The glaring red and blue flashing lights of police cars are out of place in this neighborhood. It’s one of those communities where people always say ‘that kinda thing doesn’t happen here’, usually said after that ‘thing’ that couldn’t happen, does happen. The Garden District of New Orleans’ is known for its lavish mansions and high society living. I ought to know, I have estranged relatives living in this particular neighborhood somewhere.
I’ve never laid eyes on them since they disowned my mother after she defied them and married a man not only of Creole-Haitian descent, which in their eyes was already sinful, but also a man below her station, which was to them downright societal blasphemy. I’ve never even met my maternal grandparents, not by my parent’s choice but theirs and if they had a coronary about her marrying him, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be happy to see the biracial child produced from what they considered an unholy union.
I push away the annoying memories of forced debutante balls and frilly gowns as we approach the crime scene. I let out a deep breath and get my mind focused on the task at hand. You see, there’s something you didn’t know about me; I’m psychic.
This ability has run in my family for generations. My father’s mother, my beloved grandmere Marie, trained me how to use my gift, just like her mother trained her. My ability to communicate with the dead allows me to witness the last few moments of a victim’s life.
You don’t need to be psychic to find this the address because the emergency lights are like a beacon filling up the sweltering New Orleans night. That cynical part of me wonders if there would be this kind of police presence if this shooting happened in the seventh ward or any of the other bad neighborhoods, but I shove that thought aside, a victim is a victim.
I pull the New Orleans Police Department issue Crown Vic into the circular drive a little too fast for my partner, Charlie Robinson’s taste.
Unlike me, a New Orleans native, Charlie is a transplant from Detroit. With the economic downturn in Michigan, he left the Detroit Police Department and headed down to New Orleans where good officers were needed.
He’s built like a pro wrestler, over six feet tall and burly. I tease him all the time about how his bald head looks exactly like a giant milk dud. Charlie was my mentor when I first made detective and he’s like the big brother I never had. I also school him on all things N’awlin’s, so we learn from each other, which makes our partnership work.
“I swear Labouleaux, are you trying out for NASCAR? Next time I’m driving!” He complains, releasing his gripped fingers from the dashboard, but I know he doesn’t mean it. He gets out of the car wobbling like he’s getting off a roller coaster. “This is not your Camaro.”
“Sorry gramps but we needed to get here before the turn of the next century. You know you drive like you’re driving Miss Daisy!” I rag him on his grandfatherly driving skills. He just scowls at me and growls under his breath, something about ‘damned kids’.
I laugh at him as I pull my black hair into a ponytail. It’s hot and sticky out here and it’s driving me crazy clinging to my neck. At the moment I’m giving serious thought to chopping it off again, but that fact that my mother liked my hair long makes me reconsider.
My attention is drawn to the ambulance, which is stationary and not rushing away from the scene. That doesn’t bode well for our victim. Our initial call of ‘shots fired’ is probably a homicide at this point.
We approach the grand mansion’s large double doors that are guarded by two uniformed officers, acting as if they’re club bouncers than men in blue. After checking my badge, which hangs around my neck on a chain and Charlie’s which is on his hip, they allow us entry.
My eyes are assaulted by a riot of color, sequins, feathers, and rhinestones. The festive attire now seems out of place since most of the partygoers are in tears behind their masks or wearing looks of outright shock. The DJ has since stopped playing music, but the disco ball is still twirling, beads of light striking every possible surface in the room making the scene look like a surreal nightmare. Out of the hundred people in attendance, a few are quarantined to tables that once held refreshments as they give their accounts of the events to officers.
“Okay, tell me again what’s going on here.” Charlie requests, as he shakes his head at a shirtless man in a mask and sparkly pink tutu. We’re heading up the grand staircase to the bedroom where the crime happened.
“Oh Dear Charlie,” I begin in my patented snarky southern belle tone. “We are in the very mansion that belongs to Genevieve Lablanche. Every year for the past ten years, Madame Lablanche throws her summer masquerade extravaganza for the elite citizens of N’awlins.” I exaggerate the word extravaganza with a quick hand wave.
“She lets all these people in her house?” Charlie asked unbelievingly as he soaks in the mansion’s well placed but overpriced antiques.
“Yes, usually there are around one hundred people or more in attendance.” I provide in my normal voice.
“And every one of them is a suspect.” He says. His Detroit distrust is showing on his face.
We arrive in the bedroom of Genevieve and the first thing I see is red. It’s everywhere, on the white carpet, on the walls, just red everywhere. Genevieve is laying face up, a large blossomed flower of dark maroon spread all over her beautiful white sequined gown, her bottle blonde hair spread like a halo over the floor. There’s a large hole in her forehead right above her sequined mask and her dead eyes are open. Held in a literal death grip in her right hand is a diamond necklace, now splashed with dried blood.
“Shit.” Charlie mutters, stepping around the body.
“Gunshot wound to the chest and forehead.” I announce, not at all perturbed by the sight of a dead body. I’ve been trained since I was a child to use my psychic gift, so I’ve seen the ugliness of death several times over the years.
Getting our fill of the crime scene, we seek out the witness in the adjacent bedroom. Talking to a uniformed female officer with a wadded snot rag in her hand is Genevieve’s best friend, Bianca. Her dark hair is a tangled mess, like the cats have been sucking on it, as my grandmere would say. Her hands and dress are covered in the rusty red of dried blood. She’s shaking like a leaf and a road map of running mascara covers her face.
The female cop introduces us and leaves the room.
“Aren’t you a little too young to be a detective?” Are the first words out of her ruby red painted mouth.
“Aren’t you a little too old for that dress?” I shoot back.
She immediately looks down at the cotton candy pink garment, which looks like she got it on sale at Ho’s R Us.
“Uh, ma’am.” Charlie intervenes. “Can you tell us what happened to Ms. Lablanche?”
She recants the story of how Genevieve retreated upstairs for her third costume change for the evening, when she heard the commotion. Checking on her friend, to her horror, Bianca caught Genevieve tussling with an armed intruder over a necklace when she saw the man shoot her. She tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate her friend, but it was too late.
As she starts to describe the murder, she gets more and more hysterical. After asking for a description of the killer, which she can’t provide, we release her.
We question a few more witnesses and see the body off to the coroner. Charlie and I decide there’s not much more we can do until the crime scene team has gone over everything. Or rather, there’s nothing more Charlie can do.
Even though it’s nearly five in the morning, my grandmere is waiting for me when I arrive. She’s bundled up in her housecoat, slippers and an old lady scarf wrapped tightly around her head. She gives me a sleepy smile as I walk through the door. No matter how late I’m out working, she always waits up for me.
“What are you doing up so late?” I ask her as if I don’t know the answer. I kiss her with a light smack on the cheek.
“Now you know I can’t rest until I’m sure you’re home safe. What’s going on?”
She never tires of hearing my cop stories. “Somebody murdered Genevieve Lablanche.”
She wrinkles up her nose like she does when she’s thinking. “I knew her mama when I was coming up. She was a real nice lady. I can’t say the same for her daughter, though. Clara would be turning in her grave at some of the stories I’ve heard about her daughter.”
For years, Genevieve parties had been the talk of the town. Her mansion she inherited from her blue blood family had been turned into a den of debauchery. Her family fortune was often spent on wild parties and designer drugs for her so-called friends. The sterling Lablanche name was now tarnished and rusty, thanks to Genevieve’s actions. Now with her death, there would be no chance to redeem it.
But it wasn’t my place to judge her life. She was my victim and I was her advocate. After a few more words with Grandmere, I head upstairs to my bedroom.
I spill the minimal contents of the case file on my bed, but I’m not interested in the paperwork or the police reports. My doorway into the spirit realm is Genevieve’s photo, which I found at the house.
My eyes focus on the picture of the woman, just probably an hour before she made the transition into eternity. I let my eyes shut and I get that distinctive tingle in my back that feels like I’m being touched by someone with icy fingertips.
My eyes open and I’m in the middle of a party. Genevieve is standing beside me in that gorgeous white gown, only it’s not splattered with blood. She’s my guide through the last moments of her life.
The chaos of a party is going on around me, but due to the limitations of my gift, I don’t hear a sound. It’s like watching a movie with the mute button on. It’s why I really concentrate on the visual details.
Around me the guests gyrate and bounce to the music I can’t hear. Their faces are concealed behind masks and I find myself searching their eyes for any sign of malice. It’s a little hard when there are people dressed as devils, demons, and grim reapers staring back at me.
After a little while, I watch as Genevieve ascends her staircase, never to return again. I follow, to the second floor, ignoring the drug use and x-rated acts that are going on in the other rooms. I’m standing in Genevieve’s bedroom, bearing witness as she pulls a glittery purple cocktail dress from her walk in closet. From the jewelry box on her dresser she removes the same diamond necklace she died holding within her hand.
A shadow in a corner of the darkened room comes to life, eyes intently watching her. The shadow moves and she drops her mouth. He approaches; a duffel bag dripping diamonds on the floor is slung over his shoulder. Their limbs tangle until the prowler has Genevieve in a headlock. The two of them thump against the bedroom wall as she fights back. In the struggle, Genevieve removes the burglar’s mask.
He’s Cajun, with stringy brown hair and dark brown eyes. I commit his facial features to memory.
Genevieve and the burglar are now tussling across the bedroom floor. Genevieve knees him hard in the crotch, crab crawling away from him and into a far corner of the room. Somehow she’s still holding on to that necklace, her chest heaving heavily. Wobbly on his feet, the prowler stands up, holding his crotch.
Both their heads turn as the bedroom door opens and the lights flicker on. Wearing a look of surprise, Bianca enters the room wearing that tacky pink dress, shutting the door behind her. She looks first to the burglar before turning to her best friend. She removes her mask and saunters up to the man, her hand groping around his waist till she finds what she’s looking for. The gun she retrieves is obscenely large in her small hand.
Bianca handles the gun like a kid with a toy. She poses like one of Charlie’s Angels before walking over to her best friend. The burglar grabs Bianca’s arm, mouths no to her but she shrugs him off. Her eyes are set on Genevieve and what I see in them I don’t like.
She levels the gun at her best friend and pulls the trigger as easily as taking a breath. I rewind the scene and play it again as the muzzle flash illuminates Bianca’s face in an evil light. After she puts the bullet into her BFF’s abdomen, Bianca puts one between Genevieve’s eyes for good measure. I rewind the scene and watch it play out five more times. It’s not that I’m naive and can’t believe it, I am a cop after all. It’s just that this is so unbelievably cold blooded. Bianca and Genevieve have been besties since kindergarten.
I’m also curious as to how this cat burglar plays into things. What exactly is his involvement?
I rewind and playback the murder over and over until I’m mentally exhausted. I decide to finally call it night and drift off the sleep, though the murder still plays in my head whether I like it or not.
The ringing of my cell phone, desperate for my attention is what wakes me sometime around noon. Charlie is on the line saying that they’ve caught the killer and to be ready in ten minutes. I’m fresh out of the shower and dressed by the time the wheels of the Crown Vic touch Grandmere’s driveway.
Before he can even put the car in reverse, I tell him that the burglar is not the killer. He gives me a look and nods his understanding. Though I have never gone into details about my abilities to Charlie, he knows that there’s something going on with me and that most times my hunches are correct.
The Cajun cat burglar, Remy Fontaine, as his fingerprints identify him is waiting in an interrogation room with his court appointed lawyer. His hairy hands are shackled to the metal table.
Charlie goes in playing bad cop, threatening bodily harm and the electric chair if Remy doesn’t come clean. Remy’s lawyer advises his client to remain quiet. I tell Charlie to go take a break before he runs up his blood pressure and he goes into the hall.
“I know you didn’t kill Genevieve.” I whisper to the Cajun.
His eyes look at me questioningly to me as if this is some form of police trickery.
“I know who pulled that trigger and I need your help to put her away.” I continue in that quiet voice. “Her fingerprints are on that gun, aren’t they Remy?”
The lawyer hisses for Remy to remain silent, but the flood gates open.
With tears streaming down his face, Remy tells his sordid tale of seduction and collusion. Bianca was insanely jealous of Genevieve, ever since their girlhood. To her Genevieve was always more popular, prettier, and richer than she could ever be. Wanting to get recompense for her imagined slights, Bianca hooked up with Remy, a two time loser with a rap sheet for small time burglary. The plan was for her to leave Genevieve’s window open so Remy could come in and pilfer her collection of diamond jewelry. No one was to be harmed during the burglary.
In the midst of the theft, Remy was shocked by Genevieve’s arrival, since Bianca was supposed to keep her busy. They tussled, with Remy trying to keep Genevieve quiet so he could make his escape, but the woman was frightened to death. Bianca arrived and using the gun Remy kept as a bargaining tool in case he was discovered, killed her so-called best friend.
I have him write out his story and get the prosecutor involved for negotiations. Remy’s testimony in exchange for a lighter sentence and the murder weapon. In his case, it’s the most he can hope for.
The crime lab goes over the gun and luckily we have Bianca’s fingerprints on file from a previous drunk driving arrest. Just as my vision and Remy’s confession indicated, Bianca handled the gun that killed her friend.
The look on Bianca’s face is priceless, as she’s leaving the country club and heading to her Porsche when the cops swoop in on her. I personally slap the cuffs on this treacherous society princess. It seems that Bianca just got the popularity she so desperately wanted