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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Louis IV

“What does this do, except fuck up more lives.”
Brenda Harris


Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Lou’s friend drives him back to New Orleans and pays his bus fare. Apparently, the Greyhound route to Saint Francisville is two and a half hours and $15 rather than six hours and $47 when you take the bus at New Orleans Bus Station instead of the bus closer to Kenner at Louis Armstrong Airport. The former’s route is shorter. Fewer stops.

Lou waits around at the terminal until his bus arrives. A drunk-looking man loudly complains when the driver says he can’t get on. A few menacing-looking bikers with 1%er patches also climb aboard. Lou isn’t sure what they’re doing here and why they’re not using their bikes. There’s also a sketchy-feeling girl with about twenty pieces of mismatched luggage who keeps trying to wheedle the driver into letting her bring them aboard and who keeps getting told no, her ticket does not entitle her to that many pieces of luggage. Lou doesn’t even hear her story and it smells like pure bullshit. She eventually yells, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” at the driver and storms off with her luggage.

Lou absently notes, while he waits, that Greyhound’s hours of operation are 5:30 AM to 9:30 PM. Little chance of any leeches being aboard these buses, even if the sun wasn’t already up. They might be a cheap and convenient way to travel, but at most you’d have three hours during the winter. Any layovers, delays, and cancellations could be a death sentence without a backup plan.

Once he finally gets on, he finds the intercity bus to be very comfortable next to the metro buses. The seats are cloth. There are armrests and extra leg room. There’s also wifi and power outlets. He’ll only have to get onto another bus at Baton Rouge in two hours. People continue to file in after he seats himself. He spots two moms with kids. One of the moms’ children is sniffling and looks absolutely miserable. Maybe they’re going to the same place Lou is. Another man getting on holds up an O’Tolley’s cheeseburger and loudly asks, “Hey, anybody want this?” He’s mostly ignored, apart from the passenger behind Lou who sarcastically mutters, “Um, no.”

The woman who plops down next to Lou’s seat is black, middle-aged, and obese, and dressed in jeans and battered tennis shoes. She uncorks a water bottle, takes a long glug, then turns to Lou.

“I once killed someone, you know,” she brags.

Louis: “Did they deserve it?”

The old man poses the question like the half-congealed dregs of coffee at the bottom of his silver-bullet thermos. Slow and solid.

For another man, the question might sound sarcastic.

For another, it might be sanctimonious.

For this old man, though, it’s a rarer bird. One not often gracing the Greyhound’s urban melange and motley dramatis personae.

Sincerity.

Did they deserve it?

He’s not sure if the woman will have a satisfactory answer.

If not, he won’t blame her.

After all, he doesn’t know if he has one himself.

GM: The woman nods agreeably at Lou’s question.

“My husband. He was a real piece of shit.”

She nods again and repeats, “Real piece of shit. So one night, I picked up his hunting rifle, and I blew his head off. BOOM!”

She smacks their shared armrest.

Louis: The old man’s face tracks the woman’s movement and words like a dancer two steps behind—or ahead. Perhaps the delay is due to a slurry of resurrected images, words, and smells that slither through his mind. Such thoughts have the schizophrenic aroma of spiced rum, fish tacos, bubble-gum, cheap cigarillos, pralines, spray paint, and crack cocaine, and the glint of Louisiana gold in all its black, wet, and volatile beauty.

“I was once married,” the old man says, not quite as a reply as much as an inadvertent confession. Not to woman beside him now, but to the memory of the woman who once was.

“Real piece of shit,” he adds, his lips echoing slowly the words. It’s unclear whether he’s referring to himself as husband, his spouse, their erstwhile married, or all three.

His hand absentmindedly reaches for a cigarette. But the cigarette isn’t there. Nor is the hand. At least, not among the living, it isn’t.

How much of me is? the old man bitterly muses.

Forcing himself back to the present, to the living now, he looks her in the eyes, “A lot of folks find it hard. Not the killing. But the living with it.”

If you don’t, time to turn in your badge, That was what he had told so many of his partners about taking a life while carrying the crescent shield for their ugly, beautiful, terrible, beloved city. Justified or not, dead men are heavy, sticky burdens, at least for those with a conscience.

Today, as with so many past, the old man’s conscience is bent under the weight of so many deaths. Mama Wedo’s is just the tip of that spiritually ponderous iceberg. That weight threatens to pull him down, deep into the past, to relive the dead. Their names. Faces. Lives lived, and what was. Lives unlived, and what might have been.

His hand—the corporeal one—gently touches the humble cross beneath his shirt. It grounds him. Re-focuses his attention to the present. But also the future.

He turns back to his fellow passenger.

“You two have kids?”

GM: The ancient wood is at once rough and worn, like it was all those months ago. Perhaps like it’s been for years and years.

Whether his ex-wife is similarly unchanged since their parting is an open question.

“Yep,” says the woman. “Gettin’ on this bus to visit one of ’em. Our son. Lives in Baton Rouge.”

She grins.

“I was fuckin’ with you, man. I ain’t killed nobody. Mind you, I wish I had, sometimes. The ‘real piece of shit’ part was true.”

She takes a glug of water.

“Normally that freaks people out more. Sometimes I like to add, ‘I really liked how it made me feel. Sometimes I think about doin’ it again.’ But goddamn! You didn’t even blink. You one cold customer.”

She laughs and sets down the water.

“Guess that what I get, tryin’ to scare strangers on a Greyhound, ain’t it? Never know who you gonna run into.”

Louis: Lou smiles.

“That’s me. One cold customer. Guilty as charged.”

He then extends his hand—the one of flesh and blood—and adds, “But you can call me Luis.”

“I also respond to ‘Free Shrimp Boil’.”

GM: “Latrelle,” says the woman. Her hand’s answering grip is flabby but firm.

She laughs.

“Luis’ not so much a mouthful. Why they call you that?”

Meanwhile, the Greyhound’s doors close after the last of the passengers amble on. The bus takes off underneath the pair.

Louis: He sighs with a smile, “Sadly, nobody calls me ‘Free Shrimp Boil’, but if I hear anyone say those words, I come running all the same. Or shuffling. Joints aren’t what they used to be, what with my old friend arthritis.”

GM: The woman laughs again. “Yeah, that a shit nickname. You either gonna be on the hook for a lotta shrimp or a lotta pissed off folks who ain’t got no shrimp. You don’t wanna be Free Shrimp Boil.”

“I hear you, though. I’m fat as fuck and it’s tough on my knees.”

Louis: “Well, here’s to cloth seats, armrests, and extra leg room.”

Yet, even as he smiles and reclines his head with a genuine if light laugh, the old man cannot truly rest. The old PI’s senses swim out surreptitiously as he tries to suss out potential threats. Some, like the OMC bikers, are clear. But it’s the unseen blade that drives deepest. True, his chief nemeses are unlikely to be riding in the sun-exposed bus, but their blood-bond servitors have no such reservations. Any and all could be spies. Even the mother with the crying child. It’s a bitter truth, and one that the worm of paranoia gnaws at. It doesn’t help that his line of sight is broken by row upon rows.

The old man misses the now-departed dawn. He misses his friends. He misses the park with the tranquil ibises and serene water.

The old man misses many things.

GM: He’s exposed himself.

They were already looking for him. He called Otis. Maybe the man reported him. Last known siting (or at least hearing) of Louis Fontaine. Ghouls could have visited the man’s house. Maybe the sheriff did personally, despite the approaching dawn. He can fly, the trip doesn’t take long. Maybe the Guard de Ville did some detective work. They have so many tools. Maybe they found some sign of Lou’s ride. Maybe they followed its route. Maybe their spies and slaves are here, now, looking for him.

The worm of paranoia wriggles.

He’s a literally sitting duck in his cloth seat with its armrest and extra leg room.

The Greyhound, however, slows not for worms or paranoid old men. It’s a two hour ride from the Big Easy to Baton Rouge. About an hour in, a man starts shouting about his knife. Apparently it’s been stolen. Lou is not sure why the man has a knife on the bus.

Latrelle chats with Lou along the way, seemingly no matter how much or little Lou chooses to chat back. She mentions she served a stint in LCIW, “a ways back.” She didn’t kill her husband, but she did shoot him. “Only, it was with a Saturday night special. Them guns are pieces of shit.” She got sent to prison for it. “I was actually on TV once. Reality show called Mega Cage. They made the season at LCWIW, called it St. Gabriel’s Bitchslap! with an exclamation point at the end. I didn’t make it to the finals, though. Bitch who won it fucked me up in the yard and I went down like a punk ‘gainst this little psychopath mama who’d stabbed her kids to death. I’da kicked her ass, ‘cept for how I didn’t. Guess that’s life, innit?”

The bus comes to a stop at the Greyhound Bus Station in Baton Rouge. Latrelle gets off and offers, “You have a nice life, man,” in parting. Lou waits half an hour to catch the 0006 to Saint Francisville, or at least what’s supposed to be half an hour. Lou ends up waiting for over an hour. He hears there is some sort of delay on the other bus. When the impatient passengers finally board, Lou hears there was a drug bust and everyone had been checked out before being allowed to exit the bus.

A tall and lanky man sits plops down on the seat next to Lou. He starts talking, but does not once look at Lou. He is seemingly having a dialogue with himself, using two different voices. His pitch alternates between furtive whispers and normal volume level. Sometimes he twists his hands together with a particularly loud, “Fuck!”

One of the last passengers aboard literally runs to the back of the bus. He is loud in the bathroom. Not all of the noises sound like flatulence. He comes out looking pale, waxy, and a little greenish. The Greyhound takes off. Scenery rolls past. The man runs back two more times over the course of the trip. The back of the bus starts to smell pretty bad. The driver eventually announces they will be intercepted by an ambulance. Paramedics load the man aboard. It turns out he’s sick because his appendix burst. A passenger asks if they are going to transfer to a new bus so this one can be cleaned. It smells really bad. The driver asks, seemingly rhetorically, if they want their route delayed even later. The passengers are apparently going to tough it out until they get to Saint Francisvile.

Lou surveys the passengers. There are more women, he notes, on this bus than his last bus. More seniors, too. Perhaps girlfriends, wives, and parents visiting male relatives at Angola. Both of the mothers and their children from the New Orleans bus are still on this bus. So are a few other passengers. Perhaps they are headed to Angola too.

Good cover, if they’re spies.

The tall man next to Lou finishes a particularly furious-sounding whispered diatribe, then turns and stares at him.

“Hey man, can I use your phone?”

Louis: Lou lets the travel’s detritus roll past him. He’s not immune to the noisome effluvia, but his centuries of low living make him at least inured, if not innoculated. More than once, the bus-contained bedlam reminds him of Dante’s writing. At its best, particularly when talking with Latrelle, it’s Purgatorio. At its worst, it’s Limbo fast sliding into the lower circle’s slurry.

He has no delusions about which side of Archeon sits Angola.

The worm turns, as does his conscience, which rests uneasy as the bowels of the appendix-burst man. The closer Lou gets to the Farm, the worse his distress becomes. Inside his mind, if not soul, he feels the echo of Dante’s words upon trying to scale the very first ring of Purgatorio.

I fear much more the punishment below;
my soul is anxious, in suspense; already
I feel the heavy weights of the first terrace.


Those ponderous thoughts are interrupted, or perhaps punctuated, by the tall, lanky man’s request.

At said question, Lou turns. He regards the younger man slowly, as if he hasn’t already visually investigated the fellow passenger a dozen times. The man and his request remind Lou not so much of Dante’s cantos, but rather the more modern, New World collection of Uncle Remus’ tales, particularly that of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

The old man doesn’t immediately reach for his newest burner phone—which is turned off out of old but wary habits—or any of its dime-store burner SIMs. Instead, he casually glances to see if anyone across the aisle or in front of them have a readily visible phone.

“¿Teléfono?” is his only immediate reply, arching a tired brow.

GM: The lingering smell of the man’s ruptured appendix seemingly marks his approach towards Hell’s gates.

Perhaps if it gets bad enough, he’ll faint like Dante.

“Phone, man, PHONE,” the man repeats in an agitated voice, wringing his hands. He stares at Lou like he can compel the PI to produce and surrender one through sheer force of will.

Across the aisle, Lou sees one of the moms with a miserable-looking kid talking into a phone with an unhappy expressions. In front of them, he hears a passenger with long nails tapping against a phone screen.

The man’s eyes fall out of focus.

“Just wait ’til we get to Saint Francis, bitch,” he mutters in his ‘second’ quieter voice.

Perhaps to Lou. Perhaps to himself. Perhaps to another party.

Louis: Perhaps.

And perhaps the man is referring to the arriving before St. Francis, the Catholic patron of animals, versus St. Francisville of West Feliciana Parish. It’s unlikely, but the old man has experienced stranger things.

The small thought halts Lou from further eying the tall man’s juggular and contemplating how best he could lean over and use his supernaturally strong, fast fingertips to cut off the man’s nearest carotid artery, and thereby induce cerebral ischemia and unsconsciousness within scant seconds.

Instead, the initially sardonic thought of St. Francis of Assasi dislodges an older, deeper memory in the elderly ghoul. To a time long past and all but drowned away by blood.

A Spanish Capuchin friar had caught him and his brother throwing rocks at a feral dog. Chastizing the boys, the friar had taught them of St. Francis of Assisi, regalling them with the tales of how the saint had preached to birds and tamed the man-eating wolf of Gubbio. The mendicant had then admonished the brothers to repent and follow St. Francis, teaching them the saint’s prayer.

The words to that prayer now rise again, if not from his lips, than at least from his heart:

Señor, haz de mí un instrumento de tu paz.
Que allá donde hay odio, yo ponga el amor.
Que allá donde hay ofensa, yo ponga el perdón.
Que allá donde hay discordia, yo ponga la unión.
Que allá donde hay error, yo ponga la verdad.
Que allá donde hay duda, yo ponga la Fe.
Que allá donde desesperación, yo ponga la esperanza.
Que allá donde hay tinieblas, yo ponga la luz.
Que allá donde hay tristeza, yo ponga la alegría.


Maestro, que yo no busque tanto ser consolado, cuanto consolar,
ser comprendido, cuanto comprender,
ser amado, cuanto amar.
Porque es dándose como se recibe,
es olvidándose de sí mismo como uno se encuentra a sí mismo,
es perdonando, como se es perdonado,
es muriendo como se resucita a la vida eterna.
Amén.


(_Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.)

So chastened, the old man slowly draws out his SIM-less burner from his trench and passes it to the younger man beside him.

“Teléfono. Aquí está mi teléfono. Mis disculpas, jovencito.”

Turning the phone on, he quickly unlocks it before connecting it to the Greyhound’s WiFi, gesturing once more for the fellow passenger to use.

GM: Saints befriending beasts is a recurring element in hagiographies.

The man is hardly a beast, and Lou may suppose he’s hardly a saint either, but the crude comparison is there.

The prayer is more broadly applicable than Gubbio’s wolf or a feral dog, in any case.

The man gives Lou a noncomprehending look at the Spanish, but takes the phone and fumbles with it with trembling fingers as he whispers, “Come on… come on…”

The man mashes his fingers against the screen, then holds it to his ear.

“Hey. Hey. I wanna say.”

“No.”

The man’s face twists.

“I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. Fuck. I’m sorry. Okay. I ain’t got shit, from Eric. Shit from Eric. Shit from you. Just, just… fuck! Sorry.”

“Right. You tell him. Tell him, man. Tell him!”

He presses his finger against the screen again, then looks at Lou and returns the phone.

“Thanks, man.”

As Lou inspects the device, he sees no call was ever made on it.

Perhaps the friar would be pleased, all the same.

Louis: Perhaps.

Either way, the old man graciously accepts the returned phone, sliding it away.

“De nada,” he replies with with tired, empathetic eyes that have drunk in their fair share of sorrows.

“Eres bienvenido. Lo siento por Eric.”

Regarding the mentally ill man, Lou finds that the present once again conjures ghosts from his past. This time, it’s haunting images of Chica, all but OD’d on crack and Malkavian blood.

It’s little wonder why the old man drunk so much.

GM: The man just gives a blank look at the Spanish, then turns away.

“I’m gonna kick your ass, man,” he whispers to the seat in front of him. “I’m gonna fuck you up. Gonna kick your ass!”

The rest of the bus ride proceeds uneventfully. It gets off at Saint Francisville, a middle of nowhere small town with a population under 2,000. The town isn’t known for much besides some nearby plantation homes open to the public for guided tours. It’s also the final layover on the bus route up to Angola.

The small town lacks a proper bus terminal. Lou waits outside an Endron gas station for his next ride. The tall man who sat next to Lou on the Greyhound ambles off, still muttering to himself, but a number of the Greyhound’s other passengers wait alongside the old man. Both of the mothers with accompanying kids wait with him. Most of Lou’s fellow passengers are black.

The 60-something overcast weather isn’t unpleasant to wait in, but the amount of waiting is unpleasant. The bus is late. People look increasingly impatient as they check phones and watches. One little girl complains to her mom and asks why they can’t go eat somewhere. Her mom tells her they’ll miss the bus if it arrives while they’re eating. They don’t know when it’s going to arrive. The girl heaves an exaggerated sigh and complains she’s bored. Another boy tells his mom he’s bored too. “So are we all, kid,” says an older woman.

The bus is over half an hour late when it finally arrives. Lou pays and gets on. The old man supposes it’s no worse than any other bus he’s ridden, but next to the Greyhound it’s quite uncomfortable. Seats are hard rather than cloth, there’s no armrests or extra leg room, nor is there on-bus wifi. The ride is lower to the ground and has more bumps and jostles. Somehow it seems fitting for the prison-operated bus.

The little boy who said he was bored starts crying about five minutes into the ride. Lou’s not sure what about. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” sounds over and over. His mom tries to comfort him at first. It doesn’t work. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” keeps sounding. The mom starts repeatedly hissing, “Braden, be QUIET!” but he still keeps crying. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” People shoot the family increasingly dirty looks at the unrelenting noise. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” The mom finally pulls the boy over her knee and delivers several swats to his bottom. Lou catches “ashamed” and “big baby” among the angry-sounding words she hisses at him. The kid sniffs, rubs his eyes, and sullenly buries his face against the seat. But he quiets down.

“These fuckin’ people, man,” the young woman sitting next to Lou mutters to him. “Shouldn’t have kids.”

Louis: Does the old man nod in agreement—or is his lantern jaw just jostled by another suspension-rocked pothole?

“I wonder if that’s what the angels say about God when they look at the world and all its people. ’Shouldn’t have kids’.”

He reaches in for his crumpled pack of cigarettes and rattles the last coffin nail with a lingering, unspoken thought before slowly sliding it back into his pocket. He doesn’t exhale a plume of smoke, but his sigh is just as long.

After another moment, he turns back to the young woman. Normally, he’d remain silent, allowing the noissome cacophany roll on like the bus’ wheels without another word. But instead, he speaks. Maybe it’s the grace of the Gaudette candle still warming his old, canketerous heart. Or maybe he does it to better anchor himself in the present, versus slipping back into another bout of guilt- and sorrow-pained memories of past lives with their host of disquiet dead.

“Dad, husband, or brother?”

His old eyes regard her, slow and calm, offering her the chance to answer if she wishes.

GM: The woman is black. Most of the people on the bus are black. Plump and short-haired with a tired-looking face that looks too tired for a face that’s in maybe its late 20s. She’s dressed in jeans and a jacket and long-sleeved tee.

“Yeah, probably,” she snorts in answer to his first question, then looks at window.

“Boyfriend,” she tersely answers his second.

Then she looks back at Lou and says, in that moment of rare-seeming but perhaps actually not at all rare honesty, because she’s talking to a stranger she never expects to ever see again,

“I cheated on him and I haven’t told him and feeling guilty is half the reason I keep visiting, because there’s no future with him. Not anymore. No. Fucking. Future. And I guess I’m just a selfish bitch for wanting to leave, when we were gonna get married.”

Her lip quavers.

Louis: No future

Yet, to the old man, he increasingly feels like he has no present. That his past is too large and heavy, casting its own gravity well or too-long shadow that swallows the here and now.

But isn’t that the way with all the old?

“I was once married, miss,” the old man says with a voice that is tired but trudges on. “My old lady and me… well, we had some good times. Bad ones too. Mean. Ugly. She cheated on me, left me, cheated on me some more, left me some more. I don’t blame her. Not anymore at least. She wanted to live for the future, said I was stuck living in the past. Said it was like being married to a ghost. We made some good songs, yes, but I kept wanting to replay the old tunes versus making new ones.”

“Love is hard music.”

GM: “So she just ended it,” says the woman.

She looks as if that thought isn’t new.

“When did you stop thinking she was a scumbag for cheating on you?”

Louis: Lou laughs sardonically, but not without a gleam of sincere, if self-effacing, mirth. “Which time?”

His smile, though, fades as he replies, “One time, maybe the hardest time was when I thought she was happy. Happy with me, happy with us. I didn’t see that one coming. Hit me like a sock full of ball bearings, or like a .45 to the heart, that one. As you can imagine, drinking didn’t help clear my heart or head any sooner. Me burning down our house was more sobering. Especially since it had the rest of my booze.”

GM: “Huh,” says the woman.

She looks Lou up and down.

“You don’t look like a guy crazy enough to pull that kinda shit.”

“Can see why she cheated and left, if that came during a good spell. No offense.”

Louis: “No offense taken, miss. We all live in glass houses, just as we all got stones we shouldn’t throw.” He doesn’t quite sigh as he adds, “And to be fair, I was a younger man back then. Not necessarily better or worse. But younger.”

GM: “Guess nobody’s got a monopoly on crazy shit, but young guys do it more,” says the woman.

“There’s a reason you see so many girls with older guys, and not young guys with older women.”

“I dated so many guys my age who were just… immature. Maniacs. Got shit to prove. Unstable. You know?”

Louis: Lou nods knowingly. “Six ways to Sunday, miss, I know.”

He grunts as he shifts his weight to vainly ameliorate a stab of sciatica.

“What about your man in the pen? Lotta guys get sent to the Farm for stuff I swear they’d never even think of doing if they had arthritis.”

It’s a weak smile, but it’s a kind one all the same.

GM: The woman laughs.

It’s more a bitter sound than a weak one.

“He got in a fight. He had a gun. Dropped it, it went off, stay bullet killed the other guy. Lawyer said he shoulda gotten manslaughter, but ’cuz this is Louisiana, he got second degree murder.”

“Even though he wasn’t trying to kill nobody.”

Louis: Lou cannot help but file through his mental rolodex to see if he knows about the case. It’s a familiar one, hauntingly so, but not a personal one.

“Law is too often a piss-poor substitute for justice. I wish to God it wasn’t.”

GM: “Whole thing is just complete bullshit,” the woman says hollowly.

“What does this do, except fuck up more lives.”

Louis: The woman’s words, combined with her pain and the fast-approaching environs, conjure up another ghost and dark memories: Big Mon and his unjust incarceration. Not that such thoughts have ever been more than a breath’s distance from his heavy heart.

“Sadly, nothing that justifies the horrific costs to the men unjustly locked inside, nor to the loved ones they’re forced to leave behind.”

“I assume your friend’s tried to appeal?”

GM: “He’s serving life without parole,” says the woman. “Which is more bullshit. And yeah. We been appealing. So far no luck. Public defender barely got time for his case. I think they give the appeals even less time. Thought about gettin’ a private lawyer, but who the fuck knows if that’d work and we’re broke and him obviously losin’ his job has fucked up everything. He wants me to get the lawyer, says if I really love him I’ll spend the money, and that I’m selfish ‘cuz I haven’t. And he’s right, ‘cuz I’m cheating on him, and I barely visit anymore anyways, and we fight all the time and he always asks first about canteen money and sometimes I think he just sees me as a fuckin’ bank account, and then he says I don’t got no idea what it’s like in there and he could die without the money-”

The woman breaks off with a sniff to furiously wipe her eyes.

Louis: In a former age, or at least half-life, he would have a handkerchief to readily offer the young woman, whom no doubt would readily accept. Technically, the old man still has one, but the modern age is a more sanitary, albeit less trusting, time, such that few would accept such an anachronistic offer, particularly from a stranger.

But the old man offers all the same.

And he offers a little more too, though he’s no more sure of its acceptance either.

A name.

“Reffett.”

He coughs it up like a widow’s mite clunking into the alms-plate. It’s not much, but it’s what he has.

“Reffett,” he repeats. “Dustin Reffett. He’s a lawyer in New Orleans. I knew his father. Big shot criminal defense attorney, got someone released from Angola a ways back. His dad is long gone, but his son is cut from the same cloth, I’ve heard. Good lawyer. Even better when the stakes are high. Normally, his services would cost you an arm—”

He looks down sheepishly at his amputed arm, then continues, “but he does pro bono work. They all do, or have to, per law, but I think he’s likely to take the case. Like his old man, he’s got an itch for cases where futures are on the line. ‘Life without parole’ for what should be manslaughter versus second degree murder? That sounds right up his alley. Maybe mention how his old man got the cop Broussard out of Angola, and that’s what made you look him up. And bad as it sounds, if your ex-flame is being squeezed for canteen money or worse, that ups the stakes—and likely makes the case all the more tempting for Reffett.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll take the case, or if he does that he’ll win. But whether he does or doesn’t, you still get to decide if you want to make music with your ex-fiance.”

GM: The woman listens silently to Lou. Is there hope in her eyes? It looks almost foreign on her forlorn and embittered face.

“Pro bono,” she repeats, as if to make sure she heard him right.

“Okay, well.”

“Why not, right?”

“Miss any shot you don’t take.”

“Can I say you sent me? What’s your name?”

“I’m Brenda.”

She looks at the handkerchief and waves it off with, “I’m good.”

Some gestures may stay in another era.

Louis: But not all names.

“Enrique,” the old man offers.

It’s not his real name, but neither is Louis Fontaine. And for all his compassion to this woman, the worm still squirms. Too many ears. Too many eyes. Too many lies.

“My name’s not worth much, but hopefully Dustin Reffett’s is.”

To punctuate the point, he undoes his bag—as his briefcase has been left back at Mariángel’s place—and rips off a corner from a stenopad, writing down the attorney’s name and a few notes with some hopefully relevant context.

GM: “Yeah,” says Brenda.

She takes the note and looks it over, then looks back up to Lou.

“I dunno if things are gonna work out with us. Even if he gets out. Just… so much shit between us now. Things just… things’ve happened. But I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

“Tell me that makes me a not shitty person.”

Louis: This time, there’s no hesitation in his answer, nor any shadow of equivocation.

“It doesn’t.”

GM: “Even though I’m a cheater?”

Louis: The old man points at himself and then vaguely at the rest of the bus’ occupants.

“Glass houses, miss. Who am I or are any of us to throw stones?”

“But if you’re asking me if you are a bad person because you’re not sure you want to live the rest of your life hooked up with your old fiance, prison or no prison? No, that’s just being a person with a living, beating heart.”

“As for the cheating, I’m no priest. But the scriptures teach us what the Great High Priest did when confronted with a woman caught in adultery. He didn’t throw a stone, either, though he was the only one without sin. He also didn’t say cheating wasn’t a sin. Instead, he said to her, once all her accusers had left, ‘Neither do I condemn thee. Go your way, and sin no more.’”

GM: The bus’ other occupants look little happier than Brenda does.

No one who cares enough to visit someone in prison is happy the person they’re visiting is behind bars.

Well, probably. Lou helped put the people he’s visiting behind bars.

But Lebeaux said he wasn’t happy for either brother to be in prison. “Just happy they’re not pushing more drugs on the streets and ruining more lives.”

“So he just said to her… yeah, you should probably stop, but I ain’t gonna shame you or pelt you with rocks for it?” asks Brenda.

Louis: “Pretty much,” the old man says with a smile that surprises his own face.

“Not sure about the ‘probably’ part.”

GM: “Yeah, guess he’s pretty sure about that,” says Brenda. The smile she returns is a little weak, but it’s there, for the first time Lou has yet seen on her face.

It’s a smile that looks out of place on the prison-bound bus.

“A’ight. Well. Thanks, Enrique. For the lawyer and… everything else.”

Louis: The old man tips the brim of his knockoff Pelicans cap.

“Same to you, Brenda.”

Inside the old man’s mind, he hears the distant echoes of a much, much younger voice, one that belonged to a boy saying St. Francis’ prayer under the watchful tutelage of a certain Capuchin friar.

I’m trying, Fray Antonio. I’m still failing. But I’m still trying.


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