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Cover Sculpture Copyright 2017 Vincent De Noux


LaStanza NOPD


First Three Novels in the LaStanza New Orleans Police

Mystery Series

by O’Neil De Noux


Copyright 2017 O’Neil De Noux


LaSTANZA NOPD is a work of fiction. The incidents and characters described herein are a product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Author Web Site: http://www.oneildenoux.com

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First printing 2017


GRIM REAPER Copyright 1988 O’Neil De Noux

THE BIG KISS Copyright 1990 O’Neil De Noux

BLUE ORLEANS Copyright 1991 O’Neil De Noux

Who is LaStanza?

His father was a cop

So was his big brother

Raised in Mid-City, he attended Catholic school and Loyola University for a couple years

First in his class at the New Orleans Police Academy, he was given his silver star-and-crescent badge

and told to take care of business

Assigned to the roughest police district in the murder capital of America, NOPD’s Bloody Sixth District,

he took care of business for years

Then he was promoted to Homicide

He is the only Homicide Detective with a perfect solution record

He’s received NOPD’s highest decoration The Medal of Valor – twice

Along the way he’s had to shoot people, had to make friends with killers in order to get their confession,

had to bury a brother and several good friends

His father calls him mio leopardo piccolo – my little leopard

(pound for pound, nature’s most efficient killing machine)

It is sometimes said Italians make the best gangsters or the best cops

Dino Francis LaStanza, Sicilian-American, may be the best of the best


Cover Photo © 2013 O’Neil De Noux



GRIM REAPER

O’Neil De Noux

Copyright 1988 O’Neil De Noux

FOR Buddy

GRIM REAPER Table of Contents



GRIM REAPER


This is New Orleans

1981


Chapter 1

Dauphine Street


The first murder occurred on a cool spring night on a street named Dauphine in the old French Quarter. A soft breeze flowed down the narrow street, filtering between the timeworn buildings and the lacework iron balconies as Marie Sumner strolled toward Esplanade Avenue. Marie was heading back to her car parked at the edge of the Quarter. She was thinking about where she would go next because it was still early for New Orleans night life. Things were just getting started around eleven at night, especially on a Friday night. And after two drinks in two boring lounges in the Quarter, Marie was looking for something more lively. She did not notice the man following her as she crossed Ursulines Street.

The breeze made Marie’s light blue dress swish as she walked, revealing more of her legs than usual. It felt good on her legs and especially nice as it flowed through her long dark hair. As she walked, she listened to the soft sound of the wind. It was quiet at the edge of the Quarter, unlike the noise of Bourbon Street. Near Esplanade the buildings were houses instead of the bars and shops of Bourbon and Royal Streets. Marie glanced up at the full moon and thought how pretty the night was.

That was when she heard something else, something behind her. She turned and saw the man right behind her.

“Oh.” she jumped. “You scared me.” she moved back instinctively.

The man stopped and smiled at her, in a shy way. He made no movement toward her and looked away from her stare, as if he were embarrassed, as if he suddenly had been caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to do. He was a pudgy man, wore a plaid shirt and looked plain, looked ordinary.

Marie gave him a stern look, a don’t-bother-me-look she kept in reserve for weirdoes and jerks. She turned and walked away without a backward glance, did not hear him following and she was not about to look back. She just stopped up her pace and fumbled in her purse for the spray can of mace she kept in case of – whatever.

She crossed Barracks Street and closed in on Esplanade when she realized she had seen that face before. She had seen that shy smile, that pudgy face before, that very night, in one of the bars. She walked faster and strained to listen for anything behind her. She did not hear a thing.

Marie didn’t even feel him strike her from behind. She just felt the sidewalk slam against her face and then a deep burning sting in her back. She tried to scream but the burning ripped deeply through her as she felt something sharp and hot in her back. The last sound she heard was the sound of plunging.

He had her. He had her down and the knife was sinking deep in her again and again…he could not catch his breath and his arms felt like rubber as he sank the long-bladed knife into her…and his hands were on fire as he struck…and he continued until the seething frenzy in his chest gave way in one gasping exhalation of air…he leaned back away from the warm wetness of the object beneath him.

He knelt back and tried to catch his breath as he looked down at all the blood on the light blue dress. He was shaking. His arms quivered in tense spasms. He felt as if he arms were about to fall off, as if he were about to collapse, to pass out because there was not enough oxygen in the air for him to breathe. He was exhausted.

But there was something else. There was something inside him that fought the exhaustion, that gave him strength. It returned power to his arms, power to his body, power to his mind. It was an inner strength, a rush of energy, the same rush he felt when he overpowered her. It was an elated feeling of overpowering a weakness – first the weakness of the girl, then the weakness in himself.

He sucked in another deep gulp of air, reached over and withdrew the knife, wiping it on one of the legs next to him before he put the knife back in his belt. Then he went back to work. He rolled the body over and began to quickly pull the dress off. He yanked it down past the legs. Then he pulled off the stockings ad panties, tossing them inside. He spread the legs wide and left them that way. He lifted the severed bra and stuffed it into his pocket.

He looked at the face one more time before moving his mouth down over the exposed breasts. Then he leaned down and bit the left nipple as hard as he could.

The phone was answered promptly after the first ring by the newest detective in the Homicide Division.

“Homicide – LaStanza,” I said as I put the receiver to my ear.

“Detective LaStanza?” asked the voice at the other end.

“That’s what I said,” I came right back, still not used to the title of detective, but it sounded good to me.

“This is Headquarters. We got a good one for you.” It was the voice of the Communications Supervisor. He spoke in that quick, typical, police-staccato voice, “Got a Signal Thirty working. First District. 1300 block of Dauphine Street. Need a Homicide team.”

I reached over, picked up a pen from my newly assigned, worn-metal desk and started jotting notes:

“Date: Friday, 3/12/81. Time: 11:22 p.m. Signal: 30. 1300 Dauphine.”

After a few more quick questions I completed my notes.

“White female. 34C (Cutting). Perpetrator Unknown.”

I hung up the phone and looked across the squad room at my partner, who was busy attempting to type a report. He was a lousy typist and wasn’t having much success. I picked up my notes and started across the room.

“Mark,” I called out, “we got a Thirty. A whodunit.”

“Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” My partner looked up from the typewriter, his mouth falling open. He glanced at his watch and bellowed, “Half hour from knocking off and we get nailed with a murder and a whodunit to boot.”

I nodded.

“Fuck.” Mark yelled as he jumped back from the typewriter. He glared at the machine with gritted teeth.

“Come over here.” He shouted to me, “Come here and show me where the goddamn p is hiding on his worthless machine.” He pointed to the typewriter as if he were accusing it of murder or whatever. He huffed loudly.

My new partner, Detective Mark Land, looked like a grizzly bear when he huffed. Hell, he looked like a grizzly bear even when he didn’t huff. He was a grizzly at 5 feet 10 inches and two hundred plus pounds, none of it fat. He had a large black moustache, the kind Brando had in Viva Zapata, and unruly black hair that was always messed up and in his eyes.

I thought he was going to throw the goddamn typewriter out the third-floor window of police headquarters. Instead, he just huffed again. He also didn’t budge until I went over an pointed out the p. It was hiding where all good little p’s hide, I told him as I pointed it out, “There, next to the o. Remember,” I explained, “the p is always above the colon.”

He made sure I was right and checked out the p before quickly putting away the report he was working on, shoving it all in his desk drawer.

“Tell me about it,” he said as we went for our briefcases and headed for the elevator. I told him what I knew about the murder, which wasn’t much.

As we passed the front desk of the Detective Bureau, the fat desk-sergeant laughed at us. Fat Phil Danton was sitting out his retirement behind the desk and usually laughed at any detective who had to work for a living. Especially anyone in Homicide, especially when it was a whodunit and he knew you’d probably be out all night.

“Want me to keep your girlfriend warm tonight?” He laughed as we walked past. He picked up the phone as if he were going to call a girlfriend and cackled as loud as he could.

“What a fuckin’ asshole,” Mark muttered as we waited for the extremely slow elevator to lumber up to the third floor.

“He reminds me of an armadillo,” Mark added as he looked back at Fat Phil. “Got a little bitty head and a big ass.”

He was right.

As we stepped into the elevator and waited for the door to make up its mind and finally shut, Mark continued, “He’s a shit-eatin’ armadillo and he couldn’t keep a woman warm at night ‘cause he’s got a whisky dick.” And that was that.

Mark added, “What’d I tell you about tonight? Friday the fuckin’ thirteenth.”

We turned on our police radios on the way to the scene. As usual, we would be the last to arrive. Every swinging dick above the rank of sergeant had already visited the scene, fucking up any possible evidence. And of course, the media was already there, along with a couple of K-9 units who had nothing better to do, not to mention a Community Relations car, two Urban Squad cars, a Tactical Unit from Algiers, two Louisiana State Police cars, a car from the Harbor police, and a very useful car from the Mississippi River Police, who could fuck up traffic anywhere, anytime. And of course there were district cars from each and every one of New Orleans’s eight police districts. I’m fuckin’ serious. Well, almost.

Cops are the noisiest people on earth. It’s natural. Only they should know better about evidence and all. But they don’t and no amount of written directives ever works. You can order them to stay away, warn them about not contaminating major crime scenes, such as murder scenes but they still come. They all figure they know what they’re doing and they won’t contaminate anything, the other guy might, but they won’t. That’s just the way it is.

I had to park our car on Esplanade Avenue because of all the police cars blocking the streets. We stepped up on the sidewalk and I looked at the crowd down the street. It sure looked like a big scene. I had seen big scenes before, as a patrolman, back when I was going around contaminating scenes myself. But now, in Homicide, it was different. Now I had to write it, had to process that scene, looking at the crowd made my heart sink.

“Look at the fuckin’ scene,” I heard myself say aloud.

“It ain’t so bad,” Mark said. “It could be worse.”

“Yeah?” I questioned.

“Yeah,” Mark answered, “it could be Mardi Gras.”

He was right. Nothing was worse than that.

I had been in Homicide exactly one month and I took out my notepad to write this scene myself. I started jotting right away as we walked.

“Arrived: 11:45 P.M. Temperature: mid 60’s. Slight breeze. Area: houses and apartments. Scene: Corner Dauphine and Barracks Streets.”

I followed Mark who began calling on the radio for our sergeant to meet us at the scene. We eased our way between the parked police units to the rear end of the crowd. We stopped a second for Mark to take out a sheet of paper from his side coat pocket. He called out to a lieutenant in the crowd and waved the lieutenant over.

It was a First District lieutenant, a big stupid-looking fella with red hair and bloodshot eyes. he casually strolled up to Mark with a bored look on his pasty face. Mark handed him the sheet of paper.

“Got something here for you,” Mark said. It was a Xerox copy of the latest letter from the Chief of Police, which concerned the securing of major crime scenes, and which ended in instructing Homicide detectives to write down, for disciplinary action, the names of unauthorized personnel on the scene.

Mark gave the lieutenant enough time to read the letter, which took a while. Then he said, “Think you can clear away some of these morons?” Mark pointed to the crowd of assorted policemen’s asses in front of us. That was all we could see of the murder scene, policemen’s behinds.

“Especially that one.” Mark pointed to one K-9 officer who was brilliant enough to have his dog out of the car on a leash. The dog was going through convulsions because of all the blood.

The lieutenant didn’t take kindly to taking such orders, but we were right, as Homicide dicks usually were. So the looey did what looeys do best, which was annoy everyone so much they started to leave. We kept the first officer who had arrived on the scene, as well as a couple of other First District patrolmen for security.

“No one above patrolman,” Mark demanded. Patrolmen listen better.

Slowly, the crowed of blue began to melt away and, piece by piece, I was able to see the scene. It wasn’t pretty. First one leg could be seen, naked and bloody, then the bottom half of the body became visible to me. Under the bright searchlights from the parked police cars, the blood was very red on the white flesh, on pavement and on the blue dress.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ.” I blurted out as the whole body became visible. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ!”

“My thoughts exactly,” Mark agreed as we took in the scene from the edge of the nearest parked police car.

I had seen many dead people before and lots of blood but no matter how many times, it was shocking. Right there on the sidewalk, in the middle of the French Quarter, there was a butchered body just lying there, naked and spread eagle for the whole goddamn world to see.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ.” I repeated.

Mark patted me on the back. “Never. Ever. Did this girl think she could possible end up this way.” His dark eyebrows danced up and won, like a bear trying to impersonate Groucho Marx. He was trying for humor. It wasn’t working.

“Think about it a minute,” he continued. “That’s it. That’s all that’s left of her. For the rest of her life she ain’t moving outta that position. She’s come to the end of the line and look what she looks like. She looks like hell. What the fuck’s she doin’ here all alone?” Mark growled, leaned close and told the body, “This is New Orleans. You don’t walk around alone at night.

Back to me now. “Think about it. In a minute the crime lab will be here and take pictures of her and all those cops gaping at her all spread-eagled like that.” Mark shook his head. “I’ll be deep down inside – she’s embarrassed.”

He had a point. I’d sure be embarrassed for her, for Mark, for me for trying to find something to chuckle at when there was nothing but horror here.

When the crime lab technician arrived I started drawing a sketch of the scene, placing the body in its position, placing the houses behind and the street in front. I noted the addresses on the houses and described the façade of each private home and apartment house in the entire area.

Mark came to look over my shoulder to making sure I was doing okay, then stepped over and to interview the first officer who had arrived on the scene. I overheard something about an anonymous call from a drunk sleeping on a sidewalk.

I had processed two suicide scenes in my first month in Homicide, but this is my first murder. So Mark kept a close eye on me and I kept a close eye on the crime lab technician. The technician was a quiet fella with thick glasses and a very mater-of-fact way of thoroughly working a scene. I followed along as he started by taking his first photographs. We stepped back and he took overall photos of the scene from different angles up and down Dauphine Street. Then we closed in, taking more photos, until we were up on the body, taking close-ups. He recorded it all on film.

I jotted notes: “White female. Early twenties, small build, long dark hair. Clothes – light blue wrap-dress, navy blue high-heel shoes, pantyhose torn, white panties torn, all clothes bloodstained. Jewelry – gold chain bracelet with gold pendant initialed S. Bulova wrist watch, gold in color and still running, gold ring on right ring finger with one red stone, all bloodstained.”

I jotted a description of the body as the technician finished up his close-up photos of her face. “Nude,” I wrote, “Lying on back, legs spread-eagled, right arm stretched out with right hand partially in gutter, left arm against side, mouth open, eyes open, body still warm to touch, lividity beginning, no visible wound on the front of body.”

Her face was masked in that death look, that pale and lifeless color of the skin. Her mouth was open and there was blood on her front teeth. But it was her eyes that were the most telling. In death, eyes take on a glassy, unfocused look. Her eyes were hazel, cold and dead and faded hazel.

Next to her left hand I found a small spray canister. It was a purse-sized spray can of mace with the name The Protector on it. I did not touch the can but I did touch her and her hand was beginning to feel cool. Her fingers were still pliable and looked so small, almost like a child’s hand.

“Mark,” I called out, “come over here.”

When Mark stepped over, I showed him the can of mace. He glanced at the can and then leaned over the face of the dead girl. He looked into her glassy eyes and asked, “Who did it? Who the fuck did this to you?” He said to the lifeless face, “You saw him coming, why didn’t you… “

“If only brains were made of video tape,” I cut into Mark’s conversation with the dead girl’s face.

“You know it.”

I continued to stare at the body as Mark stepped away. The technician reloaded his camera. I felt as if the dead girl and I were alone for a moment, for a reason. I felt like telling her something, telling her we’d get this rotten bastard. But I didn’t say anything. What do you say to a dead and embarrassed girl, anyway?

I don’t know. But I felt a closeness with her. She and I were connected now. She was the victim and I was the hunter now. It was as if those glassy eyes were asking me to get that bastard. It was up to us, Mark and me, and it was a weight we would carry around – those pleading eyes.

I found her purse against the wall of the building about forty feet from the body. It was in a heap, as if it had been thrown there. There were even a couple of drops of blood on the purse, from the blood splatter. In fact, there was a blood splatter on the sidewalk as far as forty feet away, spots on the white masonry walls of the building and dots on the sidewalk.

The technician came over and carefully photographed the blood splatter. Then he photographed the purse. And only after Mark and I had gone over the scene once more, flash lights moving back and forth, for any other possible evidence, and found none, did the technician put up his camera and take out his measuring tape.

Mark held one end while the technician held the other and called out measurements as I wrote them down. We triangulated the measurements from fixed points. We took down the distance from the corners of buildings to the street posts to the curbs. Then we measured from the girl’s right hand to the curb to a street post to a corner of a building. We moved from hand to hand, from leg to leg, until we had it all down, in case we had to put it back together later – exactly to scale. We measured the width of the street and the height of the curb and the length of the pool of blood that had flowed in the gutter.

Then it was time to collect the evidence. The technician collected the purse first, carefully picking it up and placing it in a brown paper bag. Since the purse was made of cloth, there was no use dusting for fingerprints, but there could be fiber evidence and you never knew, the murderer may have left this name on a note in her purse, you never fucking know until you look.

Wearing rubber gloves, the technician carefully lifted the wallet out of the purse and even more carefully sifted through for the girl’s driver’s license. And you guessed it, no note from the fucking killer.

The technician positioned the driver’s license on the hood of his nearby police car and with a flashlight in hand, I looked into the smiling face of Marie R. Sumner, who used to live on Mirabeau Avenue in Gentilly, who used to stand 5 feet 2 inches tall and weight ninety-five pounds, whose eyes used to be bright hazel, back when she was alive, back before she decided to stroll down Dauphine Street in the lovely old French Quarter one fucking spring night. It’s funny how many New Orleanians forgot New Orleans was the city that care forgot. Fuck. Marie forgot but the city sure fucking didn’t.

She was twenty-three years old and her parents were about to be visited by the Angel of Death in the likeness of the police chaplain, who came quickly to the scene, took down the information from me and headed to Mirabeau Avenue. Sergeant Rob Mason arrived about that time with the only two other Homicide men working our shift.

“Talk to me,” Mason said as he walked up. I stepped forward and told him the story about Marie, carefully pointing out the can of mace and the purse and the blood splatter. Mason’s face never changed expression from that lean chiseled look behind the ever present cloud of cigarette smoke.

Mason’s small eyes darted from Marie to the purse to the blood, then around at the nearby buildings. He was a thin man, even thinner than the lean technician, and he looked like a P.E. teacher from the 1950’s. He had short crew cut hair and still wore baggy pants, wide ties, and penny-loafers – that were all now back in style. Only Mason’s clothes were the originals.

The other two Homicide detectives with Mason remained in the background, listening and saying nothing. I did not know them well, even though we were all part of the same squad. The taller of the two, Paul Snowood, was a good-ole-boy. He was from north Louisiana, spoke with a southern, county accent, always wore cowboy boots and looked just like Marshal McCloud from that old television show. And he sang songs, all of the time.

The fat detective was Cal Boudreaux. He was from New Orleans, always wore wrinkled clothes and looked like an unkempt hippo. He farted a lot, too.

“Hey” – Boudreaux took that moment to break his silence – “there’s a roach doing the back stroke in this broad’s blood.”

Fuck still calls women ‘broads’. Damn, this wasn’t the Fifties.

Mason was not amused and gave Boudreaux a quick cold stare before asking aloud, “Now where the fuck’s the Coroner’s Office?”

I reached over and took Snowood’s radio out of his hand and called Headquarters. I asked for the coroner’s immediate presence. “Sometime before dawn,” I added.

“That was cute” – Mason shot me a narrow-eyed stare – “real cute, LaStanza.”

Mason believed in the old adage, stay off the radio unless you have to and cut the cute remarks. We were Homicide. Pros.

So we waited for the Coroner’s Office. Mason made good use of the time, sending Snowood and Boudreaux with Marie’s driver’s license back to Bourbon Street. Mason and Mark then started canvassing the area for any potential witnesses. Mason also sent two uniformed men around jotting down license numbers of every car parked within a mile of the body, in case we got lucky like the Son-of-Sam case. You never fucking knew, the murderer may have left his car behind. And later on, we could go back and interview everyone who was parked in the area, in case they saw someone murdering a girl and just didn’t bother to call. It happened.

Some people won’t say a damn thing until a policeman comes and pulls it out of them like a fuckin’ dentist. “But, Officer, I thought you already knew that information.” Sure, we know fuckin’ everything. That’s why they teach a class in clairvoyance at the Police Academy.

So the technician and I were left alone with Marie once again, waiting for the coroner’s meat wagon to arrive. Actually we weren’t really alone. Besides the roaches, the ever-present newsmen were still standing beyond the police cars, with their ogle-eye lenses pointing at us and the gory mess that once was a girl named Marie. It was then, while I was looking at Marie again, that I noticed the bite mark on her left breast.

“Look at this.” I pointed it out to the technician. He had photographed her breasts before, but after we realized the mark on her left breast was indeed a bite mark, he took out his camera again and took a real close-up of it. Then he swabbed each breast with a cotton swab, in case there was any saliva left by our killer.

“Fuckin’ animal.”

Finally the Coroner’s Office unit arrived, a white van manned by a acne-faced college student. Of course, no doctor bothered to come. Doctors had better things to do than fuck with murder victims in gutters. So the acne-faced kid pronounced Marie dead about 1:45 a.m., March 14th. Acne gave me the name of some doctor to use in our official report as the man who actually pronounced death, pointing out that we should mention the doctor did so personally. We never did that. We always put down Acne’s name. Fuck em. Mason had already told me to just put down the facts and fuck em all.

Acne then rolled Marie over. She was getting stiff by then and there was marked lividity, which meant that the back of her body – which had been lying against the concrete – was purple-colored from the blood left in her that had settled from gravity. Her whole back was bloodied with numerous stab wounds. There were at least twenty-five or thirty, but there would be time at the autopsy to get an exact number. What I had to make sure of now was that the weapon wasn’t lying under her, or if was nothing else to note. All the wounds were in her torso, none in her neck or legs.

The technician added one last touch, he wrapped Marie’s hands in paper bags, in case there was some evidence, she might have touched the murderer, scratched him or tore at his clothes. We would scraped her fingernails at the autopsy.

When the technician finished, ole Acne zipped her in a black body-bag, while the television crews filmed away and the newspaper man shot pictures, and Marie bade farewell to the French Quarter. She never did make it to wherever she was headed. But she made the papers.

After the meat wagon rolled off, the media left and the technician, too – after he collected the remainder of the evidence, clothes, blood samples. And then I was alone with the big bloodstain. Down the street the patrolmen still blocked off the area to traffic. But it was just me left, me and the roaches.

Mark came lumbering back from up Dauphine Street a short time later.

“Find anything?” I asked

“Fuck no,” he huffed

Mason was close behind.

“I came up empty too,” Mason added. “As usual, nobody heard nothin’, nobody saw nothin’, nobody knows a goddamn thing.”

I looked down at my watch and noticed it was getting close to three o’clock and I remembered I was supposed to call Jessica if I was gonna be late. That was supposed to have been around midnight. Fuck me.

“Just like this fuckin’ city.” Mark declared aloud, “nobody saw nothin’.”

“Fuckin’ ay,” Mason noted.

“How the hell did someone just walk away from that?” I asked, nodding at the pool of blood.

“Maybe he didn’t walk away. Maybe he lives right here.” Mason nodded to a nearby building. “Maybe he’s up there in a window right now watching us, beating his meat and laughing his ass off ‘cause he knows we ain’t going home tonight.”

Facetious statement, but could be true. They’d knocked on every door in the area, woke up people. None with blood on their hands.

Mason tossed his half-smoked cigarette into the pool of blood in the gutter at our feet. “Let’s get to work,” he muttered. “Let’s go find out what happened to the lost patrol.” So we headed toward Bourbon Street.

“Guess this is my case,” Mark said glumly to Mason, hoping for a miracle, hoping Mason would assign it to the lost patrol. Fat chance. We worked the scene. And Boudreaux had caught a misdemeanor murder the night before.

For the first time that night Mason smiled that wily grin of his. “It’s yours,” he told Mark. “Cal caught that Thirty last night.”

“That don’t count,” Mark argued. “It was a bar killin’. Black dude killed another black dude he knows. Just paperwork,” Mark went on but it was no use. It was a Signal Thirty and it was Mark’s turn.

Mason just shook his head and stopped to tell the patrolmen they could leave, after he secured the list of license plate numbers from them. He handed the list to me and led the way, on foot, to Bourbon Street, to find Boudreaux and Snowood.

There was no way they would assign that case to me, just one month in Homicide – not a whodunit like Dauphine Street, not yet. I’d handled two suicides already and assisted on three misdemeanor murders, but a whodunit was a whole different ball game. If it was a smoking-gun killing, a wife shoots-the-shit-outta-her-husband or a barroom killing in a low down bar, then all that was left was paperwork. But let a girl get stabbed to death, let it be a mystery and it gets serious.

We took a left on St. Ann Street and walked one block down to Bourbon. We left the quiet of Dauphine and Ursulines behind, along with the bloodstain and the roaches. We stepped into the neon bright lights of flashy strip joints and loud tacky bars.

Bourbon Street was a big whore of a street, all pimped up in plastic and neon make-up with rouge-red signs and mascara walls of blue and brown and tired yellow, where fake silicon-woman roam. There were plenty of strip joints where heavy, ugly women with sad, sunken eyes, would take their clothes off. Most of the women were middle-aged, women who anyone in his right mind would never want to see naked. And even if you were fucked up enough to want to see, you’d see nothing but blubber and pasties, no nipples and no pussy. That was against the law.

Bourbon Street was so damn gaudy, with its big-mouthed barkers who stood outside the joints, trying to coax the stupid passer-by into the sleazy bars. It’s hard to say anything nice about bars that charge a minimum of ten dollars for one watered-down drink.

Bourbon had sidewalks lined in cellulite, which smelled of sweat and dirt and stale liquor all of the time. It was never clean. Buildings that would look old and quaint on nearby Royal Street, looked like tired whores on Bourbon. It was home for the plastic people, the fake women, transvestites, transsexuals, homosexuals and heterosexuals with grotesque fetishes, all sorts of fucking pimps, prostitutes and other various criminals.

All of which made Bourbon Street a very interesting place to visit – like the Audubon Zoo. It was enough to bring Marie Sumner visiting on a Friday night she should have stayed home. Then maybe I would have been with my girlfriend, Jessica, instead of walking down Bourbon Street with two other tired cops.

We found Paul Snowood standing outside a strip joint, talking to a girl with bright blue hair. The girl had on a leopard skin jump-suit and was skinny, thinner even than lanky Snowood and skinny Mason.

“So, you go out much?” Snowood asked the girl as I stepped up behind him.

“Yeah man,” the girl cocked her head to one side like a parrot. “I hang out.” She shifted her weight to her right foot and cocked her head the other way. “Say man, you really a cop?”

“Just like you’re really a fuckin’ whore,” I interjected as I stepped up, regretting it as soon as I said it. Maybe she wasn’t a whore at all but my Sicilian was up and I was in no mood.

The girl sneered at me and put her hands on her hips. “Is this short shit with you?” she asked Paul.

“Yep,” Paul answered in his southern twang. He put his arm around me and added, “He’s ma lover.”

I looked up at his silly face and asked if old blue-hair had seen our victim that night.

“Don’t rightly know,” Paul answered. “I was just getting’ warmed up when you come.”

He let go of me and handed blue-hair the driver’s license of Marie Sumner and asked if she’d ever seen the girl.

“No,” was the answer. “What’d she do?”

“Got herself murdered,” I answered and grabbed the license from the girl and headed into the sleazy joint where Boudreaux was watching a fat woman take her clothes off.

Needless to say, the other team had surfaced no useful information. Mason lit another cigarette and called us together for a minute. He decided to split us up. Mason would take Boudreaux and go to Marie’s house and find out what they could about her, for all we knew she could have been with someone, or gone to meet someone, or maybe her father butchered her, you never knew.

Mark and Paul and I remained on Bourbon Street to prowl the bars. And that was just what we did for the next three hours, in and out of scum-bag joint after scum-bag joint until it was after six o’clock and Mason called on the portable radio.

We all met down at the Café DuMonde on Decatur Street. We took a table in the outside area of the café, ordered hot, strong café au lait and exchanged notes. Mason had come up with some things which he told us about and I wrote them down in my notebook.

Marie left home alone with no definite plans. Parents did not know where she hung out but we had a list of girlfriends to interview later. No known current boyfriends. Last known boyfriend was in the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean. Her car had been located on Esplanade Avenue by Mason. It was locked and looked clean.

Mason handed Mark the victim’s address book. It went without saying that we would check the names in the book against the names of the cars parked in the area and then go down the list and dig and dig.

First thing I learned in Homicide was that eighty percent of all homicides are committed by friends or relatives, so you never knew.

Mason leaned back in his chair and took a deep gulp of coffee, then asked me what we got so far. I took out my own notebook and listed the following facts:

Multiple stab wounds in her back.

Clothes removed after, and body positioned that way on purpose.

“He wanted her found that way,” Mark injected.

She saw him coming because she had the can of mace in her hand.

“Maybe she always carried the mace,” Paul said.

“Could be,” I agreed. So I put a question mark by number three.

The bite mark.

“What bite mark?” Snowood and Boudreaux both sat up.

So I explained. There was no doubt in any of the faces around me that the bite was a very interesting fact. “I had it swabbed,” I added.

“Good.” Mason nodded.

We placed Marie in two bars. In both instances, she was alone and only the bartenders remembered her, and both vaguely. I took oral statements from each bartender. The only reaction came from bartender number two, who said, “You don’t say,” when I told him what had happened.

Bourbon Street reeked with compassion.

A quick check of each bartender proved neither had left the bar after coming to work. And of course, no one saw anyone following Marie out.

“You sure about those bartenders?” Mason asked. His eyes were closed as he leaned back in his chair.

“Yeah,” Marked answered, “I went to school with the bouncer in one joint and the tender never left, and the second joint has a cop on duty at the front door and their tender never left either.”

“So.” Snowood frowned. “We don’t know dick.” At least he was listening. Boudreaux was too busy with his second order of beignets – hot donuts with no holes covered in powdered sugar that I used to love as a kid.

“We know it’s a man,” Mark stated matter-of-factly. “And he’s a real sicko, especially the undressing and the spread-eagle bullshit.”

“We don’t know much more,” Mason added from his leaning position.

I finished my coffee and ordered another cup. Boudreaux started in with his bad jokes about sex and how a pussy can get more people in more trouble. Snowood told a joke too, and Mark added a recent dago joke. Joke, and it breaks the tension. Keep serious and the tension builds. So we joked about the body and about Bourbon Street and even about each other. I cut in with a remark about Snowood. He was the only man I ever knew who could dip Skoal and drink coffee at the same time. I have no idea how he knew when to spit and when to swallow.

“So what’s next?” I asked finally.

“Paul and Cal go home,” Mason said. “Get some rest.”

Mark and I were going to the autopsy at 7:00 a.m. Mason stood up, stretched and went back to work himself. He went to Headquarters to prepare a formal press release. He would do it the usual way, which meant he would put in certain errors, on purpose. It was an old trick, not to report the whole truth to the media, because the murderer will read it. You’d be surprised just how many murderers go around correcting police statements about murders, to their relatives and friends and even casual acquaintances and then eventually we find out that there was someone who knew what he should not know. It was a proven fact that certain elements of all murders should remain known only to the police and the murderer. It was a link that might one day bring us together.

So Mason would say there was only one stab wound and never mention anything about the bite mark. He would also say there was an important clue left behind by the murderer, who would shit when he read that, unless he was sick enough not to give a shit. Mason would keep the whole mess as vague as possible and it would work.

Until some pain-in-the-ass reporter, who had some sense, would go to the Coroner’s Office and secure an official copy of the autopsy report and tell it all in the morning paper. Autopsy reports were public record, so any swinging dick could waltz in and get a copy. And some suck-ass reporter will always do it. “Because the public has a right to know.”

Fuck the public. The public doesn’t count. Only the victim counts. And for the time being, only we knew the facts, us, and the rotten mother fucker of a killer.

There was no dignity in death, especially at the New Orleans Coroner’s Office. The morgue had a more appropriate nickname, to anyone who ever visited the place. It was THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS.

Built in the Thirties, the chamber occupied the basement area of the old Criminal Courts building at the corner of Tulane Avenue and Broad Avenue. Its morgue looked as if it had not been cleaned since World War II. It reeked of death and formaldehyde or whatever that fucking chemical was that stunk up the palace. Its walls were dotted with bloodstains from autopsies conducted long ago. Those same walls, with their moldy, peeling paint, were about fifteen feet high, for ventilation. But the only ventilation was one lone half-opened window on the right side. It was not a nice place to even visit.

Mark and I arrived early and found our body easily. She was in the top body-bag. She was lying atop two old black men who had no body bags, all they had were tags on the toes of their stark naked bodies.

The chamber had nine coolers for bodies, but the coolers were always full, so the most recent cadavers were stacked in the hall. You always had to watch where you stepped because you were always stepping on hands or stumbling over someone’s dead feet.

Mark quickly grabbed one of the workers and asked if he’d put Marie’s body up first, since we had to witness the autopsy. No use sitting through other autopsies. The worker was large, black and obliging, and with the help of another silent helper, he lifted Marie’s body bag and tossed it on the stainless-steel table on the right side. At least we were closer to that lone window.

I watched the workers quickly unzip the bag and roll Marie out. They never said much. They were quiet and quick workers, a little ghoulish-looking, with tired eyes, but very efficient. Since they got paid by the body, instead of by the hour, they worked fast.

They had Marie’s head propped up on a small black headrest before the doctor came strolling in behind his big black cigar. Now, the doctor was a real ghoul. If you looked up ghoul in the dictionary, his picture would be there next to the word. He looked a little like Peter Lorre, like a toad with a cigar.

He was a walking cliché, munching an egg salad sandwich as he glanced at the bodies. There was the body of a young Oriental boy on the left autopsy table and Marie on the right. It was then he noticed us and shook his head.

“Another one, huh?” he chuckled and took a bite of egg. He gave Marie a quick look-over for a second and added, “She wasn’t a bad lookin’ girl, damn shame.” He nodded to his helper, who knew exactly what to do. The helper took out a swab from a nearby cabinet and spread Marie’s legs wide and swabbed her vagina. He put the swab in a vial and then swabbed her anus with another swab, which was put in a separate vial. Her mouth next. Mark took the vials and held them for the crime lab technician. They would be analyzed later for semen.

Marie was then rolled over on her stomach and we started counting wounds. About that time, our crime lab technician arrived and took pictures of the wounds and then removed the paper bags from her hands. He scraped Marie’s fingernails for any evidence and put each scraping in separate vials.

Then the helper turned Marie on her back and washed down her pallid white body with a small hose at the end of the table. The dried blood liquefied and drained off her skin into the trough on the side of the table. The technician then took close-up photos of Marie’s cold face.

We counted thirty-four stab wounds. Only five of them were deep, the others curiously very shallow stab wounds. They had punctured the skin and gone past the thin line of yellow-orange fatty tissue, but they did not go past the ribs.

After the wounds were counted and measured and logged and noted, the tall assistant, a light skinned black man, rolled Marie over on her back and quickly opened her up. With quick slices, starting separately from each shoulder and cutting under each breast , the razor scalpel laid Marie open.

I stepped back when the cutting started. I didn’t like to see that razor cut the flesh. It was too quick, too sharp, and too rough on flesh. And I also did not like that initial smell when a body’s laid open, even a fresh body had a stale smell inside when first opened. I stepped back while the helper cut Marie under her breasts and then down in one deep slice all the way to the top of her pubic hair.

I looked away as the helper sliced the flesh away from the rib cage, then I heard the snippers clip through each rib until the ribs and sternum were lifted away.

I guess I just wasn’t used to autopsies yet, like Mark. He was right on top of the assistant. I was getting better, though. On my first day in Homicide I had to witness three autopsies of a double murder-suicide case. But Marie was the first female autopsy I’d witnessed.

At least my stomach didn’t turn this time. Maybe I was too tired or maybe, as Mark assured me, I was getting used to it. After a few minutes, after that initial stale smell had scattered or been diluted by the other stink, I found myself standing next to Mark as the helper carefully cut out the organs.

The doctor strolled over and examined each organ to determine just how many of the wounds punctured which organ. There was a great deal of blood around the heart and lungs and it did not take the pathologist long to determine which wounds were fatal.

As each organ was removed, examined, and weighed, a piece of the organ was secured and placed in a vial for analysis. Urine was collected for analysis, as well as blood, bile, the contents of her stomach, and liquid from the eyeball. The eyeball was pierced with a long needle and liquid withdrawn. Eyeball liquid was the best place to determine if Marie had taken any drugs or alcohol. At least that’s what the doctor said.

The doctor returned to the cadaver of the Oriental as his helper started on Marie’s head. I watched as the large black hands took the razor scalpel and sliced along the back of Marie’s skull. Then he pulled her scalp forward and cut the small membrane that held it to the skull, until her face folded down and her entire skull was visible.

The doc returned for a quick look at the skull before the helper started the silver bone-saw and cut open Marie’s skull. The sound of a hundred fingernails on a hundred blackboards echoed through the cold room. Even Mark stepped back with me, but there was no escaping the sound. You just had to wait it out.

The helper lifted Marie’s skull-cap from her head and handed it to the doc for another quick examination. Then the brain was carefully removed and brought to the other end of the autopsy table where it was placed on a stainless steel scale and weighed, the moved to piece of wood next to Marie’s feet. It was a cutting board. And there, the doc sliced the brain like a meatloaf, in neat thin slices, one after the other. He examined each slice for clots or whatever.

Human brains look just like soft cheese, a little red on the outside from the blood vessels, but chalky white inside. On my first autopsy the doctor put gloves on me and gave me a piece of brain to feel. It felt just like rubbery mozzarella cheese.

A Homicide detective can learn a lot from an autopsy by watching, more than he can get from reading a report. He can see the wounds, the angle and depth and force used to kill. Only five of Marie’s wounds were possibly fatal – three of them punctured her lungs and two severed the aorta. The other twenty-nine wounds were not deep enough. The barely reached the back ribs, more punctured than stab wounds.

“Could be someone small,” I told Mark as we walked out of THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS.

“Could be.” Mark wasn’t in any hurry to come to conclusions.

“Could be someone weak, maybe a woman?” I asked, not believing a work, just fishing.

“No way,” Mark came right back. “It was a man all right. It’s a sex crime. Probably a frustrated freako, but definitely male, that’s why the exhibitionism and the piquerism.”

“The what?”

“Piquerism,” Mark repeated. “It means when a man sticks a knife in a woman in order to receive sexual satisfaction from the plunging. He might think he’s doing it hard, but he’s just sticking it in her, feeling the knife plunge in and out, a substitute penis.” Mark stopped outside the building and yawned at the morning sun. “I learned all that shit at a class about sex crimes last year. It’s from the French word ‘piquer’ – to prick.”

“So,” I said as I yawned myself. “What’ll we do now?”

“Now we sleep,” Mark answered. “Take me back to Headquarters, then go home and get some sleep. I’ll call you tonight.” So we left THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS and Marie’s leftovers behind.

They had unfolded her face, tossed her organs back into her hollow torso and sewed her up with a large sewing needle. Then they tossed her on top of the finished pile of yesterdays’ cadavers, to lie among the other naked bodies. I last saw Marie lying face down atop the body of an old black man.

No, there was no dignity in death, just leftovers.

It was nine o’clock, Saturday morning, when I got home and tossed my suit in a corner of my bedroom. After a visit to THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS everything went to the cleaners, even the tie.

I brushed my teeth for at least five minutes, put fresh toothpaste on my brush and continued. I looked at myself in the mirror. There were dark circles under my eyes. And those newly acquired age lines on my face showed more clearly, along with the new gray hairs at my temples.

I looked at the Italian face in my mirror and for some reason thought of my father. I was actually beginning to look like him, more and more. At this time in the morning my father would be reading his newspaper.

I almost fell asleep in the tub, but managed to get out and into bed. I reached over and lifted the receiver from the phone and called Jessica. She would still be asleep but I wanted to talk to her, about it.

The phone rang about fifteen times before her familiar voice answered.

“It’s me,” I said. “You awake yet?”

“Of course not” – she sounded groggy – “what time is it anyway?”

“About ten.”

“Yeah?” Her voice took on that annoyed quality it had when I did something wrong. Again. “What happened this time?” she asked.

“We had a murder,” I answered. “At eleven-thirty. An all-nighter. Just got back from the autopsy.”

“Please,” she said quickly, “you’re not going to tell me about brains and mozzarella cheese again, are you?”

“No, I just wanted to tell you why I didn’t call.”

“Yeah?” She sounded more awake. I could picture her sitting up in bed, her head in her hand, that hurt, annoyed look in her dark green eyes. “Guess there weren’t any phones near you last night. Where were you, China?”

Oh yes, I could see those sharp green eyes as plain as if she were next to me. Funny how you get to know someone well enough to tell those things over the phone.

“I was in the Quarter,” I attempted to explain. “A girl got herself butchered last night right in the street.”

“Please,” she shot in, “No details. I just wish you’d call, Dino. I still have supper waiting, “ her voice trailed off and sounded more tired.

“I’m sorry,” I said again for the hundredth time. I had been sorry a lot lately.

“I guess you couldn’t help it,” she added, but she didn’t mean it. “I just miss you.”

I felt the hair on my neck prickle at that. “I miss you too.”

It was the same conversation we’d had the last few weeks. Time just seemed to be slipping away from me. She had been the first to notice. Jessica was always the first to notice everything. I don’t know, but we both had expected for me to have more time to myself after leaving the Sixth District for Homicide. In Homicide, you had regular days off, unless there were some bad murders. But I could count the times on one hand that I had seen Jessica in the last few weeks. And there was little hope of it getting better.

After a brief pause in the conversation, Jessica started telling me about how I’d become more and more like her father. Jessica’s father was a retired police sergeant and she told me I was like him.

“I just don’t understand it,” she said. Then she told me again about how her father had grown so insensitive that it had driven her mother away. It was an old story, a typical cop story about another defunct marriage blamed on the job. I thought Jessica would understand more. But she was scared.

I almost fell asleep on the phone.

She realized it and told me to go to sleep. “Call me when you get up,” she added.

“Okay.” I hung up. We’d talk later. I could have bet she was holding her head again. I wished she were holding mine. No, I didn’t wish that at all. I just wanted to be alone and go to sleep.

I was so damn tired.

And I could not understand how the hell that Fuckhead could have walked out of the Quarter, covered in blood, and no one noticed.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck the whole goddamn world.


Chapter 2

Prytania Street


Dino LaStanza had that dream again. The bad dream about the Harmony Street Wharf came to him again. It was a vivid dream and very real. And it was the same as before, in slow motion, and he could not get away fast enough.

The scene was familiar, that black wharf on the Mississippi River in a dark corner of the Sixth Police District. And in the dream he could see himself moving closer and closer to the wharf, like a movie camera closing in, closing in.


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