“I’d tell you I was sorry, but I tell enough lies.”
Saturday evening, 12 September 2015
GM: Yvonne LaFleur’s is a women’s clothing boutique that sells “blue jeans to wedding dresses”, plus hats. It’s located only several blocks away from Cooter Brown’s and Caroline’s violent bathroom liaison with her trucker boyfriend, but it’s the sort of establishment the Ventrue would have shopped at in her all-too distant mortal life. Autumn tries to have fun looking the hats over, though she looks like she’s only browsing. The prices are a bit expensive for a typical college student budget.
Caroline follows Lou’s instructions and takes several outfits to the fourth changing room on the left. She finds a set of clothes already lying on the bench: a pair of tan shorts and light blue t-shirt that reads “this t-shirt was designed & printed by Skip N’ Whistle 8123 Oak Street” on the inside. She also finds a day planner, seemingly discarded by the same neglectful soul to leave behind the clothes.
In couched and veiled terms scattered over the pages alongside such mundane details as “dental appointment— 2 PM,” however, the planner informs Caroline (after she’s spent several minutes deciphering it) to put on the clothes, have Autumn wear the clothes she wore into the store, send the ghoul to the Maple Leaf music club on Oak Street, and then leave the store several minutes after Autumn to meet at their predetermined spot.
Caroline: If looks could kill, the disgust on Caroline’s face at her dictated attire might rival Darfor in human suffering.
All the same, she draws the ghoul into the room and sends her packing in her own clothing.
GM: Autumn seems to find the instructions a bit odd, but does as her domitor directs and changes clothes. Caroline is nearly half a head taller than her and it makes for a loose, awkward fit on the ghoul.
“Ah… so do you want me to just leave these here? I’m on a bit of a budget,” Autumn says, looking towards her old clothes.
“No, dumb question. I’ll just carry them out in a bag,” she adds after a moment.
“You, ah… don’t look that bad,” she states in response to Caroline’s murderous look.
Looking bad is one thing. Feeling bad is another. Lou didn’t leave any shoes for Caroline, so she has to trade with Autumn. The ghoul’s sneakers are several sizes smaller than what the Ventrue normally wears, and it takes several moments of frustrated cramming just to get them on. They sorely pinch her feet and even complement the rest of her casual outfit—something the Ventrue may find good, bad, or both.
Caroline: Caroline sends her ghoul away and waits, uncomfortably burning away the night. When a suitable period has passed she sets of for the rendezvous.
Louis: An old man follows. He clings to the shadows—and the shadows seem to preternaturally cling to him. His soft gumshoes fall silently on sidewalk, a veritable ghost amongst the public, a figment that slides off their collective subconscious.
Though unseen, the old man sees much. He ensures that neither woman nor himself is followed. But the night has many eyes, and the worm sleeps shallowly. As Caroline enters the Bower’s posh entrance beneath its soaring, spiraling live oaks, Lou pauses for a moment to breathe in the sticky, nocturnal air. He gazes up at the city-shrouded stars and black firmament. But they have no answers for him. Just a disquieting stare.
The old man recognizes it easily. It’s a feeling and a taste, and it’s black, and it’s very heavy. It comes down over his head, and wraps tentacles around him, and sinks long dirty fingernails into his heart. Doom or not, he’s come too far. He sighs, slips out his softwood cross and kisses it gently.
Padre, forgive me.
With that prodigal benediction, he follows the girl. Into the Bower and whatever doom will follow in its wake.
GM: Inside, the Bower’s unfinished cement floor, huge marble-topped bar, and towering ceilings ensure a similarly cool sanctuary from the sultry Louisiana weather. A stage hosts local musical talents, including live jazz, acoustic folk, and R&B performances, a mélange that allegedly provides an "atmosphere that is always cosmopolitan but never pretentious.”
Caroline: Caroline orders a drink, something ordinary, and settles down to wait the old man out.
GM: Caroline receives one of the bar’s signature cocktails: a Jean Lafitte, which is made with anis, gin, triple sec, sugar, and powdered egg white. Some bitters and blackberries provide a finishing garnish.
Louis: Lou slips in like an errant breeze, ignored by the rich, well-heeled clientèle. He pilfers an unused chair and slides it up to Caroline’s reserved table. He swings his gator-skinned briefcase between his feet, but he keeps his wrinkled trench on. He removes his hat, plopping it on the table. He lightly touches her hand, as delicately as a moth landing on fire. The touch, however, causes his private Masquerade to melt away, at least for Caroline.
“Evening, Ms. Malveaux,” he says as he suddenly slides into focus for her.
Caroline: Caroline snaps her head in the direction of the gumshoe’s sudden appearance, an instant of fight or flight.
Louis: “I’ll take one of the same,” he adds, “and an order of fries.”
He coughs and runs a shovel-wide hand through his dishwater hair.
GM: The server ignores Lou’s order entirely.
Louis: Lou’s ‘order’, however, isn’t to any waiter, but to Caroline.
“They can’t see me,” he explains. “Or more accurately, they sense me, but don’t perceive me right now. Wundt called it a problem of apperception.”
He dusts off his coat and winces, touching a dark stain on his shirt.
“You order the food, I’ll eat it, and the world will keep convincing itself your kind don’t run its streets.”
Caroline: After a moment though she slides her eyes between the invisible man and the waitress as he explains, then smiles at the woman and doubles the order, asking with an order of fries. When she’s departed Caroline carefully doesn’t look at him.
“Very cloak and dagger. One might think you were afraid of something.”
Louis: Lou grunts. “The only fearless men I know are dead ones. And dead ones don’t collect paychecks.”
He then finally forces himself to look at her. Her pallid, bone-china skin. The stillness of her breasts as she fails to breathe. Her blood-red lips and supple points of her dead-cold smile. Blonde as hell.
Caroline: The stillness is relative. Through reflex, habit, or intention, the young fledgling does not seem to have mastered the art of stillness so common in older Kindred.
“If all you’re interested in is a paycheck, I’m sure an invisible man could find an easier means of keeping the lights on.” She then amends, “Or at least a method.”
Louis: “Maybe I’m not into easy,” Lou grunts.
Caroline: Her eyes are empty, so empty. Tired. World-weary. Days have added years to her posture, to the fire inside her. Caroline isn’t quite defeated, but robbed is the swagger of those first meetings. Then there’s the way she sits, on the edge of her seat. Back straight. The very faint smell the ancient ghoul knows too well that hangs around her tells him all he needs know of her physical state, even before the observant investigator notes the thin wounds that cross her arms in places. They remind him of an older time, the bite of a whip on as seen on the victims of the Klan… or at least the few survivors.
Louis: The old man slips his gaze to the Bower’s breathing clientèle and then back to his own ‘client’.
“How bad you jonesing. I mean, how ba…”
He stops upon taking note of her injuries. Looking at her hurts his eyes, his heart, his soul, made him miss those details till now. His jaw mashes shut.
He doesn’t so much speak as exhale the curse through his nostrils.
Caroline: She stares back at him for a moment, but her eyes cut away. Guilt.
Louis: “They say that dead men are heavier than broken hearts. As a man accustomed to carrying both, I beg to disagree.”
“Poison, you said. It never stops. It always wants, and it’s only harder like this,” she grants softly.
Louis: Lou hangs his head. Truth is a terrible burden.
“I’m sorry… I tried to warn you…”
“I wish…” He looks up. “I wish there was a way to fight against it and win. But there isn’t. I’ve searched. I’ve seen. All I know how is the way to lose more slowly.”
Caroline: “What can we do?” she asks softly, rhetorically. “We play the hands we are dealt.”
“I thought about it, you know.” She wraps her hands around her glass. “The easy way out.”
Louis: Lou remains quiet, save for the pained beating of his centuries-old heart.
Caroline: “Maybe that’s why I was so reckless.” She smiles sadly, grimly. “But that option is off the table. I think Father Malveaux knew, or at least suspected.”
Louis: Lou’s eyes are like they were back at the hotel-room, quiet like two pools of dark water, still enough to reflect Caroline’s anguish. But deep too. Maybe not deep enough to cover her hurt, but at least enough to wash it.
Caroline: The moment hangs in the air between them long enough for the greasy food to arrive.
“Tell me you have something on the bastard that did this to me,” she asks.
Louis: Lou’s eyes don’t leave hers as he picks up the Jean Lafitte and downs the cocktail in on go. He lets the liquor slam into his blood like a car-crash. It probably would be too much to say that he feels the darkness lift at the alcohol’s touch, like a woman’s fingertips against his lips. But the darkness shivers, and light bleeds in among the cracks.
“I do,” he says, almost with the gravity of a matrimonial vow. He’s quiet though for a while, as if letting the cocktail soak his brain before diving in, full-bore. He takes out his briefcase.
“But first, some bloody paperwork.”
He pops open the briefcase, its contents angled so to remain hidden from Caroline’s view. There’s a shuffle of paper, then a snap as Lou closes the lid and returns it beneath the table. In its place, there’s a stack of paper.
“Contract,” he says, sliding the typewriter-crafted document to the heartbreakingly beautiful, undead abomination beside him.
“We need to establish why we’re meeting. For them,” he says, jerking his neck vaguely at the mortal diners. “Cover story is you asked me to help find the guy who attacked you.”
Caroline: She breaks her gaze from him to examine the document.
“Not much of a stretch.”
Louis: “And believe it or not, I pay taxes, so I actually have to document my work. Maybe more importantly, it legally establishes you as my client—and therefore gives you client confidentiality.” He motions to the document, which has a coffee-stained corner. “Let me know what you think.”
Lou then digs into the french fries.
Caroline: She spends a minute digging through the document while he eats.
Louis: Lou tries not to moan as he devours the deliciously crispy, fresh cut fries adorned with curled, wispy shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and roasted garlic butter. Although immune to coronary heart disease, the old ghoul may still have a heart attack from the sudden pairing of high-class food and booze.
GM: The fries are delicious, though not a full meal in of themselves. All around him, Lou can see patrons happily consuming even more of the restaurant’s high-class fare. He can smell the succulent odor of slow-roasted meat dishes. His trained investigator’s eye makes out the juices dribbling over their plates. Nor does his sharp eye fail to make out the menu’s written descriptions over the diners’ fare:
Chicken Caesar Salad
Grilled Chicken, Hearts of Romaine, Focaccia Croutons,
Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, Creamy Garlic-Cracked Pepper Dressing
Hand Cut Turkey Club Sandwich
Sliced Tomato, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado,
Butter Pickle, Basil Pesto Aioli, Bacon Cheddar Bread
Served with Market Fresh Fruit Salad
Caroline: Caroline unconsciously wrinkles her nose at the display.
Louis: Lou wipes his mouth and fingers on a cloth napkin, then points to Caroline’s untouched cocktail. “You mind, seeing as…?”
Caroline: “Better as a chaser on our meeting I think, don’t you?” she asks in return. She slides the drink away from him with one pale hand.
Louis: Lou laughs a bit. “Two tweensy cocktails aren’t going to wax my shine. Besides, a lady all alone with a glass she doesn’t drink? Smells fishy and draws all sorts of the wrong attention. But speaking of whiffs, you catch anything squirrelly with the contract?”
Caroline: The vampire he cannot also help but notice is studiously avoiding looking at the array of food.
“Best then we get to business,” she offers with a smile that doesn’t reach her haunted eyes.
“To answer your question, though, I don’t know that I’d know what to look for.”
If the smells and sights of food bother her in truth though, he cannot tell. She seems numb, deadened to it, or perhaps distracted by the subject at hand.
Louis: Lou’s old watery eyes regard Caroline for a moment before he says, “I once knew this rat-faced weasel down in the Quarter who did cook-booking and legal scut-work for the greaseballs, the old but not so good Jimmy Balbalosa. I remember a client of his once said that he didn’t count money and didn’t read the fine print because life is short and it’s easier to trust people, to which Jimmy replied, ‘Around here a set of morals won’t cause any more stir than Mother’s Day in an orphanage. Maybe that’s not good, but that’s the way it is. And it wouldn’t do any good to build a church down here, because some guy would muscle in and start cutting the wine with wood alcohol. All you can do is try to make the books balance, and the easiest way to do that is to keep one hand on your billfold and the other hand on somebody else’s’.”
“Then again, Jimmy died with a bullet to the back of his head, through his temple, and in his mouth,” Lou adds. “But I appreciate your trust—even if trust in the Big Sleazy is like hand-me-down toilet paper. But speaking of covering one’s rear…” he says, signing the legal contract with a pen of his own.
Caroline: “Is it trust?” she asks lightly.
Louis: Lou shrugs. “It all flushes.”
Caroline: “My father once explained to a would-be donor, a man in desperate need of a government contract to keep his business afloat, the nature of things. When the man asked how he knew this donation would influence him, my father said that at some point, at the end of the game, you had to play the card you have left in your hand one way or another. At that point, whether it works out or not is nothing you can control.”
“So is it trust? Faith? Or something uglier?”
Louis: Lou snorts in painful understanding. “You can’t pass the dice when you only got a buck left.”
He then waits for her to sign, so he can collect his own copy for filling purposes.
Caroline: She scrawls her name across the page without taking her eyes off the gumshoe.
“So tell me, old man, how did the dice come up on this one?”
Louis: “Between boxcars and snake-eyes, but it’s too soon to know for whom they fall.” He takes a signed copy and slips it into his briefcase. “The stakes, though, are all-too known.”
GM: It’s a simple signature, but one of the few ways she’s still alive, Caroline can’t help recall. Gabriel Hurst, legally dead in 1957 with a full funeral. Her sire, killed in action in Cuba, 1898. Philip Maldonato, dead long enough to be a historical artifact. And Jocelyn Baker, dead only a handful of years, but still long enough to tell her:
You should probably fake your death.
Caroline: Her eyes bore into him. “Yes. I think they are. It wasn’t my choice, you know, to bring them into this.”
Louis: Lou tries to ignore the dark train of thoughts and tries to switch mental tracks.
“But speaking of stakes… I’ll take the rare hanger bruschetta with hunks of bleu cheese and a tangy, sweet red onion marmalade.” He then adds only slightly more meaningfully, “Do you have access to the Quarter?”
Caroline: A flash of teeth, first at his order, then again at his question. “I think you know the damned answer to that.” Teeth, but her reaction doesn’t reach those eyes. She’s not surprised.
Louis: Lou considers whether he’s rubbing it her face. It doesn’t take him long to come up with the answer—though the question of why makes him ponder a bit longer. Was it because she has the body of a Rolls and the heart of a hungry gator?
Or was it because some nights you wake up and can’t trust yourself with a razor? And you start cutting up the world to keep from slicing your own throat. A phantom pain twinges in his missing hand.
Lou looks up. “If we’re going to start talking, I’m going to need that steak. Also, I better have another drink. There’s an ugly taste in my mouth. I think it’s saliva. I think the Stormy Weather is a fitting choice.”
Caroline: The teeth fade behind a sigh. She slides down her current drink in his direction and directs her gaze away at last, seeking to meet the eyes of a server to take the order.
GM: Seeing Caroline’s first Jean Lafitte is also finished, a dark-haired, slightly post-college age waitress arrives to take the empty glass and Caroline’s order. She does not spare Lou so much as a glance as she asks the Ventrue with a smile, “You ready to order now, ma’am?”
Caroline: The Ventrue heiress puts on her best fake smile. “Yes.”
Her eyes slip back to Lou for an instant as she speaks, mirroring Lou’s order to her. There’s a viciousness to them, a simmering cold anger. Even her speech is different. Clipped, sharp, like a knife. Imperious. It’s an exercise in power. Her power over something, even if it is so trivial as the waitress.
Louis: Lou regards the blonde as hell blue blood. Her mein triggers an old memory of something stirring in the antic’s crawlspace. Once again, he scolds himself, You’ve got the instinct for recognizing trouble, but not the god-damned sense to duck it.
GM: The waitress smiles all the more widely as she takes Caroline’s order. The Ventrue is reminded of a book on body language and power dynamics that her father recommended she read. The book said that smiling is an act of submission, of trying to look harmless. She can’t recall Wright ever smiling around her.
The waitress, meanwhile, jots down the order and quickly informs her it’ll be coming right up.
Caroline: The smile fades as the girl leaves, replaced with emptiness.
Louis: Lou’s pitiful but far from pitiless heart lurches. Looking her over, he knows she’s been used badly. Like a dictionary in a stupid family.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re blonde enough to make a bishop kick a hole in stained glass?”
Caroline: “I’m not sure how I should take that from you.”
Louis: Lou rubs the back of his neck, then holds up his meaty hand with his rough-worn fingers splayed.
“The deadbeat daddy of yours who isn’t paying child support has been frequenting five hot spots.”
Caroline: And just like that, there it is, a spark of life on a dead face.
Louis: Lou cringes as he feels like he’s about to snuff out that spark like a cigarette. “All five are in the Quarter.”
“Well, four out of the five,” he says, correcting himself. He wiggles his lonesome thumb, so close to the other fingers but alone.
Caroline: Her jaw clenches, grinding shut and teeth like a pair of pliers.
Louis: “He was at the Orpheum, where he presented himself to Seneschal Maldonato.” Lou stops. “I’m assuming you’ve met him.”
Caroline: “When.” The word is cold, low.
Louis: Lou answers as best he knows.
“But he didn’t waste much time before he went to Antoine’s and presented himself to the rival of your grandpa’s boss. Since then, he’s been burning nightlight at Jackson Square, the Dungeon, and Chakras.”
Caroline: “Grandpa’s boss?”
Louis: Lou sucks on his lips. He swallows down the rest of her Jean Lafitte.
“Yeah, so your poison-daddy, his own poison-daddy was Robert Bastien. Sheriff to the prince before Donovan took his place. And your poison-daddy used to work as a hound under him. But when your gramps took the last mid-day trolley, René bounced. Some say he was a real contender to take over his old man’s job. But I don’t know if he was passed over or turned it down himself.”
Caroline: “I see.”
She reaches for her drink for a moment before drawing her hand back. The habit betrays her uncertainty.
Louis: Lou looks down at his fingers. He sighs. He wiggles the last two.
“I don’t know what he was doing at the last two locales—but you could bet your entire inheritance at Harrah’s that it was as wholesome as the love between a rabbit and a rattlesnake.”
Caroline: “I can’t say that’s what I’d hoped to hear.”
Louis: “Poison is poison, but some are worse,” Lou says without a hint of humor.
He sucks his gums and starts looking around for ‘his’ order.
GM: The dark-haired waitress from earlier is speaking to other patrons. There are evidently a few moments yet for it to arrive.
Caroline: “You prefer belladonna, I suppose?”
Louis: Lou sighs. “It was good enough for Augustus,” he says of the famed emperor who was poisoned by a beautiful woman he trusted.
Caroline: “There are worse way to go.”
Louis: He grimaces, swallowing down his own painful agreement. “But the Setites are ugly news. They make the greaseballs look like the innocent cocktail of girl scouts and choirboys. And the lower-level clientèle of the Dungeon?” He shakes his head. “Shakespeare said ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’.”
Caroline: “Do you ever bring good news to people, Mr. Fontaine?”
Louis: Lou looks up.
“I once found somebody’s cat. They were allergic, but still seemed happy.”
Caroline: “It’s something, I suppose.”
Louis: “I never said I found it alive,” Lou says flatly.
Caroline: “You thought I was still talking about the cat?”
Louis: Lou shrugs.
GM: ’Caroline’s’ food arrives. The medium rare steaks have a crisp, lightly charred outside, and have been thoughtfully pre-cut into strips that show off the tender, so-juicy-it’s-wet slightly pinkish inside. The meat’s grease still lightly sizzles underneath its thickly slathered coating of sweet red onion marmalade. White chunks of bleu cheese are interspersed throughout the gleaming moist onions.
“There you are, ma’am, you let me know if you need anything else,” the waitress offers with another smile that doesn’t match her eyes, still slightly nervous after Caroline’s prior clipped and imperious tone. She sets down the steaming food in front of Caroline, along with a glass of the orange-brown ginger beer and rum. A slice of lime garnishes the side.
As ever, it takes but a single whiff of the nauseous steaks for Caroline to know she won’t be able to choke them down. Yet the memory of the rich steak dinner she had at Antoine’s with her family to celebrate her high school graduation remains untouched and pristine.
Caroline: She leans away from the smell of the food, stomach rolling.
Louis: Lou licks his lips. He waits for the waitress to walk away, then snags the entrée and well-heeled booze.
“There’s more,” he says to Caroline. “I never promise that it’ll be worth it, but I always promise your money’s worth. Beyond where your deadbeat dad’s been hanging around, there’s also with whom he’s been doing it.”
Lou doesn’t immediately elaborate though as he soaks in the lime, rum, and ginger-beer and takes a few bites of the succulent steak.
GM: It’s rich, juicy, and oh-so tender. The onions and cheese only add an even more wonderful accent. Lou hasn’t eaten this good in a long, long time.
Caroline: “You think this is funny?” she snarls, her voice too loud for her solitary table. Is it grief or fury on her face?
GM: A few patrons frown Caroline’s way, their gazes unconsciously sliding off her dining ‘partner.’
Caroline: “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.” A flush of warm blood in her cheeks, under her pale skin. She’s fed recently. “Can you cut to the fucking chase, though, since you’ve already cut to the bone?”
Louis: Lou takes another bite of the steak and chews long and hard like a thought that’s best considered, but never shared.
“I don’t recall ‘whipping boy’ being in the contract, but maybe it’s in the cards. But I’m not the one responsible for all your pain. He did this to you. I’m the fool helping you find him.”
Caroline: She grits her teeth and looks away.
“Whipping boy?” she murmurs. “What do you know about whipping, Lou? Have you been scourged until your skin was hanging in ribbons?”
Louis: Lou stares at Caroline. It isn’t a hard stare, but it isn’t soft either.
“Do you need to see my scars. I could show you. But frankly, neither of us has the time.”
There’s no bravado in his voice, just a flatness that takes away the food’s pleasure.
Caroline: “No, you couldn’t. For you to do that you’d have to be exposed. Open. Vulnerable.”
Louis: Lou doesn’t immediately reply. Not with words. He swallows down the rum and ginger-beer. Fast and hard. He doesn’t like to get drunk—not this early in the night. But he might just make an exception now. It’s not every night your ass gets kicked by a blonde bombshell who’s been dead for a week.
Caroline: She nods at him. “I’d tell you I was sorry, but I tell enough lies. And are you, really?”
Louis: “Yeah. I am. I wish to god-damned I wasn’t.”
Caroline: “No, you don’t.”
Louis: He sucks his teeth, and swallows down another hangover.
Caroline: “You know too well what comes at that point, what it means. I know what you are, Mr. Fontaine. Different track, same destination. At least I’ll have company in Hell.”
Louis: Lou looks away. Looks out. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” He laughs bitterly and brokenly at the platitude. He hammers down the last sip of rum and beer like a gun shot, burning. “Maybe our tracks head to the same destination, the same end of the line. Maybe not. Maybe some trains have brakes. My first offer stands.”
Caroline: “Put an end to it all?”
Louis: “Hell’s not a summer home.” Booze greases his breath as the usually terse man elaborates. “The world is an incomprehensible place where beams happen to fall, and are predestined to fall, and are toppled over by malevolent powers; a world ruled by chance, fate and God, the malign thug. But everyday life is just as terrifying and treacherous. The dominant economic reality is depression, which usually means a frightened little guy in a rundown apartment with a hungry wife and children, no money, no job, and desperation eating him like a cancer—and those are the lucky ones. The dominant political reality is a police force made up of a few decent cops and a horde of sociopaths licensed to torture and kill, whose outrages are casually accepted by all concerned, not least by the victims. The prevailing emotional states are loneliness and fear. Events take place in darkness, menace breathes out of every corner of the night.”
“Life’s hard and ugly enough for either of our kind making it worse. You’ve probably been preying upon the dregs of society or the naive and gullible. Because they’re easy prey. Backdoor bars, alleys, backseat of cars, or maybe the basement of your posh place. Things probably got sloppy, once or twice. Or maybe just really close to it.”
He waves a prosthetic hook at the table.
“But other people have been paying that tab. I just want to stop the hemorrhaging. One way or another, I want to help. God, I wish I didn’t. But I do. And maybe that’s my Hell.”
Caroline: Caroline seems on the verge of speaking, but whatever she was going to say drifts away. Instead her eyes harden. “Then tell me who he’s been with.”
Louis: Lou sighs and takes another bite, the joy of eating robbed and his liquor spent.
“Beyond the ones I already mentioned, there’s the gypsy that goes by Yellow Sidra. She’s got a monkey.”
He takes another bite of his food, without looking up. “But she’s small-time. At least compared to Mother Iyazebel.”
Caroline: “You say those names like they should mean something to me.”
Louis: “You want me to play trolley tour-guide to Hell, I can. But I need to see your ticket.” Lou sighs and sets down his knife and fork. “Three drops. And two stipulations. That’s the fare.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns, confusion spreading across her face. “Drops?”
Louis: Lou dips his hook into the rare steak’s leftover juices and lets three drops plink against the white platter. He looks meaningfully at Caroline. It’s a needful look.
Caroline: “And stipulations?”
Louis: He wipes off the hook on the white cloth napkin and unfolds it with equal meaning, if not need, in Caroline’s direction.
“You let me help. So less people have to suffer. As I said, there’s no way to win, but I can at least show you how to lose more slowly. Or make it so that innocent people aren’t paying your or his tab.”
Caroline: “And the second?”
Louis: Lou touches the felt brim of his hat. “You tell me why. Why you would choose to keep, not living, but being. And what you plan to do after René is hauled in to pay his child support. I’m willing to play trolley guide, but I need to know why it ever bothers to leave the station and where it ends.”
Caroline: “And what exactly does your help involve, Mr. Fontaine? What difference will it make in all of this?”
Louis: Lou sighs. “Well, beyond denying me parole, I would hope that the poison hasn’t yet dug its claws in so deep that you still care about the suffering your condition might cause, to others at least. But putting aside all that,” he adds, “there’s access to the Vieux Carré. Which you need. Also, despite what my armpits might say otherwise, I can provide more subtle aid than your Jewish girl.”
Caroline: “What makes you think she’s mine?” Caroline asks.
Louis: “She’s young, callow, and ultimately still works for the Krewe even if everyone thinks she works for you.” Lou sets an arm on the table and leans forward. “Caroline. Remember your crack about having company in Hell? Here’s a tip that’s got lagniappe written all over it. Your kind are terrible gossipers. I think some of you are addicted to it as much as blood.”
Caroline: “You think I don’t realize that she’s got ulterior motives? So do you, and I don’t know where they start or end.”
Louis: Lou doesn’t argue the point. “As I said, trust and used toilet paper. All around the situation is shitty. You need help. All those people you are otherwise going to turn into drive-by strawberry daiquiris need help. René deserves to be brought to justice for what he did to you. I can help.”
Caroline: “For the low price of my blood. And your answers.”
Louis: “Man can’t live by bread alone.” Lou tries to say it with a smile, but the expression never reaches his lips, much less eyes.
Caroline: “Where is the train going…” She pauses. “Stability. If you know about Autumn, you know about Aimee.”
Louis: Lou considers lying, bluffing to pad his cards. But he has enough. Discarding the Jack of Truth seems a poor way to foster truth in a social dance that makes Russian roulette look like kiddie marbles. He shakes his head.
“Her name doesn’t ring a bell. But stability? So you level off Hell’s seesaw. To what end?”
Caroline: “I don’t know,” she admits. “Everything I’d wanted, everything I’d dreamed of, is gone. So what now? I don’t know, but I know that if I let this drag me under I’m dragging other souls with me.”
Louis: Lou regards Caroline. “Are you speaking like revenge against the bastards who did this to you… or like the Sanctified wolves of Heaven doctrine?”
Caroline: “I’m speaking like I’ve dragged everyone I love into this mess, and if I drown in it the prince isn’t going to let me drown alone.” She meets his eyes. “Is that clear enough?”
Louis: Lou stabs into a lingering piece of now-cool steak. Its juices drip down his fork. “Abundantly.”
GM: The dark-haired waitress approaches, glancing towards the plate Caroline has seemingly pushed away. “If you’re all done with that, ma’am, can I get you a wine and dessert menu or just the check?”
Louis: Lou raises a brow as if to ask, ‘Are we done?’
GM: Lou tells Caroline to say ‘yes’ to the dessert menu, as he still has several final matters to discuss with her. It’ll look less suspicious if she’s eating dessert than just lingering by herself, after all. The old man scans the menu after their server returns with one, then finally settles on chocolate peanut butter pie with a groused, “I like a good pecan.”
Unknown to most American citizens, the gumshoe states to Caroline after their waitress leaves, blood from blood banks is a major commodity. It’s traded, shipped, and bought just like stocks and other lucrative commodities. It’s also a completely unregulated industry. Caroline has the legal and financial acumen and allies to dip her hand into that pie. Set up a blood bank or buy one out, or better yet, simply buy from the couriers that trade and ship them between hospitals. If asked why he’s bringing this up, Lou answers that beyond simply hoping Caroline cares about minimizing the suffering her state causes, it’s an absolute condition if she wants his help. Not feeding from a blood bank, necessarily, but feeding without hurting people. People like the man he found (actually, didn’t find) dead in her hotel room.
By that same token, Lou doesn’t insist on (or even want) payment in vitae right now. Not until Caroline’s started a new ‘dietary regimen’ and he knows where his fix is coming from.
Caroline: Caroline tries not to squirm over the direction of the too-perceptive PI, but has matters of her own to address. She brings up the information he’s given her. “I can’t keep this to myself, and they’re going to want to know where I got the information.”
GM: Lou doesn’t seem happy about it either, even if she did hire him on Father Malveaux’s recommendation. Still, none of the information he’s told her is actually secret. Rocco and Wright assuredly know that René used to be a hound, as does any Kindred who was undead 100 years ago.
“Pin it on your Jewish girl. It was her job to snoop. Still is.”
In fact, Lou reflects, that makes a great deal of sense. The Krewe was likely keeping (and is likely continuing to keep) tabs on Caroline and her sire. Autumn was the ghoul assigned to monitor the former. Lou scoffs if Caroline tells him that Autumn professed ignorance when asked if she knew whether the Krewe was investigating René.
“Could’ve wiped it from her mind. How long was that mask-wearing peacock alone with her before she got turned over to you?”
Lou lets the question hang between a mouthful of the crunchy, peanut-dotted pie.
“Of course, if your handler knows that, there are ways for your kind to dreg up erased memories.” The gumshoe sets his fork down as he seems to swallow more than just his dessert. “If they don’t mind cracking a few eggs.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “They’re not going to buy her as the source. At least, I wouldn’t. On the other hand… how much are they going to care?”
GM: The paranoid old man just grunts. If she doesn’t want to pin it on Autumn, she could tell the truth—some of it. That she’s hired outside help. He isn’t the only independent ghoul who’ll do favors for a fix.
Still, Lou doesn’t relent on his earlier point. He’s got more information on René, he adds, including a potential lead to the man himself. It’s Caroline’s, if he knows she’s going to feed responsibly. He doesn’t ask for her word.
“There’s more things I can do for you after we’re done here. And won’t do for another blood-stealing leech. Though I’m still hoping, naively or not, that concern for human lives and not just catching your deadbeat poison-daddy is enough motive to care about how you feed.”
Caroline: “I don’t want to hurt anyone,” Caroline all but growls under her breath. “But it’s not that simple. I wish it was.”
GM: Lou begs to differ. She can pay to feed from willing donors at no risk to their lives, or she can choose not to. There’ll be other times, of course, when Caroline loses control. It’s inevitable. That’s simply the Poison at work—for which Lou has already proposed his own remedy. It remains up to her, however, where she chooses to hunt on a night-to-night basis.
Caroline: “You know better than I do about my dietary restrictions.”
GM: The gumshoe shakes his head. The only specific victim of hers he knows about is Orson’s man, and not even that much about him. But he knows enough, he adds, that her clan can subsist on other blood. It’s just less pleasurable for them.
Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue and refuses to meet his eyes.
GM: “Of course, if having blood on your hands is an acceptable price for a better meal, you wouldn’t be the first of your kind to feel that way.” Lou’s tone is flat. It’s not a twist of the knife. Just a simple statement of fact. Her kind are monsters.
And she might choose to be one too.
Caroline: Faith, poison, humanity, and need war in Caroline’s soul. What he’s asking is only that she swear off the most barbaric part of her new nature, that she take efforts to prevent needless injury and death as demanded by her need for blood. If he’d asked her a week ago she’d have complied without a thought, gratefully in agreement that it was the most basic of steps she could take to mitigate the harm she caused. But it’s not so simple.
Laying aside the logistics of it, laying aside the cost, laying aside the demands of her dark Kindred ancestor, and laying aside the expectations of his dark faith, her own growingly dark faith… hunting was the only time she felt close to alive. It was the only time she was in control. She needs his help to find her sire, and she needs her sire to avoid the Final Death… but she needs to hunt to keep her sanity. Or perhaps what’s left of it. What does it say for his warning that she’s already so reluctant to turn from the darker parts of the Beast’s nature? Does it even matter if she’s already so damned?
She lapses into silence as he forces her to confront an ugly truth. She can claim she’s continuing this wretched existence to protect Aimee, to protect treacherous Autumn, to shield her family in the future… but whether or not that’s true, she’s unwilling to be a martyr in truth. She’s suffered pain and humiliation, but she’s unwilling to suffer deprivation. She’s never gone without… and she’s still not willing to.
“No,” she answers at last to his demand. Her face stings with shame as she admits it, and she wants to vomit in disgust. Silence reigns as she bows her head.
“I hate you.”
Damn him for making her admit it to herself.
“You make it sound so black and white, so simple. But what the hell do you know about it?”
GM: Lou’s watery brown, bourbon-hued eyes meet Caroline’s. The old man has looked tired for as long as the Ventrue has known him. Tired, washed-up, world-weary, embittered, jaded, and a host of other adjectives. Somehow, though, he’s always seemed to go on. As if there were nothing the world could do to hurt him worse than he’s already been hurt. Disappoint him more than he’s already been disappointed.
And yet, somehow, the old man seems to sag just a little bit more at Caroline’s declaration.
“I know enough not to be surprised.”
Lou sets down his fork. “I know it’s what all of your kind choose eventually.” He pushes aside what’s left of the pie. “First time I’ve ever asked one of you about it so point-blank, though. Maybe I was hoping that would make you really see. Maybe I was hoping it’d take you longer than it usually does.”
Caroline: Caroline’s face burns with shame, with recrimination, but she makes no move to stop him, correct him, or interrupt him.
GM: “Or maybe,” the old man finishes slowly, “I should have just known better.”
He gets up from his seat. “Thanks for dinner, Ms. Malveaux.”
Caroline: “Go then, it’s what you wanted anyway. All of the condemnation and none of the care, and a highway to Hell.”
GM: Lou just shakes his head. “No. It’s not.”
Caroline: “Bullshit!” The loud word cuts through the open air and the crowd.
She looks around as heads turn and rips a neat hundred dollar bill out from her bag to set on the table as she rises. “We can lie to ourselves, but let’s not lie to each other. You knew what I was before I did, and what you wanted out of me wasn’t some vegan diet.” She puts on a touch of majesty as whispers begin around them, as stares linger too long. Just another woman yelling into thin air, nothing to see here.
GM: Murmurs sound around Caroline. She’s not sure how Lou’s… whatever he’s doing interacts with the crowd, but not all of the stares seem to be falling on him. The gumshoe just looks at Caroline morosely.
Louis: The old private eye places his felt-fedora upon his head with all the tired weight of worn-out sandpaper. “Well,” he says, sucking his booze-lit gums, “this worked out as well as a crossword cut in half.”
He picks up his gator-case with his hook and sighs like a deflated bike tire. “Should you reconsider, you know where to find me.” He gives the beautiful, breathless, blood-sucking abomination a long glance, perhaps almost a longing one before parting with a final admonition:
“Since you paid the tab, I’ll handle the tip: Sometimes it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and the rest of the time it’s the other way around. See you around, Ms. Malveux.”
The old man tips his felt visor and starts to shuffle off, a trench-coat knight whose gutter-gray mien sloughs off the comforting fantasies of black and white.
Caroline: Her grip on his arm is surprisingly strong as he tries to leave.
“And what about the next girl?” she asks, cuttingly. “Even if I’m so lost to you, do you think this will stop? That I’m the last to be drawn into this?”
Louis: So arrested, Lou doesn’t struggle, but nor does he turn to face his ‘client’.
“Spare me the crocodile waterworks. You can’t spout concern for the ‘next girl’ when she’s still on your midnight special menu.”
Caroline: “She might be if you leave me this way,” Caroline answers.
Louis: The old man remains still, an oil-spot on the collective conscious as he answers, “Oh, I thought your earlier reply a conversational door slam, Ms. Malveaux. Definitive.”
Caroline: Caroline has to remind herself that she needs Lou.
“It was a door slammed in the face of you dictating terms to me that you well know I can’t meet.”
Louis: Lou slides his bourbon gaze across the well-heeled patrons, then to the pale-fingered hand restraining him. “Care to sit down?”
Caroline: She looks around. “I’d rather we walked.”
Louis: Lou grunts with an acquiescing shrug. “A lady gets what she wants.”
Caroline: Caroline gathers her bag and leaves a crisp $100 bill on the table as she sets off into the dark with him.
“Only with a gentleman.”
Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM
Louis: Lou slides behind Caroline, a grimy shadow. He scans the streets, knowing that the Big Sleazy neither sleeps nor succors the careless.
GM: Lou isn’t a private eye for nothing. He feels it like an invisible pressure against the back of his neck before he even sees the source. They’re being tailed.
The man is white. Average height, average build. Brown hair, brown eyes. Clean shaven, early 30s. Nondescript. Just another face in the crowd. He looks like he’s waiting for a taxi as he fiddles on his phone.
Louis: Lou files away the man’s appearance, checking it against his time-worn mental rolodex. Meanwhile, he shuffles up to Caroline, dragging out a cigarette. “Hey,” he calls out in a nonchalant manner, “you gotta light?”
As he approaches, however, he adds in a much quieter whisper, “We’ve got a tail at seven o’clock. Don’t look, but mind your tongue.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t look, but can’t keep a scowl off her face. “You smell like cheap booze.”
Louis: Lou’s mock hurt has a thin veneer as he replies, “Heh, I was drinking good stuff tonight!”
Caroline: “I should put you through a car wash.”
Louis: Lou sniffs himself as he considers the offer.
Caroline: Under her breath she continues, “What do you want to do?”
GM: The man holds out his hand, signaling for a taxi. Both heiress and gumshoe sense it. The jig’s up. He knows they’ve spotted him.
Caroline: Caroline turns to watch at last.
GM: The cab pulls up. The man gets in.
“Take me to-”
It’s hard to make out the precise details from this far. But the look on the man’s face is rather priceless as the taxi’s doors lock closed.
“Where to?” asks the driver. But the question isn’t to the man. It’s to Lou, over his phone.
The man starts banging on the windows, his face upset.
Louis: “Might as well look now,” Lou grunts, still holding his coffin nail. “You’ve already slipped at least five glances his way already.”
Caroline: “I suppose I’m less given to deception than you,” she replies chilly.
Louis: The old man waggles his unlit cigarette impatiently in his prosthetic hook and grumbles something about the surgeon-general being a patsy of the anti-christ. Far, far less overtly, however, is the man’s rapid dialing of the cell of the cabbie—a cabbie he just happens to know and is owed a favor or two. Half-feigning a cough that doubles him over, the old man whispers an address to the cabbie. Slipping the phone away with equal subtlety, Lou straightens back up, more or less, and gives Caroline an appraising eye.
“You up for springing two cab fares to find out about our snoop?”
GM: Lou’s contact is Jacques “Jackie” Orleans, a square-jawed, stubbly-faced heterochromic ex-con from New Jersey who wears a leather jacket that smells of cigarette smoke. Relocated as part of the Witness Protection program for ratting out a mobster cellmate, the cab driver and self-proclaimed “tour guide of the Big Easy” (so long as the meter’s running) is supposed to wear a brown contact to cover his one blue eyes, but claims it itches fierce.
The cabbie gives Lou a grunt of acknowledgment as he walks up to the car. The agitated man in the passenger seat has his phone out and is shouting about calling the police if Jackie doesn’t let him go, right now. A stony glare from the grizzled detective, however, swiftly silences his objections.
If Caroline hails a second cab, Lou rides alongside her. If she does not, the preternaturally overlookable old man finds it more expedient (and cheaper) to get in on the passenger side of Jackie’s.
The cab winds down River Road. The Mississippi bends along one side of the curved, eponymous road that earns the district its nickname of “Riverbend.” This late at night, and this far from New Orleans’ downtown hub, Ol’ Muddy’s inky black waters aren’t disturbed by an uninterrupted spillage of light so much as a semi-concentrated cluster of white flecks, seemingly almost floating torches in the darkness.
Minutes tick by, and Carrollton’s low-storied, semi-urban sprawl fades away to rows of identical suburban houses.
The neighborhood, Elmwood, is a banal suburbia that seems stuck in the white flight of the ‘50s. Incomes, too, don’t seem to have increased much since Eisenhower’s presidency in the almost exclusively Caucasian neighborhood. The houses need just a little too much repair, the shopping center’s parking lot is a little too deserted, and the skinheads stalking the vandalized playgrounds just a little too angry. The Kindred have a name for places like this, too far removed from the city’s hustle and bustle and too thinly populated to be of any interest to them. The outlands.
Jackie takes a left at the Herrick’s supercenter. Bleak expanses of gray concrete asphalt and rows of cloned warehouses eventually yield to the Huey P. Long Bridge. Lou remembers the Kingfish’s slogan to “Share Our Wealth” and cannot help but wonder what Louisiana’s former governor would think of the community connected to the bridge that bears his name.
Elmwood, at least, once had hope. Bridge City does not look as if it has ever had that luxury. Where Elmwood had a high school, Lou only spots a barbed-wire, concrete-walled juvenile corrections facility with spotlights periodically flashing across the lawn. Garbage is piled in the yards of ruined, emptied houses. Gunshots occasionally echo in the distance. An unwashed-smelling black man wearing a torn hoodie thumps against the cab’s windows, chanting “got change, man! Change!” with a feral cast to his eye that Lou’s driver quickly speeds away from.
hey eventually pull into the driveway of a secluded and scarcely less sorry house. The roof sags, the grimy windows are smashed in, and black mold rots the walls. Garbage of every stripe litters the yard. Moldering cardboard boxes, raggedy clothes, grime-streaked plastic furniture, torn-up children’s toys, and assorted trash too useless or ignoble for even scavengers like Lou to want.
All things told, the place looks forgotten. As if whatever family was living there when Katrina struck simply never came back.
Lou is no stranger to such places. Bridge City has much of the Ninth Ward’s squalor, but there is a rage, a violence to the equally Katrina-devastated neighborhood that simply isn’t present here, or at least not to the same degree. Bridge City simply feels apathetic. It’s given up on the promises of a populist governor whose bridge connects it to a city that’s forgotten its existence.
Such fine distinctions of despair are lost on Caroline, however, who has never set foot within such a disreputable neighborhood. And if their prisoner’s face is any indication, he hasn’t either. The well-dressed, well-to-do Caucasian man’s face is pale with fear. As Lou approaches the cab’s passenger side, the man babbles, “What… what do you want? Money? I’ll give you money. Please. Whatever… whatever you want. Please!”
Caroline: Caroline all but turns up her nose at the run-down location and sends another text while she waits for Lou to take the lead.
Louis: The gray-haired gumshoe shuffles up to the cab-door only saddling in, all groans, bent limbs, dead cigarettes, and a rather menacing prosthetic hook that gleams in the dim light like it’s been filed. Sharply. A moment later, the same hook reaches across the seat in a swift lurch that plucks a stray hair from the other man’s coat.
“Chester,” the old man grunts. “You look like a Chester. Anyone ever tell you that? Sure did, loads, I bet.”
“So anyway, Chester, I went into this bar the other night, and all the boys are astir and yammering, right? So I go over to them and say, ’What’s the rumpus?’ My buddy, he answers, ’Chester’s gone to sit at the right hand of God, so long as God doesn’t mind looking at bullet holes’. Who shot him?’ I asked.”
GM: The man’s mouth trembles at the mention of shooting.
Louis: Lou leans in, the stink of cold, fresh booze on his breath. “And do you know what my buddy says, Chester?”
GM: “What… do you want?!” ‘Chester’ repeats, shrinking back.
Louis: Lou’s non-hook hand taps a side-holster, not missing a beat, as he continues. “My buddy, he just looks at me and says, ‘Somebody with a gun’. Now, do you think that’s funny, Chester?”
Caroline: Caroline watches the scene coldly, still dressed in the awkward garb he picked out for her. “And you say I’m a monster.”
GM: The man’s jaw works in numb silence, but it’s only for a moment. Lou can see the fear growing in his eyes. “What… do you… want!?” he repeats hysterically. He’s as pressed as far away from Lou in his seat as he can be.
Louis: Lou glances away towards Caroline and the cabbie. “I don’t think Chester liked my buddy’s joke.” He then turns back to the man. “I didn’t think it was funny, either, Chester. Not one bit. See, all I asked was a simple question. All I wanted was a simple answer, and instead I got a wise-mouth giving me sauce.”
He gives another half-stumble poke with his prosthetic. “See what I’m saying, Chester? I just have some questions, is all. And all I want are some answers.”
GM: Jackie shrugs and lights up a cigarette. “I thought it was funny. Or his face, anyways.”
“What… what do you want to know…?” the man stammers.
Caroline: Caroline glares at Jackie with a flinch. “Get rid of that.”
Louis: Lou chimes in, “Yeah, sorry, Jackie. Dame’s got the emphysema.”
GM: The heterochromiac cabbie initially scowls as if to tell Caroline to screw off, but at Lou’s request, the look turns less pissed and more resigned. “Fine. Aren’t s’posed to do it around passengers anyways.” He snubs it out.
Caroline: The tension in her shoulders doesn’t relax until the burning tobacco is snuffed out.
Louis: Lou gives an appreciative nod, muttering something about how her money spends just fine though, before turning back to pose the first of his questions to his new buddy, ‘Chester’.
GM: ‘Chester’ spins a story about who he works for, claiming it’s not for anybody, that he was just—but Lou isn’t buying it. He threatens to get rough. ‘Chester’ breaks down again. Lou can tell that he’s trying to guess this time, guess who could possibly be after Caroline. It still seems off to the seasoned PI. Someone who knew who they worked for would likely have a cover story. This man appears to be simply guessing.
Caroline presses down on his will with her Beast. His increasingly panicked protests cease as he sleepily recites that he has no idea who he works for. He remembers being approached by a tall African-American man who told him to follow Caroline’s movements and forget ever having this conversation.
Lou’s seen this tactic used all too many times. It’s easy for someone to fake innocence when they really don’t believe they’re guilty of anything.
Caroline’s Beast pulls out further answers. ‘Chester’ was to leave a written summary of Caroline’s movements at a dead drop site in the CBD.
That’s all he ever saw of his ‘employer’, and all the man ever told him.
“How the hell you make him calm down like that, lady…” Jackie mutters from the front seat, frowning.
Louis: Watching Caroline drill into ’Chester’s’ mind, Lou gets starts to get a three-gallon headache in a two-gallon skull. At Jackie’s query, Lou slips an unlit cigarette in his mouth and shrugs. “She’s one of them psychoanalyst shrinks, Jackie, what with the hypnosis that she could make a fish remember repressed memories of flying.”
GM: “Huh. No kiddin’? Guess shrinks come in all shapes’n sizes these days…”
Louis: Lou chuckles and passes Jackie a cigarette to replace the one the cabbie snubbed out earlier. “Or maybe just the right shapes and sizes these days,” he jeers.
GM: The expression mirrors the ex-con’s own as he slips the cig back into his own carton. “Sure is a shapely shrink. Heh. You got legs that go on longer’n some of my buddies’ criminal records.”
Caroline: “I’m flattered,” she replies, not quite rolling her eyes. The Ventrue turns back to Lou. “This is a dead end for me.”
GM: “Hey, doc, don’t you need one ’em, what are they called, swingy-watches?” Jackie asks, snapping his fingers as if to summon the word for ‘pendulum’.
Louis: Lou leans forward as if to whisper into the cabbie’s ear. “Normally, sure,” he says, “but I slipped him a roofie back when I was distracting him with my little joke.”
GM: “Ahh,” Jackie nods thoughtfully. “Y’know, wasn’t ever sure why they need ‘em. Can’t do that ‘look deep into my eyes’ hocus-pocus if you’re staring at the watch, right?”
Caroline: Caroline offers no comment as to his blissful ignorance. “Lou. What are you doing with this one?” She gestures to ‘Chester.’
GM: The man stares ahead sleepily.
Louis: “Just another shell game, just another racket,” Lou says, seemingly in answer to everyone and no one in particular. He then turns to Caroline. “After you pay our good man here, Jackie and I will drop him off at the CBD, where I’ll watch the drop site for a bit and see what I can rustle up for you.”
Caroline: “Will you?” There’s a real question there.
Louis: Lou sucks on his dry coffin nail, like an undertaker deciding whether or not to seal his own box. “You know, you remind of this girl I once knew. Long time ago. She killed to get the dream she wanted, then found out it didn’t want her back.” He shrugs.
Caroline: “Must have been nice. To go through life dreaming.” She stares at him.
Louis: Lou’s next words slide from his lips like thumbtacks over flypaper. “Let’s just say I’ve got your number, and you’ve got mine.”
Caroline: “I’ll be waiting for your call in the real world.” She peels off two more slick hundred dollar bills and turns her gaze back to their captive.
“Forget he was here,” she growls, of Lou.
GM: ‘Chester’ blinks in sleepy half-comprehension.
Caroline: She slides up to him, close, past the body odor and filth, and slips the money into the inside his his coat pocket.
“Don’t keep a girl waiting too long.”
Louis: The old man runs a grizzled hand over his sore neck. He doesn’t, can’t face her.
Caroline: Tires crunch outside. “That’s my ride.”
Louis: Lou doesn’t look up as she leaves. He just stares inside to the burnt-out ruins of his heart.
You know what she’ll do to me. Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.
GM: “Hey, doc,” Jackie calls with a wide grin of his stubble-lined jaw. “How about dinner at Lil’ Dizzy’s, you and me? I’ll take you to Angelo’s for dessert, then show you around the city. Jackie Orleans. I got the city’s name in my name, and I know her just as well. I’ll take you places you never even imagined.” His grin widens. “And I don’t only mean in New Orleans.”
Caroline: She rolls her eyes as she walks away.
“Down, boy,” she calls back.
Louis: Lou still doesn’t look up as he replies, “I’d be careful with that one. She’s a man-eater.”
It’s not entirely clear who he’s warning.
GM: Jackie rolls his mismatched eyes.
“No kiddin’. Shrinks.”
Louis: You know what she’ll do. Beat your teeth out, then kick you in the stomach for mumbling.
Saturday night, 12 September 2015, PM
GM: Jackie drives Lou and “Chester” back to the Central Business District. The man is terrified of the pair and veritably bolts out of the cab.
Louis: Lou shrugs. “Some guys just can’t take a joke.” He then slips Jackie a generous wad of cash–courtesy of Ms. Malveaux–exits the cab, and tips his fedora in parting. “As always, Jackie, it’s been a pleasure. See you around.”
GM: “You bet, Lou,” Jackie grins back at the detective. “Jackie Orleans. That’s my name. You need a ride around the city, you won’t do no better than the guy who got it for his name.”
Louis: The old gumshoe then turns up his trench coat, fingering the crudely cotton-stitched verve of Gran Bwa. Lou mutters a word to the old loa to shield him from ‘uninitiated’ eyes, even as he wills the half-dead blood in his veins to erase him from the public’s collective consciousness.
He cracks his neck, then sloughs down the street in shadowy pursuit of his tremulous quarry.
GM: ‘Chester’ seems to noticeably calm as goes to a convenience store and buys a pen, plastic bag, and notepad, which he sticks in his pockets. He then stops off at Domenica, a restaurant on the edge of the French Quarter that serves artisanal pizzas and other Italian dishes. Lou’s old bones can feel the heat of the ovens, and his old nose can smell warm, freshly-baked garlic bread, pizzas lathered with gooey melted cheese, and the tang of sweet tomato sauce. For once, though, his belly doesn’t rumble with hunger. He’s already eaten well tonight.
He makes his way past the checkered-cloth tables and follows his quarry into the bathroom, who has not stopped to order anything. ‘Chester’ goes into a stall. Lou hears the sound of scribbling. After a few minutes, the toilet flushes and the man walks out of the stall, not sparing Lou a backwards glance.
He stops to wash his hands, then moves to leave the bathroom.
Louis: Lou sees it coming with the purchase of the plastic bag. However, he lets the ‘drop’ happen, then goes into the stall just vacated by ‘Chester’. He then pulls out his own notepad, pen, and plastic evidence bag with water-tight seal. He uses the first two to write his own missive before sealing it the third and mailing his post through the porcelain express. Then, seeing no need to waste the opportunity, the old man slides down his slacks and noisily and noisomely voids his bowels of his recently imbibed booze, cheese fries, and steak. Several minutes later and several pounds lighter, Lou sends his second message.
Meanwhile, Lou reads the message ‘Chester’ left in the toilet’s water tank. Of course, he hadn’t used gloves to fish it out, or to leave his own replacement–and his wet, gloveless fingers conjure a bitter-sweet though of Millie.
Wonder how the bastard’s doing…
His thoughts, however, soon return to ’Chester’s’ message.
GM: Lou finds a plastic bag hidden, little to surprise, in the toilet cistern’s dirty water. Inside are several pages of written notes explaining, in detail, all of Caroline’s movements and activities that “Chester” was able to observe. Among other things, there was a car that went into Audubon Place that hasn’t come back out. Granted, there was more than one car which also did so, but the make of this car was significantly cheaper than the BMWs and Lamborghinis usually seen entering the exclusive gated community.
“Chester” also followed Autumn, as Lou had intended, though he didn’t do so for long. The ghoul’s long red hair obviously wasn’t Caroline’s.
Lou also finds a blank piece of paper along with “Chester’s” other notes. He dries (though doesn’t bother to wash) his hands of the dirty septic water and turns it over, but it’s blank on the other side too. Lou chews on that. Mentally compelled patsies only follow their controller’s literal instructions. “Chester’s” controller wanted him to leave that blank sheet. Lou re-reads and finds nothing of particular significance in the man’s other written observations. The blank paper has to be a prearranged signal of kind. Such as that something went wrong. That he was captured and made to talk.
Louis: Lou regards the blank note like it’s a sleeping cottonmouth–and clearly reads the note’s second message: These waters are dangerous. Swim at your own peril. He eventually grunts, disposes of both notes from ‘Chester’, then alters his replacement letter in key places before dropping it back in the tank.
“He’s a cagey SOB, I’ll give him that.”
In Lou’s forgery, he changes a few details. He calls Chica on his bedazzled burner for some help, but she’s still pissy at him for being a “stupid-ass drunk cracker” (or maybe she’s just skipped her meds; it’s hard to tell). After massaging his abused ear, he returns to his ‘alternative truths’ by altering the make and model of the car and the description of its driver so it implies, subtly he hopes, that Caroline was visited by Mélissaire, Savoy’s own herald.
GM: “Oh, I don’t fuckin’ know, prob’ly somethin’ flashy like a Dodge Viper or Aventador,” Chica snaps into Lou’s ear. “In red. Like what my eyes are seein’, right now. An’ like my hands are gonna be covered when I see you next, Mr. ’I’m-a-pathetic-drunk.’ Go fuck yo ass-crack with a ruler.”
Louis: “Love you too,” he mumbles as the line dies. After massaging his abused ear, he returns to his ‘alternative truths’ by altering the make and model of the car and the description of its driver so it implies, subtly he hopes, that Caroline was visited by Mélissaire, Savoy’s own herald.
Time to poison the waterhole.
He naturally leaves out any mention of himself or the body double disguise. But then, as if almost an afterthought, he scrawls in red ink a message in tight block letters on a blank page.
SHE MINDFUCKED YOUR STOOGE. CALL ME IF YOU WANT HELP. YOU’LL NEED IT.
He then jots down his burner’s number. He seals both notes back in the bag and drops it in the tank before he can change his mind. Instead, he settles for buckling his trousers and lighting up a cigarette. He stares at the gold-plated lighter and its salutations from his former partner. His ugly reflection stares back.
“What do you what?” he asks the refection only half-sardonically.
Its only reply is the mouthed mimicry of his next words as he swears underneath his breath, “Cagaste y saltaste en la caca!”
With that final vote of confidence, Lou leaves the stall, and wearily resumes another night’s vigil.