Rampart Street (Valentin St. Cyr Mysteries)

BOOK: Rampart Street (Valentin St. Cyr Mysteries)
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Rampart Street
David Fulmer
 

H
ARCOURT
, I
NC
.
ORLANDO AUSTIN NEW YORK SAN DIEGO TORONTO LONDON

Copyright © 2006 by David Fulmer

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should
be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

www.HarcourtBooks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, organizations,
and events are the products of the author's imagination or are
used fictitiously for verisimilitude.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fulmer, David.
Rampart Street/David Fulmer.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. St. Cyr, Valentin (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—Louisiana—New
Orleans—Fiction. 3. Rich people—Crimes against—Fiction.
4. New Orleans (La.)—Fiction. 5. Creoles—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3606.U56R36 2006
813'.6—dc22 2005015509
ISBN-13: 978-0151-01024-0 ISBN-10: 0-15-101024-2

Text set in Sabon
Designed by Cathy Riggs

Printed in the United States of America
First edition

A C E G I K J H F D B

Rampart Street, Rampart Street
Walkin' down on Rampart Street,
Ain't no tellin who you might meet
Walkin' down on Rampart Street.


FROM
"W
ALKIN
' D
OWN ON
R
AMPART
S
TREET
"
T
RADITIONAL, CIRCA
1904

ONE
 

The moment he turned the corner onto Rampart Street, he knew he was a dead man.

A shadow was moving directly in his path, a phantom in a dark duster, one arm outstretched and pointing a Navy .45. He started to say,
Not me!
But he only got as far as the first word when the other hand came up, the palm out, shushing him.

From down past Second Street, he heard a trumpet blowing, a slow run of dirty brass.
Jass
they called it. He fixed on that odd word for a moment, seeking escape. Then he was back facing the pistol, feeling its ghostly touch over twelve feet of space.

He had lived for years with the fear that someone would come for him. He had paid in sleepless nights. He had seen a shady figure in his dreams, stepping out of a darkness just like this one. It wasn't fair. He wasn't the villain; he was the one who wanted to set things right.

He was blurting "Damn your—" when the pistol shouted and the .45 slug caught him under the chin, snapping his head back and choking off the words in a bloody cough. The shot echoed down Rampart Street as he staggered and toppled over, clutching at his throat, his life bleeding out to seep around the cobblestones.

The shadow faded back into the inky New Orleans night. Across the narrow street, a curtain opened, hung suspended for a moment, and then closed.

One minute passed in silence. It lingered into a second, then a third. The stream of blood ran to the gutter, a feast for the flies at the first light of day.

There was a patter of footsteps, rat quick, from the far side of the street. A crabbed figure bent over the body, rustling through pockets, pulling the heavy piece from the right-hand ring finger. When the wedding band wouldn't budge from the left hand, a blade flashed on its way to dismembering the digit and the ring that wrapped it above the knuckle.

But before the job could be done, a trio of men appeared, the last dregs flushed out onto the street from Johnny O's Saloon, hooting drunkenly as they staggered up to the corner. In the one-two-three order of a vaudeville routine, they came to a stop. Their mouths dropped and six bleary eyes swam over to the body lying in the street and the other form that was bending over it.

One of the drunks, finding his voice, yelled, "Hey, now!"

The crabbed figure jerked back and scurried away just as fast as he'd come. The three fellows slowed to a series of nervous baby steps as they drew up on the body. The first one saw the ugly hole in the victim's throat and said, "Sweet Jesus! Look at that!"

A stunned few seconds passed, and then the fellow who had spoken up went stumbling back to the call box that was mounted on the light post, just down Rampart Street.

TWO
 

Earlier on, in the last week of January of that same year of 1910, the New Orleans City Council allotted municipal funds to hire a balloonist to float aloft and carry along a photographer to record a series of aerial views of the city. It was a windy late winter, and it was only on their fourth attempt that they could lift to a decent altitude without the risk of being blown halfway to Cuba.

The brave photographer came back down with two full cases of exposed glass negatives. When the negatives were developed, printed into positive images, and put on display, local residents and visitors from outside New Orleans Parish alike marveled to see panoramas of the Crescent City stretching out in mile-wide swaths, as a bird might view them.

Among the photographs was one that detailed those blocks that extended northwest from the French Quarter. For twelve years this section of the city had gone by the sobriquet "Storyville." For all of those twelve years and, in fact, for most of the eighty prior, it had come to be known as one of the most infamous red-light districts in the world. At its busy height, thousands of carnal acts were purchased and performed within one sweep of the clock. This went on day after day and week upon month, as efficiently as the assembly lines that Henry Ford was adapting to produce the vehicles that were mobilizing America. This astonishing activity, along with the more pedestrian diversions provided by the restaurants, saloons, and music halls, made Storyville—or "the District," as it was more commonly known—quite the destination.

So the photograph that included those twenty blocks, displayed with the others in the rotunda of City Hall, got more attention than any other. Gentlemen lingered there, snickering and employing broad winks as they pointed out the landmarks: the grandest sporting houses of Basin Street, the fine dining rooms, the classy cabarets, and the best-known drinking establishments. Those with sharp eyes could also pick out the rows of tiny pale squares on the back end of the District, the outlines of the cribs that the lowest class of scarlet women rented for ten cents a day. Two large plots of white, one at the northwest and another at the southeast corner—St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and No. 2—provided foursquare reminders of a certain grim fate that awaited one and all.

Figuring most prominently in this photograph was the building on the corner of Basin and Iberville streets that took up a fair portion of the block. It had a broad, swooping roof that was dappled with gables and fairly bristled with chimney stacks from the fireplaces that were only now being replaced by coal-burning furnaces.

This was Anderson's Café and Annex, the keystone of the District and its magnetic core. Those who were most familiar with the location could peer at the photograph and point out the window of the King of Storyville's office, on the second floor and with a view all the way along Basin Street.

It was there, on a quiet Wednesday evening in the late spring, that Tom Anderson, the king himself, was settling back to wait out the eternity being defined by the babbling tongue of his guest, Alderman Alphonse Badel.

Anderson, seated at his heavy oak desk, gazed blankly at the alderman, taking in the flabbering jowls, heavy, wet lips, thick spike of a nose, black hair slicked oily, and small, pale green eyes, all perched upon a body that was barely stuffed into the Queen Anne chair. Anderson shifted in his own chair, a regal affair of dark oak and oxblood leather, tapping thick fingers on the top of his desk as he waited.

He had no idea why the alderman was going on and on, since he had gathered all the information he needed within the first minute of the visit: a certain resident from Badel's Esplanade Ridge ward had been discovered lying dead in a gutter, far out on Rampart Street. It was a sad and sordid affair, true; and yet Anderson still did not understand what it had to do with him.

Of course, he could have bullied the monologue to a halt at any point. As impressive as his guest's bulk, he was the larger man by any measure, tall, broad, and growing ever heavier around the middle, as if his girth was the gauge of his wealth and influence. A wide forehead, round cheeks, and noble ball of a chin proclaimed the pride of power. His silverish hair was parted down the middle in the fashion of the day, and he kept a thick but tidy handlebar mustache, steel gray and lightly waxed. His brow was like cut stone over blue eyes that could shine kindly or glitter fiercely, depending on the moment's mood. When he wore his metal-framed spectacles, he much resembled the man who had left the White House the year before.

He was even more substantial by reputation. Now in his late fifties, he was the red-light district's proud monarch, lording over the madams in their grand mansions, the sporting girls in fine upstairs rooms and dime-a-trick cribs, the rounders and gamblers and sports, the criminals petty and heeled, the saloon keepers who served them, and all the other characters in Storyville's shifting cast. His election to the state senate eight years earlier was his nod to the general concept of democracy; though, of course, he had neither the need nor the desire to practice it with particular vigor. He was now in his second term in the senate and well into his second decade in Storyville, and it had never occurred to anyone to challenge his prominence in either domain.

He held the respect of a fair share of the city's upstairs and downstairs populations. He was a friend to men of wealth and influence, and Teddy Roosevelt himself had slapped his broad back jovially and called him "Tom." At the same time, he knew most of the harlots, pimps, rounders, drunkards, hopheads, and musicians in his territory by their first names. As an old man, he would come to his Savior and renounce this sinful history; but for now, he took much pleasure in and grew rich from ruling Storyville.

With all this power and prestige came certain burdens. He was responsible for the welfare and safety of the women who staffed the mansions and cribs as well as their patrons. Matters of crime and punishment that were beyond the purview of the penal system fell to his judgment. He engaged in delicate political dances as stylized as waltzes. Swirling about were the endless and strange details of running a piece of territory that was dedicated to the commerce of sin.

It was a chore keeping the lid on a cauldron where passions ran loose and could be brought to a boil in the blink of an eye. Jealousies led to bloody violence. Whiskey, opium, and cocaine to fuel the mayhem were there for the asking. Serious amounts of money traded hands, tempting the foolish. It was always worse in the summer, when the New Orleans heat clung to bodies like a net. A hard hand on the wheel was required, lest it all fall into bedlam, a disaster for everyone, since the pyramid of wealth depended on the security of paying customers. Tom Anderson kept the streets generally peaceful and the cash rolling in without pause, and so grew more powerful and wealthier with every tick of the clock.

Though he was by no means without his failings. Along with his considerable gifts came appetites that now and then led him into trouble. He had launched a torrent of delirious gossip when, right under the nose of his mistress, Hilma Burt, he began a dalliance with Josie Arlington, once a sporting girl of legendary skills and now the youngest and prettiest of the Basin Street madams. The whole bawdy affair had been like some ongoing production at the Opera House, and Storyville was enthralled.

It didn't last long. Managing the District while these women tried to tear him in two was too much. When his esteemed colleagues in the state senate began snickering behind his back and he realized what a ridiculous figure he was cutting, he came to his senses and negotiated a truce between the squabbling madams. Chastened, he fixed his attentions on Storyville. His desires were checked, or at least hidden from prying eyes, much to the disappointment of those who had delighted in all the comedy. Once again, he was their sober leader, with responsibilities weighing on his broad shoulders.

BOOK: Rampart Street (Valentin St. Cyr Mysteries)
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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