress shirt that looks like it’s seen better days, a conspicuously short checkered beige necktie, and ID badge on a cord that reads “Aaron Johnson.”
His brown eyes meet Emil’s, then widen.
Emil’s in the back of a car. The seat is hard and plastic. It aches. He’s cold. Rain crashes against the windows. Men’s darkened faces are visible through the prison-like steel bars.
“This ain’t right…” one man says hoarsely. “He’s jus’ a kid…”
The other man doesn’t answer him.
“Jus’ a kid…” the first man repeats. Quieter. Weaker.
There’s no answer. Just the pounding rain. The shk-shk of the wipers. And the chatter of a small’s boy’s teeth.
Then, another sound. It doesn’t disturb the night. It belongs to it. It belongs to the dark and the rain and the cold, to the phantasmal images half-reflected in the moonlit bars that a child’s mind balloons into fevered terrors.
“Where’s the woman who needs to die, Emil?”
He opens his mouth. A nightmare flies out. Shrill and black and unintelligible, with clawing and scraping beating wings that leave his throat raw and red.
It might be a scream.
But his questioner nods.
Widened brown eyes unbroken across 15 years stare into his.
Why in God’s name is this man nicknamed ‘Lucky’?
Emil: Emil feels his whole body tense up. His lanky ligaments feel like loose elastic pulled taut; regulated to light stretches and suddenly forced by extreme stress into a state felt before only so far in the past as to be foreign, unnatural. Emil is a child again, if just for a moment. And he is afraid of his father, and he is afraid of speaking, of bird’s claws and of scratched throats, and of dead women. And he stares at those present eyes and for the moment, isn’t thinking about finding his father’s body.
“I was jus’ a kid,” he lets out.
GM: At first, the man just looked surprised to see Emil. Now he startles, no, recoils, like the grown-up kid just pulled a gun on him. Walked into his cubicle and pulled out something hard and cold that can’t do anything except hurt.
“What… what are you doin’ here?” he rasps, the question asked without any pretense of politeness, small talk, or ‘hello, how are you.’
Emil: Emil is dragged from his childish regression at the response, though not entirely unscathed. Were he a child he would have his mother’s dress to bury his face in. Now he has to stand up straight and speak his mind. His throat feels dry, and when he speaks it threatens to match Lucky’s rasp. “I came here to ask you a few questions about my father.”
He waits a moment, partially to study the man’s reactions and partially from the lump in his throat at admitting this truth. “I don’t believe he was ever buried.”
GM: The man blinks again at Emil’s declaration.
“C’mon,” he says gruffly, getting up from his swivel chair.
Emil: Emil doesn’t ask him any questions, he just follows Lucky’s lead.
GM: The man doesn’t look at Emil as he briskly strides down the hall-space between the cubicles, or at least as briskly as he can with his limp. Office sounds go up around the two. People chatting. Phones ringing. Fingers typing. Some cops casually look at Emil. He wonders how much they heard.
There’s nothing at all casual about one man’s look.
He’s got a hard nose, hard jawline, and harder eyes the color of corroded iron. His skin is worn and leathery like a well-used pair of work gloves, crisscrossed with faded scars, and pulled taut against gaunt cheekbones. He’s not thin though. He’s big. Even huge. His muscled physique isn’t pampered and meticulously maintained, but weathered, like granite left exposed to the elements. He’s a tall man, taller than Emil, and wears a scuffed, faded gray trench coat over a plain shirt of the same color. A police badge on a cord dangles around his neck in place of a tie.
He doesn’t say anything.
He just stares.
Emil: Emil doesn’t check for Lucky’s expression. He gets the sense that this is a man who doesn’t have much time to waste and he doesn’t feel right turning away even for a second. It’s not that he demands attention, it’s that ignoring the man feels like canoing down the river and letting go of the oars as soon as the water turns white.
“My name is Em Kane, sir. Did you know my father?” Emil extends a hand to the cracked cinderblock of a man.
GM: The man just stares at Emil, his corroded-iron eyes revealing nothing as to his thoughts. He doesn’t take the hand. He doesn’t tell Emil to leave. He doesn’t do anything.
Emil: Emil has read a few books on the subject of interrogation. It wasn’t a personal interest, simply for a class. He remembers learning that interrogators work best by saying little and letting the questioned talk to fill the dead air. That makes sense, but stone cold silence? He better hurry up and say what he needs to.
“My father’s body is missing and I don’t believe he was ever actually buried.”
GM: Lucky puts a hand on Emil’s shoulder. Not quite tugging him, but only not quite. “C’mon, Emil. Not here,” he says gruffly.
The iron-eyed man responds to Emil’s latest statement in exactly the same way as he did to Emil’s last one.
He just stares.
Emil: Emil nods respectfully at the man, then lets Lucky lead him further on. He’s not quite sure why he felt the need to tell him, but something in the man’s cold stare seemed to give him the right to know.
GM: The cop pulls him into the men’s bathroom. He glances at the empty stall, then says, “Shit, kid. Not in front of everyone.”
Emil: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Lucky. But did you see that man? He knows something. He recognized me.” Emil presses his finger into his own flesh, over his heart.
GM: “Yeah, an’ he ain’t the only one, with you sayin’ who your daddy is…”
Lucky seems to look at him again, then trails off.
“Shit… shouldn’ta come back, Emil… your mama was right…”
Emil: “Can’t you understand that I need some closure? You take a boy away from his dad for the greater part of his life, he’s gonna have some unresolved issues. I think you can help me find the answers to my questions. If you couldn’t, you wouldn’t have brought me here. Please.”
GM: “Shit… shit, kid…” The man hoarsely repeats. “You ever think your mama, she mighta had a reason for doing what she done. Your old man was dead. Wasn’t nothing here for you two no more. This city… it’s dirty… dirty in ways no kid should see…”
Lucky just looks at Emil with haggard eyes, and looks even less his namesake.
Emil: “I’m not a kid anymore, Lucky. I need to fix this, I need to bury my dad. God tells us to bury within a day to give the dead rest. It’s been fifteen years. Fifteen years.” There’s a clawing need hiding behind Emil’s eyes. One that goes beyond his words.
“I can’t leave the city without knowing he’s put to rest. Can’t leave until he turns into just a memory.”
GM: “Your old man was buried, Emil,” Lucky sighs. “Interred, you wanna be technical. I carried the coffin myself, me and the others… why you sayin’ he was never buried?”
Emil: “I visited my father’s grave a couple hours back. And well, long story short, but some mental case assaulted me and my girlfriend after maybe taking something from my dad’s vault and after he left, I saw that the vault was open to the air,” Emil explains.
“I looked inside, and it was bare. Not just empty, it looked like it hadn’t been touched in years.” The story spills out like fresh fudge over marble, soupy and uncertain, with the potential to solidify or shatter at the whim of fate.
GM: Lucky asks Emil for a description of the man, and even takes him back outside the bathroom to question him thoroughly as to the state of the crime scene and the order of events as they occurred. He accepts the saliva-stained tissue if Emil’s willing to give it up. “If this guy’s ever been arrested, we’ll have his DNA in the system already. Should be an easy match… good thinkin’, you pickin’ that up. I’ll put in a call to Captain Wiggons. Mid-City’s his district… he’ll bring this guy in.”
“Now, so far as your old man’s body… you have to understand, the heat turns those vaults into slow-cook ovens. Stick a body inside, and there’s nothin’ but bones an’ dust in a year. Bones get stolen. Tourists, shitty tour guides… they break open the vaults for souvenirs, all the time.”
“We’ll look into this, even if the guy you saw wasn’t the one who stole ‘em. Department paid for him to get his 25 years. Your old man had a lotta friends. We’ll get his bones back.”
Emil: “You’re probably right,” Emil admits. “But I want to be sure.”
He pulls out the documents he obtained from the cemetery office and flits through them. “I got a copy of the… tenant history of the vault. And the clerk who gave these to me said that if I wanted more detailed information on the whos and whens of internment and maintenance requests for the vault, I would have to seek them from the police.”
GM: “Well, that’s bullshit. We ain’t the ones who take care of the cemetery. Why the hell’d we know?”
Emil: That Catholic fuck.
“Sounds like I’ve been lied to. Why the hell would someone lie about not having the vault maintenance and internment request records if they weren’t hiding something in them. Doesn’t that sound suspicious to you?” A cheeky grin is spreading on Emil’s face. There’s more to dig into and he can feel he’s getting closer.
GM: “People say all sors’a crazy shit. Dunno why someone’d say we have that stuff,” Lucky shrugs.
“I’ll tell Wiggons to have someone stop by. People say all sors’a shit,” he repeats.
“Oh, another thing, Emil,” he brings up as he walks the younger man out of the police building, “how much do you… remember?”
Emil: “Apparently not as much as I’d thought,” Emil says, struggling to accept the cold voice of the shadowy cop as stemming from that rosy cheeked police officer who has lived in his mind all these years.
Emil stands in the doorway, his hand on the glass entrance. “Hey Lucky, how can I contact you… unofficially speaking? I want to talk to you about the city, about what I’ve missed, about what I’ve forgotten.”
GM: Lucky gives a weary look that makes him seem even less his nickname at Emil’s statement, but answers, “Right here’s where. That ain’ stuff you talk about on the phone.”
If Emil wants to talk, Lucky can meet him at Boswell’s Jamaican Grill tonight. His parents were Haitian immigrants and the Jamaican food is close enough to theirs.
Emil: “Tonight, then. I’m not sure when I’ll be getting my phone back, and I’d rather not lose the plan to the tides.” Emil holds out his hand to bid the man a good day.
GM: “Wouldn’t hold your breath on the phone, he mighta sold it even if we catch him.” Lucky hashes out a time for them to meet, then shakes Emil’s hand and heads back inside the station.
Emil: Emil’s thoughts stir, the little strands of memory soaking in the muddled dye basin of crossed perspectives and misplaced ideas. The more he hears, the more the strands seem to run over each other, forming stubborn knots that rise above the murky liquid, that declare, “I can never be undone.”
But, of course, Emil knows that any knot that can be tied by man can be untied just the same. Mathematical purity, God, and human arrogance demand it.
To undo the coiled knot of his father’s death, Emil just needs to pull on the right string.
Saturday afternoon, 22 September 2007
GM: The first time Emil tries to reach Barnard Lejeune that afternoon he gets an automated-sounding, “The person you are trying to call has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet.”
He gets it again several hours later.
“The person you are trying to call has a voicemail box that has not been set up yet.”
It’s later into the evening when he’s finally answered by a worn-sounding male, “’Lo?”
Emil: “Mr. Lejeune? Is that you? Mr. Seco told me to call you. Said he thought we could help each other out if we had a chat,” Emil says, hoping that the Catholic God doesn’t demand a new donation for each follower of His that Emil interacts with.
GM: “Yeah, that’s me,” grunts the voice. “Help each other how?”
Emil: “Well, I wanted to know a little bit about your work at the cemetery. Lots of stories exist about the place, but I’ve never heard from someone who has taken care of it so long as you have.” Emil responds, before remembering that helping ‘each other’ implies he needs to offer something beyond his amiable company.
“I’ve got a few questions to ask if you want to share a drink or two. On me.” Emil adds.
GM: “What kindsa questions?” the voice grunts.
Emil: “The kind of questions that go down best with a stout. Anything you don’t want to answer, no problem. You still get the drinks. I’m just asking for your time.”
GM: “What kindsa questions?” the voice repeats.
Emil: Emil wonders at what point in life booze stops being sufficient payment for minor requests, and grows just a bit more weary for the world. “Questions about what the cemetery is like in the evenings. About the robbing of vaults. About the ways individuals find uses in the empty vaults that are left behind.” Perhaps this man will find his questions curious enough to respond to, in which case he has answers. Perhaps he simply hangs up? Well, then Emil knows that the cemetery is hiding something. Either way, he will have gotten closer to pulling on the lynch-pin strand of his investigation.
GM: There’s another grunt.
“You’re buyin’ me dinner too.”
Emil: “Why of course, Mr. Lejeune.” Emil says, pushing down butterfly feelings of eagerness to maintain his manners. “How does Dooky Chase tomorrow at eight P.M. sound to you?”
GM: There’s an affirmatory grunt, then the line clicks.
Emil: Emil replaces the receiver on the hook of the sticker speckled payphone drilled into the wooden siding of Marquer Drugs, a white shack off St. Roch Ave. that faces the St. Roch Market.
GM: Boswell’s is a no-frills, low-budget eatery in Mid-City. Pictures of palm trees and assorted Jamaican people give the place its Caribbean air. Lucky has already staked out a table.
He looks like he’s been there for a while, judging by the two plates of food that are already sitting out. There’s some crispy and fried-looking nuggets of meat, macaroni with melted cheese, and a tall helping of stir-fried peppers, onions, carrot shreds, broccoli bits, and shrimp, submerged under a heavy-looking yellow-brown sauce with drizzled lemon. Lucky hasn’t touched either plate, although he’s sipping from one of the two cups of coffee.
He stops when Emil meets his gaze. He doesn’t smile or wave.
Emil: Emil walks up to the table, pulls out a chair, and sits down to face Lucky. He’s hesitant to greet him, recognizing the graveness in Lucky’s demeanor from when he first saw him eye to eye this afternoon. Nevertheless, he needs answers.
“What are you remembering, Lucky?” It feels appropriate, asking that question. It’s where they place each other, inside fragments of their memories.
GM: “Hopin’ more than rememberin’,” the detective answers. “Hoped you wouldn’ show, but figured you still would.”
He nods at the plate furthest from him. “Other one’s yours. I’ll take it home if you feel like orderin’ somethin’ else.”
Emil: Emil sighs and spears a shrimp on his fork. Before he takes a bite, he responds, “Well, I’m glad you’re here, Lucky, and not just for the food.”
Emil takes a few chews of the meal, savoring the warm and cheesy taste of the macaroni alongside the spicy mix of still-fried vegetables.
About a third of the way through his plate, Emil puts his fork down to rest his hands on the table. He leans in and lowers his voice, “So, tell me about my father. What happened to him that makes you want me to stay away so bad? Or is it something else?”
GM: Lucky doesn’t touch his food for a moment, but then finally takes a bite of the crispy-looking nuggets, seemingly more out of courtesy to share in the same meal than any real appetite.
“I told you, Emil… this city’s dirty. Dirty in ways you couldn’… no, shouldn’, have to believe. Ways a kid shouldn’ have to grow up with. All she wanted was a good life for you. Gave you one too, it looks like.”
He spears another one with his fork, then asks, “Kid… why come back? Your old man’s gone… he ain’t comin’ back ‘cause you’re here.”
Emil: “Because it doesn’t matter if he comes back, I just want to know why he isn’t here. Maybe I want to know why my folks had to divorce in the first place.” He pauses for a moment, crunching on a plantain chip. “Maybe I just want to talk to you? I think I know you well in a sort of distant sense.”
GM: “Oh yeah?” Lucky asks.
He looks less than excited at that prospect.
Emil: “Yeah. My dad used to take me along on investigations. I remember you from them. I remember your voice from all those years back.”
Emil looks at Lucky in those brown eyes of his, which seem to have stayed frozen all these years, and asks, “What was he like?”
GM: Lucky is silent for a moment, then somberly answers, “He was a good man.”
But Emil can taste the lie like syrup poured over the spicy, savory dish. Too sweet to mask the real flavor.
Emil: “Were you?” Emil adds, and though he doesn’t intend to, there’s the bark of a cornered animal propping his words up in defense.
GM: “No,” the detective sighs. “Bein’ a good man ain’t easy in this city, Emil.”
Emil: Emil honestly would’ve asked why a month ago, but just today he bribed a man without blinking. Being a good man means no answers, and what else is a detective good for?
“How often did you and my father work together? Was he your… partner? I’m sorry, I don’t really know how things work around here.”
GM: “Well, we don’t technically have partners in NOPD,” Lucky says. “But that’s bullshi’, cause we do. Your old man had a lotta years on the force when I first joined. He was my boss. An LT. Good one. To me, anyway. He was a guy you either loved or hated. He had his vision an’ did things his way. He could be a hard man. Very hard man. But… hard men are the only ones who get things done here.”
Emil: “Do you think the ends justified his means?” Emil responds; his mind stuck on his father’s command. “Do you feel you made the right choices, Lucky?”
GM: Lucky seems to sag at that question, putting down his half-eaten nugget.
“Your dad… saw the rot, Emil. The rot at the city’s soul. So many of us, we just close our eyes, carry on, business as usual. There’s… only so much men can do, sometimes. How can you stop an avalanche with your hands…”
“Sometimes… you got to stain yourself black, make yourself filthy, to burn out the rot… do the wrong thing, to do what you hope is the right thing…”
Emil: “And yet, my father got shot to death, and you just now told me the city is as dirty as ever. So, what rot was rooted out for the price of his soul?” Emil counters, a confused pain showing on his young face.
GM: Lucky shakes his head emphatically at Emil’s declaration.
“Just ‘cause you can’t burn out all the rot don’t mean it’s not worth tryin’. Your old man, he believed with all his soul that it was. Even if that’s just pissin’ in the wind… just havin’ the guts to try is a helluva lot more than most folks can ever say.”
Emil: Emil nods apologetically. “You’re right. I’m speaking out of place, it’s disrespectful to his memory to say things like that. But, I just want to know, what was he fighting against— specifically?” Emil takes a quick, sharp breath, like a diver about to be submerged in the deep. “Why did that woman need to die?”
GM: Lucky instantly halts in mid-bite of some peppers. He looks like Emil just knocked his coffee all over his clothes.
“You want to do right by your old man’s memory, Emil, that’s the last thing you should be askin’. He knew involvin’ you was wrong. He knew it’d… that the rot woulda turned him black, eaten all the good that was left in him, if he let you get hurt… or worse’n hurt.”
“He didn’t fight your mama when she wanted to leave. Didn’t ask for custody. He wanted you to get out. To have a good life.”
Emil: “But you have to understand that I’m fine, Lucky. I never got hurt. He couldn’t have turned rotten, no. He died well. He must have died well.”
Emil frantically pulls out his wallet and takes out an old picture of him and his old man that he intended to leave on his father’s grave before the incident.
“Look at how happy I was,” Emil says with a shoddy approximation of the innocent smile he wears in the photo, worn down by doubt and years.
GM: Lucky looks at the picture and smiles. It’s a faint and tired expression, but he seems relieved to show it.
“I didn’t say your old man failed, Emil. He was just in time, gettin’ you outta the city. The rot didn’t eat him, not all the way. You got to live a good life. That was all he ever wanted. All he really wanted.”
“Shit, kid,” he exhales, the smile fading, “what you doin’ here? There’s nothin’ here for you. Just ghosts. You look like you’ve had a good life for yourself in L.A. That’s all your mama and daddy ever wanted for you.”
Emil: “You know, I came here thinking that I was going to find some grand mystery, some puzzle my father left behind for me to solve. I thought I was doing what Dad would’ve wanted. But of course, he wouldn’t put that on me. He just wanted me to be safe.” Emil nods, feeling a sense of sudden relief, before starting to shake his head.
“But I’m tied down here now. I have a girlfriend to take care of and to protect from kick-happy lunatics, I’m almost done with my degree, and I’m even gonna be in a local picture soon. Do you really think Dad would want me to abandon all this now?”
GM: Lucky does a double take. “Shit, kid, you’re goin’ to college here?”
After a moment he asks, “What’d your mama think of that?”
Emil knows full well what she thought of that.
“Emil, baby, what the hell’s wrong with L.A., or anyplace else?” was what she thought of that.
“I’m not paying for it,” was what she thought of that.
Emil: Emil scratches the back of his neck, looking off at one of the white columns supporting the building. “She, uh… had some reservations about the idea. But you have to understand, I was sure this was what my father would have wanted. I wanted to make my dad proud. I think on some level, she understood that… I hope.”
GM: “Might mean a lot to her to hear you understand s’more now, too.”
Emil: Emil nods in response. “I’ll call her once I get back home, no doubt.”
The nodding stops as he continues, a little more cautiously, “However, I still feel honor-bound to help stop my father’s vault from being disturbed any further. Since I am here, it would feel wrong to drop the matter entirely. Don’t you agree?”
GM: Lucky chuckles. “You have helped, Emil. You called the cops. We’ll find the guy, you did your part.”
Emil: “I know I did. I know,” Emil sighs. “If I’m being honest, it’s not just my folks I’m thinking of here. If I’m ever going to patch things up with Hillary, I need to show her that I can take charge of the situation. I don’t want to intrude on the investigation, and I won’t do anything dangerous, but I think I can help if you let me.”
GM: “Oh, girlfriend’s givin’ you the cold shoulder?”
Emil: Emil takes a frustrated bite of vegetable stir-fry. “Yeah, like I was telling you earlier, the guy kicked her and took her bag. So naturally, I rush over to make sure she’ll be alright. Well, turns out she would’ve preferred me to chase after that maniac. I dunno…” he trails off, muffling his indignation with a full-faced bite of the crispy nuggets.
GM: “Well, you kick him before that, at least?” Lucky asks.
When Emil says no, and then elaborates at Lucky’s request, the old cop scoffs.
“Well, shit, kid. Take a slug at the guy next time. I’m not sayin’ you have to be a he-man, but a punch shows heart. Even if you lose, it gets your girl kissin’ your boo-boos. Your girl don’t feel like you got any heart. She don’t feel like she can be safe around you.”
“Hell, you might not even lose. Lotsa fights I been in come down to who’s willin’ to get violent, who’s willin’ to go for the throat, than who’s stronger. Lotsa bullies don’t want a real fight. Guy who’ll just snap pictures an’ call the cops are like catnip to ’em.”
“Nobody respects a pushover. Your girl included, sounds like.”
Emil: Emil nods at the criticism, his teeth clenched in that odd way they get when you know in your gut that you were wrong. But then he suddenly chuckles, and with a faux-seriousness belied by an unconscious grin, responds, “But he was clearly mentally deficient. You can’t punch a retard, what if their parents are rich? I’m not looking to get sued.”
GM: “Shit, are you a California boy,” Lucky laughs. “Here we don’t care if they’re retards. They hit us, we clobber ‘em back. An’ their lawyer too if they try that bullshit. World’d be a better place if we all clobbed s’more lawyers.”
“There’s this one scumbag, Bert Villars, who I swear every pimp and crack king in the city has for a lawyer. I’d love to punch him. He’s blind too, an’ since you can’t punch blind people, that just makes me want to punch him more.”
Emil: “If he works with those kinds of folks, he probably has a lot of dirt on him. What’s stopping you from slapping him with the book?” Emil asks, wondering whether Lucky intends to answer his question about helping with the investigation but holding his tongue just a moment.
GM: “If we could, those kinds of folks wouldn’t work with him. Lawyers are real good at not doing illegal shit themselves. They’re the experts at it, right?”
Emil: “I’ll bet if you could look at him real close, with a strong enough magnifying glass, you’d see dirt. How couldn’t you? God made man out of the stuff to begin with! And if it ain’t on his skin, it’s gotta be hiding just under it, like some nasty pimple waiting for the worst time to crawl out and see the sun.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sure he’s got at least some dirt, if we looked close ‘nough. There just ain’t a lotta ways we can do that. Legally, anyway. I’ve seen DAs drop the ball on good cases ‘cuz they or we didn’t dot our i’s an’ cross our t’s. Hell, I seen him prove it more than once to cut his clients a sweeter deal. Throw out evidence as inadmissible.”
Lucky’s cheer seems to slowly fade. “Just how things are. Your old man once said bein’ a cop ain’t changin’ the world. It’s keepin’ things as they are.”
Emil: “Thought you said he wanted to make the world s better place? Whether or not he did it in the end, sounds like he didn’t see himself as much of a cop. And if not a cop, then what?”
GM: Lucky’s expression suddenly turns dark. “Don’t you tell me your old man wasn’t no cop. He was a damn good cop.”
Emil: Lucky is lying. Emil can see it in the sweat on his brow, the growling insistence, the suddenness of his response that feels more like a mantra than an answer. Maybe that’s why Dad’s vault is empty. Lucky’s hiding the skeleton in his closet.
Emil pinches the bridge of his nose, shaking his head at Lucky. “Oh sure, damn fine cop. But we both know that he was more than that. And we both know that no matter how much you protest, I will find the truth.”
Emil pinches his fingers over his heart, pressing painfully into his chest. “I am my father’s son.”
He continues, shaking his head with disapproval, “And if it’s not from you, Lucky, it’s going to be from someone else. And if what they say about curiosity and cats is true, if this city is as dirty as you say, I hope you’ll have something good to say to my mother when I land in a hospital bed after asking the wrong person the right questions.”
Despite the finality of his ultimatum, Lucky can see a welling of tears in the corners of Emil’s dark eyes: the eyes of the child who was jus’ a kid, who saw truths beyond his years for the sake of his father, and who seeks to see it again in search of the very same man.
GM: Lucky’s eyebrows raise for a moment, but the surprise on his face is as flickering as a glimpse of the moon on a too-cloudy night—and still just as dark.
“Them questions are all wrong, kid. You gonna put yourself in a hospital bed, that’s on you. It ain’t gonna be ’cause of me.”
He rises from his seat and drops some dollar bills over the table, the pair’s dinner seemingly at an end. His voice softens for a moment as he turns to leave.
“All your mama and daddy wanted for you was a good life. I told you there’s nothin’ here. Nothin’ but ghosts.”
Emil: “If there’re ghosts here, that means they have things they wanted to say that they couldn’t. Things they wanted to do but didn’t. If a dead man crawled his way back from God’s rest, he’s got something to share worth listening to. If you don’t want to listen to them, I will.”
GM: “It’s your funeral, kid.”
With those last, sad words, Lucky disappears through the restaurant’s door.
Emil: Emil crushes a now-cool shrimp between his teeth. It tastes bitter. He sits there as the world passes around him and the light dips lower. Eventually he gets up and follows his father’s friend into the night air with one thing on his mind:
Whose vault door he’ll have to knock on to find the truth.
Saturday evening, 22 September 2007
Emil: Emil is on the hunt for information. He thinks that if he can build a profile about the woman who needed to die he might get a glimpse into the truth. He’s not sure whether her death would be reported, he bets that his father wouldn’t have let her death become public knowledge, that would be a liability. Perhaps, however; she could’ve been placed on the missing person’s list. He switches on his VPN and taps onto the tacky keys of his laptop the URL for LSU’s missing person database. He goes to the search bar and looks up the list of missing persons in New Orleans, and scrolls through the profiles, copying that of any woman whose disappearance date matches up with the year he was in first grade.
After doing so, Emil loads Qeeqle Maps, a new program with a brand new feature called street view, which allows Emil to check every location listed alongside the women and ‘walk’ through the area where they were last scene. He notes any areas that stick out to him on the document, anything that jogs his memory, if at all.
Following this, Emil looks into the histories of both his father and Lucky, searching through local newspaper archives at one of the University libraries. He takes notes before returning to his computer to search through archived chat-rooms and forum posts referring to the men. He also checks specifically for any reports of NOLA police having a child with them during investigations.
GM: Emil has his work cut out for him. LSU’s page has hundreds upon hundreds of results. The clunky and dated-looking site has no way of filtering results. Emil ends up using Qeeqle Advanced Search to look up “1992” and “New Orleans” under the “all these words” field. That chops down the number of profiles from hundreds to about 40. Eliminating the male profiles chops that down to about 20 names. Emil pastes the remaining female ones into a Word doc.
It’s not a needle in a haystack, but it’s good odds if he were to play Russian roulette with a that-many-chambered gun. Or chancy odds, as the reverse may be.
Jogging his memories of a location he saw from a completely different vantage point, in a moving vehicle, only briefly, on a dark and rainy night, when he was distracted, scared out of his wits, doesn’t remember the rest of the evening, and was six years old, is perhaps predictably unsuccessful.
Tulane’s Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, fortunately for Emil (and procrastinating students throughout the university) is open 24 hours a day.
There are few online references to either Lucky or his father, perhaps little surprise given the man’s 1992 death, but printed ones are more common. Kane Sr. seems to have served on NOPD for quite a long while. It’s with a feeling of some oddness that Emil realizes he isn’t sure exactly how old his father was.
Some stories mention him catching this or that bad guy, receiving this or that commendation from his superiors. It’s pleasant enough to read, especially for a boy whose mother spoke little about his father.
And especially after his talk with Lucky.
Most of it’s of little enough relevance to Emil’s investigation, save that Sergeant Earl Kane is mentioned as one of the homicide detectives who investigated the 1973 murder of socialite Kathleen Andrews—the aunt of the disappeared 1992 Bianca Andrews.
Robert White was charged with the Kathleen murder. He was convicted and sent to the Farm for life.
Emil: Bianca. Why did you need to go?
Emil pulls out his laptop, types in the address of a website dedicated to Louisiana’s court records, and types in the name Robert White. Maybe if he can get a handle on the man that killed Kathleen—or at least the man the courts said killed Kathleen—he can figure out what happened with Bianca. The poorly built site seizes up at the search, the only indication of it hanging on an hourglass sprite flipping over and over in place of Emil’s cursor.
Come on, come on…
GM: The computer screen blips out as the room’s lights suddenly die.
Emil: Years of living in a state with more fault lines than cities drives Emil under the table by instinct, swaddling his laptop in his arms right before ducking under. He waits for the rocking. The silence before is the worst part.
GM: Yet unlike L.A., the expected tremors do not come. The computer lab room is silent as well as still.
Until the tremors do come. But they’re still not like L.A.‘s. There’s two of them, soft against the carpet.
They, and an indistinct set of legs, come to a stop.
Directly in front of Emil’s hiding place.
Emil: When did hide and seek become so unnerving? The lack of an earthquake stops Emil’s muscles from releasing their tension. He feels stiff like a mannequin, and he hates it. He avoids looking at whatever stands on those legs. He read a study once that if you’re trying to not be recognized by the mind as a human, you just have to cover certain portions of your face. It’s the fundamentals of camouflage. What passes for camouflage in this case is covering up most of his face with his hoodie. and trying to keep the whites of his eyes squinted so as to not reflect the light.
Emil pulls out the small wooden pencil that he was taking notes with and throws it as discreetly and as far as he can manage, hoping to distract the owner of the legs so that he can move out of the way in case they mean to cause whoever is in the library harm.
GM: There’s a split second of heart-hammering tension as sweat trickles down Emil’s back.
Then, the legs turn after the thrown pencil.
Emil: He almost wants to see their face, but the veritable river of sweat forming on his back is carrying him forcefully down the current of running the hell out of here. He bolts from underneath the desk, hoping his feet carry him to the exit faster than theirs.
GM: They don’t shout. They don’t talk. They just whirl—and then there’s the sudden thump of footsteps pounding against the carpeted floor after Emil’s. He runs like hell through the too-empty feeling building. Darkness presses ahead. Relentlessly thudding footfalls press from behind. Emil bursts past the library’s front doors, heart hammering in his chest, panting down too-small gulps of the warm night air.
Foot-shaped thuds still pound against his ears. Closer. Closer.
Emil: When Lucky said it’d be his funeral, Emil didn’t expect it to be that same evening. A couple nights of warning, maybe, but the same evening? That’s just absurd. He whispers a breathy prayer, as he is supposed to, not out of acceptance, but out of a desperate need to make noise, to breathe, to show God that he is alive and well and could use some of that outstretched arm business that he puts a shank bone on his seder plate every year to commemorate.
“שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד”
(“Hear o Israel, our Master is God, our Master is One.”)
In between his bounds, he takes a peek behind him, trying to make out the face of his assailant.
GM: The library door bursts open.
Weight smashes against Emil’s chest. His vision snaps 90 degrees as his back cracks against concrete. He kicks and thrashes. Impotently. The streetlights seem so distant. So sickly and warbling. Does anyone see? Will anyone help?
Emil claws desperately at the air over his face. To see. To know.
He screams as pain drives through his hand, and then he’s not screaming anymore, but choking. Suffocating. His lungs burn like fire before that flame all-too swiftly gutters out. As sight and sound spiral away into blackness, the amateur theologian’s final thought is of another piece of scripture:
יזוַיְהִי֩ כְהֽוֹצִיאָ֨ם אֹתָ֜ם הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֨אמֶר֙ הִמָּלֵ֣ט עַל־נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ אַל־תַּבִּ֣יט אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַל־תַּֽעֲמֹ֖ד בְּכָל־הַכִּכָּ֑ר הָהָ֥רָה הִמָּלֵ֖ט פֶּן־תִּסָּפֶֽה:
(“And it came to pass, when they took them outside, that he said, ‘Flee for your life, do not look behind you, and do not stand in the entire plain. Flee to the mountain, lest you perish.’”)
“אל תסתכל מאחוריך.”
(“Do not look behind you.”)