Something soft touches my cheek, and I smell a sultry, yet sweet, fragrance, like gardenias floating in expensive scotch—one some fairy got big bucks to create—just to drive guys like me nuts.
The softness brushes the hair back from my face and strokes my forehead. I fight to open my eyes, but the lids have put out a GONE ON VACATION sign. Slowly the sound of Dixieland jazz pushes past the pain in my head, and I force one eye open. Blue. Everything has a blue glow.
I lift an arm to shield my eyes. Pain. Something drips onto my face. A drop falls onto my lips—warm, musty–my own blood?
I try to raise myself, but the softness presses again on my forehead. A voice like a cool mint julep on a hot summer day says, “Don’t try to get up, sucker, the medic boys will be here soon.”
When I do get my peepers open, she’s bending over me, her white off-the-shoulder dress now torn, only partially covering her breasts. My goddess of the Mardi Gras. I remember her now.
I stop trying to push myself up and remember other things—things I don’t want to remember. Like a smoke-filled bar on Rampart Street. Too many gin slings. And her.
But her breasts weren’t bare then–not that I, and every other guy in the joint didn’t want them to be. Bathed in a silk-soft light, her long hair pulled back, she leaned against the piano and sang. Sang with a voice that tore your heart out and grew hair on the back of your hands. Made you damned glad you were a man and willing to prove it.
Later she sat at the bar next to me. Me, an ex-con Mr. Nobody who now was Mr. Somebody. I drank, and she sang softly in my ear. Real honkytonk Basin Street blues she had no right to know how to sing. Then, as I swam in her deep blue eyes, she talked in that soft mint-julep voice. Told me her name was Topaz. Told me about him. Him who beat her. Him who had other women just to taunt her. Told me what he did to her, things no man should do to any woman—especially not to a goddess.
Then we were in a room lit only by the blue neon sign outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, flashing on and off, on and off. And her, bathed in the light, now here, now gone.
“You can help me.” She said, as she removed my jacket and pressed her breasts against me. “You want to help me don’t you?”
Help her? God, yes, I’d help her. She owned my mind, my heart. . . my soul.
As she slipped the shirt from my back, anything she asked was hers. Tear the stars from the skies to bejewel her body. “Yes,” I said. “Yes, yes, yes, ask me anything.”
The softness that was her hand pressed against my bare chest, pushed me onto the soft, cool sheets. She knelt in the on again off again light, undid my belt and pulled off my pants. If ever a man had a master, it was I at that moment. I pressed my hands onto the bed to still the spinning of the room, not knowing what pleasure would come next.
Something hard. Something in my hand—hard, smooth and cold.
“Take it,” she said. “If you really want to help me, you’ll take it.”
I pushed it away. “No, not that. Ask me for the moon. All the love a man can give a woman. Anything. But not murder! I can’t go back in the joint again. I tell you, I’ll go crazy. Just be with me tonight.”
She stood, and in a new voice, a vixen’s voice, said, “But you must! What will become of me if you don’t? I tried to do it myself . . .but I’m a coward.”
Then, the julep voice again, as she pressed herself against me, “Yes, Darlin’, for me you must. He has money, lots and lots of money. Think what love we can make on the isles of Greece or the moonlit shores of Kauai. Can’t you picture it?”
Picture it? God, I could smell it, taste it.
Again. The hardness. In my hand. Cold. This time I had no resistance. My fingers caressed it as they wished to caress her. Stroked it. Closed onto the butt of it. Welcomed it to my heart as I had its mistress.
The crashing, splintering of wood. A dark, hurtling shadow—HIM!
A scream, “Now! If you love me, Darlin’, do it now!”
She pulled herself from his grasp and grabbed my hand. Our fingers as one pulled on the hard metal trigger. Pulled and pulled, again and again until the ear-shattering cacophony stopped and the dark shadow convulsed and fell.
Somewhere in the building, a shout. Another shout. People running. Screaming. In the on again off again darkness I stumbled over the lifeless him on the floor, and saw her, her dress torn, her arms outstretched for me. Blindly I ran toward her—no, not her—her blue reflection! The shattering of glass. Falling. Pain.
I open my eyes again. The pain is still there, but she’s not. I raise myself and look at the confetti-littered sidewalk on which I lie naked in a widening moist pool—now red, now black.
Somewhere on Vieux Carré above the noise of the revelers I hear the ambulance—coming to return me to prison forever. My only escape from that steel hell is the pistol in my hand. I feel the hard, smooth, cold caress my temple.
This time, my finger alone pulls the trigger.
Click! Click! Click!
Jim Oddie retired from a career in commercial art, sign painting, teaching, and exhibit design to live in Washington alongside the great Columbia river with his wife, Pat. At age eighty-nine, when he’s not rooting for the Seahawks, he moderates two authors groups, writes an occasional mystery story, and tries to keep up with Pat’s Honey-do List.