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Death in the French Quarter

by Roy Dorman

Three years in a row, Jack Fenton took off work the days around Halloween and went to a different city each year for the revelry. He attended some great parties in New York City, Chicago and, last year, San Francisco.

He left one person dead in each of those cities.

Jack would need a new costume this year. The Count Dracula costume he had worn in San Francisco had gotten so much blood on it that he’d had to throw it away.

Leaving a party late that Halloween evening, he had gone in search of someone to kill. Even though Jack was a meticulous planner in most parts of his life, he didn’t overplan his murders. He just walked until he found someone alone and maybe too drunk to defend themselves. Two or three knife thrusts in the chest, and he was on his way.

That night, however, the knife thrusts hadn’t been immediately effective. His target had been dressed as a zombie, and it had been shambling along in a dark warehouse district mumbling to itself.

When Jack had stepped in front of it, it had screamed “Brains!” and had lunged at Jack. After three quick stabs, Jack had stepped back to watch his victim fall to the sidewalk. But this zombie character had just kept lurching toward Jack, finally grabbing him in a bear hug.

A real zombie! This guy’s a real zombie! Jack thought, pushing out and quickly backing away.

Jack’s zombie fell to his knees with a look of pain and puzzlement in its eyes. “What are you doin’, man?” it croaked. “You really stabbed me! You’re not supposed to really stab people on Halloween...”

The zombie had then fallen face-first to the sidewalk, and Jack had taken off running.

Someone stepped out of the shadows and watched Jack run away. Jack would have been quite upset to know he had been seen. He would have been even more upset to know that this person had also seen him run from his murder in Chicago.

Several people in the lobby of his hotel saw Jack walk in with blood on his clothes but assumed it was part of his costume. He stuffed the bloody clothes in a hotel laundry bag, showered, and went to bed.

In the morning he checked out, threw the laundry bag into a dumpster in a nearby alley, and caught a cab for the airport. His flight back to Boston had been scheduled for late afternoon, but Jack decided it would be better to be away from downtown San Francisco as soon as possible.

He didn’t know it, but a few seats behind him, he had company.

* * *

“This year I’ll crash some parties in New Orleans. They’re not just about Mardi Gras down there; they go all out for Halloween, too.”

Jack was musing to himself in his cubicle at Flagship Publishing, in Boston, where he had worked for almost ten years. He was checking out New Orleans websites. It was only the first week in August, but Halloween was a big deal to Jack, and he liked to plan ahead.

* * *

Three months later, Jack was in New Orleans. He had made his reservations early and secured arrangements at a hotel near the French Quarter. It was just a ten-minute walk down Bourbon Street to Jackson Square.

He arrived a day early and was not surprised to find the party atmosphere in full swing. He passed a couple of costume stores on his walk that were doing a brisk business.

Jack picked out another Count Dracula costume. Movies about the Count had been his favorites as a kid. Dracula was such a powerful villain. He was able to control people with just a piercing stare.

Halloween was on Saturday this year, so that meant there would be parties happening on Friday night too. Back at his hotel, Jack changed into his new costume and headed toward Jackson Square.

It was early, just a little after nine, and he stopped at a bar on Bourbon Street for a few drinks and the possibility of picking up an invitation to a party.

“Hey, you’re kinda cute,” gushed a young woman who was dressed as Cleopatra.

“I am Count Dracula,” Jack roared. “I am majestic, never cute.”

Those around them in the bar laughed. “Arghh, good one, Count.” said a colorfully decked-out pirate. “Give this man another, barkeep!”

“Thanks,” said Jack, accepting the drink. “Do you know of any parties going on after the bars close?”

“I’m having a party back in my hotel room,” said the Cleopatra. “It’ll be a small, intimate party.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Jack. “But I’m only in town for the weekend, and I’m looking for some wild, boisterous parties with people who are seizing the moment.”

“I am Madame Marie Laveau,” a heavily accented voice from behind him intoned. “I think I may have what you are looking for.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of her,” said Jack. “She was a witch here in New Orleans back in the day, right?” Jack didn’t notice, but a number of people around him suddenly looked like there was someplace else they would rather be.

“I was called a witch by many but actually practiced Voodoo. There are some similarities but many differences between the two crafts. I had many followers, or clients, some of whom held positions of importance in the city.”

“So, you’re having a party tomorrow night?” asked Jack. “A big party?”

“Oh, yes, it will be a big party. Most of those within the sound of my voice will be there, as well as many others.”

This time, the nervous smiles and nods were more obvious and attracted Jack’s curiosity. When he turned to accept Madame Laveau’s invitation, he found she was gone.

“It’s within walking distance, me hearty,” said the pirate, slapping Jack on the back. “We’ll leave from here tomorrow night a little before midnight.”

“Everybody seems a little... I don’t know... afraid of her. Is she for real?” asked Jack.

“Nobody or nothin’s for real during Halloween in New Orleans, pal,” said the pirate, now a little more serious. “Nobody or nothin’.”

Jack watched as the pirate put his arm around Cleopatra and they headed for the door. The pirate’s hand slowly slid from her back to her butt, and Cleopatra playfully slapped the pirate’s face. They were both laughing as they left the bar, but Jack thought the laughter sounded a little strained.

He put his unfinished anisette on the bar; it no longer tasted good to him. It had a very unpleasant aftertaste. The noise in the bar had started to get back to the level it had been before Madame Laveau’s invitation to her party, but Jack decided to head back to his hotel room. He no longer was in the party mood.

* * *

On the way back, Jack was thinking he might just blow off Madame Laveau’s party and find another on his own tomorrow night. But when he entered his room, there was something on his pillow that made him wonder if not showing up was an option. There was a little stick man dressed like Count Dracula, and though the face was a rough caricature, it was obvious that it was made to resemble Jack.

Jack was sure Madame Laveau was behind this. “How did she know which hotel I was staying at? How did she get in to my room?”

He called down to the front desk and asked that somebody from Housekeeping be sent up immediately. When the young maid arrived, “DESIREE” was the name on her ID tag, he ushered her over to his bed.

Mon Dieu!” she cried, crossing herself. She then made a cross with the index fingers of each hand and stepped back away from the bed.

Jack felt as if he had a part in a 1960’s Hammer horror film. “How did someone get into my room?” he asked. “Only myself and the hotel staff should be able to enter.”

“Would you like me to arrange for a new room for you?” Desiree asked. “I could try.”

“What I’d like is a new hotel, Desiree,” said Jack. “But I’m sure everybody’s full for a hundred miles.”

“Yes, sir, I’m sure everything is booked for the weekend festivities.”

“Make a report to your manager and tell him or her that I’d like to have an explanation and an apology when I check out Sunday afternoon.”

After Desiree left, Jack got ready for bed. He had still been in his Count Dracula costume. He now hung the suit coat with its attached cape in the closet, as well as the nicely starched white shirt. He then lay down on the bed in his pants and shoes with his knife unsheathed next to him.

Sleep was a long time coming and, a couple of times after it did finally come, Jack started awake to find his knife in his hand.

In the morning, in the spot where the voodoo doll of himself had lain the previous night, there was a new doll. This one was blonde, appeared to be female, and it had a small sign pinned on its chest. The sign said: “VAMPIRE SLAYER.” Jack figured it might be better if he didn’t call the front desk again.

* * *

After giving the matter a lot of thought in the light of day, Jack decided he would go to the bar where Madame Laveau had given out her party invitation. Though the fact that somebody had gotten into his room and left voodoo dolls on his bed had spooked him, he tried to look at it as all part of the weekend adventure.

When it neared midnight, he walked to the party with most of the other bar patrons.

It didn’t take too long to figure out the reason Madame Laveau’s presence at the bar the previous evening had caused some apprehension among the customers. Though most people didn’t want to talk to Jack about her, there were a few whose tongues had been loosened by drink.

It seemed this Madame Laveau, much like the Madame Laveau from New Orleans’ past, dealt in matters of the seamy side of life. The original Madame Laveau mainly dealt in information. Through a network made up of domestic help, she had something on just about everybody in the city.

This current day, Madame Laveau was involved in drugs, prostitution and gambling. She also owned quite a number of housing units in the rougher parts of New Orleans, where her tenants were expected to be part of her shady business dealings.

The party she threw was a lavish affair in a mansion on the outskirts of the French Quarter. There was plenty of food and drink, and the revelers met Jack’s expectations as to living for the moment.

For lighting, there must have been a hundred jack-o’-lanterns. A dozen realistic-looking skeletons were hanging from the shadowy corners of the party rooms.

Jack sidled up to Madam Laveau with the intention of asking her about the voodoo doll.

“I’m sorry, but have we met?” she asked. “Can I get you anything? Anything at all?”

“You invited me to your party last night. I was at the bar, remember?”

“Oh, yes. The one from out of town who was looking for a wild party. Wild enough for you?”

“Oh, yes. It’s everything I was looking for in a New Orleans Halloween party. I wanted to ask you, though, about the voodoo dolls you put on my bed last night and this morning. What did they mean? And how did you get into my room?”

Madame Laveau ushered Jack over to an alcove where they would have some privacy. “Listen, tourist, this is my neighborhood; I own it. I run things my way and am very good at what I do. But this Madame Laveau costume is just that; a Halloween costume.

“I’m Mary McCarthy, and everyone who knows what’s good for them calls me Miss McCarthy. If somebody put dolls on your bed, I wouldn’t have a clue as to who did it or why it was done. You do know that Voodoo stuff is just a bunch of crap, right?”

With that, she walked away and was immediately lost in the crowd.

Having been rebuffed by Mary McCarthy, Jack thought it was late enough to leave the party to do some stalking. He had mainly come to the party so as not to offend Madame Laveau, Mary McCarthy, but he realized she didn’t care about him at all. She had just been boasting about her party in the bar. She threw a great party, but she was a cheap hood, not a voodoo queen.

Walking back toward Bourbon Street, Jack was pleased to discover that some of the side streets off the beaten track were fairly deserted. He had pretty much decided that he would kill the first person who appeared to be unable to put up much resistance.

* * *

On a side street, someone stepped out from a darkened doorway and said, “Hello, Jack. Looking for someone?”

It was a young woman. She had short blonde hair and looked vaguely familiar to Jack.

“I’m sorry, it appears you have the advantage. Have we met?” he asked.

“I’m Jessica Dalton. I’m a techie in IT at Flagship Publishing. I’ve worked on your computer a few times. Do you realize that those of us in IT can see whatever you bring up on your computer at work? You also often talk aloud to yourself. I bugged your apartment. I know a lot about you.”

Gaping at Jessica, Jack was too stunned to say anything.

“We have things in common,” she said. “We both like Halloween, and we both get a thrill out of killing. Up until right now, I’ve just been a voyeuse; I watched you kill those people in Chicago and San Francisco. And I know about the one in New York City. I do appreciate you mentoring me and all, but I think that Flagship Publishing can only support one homicidal maniac.”

Jack reached under his cape to pull his knife from its sheath, but Jessica was quicker. She pulled out a wooden stake and, with a practiced thrust, pushed the stake into Jack’s chest. His eyes opened wide and the last thing he saw was Jessica’s white T-shirt with the words “VAMPIRE SLAYER” in red letters.

* * *

“I’ll bet the police puzzle over this one for a while,” said Jessica as she walked on to Bourbon Street.

She was thinking it might be fun to go to Seattle for Halloween next year. She had seen a beautiful vampiress outfit in the window of costume shop on Decatur Street. She thought it would probably be on sale on Monday.

Jessica put an August reminder in her phone’s calendar to book a hotel in Seattle. Things always went smoother when you planned ahead.

Copyright © 2017 by Roy Dorman

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