Here I Will Share With You a New Story
I live right around the corner.
Shortly after the dispute in the Boy's End parking lot, customers start pouring into the juke house. All of them already drunk from previous alcoholic stops. Girls on their way to the fiesta slip between the drinkers' shoulders, wiggling their bums. When a hand goes over their precious attribute, they squeak a surprise squeak and, outraged, they slap the olibrius of an offended faggot with their fingertips with long, colorful manicured nails. Rolling breasts under their eyes.
Howard, sitting at the bar, refuses his third liter of beer.
- This one is for me, says the boss.
- Then give me a Collins instead, please.
The boss throws a handful of ice cubes into a large glass, adds a shot of sugar syrup, a dash of lemon juice, and remains the gesture suspended, one hand above his liquor bottles.
- Tom, Joe, Mike, Colonel, Captain, Sandy, Jack, Pierre, Charly, Pepito, Ruben, Pedro, Edgar?
- I'll go for a Miky.
- Irish whiskey, confirms the boss by choosing the right bottle and pouring a generous dose.
Then he drowns the whole thing in seltzer water, plants a slice of lemon on the rim of the glass, and places the cocktail on a mini paper doily in the colours of Mardi Gras: the purple of justice, the green of faith and the gold of power. Nice symbol of hypocrisy and corruption.
- Hum, it makes you want to, whispers a creature with breasts pigeonholed in a balcony dress, climbing the stool next to his calves as round as little knuckles. And I'm not just talking about the Collins!
- I'm offering you one, but you're going to sit somewhere else," answers Howard.
- It looks a bit like a cad, but I'll take it anyway," she lets go, sliding down the stool.
The boss waves to a bartender to serve her. Now the jukebox is screaming zydeco all over the place. It's all there: Clifton Chenier, Rockin' Sidney Simien, Buckwheat, Rockin' Dopsie, Goldman Thibodeaux, Beau Jocque, Rosie Ledet. The devil begins to take the dancers to the body and the false nonchalance of the dancers gives an almost obscene sensuality to their slightest movement.
- Did you know these guys? asks Howard to the boss.
- The little ratchet with skunk blood in his veins is Alvaro, a little Biloxi hit who peels tourists around the casinos. I don't know what that girl's doing with a bougue like that, brah. Too nice a chassis for such a small engine.
- What about the others?
- These ones, for sure they didn't hang the moon, but behind them there's fierce stuff. They work for Big Creep, and you don't want to know who this guy is!
- I know who Sobchak is, let go of Howard.
- Then you know you just put your fingers between the wrong tree and the wrong bark, brah.
- Never mind my fingers. What about the two kids, never seen them before, really?
- Really. Is it true that one of them was your little brother?
- He's still my little brother. He's not dead.
- How do you know that?
- I've asked people...
- Wizards? Dude, these people tell you what you want to hear. They're vampires. They suck the hope out of you.
- Maybe, but I need to believe it. As long as I don't have Tyler's body in front of me in the morgue, he's alive. You don't hear things behind your bar?
If you believe what's being said in my bar, brah, you need to revise your list of deadly sins. It's more than seven, but at least six hundred and sixty-six. When God punished this city in 2005, it wasn't Katrina he sent us, it was Lucifer himself, who hastened to own half the population.
- Ever heard of pedophiles, child prostitution?
- Shit, man, you really want to go down in that sewer and get your little brother?
- I'll go wherever I have to.
- Look, this fucking hurricane left 1500 sex offenders loose in the wilderness... In 15 years, we haven't recovered half of them. At the very least, eight hundred of these fuckers are back in the wilderness, free and clear. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that's the way it is.
Howard's ordering another Collins, a Joe this time, bourbon whiskey. Now it's all mouth kissing at the tables and rubbing rind on the runway. Fifteen years after Katrina, people have certainly regained a taste for partying, but with less joy and innocence. Enjoying everything faster, right away, as if haunted by the possibility of another disaster to come.
After an hour and a Sandy Collins with Scotch whisky, he leaves his number with the boss and leaves Boy's End. He hesitates to push all the way to Baton Rouge to go back and show Tyler's picture in a few bars he knows, then decides it's too late and goes the next night. He returns to Big Easy, crosses the town along the Mississippi River, passes in front of his house at the corner of Valletta, and pushes two blocks further to the Old Point Bar still open at this time, at the corner of Oliver. The outside is all gingois. The wood must have been white a long time ago. The awning miraculously holds, supported at the corner by an improbable pole that is too thin, and suspended all along the facade by big rusty hooks. Underneath, garden tables and chairs made of white plastic pricked by salt and humidity. But inside, it's Good Old New Orleans. Wooden slatted ceiling like a period schooner. Black and white tiled floor like a Spanish patio. Long bar lined with bottles and advertisements from another age. Mellow. Sturgis. Jax. Dixie. Pennants on the ceiling and plaques from every state on the wall. Dart wedge in an alcove. Pool table. A jukebox, a few vending machines, a slot machine, and a lot of autographed pictures. Stars and celebrities coming to slum it. Salam alaykum," Howard says as he enters the bar.
On the platform that serves as a stage, a few zicos pack up their instruments. Rockabilly according to the guitars and the santiags. He walks towards the bar, swings over the zinc and gives a kiss to the waitress who is already beating his head off an Abita Maison Blanc.
The tourists and the bourgeoisie have long since crossed the river again. They are advised not to linger in Algiers after midnight. There are only a few old people left in the neighbourhood, their necks broken back to watch TV too high above the bar. Howard takes his beer and goes out to drink it on the terrace. He hesitates to climb the levee lawn, to see the river, cross the Mississippi Trail, and go down to the shore. That's where he taught Tyler how to do ricochets. He doesn't have the guts. He just sits there in the shadow of a floodlight. Smelling the wind. The smell of the grass on the levee. Old, salty wood on the walls. The invisible river. Of the damp night. Warm asphalt. Of its beer. Of his life in Algiers, and of his big brother's ordeal. The waitress comes out to join him for a cigarette. She smokes while holding her elbow in her other hand, her wrist arched, hand turned upside down with her palm facing the sky, the cigarette pinched between the middle finger and the index finger. She throws a long blue breath into the air, panicking and suddenly wrapping herself in the white light of one of the spotlights.
- Any word from Tyler?
- Damn it, Suzane, you ask that like he went to summer camp!
She pulls out her cigarette and makes the embers glow.
- Are you home tonight?
- Yeah, it'll be open, but I'm asleep in an hour. I'm warning you...
- Some other day then, she said as she walked into the bar.
He empties his beer and goes back to his car. It's when he notices Lou's kiss-in-town that he thinks about it.
It rings four times.
- Look, I don't know who you are or where you're calling from, but it's the middle of the night here at my house.
- I found your bag, Lou. Ah, it's the Bad Boy Zorro.
She's got a lot more interest in the voice this time.
- And we can find out where?
- Where you dropped it for me to find it.
- Hey, aren't you a cop, Columbo? She's laughing.
- My name's Douglas.
- Pretty name-sensitive for a guy who gives out nicknames like bingo chips.
He imagines her sitting on the edge of his bed. The slap of the Dupont tells him she's lighting a cigarette. He gives her time for the long, round first drag.
- Chipmunk got offended?
- Wouldn't you be?
- Don't you remember calling me a bacon, and your little Marquis a mobster blue?
- My little marquis?
From the tone of his voice, he can tell Chipmunk's not on his side. That she's alone in her room. At 2:00 in the morning, she talks without fear of disturbing anyone.
- At the Rio carnival, the little marquis are scrawny guys who hang around the carnival queens. They show off by thinking they are the masters of the ball, but they only serve as a support for the queens to prevent them from losing their balance.
- And why would they fall, they dance drunk?" laughs Louise's voice.
- Because they wear on their backs costumes of twenty kilos of sequins and rhinestones... And you, Lou, what is it that weighs so much on your shoulders?
She takes the time to look for an answer. He waits in silence. He guesses that she's blowing the smoke from his cigarette. I'm solid on both my feet, Bacon, don't worry about me.
- You bet, you're in freefall, Lou, and it shows at first glance.
- – …
- – …
- All right, how's your kiss downtown?
- Can you bring it back to me?
- No way, the loser comes. Old Point Bar, at the far end of Oliver's in Algiers... If it's closed, I'll be on the terrace.
- And what are we drinking if it's closed?
- I've got just the thing at home. I live right next door.