If you're heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl (or both), you'll probably eat a po'boy while you're there. Here is an interesting tale of how they came to be. Hey, and read City of Spirits on the way down or back. It takes place during Mardi Gras.
It's Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. Big Easy is the first book in the Wyatt Thomas French Quarter Mystery series. Use the coupon below and get it for just a buck. Only on Smashwords.com. Happy Mardi Gras!
Regular Price: $4.99
Promotional price: $1.00
Coupon Code: VG84P (not case sensitive)
Enter the code prior to completing checkout Expires: March 1, 2013
When a burned-out reporter buys a drunk at the bar a drink in exchange for a story, he hears a tale of war he doesn't expect.
Tell Me a Story
“Hey, Mac. You've
had enough already. Why don't you drag your ass outa here and go home?”
“Leave him alone,
Clancy, why don't you?”
Clancy, the big
bartender, turned to see his nephew Tim standing on one foot in the half-opened
doorway, bracing himself with an elbow against the wall.
“You wanna close
up for me?” Clancy said. Not waiting for an answer he threw his bar towel
across the counter, removed his apron and grabbed his coat from the rack in the
corner. He dropped the keys to the door into Tim's hand as he passed. “Lock up
when you've had all the fun you can take. I'm going home.”
Tim watched Clancy
disappear down the deserted sidewalk, and then glanced at the drunk sitting
alone at the bar. Grabbing a bottle of Clancy's bourbon, he took the stool
The man seemed
oblivious to his stained shirt and day-old growth of beard. As Tim filled his
empty glass, he opened one eye and glanced up from the table.
“And to what do I
owe this honor?” he said, alcohol slurring his words.
“Clancy decided to
let us borrow a bottle of his best sipping whiskey,” Tim said.
into a slumped sitting position, the unshaven drunk hiccupped, glanced at the
bottle and grinned. “Well I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a
Smiling at the
tired old joke, Tim raised his glass and the drunk did likewise.
“Here's to you.
What's your name?”
The man, after
draining half the liquor in a single swallow, said, “Harris. John Harris.”
“Pleased to meet
you, Mr. Harris. I'm Tim Sullivan.”
“And a fine Irish
name it is,” Harris replied.
Tim's barely touched glass, he finished the remaining drops of his own whiskey.
“To what do I owe
the honor, Tim Sullivan?” Harris said again, refilling his glass from the
“And what might ye
be curious about, lad?” he said in his drunken imitation of an Irish brogue.
Tim smiled. “I'm a
reporter. I haven't slept in thirty-six hours and I can't remember the last
time I ate. I just covered a murder so grisly and sordid my editor's not gonna
believe it when I give it to him.”
“If I could make
the past go away, I would do it for both of us,” John Harris said.
Tim nodded, and
his grin remained acerbic when he said, “I guess you can't. But there is
something you can do for me.”
“Name it,” Harris
“A story,” Tim
said, resting his head in the palms of his hands. “Tell me a story.”
drunken, rheumy eyes, Harris raked five bony fingers through his matted hair
before pouring himself another shot of whiskey.
noncommittally, and glancing at his watch, Tim said, “You name it, John.
Everyone has a story. I'm too wired to sleep and too numb to talk. I gave you
whiskey, now tell me a story.”
Harris nodded and
leaned back in his chair, watching Tim Sullivan light his cigarette. For a long
moment, he stared at a point above Tim's right shoulder, making him wonder if
he’d passed out with his eyes open. He hadn't. He was trying to recall a past
moment, and the exact nuance and inflection to convey that memory. The cogs in
his drunken brain were turning. Finally, he blew a wisp of smoke at the ceiling
and began in dreamy, broken sentences.
sky. Butt on a canvas seat and back against a metal vibrating wall. Half-dozen
expressionless Vietnamese Nationals across the aisle, staring at nothing with
nervous eyes, inside the droning monstrosity.”
seemed to emanate from a different person. Before three sentences passed his
lips, he had stopped talking, and held his own cigarette with a palsied grip.
Slowly, he sucked at it, as if he might never taste another. Tim thought he was
done. He wasn’t and soon began again.
“Glanced out the
porthole. Endless connecting craters surrounding a forest of defoliated stumps,
many still burning. Wisps of yellow smoke curling up from decimated earth. Pale
tropical sky back-dropping freshly churned dirt—like a coffin's velvet lining
around an ashen corpse.”
again, as if remembering the vision with vivid recall.
Rice paddies. When the Caribou banked its wing, I saw the South China Sea for
the first time. It looked like paradise.
“The plane began a
downward spiral, and I saw a short stretch of man-made gray surrounding an
eternity of tropical green. Heat devils danced on the concrete runway.
Greenhouse heat and outhouse stench hit me when they opened the door.
“I was soon in a
green army bus winding down a seaside road surrounded by endless vegetation.
They let me out at an Army base by the sea.
“I hit the base on
Friday for a three day stand-down, and the place was jumping. Stowing my duffel
in one of the tents, I followed the noise to the beach. I thought I had died
and gone to heaven, standing on the whitest sand, beneath the bluest sky,
beside the clearest water I’d ever imagined.
Vietnamese girls with seamless copper skin and flowing black hair were
everywhere, and they all had sensual lips and dark eyes that could burn a hole
through your heart like a cutting torch.
“G.I.'s were also
everywhere. Young, drunk and laughing. Grunts, straight from the jungle,
wearing cut-off fatigue pants. Bodies the sun hadn't touched in months—bleached
by sunless, triple-canopy darkness. Martha and the Vandellas blasted from a
quad-speaker radio in the background.
“I pulled off my
boots and shirt and tossed them behind a concrete wall. A squeal behind me. A
beautiful Vietnamese girl walked by, and I watched her tanned legs and bikinied
ass. She left the beach with a lifeguard, and my heart.
Aussies. More girls. Tropical colors, loud music and alcohol. I should have
felt happiness, but the throes of melancholia entangled my neck with icy
fingers. Still, after an hour in paradise I had yet to speak a word. Feeling
strangely invisible and ignored, I changed clothes and took a Lambretta to Vung
Tau, the village beside the sea the French called the Vietnamese Riviera. Tall
palms, tranquil breezes and long stretches of white beach were everywhere. On a
back street that swarmed with bicycles, buffalo, and little yellow people, I
met a grunt. The man, no more than nineteen, had the hard edge of someone that
had already experienced more life and death than most ninety-year-olds. With
him, I went to a whore house in an old French villa, with a red tiled roof,
surrounded by creeping greenery. A mama-san, her tongue and lips black from
chewing betel nuts, smiled.
baby-san,” she said. “Numba one. You like?”
She wasn't lying.
Neither of the girls looked older than thirteen. When I shook my head and
backed out of the room, the young G.I. grinned and took both girls. I never
caught his name.
After returning to
the base, I slept till late the next morning on a cot in a muggy tent,
returning to the ville that afternoon. I visited a bar and met Hoa. G.I.'s and
boom-boom girls crowded the bar. A smiling Vietnamese waitress approached me
through the throng when I sat down.
“You buy me tea?”
Dark hair. Tight
yellow sarong slit almost to her waist. Ruby lips and amethyst mascara
surrounding dark eyes that glowed in the dim room like coal in a hot furnace.
She was beautiful, and I was in love. At least in lust. I nodded and patted the
empty chair beside me, waiting as she signaled someone across the noisy bar
before putting her arms around my neck.
“Not now,” I said.
A little man
brought her a glass decorated with a single cherry. ‘Saigon tea’ was just that—tea.
Holding the cherry by the stem, she touched it suggestively to her tongue and
closed her red-painted lips around it.
“Harris.” I said.
“Glad to meet you,
Hawis. My name, Hoa,” she said in broken English.
noise and jukebox, blare I drank a half-dozen gin slings while she consumed a
like number of Saigon teas.
“You spend night
with me, Hawis?” she soon said.
“How much?” I
asked, not naive enough to believe she was offering charity.
“Ten dollah, MPC.”
I'd already paid
twice that much for drinks, and ten dollars in military payment certificates
were about all I had left. “Five dollars,” I countered.
Folding her arms
tightly, she crossed her legs and shook her head. “No way, G.I.”
“All right,” I
conceded. “Ten dollah.”
When I gave her
the money, her oriental smile returned. “How many rubbah you need?”
“G.I. numbah one
bullshit. Give me dollah,” she said, holding out her hand.
I dug a dollar out
of my shirt pocket, handed it to her and watched her disappear through the crowded
bar wearing a mile-wide grin. Checking my wallet, I found I had less than
twenty dollars left. Five minutes had elapsed when I spotted Hoa standing by
the door. She motioned me, and I followed her outside to the dark street.
“Give me dollah,”
she said. “Taxi man charge you five dollah. I talk.”
I fished in my
pocket for another dollar.
We weaved a
circuitous course through the ville to a three story apartment complex, and
then walked up to the second floor. Holding my hand, she led me to her
one-roomed apartment. Inside, sweating plaster was peeling off the walls from
the humidity. There wasn't a single couch or chair in the room, only a large
Hawis? Give me dollah. I get food.”
She took the money
and disappeared for ten minutes, directing me when she returned to the
bathroom. “Brush teeth,” she said, handing me a well-used toothbrush and tube
of toothpaste. I wondered how many G.I.s had used the same brush.
waited for Harris to continue. Instead, he slumped in his chair. Thinking him
too dry to talk, Tim refilled his glass. Harris didn't seem to notice.
Producing a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, he fished one
out. It was only slightly bent. Smoke wafted slowly from his nostrils. Although
he stared at the ceiling, his green eyes became glazed as if he were
envisioning something far away. After a long, unbroken silence, he stubbed out
the cigarette and stared at Sullivan.
“Have you ever
gone five months without seeing a woman?”
Tim Sullivan shook
“I had thought
about having sex so long, when it finally came to pass, the act paled beside
“No problem, G.I.
Happen all time,” she assured me.
on the door, and I almost came unglued. Hoa patted my shoulder and got out of
bed, not bothering to dress. An old man, totally unmindful of her nudity,
handed her a steaming bowl of fishy soup through the door. We shared the spicy
soup and rice with a single spoon.
“Yes,” I said.
“We were only married
five months when I got here. I can barely remember what she looks like.”
“You love her?”
“Don't know,” I
said. “Are you married?” I said, changing the subject.
Shaking her head
sadly, she said, “I have lover. He beaucoup love me.”
Hoa pointed to a
glossy 8 by 10 on the stand beside the bed—she and a young American airman,
holding a tiny baby.
“Is he stationed
at the air base?”
Again she shook
her head. “He go home six month ago. He send for me soon.”
“And the baby?”
“He our baby-san,”
she said, smiling. “Leonard take us to America. Baby-san grow up become rich
man, very smart like father.”
My heart skipped a
beat and almost seized up. While I longed for a woman far away whose face I
could barely remember, Hoa longed for a man who’d fucked her, taken her love
and gone away, never to return.
“The war will end
soon, Hoa. All the G.I.'s will go home. What will you do then?”
Even as I mouthed
the words I knew they sounded cruel, though I couldn't prevent myself from
saying them anyway. With sad eyes darker than ten years of war, she stared back
“I check on
baby-san,” she said. “You stay. We make boom-boom again when I come back.
Better this time."
After ten long
minutes, waiting naked and alone in the dark, paranoid thoughts began to
overload my brain. What was I doing in a Vietnamese village swarming with Viet
Cong, with no weapon, alone in the middle of the night? What if Hoa returned
with a little black-garbed man armed with a demon spitting AK-47? I got dressed
and peered out the door, seeing nothing but darkness.
“Fear is a strange
emotion,” Harris said, smiling up at Tim Sullivan.
When Tim topped up
his drink, Harris continued his story. “I abandoned the apartment and hurried
down the stairs to the deserted street, finally managing to hail a surprised
Lambretta driver passing in the night. When I reached the base beside the sea,
I fell into a fitful sleep in the airless tent.
overcame me the following morning. After checking my wallet and finding it
nearly bare, I took the army bus back to town and waited in the hotel lobby
that housed the bar where I’d met Hoa. Although the place seemed deserted, she
soon appeared through a door from the bar. She was wearing a lime green sarong
and looked exotic and beautiful.
Glaring at me with
accusing eyes, she said, “You leave door unlock. Why not tell me you go? I very
much worry for you.”
When I reached for
her, she pulled away, shaking her head.
“I'm sorry, Hoa.
When you left, I got frightened. I didn't mean to leave the door unlocked.”
softened, and she touched my hand. “You miss wife very much?”
Cradling my face
in the palms of her hands when I nodded, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed
“You remember me
“Always,” I said.
Though she turned
away, attempting to hide the tears streaking her amethyst mascara, I caught a
glimpse of her sorrowful smile.
I never saw her
Upon returning to
the base, I found it nearly deserted with all the Aussies and Line Company
grunts gone. Despondent, I took a walk on the beach, alone with only an old
papa-san picking up yesterday's litter using a nail protruding from a broom
handle. I sat on the concrete wall, feeling like the last man on earth.
listening to a whistling ocean breeze and watching distant gulls, I sat
there.A G.I. dressed in camouflage
fatigues, walking along the beach alone, smiled when he saw me, joining me on
the cement wall. He was a sniper, trained to lie in wait for the enemy and kill
him with a single shot from his specially modified M-14.
He asked, “How far
away do you think you can kill a man?”
Shaking my head, I
answered, “I don't know.”
“I killed one once
from nine-hundred meters. Believe me?”
“I was on a hill
overlooking a rice paddy when I saw a papa-san plowing behind a water buffalo.
He was so far away he looked like an ant. I raised my sights and squeezed off a
round.” Raising his arms to show me, he added, “A second later, papa-san
dropped and never got back up. I killed him from nine-hundred meters.”
When I nodded appreciation
for his feat, the camouflaged man acknowledged my silent praise with a smile
and walked away down the beach without speaking another word, relieved for the
moment of more guilt than one person should ever have to bear alone.
“People do things,
you know. Sometimes terrible things. They may live long enough to regret it. They
never live long enough to forget about it.
waited as Harris became silent. When he reached for his glass, he found not a
single sip missing from the last pouring. Returning it to the bar, he watched
as John Harris dragged himself sullenly off his stool.
With a wry smile,
he left Tim alone with his thoughts, never speaking another word as he opened
the barroom door and vanished into dim morning light.
Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma with wife Marilyn, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. He is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series set in New Orleans. Please check out his Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.
Mid-January temps were in the 60s yesterday, here in Oklahoma. Since Mardi Gras madness is in full swing in the Big Easy, Marilyn and I had Bourbon Street brunch at Pearl's, a local Cajun restaurant. After brunch we were going to do a little thrift store browsing. We never made it, going to VZD, a favorite watering hole, instead. Our friend Terry Felts- yes, the death investigator - joined us.
VZDs has numerous beers on tap, including Coop's (an Oklahoma City brewery) DNR. Yes, it means what you think. Since it contains around 10% alcohol, you should never drink more than two pints. Whoops! I had three and Marilyn had to drive me home. Nice visit with Terry and I'm feeling better today, my stomach no longer bubbling like a toxic waste dump.
Here's a picture taken from the balcony. Terry (gray hair with his back to the camera) and Marilyn are seated in the foreground. Great fun. Even if we weren't in New Orleans, it felt like Mardi Gras.