Three apocryphas, three Susianne Baptiste stories! What can we say, we like her. And yes, we are working on getting the whole series, but until Sooz types it in...In any case, here,'s what she says about this installment from her collection: "This is what started it all, the beginning of my first L&O fanfic story, something I wrote as a bit of fun for myself, trying out my crime-writer's skill, and having fun with some favorite characters. I never dreamed it would go beyond my own PC. Here at any rate is Simone Broidveaux, NOPD, trying to keep up with New York's Finest and not appear in the Beverly Hills Cop or Miami Vice guise as she takes on her old nemesis with the help of America's Scotland Yard ... the 27."
The witnesses were frightened. They didn't see anything and didn't want to be detained within eyesight of the corpse. Technicians busied themselves taking pictures, sorting through the detritus of the alley, and competing with police, the medical examiner, and those onlookers curious enough to overcome superstition for a thorough examination of the deceased. The street thronged with morning traffic, blue lights, sirens, and chatter.
"Wow!" Detective Mike Logan, New York Homicide, leaned over to survey the body. It was a young black male, wiry and muscular. From the wide slash in the throat, blood had soaked the victim's chest, from which nine straight pins protruded, one of them holding a small red flannel bag in place. Pale and pickled, a taloned chicken's foot was stuffed between the man's lifeless lips, which were drawn back in an expression of unspeakable horror. "Murder and vaudeville. I must be living right. Any ID?"
The CSU technician passed him a driver's license, tattered and laminated. "We're through with it."
Logan frowned in puzzlement over the Louisiana driver's license, which listed a New Orleans address. Louisiana? "Stevonne Landeche, come on down." He surveyed the late Mr. Landeche, who was arrayed in baggy jeans, leather jacket, and expensive high-tops, not out of place in the neighborhood. "Tourist?" he asked no one in particular. What would a tourist be doing in this neighborhood, unless it was drug-related? One of the uniforms shook his head in disagreement. "Well? Witnesses?" His voice sharpened, as an eerie feeling that someone was keeping something hidden washed over him.
"Nobody's talking, except to say some funny word."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"We can't get squat outta these people, Detective. They're scared."
"Of what, Pinhead from Hellraiser?" He waved a gloved impatient hand toward Stevonne Landeche.
"You do card tricks, too?" His partner, Lennie Briscoe, appeared with a visibly nervous teenager, whose bright red hooded sweatshirt threatened to hide his face like a young Grim Reaper. "Meet Scott Redell."
He walked over to the pair, not wanting the young witness to see more than he already had of the grisly find. "Hey, Scott." Logan's voice smoothed into a placating tone; the kid looked petrified, his labored breath emitting white clouds. "You know Stevonne Landeche here?"
"No," he stuttered, "but I know what done it." He wiped his mouth with a trembling hand. The detectives waited for him to continue. "Hoodoo done it, man. My grammaw told me about it, but I never believed it, you know? I heard he got capped with pins and stuff, yo man, that's that gris-gris shit, man. That's messed up. I don't want it coming back on me."
"Hoodoo, that's what, like voodoo?" Redell nodded. Logan's cool green eyes strayed back to the corpse and its trappings. "What's a whatchacallit, a gris-gris?"
"A hex, man. You know."
"How do you know that, Scott?" Normally he would have scoffed at the suggestion of black magic, but the pins and chicken foot were too bizarre to be ignored.
"Aw, man, everybody knows what hoodoo looks like!"
Briscoe shrugged affably. "Why don't you tell us what it looks like?"
Redell crossed his arms defensively across his chest. "Ya'll white, man. You wouldn't get it. Can I go now?"
"Well, where do these people hang out?" Briscoe asked him. "Is there a hoodoo headquarters around here?"
The boy tugged at a hoop-studded earlobe. "I don't know, man. Check out the herb stores."
When the reluctant witness had left, Briscoe appealed to his partner: "What do you suppose an herb store is?"
"I dunno. But I bet it has nothing to do with health food."
Whatever Stevonne Landeche had done to merit a bedeviled death, no mercy followed his passing. His New York address was unknown, as were his associates, family, and reason for being so far from home. The few articles on his person revealed nothing other than his name. Oddly, he had not been robbed. Canvassing the vicinity and also proved worthless. Even if one took into account the anti-police stance of the neighborhood, the detectives had never had so many doors literally slammed in their faces. No one would talk about Landeche, herb stores, or "hoodoo."
Back at the precinct, they ran Landeche's name through the NCIC computer, checked with Missing Persons, and made several tedious telephone calls. Stevonne Landeche (if that was his real name) had neither a criminal record not had he been reported missing. Hotels in the area of the murder had no one registered by that name; nor had he rented a car in the city. A call to New Orleans directory assistance merely proved that Stevonne Landeche had no telephone, listed or unlisted.
"So what do you want to do now?" Briscoe asked his partner. "Get a New Orleans phone book, call everybody named Landeche, and ask for Steve?"
"Nah. I'll call the New Orleans PD and see if they know anything." Logan made a note of the victim's home address: 3370 Desire Parkway. "Hey, Lennie," he leered, "how'd you like to live on Desire Parkway?"
"I'm too old," was the blasť reply.
Apparently Landeche wasn't reported as missing in New Orleans, either. The records clerk, whose thick accent sounded more Brooklyn than a Buttofuoco's, remarked, "He lived in Desire, huh?" Logan stared at the telephone receiver, momentarily speechless, unsure of how to answer. "Well, let me send you by the Fit' Distric' dawalin'. They might know."
While on hold, he speculated what a "Fit District" was. At length an officer whose name sounded French and otherwise unpronounceable, identified himself as being in the Fifth District, where 3370 Desire Parkway was evidently located. He promised to send someone to check the residence and ask the neighbors about Stevonne Landeche. The officer assured Logan that he would even fax the "Landeche" page from the New Orleans telephone book, if that would help.
Thank God for Southern hospitality, thought Mike. "Thanks a lot. Hey, by the way ... do you know what an herb store is?"
"A voodoo shop," was the slightly puzzled reply. "You gonna put a gris-gris on somebody?"
That word again! Why did it seem that everyone else around this crime knew what it was about? "I might."
"Okay, Mike, I can't wait any longer. Did you find out what an herb store is?"
"It's a voodoo shop." It surprised him that such a thing existed. "Like that explains anything. What do they sell in a place like that? Love Potion No. 9?"
"Where are we supposed to find one?"
"Hell, I don't know. Look in the phone book."
"You think they have a listing for 'voodoo'?"
"New York has everything, right? We could always try H for 'hoodoo'."
The next morning, Briscoe and Logan divided the dozen or so Landeches between themselves and started dialing. Still, no one claimed to know Stevonne, who was on ice at the medical examiner's, awaiting autopsy. Either Stevonne Landeche did not legally exist or something about him advocated a wall of silence. In a city of only half a million people in its metro area, the detectives found it difficult to believe that at least one of the New Orleans Landeches did not know the victim.
"After all, how common a name is Landeche?" Mike Logan was getting impatient with this mystery at an exponential rate. "I couldn't find one in the whole goddamn Manhattan directory."
Briscoe shrugged, keeping silent, letting his younger, more volatile partner vent his frustration. "We could always send his prints to the FBI. Maybe he's in the Witness Protection program or something."
Speculation about the mysterious Stevonne Landeche ended when the detectives were called into the office of their squad commander, Captain Cragen. He was an old-fashioned New York Irish cop, brutally honest and, despite his rank, not one to play politics.
"I just got off the phone with the New Orleans homicide commander," he informed them. "When you mentioned Stevonne Landeche, they nearly wet their pants in Homicide. It seems your vic was on the hit list of a killer named --" Here he stumbled over the pronunciation. "-- Delavon Janpier. This Delavon character was in the county jail waiting to be sent upstate to death row when, about a month ago, he up and escapes."
"And he came here looking for Landeche?" Logan asked. "He must have wanted him real bad."
"He didn't come up here for a merry Christmas. He killed four people in New Orleans. One of them was a kid. So I guess, yeah, Delavon is a serious guy."
"Do they have any idea where Delavon is?"
"They didn't say. What they did say is that they're sending the detective who collared Delavon up here to get him."
"Oh great," sighed Briscoe: "Barney Fife in the Big Apple."
"Somebody think we can't solve our own homicides?" Logan spat acidly. The Landeche homicide was his responsibility, and he resented some outsider stepping in and taking over.
"I don't care if they send Deputy Dawg! It's already been worked out with the powers-that-be." Cragen's voice was firm. "This guy picks up Delavon and takes him home. Nobody wants egg on their faces where serial killers are concerned. So play nice."
"So who is this southern Sherlock?"
Cragen consulted his notes. "A Detective Simon Brah.. uh ... Broy ..." He held out the page. "Read it yourself."
Logan twisted his tongue over the name Broidveaux and finally gave up. "They ought to pay us overtime trying to pronounce names like this. I talked to a couple of them yesterday and wondered what kind of language they were speaking. Doesn't New Orleans still belong to France or something?"
"Mr. United Nations," Briscoe observed.
"I don't give a shit who they send, Mike, as long as they get this maggot before he starts another killing spree. They said this what's-his-name is one of the best homicide detectives they have. Call the ME and tell him I want the autopsy on Landeche delayed until the NOPD arrives. New Orleans is faxing up all the info they have on Delavon. See if you can't catch him before they get here."
She walked through the alien street, high heels mindful of the snow, her eyes masked with sunglasses to prevent eye contact with passersby, as she had been instructed to do in New York. A faux fur coat, pelt resembling a snow leopard, did little to protect her from the frigid morning air. She could have taken a cab to her destination, but, shocked at the costs of transport in the Big Apple, decided to be cheap, freeze a little, and walk it. Head high, she strode briskly, hoping to project a confident demeanor to those around her, making it difficult to mark her as a visitor without a purpose. She did indeed have a purpose: revenge and vindication, in the name of Delavon Janpier.
She found the building labeled "27th Precinct" and, taking a deep breath for confidence, strode inside. After flashing her identification, she asked the way to Homicide. Walking up the steps, she passed several uniforms who flagrantly ogled her. Ah well, she thought, flattered, fresh fish in the house. One grinned and purred, "Nice fur," to which she quipped, "Nice blues." The precinct reminded her of a run-down public school, with its walls painted a repulsive two-tone combination of light putrid green and darker putrid green. It smelled of yellowing papers, floor wax, and dust. Expecting to find a more modern station house, she felt cheated. However, it was still old-fashioned enough to be like home. It eased her anxiety. Now she didn't feel as much like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. The squad room was empty, so she walked gingerly towards the small office, where she assumed the squad commander would be. Through the glass she spied a balding man behind a desk, shuffling papers and looking officious. She rapped weakly on the open door and poked her head in.
Donald Cragen looked up at the young, sweet-faced brunette in the gaudy fake fur coat. "Yes?"
She took a step forward, extending a small hand whose pointed nails were painted a smoky purple. "I'm Detective Simone Broidveaux. New Orleans Homicide." The astonishment on his face nearly sent her into a giggling outburst. He didn't expect them to send a chick, she mused.
"Welcome to New York, Detective." With her flamboyant clothes and exotic makeup, this woman looked more like Vice than Homicide, thought Cragen. He got her coffee and made her comfortable before discussing Delavon Janpier. "Why don't you tell me about Delavon?"
"I feel like I'm married to the guy," she said, hunting through her animal print handbag. She produced a ragged folder and a pack of Virginia Slims. She rolled the cigarette around her cerise lips before lighting up. "I bet most wives don't know they husbands as well as I know Delavon. He's basically an okay guy. Hell of a con man. Did a good business selling love potions and stuff. Just turned into a nut job when his girlfriend, who is Stevonne's sister, dumped him. I liked Stevonne ... poor kid. Has he been autopsied?"
"No, we were waiting for you to sit in."
"Many thanks. I'd appreciate it if we can get it done first thing this morning. I want to look at the body before I can be certain it's Delavon's handiwork. I know the MO matches and all, but I need to see it for myself before I call it. I'm sure you have lots of homegrown voodoos and santeros who could pull something like this. When can I talk to the lead investigator?"
"Just as soon as he gets in."
How lovely to get your beauty sleep, she observed.
Three cups of coffee and as many cigarettes later, Simone heard sounds of life in the squad room. She was anxious to see the file on Stevonne and get on with the autopsy. New York in December was terrifyingly cold, quite a contrast to the 60-degree temperatures back home. Cragen got up, stepped out the door, and spoke to someone. A moment later he returned, followed by an older, graying man with kind eyes. He was introduced to her as Detective Briscoe. The lead investigator was still absent. Simone shifted uncomfortably, gearing up to read this Yankee twat the riot act whenever he showed up. She suspected that they were probably Mutt-and-Jeffing her, pissed off at her for stepping into their jurisdiction. This was beginning to turn into a stakeout, for God's sake.
She was giving her audience Stevonne Landeche's life history when the door swung open and a man barged in. He was tall and dark, with penetrating jade-green eyes. Against his pale skin, the coloring seemed almost exotic to her. Simone caught her breath. L'homme de mes rÍves, her French ancestors would have said. His symmetrical profile was like that of the Greek god Helios, whose likeness had once adorned Mardi Gras doubloons. Captain Cragen spoke his name, but Simone didn't catch it, because her mind had been wandering, more intent on form -- i.e., his -- than substance. She stood on rubbery legs and walked across the floor to face him. When she set eyes on men like this, Simone was reminded why testosterone was the most dangerous chemical known to man. One little molecule was devastating. She sensed that she was about to be engulfed in it.
"Simone Broidveaux, NOPD. My friends call me Mojo." She lowered her eyes and her voice as she clasped his hand. Simone inhaled his masculine scent, luxuriated in his touch. Oh God, I'm trapped! "I'll be mighty angry if you don't." She felt the back of her neck grow uncomfortably warm. Don't blush, you stupid heifer!
"Mike Logan." Two big velvety brown eyes limned in lilac overwhelmed the petite cheekbones of her face. With her alabaster complexion, marred only by a movie-star beauty mark above her lip, she didn't seem as if she came from a sizzling climate. Only her perfume, which was heavily sweet, redolent of incense, was lush and tropical. His eyes strayed to the large silver Celtic cross around her throat and then downward to the ample cleavage displayed by the amethyst velvet bustier she wore. This lady was from Homicide? What the hell kind of murders did they have down there, anyway? "Sorry I'm late."
"Better late than never, sugar. Let's talk about Stevonne." She sat back down and lit another cigarette to keep herself occupied. "Has anybody identified the body?"
"No. And all the Landeches in New Orleans denied knowing him."
She chuckled. "I hope ya'll didn't believe that. He's kin to half of them. Charleesa's smart. Delavon thinks she'd come to the morgue to identify him, or at least come to the po-lice station."
"Who's Charleesa?" Simone handed him a tattered file, which he opened.
"Let me tell ya'll a little Creole love story. Delavon Janpier, aka Dr. Yah-Yah... is/was a witch doctor, voodoo priest, whatever, of great renown in the Florida housing project. He met and fell in love with Charleesa Landeche, sister of Stevonne, an amateur mambo in the nearby Desire housing project. Who says they's no hope in poverty? Somewhere along the line, Charleesa's ride on the streetcar named Desire ended. Only Delavon wouldn't take the transfer."
"So he pops four people because she dumped him?" Logan demanded. "He can't go out and get drunk like everybody else?"
"Personally, I slip into some high heels and put my kicking foot into gear. Whatever makes your dress fly up, I guess. Monsieur Delavon couldn't get it through his head that a six-pack of Dixie and a tube of personal lubricant isn't the same as a wedding ring. But that's not why he killed those folks, one of which was Charleesa's little boy."
"I give up," said the Captain. "Why?"
As far as other men were concerned, Delavon's motive was one of a delicate nature. To the female detectives of NOPD Homicide, however, it was worth a ribald snicker. It was embarrassing, really, unless one knew anything about common voodoo spells. "Because as if breaking up with him wasn't heart-rending enough, Delavon got convinced somewhere along the line that Charleesa took his nature."
"What do you mean, 'took his nature'?" This from the older one, Briscoe.
Simone smoked lazily, trying to brazen it out. "It means that she put a spell on him which prevents him from ejaculating with any woman but her." They stared at her, speechless.
"You can't be serious," Logan charged. It sounded like a plot to some third-rate horror movie: witch doctors, love potions, people stuck with pins.
"Do I look like I'm making this up? Wouldn't you be pissed?"
"Well ..." He laughed. "I guess so."
"Delavon figured that Charleesa would remove the spell once she saw her friends getting killed. He'd wait awhile, pick up one of the local working girls, and try his luck. Oh, the disappointment." She rolled her eyes dramatically.
"Wait a minute. If he was a witch doctor, why didn't he just remove the spell himself?" Briscoe asked her.
"He tried. They's some spells only the fixer can remove. This particular spell involves burying a bottle with the -- shall we say -- special ingredients somewhere. Delavon is going to kill everyone close to Charleesa in order to get that spell removed. He can't kill her because the spell would remain. She has a four-year old daughter she has to protect. I didn't know she knew anyone in New York. I just knew she left after the trial. I told her I'd watch out for her, but I guess she didn't believe me. She's probably working at a local herb store, or something." Briscoe and Logan exchanged quizzical looks. "Did you check?"
"We're still checking," bluffed Logan. "Do a lot of people practice this stuff? You seem to know a lot about it."
"Back home, the official figure is twenty percent. Unofficially, I'd say it's close to fifty."
She shrugged. "We don't have baseball." He laughed appreciatively; she was certainly much more welcome than the redneck he had imagined would turn up. "People don't want to admit that their grammaw's home remedies are steeped in voodoo. People use it mostly for love spells. We're an amorous bunch.. I used to work in a voodoo shop before I was on the job. I saw a lot of voodoo and Santeria during my years in Narcotics. All the occult stuff usually gets tossed my way. Beats a drive-by every time." She stubbed out her cigarette. "Ya'll know what I know. I'm ready to pass by the coroner's. If you don't mind, Captain, I'd also like to talk to the DA in charge of this case to make sure they's no conflict between their office and mine."
"No problem. I'll call the DA and take care of it."
"Merci. By the way, I'm going to need the files of all women who reported being beaten this past month from all the precincts around here. You can bet Delavon's checked to see if the spell's been lifted."
"You know how many women get beat up in this city in a month?" Briscoe inquired.
She leaned forward, as if she were about to divulge a secret, and said, "I'm thinking not too many get oil rubbed on them by someone talking Creole French." He looked at her helplessly. "Besides, wouldn't you rather push paper than walk a beat?"
As she and Logan walked through the door, he caught her arm. "Did Charleesa really put a spell on this guy?"
She smiled and stepped close to him. This man was walking, talking pornography. She had to view this the way she approached her old Vice undercover assignments, otherwise she could not be professional. Despite her outlandish clothes and breezy demeanor, Simone had never gone beyond being one-of-the-guys with her fellow officers. Jeezum peace, but this is different. "If she didn't, then I'd like to think it's just the power of love. Don't you?"
On the way to the Medical Examiner's, Simone marveled at the urban vastness of the city. Elaborate Christmas decorations lent the stark architecture a warm expression. The buildings seemed to stretch endlessly skyward, giving her a giddy, claustrophobic feeling. They loomed over the street like giant oaks. The streets were so crowded with cars that they seemed impassable. It reminded her of the swarming thoroughfares of Cartegena and Port-au-Prince. Yet there was something glamorous about it, something sophisticated and eternal, as celebrated by authors like Fitzgerald and Wharton whose tomes she had devoured in adolescence.
"Ever been to New York?" Logan was amused by her wide-eyed expression. Despite the cold, she had even rolled down the window to get a better look around. The world's oldest story: small-town girl in the big city.
"First time. We can't build up much back home because of all the historic preservation ordinances. Just as well. I like pretending I'm in another century when I sit on my balcony after work."
"You're lucky. I don't even have room to sit on the fire escape."
"It's a very small balcony," she amended, embarrassed. "Just big enough for a couple of chairs and a hibachi. Things are kinda cramped in the Quarter. The streets are barely wide enough for cars."
"Do you live near Bourbon Street?" The inevitable question. She smiled weakly, as if she expected it, and nodded assent. "What's it like?"
"It's a street with strip joints, bars, jazz clubs, and shops that sell things like praline-flavored panties and bondage devices. No big deal."
"Why the hype, then?"
"It might not be hype to outsiders. I used to work a Vice detail and it still amazes me that grown folks haven't seen things like that. I mean, I've seen drag queens and peep show posters all my life and never thought twice about it. It must be a French legacy. Hey ... can we pass by Times Square? I'm dying to see it!"
He smiled. "It's no big deal."
At the ME's office, she was presented to the pathologist, a cynical redhead named Helen Rogers. Simone had fun with the pathologists back home, mostly because of their wonderfully macabre sense of humor. Although this woman seemed a bit staid, Simone bet even money that she would be a hoot with a few drinks in her.
"Small world," she remarked, handing Simone a pair of latex gloves. "I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in my senior year of college."
"Listen, it took me a week to get past that hangover and years to forget everyone I groped in the name of bacchanalia."
"I'm impressed, Rogers," Logan said to her. "You never told us what a party animal you were."
"Oh yeah, and if you'd known, you would have taken a number?" She barked a laugh. "Spare me."
Simone pored over photos of Stevonne's body in situ, then inspected the pins and the herbal contents of the red flannel mojo bag. Upon seeing him lying on the cutting table, her eyes peppered with tears. Stevonne had been a nice young man, hard-working in the face of poverty, and very protective of his sister. Simone laid a gloved hand on his close-cropped head. "I'm sorry, kiddo," she murmured quietly. Then, louder, "On the record, I'm officially identifying him as Stevonne Landeche."
Her overt compassion for the victim revealed a fierce dedication to her job. A woman who couldn't leave it when she went home. Even though she had been sent from the swamps to take over his investigation, Mike Logan warmed to her. He liked her directness, her spicy humor, and her peculiar accent, which wasn't Southern at all except for the frequent "ya'll's." For a moment, he wondered if she spent her off-duty hours buried in a bottle or with a succession of coyote dates. Unless you're married, who the hell doesn't?
"Jeezum peace, lookit that gash." Simone's fingers probed the jagged wound. "That's Delavon, cats and kittens. Always uses a Buck knife. Depth of wounds from victim to victim is consistent. About this deep." She held up an index finger and marked the depth with her thumb. "Helen, have ya'll analyzed the contents of the mojo bag?"
"Nearly finished. Seen all you need to? Good. Let's do it." She picked up a scalpel and began to dissect.
When the autopsy was complete, Logan asked her, "So when do we get the report?"
"Don't rattle my chain. You already know what killed him."
"Yeah, but --"
"I'm more interested in the mojo bag," Simone interrupted. "When can I expect a breakdown?"
"End of the week, maybe." A sly grin spread across her face. "Did you happen to bring any of that Hurricane mix with you?"
Simone beamed. She had arrived well-armed, stocked with local delights. If the NYPD was anything like the NOPD, then food bought more favors than sex. "I sure did, dawlin'."
"I'll have it sent over." A handshake passed between the two women. "Thanks, Helen. Next time you want to come to Mardi Gras, I'll hook you up."
"What was that?" Briscoe asked her in the hallway. "The Good Ole Girl Network in action?"
Simone struggled into her coat. "You catch more flies with liquor than honey. At any rate, I get that report and start narrowing down the herb stores that sell the ingredients. What time do we see the DA?"
"Well, good. I'm starved."
Although she would have settled for a Lucky Dog and a Barq's root beer, they took Simone to Little Italy. A muffuletta sandwich was one of her diet staples back home, but this particular Italian delicacy apparently hadn't migrated from the Central Grocery northward. She decided on focaccia and pasta slathered in tomato gravy. Her mother had always admonished her not to eat in front of a man, but Simone was over thirty and over pretension. She fished a tiny bottle of Tabasco from her purse, sprinkled it on her food, and offered it to her companions. They, however, regarded her as if she had just sprouted horns and a forked tail. She was puzzled. Hot sauce was as commonplace as salt and pepper in the South.
"Some like it hot," she explained in her best Cary Grant. She pretended to be interested in her food as she silently mused, Hot and a lot, babycakes.
She wasted a little time ogling the Brooklyn Bridge before meeting with the DA. The pale beige halls were crowded, the air filled with ringing telephones, copy machine clatter, and a myriad of voices. Still, it was a little less chaotic and roomier than the Orleans Parish DA's. Simone was escorted to an airy little cubicle. A brunette sat at the desk, deep in conversation with a well-dressed man whose splendid Neapolitan features could have been chiseled by Donatello. Upon seeing she had visitors, the brunette rose. A harsh geometric bob showcased her long, swanlike neck. Her doe eyes of olive and amber softened a daintily beautiful face. The dove gray lady-lawyer suit she wore contrasted sharply with her grace. The pearls she wore lessened the austere, businesslike look. Yet there was a reticence about her that suggested to Simone that this woman hadn't been an assistant DA for very long.
"Hi, guys," she greeted. She started ever so slightly at Simone's attire.
Her expression wasn't lost on Mike Logan. He could have predicted that Simone in all her finery would grab her attention. The two women were so opposite that it was pretty damn comical. "Claire Kincaid, meet Detective Simone Broidveaux, New Orleans Homicide."
"Whereyat, Claire?" Claire had expected a Scarlett O'Hara drawl and got Amy Fisher instead. From the eyeshadow to the taloned fingertips, she had never seen so much purple on anyone before. Certainly not on a homicide detective. However, Claire recognized a cordial sincerity in her joie de vivre. "I'm in charge of the Landeche murder. The hoodoo-cide."
"Oh, uh ..." The word threw Claire for a moment. "Nice to meet you." She began ruffling papers. "Landeche, yes. Extradition." Before searching further, she introduced her visitor: "Pascal Giannetti, Brooklyn DA's office."
Simone was enjoying herself heartily. She hadn't eyeballed so many good-looking men since the French Quarter's International Gay Day. The sights alone made this trip worthwhile. She could also perceive that there was a little something more than professional interest between Ms. Kincaid and the Italian Stallion. You go, girl, she applauded. I always did like a sharp-dressed man, me.
"Lord have mercy," Simone observed when Adonis-at-Law had retreated back to Brooklyn. She fanned herself as if the temperature had risen. "That sure was a pretty thing."
Claire opened her mouth to reply, but remained mute, as if her hand had been caught in the cookie jar. Hastily she picked up a file from her desk. "Here it is. Ben should be back from his other meeting by now."
These people were so uptight, Simone marveled. Obviously "let the good times roll" wasn't emblazoned on their family crests. Maybe she was judging too harshly. Being bred in a non-stop party of a hometown tended to imbue one with a sense of laissez-faire and love of good times. She wondered why everyone didn't join the parade. After all, life in the criminal justice system was grim.
She patted the ADA and smiled to prove that there was no intent to subvert. "Not my type, though."
Still flustered, Claire offered a weak, conciliatory smile and led her down the hall.
Executive Assistant DA Ben Stone didn't strike Simone as belonging to the class of pompous lawyers of which she was most familiar. Immediately she inclined towards this soft-spoken man, with a passionate undertone in his voice and the countenance of an Irish choirboy. As one of the few men who didn't look her straight in the chest at first sight, he secured her admiration. He greeted Simone with a finesse that was nearly Southern. Had it been a century earlier, she was convinced that he would have bent to kiss her hand.
"The Big Easy," he reflected. "I've been to the Jazz Fest a couple of times."
She favored him with a genuinely warm smile. If he'd been to the Jazz Fest, certainly he was a subscriber to the credo of bon temps roulez. A kindred soul. "For true? You must like the music."
"That and the gumbo."
"Well, I'll have to give you my recipe sometime." As he watched her sidle up to Ben Stone, Logan wondered if Simone flirted with everyone she came into contact with, or if that was just a habit of Southern women. "Mind if I smoke?"
Claire's jaw dropped when her boss agreed with a conciliatory gesture. No one ever lit up in this office to her knowledge, but she had only been here a short while. The feminist in her was irked that big breasts and big brown eyes opened any door with ease. On the other hand, she felt a stab of delight that Simone could turn a man's libidinous nature to her advantage. She would pay good money to see one of Simone's interrogations.
Simone wanted to hear for herself that New York wouldn't interfere once she'd picked up Delavon. The brass at home reassured her that once she had Janpier, his New Orleans attorney would be informed, and then she could bring him home to Angola Penitentiary. Peniston, Orleans Parish DA, pledged that there would be no prosecution in New York County. If lawyers were involved, she was skeptical. Underneath all the Latin snotgarble, they were mostly political creatures who'd grab at a headline as if it were a painted Zulu coconut on Mardi Gras Day.
"You don't have to worry about Janpier once you pick up him up, Detective. We'll turn him over to you. Personally, I think he should be tried for his crimes here in New York, but ...." Stone shrugged. "I don't have any political interests at stake."
Mr. Truth and Justice. God love him. "What's the point? He's already got the death penalty in Louisiana. We're picking up the tab."
"Yeah. Do a public service and put that money to better use," suggested Logan dryly. He probably had as much respect for lawyers as Simone did.
"Like in our pensions," added Briscoe.
The three cops laughed. The attorneys weren't so amused.
After working out specific details (followed with a lot of legalese), Simone was confident with the extradition arrangement. She sympathized with them for wanting to prosecute Delavon, but the Bayou State had won this particular judicial pissing contest. A little payback for Reconstruction. On her way out of Stone's office, she inspected the framed pictures, diplomas, and accolades tacked to the wood paneling.
"Wow! Did you really meet Bobby Kennedy?" She indicated a black and white photo near the door.
"I did." Stone smiled at her indulgently. Her trappings of frippery and effervescence misrepresented the tough cop the Orleans Parish DA assured him that she was.
"Cool! The only famous people I ever met belonged to the Cali Cartel."
"They're probably more honest than the Kennedys," Logan murmured in her ear.
"It's so nice to meet you, Mr. Stone." Simone fought not to laugh in his face about the Kennedy joke. "Listen, if you make it to Jazz Fest this year, pass by Headquarters and come see me. I'll make sure you get some gumbo."
He held her hand a little longer than necessary. From the corner of her eye, Simone watched Ms. Kincaid's eyes yield a frustrated roll. What's got her panties in a wad? I'm only being polite. "I might just do that."
In the hallway, Simone asked her partners if they would wait for her. She had left something in the ADA's office. Actually, it was a little fib. She thought that perhaps she'd offended Claire and wanted to apologize. It troubled her that Ms. Kincaid might view her as an incompetent hussy. Men didn't think twice about a woman's character, but another woman did.
"Ms. Kincaid?" Simone plucked at her sleeve.
"Yes, Detective?" Frostily.
"Can I see you in your office for a sec?" she asked in a hushed voice. The detectives took the hint and wandered down the hall, out of earshot. Mmm-hmm, she salivated, concentrating on the retreating figure of Detective Tall-Dark-and Handsome. Gimme some fries with that shake-shake, baby.
Claire recoiled, startled. She had never seen such naked desire on a woman's face. "Sure. Come in."
"Listen, I think we might have misunderstood each other."
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you earlier. I'm just a tactless street cop. We're a little more laid back where I come from."
"That's okay. I've seen Gone With the Wind. I never thought I'd meet Miss Scarlett face-to-face."
"Scarlett?" Simone considered. "I always thought of myself as something a little more Tennessee Williams."
"I guess I'm more like Miss Melly, compared to you."
Simone tossed her hair, jangling her mammoth acrylic earrings. "Don't sell yourself short, sugar. All I got is big boobs, a smart mouth, and an IQ of 146. Jean-Paul Sartre calls women like me 'a scream.' That's why a pretty woman like you's a lawyer and I'm a cop."
A homicide detective who quotes Sartre. "No need to apologize to me, Simone." Curiously, Claire wanted to be friends with this woman. There was an appealing vulnerability beneath the purple tint that rivaled her own. "Let's have lunch together before you go back to New Orleans."
"Sure. We'll compare notes." Simone tipped her a lascivious wink and swept out of the office. As she walked to the car, Simone, sandwiched between Briscoe and Logan, took each of them by the arm. Ostensibly, this was to keep her purple heels from sliding in the slush. Covertly, it was tactic perfected by Miss Scarlett herself. Men had a putrid craving to be guardians of helpless women and, when properly applied, could be turned to one's advantage. Plenty of johns and drug dealers were behind bars because Simone had it down to a fine art. "Before we punch the clock, I want to interview the people who face the alley where Stevonne was found."
"We worked that, Simone. Everyone was blind, deaf, and dumb. We got nothing."
Nothing to someone who knew nothing of voodoo, maybe. She regarded each of them in turn and said huskily, "I'm gonna tell ya'll what I tell every man I meet: make me happy just once, okay?" They burst out laughing to her secret delight. She had yet to meet a man who didn't enjoy that quip.
"You hear that, Mike? She said just once."
"In a perfect world." Mike was still trying to figure this woman out. Was she actively flirting, or was she just a wisecracking broad?
"If this was a perfect world, I'd wake up looking like Marilyn Monroe, take baths in Dom Perignon, and be boffing Don Johnson every night. But when I realize I get paid less than the garbageman, I remember the world isn't perfect." She tightened her grip. "Come on, ya'll. Isn't redundancy the best thing about this job?"
The interviews with the tenants facing the alley were, for the most part, futile. Her NOPD shield was met with bafflement at all but one flat. The residents of this apartment were Haitian immigrants. In the tiny parlor, available for public viewing, sat their voodoo altar. To the untrained eye, it looked Catholic and very Christian: a small table of red votives with flickering candles, holy cards depicting saints, religious statuettes, fuming incense. A trained eye, however, would notice the bottles of rum, red wine, cigars, candies, and fruit offerings. The lady of the house, a Madame Depestre, whose head was swathed in a colorful red and orange tignon, welcomed Simone as one of her own. From the nation that sent voodoo to Louisiana, she certainly was clever enough to connect the hoodoo-cide in the alley and the appearance of a New Orleans police officer.
"Nouvelle Orleans!" After the handshake, she took Simone's wrist and examined the brightly colored leather strip. Only a voodooienne would have noticed her voodoo love bracelet. "I come from Port-au-Prince, me."
"Bien. I know it well. I have made my pilgrimage to Saut-d'Eau." Haiti's voodoo version of Lourdes. The mention of it would ensure the Madame's trust. "Madame Depestre, if you are uncomfortable with English, we could do business in French."
At length, Simone and Madame Depestre jabbered in rapid Creole, aggravating the two non-French speakers in the room. Simon flashed photos of Delavon, Charleesa, and Stevonne. The responses on each were negative. Simone finished her interview, thanked her, and then retreated, still scribbling notes.
Mike chastised her as soon as they were in the hall: "Do we have to drag an interpreter around with us, or what? Why couldn't you speak English?"
"Because she wasn't comfortable with English. That's prolly why you got nothing."
"What did you get?"
She smiled impishly. "I thought you said there was nothing to get."
"Now you know why I got divorced, Mike," Briscoe stated. "Out with it, Simone."
Coolly, she lit a cigarette, prolonging her moment. "I know Madame Depestre lied to me. And to ya'll."
"How do you know that?" Mike stared at her Mona Lisa smile, suddenly understood it, and then groaned. "Oh, God. Don't you dare say 'women's intuition.'"
"Would you be mad at me if I did?"
"Okay. I won't. But I will tell you that Madame Depestre is a practicing voodooist who pretended to be ignorant about the players, but I think she recognized Charleesa."
"How do you know she's a voodooist?" Briscoe demanded. "Did you just ask her?"
"Southerners aren't that rude, sweetcakes. I didn't have to. Her altar was there in the parlor, plain as day. And what's the first thing about me she notices?" Probably the same two things everybody notices, thought Logan. Simone held up her wrist. "This. A voodoo love bracelet. Who the hell else around here knows what this is? Besides, she was very helpful."
"Such as giving me the names of all the local botannicas and spiritualist churches. Save ya'll a little trouble." She waved her notebook triumphantly. "I talked to Arceneaux in the Fifth District right after you called him, Mike. He said some fraternal brother in New York wanted to know what an herb store was. He couldn't figure out why you ast, because everybody knows that they's voodoo all over New York. And Chicago, Atlanta, Miami. So you see, Madame Depestre had a lot to say." He glowered at her. "But cheer up, ya'll. It's Miller Time!"
"You mean, what's a nice girl like me doing in a job like this?"
Daintily Simone wet her fingertip, pressed it to the snowy rim of her glass, and tasted the salt. The bar was dark and comforting, the way a cop bar was supposed to be. The crowd noise was at a manageable level. Robert Cray gushed from the jukebox, singing about a smoking gun. Simone's attention wavered between her margarita and Mike's aquamarine eyes. As a dedicated twelve-stepper, Briscoe had long since defected. After a day's analysis of Simone, whose ingenuous dark eyes exuded enough warmth to melt a polar ice cap, he had a damned good idea of what was on the menu for that evening. A little enthusiastic exercise concerning the Fourth Amendment -- search and seizure between the sheets someplace. So here they were, members of the Fraternal Order, in a potentially dangerous scenario: alone and off-duty. Yet Simone couldn't feel imperiled, because she didn't consider herself attractive enough to be jumped by a man who was still sober.
"How do you know I didn't do it for the same reasons a man does: to power trip and whip ass?"
He laughed. "Okay. I'm sorry. You used to work in one of those voodoo shops, right? Since you know so much about it, I'd think you were interested in it." She nodded. "Why did you stop? I can't see a woman like you wanting to spend her life writing parking tickets." It was more than polite curiosity that made him ask. There was a softness to Simone that he did not find in most other female officers.
"When I worked at Marie Laveau's, I was too young to be on the job. If it was my lot to write parking tickets, then that was okay with me." He was drinking Jack Daniels, and the aroma of it soothed her. Her former partner drank Black Jack, which prompted Simone to associate it with someone she could trust. "When I was a little girl, we'd go to the Mardi Gras parades. There's about two weeks' worth of parades before Fat Tuesday. You have to get there early to get a good place to stand. You'd wait and wait and when you heard the sirens, you'd know the parade was fixing to start. I don't know ... there was something about them, the way they led the parade, so to speak. And the little star and crescent." She held up an index finger, which bore her Academy ring. "Now I have thirteen hundred brothers and sisters. We're not a big department, but we're very close. I like that."
"So I've heard." What Mike had heard was that the NOPD was a law unto itself, which included fierce loyalty and liberal amounts of brutality and corruption. The tales of a place nicknamed "The Big Easy" were scandalous, if you believed them. Rumor had it that the Chief of Police was driven around in a chauffeured limo, like some banana republic dictator. He had dismissed the story as stereotypical prejudice against the South. In the age of political correctness, such a place could not exist. Moreover, he couldn't imagine Simone as a uniformed dictator's goon. Her hands scarcely seemed large enough to handle a weapon. It wouldn't hurt to ask. "Tell me something, Simone ... does the Chief ride around in a limo?"
Her eyes cooled. "No. He rides in a blue-and-white, like the rest of us. I guess you've heard the junta stories. The media likes to pick on the South. As if we haven't done enough penance for the twenty percent of slave owners. They should investigate the LAPD and leave us alone." She must have looked summarily offended, because his apology couldn't have been more humble than if he'd licked her boots. "I'll forgive you if you buy me another drink and swear to me that you really wanted to spend your life giving tourists directions and getting cats off roofs."
What a sassy little broad she was. Still, her playful attitude and humor could make the job actually enjoyable while she was here. Since he had lost two partners in shooting incidents within the last three years, Mike wondered if handing out directions to tourists might not be better. "My old man was a cop. I used to watch him and wonder why he did it, because it was such a lousy job. He was never home, he was always tired. You know how it is. I told myself there's no way in hell I'm gonna end up like that."
"So you ran right from high school to the Academy."
"I was still a baby, like you. I survived Catholic school and I was gonna have a good time. I went to City College for a while. Drove a cab."
Simone hiccoughed into her tequila. "What, like Reverend Jim on Taxi?"
"I never got that stoned." She was still giggling. "Critical comment?"
"Guys who get gold shields aren't cabbies. Those are the same guys who push weenie wagons, molest children at matinees, or sell fruit outside the cemetery."
"Nobody sells fruit at a cemetery." That was as good as the junta story. "That's bullshit. Who's gonna buy it?"
"I swear. It's a good location. People," she gasped, controlling her laughter, "are dying to get in."
They laughed together. "Detective Broidveaux, you are not to be believed."
She licked some salt. "All men say that about me. Even the gay ones."
"What else do they say?"
His voice was deep and velvety, his eyes alarmingly seductive. He was so close, she could feel the warmth of his body. Her hands began to sweat and she scrabbled for a cigarette, trying to remain poised. She thanked God for her undercover training, otherwise she would make a libidinous spectacle of herself. "If you have to ax, you'll never know." This man is so damn delicious, I bet his bathwater even tastes good. "But I've got a favor to ax you."
"And what could that be, I wonder?" I'll gladly do you a favor, Miss Scarlett, if you do one for me, he mused.
"Can I see your gold shield?"
He started. "Huh?" Of all the things he had expected her to say, that certainly was the least of them.
She held out her hand, fingers wiggling impatiently. "I've only seen it on TV. Come on, Kojak. Let me be impressed. Please please please."
Slightly puzzled, he handed it to her. "Skip the mug shot, okay?" She put out her tongue impishly. For a moment, he watched her handle the badge with the veneration afforded a religious object. "Still impressed?"
"Yeah." Simone's fingernails danced lightly over the gold lettering. "I've worked with a lot of PDs over the years. DEA, FBI ..." They both pulled faces of disgust. "...BAT and F, you know. Even the fabled Miami Vice. I never thought I'd even meet anyone from NYPD, much less work with one. I'm honored."
"Honored? You're kidding." Evidently she wasn't. Her face was a mask of admiration. Underneath all that purple, there was nothing but blue. "Why?"
"Because it's like working with Scotland Yard." Her petite hands curled around the stem of her glass. "It's something I have to respect. You know that they don't hand out gold to just any cop. You're chosen because of your intelligence, style, wit, ability...." She twirled a strand of hair around her finger as she reflected. "It means you're somebody special. The kind of cop I could never be."
Vacillating between flattery and embarrassment at her observation, Mike replied, "What're you talking about? If you made detective back home, you could do it here."
"Not if I lived to be a thousand. 'Detective' isn't a rank in the NOPD, it's just a job description. Technically, I'm just a patrolman. Patrolwoman."
"Yeah, you right. I passed the sergeant's exam in eighty-nine. Still waiting for the gold."
"What do mean, still waiting? If you made it, they should give it to you."
"Why? The city's broke. The mayor double-dips out of the budget for his crack habit so we get nada. I'm a woman, and they's people higher up on the NOPD's favor food-chain."
"That's bullshit, Simone, and you know it. What does the union say?"
"What can they say? Honey, if the city's broke, it's broke. Wasn't New York broke once? If you want body armor, you've got to buy your own. Hell, I use my own car half the time because you could spend all day trying to find one that works."
"We've been ... shall we say .... financially challenged, but never that bad." As he watched Simone slurp her fourth margarita with catlike silkiness, Mike concluded that he would enjoy nothing more than inviting this winsome free spirit into his bed. Professionalism, however, was his conscience. She was probably fed up with guys hitting on her all the time and would, no doubt, slap him into the middle of next week. It would help to know the temperature before he stuck his foot into the water. "Enough shop talk for one night, okay?"
Her eyes got round with mock surprise as she pressed fingertips to her cheeks. Only Marilyn Monroe could have done it better. "You mean I have to ask non-threatening questions?"
He considered. "Can a homicide detective ask non-threatening questions?"
"Hmmm... How about I give you the standard yat ice-breaker? Where'd you go to school, is your momma Catholic, and can you make a roux?"
"What the hell is a yat?"
"I axt you first."
He counted the answers on his fingers: "Our Lady of Mercy, yes she was, and I have no idea what a roux is."
Unwittingly Simone launched into her Southern belle all-purpose oh-poor-baby response. "Is your momma dead? Jeezum peace, I'm sorry."
The sudden chill in his voice told her that something was very poisonous here and that she ought to back off. Immediately. She felt small and awkward, felt like apologizing again. Southern women were always apologizing for everything; it was an unbreakable habit. "A 'yat' is what we call ourselves back home because instead of saying 'hello' or 'hi' we say 'where ya at.' And a roux is just flour and oil, what we use as a base for most of our cooking. Like gumbo."
"I've never had gumbo before."
"I'll just have to make you some, then." She lit a cigarette and started on margarita number five. She could practically read his mind as she lifted the glass: Jesus H. Christ, how much can this woman drink? Her undercover years had given her a high tolerance -- and taste -- for alcohol. New acquaintances were staggered by the amount she could consume and remain vertical. "You don't hate me for stepping into your case, do you?"
"What?" Mike had been speculating what he would do when she passed out after the next margarita. "For Christ's sake, Simone. Delavon was yours long before he was mine. You're not exactly Tyne Daly in The Enforcer. I think I can trust an ex-narc."
"Well, I'm glad. My partner in Narcotics hated my guts when he laid eyes on me. The first thing he said to me was 'A rookie street cop. I musta done something wrong in a previous life.'" She laughed quietly, without humor. "Looking back, I can't blame him. It took awhile, but we got it together. We don't have partners in Homicide. Which is fine. I hate having some man trying to adjust to me, thinking I have PMS all the time."
"I know what you mean. My partner was in the hospital and they sent Lennie here on temporary assignment. Never believe the word 'temporary' when it comes down from on high. I was working this guy who got blown away in the street and here he comes, insulting the uniforms, giving me static about how he doesn't work without a diagram, all that shit. I thought, 'Excuse the hell outta me, asshole.' Didn't Jim Morrison say 'Can any hell be more horrible than here and now'?"
"Maybe. I didn't know you were such a philosopher."
"Everybody is, once their blood alcohol level rises." Noticing that her glass was nearly empty, he reflected that either the tequila was watered down or she was the only decent woman of his acquaintance who could have conceivably out-drank his mother. "Another margarita, seŮorita?"
"Nada. It's a school night. I have a terrible craving for some dogmeat. Let's go get some Chinese food."
"Dog? I always thought it was rat."
Besides being very good, the Chinese food was about the cheapest thing Simone had found in New York. Once she realized that she wasn't going to be asked to assume the position, she was anxious to hit the streets in search of Delavon. While Simone didn't consider herself exactly a blue-ribbon heifer, she remembered being pawed over by DEA, FBI, and even Border Patrol agents only hours after the introductions. Feds were more hot to trot than guys in the local PDs, possibly because they frequently hailed from larger, faster cities. Whether he was attracted to her or not, Simone was grateful that Mike didn't treat her like a slut or a bimbo. Undoubtedly he could spot a Nice Catholic Girl a mile off.
Back at her terrible, overpriced hotel, she hunted around for the thermostat to warm herself against the cold. She plucked the pint bottle of tequila from her luggage and lay down. Inhaling deeply on a cigarette, she let her mind roll, assessing her surroundings and options.
Delavon should have been foremost in her mind, but he was not. Mike Logan was far more interesting to her than Delavon. She hadn't practiced the deliberate art of seduction since her undercover days, and wondered if she could still make a successful try. She speculated on what a man like that would want from a woman. Whatever it was, finding out would be half the fun. Simone had not been so strongly attracted to anyone in so long, that this giddy, adolescent feeling of hers tasted deceptively dangerous.
Although the vastness of New York frightened her, she felt like an unleashed creature, wild, free, and reckless. No one here knew anything about her, save what was in Delavon's file. Her Narcotics training had taught her that those who knew nothing usually suspected little, were easily blindsided, and therefore vulnerable. If Logan expected her to be Scarlett O'Hara because of her heritage, he was more vulnerable than most. Just you wait, sugar. You ought to try the sweet jellyroll of a woman who's got a Medal of Merit. I trapped some of Escobar's goons and I can get you, too.
She giggled aloud at her own thoughts. "Stupid bitch." As if a man like him wouldn't consider her anything above an ugly cousin of Daisy Duke's. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, she supposed. At any rate, it would be enjoyable to try. She roused herself to sift through her luggage and put together a funky ensemble to wear the next day.
Ya didn't figure on someone like me showing up, did you, chili sauce? she thought, watching her own movements in the mirror as she removed her jewelry. Don't underestimate She Who Shops At Soul Train Fashions. Huey Long was a dark horse candidate, too. A little more satisfied with herself, she headed into the shower, humming "Spanish Harlem" under her breath.