Authors: Julie Smith
DEATH BEFORE FACEBOOK used to be NEW ORLEANS BEAT
Praise for Julie Smith and NEW ORLEANS BEAT
“If you haven’t discovered Smith yet, now is the time to do so … Move over, Sara Paretsky.”
—KPFA-FM (Berkeley, CA)
“A peek into the sometimes dangerous world of the computer-obsessed, set in the sultry heat of New Orleans and tempered with just the right dose of Southern humor.”
“You can’t help but like Skip Langdon, and Julie Smith does her usual excellent job of capturing the feel of New Orleans.”
—The New Orleans Times-Picayune
NEW ORLEANS MOURNING
THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ
DEATH BEFORE FACEBOOK (formerly NEW ORLEANS BEAT)
HOUSE OF BLUES
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
CRESCENT CITY CONNECTION (formerly CRESCENT CITY KILL)
Also by Julie Smith
MEAN WOMAN BLUES
The Rebecca Schwartz Series
DEATH TURNS A TRICK
THE SOURDOUGH WARS
DEAD IN THE WATER
OTHER PEOPLE’S SKELETONS
The Paul Macdonald Series
The Talba Wallis Series
P.I. ON A HOT TIN ROOF
As Well As:
WRITING YOUR WAY: THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL TRACK
NEW ORLEANS NOIR (ed.)
Formerly NEW ORLEANS BEAT
A Skip Langdon Mystery
New Orleans, La.
Death Before Facebook (Originally titled New Orleans Beat)
Copyright 1994 by Julie Smith
Cover by Nevada Barr
Originally published by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
Henry Holt and Company, Inc.: Excerpt from “The Oven Bird” from
The Poetry of Robert Frost
, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1944 by Robert Frost. Copyright 1916, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
Llewellyn Publications: Excerpt from
The Goddess Sekhmet
by Robert Masters. Reprinted by permission of Llewellyn Publications, Box 64383, St. Paul, MN 55164.
Phoenix Publishing, Inc.: Excerpts in Chapter 16 are from
Eight Sabbats for Witches and Rites for Birth, Marriage and Death
by Janet and Stewart Farrar. Copyright © 1981 by Janet and Stewart Farrar. Reprinted by permission of Phoenix Publishing, Inc.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First booksBnimble Publishing electronic publication: June 2012
eBook editions by eBooks by Barb for booknook.biz
I changed the title because I could. I never did like NEW ORLEANS BEAT—that was the publisher’s idea.
But I changed other things too. More about that at the end of the book.
For Hendrika de Vries, who taught me where stories come from.
PEOPLE HATE New Orleans because it’s hot—certain people, that is, from the sort of bland, tepid climate that spawns good mental health and consuming boredom. In a hot climate, anything can happen. A quiet dinner can ignite. “Bobby,” a wife may say to her husband, “you never fuck me anymore. Bobby, why don’t you fuck me anymore?” Her tone will change here. “Because when you do, you’re soooo good at it.”
Just as the guests are beginning to smell danger, she may say, “He is, isn’t he, Emily? Isn’t he good at it?”
Emily’s husband knows he should do something, but what? Defend his wife? Yet he’s torn—maybe he’s about to find out something he needs to know.
But Bobby says, “Precious lamb, I never fuck you anymore because ever since you went on Jenny Craig you’re such a little bitty thing I can’t even find you in the covers.”
Thrilled, she answers, “You really think it did some good?” and all is well until the next course, when the neighbor from next door, drunk and deciding suddenly to remodel, may pound a hole in the wall.
“Burton,” the host will ask coolly, “what do you want?”
Burton will raise one finger and begin to fall through the new doorway, passing out about fifteen minutes too late to avert disaster. “Ham and cheese on rye,” he will answer, crashing loudly onto the floor. But still, he will open one eye: “Hold the mayo.” And that is the part of the story that makes it worth repeating.
This sort of thing would never happen in Sweden—or even in California—according to Steve Steinman, the great and good friend of New Orleans detective Skip Langdon, and a resident of California himself. Steve claimed to have been at the gathering where the above events occurred, and as a result had formed a theory that the heat of the place causes chemical changes in the brain that loosen the inhibitions. Skip said it was only the alcohol, but he said that and the heat, taken together…
Steve had some quaint notions, Skip thought, and furthermore, he had never been to New Orleans in late fall and winter.
The cold can be piercing. In those magnificent rooms for which the city is celebrated, the ones with the fourteen-foot ceilings, occupants sigh and reach for their thermostats, reflecting that, expensive as heat is, it’s nothing compared to air-conditioning. In November, it’s merely crisp—a welcome cold, a refreshing chill, one that won’t last. Those in sweaters today may be in shorts by Thanksgiving—or not, depending.
It was early in the month, the tenth, the first really cool day, and Skip woke up shivering. She was in a new place, one she’d never slept in in winter—it was the slave quarters behind her old apartment building, which had been restored to its original status as a single-family house and was now inhabited by her landlord, Jimmy Dee Scoggin, and the two children he’d acquired when his sister died.
Jimmy Dee had gutted the slave quarters and turned it into as posh a showplace as the Quarter had to offer when he’d lived there himself. But it now had a new name. His adopted children were from Minneapolis and hadn’t grown up with the city’s brutal history. Determined to protect their innocence, he insisted upon calling the outbuilding a
. “In the old days,” he told them, “they had special houses just for the boys,” which prompted eleven-year-old Kenny to ask why he couldn’t have it instead of Auntie.
“Because,” answered Skip, “now that I’m there it’s going to take an earthquake to get me out.” She had four times as much room as in the studio she’d rented before, ten times the luxury—and about twenty times the open space, as her three or four sticks of furniture didn’t really make a dent. She thought it was a mansion and she was as close to happy as she’d ever been in her life. But what she didn’t have, she was discovering, was central heating.
She called Jimmy Dee.
“Make a fire, darling, a fire. So romantic, don’t you know.”
“Dee-Dee, it’s seven-thirty
I’m going to work.”
“Well, then, what’s the problem? I’ve oatmeal to make if you don’t mind.” In the background she heard a chorus of “Ick, oatmeal!”
Fatherhood was proving a little more than Jimmy Dee expected.
Skip dug out a black wool skirt and cocoa sweater, dressed, and hoped the day didn’t warm up. Somewhere she found a brown blazer that “pulled the outfit together,” as her friend Alison put it. She didn’t get it, but she had to admit it looked better than something she’d have picked herself—probably something red, singularly inappropriate for a homicide detective.
She was at her desk, drinking her second cup of inky coffee, when her sergeant, Sylvia Cappello, handed her a day record from the coroner’s office, along with its autopsy report.
“Take a look. I just talked to the coroner about this.”
It was an “unclassified,” or suspicious, death. A thirty-one-year-old, healthy white male had been found dead after an apparent fall from a ladder.
Cappello said, “Notice it says he fractured his ankle and his skull? Pretty unlikely, apparently. You’d either land on your feet or your head, not both.”
“I can see that.”
“But if you landed on your feet, broke your ankle, and you were too badly hurt to move, somebody could come along and bang your head against the concrete pretty easily.”
“Surely someone from Homicide went out on it.”
“Lasko and Drumm. But it looked like an accident and they thought that was how it should be classified.” She handed Skip the brief report they’d done. “And now they’re up to their eyebrows with that triple shooting in the Magnolia Project.”