Soutee in new orleans, p.1
Soutee in New Orleans, p.1
- PART TWO -
By Dale Wiley
Other works by Dale Wiley:
There Is a Fountain (Paperback)
There Is a Fountain (e-book)
The Intern (Paperback)The Intern (e-book)
The Intern (audiobook)
Southern Gothic (Hardcover)
Southern Gothic (e-book)
The Jefferson Bible
Copyright © 2017 Dale Wiley
All rights reserved.
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- PART TWO -
The bald pianist started into “That’s Amore” and the tune suited him a little better. He dripped some Dino over the room, and even sang a little. He could make a living on that stuff. His whole demeanor changed, no longer straining to make the music work. This was his bread and butter. I took in that letter, line by line, read it three times through, then stuffed it in my pocket. I went back to the bar to tell the others the news. Smitty could see it: The money and his new friend were gone. I tried to ask Mark some baseball questions, but it all seemed forced and dry. I ordered a double of Maker’s Mark from the bar, and knew that was likely just a start. Janice put her hand on my arm, and Donna tried to help too. I felt right embarrassed, because my concern at that moment was for Smitty, trying to keep him focused and not thinking he was going to be facing criminal charges.
I could tell that my nerves were bothering him. His face grew more grim, and during the few minutes I tried to keep the conversation going, he aged a good five or six years. His face grew long and ashen. This wasn’t working.
“Look,” I said, as I drank that double down like it was ice water. “We all know there’s a lot going on. We’ve gotta take care of Smitty, first off, and as you might guess, our little friend didn’t stick around to get the score of tonight’s game. Did you win, Mark?”
He smiled. “That we did.”
“Good. We’ve gotta get you traded and up to the Majors so I can visit you there. We need you in a National League city so I can come see you in St. Louis and avoid having to watch the designated hitter. This place ain’t giving me no good mojo, that’s for sure.”
I looked over at Smitty, who looked like I just ate his last piece of birthday cake.
“Now Smitty,” I said, looking straight in his eyes, trying to make him believe he was the only person in the place with me. That’s easier to do with the ladies, but I was going to make an extra special good effort for him. “We’ve all made mistakes. This was a bad one on several levels, but everybody’s just damn worried about you. I was took. Mark needs you to come join us in one of them air-conditioned suites when he gets the next call, and after talking to her, your wife would sure love to hear from you.”
He shook his head. “She’s gotta know what happened. I feel like a damned heel.”
Janice, a natural-born nurturer, reached over and touched him on the arm. He didn’t pull away.
“Well, let’s just get by this little by little. I’ll handle the judge, and he’ll handle everybody else.”
Smitty looked up with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “You’ll do that for me?”
“Smitty, you’ve been a rock-solid a friend as long as I’ve had ‘em. Don’t worry. We’re gonna straighten it all out.”
I didn’t tell him, cause it would have just depressed him more, but I wasn’t going back with them. Donna and Janice wouldn’t like it either, but I had a mission. I was going to New Orleans in search of a woman who was very likely a dastardly criminal, clearly in need of some correction and it was my intent to restore order to the world. The idea made me giddy.
But the Peabody didn’t hold any more stories. Our friend behind the piano went back to Berlin and Gershwin and I lost interest. The setting was just as regal, but the energy slowly left the room, and the whole scene had the feeling of the last dance when the world was about to scatter. All of a sudden the weight of the day hit me like a sucker punch. The mood had been dampened enough that there wasn’t a thought of going anywhere else and continuing the festivities. We were all headed for bed, without any additional stories or carousing. They didn’t know that before they slept it off, I would be gone.
Donna was a little sad over lack of attention I had given her. She hung her head and wouldn’t meet my longing glances. Janice almost looked like she didn’t like that I had treated her like a lady and had gotten her a separate room, but such was life. I was worn out and played out, but once we got in the room and Donna had slipped on that silk nighty that hugged fairly tight against her hips and made her breasts look like twin gods from an ancient and revered religion, Donna finally got the idea and came out for a little adventure. I hoped Janice couldn’t hear the activity, but I expected she could, so I made it real quiet and short and made sure Donna had her share of the waves of pleasure I always try to bestow on my lady friends, her body meeting my fingers and tongue and loins with a display of desire and release, like the truest form of love between two people who were never going to be in love, and then tried to make a quick exit for the Elysian fields of dreams, as they might say in New Orleans.
As I lay there, straining to go to sleep, my body still wired from Donna’s sweet touch and the thought of that letter and the adventure it held, I could hear the sounds of the party that continued on the street below, and as I felt Donna’s blond tresses, silky and so enticing, tickling my chest, there was a part of me that didn’t understand why I was so entranced. By any normal standards, Janice and Donna were both better-looking than Melissa, and certainly both nicer human beings. But there was something about the challenge she posed, part musical riddle, part mystery novel and just a little of rubbing my nose in it, that spoke to me more than it should have. I couldn’t get her out of my mind: the woman had intrigued and captivated, all in a very short time.
When I finally nodded off, Melissa appeared in the dreams that followed, her alluring eyes and the trace of her touch hinting at what was to come. I realized that the dream she represented - of mystery and puzzles and the heroic exploits I so completely longed for - the pursuit of those things were what moved me, and made life seem less mundane. I couldn’t image a life being tied down, with no windmills to tilt at. The realization stirred me and scared me. You can feel very alone chasing those things, sharing them with friends and podnuhs who definitely don’t operate in those strange dream worlds. I woke with a start, thinking about all those heady things, just a little after four, and decided this was as good a time as any to start my journey.
I wrote long notes to both Donna and Janice, giving them both directions on how to contact Mark and Sully, and leaving $500 for them to get back. I could hear the shrill cries of “Soutee” that were soon to follow as soon as they awoke, but the Cadillac and I would be nose-deep in Mississippi by then, greeting the cotton candy colors of the dawn as I headed to a town I dearly loved but rarely saw: New Orleans. I closed the door quietly, careful not to make a sound, a skill a gentleman needs to know about in all these modern times.
I left Memphis before the dawn even thought of breaking on a Saturday morning that stretched out before me. The car seemed empty without the girls, but I could still smell Donna and filled my mind for a glorious moment with the sweet thoughts of the promise of Janice. But mainly I thought about what I was chasing, the strange combination of something like noble revenge meeting with heaven’s pleasures. It was a mite chilly to have the top down, but I did it anyway. The air invigorated me and as the sky gave the first hint of the day’s promise, each interstate mile reminding me of the romantic ideal of the cowboy, everything laid out for him, no adventure ever so grand as the next one.
Dawn broke in a thousand different directions. It crept at first, hinting at illumination, but then it came at me stronger, first in silhouette as it gently teased out colors from the sky, then it brought those crayon colors fully into view, daring anyone to create a vision as lovely. I’m not one who needs much sleep, but I do need beauty, and when that could not be had in feminine form, the sky did just fine that morning. I don’t see the sunrise most mornings, and especially not when heading straight into the delta, and the scene brought me a peace rarely acknowledged in my playboy’s existence. Seeing the translucent blues and the bruised purples that hinted at nature’s violence was enough for me to sit back in awe and enjoy the timeless classic “Yesterday’s Wine” by Willie Nelson. That’s a funny album, with the band offering to act as the narrators and scene setters, all stiff until Willie lets loose with the glowing beauty of those songs, stripped down, far from the kind of production Nashville would have given ‘em. It sounded like dawn music. And every mile that passed, I knew I was coming to greet New Orleans.
The early start invigorated me, but then it started to sap my energy, so after dawn had completed its fireworks show, I pulled over and caught a cat nap. I got off the interstate and pulled into a gas station with no inhabitants. I climbed in the back seat, put my cowboy hat over my face to avoid any glare, but I was never far away from Melissa, nor how she got the best of me when I should have been on my guard. I could see those little ringlets and the intensity in her eyes. It was hard to see the vulnerability I had once seen, but I still felt like there was more to know. Why had she so willingly moved from playing Sully to full-blown larceny? What didn’t I know. Our national poet laureate, Roger Miller, said something about the ways of the world and the wants of a woman. The line and the pursuits seemed elusive to me at that moment.
I was awakened after a marvelous nap by a little boy, maybe eight or nine, dragging a folding table to set out in front of the service station. The table was the heavy kind you might see at a church picnic, and he made a terrible screech and racket dragging it along by himself. He returned in a minute, not seeming to even acknowledge my presence, with bags of vegetables and fruits, which he dutifully set out in rows. Some were store-bought, like the vibrant strawberries and raspberries, but some were homegrown, like the tomatoes, fine for now, but still a long way from end-of-summer glory. I tried to go back to sleep, but a car pulled in and made conversation with my industrious friend. When the car left finally, I figured it was time to get up. I came over and looked. It wasn’t a bad spread at all.
He looked at me and acknowledged the wear and tear that was obvious on my face. “I didn’t know if I should come over” he said, “or if you’d bite my head off.”
“Son, I’m here of my own accord and a lifetime of silly decisions. I would never bother such a sturdy fella as yourself. You wouldn’t happen to have any juice, would you?” I kindly felt like something without alcohol might do me some good.
He nodded, and stopped unpacking, reaching deep in another bag and grabbing some pints of juice which were hidden behind the other wares.
“Just orange this morning,” he said apologetically. But when I threw him some money and took a swig straight from the container, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I’d bet anything it had been squeezed in the early morning hours, maybe on the outside the day before, still full of the life of the fruit itself. I took a long, satisfying pull, and the boy saw the joy in my face.
“I’ll take a pint of them strawberries, too.” I said. “What’s your name?”
The boy likely had some Mex in him. “My name is Freddie.”
“Nice to meet you, Freddie. How far am I from New Orleans?”
“About three hours,” he said, “The strawberries are three dollars.”
I flipped him a ten. “They’re obviously worth fifty,” I said. “Wish me good luck.”
“From what I know of that place, you’ll need more than luck,”
The serious look on his face and the wise words made me howl with laughter, then handed him another ten. “You’re so right, my podnuh.”
I jumped behind the wheel of the Cadillac and got back on 55 South, feeling once again invigorated, heading for adventure and hoping for romance and justice and for my friend Sully to make it out of this unscathed. I took another sip of that wild juice and was on my way.
The closer I got to the city, the more the bayou and swamp closed in, like a welcome change in every sense from my Ozarks home. The trees closed in on me, and the Spanish moss hung lower, anticipating the change in culture that awaited. When you got within fifty miles of New Orleans, you could feel its pull, the life of its people, a place where adventures were encouraged and the wayward dalliance forgiven in the time it took you to get out of confessional. I remembered a time, five or six years before, when I had come down for Mardi Gras, and I remembered the precision with which Fat Tuesday turned into Ash Wednesday, with the streets being swept up as if the party had never happened. They used those confessionals here. They had both sides of the coin. You could feel that combination of a love of tradition and the lack of care here. The whole feeling made me giddy.
I had instructed Janice to clear my calendar for the first part of the week, and now I stood almost a thousand miles away from home, poised for an adventure. I switched the tape to some Killer, my favorite, some of his Smash sides. The way he could take another man’s songs and make them so fully his own is something that continually astounds me. Songs that are as distinctive as “Cold, Cold Heart.” Songs no one should be able to sing, and yet Jerry Lee could do it. Every time. By the end of those minutes you feel like Jerry lost that woman, not ol’ Hank. Jerry Lee could burp in a bottle and I’d buy it.
I was driving across Lake Pontchartrain, listening to yet another Killer Classic, “She Still Comes Around to Love What’s Left of Me,” strumming my fingers on the steering wheel, thinking about how Melissa would feel in my arms. The aforementioned Smash Records were after his wilder years, when he had left rock and roll and had headed towards his eternal tug-of-war between country and gospel. Jerry Lee always felt he should be doing gospel, but he was too pitiful and conflicted because of his rather worldly ways. Instead of embracing both worlds, he left us with plenty of his country records, like this one, another sad reminder of a man who’s a shell of himself, except when his devoted feminine friend makes a weekly trip to wake him up again. He sounds so sad there, so far from anyone else, and I think that’s why I love the Killer so much. He never mails it in. He can always make you feel exactly as he wants.
By now, it was full-bore morning. The sun had once again made it up into the sky with only the smallest help from me, and in the illumination and the strangeness of another part of the country I could see the enormity of my task. But I did not retreat. I plunged ahead, knee deep in rubber, ready to find this hussy, commune with her secrets and retrieve the money. The town spread out with gas stations and shopping malls at first, hinting at the more original parts of the town to come. I passed all the beer joints, almost looking respectable at this early hour on their tree-lined blocks, and as I got closer to downtown, I realized I had nothing to go on. Just the feeling that she wanted me chasing her, and she wouldn’t make the finding too difficult. I decided the best thing I could do would be find a conspicuous hotel and start leaving my own calling cards as well.
The Dauphine Hotel was a place I had never stayed but always heard about, full of the action and the stories and the history of the city, a spot Audubon had once painted and close to all the action. I walked in and notice the sense of place that hit. This wasn’t a Ramada for sure. This place had a history almost as old as the city itself. I felt ten foot tall going to the front desk, and got them to give me a key. I went up to the room, laid down on the bed for a second, but when I could hear my heart beating and had no chance of sleep stopping by to visit, I decided perhaps a little morning pick-me-up would do me good.
I really hadn’t packed for an extended journey, so I visited the concierge, and had him send a local tailor in my direction. While I was waiting, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a drink.
When I got to the bar, I realized what a great choice I had made. The bar in the hotel had started as a brothel, from the late 1800s until just before prohibition. My kind of place, indeed. Some people said it was haunted, but the brass chandeliers and the artistry of even the simplest turn in the bar turned every trip into May Baily’s Place from just another depressing Crescent City cocktail into an adventure where you could imagine yourself running into Pirates and ladies of the evening, dressed in long, flowing gowns that would just make you wonder what was underneath. You could almost smell those hand-rolled cigarettes with good tobacco brought in from the West Indies and smell a cigar so fine it was almost a crime to smoke it. You could see the gamblers and the rum runners and all the characters that have kicked the corners of this town since Thomas Jefferson first thought of buying the place. I sat down in front of Kent, my bartender, who had grown into the part, all sideburns and stern eyes, watching to see if your visit would be trouble or memorable or financially pleasurable. A good bartender can measure those details within a split second. I sat down and tipped my hat, and let him know I wanted Maker’s Mark and I wanted ‘em coming until I said uncle. I saw a twitch of a grin, and he set the first one up just like I like it, with just a splash of ice and enough whiskey to let me re-engage my love affair with the stuff. He knew I’d have questions, and the nod told me he’d be ready.
Kent asked my name, and I told him. He asked me what I was desiring, and I got a hint of where he was heading.
“I guess I’ve come here looking for something impossible,” I said.
“What’s so different about that?”
“Well, I’m probably 900 miles from home by this point, and I guess my quest now seems a little unwieldy.” I set the scene with as many adjectives as a drunken poet, and then let him know what I needed.
Soutee in New Orleans by Dale Wiley / Mystery & Detective / Western have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes