Jass (Valentin St. Cyr Mysteries)

BOOK: Jass (Valentin St. Cyr Mysteries)
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
David Fulmer

• H
, I

Copyright © 2005 by David Fulmer

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy,
recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission
in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be
mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.


Map of Uptown New Orleans and Storyville
reprinted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Fulmer, David.
Jass/David Fulmer.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. Police—Louisiana—New Orleans—Fiction. 2. Jazz musicians—Crimes
against—Fiction. 3. New Orleans (La.)—Fiction. 4. Creoles—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3606.U56J37 2005
813'.6—dc22 2004011620
ISBN-13: 978-0151-01025-7 ISBN-10: 0-15-101025-0
ISBN-13: 978-0156-03191-2 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-15-603191-4 (pbk.)

Text set in Sabon
Designed by Cathy Riggs

Printed in the United States of America

First Harvest edition 2006

As always, to my family,
near and far, before and after me.

I don't know where it come from. And I can't say what it was, 'cause it was one of them things you know without sayin'. I sure knew it when I heard it, though. I sure did. Back then it was called
Later on they called it
but it wa'nt the same no mo'. It was somethin' else. Ain't but a few that 'members the way it was befo'. Pretty soon there won't be no one at all. Not a one.

—D. O. D
New Orleans musician, shortly before his death in 1950


Antoine Noiret came awake with a start, as if he'd been jerked out of sleep by a rough hand.

He groaned, dead tired. The crazy bitch had kept him up for two hours after they had stumbled home from the saloon, and that was after playing for six with nary a break. He thought she was going to let him pound her hips for his trouble, but all she wanted to do was rail at him, and once she got going, she screeched like she was mounted on his yancy and thrashing for all she was worth. He didn't quite understand what all her fussing was about. At one point, she pulled open her shirtwaist and hiked up her petticoats, demanding to know if that was what he wanted.

Indeed it was; otherwise, what was she doing in his room at that hour? She was the one who had come sniffing around him, after all, first watching from the back of the hall, then coming around to whisper in his ear as she made promises with her eyes. He had hoped to finish out his grueling night with a good fuck and then sleep like a dead man through the dawn and well into the day.

She had other ideas, and when he reached for her, she dropped her skirts and went to stalking about the room, a sweaty, half-dressed mess, her rouge and mascara running in clownish streaks, calling curses down on his worthless self. After a few minutes of this abuse, she wound down and lurched into the hall, slamming the door so hard it shook the walls. Antoine was baffled.

It didn't matter. He grunted with relief, glad to be rid of her and her noisy, filthy mouth. It was just as well; he had no business bringing her there in the first place. Not after what had happened before.

Her steps had barely faded off in the hallway when he dropped into an exhausted slumber, like he had fallen into black water. Time passed until he came half awake to someone moving about in the darkness. He let out a silent groan, praying that she would just go away again and leave him alone. He was done for the night.

He pulled the damp, dingy pillow over his head, hoping she'd get the idea. The air stirred as footsteps padded up to the bed. Then he heard a dark cough and felt something push into the pillow, a finger perhaps, poking for attention, and it began to dawn on him that there was something wrong about it.

Because it wasn't a finger at all—it was the tip of the blade of a ten-inch hunting knife. With a certain and sudden precision, the blade plummeted through the pillow and tore into Antoine's neck, just behind the jaw and below his ear. He felt a raw shock of pain and tried to bolt up off the mattress. Though he was a big man, a bigger weight held him down as the knife pinned him like some insect. He thrashed about, his thick arms going weaker and weaker as blood soaked the sheets.

In less than twenty seconds, he had gurgled a last breath and his hands flapped a final time before dropping over the side of the mattress.

The knife slid back through the pillow that had muffled his dying grunts. A moment later the door opened and closed like a quiet breath and the footsteps pattered away.


Valentin St. Cyr spent the week working the big room at Anderson's Café, keeping an eye and putting the occasional rough arm on a selection of the card cheats, pickpockets, drunkards, hopheads, and other stray scofflaws who swarmed along Basin Street every night when the sun went down.

Come Thursday, they were serving drinks as usual and the usual crowd was there. Louis the Lifter and his partner Charlie Bow-wow huddled by the door, taking the measure of the proper gentlemen, young sports, and nervous out-of-towners who were passing inside. Coke-Eye Johnny, once known to the whores as the handsomest man in Storyville, shuffled up and down the bar, all drawn and ragged, seeking another victim upon whom to foist his woeful tale of slavery to the white powder. In the back corner, Chez Boday, sporting a mouthful of gold teeth and a razor scar from ear to chin, was employing his famous dice to relieve a fat Dallas cotton broker of his last dollar.

Rich white men sat at the private tables drinking the good stuff. The high-rolling gamblers were at their cards, decked out in their finest, and with plenty cash in their pockets, while eager young would-be rounders worked the fringes of the room with a game or a woman and, as always, those few no-account, penny-ante hustlers, grubby sots, and dead-end dope fiends who had not yet caught St. Cyr's eye scurried in and out of the corners, as furtive as rodents.

Up on the stage, a five-piece band chugged merrily through a bubbling jass number, and the bartenders shouted back and forth over the happy noise. All around the room, gazes shifted when some well-heeled fellow strolled by with a comely octoroon on his arm.

At some point amidst the frivolity came a hard glance that was met with a sharp word, and, like a swirling eddy, a circle opened in the middle of the polished floor. Two rounders faced each other, one waving a straight razor, the other grasping a thin stiletto. Wicked steel gleamed under crystal chandeliers as the racket in the room dropped a startled notch or two, but it was all over before it began because Valentin stepped out of the crowd and, without a moment's pause, swung his whalebone sap one way and then the other, first catching the knife-toting rounder hard over the ear and then laying it flat against the forehead of the sport with the razor. They went down like two sacks of Louisiana rice and lay groaning on the marble tiles, blood seeping from their misbehaving skulls.

Valentin waved a hand and a roughneck dragged the miscreants through the crowd and out to the back alley, where they could come to and spend the rest of the night slicing each other like boudin, for all anyone cared. There was a rush of chatter and laughter over the added entertainment. They'd gotten their money's worth this night.

In his second-floor office, Tom Anderson, known far and wide as "the King of Storyville," heard the commotion from the room below dip like a passing train and straightened in his chair. Ten seconds went by, and the noise resumed at its previous volume. Whatever happened had been met and dispatched.

Anderson let out a short sigh of annoyance. Though it was exactly what St. Cyr was getting paid for, sometimes the man could be too damned efficient. It was a fine time for a distraction.

He used it anyway, interrupting the gabbling on the other end of the line with an excuse of pressing business. With a quick promise to deal with the problem forthwith, he laid the ornate wood and brass handpiece into its cradle. He massaged his earlobe absently for a few seconds, then pushed back from the desk and stood up.

Moving with the deliberate steps of a man who had passed fifty years and 250 pounds with power to spare, he made his way out the door, down the narrow stairwell, and along the back hall to the steamy kitchen, where a staff of eight Negro cooks and a French chef sweated over hot stoves. The waiters banged in and out, yelling for their orders. Anderson steered clear of their bustling way and stepped up to the swinging doors for a peek at the main floor of the Café.

It never failed to stir him. The room was huge, fifty feet wide and the length of half a city block. Along one wall was the bar topped with Italian marble and fitted with a rail of polished brass, and behind it was a mirror that ran its length and reflected a rolling landscape of liquor bottles, with kaleidoscopic swirls of motion and colored lights beyond. The floor was also marble and crisscrossed with paths of thick carpeting that was spared the indignity of tobacco stains by way of spittoons that had been planted every ten paces. It was a grand sight to be sure, and there was nothing quite like it anywhere on the American continent.

Anderson shifted his gaze. It was a good crowd, mostly heeled and well-dressed, and every time a bottle tipped, a card turned, or a tune played, he got a little richer.

He caught sight of St. Cyr in the far corner, scanning the room, as watchful as a hawk. Whatever the earlier nuisance, it had been swept out into the night.

So all was well. Anderson spent another few moments relishing all this grandeur. Then, with some reluctance, he started back upstairs to pour himself another small glass of brandy and ponder the problems that had been dropped in his ample lap earlier this night.

It was 3
, the band had long since stopped, and Valentin was waiting for the last of the stragglers to leave when he saw the kid they called Beansoup come strolling in the door like he owned the place. He saw the Creole detective staring at him and raised a grimy hand in greeting. "I got a—"

"What are you doing out at this hour?" Valentin said.

"—message from Mr. Jelly Roll," Beansoup stuttered, flinching at the Creole's rough tone.

"I asked what you're doing out at this hour."

The kid sniffed and jerked a thumb. "I'm helpin' out over to Miss Burt's. She gimme a job."

Valentin eyed him up and down, taking in the moon face with the blond hint of a mustache, the pale hair oiled and plastered like wet straw, the body an assembly of angles that didn't seem to connect. With his cracked leather shoes, a suit coat and trousers that were already too small, and the dingy gray derby that perched high on his round head, he looked like nothing so much as the buffoon in a vaudeville routine.

BOOK: Jass (Valentin St. Cyr Mysteries)
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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