Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Short Geologic History of New Orleans

In 1718, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded the colony that became New Orleans. Sieur de la Salle had claimed the territory for the French in 1682 and France was looking for an outpost from where they could take advantage of the resources of the vast domain. They desired a location with access to the Gulf of Mexico at a spot they could easily defend from possible hostility by other countries. These two factors, high ground and access, likely resulted in the choosing of the present location of New Orleans.

High ground, you say? Everyone knows that a portion of New Orleans is below sea level. This is true but much has changed since the City was founded in 1718. The fact is the mean elevation of Louisiana is only 100' above sea level. To put this into perspective, Morgan City is 7' above sea level, Lafayette 39' above sea level, Baton Rouge 60' above sea level and the far northwestern city of Shreveport only 177' above sea level. Why then did Bienville situate the City of New Orleans at the second lowest spot in the United States, higher only than Death Valley that has an elevation of 282' below sea level? The answer is, he didn’t.

There were no topographic maps or GPS devices in 1718. Still, seasoned explorers Bienville and his brother D’Iberville understood the concept of high ground. They had located and chosen the site for New Orleans on an expedition more than a decade before the City’s founding. Although no records exist to confirm this assumption, a look at present-day Louisiana geography and geology indicates New Orleans in 1718 may have been at or near the highest elevation at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

New Orleans is part of the Mississippi River Delta, a geographic region that encompasses 13,000 square miles, fully 25% of Louisiana. Deltas are comprised mainly of silt. A look at the mechanics of the Mississippi River explains why. The Mississippi River drops 1,475' from its source in Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Water flows down river because of gravity. Along the way the Mississippi is intersected by many smaller rivers.

The Mississippi and the rivers that feed it transport many tons of alluvium picked up along the way because of erosion. The energy of the flowing river carries this alluvium in suspension. As the elevation nears sea level and this energy is dissipated, the river can no longer maintain its load and it is deposited in the form of silt. Often, extra silt is deposited at a meander in the river where energy is locally dissipated. This is a likely scenario for the location of New Orleans in 1718.

Just north of the small town of Donaldsonville the Mississippi turns abruptly eastward. Interestingly, Donaldsonville is near the point the modern Mississippi River threatens to abandon its present course and flow into the Atchafalaya River Basin. The Corp of Engineers has prevented this occurrence for many years by constructing special levees along the course of the Mississippi River. Near Donaldsonville, the Mississippi River flows eastward until it reaches a point just east of New Orleans where it again turns, this time abruptly southward.

Old New Orleans is located in a crescent-shaped bend in the river, a meander. The crescent that formed the Crescent City is really a meander. What happened in 1718 at this meander was a dissipation of energy that resulted in higher ground because of an unloading of sediment. Likely, New Orleans was the highest point near the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1718.

Why is much of New Orleans presently below sea level. The answer is subsidence. Geologically speaking, silt is very unstable. When loaded, it readily compresses and subsides. During the early days of New Orleans, there were no man-made levees separating the City from the Mississippi River. Because of this, the City was flooded with silt and knee-deep water every Spring. City fathers soon began building up the natural levees to prevent this from happening. The result is that much of New Orleans, without the yearly addition of silt from the river, has subsided in the centuries following 1718. Even with this subsidence, the French Quarter and the Central Business District, part of the original settlement, remains at or near sea level and was surely even higher in 1718.

Another reason Bienville chose the present site of New Orleans was because of access. Native Americans had shown the French a short cut from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans - a strategic advantage over any foreign power that might attempt to wrest the region from France. This short cut came through a pass from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Pontchartrain, and then from St. Johns Bayou to present-day New Orleans.

Everyone is aware of the tremendous damage done in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. How can we alleviate a future disaster without moving the venerable old City? Here is my suggestion. Cut the levees near Donaldsonville and let the mighty Mississippi follow its preferred course: into the Atchafalaya Basin to the Gulf of Mexico. Will it change history? Only time will tell.

END


Eric Wilder is the author of the French Quarter Mystery Series. Please check out his books on his Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

BONES OF SKELETON CREEK - Chapter 1

P.I. Buck McDivit inherits a dog and a gory murder case.


Prologue

Three men on horseback stared up at the stark sky and rustler’s moon, their horses spooked by howls of prowling coyotes. The noisy creatures could do little harm to a horse. It didn’t matter because their nervous mounts didn’t know it. Somewhere ahead, a tortured creature’s tormented moans echoed through the darkness, a muffled pop finally silencing its whimpers of pain.

“What in cornbread hell was that?”

“Sounded like someone skinning a hog that weren’t quite dead yet.”

“Relax, Shorty. Probably just kids spotlighting coyotes.”

“Didn’t sound like no coyote to me,” Shorty said.

Full moonlight provided all the visibility they needed and they soon found a herd of cattle situated for the night. The dying creature had spooked them. When the man on the lead horse spotted a darkened silhouette, he dismounted and approached what looked like someone crouching on the ground.

“What is it?” the man named Shorty asked.

“You were right about the skinning, but it ain’t no hog.”

“Sweet Jesus!” Shorty said when he saw the dead creature.

Chapter 1

Buck McDivit exited the heavy glass doors of the Second Bank of Edmond, trying without success not to feel like someone had just kicked him in the gut. His banker, a man he had known all his life, had just rejected his request for a new truck loan.

“You got no steady job and not much in the way of assets. I can’t risk the bank’s money on this one,” he had told Buck.

Buck had stared at the little man with a voice much deeper than his size indicated and tried to reason with him. “I’ve never had a loan go south. You know as much, Jeb.”

“Things change,” Jeb Stuart Johnson had said, peering over his reading glasses. “The auditors would have my ass in a sling if I made this loan. Unless you put twenty percent down, that is.”

“I don’t have that kind of money.”

“Then maybe you don’t need a new forty thousand dollar pickup. You know what the monthly payments are on a loan that big? Hell, Buck, what’s the matter with the truck you got?”

“Two hundred thousand miles,” he had replied. “Maintenance is eating me up.”

“Then lower your standards because you can’t afford a truck costing forty-two grand.” The little man whisked his hand through his thinning hair before glancing at his watch. “Now I got another appointment coming in right after lunch so I’m leaving a little early. Anything else I can help you with?”

Buck didn’t bother answering because Jeb Johnson had already grabbed his overcoat and headed out of the office. He pulled the collar of his jean jacket up around his neck and followed him through the front door to Broadway, Edmond’s main street.

Buck’s boots were old but always polished and well maintained. He had long legs and his jeans and Western shirt made him seem taller than he really was. Two women passing on the sidewalk turned to give the handsome young cowboy with expressive brown eyes and dark wavy hair a second glance. Still upset about his meeting with Jeb Johnson, he failed to notice.

Edmond, a former train stop had grown into a north suburb of sprawling Oklahoma City. No longer a bedroom community for the wealthy, it was now the home of the third largest university in the state. It was also the third largest city in Oklahoma.

The thriving little metropolis had traffic that didn’t quite rival Dallas but was on its way to doing so. It also had a hundred fifty churches and at least ten Starbucks. Cold gusty wind whistled down the street, chilling the back of his neck, as someone tapped his shoulder.

“Sorry to bother you, Mister but I ain’t ate in two days. Can you spare a dollar?”

The economy, as in other parts of the country, had begun collapsing in Oklahoma. It seemed beggars populated every major cross street in the City but this was the first one Buck had seen in downtown Edmond. The man was scruffy, his clothes dirty and torn, but it was his dog that caught his attention. The man held on to it with a short strand of rope tied around its neck.

The young black and white Border collie wagged its tail and licked Buck’s hand when he reached down to pet it. He fished out his wallet and glanced at his last twenty.

“What’s your dog’s name?” Buck asked.

“Ain’t got no name.”

Buck handed him the twenty. “I don’t have anything smaller so I guess it’s your lucky day.” He pulled the bill back when the man reached for it. “You have to promise me part of this will go to feed your dog.”

The little man snatched the bill from Buck’s hand and stuffed it into his shirt pocket.

“He ain’t my dog. I was gonna tie him to a park bench and be rid of the little pest. If you want him, you better take him cause he ain’t staying with me.”

Buck frowned, thinking for a moment he should take back his twenty. He took the rope instead and watched the ratty little man hurry away, probably to the nearest liquor store.

He squatted and rubbed the little dog’s ears. The dog with no name wagged its tail and licked Buck’s hand.

“Maybe I can put an ad in the paper and find a good home for you.”

Feeling suddenly depressed because of his loan rejection, he wondered if he should move north to Logan County and the less pretentious town of Guthrie. Someone he recognized exited the coffee shop across the street, interrupting his malaise. Waving, he crossed the narrow street, the dog wagging his tail as he followed him.

Unlike sprawling Oklahoma City, no skyscrapers jutted into the clouds in downtown Edmond. Few structures, if any, exceeded more than two stories in height, those mostly squat brick and native rock buildings. The people walking along the sidewalks moved at the slow pace of what was once a small town.

Clayton O’Meara, his ex-employer and the former husband of Virginia, the woman for who he now worked, had apparently not seen him and was heading in the opposite direction. He stopped when Buck called his name.

“Trying to avoid me, Clayton?”

Clayton grinned, showing a set of teeth a little too perfect for someone his age. He stood several inches taller than Buck, probably six foot four, and he sported a full head of silver hair, complete with expensive salon highlights.

“Hey, Buck. Nice leash you got. What are you doing up so early?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing?” he said, ignoring Clayton’s comment about the dog’s makeshift leash.

Clayton answered Buck’s question with little more than a wry grin and the word, “Business. Don’t you ever feed that dog?”

“He’s not really my dog.”

“From the way he’s wagging his tail, I’d say he thinks he is.”

A wealthy oilman, Clayton O’Meara owned a large cattle spread in southern Logan County. He rarely left the showplace ranch and Buck couldn’t recall ever seeing him in downtown Edmond. Despite the chilling temperature, the older man wore no hat, probably so as not to distract from his full head of hair. Only an unzipped orange goose down parka emblazoned with the letters OSU covered his designer sports shirt.

Clayton was at least thirty years older than Buck but the sparkle in his hazy eyes made him seem little more than a teenager. Glancing at his Rolex Commander, as if the expensive watch somehow held the answer to some unasked question, he pointed to his car down the street.

“I’m sort of in a hurry.”

Buck recognized a brush-off when confronted with one and said, “Didn’t mean to hold you up.”

Clayton grinned and slapped Buck’s shoulder. “Sorry to rush, but I got an appointment and I gotta get. We can catch up on things later.”

Instead of hurrying away, he turned toward the door of the coffee shop he had just exited. Reaching for the handle as if he had forgotten something inside, he thought better of it. Pivoting on the heels of his polished snakeskin boots, he headed down the street to his awaiting vehicle. Buck watched as Clayton’s chauffeur opened the back door of a big white Mercedes for him. With tires squealing, the car hurried away, around the corner.

Buck glanced at the door of CafĂ© Oklahoma, the coffee shop a fixture in downtown Edmond for almost as long as he could remember. He knew Clayton well enough to know he wasn’t a coffee drinker. Curious, he opened the door and glanced inside.

Seeing a familiar face alone at a table, he completely forgot about Clayton as memories of a recent romance, ended too soon for his liking flooded his psyche. It was his former girlfriend, Kay Karson. Everyone called her KK. She turned around, as if expecting someone else. Seeing him, she folded her arms, frowned and glanced away.

“No greeting for an old friend?” Buck asked as he approached her table.

KK crossed her shapely legs, black lace hose and ankle-length boots the only concessions to the outside chill, considering the short leather skirt she wore.

 “You’re really full of yourself, aren’t you?”

Before Buck could answer, an employee said, “Sir, you can’t bring your dog in here.”

“I’ll only be a minute,” he said.

Buck and KK had been an item for almost a year. She liked line dancing, prancing horses and ice-cold Coors beer. Her slender legs looked great in tight blue jeans and cowboy boots. Honey blonde hair draped her shoulders, framing her slightly less than perfect but unforgettable face. She was, in fact, a beauty queen, having amassed three titles before the tender age of eighteen. Buck soon learned she thoroughly realized the effect she had on men. Now, at twenty-nine, she could focus her power on the opposite sex like an ICBM, with the same explosive result. Buck had found his dream woman. At least he’d thought.

KK’s father was a medical doctor in Tulsa, her mother a college professor at Tulsa University. She had never wanted for anything. Looking at her now, Buck could see she had acquired a few very expensive trinkets he doubted even her doting dad could afford. A diamond pendant graced her slender neck. The large diamond in an expensive setting had good color and was no fake. It was a companion piece to the diamond ring on her finger sporting an even larger and more ostentatious stone. Mink lined her gloves and the expensive jacket draped across the back of the booth.

“Just saying hi to an old friend,” he countered.

KK tipped over a half-empty coffee cup with her elbow. Dabbing at the spot with a napkin, she continued frowning.

“You call yourself an investigator. You don’t have a clue. I imagine you must have thought all you had to do was smile at me and I would jump back into your bed like a horny teenager. Well, we’re not in college, and you are not the star quarterback and campus heartthrob anymore. You don’t even have a real job. You may have a nice ass but it doesn’t compliment your lousy future.”

KK didn’t wait for his reply, brushing past him and appearing not to hear when he said, “Guess tamales and dancing Saturday night are out of the question.”

As she disappeared out the door without looking back, he wondered what he could have done to provoke such a display of anger. With a shrug to the employee still looking at him and the dog, he followed her outside, watching as she entered a brand new white Mercedes sports car, pulled out of her parking place and gunned away down the street.

“No problem,” he called out at the disappearing vehicle. “I can’t afford a date Saturday night anyway.”

Two rejections and a brush-off before noon, he thought as he considered where she had acquired the Mercedes and her expensive mink jacket. Their relationship had not ended badly. It had simply flickered out and died.

Buck had attended college for a time at OSU. He had dropped out to sign on with the O.C.P.D. One of his friends there had left to become an oil and gas lease broker during one of the many oil booms, and he soon followed him. His lucrative job ended during an unexpected, at least to him, reduction in oil prices. Since then, he had supported himself in many different jobs such as club bouncer, skip tracer, process server, and private detective. His opportunities for gainful employment had recently narrowed and he found himself using his meager savings to pay his bills. It didn’t help that his aging Dodge pickup needed repair almost weekly.

“Come on, Buddy. Let’s get you something to eat.”

When Buck reached his truck and unlocked the door, his cheeks burned hot. He’d never had an ego problem, even though gorgeous women often became speechless when meeting him. It didn’t matter because now he needed a drink, preferably something with whiskey in it. Shaking his head, he remembered he couldn’t afford one.

It was past lunchtime, his stomach growling. After stopping at a convenience store, he began searching for change in the truck’s console.

“You wait here. I’ll be right back.”

He returned a few minutes later with a hot dog. Giving the meat to the young dog, he ate the bun. The little Border collie gobbled down the wiener then curled up and went to sleep in the passenger seat.
Buck had not reached the horse ranch where he lived and worked part time when he received a call from the Logan County death investigator. One of his many jobs included assisting the investigator whenever a suspicious death occurred. He did not care for the often-gory work. It didn’t matter now. Because of his current financial situation, he could ill afford to turn down a job, no matter how distasteful.

A cowboy had discovered a body at a nearby ranch. Clayton O’Meara’s ranch. Buck pondered the coincidence as he turned his truck around and headed north, along with his sleepy passenger.

END, CHAPTER 1


Wilder is also the author of the Paranormal Cowboy Series that includes Bones of Skeleton Creek, and the French Quarter Mystery Series. Please check out all his books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cruel Woman Blues - a Wyatt Thomas short story

The greatest free ride in America sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, not far from the heart of the Big Easy. The Canal Street Ferry. Free for pedestrians, one dollar round trip in your car, is a fine example of Louisiana politics in action. Carla Manetti's old Plymouth Duster had finally died and gone to Car Heaven up in La Place. Now we were on an evening test drive to Algiers Point in her new Mustang convertible. It included a side trip to the Jazz Palace, a local hot spot.

Behind us the river was the New Orleans skyline alit with neon. Chilly late December and Carla's sweater felt soft and warm to the touch. With only flickering lights across the river illuminating the upper deck, it was hard to know where her sweater began and her dark hair ended. It didn't seem to matter as she stared at the top of the International Trade Mart.

"What a view," she said. "Lights and river sounds."

"No place like it in the world."

"Wyatt, you just like it cause it's free."

"It's not free. I paid a dollar, didn't I?"

"I paid the dollar," Carla said.

Despite her chiding, Carla had a grand smile. When I put my arms around her, she leaned against me, resting her shoulders on my chest. "You know what I really like about the ferry ride?"

"Being with me?"

"I like the river,” she said, ignoring me. “It's like a giant, powerful being. I feel more alive out here than any place in the City."

A passing tug's whistle signaled proximity to the docking point and we hurried downstairs to the lower deck. After rolling off the ramp, we parked the car, needing it only for the return trip to the City, at a dockside meter. The ferry had made its last run for the night. Everyone knows about Jackson Square and the Cabildo, but there are other places in and around the Big Easy that tourists rarely see. The Jazz Palace is one such place and Jazz isn't the only language spoken there. Musical tastes, ranging from hip-hop to zydeco, are eclectic in the City. Tonight it celebrated the blues and one of the premier blues men still alive and performing.

His name is Snakebite Thompson. Mama Tujugue, owner of the Jazz Palace, had scheduled him for a single performance—one I had waited twenty years to see. Anticipation shadowed our steps as we tread the waterfront boardwalk to the Palace where dozens of blues fans had already gathered.

They were crowding into the converted warehouse as we arrived, hoping to secure a table close to the stage. Mama Tujugue met us at the door and let us in without charging admission. Her fine features highlighted the best aspects of all the many races contributing to her origins. She topped six feet in her stocking feet. Her very existence was an anomaly of life in the old South, more specifically, New Orleans.

Old New Orleans hierarchy embraced gradations in race and people of mixed blood often occupied places of special prominence. They even had names for these gradations. A mulatto is the offspring of one black and one white parent, a quadroon one white and one mulatto. There are dozens of distinctions—sacatron, octoroon, griffe and marabon, to name just a few—all specifically describing mixtures of blood.

Now, Mama Tujugue was simply a beautiful New Orleans businessperson—show business. She did not mind accenting her heritage to play to the crowd. Tonight her bright yellow peasant dress ballooned from waist to ankles. In the matching turban that crowned her precisely coifed head, she could easily have passed for a famous New Orleans woman, circa 1750. She led us to a table near the stage where a local group was murdering their rendition of Basin Street Blues. Carla ordered an Abita, a local amber beer brewed across the lake in Abita Springs. I made do with water.

The Palace was a converted warehouse, cheaply renovated to highlight music and not architecture. Jazz posters and Mardi Gras banners draped from its exposed rafters and provided the only decoration. From the smiles I could see, no one seemed to mind the seediness. A half dozen harried waiters and servers hustled to serve those gathered for the occasion.

Shortly after midnight, Snakebite's band took the stage and the crowd tempo quickly turned from raucous too frenetic. The band launched into a finger and lip-limbering number that ended with a drum solo that brought down the house. As applause streamed from the audience, Mama Tujugue sent over more Abita for Carla and a pitcher of lemonade for me. When overhead lighting dimmed, the room became very silent.

Amid suspense-heightening darkness, the drummer rolled out an expectant beat, the bass man joining with a three-note riff. Then, from somewhere on stage, vibrato strains from a throaty guitar began to immerse the room in electric sound, causing a wave of applause to swell through the audience. The spotlight, beam narrowed to a circle of blue, slowly began to enlarge, focusing on a point near center stage.

As the music grew louder, along with growing applause, Snakebite Thompson's face appeared behind a gooseneck microphone. His closed eyes and pockmarked cheeks combined in a contorted grimace, exposing the depth and pain of some unknown despair. Original black enamel, chipped but untouched, coated the old Fender strapped across his shoulder.

We watched, trapped in a timeless hypnotic trance, as Snakebite launched into his signature song, Cruel Woman Blues, his scratchy voice dueling with a pulsating melody produced by his throaty electric guitar. More applause erupted from the audience.

What a stylist. He was more than I expected, far exceeding his recorded performances on cheap vinyl. Snakebite Thompson was real, his effect momentous, but what occurred next sent everyone in the house into communal shock. A gunshot, fired from somewhere in the darkness, resonated through the warehouse and Snakebite's resultant scowl went without notice. Until he dropped the guitar and clutched his chest, that is.

The single gunshot awoke the audience from its trance, and no one waited around for the inevitable second shot. Rising in unison, they piled through the door, along with every member of the band. Everyone except Carla and me. Thinking better of charging into the line of fire, I wrestled her to the floor and under our table.

Wyatt, was that gunfire?"

Not answering her question, I rushed instead to center stage where Snakebite lay writhing on the floor, clutching his chest, blood pluming from beneath his hand. Anticipating another gunshot, I dragged him behind an electric speaker. The second shot never came. Wailing sirens, echoing from across the river, moved toward us. When they arrived, the old warehouse was almost empty. It didn't stop a dozen cops from bursting through the doors, pistols drawn. Rushing to the stage, they grabbed my collar, threw me facedown against the floor and crammed a shoe into the small of my back. One big cop almost yanked my arms from their sockets as he cuffed me. Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax and ignore the cocked .38 pointed at my head.

"He didn't do it," Carla said, lunging out from under the table. "He only tried to help. The person who shot him is up there."

All eyes followed Carla's finger as she pointed toward the balcony. I even managed to wriggle around and look myself. That is when I saw the woman standing there, a smoking pistol grasped firmly in her hand. Jimmy Don O'Rear was the burly police detective investigating the shooting. He was young, a full thatch of red hair covering his big head. He was not smiling and he had the look of a man that rarely did. He ordered his men to un-cuff me, although I could tell they did not like his orders. Still, they did have a prime suspect holding a smoking pistol.

Although situated across the river, Algiers is a precinct of New Orleans. A sedate precinct compared with the others. Jimmy Don O'Rear seemed like a good cop with something to prove. I wasn't sure exactly what. Maybe that he was every bit as tough as his brothers from across the river. It gave me cause to wonder as Carla and I watched O'Rear's men cordon the crime scene with yellow tape.

Snakebite cursed a blue streak when paramedics loaded him on an ambulance bound for Charity Hospital, across the river. At least he was still alive. Now everyone's attention focused on the woman in the balcony. Jimmy Don's men quickly had her in cuffs. Carla and I followed him up the stairs, along with Mama Tujugue, upset and becoming increasingly unable to contain her growing frenzy.

"How long will this take?" she finally demanded.

"Till we're done," Jimmy Don said.

The detective's accent was a strange blend of north Louisiana redneck and Irish Channel patois. It did not matter because he was all business, and now the only business worrying Mama Tujugue was her own.

"Well you better get done mighty fast," she countered. "Tomorrow's Friday. My biggest day. I got a zydeco band coming in all the way from Breaux Bridge."

Mama Tujugue's announcement failed to impress Jimmy Don. "Save it for the Padre. We may finish up Monday."

"My banker will own the place by Monday."

Jimmy Don halted, returned Mama's harsh stare and held up his hand. "Get off my case, lady and let me question the suspect."

At the mention of the woman in cuffs, Mama Tujugue looked at her for the first time. Appearing to do a double take, her mouth gaped and hands dropped to her sides.

"Geneva!"

"You know this woman?" Jimmy Don asked.

"Geneva Thompson, I've known her all my life."

"Thompson? Is she any relation to the victim?"

"His wife," Mama Tujugue said.

Jimmy Don exchanged a knowing glance with his second-in-command, a blue coat sergeant with snowy white hair beneath his police cap.

"Sarge, it looks like we have a motive," he said.

"Geneva wouldn't hurt a fly," Mama Tujugue said.

"Well apparently she did."

O'Rear broke away from Mama Tujugue's stare, turning his attention to Geneva Thompson. "Anything you want to tell us?"

Geneva Thompson was an attractive middle-aged woman, shorter and darker than Mama Tujugue, although about the same age. Mama put her arms around her and they both dissolved into tears. Jimmy Don waited until they regained their composure, and then cleared his throat to remind Geneva of his question.

"I did it. I shot my husband," she said.

"Now wait just a minute," Mama Tujugue said. "I didn't hear anyone advise Geneva of her rights."

"You a lawyer, ma'am?"

Mama cast Jimmy Don and the old sergeant a look that could kill before continuing her angry tirade. "No, but I suggest you do it right now and forget what Geneva just said." Then, with a harsh glare at Geneva, she added, "Now lady, you keep your mouth shut. Not another word, you hear?"

Through her tears, Geneva whispered, "I did it. I did it."

That's all Jimmy Don and the sergeant needed to hear. Nudging her toward the stairs, they prepared to haul her away in the patrol car.

"Wait a minute, Detective," I said. "This woman didn't shoot Snakebite."

All eyes were suddenly on me.

"Who are you?" Jimmy Don said, squaring his hips and staring down his Irish Channel nose at me.

"Wyatt Thomas. This woman is innocent. If you had eyes, you'd see it yourself."

"Look here, wise guy. I got a suspect with a motive and a smoking gun. What do you know about anything?"

"He's a former trial attorney and investigator and from across the river," Carla said, elbowing her way into the fray. "He's forgotten more about crime than you'll ever know."

Jimmy Don eyeballed Carla, then looked at me and sneered. "Lawyers, especially ex-lawyers, turn my stomach. If you don't have something concrete to add to this investigation, then get out of my way."

"This lady didn't do the shooting," I said. "A government sharp-shooter couldn't have made that shot from here. It came from the right side of the stage."

Jimmy Don glanced down at the fallen microphone, a good hundred feet away, and considered my remark. "How the hell would you know where it came from?"

Carla did not give me a chance to answer. Reaching beneath my jacket, she yanked the shirt loose from my belt, exposing the ropy layer of scar tissue on my stomach.

"Cause he knows what it's like in a fire fight. Can you say the same, Detective?"

Jimmy Don studied the scar a moment and said, "Gunshot?"

"You can see it is," Carla said. "Now do you believe him?"

I didn't let him answer. "The bullet caught Snakebite just below the heart, in his left side. Someone standing off-stage shot him, but it was not this woman. At least she didn’t shoot him from here."

"Then what's she doing with the pistol?"

"You might find out by having your men take a look down there."

"Who has access to that part of the building?" Jimmy Don asked, looking at Mama Tujugue.

"Band members and their families," she said. "A corridor leads to the stage from the dressing rooms. There are several tables at stage side for family members to watch the performances without dealing with the crowd."

Jimmy Don tapped the sergeant's shoulder and nodded toward the exit near the right of stage. "Tony, take some men and check those dressing rooms."

Sergeant Tony bounded down the stairs and disappeared with a group of police officers along the darkened corridor leading to the dressing rooms. They soon returned with a woman, a much younger version of Geneva Thompson. Streaked mascara and a puffy face revealed her present emotional state. Before she could speak, Geneva Thompson blurted another confession.

"Baby," she said. "I'm sorry I shot your daddy."

"You know each other?" Jimmy Don asked, directing his question to Geneva.

"Enid’s my daughter, and Snakebite's."

I didn't miss the knowing glance exchanged between Geneva and her daughter, nor the implied instructions of silence it carried with it.

"We found her hiding in the closet in one of the dressing rooms," Sergeant Tony said.

"What were you doing in the closet?" Jimmy Don said.

"My name's not Thompson, its Barnett," she said, earning another admonishing glare from her mother.

No one, including Jimmy Don O'Rear, missed the glance this time. "Is this your mother?" he said. Chastised into silence, Enid Barnett only nodded. "Then Mr. Thompson is your stepfather?"

Enid nodded again. Telltale tears began streaming from her eyes. Outside on the river, a passing tugboat blew its mournful whistle.

"Leave her alone," Geneva Thompson said. "She's grieving because I shot her father. I've confessed to the shooting and now I insist you take me downtown, or whatever you do with criminals."

Jimmy Don shrugged, glanced at Sergeant Tony and pointed toward the stairs. "You got a point, lady. Who am I to argue?"

Sergeant Tony nudged Geneva Thompson toward the stairway and Jimmy Don started after them, but stopped abruptly when I said, "Wait a minute."

"I don't have time for this, lawyer-man. We've had four hundred murders since New Years and I've worked my share of them."

"Then you know as well as I do that she couldn't have made the shot from here."

"Maybe she shot him from over there and ran up here to get away. Maybe her daughter saw her do it and hid so she wouldn't have to finger her mother. Whatever, I have a confession and a smoking gun. Unless you can convince me in thirty seconds or less I got the wrong shooter, then stand back and let me do my job."

Jimmy Don's soliloquy started six feet away from where I stood and ended with the hulking detective standing six inches from my face, his own red from anger. When he finished, I waited until he took a deep breath and stepped back a pace.

"I'm savvy. I know you are doing everything in your power. No one is blaming you or the Department for the murder rate. I just see no sense in you booking an innocent woman."

"I didn't twist her arm for no confession."

"Maybe she's pulling the old wounded bird trick on you."

Jimmy Don gave me a crooked look, but said, "What the hell are you jabbering about?"

"I’m talking about the way a mother bird feigns a broken wing to draw a predator away from the nest."

Jimmy Don's eyes closed. He took another deep breath and I held up a finger to prevent him from cutting me off.

"What if Enid shot her stepfather? Geneva saw her do it, followed her to the dressing room, took the pistol and had her hide in the closet. Then she went as far away as she could get. Right here on the balcony. She held up the pistol so everyone would think she did it."

Jimmy Don's big arms folded tightly against his chest, but he was obviously considering my story.
"What's the motive?"

"I’d say either anger or jealousy. Help us, Mama T. You know Snakebite. Why would his stepdaughter want to shoot him?"

"Snakebite's the kindest gentleman I ever met. Wouldn't hurt a fly, but . . ."

"But what?"

Mama Tujugue looked first at Geneva and then down at the hardwood floor. Another tugboat whistle pealed across the river before she finally spoke.

"Snakebite's a womanizer. He chases anything in skirts. Always has. It's a game with him."

"Even his stepdaughter?" I asked.

By now, both Enid and her mother were crying. "I'm sorry," Enid said, clutching the older woman's neck. "You always forgave his running around. I couldn't let him do it to both of us."

Sergeant Tony released the cuffs from Geneva Thompson, quickly transferring them to Enid's wrists.
"Mama," I said. "Call your lawyer and go down to the station with Enid. Carla and I will give Mrs. Thompson a ride to Charity."

***

Later that night we drove across the Greater New Orleans Bridge to Charity Hospital, Geneva Thompson huddled alone on the backbench of Carla's Mustang. Carla's attempt at small talk sounded more like exhausted babble. It didn't matter because Geneva had too much on her mind to respond. My own brain had also numbed to near total shutdown.

Even at this hour, barges and steamers plied the busy river and jazz and neon beckoned tourists on Bourbon Street. The crime we had witnessed was of no great consequence—no more than a family squabble compared with the rapid spread of violence and burgeoning murder rate in the City.

Great Babylon, President Andy Jackson's wife had called the Big Easy. Maybe so, but there’s no place like it on earth, and it's still home to the greatest free ride in America.

END


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. Wyatt and Carla are recurring characters in Wilder's French Quarter Mystery Series. Please check it out on his Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.