Authors: E.J. Findorff
Dusk settled on Rampart Street as Cozy
walked out of the corner po’ boy place, full from a bowl of gumbo and a latte
for dessert. She was glad to have been out of the apartment all day. The coffee
tasted sweeter than her momma’s. She had found her second wind with the night
rolling in. Despite being tired and her senses amped with caffeine, she kept
her wits about her situation. She figured to have a few days at minimum before
the landlord interfered and found Titus. However, her dark road to discovery
and vengeance would continue on.
A car pulled behind her and tapped the
horn, not causing much alarm until she saw the driver. It was Lucas and his
partner Detective Gray. She bent slightly to look inside the car. “Lucas… Bet
you’re surprised to see me.”
“You still on duty?”
“Just bringing Tara back to her car
before heading home. You?”
“I decided to come back. Funny, you roll
up on me like this.”
“Quarter’s a small place and everyone
walks. We know most of the residents by sight.”
The car shifted into park, but they
stayed inside. “Your cheek’s red. Did someone hit you?”
“No.” She touched her face. “I had this
crazy idea that maybe Haley had used her secret hiding place for the alligator
pendant, so I came back. When I looked under the sink, I slipped and hit my face
on the toilet.” She laughed with fake embarrassment. “It was late, so I ended
up staying the night. Don’t worry, I called my momma.”
“I see you found it.”
She held it up from just above her
cleavage. “Yeah, sure enough it was taped under the sink where she’s hid lots
of things… joints, money and whatnot. This must’ve been the last thing from
home she had.”
Lucas scratched his chin. “Under the
sink. I’ll have to tell that to boys at CSU, embarrass them a little. You mind
if we come back up since we’re right here? Maybe
other hiding places we missed?”
She glanced down at her shoes. “There
aren’t any. I looked in every corner.”
“No doubt, but you’re also not a cop. We
missed that, we might’ve missed something else.”
Cozy looked back at the apartment
building. “I, uh… I was uh… trying to get the deposit back from the landlord,
so I cleaned the place. I wiped down everything and even bleached, so it smells
I’ve had to stay out all
The engine shut off and they both climbed
out of the car. “Let’s just take a quick look around anyway.”
Cozy swallowed hard as she walked toward
the steps with the two police officers. She fought her wobbly knees to continue
going up the stairs and into the apartment. Once the door opened, she waved for
the cops to go in first in case she had to run.
“Oh, Jesus, you weren’t kidding.”
Detective Gray held her nose.
“I left the windows open.”
“You went ape shit with the bleach.” Lucas
coughed. “Couldn’t just use window cleaner?”
“My momma always says bleach works best.”
Her forehead turned red hot and she pressed her fingers against it, trying to
cool it quickly before they could notice.
The cops walked into the bathroom and
Cozy perched tensely just outside the door, watching. Lucas went straight for
the sink, bending to get a good look under it and searching with his fingers.
“Wish there was a diary somewhere.”
Detective Gray looked up at the shower
curtain that hung from a rod and reached up, about to expose the tub.
“Detective Tara,” Cozy shouted. “Can I
talk to you?”
“Just Tara.” The detective ran her hand
down the length of the curtain, but didn’t let go. “What is it?”
“What are the odds of finding out who
really did this?”
“There’s no answer to that. Let us do our
job and you focus on grieving and honoring your sister’s life, okay?” Tara
tugged the shower curtain to one side, exposing a clean, empty tub.
Cozy felt the world flicker darkly for a
second as she almost passed out. What the fuck? What had happened here?
“I love these old tubs,” Tara commented.
“So much character.”
It took all
had to close her jaw and look away from the tub.
What the hell
? She nodded at Tara as Lucas searched the seam behind
the medicine cabinet with a tiny flashlight and then behind the spindly white Ikea
cabinet that held the towels.
They left the bathroom and Tara said to
her, “We did catch a lead… Maybe. You
look like a ghost.”
“Just trying not to breathe.”
“We think Haley might’ve associated with
a drug dealer named Titus. We’re looking to pick him up – see what he
“T-T-Titus?” She cleared her throat. “Weird
“Jeez, my eyes are watering.” Lucas came
out of the bathroom to join them. “Let’s check the kitchen and get out of here.
Look inside the oven under the grease pan and the freezer’s ice cube trays. The
nooks and crannies.”
Tara nodded and continued speaking.
“There was also a visit by a young, brown haired, boy according to her
landlord. Ring any bells?”
“I don’t know anyone she knew out here.” Cozy
felt her strength come back.
Tara’s cell phone jangled, forcing her to
stop opening and shutting cabinets. She answered it. “Gray. Really? Damn, I
thought I was going home.” She ended the call. “We got a possible Titus
sighting, let’s roll.”
“You okay here?” Lucas asked as they
headed for the door.
“I’ll call you soon and keep you updated.
If the landlord gives you any trouble, call me.”
The door clicked shut and Cozy grabbed
onto back of the sofa and finally unclenched, running to the open window to
close her eyes and gulped a breath of air. Her wet underarms felt as if she had
run a marathon.
It had to be.
Cozy rushed to Bourbon Street to get a
grip on the situation. Stumpy, thick metal pillars rising from holes in the crosswalks
kept cars from turning onto the crowded street. Tourists laughed and drank, and
trashcans were already overflowing. People on balconies dangled colorful beads
and thankfully, no one paid any attention as she sat in a corner bar.
assumed the only other person with a key to Haley’s place would be Porter, the
landlord. But, why on earth would he dispose of Titus and clean the tub instead
of calling the police? No, that didn’t make any sane sense. Haley could have
given the key to someone else, but again, who would want to clean up that mess?
Why? And could do it in half a day for that matter? Maybe someone was
protecting her? That would mean she had been followed and this same person might
know Haley, too – if not loved her enough to clean up her little sister’s
After several hours of getting nowhere
and watching an old man nurse a drink, she headed back to the aired-out
apartment to wait for this person to be exposed. Her limbs and back protested free-range
movement. Her leg muscles wanted to lock with each step, but at least she would
be able to rest in a Titus-free apartment. Without seeing Porter in the window,
she entered the gate, slowly ascending the stairs. She stopped at the top: her
suitcase sat outside the front door. That middle-aged balding man came from
inside Haley’s place, wearing shorts and a football jersey. He stared
cross-eyed at her.
She didn’t know if she’d be able to run
very fast. “What are you doing?”
“Kicking you out.” He pointed at her
stuff like she was in trouble.
“You went through my shit?”
“This apartment needs to be vacant so I
can show it.”
A bell sounded in Cozy’s head. “Do I know
“You waved at me that time in my window.
I’m the landlord.”
“No, that’s not it.” Cozy let it go.
“You bleached the fuck out of the
bathroom. You got the windows open and I can still smell it.”
he messing with me
want to make sure I get the deposit back. I guess I used too much. But this was
my sister’s apartment. She just died.”
“I know that. You don’t think I know
that?” He spoke fast and hard.
“What’s your problem?”
The whites of his eyes glowed. “You can’t
stay here. Her lease is void, including the deposit.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Fuck, I can’t. Do you want to take over
“C’mon, mister. What happened to Southern
His eyes tilted back as he gazed down at
her for several seconds. She thought his head might start spinning. “You want
it or what?”
“First and last month’s and security
deposit. Twenty-five hundred dollars.”
“I know for a fact that you can’t keep
her security deposit.”
“It’s in the contract she signed. She
signed it.” He blinked hard. “She signed it.”
Past arguing, there was nothing else she
could do. “I can give you five hundred for the next week. Let me get it.” She bowed
in order to snag the bag and pulled a few feet away. With one eye on Porter,
she fell to her knees and opened the bag, pulling out a pair of jeans. She dug
into the pocket, but came up empty. She swore under her breath. “I had five
hundred dollars in that pocket.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”
“It was there.” She shoved her hand in
the bag, feeling around.
He huffed. “All I did was carry all your
stuff out here instead of throwing it away ’cause I’m nice like that. I don’t
know nothin’ ’bout five hundred dollars.”
. “Empty your pockets.”
His face turned red and his fingers
tapped at his thighs. “No.”
“I had a policeman’s permission to be in
there. He’s not going to like hearing this.”
“Call him. I’m sure they’d like to hear
about that gun in your bag. Call him. Call him.”
She stared the twitchy man down. Her
eyes found a small circular scar on his forearm and she fell onto her butt,
still staring. “What’d you do with Titus?”
“What?” Porter followed her eyes to the red
mark at the widest part of his forearm and he covered it up with his hand. His
brow furrowed. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” But she wasn’t. Her eyes
finally shot up to his.
“Then why are you staring at me like that?”
He dropped his arms and clenched his fists.
“You cut your long hair. You have a beard
now. It was you.
It was you
“Are you on drugs?”
“I know who you are. You killed Haley and
you tried to kill me, you fucking scumbag.”
“That’s crazy.” The kidnapper’s act
“I recognize your voice. It’s you.” She
snagged the gym bag, scrambled to her feet and shot down the stairs as she
yelled. “I’m calling the cops.”
“Stop,” he commanded from the summit of
the staircase. “You call the cops and I’ll give them Titus. You’re a murderer.”
She heard him taking huge steps down the stairs, then the thud of tumbling bumps.
He had fallen.
Cozy made it out the gate and down the
street without anyone on her tail. She had done it.
She found Haley’s killer
With all her possessions hanging in the
bag over her shoulder, Cozy ducked back into the corner tavern where she had
just been sitting moments ago. The old man had a fresh drink. She consciously controlled
her breathing and wiped the sweat from under her hair on her neck. No one had
followed her, and from here she had a nice view of the street. Should she call
Lucas or just kill Porter herself? She knew the answer.
Once calm, she got change and called her momma
on an ancient payphone. “No, I’m not coming home tonight, Momma.”
“Why on earth not?
. There is nothing there for you.
Come home now.”
“I can’t Momma. I have some things to
take care of.” Her eyes scanned the bar.
“You are coming home, now. Now, girl.”
Her momma’s voice boomed, vibrating the receiver.
Cozy felt the tears return. She almost
screamed. “I’m not coming home, Momma. I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”
“Where are you? Tell me where you are!”
Cozy put the phone down on the little
shelf as her momma’s muffled voice lost strength. With wet eyes and an awkward
smile at the bartender, she sat on a backless barstool.
at you?” The bartender motioned to the receiver still off the hook.
“I can’t hang up on my momma. Better to
just let her ramble. Tequila and Abita Amber, please.” Her voice shook.
The old man spoke up, “Aw, Jesus. Give
her a drink. You ain’t gettin’ raided.”
The bartender nodded like he lost a
debate. “Never going home again, huh?” He repeated from Cozy’s call. “This is
on the house.”
With a quick flip, the Tequila fell down
her throat and she swished the beer afterward like mouthwash. The old man with
a cane turned toward her several times, just two stools over, seemingly
admiring her drinking style. It took a minute, but he eventually found his own
Moments passed while some familiar Zydeco
music eased from the speakers.
“I’ll have what she’s having,” the old
man said, leaning with a leer. “I overheard that fight with your momma.”
“Sorry about that.”
He waved it off. “Ah, parents don’t
always know best. You Cajun?”
“Straight from the bayou.”
“Boyfriend hit you?” He pointed.
Cozy looked away as if ashamed.
“You just getting here or just leaving?”
He waved at her bag.
“It looks like I might need a place to
stay for a few days, actually.”
The man smiled and slapped the bar with
his palm. “You may be in luck. I’m Sal.”
“Cozy.” She squinted at this character as
he held onto the bar while his other hand extended in greeting. He looked like
he just won a scratch-off ticket. “What do you mean? You have a place?”
“I got a room for rent. Better than any
She called the bartender over. “You know
The bartender nodded without any subtle
warnings. “Oh, yeah. That’s Sal.”
“Good guy? Not a rapist or anything?”
“He used to be a cop. Comes in here most
days. Never causes trouble.”
She spun on the barstool, trying to
contain her anxiety. “How much per day?”
“Let me think.”
“I’d be interested if you can wait a few
days until I get my paycheck from the place I just quit.”
“How you gonna get your check if you
don’t have an address?”
was it with cops trying to figure everything out
? “A friend is going to pick it up for me
and bring it here. It’s just a two-hour drive from my hometown. Once I cash it,
I can pay you. If it’s cheap enough.”
“That is an exquisite diamond pendant you
“Not a shot in hell.” She put her hand
“Just admiring it, dahlin’. So, you quit
your job and just up and moved to New Orleans? Oh, to be young.”
“Like you said, sometimes parents don’t
“So, I’m being nice and all, but how can
I trust you not to rob me blind?” His question seemed irrelevant, as she had
“How can you trust me? Two-way street,
“Shit, look at me. You could whip my ass
I’ll take the room if the price is right.”
“Cozy is it? That’s nice. Cozy, I think
you should hold on to your money ’cause you’re going to need it. I have an idea
for a barter.” His voice gained vitality.
“Not everyone in the world is infatuated
Something in his eyes made her cringe. “I
got nothing to trade.”
“Don’t be so sure. How
familiar are you with the Mardi Gras custom of getting beads?”