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Excerpt for Deadly Promises: A New Orleans Mystery by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Deadly Promises: A New Orleans Mystery


by Louise Hathaway

Copyright Louise Hathaway 2017



Smashwords Edition 2017


This eBook was licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this eBook with another person, please do so through your retailer’s approved lending program. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Chapter One



The first day of summer in New Orleans was unseasonably cool; but the locals had no complaints. They were in no hurry for hot temperatures and the sweltering humidity that was sure to come soon. Artists set up their umbrellas in Jackson Square, waiting for the tourists to descend upon the Quarter. The wrought iron fence surrounding the square became their outdoor gallery full of colorful oils and watercolors for sale. Inside the bride’s room of historic St. Louis Cathedral, Homicide Detective Yvonne Dauphin adjusted her wedding veil. Looking at herself in the floor length mirror she told her sister, “I should have just chosen a wreath of flowers instead of this stupid thing. I feel like Miss America when she first gets crowned and has to do a balancing act.”

“Here, let me help,” her younger sister Danielle told her. She pulled some bobby pins out of her purse and tried to pin on the cap of the veil so that the pins weren’t showing. “There, that should do it.”

Turning to her sister, Yvonne said, “I’ve missed you! Thank you for coming all the way from Paris to be my maid of honor. I know how expensive airfare is.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world. It’s so romantic that you and Steven are getting remarried. Just like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.”

“Yeah and look how well that turned out. How many times did she get remarried after they divorced the second time?”

“Okay, bad example; but you know what I mean.”

“I’m glad that I get a second chance at love.”

“You’re very lucky, especially after that night at Funky Butt.”

“Don’t remind me. Rene was the biggest mistake of my life.” She frowned at herself in the mirror. “Let’s not talk about that. This is my big day!”

She stepped back and looked at her image in the mirror. Her dress was a knee-length sleeveless white satin sheathe with white lace over it. It was very low in the back. She asked her sister, “What do you think of my dress? Do you think it’s too tight?”

“It does fit you like a glove; but I thought that you were going for that look. You look hot, actually. Steven will love it.”

“I can’t wait to get it off and back into my sweats.”

“Please tell me you won’t be wearing sweats on your wedding night.”

“No. I’ll be wearing my birthday suit,” she answered, still adjusting the veil in the mirror.

“Glad to hear it,” Danielle told her and pulled a compact out of her purse to re-apply her cherry-red lipstick. “How come you’re able get married in a Catholic church again, anyway? Isn’t it against church rules to get divorced, not to mention married again?”

“Steven got an annulment after he and his wife divorced. Plus, it helped that he used to be an altar boy here.”

“I bet they were surprised when you came back and asked to get married again.”

“The priest was happy that we were remarrying. He said that he always knew we were meant for each other.”

Yvonne rifled through her purse, trying to find her cigarettes, and discovered that she left them back at her condo. “Do you have any smokes?”

“Sure, but they’re the strong French ones.”

“That’ll do. I’m trying hard not to smoke but it isn’t working.”

“Are you sure it’s okay if we smoke in here? Isn’t there some sort of religious law about smoking in a church?”

“Religious law? C’mon. They burn all those candles and incense. What’s a little cigarette smoke?” She pulled a chair over just under a transom window. “Here, we can open this and no one will be the wiser.” With the cigarette dangling from her lips, she kicked off her heels and stepping up on the chair, forced open the old window with a loud creak. “There. That should do it.”

“So, where are you going on your honeymoon?”

“South Carolina. To Charleston.”

“Why there of all places?”

“It’s wonderful. It’s not Paris, but it’s a gem all on its own. We’ve always wanted to go on their home and garden tour. Plus, there are a lot of good restaurants that Steven is eager to check out.”

“You’re so lucky that you’re marrying a man who likes to cook, though I have to say going on a home and garden tour during your honeymoon seems a bit, well, a bit like our parents.”

Yvonne laughed. “Yes, I suppose it does. Maybe they had the right idea after all about doing what you like no matter what.” Taking a pull on the cigarette Yvonne was quiet, lost in her thoughts. “I wish they could be here. Sometimes I really miss them both. Mom would have loved this, wouldn’t she?”

“Yes, this is her element. She used to bring me here whenever we were nearby. She’d always light a candle for Dad. I didn’t see it then, but I know now just how much she loved him.” Danielle wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye as Yvonne wrapped her arms around her.

“It’s just us now, Sister. Just us,” Yvonne whispered to her.

“Look at me! On your wedding day! Making a fool of myself! Now what were we talking about before I got so morose!”

“Steven,” Yvonne reminded her.

“Yes, Steven! You’re so lucky to have him.”

“Yes, I am lucky with him.”

“He is very understanding about your problems with bipolar disorder, too. Especially after your meltdown during that Bedroom Basher case.”

“Danielle, please stop talking about negative stuff. You’re making me nervous.”

“I can’t help it. I was worried about you when it happened!”

“Honey. Listen. We need to put that aside right now. It’s my wedding day, for God’s sake. Let me be happy.” Yvonne took a long drag on her French cigarette and grimaced at its strength. “Wow, these are strong,” she said, trying not to cough.

“Okay. I’m sorry, Sis. I am happy for you.”

“Really?”

“Why do you think I flew here all the way from Paris?”

There was a rap on the door and Danielle peeked her head out to see who was there. The wedding coordinator with a clip board and pencil in hand asked, “Are you two ready to start?”

“Almost,” Yvonne said, taking a last pull on her cigarette. She put it out in a cup of cold coffee and stashed it under the sink.

The coordinator peeked inside and asked, “Are you girls about set? I hope you weren’t smoking in here.”

“We know better than that,” Danielle told her.

She turned to her sister and said, “Come on, Sis. It’s show time.”

“How do I look?” Yvonne asked, smoothing her dress in the mirror.

“Like a beautiful bride. I’m sure Mom is up there smiling. Come on, gorgeous.”

They followed the coordinator out a rear door and onto Pirates Alley. In full bridal dress, Yvonne made her way to the front of the church, garnering stares and applause along the way from locals and tourists alike. Smiling and waving, they disappeared into the vestibule of the soaring cathedral. On her second time around, Yvonne wanted the music to be non-traditional. Instead of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March", she and Steven chose a local musician, a talented African American clarinet player named Doreen Ketchens, to play a rendition of the classic Stardust.

Yvonne peeked around the door into the church. The pews were full and the sound of hundreds of voices filled the large, cavernous space. She recognized some of her colleagues and many of Steven’s friends. Although she was happy so many showed up, she felt nervous and hoped she didn’t have a panic attack and keel over at the altar. Her hands were sweaty as she gripped her bridal bouquet. Since her parents and brother passed away, she didn’t know who would be willing to walk her down the aisle, so she asked her friend from work, Detective Rick Vente, to give her away. She had worked with him for years and they shared many homicide cases together. She sometimes referred to him as her “work husband”. The last case they investigated brought them together in other, unexpected ways. When a serial killer they were pursuing discovered where she lived and sent a threatening letter, she temporarily moved in with Vente.

He looked very handsome in his tailored Italian suit and skinny black tie. Danielle fell in love with him at first sight, thinking that he looked like Colin Farrell. She hoped he would come alone today and not with the Garden District working girl he seemed to fancy.

He stepped into the vestibule and over to Yvonne. Kissing her on the cheek, he said, “You look beautiful today. Steven’s a very lucky man. Again.”

Blushing slightly, Yvonne was caught off guard by his kiss and did her best to be gracious. Smiling, she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you for doing this, Rick. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Danielle cleared her throat, wanting his attention. He turned to see her and shaking her hand, said, “Hello again, Danielle. You look lovely today.”

She sighed, wishing he’d say more and had kissed her on the cheek.

The sound of a crooning clarinet beckoned and was their cue that the wedding was starting. Rick offered his arm to Yvonne. “Are you ready, Detective?”

“It’s now or never,” she answered and took his arm. He led her down the aisle and when she saw her soon-to-be-husband at the altar, she felt warm and euphoric. After all that she had gone through, she was so happy that she was remarrying the love of her life. She had been wanting this man for so long and now finally they were going to made it official. Again.

Steven’s face beamed with pride when he saw his beautiful bride walking down the aisle towards him. He looked very handsome in his tuxedo and white dress shirt. Usually, he wore a corduroy jacket that had patches on the elbows, his “teacher’s uniform”, as he called it. Today, he looked like a movie star. People told him that he looked like Clive Owen. He thought he looked like a regular guy—just a Southern teacher at a Catholic high school.

Yvonne fought back tears when she reached the altar and beamed back at her handsome groom. Vente relinquished her to Steven and stepped back down to his seat. The priest came forward and raising his arms, signaled for everyone to be seated. A hush came over the church. In the distance, the sounds of laughter and voices from Jackson Square could be heard. The priest, smiling at Steven and Yvonne, opened his bible and began, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to witness the union of this man and woman in holy matrimony.” Suddenly, he was interrupted by the sound of a woman screaming in the rear of the church. All eyes were diverted from the altar to the back rows where a woman stood and cried out, “She’s shot! Oh, my God!”


Chapter Two



“Please God. Not today,” Yvonne said under her breath, glancing up at Jesus on the cross. She looked over at her husband-to-be. “I’m so sorry. I have to check this out.” Handing her flowers to her sister, she turned and ran down the aisle toward the rear pews.

With Vente close at her heels, Yvonne made her way to the second to last row where a crowd had gathered around a woman sitting forward with her head resting against the pew. Blood oozed out of a wound in her neck. A woman tried in vain to stem the flow of blood with her small, and now soaked, handkerchief. “Pam! Let me help you,” Yvonne said, as she sat down on the pew beside her next-door neighbor. Pulling off her veil, she wadded it up and held it against her neighbor’s handkerchief. “I’m so sorry, Pam. I’ll bet you never expected to be doing this at my wedding.” With her other hand, Yvonne felt the woman’s neck for a pulse.

She turned to Vente, who was on the phone with the paramedics, and shook her head. “Her pulse is very weak.” She applied more pressure to the neck wound, and in the process, managed to get red blotches all over her wedding dress. The floor under the pew was covered with blood.

Steven pushed into the crowd and seeing his bride cradling the bleeding woman, asked, “Oh, honey. How is she doing?”

“She’s lost a lot of blood and her pulse is very weak.”

Vente turned to the gathered crowd. “Okay, can I have everyone back up and give us some room here?!”

Their boss, Lieutenant Landrieu, pushed her way through the crowd and sat down on the pew next to Yvonne.

“How are you doing? How’s she doing?”

“She’s hanging in there, but barely.”

The lieutenant told her, “We’ve sealed off the church completely and are checking every room. One thing about having half the department here: we’ve got enough manpower to seal things off for a while. Even so, I think I’ll call for more backup. Stay with her until the paramedics arrive.”

“Will do.”

At Landrieu’s orders, the cathedral doors were shut and locked, guarded by well-dressed police officers there for the wedding. They stood scanning the crowd, worried that the shooter might still be there among them. Landrieu stepped out into the aisle and tried to get everyone’s attention.

“Okay, listen up, everybody,” she yelled out. “I’m Lieutenant Landrieu with NOPD. I’d like everyone but my officers to return to their seats. Please remain seated until I tell you otherwise. We’ve secured the doors, so you are all safe and there’s no need to worry. Also, no one leaves until I say so. This won’t be fun, but it is necessary for you to stay seated. We’re going to need to speak with everyone. We’re going to have to check purses and bags. Please bear with us.”

A moan went up among the pews.

“I don’t like this any more than you do, but this church is now a crime scene. We need to do our job before letting you go. If anyone needs to use the restroom, we have a deputy here who will escort you; otherwise please remain seated.”

“Does anyone remember what happened?” Vente asked a group of teachers from Steven’s school who were sitting in the second to the last row. One of the ladies said, “I didn’t see or hear anything. I was looking at the altar. All I remember was that she just fell forward.”

“Did anyone hear a gun shot?” he asked.

“I heard a pop,” Yvonne’s neighbor chimed in. “She bumped into my seat and when I turned, I saw that she was bleeding.”

“Were you the one who shouted?”

“Yes.”

“Do you recall where the pop came from?”

“Behind me. Yes, behind me.”

“Did anyone hear or see someone running away after the shot?”

The schoolteachers and Yvonne’s neighbor shook their heads and said nothing.

“Does anyone know this woman? Were you friends?”

“No. I never saw her before,” a prematurely grey-haired teacher said. “She came in late and sat down next to me. She sounded out of breath—like she’d been running.”

“Did anyone come with her?”

“No,” everyone echoed.

“Okay. Thank you all for your help. We may ask you more questions later but if anyone remembers anything, anything at all, please give me a call,” Vente said, handing out his cards to the group. He told them, “Even the littlest thing helps. Now please remain seated until you’re told you may leave. Some uniformed officers will be coming around to take statements from each of you shortly. Hopefully, we’ll get you through this quickly.”

After he walked away, a young blonde school teacher whispered to her friends, “I’d like to call him sometime!”

“I wish he’d call me,” the other woman said. They laughed and tried not to ogle.

Vente returned to Yvonne and the bloodied woman. “How’s she doing?”

“She’s still with us. Her pulse is weak though and she’s not moved a bit,” Yvonne answered, lightly patting the woman on her back.

“Poor thing.”

A group of uniformed police streamed into the church, gathering at the rear. They looked around expectantly, acting as if they were unsure why they were there. The lieutenant made her way over to the group.

“Okay, we need everyone who’s not NOPD interviewed. We have a woman, who appears to be in her twenties, back in the rear pew over there with what looked like a gunshot wound in her neck. Get everyone’s names, addresses, phone numbers, all their vitals. Tell them that we may need to contact them later. Ask them if they saw anything odd or strange before or after the shooting. Okay?”

The group nodded in agreement.

“I need three of you to talk to people outside in the square and around the church. Check with the nearby businesses and find out if they’ve seen anything. If anyone has any CCTV footage that points to the entrance of the cathedral, made sure we get that.”

The officers dispersed and made their way down the aisles peppering the guests with questions. The volume of conversations in the cathedral increased as the interviews began.

An officer with the priest in tow interrupted Landrieu. “Lieutenant, the priest would like a word.”

Turning, she smiled and shook the priest’s hand. “Father. What can I do for you?”

“My apologies, Lieutenant. I realize that an awful thing has happened, but I wonder if you can tell me how long this will all take? I have a bible study group coming in at 3:00.”

“I’m afraid I can’t say, Father. I’m sure you appreciate the nature and scope of what we’re involved with here. Right now, I need to make sure we take care of this woman and then find out what happened in the first place. We need to question everyone and go over your church with a fine-tooth comb. It could be hours, honestly.”

Wringing his hands, he grimaced at her words. “Oh, my goodness. Well I guess I’ll made myself comfortable then. Oh, I thought you should know that I saw someone come in through the front door just before the poor woman was shot.”

“You did? Sit, Father, and tell me what you saw.”

They sat down on a pew while he carefully arranged his gold vestments. “I noticed the door of the church open while I was blessing the couple and a person wearing a hoodie came inside.”

“A man or a woman?”

“I can’t be sure. I think it was a man.”

“Do you remember seeing him or her leave after the gunshot?”

“I’m afraid not. By then, everyone had stood up and I couldn’t see beyond them.”

“Is there anything else you remember or would like to ask me?”

“Yes, just one thing.” He pointed towards the altar at three officers. Unaware that they were being watched, they lifted the altar cloth, peered into the chalice, and crawled under the marble altar looking for clues.

“Yes. I see, Father.”

She shouted at them. “Excuse me!”

The three stopped instantly at her voice. “That will be enough. Please have some respect!” She directed a sergeant to get them down off the altar.

“My apologies, Father. Some people have no respect. Anything else?”

“No; that’s all. I just thought you’d like to know what I saw.”

“Thank you, Father. Now, make yourself comfortable. I promise I’ll do my best to get your church back to you as soon as I can. If you’ll excuse me, I need to make some calls.” She smiled and, shaking the priest’s hand, stood and walked over to the wounded girl.

Detective Vente’s girlfriend, Alexandra, looking for him, squeezed through the crowd gathered at the back of the church. Rick came over and put his arm around her reassuringly. “You should go sit down, Alexandra. This is going to take a while.”

Looking down, she let out a gasp. “Oh, my God, what happened to Sophia?!”

“Do you know her?”

“Yes. Poor thing. Is she dead?”

Yvonne checked for a pulse again. Looking up at Vente she shook her head. “She’s gone. We’ve lost her.”


Chapter Three



The doors of St. Louis cathedral opened to let in paramedics who frantically pushed a gurney. Yvonne stood over the dead woman, her hands red with blood.

“I’m afraid she won’t be needing your help anymore.”

One of the paramedics knelt beside the woman and put a gloved finger on her throat. “You’re right.”

The lieutenant pushed through the crowd, her phone to her ear. “How’s she doing, Yvonne?”

“She didn’t make it.”

The lieutenant looked down at the dead woman. “Jesus H. Christ. Shot in church during a wedding. What the hell is wrong with this world?!”

Yvonne answered, “Tell me about it.”

“Well,” the lieutenant said, “we have a murder investigation now.”

“Lieutenant, we have an id on the victim.”

“From whom?”

“Vente’s friend, Alexandra.”

“Where is she?”

“Over there with Rick.”

The lieutenant walked over to Rick and Alexandra.

“Alexandra? Lieutenant Landrieu. I understand you know who our dead woman is?”

Looking up at Landrieu, she answered nervously, “Her name is Sophia. I don’t know her last name though.”

“How do you know her? Is she a friend?”

“Can we speak privately?” she whispered.

“Yes, okay. Step over here,” the lieutenant answered. She led them both into a vestibule.

“Okay. Tell me what you know about Sophia.”

“She was a working girl. Like me. But, she did a lot of freelance.”

“Did she work at your house?”

“No. Sometimes she worked the streets; sometimes she was an escort. Every once and a while she worked at a house down the street from us. Girls come and go there. It’s not one of the higher-class establishments.”

“I see,” the lieutenant answered, trying her best not to be judgmental, fully aware of how helpful to law enforcement some of the working girls in New Orleans had been in the past.

“When did you last speak with her?”

“A week or two, maybe. We were at a party in the Garden District together.”

“Just you two?”

“No, it was a big party, lots of people from out of town and lots of girls.”

“Where was she from? Did she tell you?”

“No, but she did have a foreign accent and didn’t speak English very well.”

“What kind of accent? British? Russian?”

“Maybe Russian? Maybe Serbian? I don’t really know.”

“Can you think of any reason that someone would want to kill her?”

“No, none at all. She seemed like a nice girl.” Alexandra wiped her eyes and tried to keep the tears from coming. “This is so sad. It could have been any of us.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know. It just makes you feel so vulnerable. What would make someone do this? For all we do, we don’t deserve this!” More tears came and Vente hugged her tighter, looking over at Landrieu.

“Okay, thank you, Alexandra,” the lieutenant said, looked over at Vente and then back at her. “That’s all for now. Can you wait here for a moment?” she asked Alexandra, who seemed frozen in place.

Alexandra nervously nodded at her.

“Vente? A word?” the lieutenant asked.

“I’ll be right back,” he told Alexandra and stepped just outside the vestibule.

“Vente, will you take a statement from her for us? Since you’re close, I’m betting she’ll open up more to you. I seem to be intimidating her.”

“Yes, Lieutenant. I will.”

“Also, I’m assigning this case to you. I want you to lead it.”

“What about Yvonne?”

“I want you, Vente. Besides, she’s going to be gone on her honeymoon anyways. Hard to see how that would work well.”

Rick was at a loss for words. He always wanted to lead a murder case and now that it was a reality, he somehow couldn’t believe it.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”

“It’s my first time heading a case.”

“But not your last.” Patting him on the shoulder, she smiled.

Just barely turned thirty, Vente came from a large Italian family who built a fortune in the import/export business. Despite his Sicilian roots, he looked like a cross between Colin Farrell and Clive Owen with intense-looking eyes that were both sexy and threatening. A few inches shorter than most men his age, friends used to joke that he didn’t look Italian enough and made fun of his height. From an early age, and with the help of taller, stronger brothers, he learned to be tough and defend himself. In his school days, he was a scrappy boxer and often took on larger men, beating most and in turn earning the reputation as a fighter. He joined the New Orleans Police Department six years ago and was fiercely loyal to his co-workers. He looked upon Yvonne as his mentor since they became partners his first day in Homicide. She saw his talents for police work right away. His skill with people and his self-assuredness were just what the unit needed.

“I won’t let you down, Lieutenant.”

“I know. That’s why I chose you.”

She returned to the nave of the church to see how things were progressing and taking out her phone, called for forensics.

“Dr. Cox? Landrieu. I need you and your folks down at St. Louis Cathedral. We’ve got a dead young lady here who was shot during Detective Dauphin’s wedding.”

She waited for an answer and then added, “Yes, that’s what I said, Doctor. I’ll see you when you get here.”

Vente returned to Alexandra and took her hand in his. “How are you doing, Alex?”

“I was fine at first but now I’m scared. It’s all just hit me that poor Sophia was dead. It could have been me out there!”

“Now, now. Come on, stop that thinking,” he said, trying to console her. He put his arm around her and held her close. “Alex, I don’t want you to worry about this. You’re safe and I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Alexandra was a close childhood friend. Born into an Italian family herself, they grew up together as neighbors in the Garden District and spent hours together walking on the riverside, talking about what their futures would hold. They grew very close and often talked about how fun it would be to marry and have lots of little Italian children. Their paths diverged after high school: she moved to Dallas with her family and he joined the Marines. After the Marines, he joined the police force.

Some say out of missing Vente, Alexandra went into her current employment shortly after moving to Houston. Her parents soon separated, and she lived alone with her mother, who spent more time with a bottle than with her. Alexandra soon fell in with a group who partied hard during the days and even harder at night. She loved living on the edge and moving with exciting people. It was like a drug to her. She became addicted to the excitement of sleeping with different men and getting paid for it. It boosted her ego, which was somewhat fragile.

She eventually moved back to New Orleans and through a series of connections, got a job at brothel in the Garden District called Miss Vivian’s. Years later, Vente caught a glimpse of her walking down St. Charles and stopped his patrol car in the middle of the street. With car horns blaring around him, he got out and surprised her on the sidewalk. He was upset that she hadn’t let him know she was back in town. She explained that she was too ashamed to tell him what she did for a living now that she was back in town. Inside, he was upset that she had turned to that life, but he never let it show. Despite their differences, their shared past drew them back together. As the days went on, he found himself spending many hours talking with her on the porch at Miss Vivian’s about all those years ago. Then, as a detective, he began to realize the benefit of these conversations. It was a good way to keep a finger on the pulse of a special part of New Orleans. Still, all these years later, he could not keep from going back to those summer days with her so long ago.

She smiled and leaned closer to him. “I have to go to work in a few hours. Can you take me home?”

“I wish I could, Alex. I can’t leave while we’re investigating this. I can have an officer take you home. How about that?”

She reluctantly agreed with his suggestion and he called an officer.

“Alex, I’m going to need to speak with you, officially, tomorrow about what happened here today. I need to know everything you can remember about Sophia. Can I get a little time in the morning?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to check. Can I call you back?”

“Yes. Call me or I’ll call you in the morning.”

A female officer appeared at the vestibule door.

He asked her, “Can you take Alexandra home? She lives in the Garden District. You can drop her at Audubon Park.”

“Yes sir,” the officer said.

“Follow me,” she told Alexandra, who stood and, giving Vente a kiss, told him, “Please be careful.”


Chapter Four



The wedding guests were beginning to get restless. It had been two hours since a gunshot took a young woman’s life, ending Yvonne’s wedding.

When the coroner arrived, Yvonne was still in her wedding dress, now streaked with blood. The coroner tried to lighten the mood by saying, in her best Fanny Brice accent, “And I wasn’t invited?”

“You didn’t miss much—it never really started,” Yvonne said, shaking her head.

The coroner looked at the blood on Yvonne’s dress and told her, “Girl. You have the worst luck ever. Right during your wedding.” She shook her head and said, “Damn! If this doesn’t beat all!”

“I know. Bad luck does seem to follow me, sometimes.”

Lieutenant Landrieu stepped over and shook hands with Dr. Cox. “Bet you’ve never been here to look at a body before.”

“Hello Lieutenant. Correct. This is a first for me.”

She looked down at the victim and asked, “So, is this our young lady?”

“Yes,” Yvonne answered, wiping blood off her hands.

Dr. Cox knelt next to the body and looked at the side of the victim’s neck. “Looks like she was shot right in the carotid artery, here. The entry wound tells me that it was a small caliber handgun. Stippling around the wound shows that it was up close and personal. Minute plastic fragments point to an improvised silencer.”

Yvonne said, “That explains why nobody heard a gunshot.”

“I’ll know more when I get her back to my lab. Any idea who did this?”

“Absolutely none,” Yvonne answered.

“We’ll check everything for prints, but with this many people in and out of here I can’t guarantee how much will be useful for you.”

The lieutenant said, “Hopefully, CCTV outside in the Square will give us a better idea of who came in and out of the church at the time of the shooting.”

After the coroner’s staff took their pictures and fully examined the young woman’s body, Dr. Cox asked, “Can we take her now?”

“Yes,” the lieutenant answered.

It took another hour to finish interviewing the wedding guests, but finally they were cleared to go. “Go ahead and turn them loose,” the lieutenant told the uniformed officers. “The priest will be happy to get his church back.”

With the church now all but empty, Yvonne and Steven sat in the first pew with their two wedding attendants, Vente and Danielle.

Steven told them, “Well, since we’re still here, what do you say we continue our wedding? Are you ready to become Mrs. Brown, again?” he asked his fiancée.

Yvonne shook her head. “Look at me. I’ve got blood all over my dress.”

“You’re beautiful, darling. We need to hurry up and get married before something else happens.”

“That’s true. Never a dull moment around me.”

“That’s why I find you so exciting. I’ll go get the priest.”

***

Their wedding ceremony was an abbreviated version of what they had planned. The solemn words of the priest in the empty church mingled with the noise of Jackson Square just outside the doors.

The priest uttered, “If anyone has reason why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Vente and Danielle looked at each other while Steven and Yvonne held their breath as if expecting another untimely interruption of their vows.

“By the power vested in me by the state of Louisiana, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Cupping her face in his hands, Steve kissed Yvonne, sealing their marriage for the second time. Vente and Danielle clapped their hands in congratulations.

After signing the license and making sure the priest was paid, Vente said, “Let’s go get something to eat. I’m starving.”

“My dress has blood all over it. I can’t go like this.”

Her sister said, “I can go back to your place and get you something decent to wear. You two lovebirds probably want to have some time alone anyway.”

“Danielle, you’re sweet. It is hard to get romantic when you’re dressed like the bride of Dracula. Thanks. That would be great.”

“I’ll come with you,” Vente told Danielle. “I need to stop by the station anyway, so it’s on the way.”

Danielle, surprised and pleased, asked, “You will?”

“Yes. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to the detective’s sister.”

Danielle took his hand and said, “Well, okay then. Let’s go,” and pulled him away.

“Wait. Don’t you need this?” Yvonne asked, handing them her house key.

“Oh, yeah,” her sister said. “Duh.”

As Yvonne watched them walk away, she told her husband, “I think my sister has a crush on Vente.”

“So I’ve noticed. Too bad he’s already taken.”

“I’m glad Alexandra left.”

He laughed and said, “I’m sure Danielle is glad, too.”

Yvonne’s place was within walking distance of the cathedral and the sun was about to set as Danielle and Vente made their way there through the quaint French Quarter streets. He asked, “So, how’s it feel to be back in the Quarter again?”

“I love the way New Orleans looks at twilight. I didn’t realize how homesick I was until I came back.” Gas lanterns on the outside walls of restaurants flickered on as they passed by. She pointed out the lights and said, “See how romantic it is.”

“I suppose I take it all for granted. When are you going back to Paris? To me, that sounds much more romantic.”

“I’m not sure I will go back. Everything’s kind of up in the air right now.”

“How so?”

“My job.”

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a programmer. Though I can pretty much work anywhere, I fell in love with Paris. But, sometimes it’s nice to try someplace new. Change your scenery.”

“I envy you.”

“You do?”

“Sure. I love that kind of independence.”

“People say that all the time when I tell them what I do. Sometimes it gets lonely, though.”

“The grass is always greener, isn’t it? We always want what we don’t have. And when we get it, we usually want to go back to where we started.”

A couple of tourists walked by and asked, “Where’s Bourbon Street?”

Danielle pointed, “Back that way.”

“Is that where we can get our Hurricanes?”

“No. You can get them at Pat O’Brien’s. It’s on this street. Go back towards the cathedral. Just follow everyone else.”

After the tourists were out of earshot, Vente said, “Yeah. Just follow the smell of vomit.”

“Yuck, Rick. You sound so jaded.”

“I swear. I could live the rest of my days without having another Hurricane and be happy,” he told her, referring to the rum drink that everyone who came to New Orleans thought they must try at least once; along with purchasing a souvenir glass that was shaped like a hurricane lamp.

He continued, “I wish the locals could have one day when the Quarter is only open to those who live here.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

They reached Rampart Street where Yvonne lived in an adobe colored two-story building that had the quintessential Vieux Carre look with its black wrought-iron railings enhancing its beautiful balcony and green shuttered windows. Two huge ferns hung from the ceiling of her balcony.

“I’ve always loved this house,” Vente said, as she opened the door.

She teased, “Oh you do, huh? Does that mean that you’ve spent a lot of time here?”

“If you’re implying that anything sexual ever went on between Yvonne and myself you’re wrong. We’re just friends and colleagues. Besides, I don’t believe in dating people I work with. It gets too messy.”

She boldly asked, “How serious are you and Alexandra? Will you two be getting married next?”

“She’s just a friend. I’ve known her since we were young.”

“A friend with benefits?”

“No comment.”

“Okay. I get it. No more personal questions. I promise.”

She went into Yvonne’s bedroom to get some clothes for her sister while he sat and waited in the living room. She opened her sister’s closet and shook her head. She and her sister had totally different tastes when it came to clothing. Danielle preferred the “boho look”, while Yvonne’s clothes were mainly power suits for work or active wear. She needs an ambush make-over while I’m here, Danielle thought before settling on a grey suit and a white blouse. Stuffing them into a plastic bag, she returned to find Vente leafing through a photo album in the front room.

“Ready?” she asked.

“It’s funny. They both look so happy in all these pictures. I never understood why they had to break up in the first place. Couldn’t they have worked it out? But, I know. Relationships are complicated.”

Sitting down next to him on the couch, she looked at the pictures with him. “I know what you mean. I’m sure it goes deeper than we know. But, I’m with you. Look at them now. Too bad they didn’t go to a marriage counselor back then.”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Vente said and stood. “Are we ready?”

“Yep. Better get back before they think we’ve left the country.”

As they walked down Bienville Street she asked, “Aren’t you jealous about all those guys having sex with Alexandra?”

He let out a big sigh. “Danielle, I swear! You ask the most personal questions.”

“I’m sorry. There I go again. I promise not to pry anymore.”

“Good,” he curtly responded.

They turned on Royal and up ahead they could see the salmon-colored police department building.

“I need to run in and grab something. Have a seat here in the lobby. I’ll be right back.”

She sat across from a crying couple with a baby who looked as peaceful as could be. She felt odd sitting there with a trash bag full of clothes.

After a few minutes, Vente returned to the lobby carrying a large, beautifully wrapped present. He told her, “Sorry to make you wait so long.”

“Wow, did you do that? It’s beautiful.”

“The wrapping? No, I’ve got department store friends for that. I did arrange for the present inside, though.”

“I can’t wait to see what it is.”

Shall we?” he asked, offering his arm.

“My, how chivalrous of you. What must your coworkers think of you escorting a bag lady?”

“In this line of work, I spend time with all sorts of people. You’re the nicest bag lady I’ve seen.”

She took his arm as they made their way back to the cathedral.



Chapter Five



Yvonne changed her clothes in the bride’s room, thankful that Danielle brought her something more presentable. She put her bloodied wedding dress in the bag Danielle brought. Looking at herself in the mirror, she thought, what a way to start a marriage!

“How are you doing in there, Mrs. Brown?” Danielle asked, standing outside the door.

Finishing up her lipstick, Yvonne answered, “I’m just about ready. Come on in.”

Danielle entered and fished inside her purse for a cigarette. “Want one?”

“Sure, thanks.” Taking a big pull, she sat back in her chair and watched the smoke. “I can’t believe this happened to me. To us! Why my wedding? Why today?”

“You know it probably has nothing to do with you or Steven. It’s random. That’s how things are. But then again, you do work in the homicide trade, so to speak.”

“So, it’s my fault?”

“C’mon sis. It’s your wedding day! Let’s enjoy ourselves. Are you ready for dinner?”

“Where are we going?”

“Is the Gumbo Shop okay?”

“Sure! It’s one of our favorites. So, how are you and Vente getting along? You two were gone for quite a while. We were getting worried. Thought maybe you had locked yourself away in our house.”

“C’mon. What kind of girl do you think I am?”

“Should I answer that?” Yvonne said, taking drag on her cigarette.

“I wouldn’t do that at your house. Maybe someone else’s though!” They both laughed. “He is a pretty good-looking guy. I wouldn’t say no to him if he asked!”

“He is single, you know.”

“What about that Alexandra?”

“Oh, she’s just an old friend. I don’t think they’re, well, like a couple or anything.”

“So, I still have a chance, sister?”

“I’d say, more than a chance. I saw how he looked at you at the wedding.”

“You think so?”

Outside, Steven and Vente were getting antsy.

Steven asked, “Hey, you two. Are you ready? We’re getting hungry.”

“We’ll be right out. Two minutes. I promise,” Yvonne said. They put their cigarettes out in the toilet and took one last look in the mirror, making their last hair and makeup adjustments.

The wedding party made their way over to the Gumbo Shop. Their reception was supposed to have taken place at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District, but those plans were scrapped because of the shooting.

They turned through a small doorway on St Peter, emerging into a shaded courtyard full of banana palms and ferns. A waitress moved from table to table lighting candles as the aroma of shrimp and seafood filled the air. Behind them, the hostess asked, “Would y’all like inside or outside?”

“How about outside? How about here?” Steven asked looking at the group. Everyone agreed, and the hostess guided them to a table. The menu had all the traditional New Orleans fare at very reasonable prices. A frequent stop for all of them, the Gumbo Shop had something for every taste. As they usually did, each ordered the “Combination Plate” which included generous portions of shrimp creole, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. When the food was served, they went through the ritual of dividing the plates. Steven liked more jambalaya while Yvonne preferred shrimp creole.

Steven ordered two bottles of champagne. After he poured everyone a glass, he stood up and said, “Here’s a toast to my beautiful bride. We love each other so much that we got married twice. The second time’s the charm and we’re going to made it last this time.”

Everyone in the courtyard overheard his toast and clapping their hands, joined in on the celebration.

He sat down and Vente stood. He said, “I’d like to raise a toast to this couple and to the beautiful bride, Yvonne. Steven’s a lucky man. I know she can be a handful, but she’s definitely worth it.” More people in the courtyard clapped their hands.

Yvonne was embarrassed and a bit amazed by the words coming out of his mouth. She raised her glass to him and told him, “Sit. I feel like we’re taking over this restaurant. Let these nice people eat in peace.”

Enjoying their meals of gumbo and jambalaya, the waitress came over with another bottle of champagne. Steven told her, “I’m sorry; but we didn’t order this.”

“A gentleman who just left paid for it.”

“Really? And he didn’t even stay behind to let us thank him? How very kind. Wow!”

Danielle said, “It’s nice to see that there are still good people in the world. Especially after what happened today.”

“Do you remember what he looked like?” Yvonne asked the waitress as she peeled the foil off the bottle top.

“He had a dark suit on, I think. Yes, a suit. It was dark blue. Oh, and he had a handkerchief in his jacket pocket. You don’t see those anymore.”

“Was he with anyone? Did he eat alone?” Yvonne asked.

Steven interrupted. “C’mon honey, it was probably just a nice person who was wishing us well. Don’t get all detective on us.”

As the waitress topped off everyone’s glass, she said, “He didn’t eat anything. Just had a glass of champagne.”

“Do you have a credit card receipt?”

“Paid in cash.”

“He does have good taste whoever he was. This was a nice bottle of bubbly,” Steven said, eyeing the label. “An expensive one too.”

“Anything else I can get you folks?” the waitress asked.

“No, we’re good.”

“I guess you’re right. Sometimes things are just as they seem,” Yvonne said, raising her glass for another toast. More champagne was poured, and plates were passed around. The food and wine began to loosen everyone up from the stress of the day’s events.

“So, what should we call you now?” Vente asked Yvonne. “Detective Brown? or Detective Dauphin-Brown?”

“Whatever you’d like. Dauphin or Brown. I’m good with both. I’ve never gone in for hyphenations. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t strike me right. I’m so used to Dauphin I’d say stick with that.”

Vente reached under the table and brought forth his beautifully wrapped present. “Before I forget, I know how much this meant to you, Yvonne. A small wedding present for the both of you.”

“Did you wrap this, Rick?” she asked, admiring the present.

“No, but I understand he has connections,” Danielle answered feeling more relaxed now.

Intrigued, Yvonne unwrapped it and was surprised to find a small antique French clock. Laughing, she said, “Oh, my God. The clock!”

Steven looked at Vente. “A private joke between the two of you?”

“When Yvonne was staying with me, her bedroom was near the parlor where it sat on the mantelpiece. This little clock puts out a hell of a lot of noise when it chimes. It kept her up all night, but she was too polite to admit it. I had to put it in the garage, so she didn’t have to hear it anymore.”

Danielle told him, “It looks very valuable.”

“It is.” He looked at Yvonne and said, “Hawk it and use the money on your honeymoon.”

“I would never do such a thing! This is a beautiful piece. I fell in love with it when I first saw it.” She felt slightly uncomfortable and told him, “I’ve never received such as extravagant gift. Thank you! What will the ladies on the home tour say? I’m sure they’ll notice if it’s gone.”

“They’ll soon forget about it, I’m sure. Sometimes having a historical house that seems to be perpetually on a home tour is a curse. It’s more their house than mine, sometimes.”

Not knowing what to do with the clock, she put it in the center of the table so everyone could admire it.

Danielle took a sip of champagne and boldly asked, “So, Yvonne. What was it like living in Vente’s beautiful house?”

“It was fun!”

“Ooh…Do tell.”

Feeling a bit tipsy from the champagne, Yvonne told her sister, “Well, I did collapse in his arms after my doctor increased my meds.”

Steven raised an eyebrow.

Danielle laughed. “Go on, Yvonne. What else?”

“One time I saw him walking down the hall buck-naked.”

Danielle giggled and almost spit out her champagne. “Oh, my goodness.” She daintily wiped her lips with a napkin.

Steven looked at Yvonne, “I’ve never heard this part of the story.”

Defending himself, Vente said, “I’d forgotten she was staying with me. I had just gotten out of the shower and thought I was alone.”

Yvonne told her new husband, “Don’t worry, honey. Nothing happened. He was so shocked to see me that he covered his privates. He looked like Adam after being kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit.”

“As long as he didn’t eat your forbidden fruit,” Danielle replied, the table erupting in laughter.

Steven cleared his throat and said, “Alright already, you two. Can we please change the subject?”

A bit embarrassed, Vente told them, “I’ll be back. I need to make a phone call.”

While he was gone, Yvonne felt like she should explain herself. “Actually, Rick was the perfect gentleman when I stayed with him. Landrieu insisted that I move out of my place after the perp in our last case, the Basher, sent me threatening letters. I didn’t know where else to go and I couldn’t exactly stay with Steven because he was still married. Rick kindly offered a room at his place.”

Danielle told her, “You don’t have to explain, Yvonne. I was just having some fun with you. I’m just envious that I wasn’t the one who got to stay with him.”

Vente returned and abruptly told them, “I gotta go. The lieutenant has called a meeting.”

“What happened?” Yvonne asked.

“We got ahold of some CCTV footage of a woman running into the cathedral right around the time your wedding started. A man came inside after her and left a few seconds later. She’d like us to jump on this. I’m sorry to leave.”

On reflex, Yvonne stood up to join him and Steven said, “Yvonne! This is our honeymoon. You can’t go now! You’re off duty. It’s our night!”

“You’re right. Sorry,” she answered and sat back down.

She told Vente, “Let me know how it goes,” secretly wishing she was back in the game.

After Steven paid for dinner, Danielle told them, “You know, I can stay in a hotel tonight and let you two lovebirds have your privacy. It is your honeymoon, after all.”

“Don’t be silly. We’re not kicking you out. You’re staying with us. Besides, we need you to drive us to the airport early in the morning.”

“Okay. If you insist.”

“More bubbly?” the waitress came over and interrupted.

“Sure, one more,” Steven said raising his glass in a toast. “Why not. It’s our second wedding night.”

Chapter Six



The following morning, Yvonne tiptoed out of bed as Steven slept. Taking her phone into the kitchen, she called the lieutenant.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to Charleston right now?”

“Yes. But I was just curious about the case. I understand we have some CCTV footage. Is it giving us any leads?”

“Yes, we do have footage. Now, I want you to hang up the phone and enjoy your honeymoon. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing?”

“I know. I’m just curious. You know me. Who’s got the case now?”

“I’ve assigned it to Rick. After seeing how well he handled himself in the Basher case, I think it’s time for him to lead. I think he’s more than up for the job.”

“Yes. He is. I totally support him.”

“Well, then. Okay. Bon voyage.”

“Wait! Can you at least tell me about the briefing last night?”

“Okay. But this is it, Yvonne. You have a fine-looking man who’s probably waiting for you in bed right now. Don’t you realize how lucky you are?”

“Of course! Just a little tidbit, please?”

“With CCTV footage, we were able to enlarge the photo of a man we think is our shooter. It’s also evident that the woman was our dead girl. She was wearing the same clothes. We’re going to be canvassing the working girls in the Quarter to see if any of them recognize him.”

“Maybe Alexandra will know who he was.”

“Rick is going to get a statement from her today.”

Yvonne heard Steven calling her name from the bedroom and told her boss, “Gotta go.”

“Be good. Have a wonderful time and don’t phone home!”

***

Vente was at the gym working off the champagne and jambalaya when the Coroner called. Grabbing his phone, he stepped off the treadmill and wiped the sweat off his face.

“Vente,” he answered.

“Detective, this is Dr. Cox. I wondered if you’d like to come by and see the woman from the cathedral? I understand you’re the lead on the case.”

“Boy, word travels fast. Sure. Let me shower and I’ll be right over.”

Arriving at the Coroner’s building, he got that same old feeling he’d always had when coming here. It was oddly surreal. Amidst the gravity of the office, the staff were friendly and congenial. People were lying dead in the other rooms and everybody acted so normal. He turned down the hall towards a door marked “Dr. Phyllis Cox Coroner”.

Stepping inside, he found a lab assistant busily typing at her computer. A grisly, just-autopsied body was displayed on her screen looking like a giant filleted trout.

Dr. Cox saw him when she was getting a cup of coffee. “I’m just about to start. Have a seat and I’ll see you on the other side.”

“I hate when you say that,” Vente answered. He took a seat in the autopsy viewing room, an innovation for the coroner. Used to be, you’d stand right beside the doctor doing the slicing and see everything up close and personal. Since the office upgrade, they created a special room that allowed viewing of the autopsy but behind glass. There was a remote-control camera that allowed the detective to zoom in on any part of the body he wished, as well as a microphone to speak with the doctor at any time.

Dr. Cox pulled over a gurney with a body covered in a white sheet. She drew the sheet back to show the dead woman’s face. Her hair was neatly combed back, and she looked as if she was in a deep, restful sleep. Her skin was without flaws, smooth and young-looking. Dr. Cox turned her head slightly to reveal the angry, red wound left by a bullet at close range.

“Say hello to Sophia Jachowski. Native to Poland and here illegally. We ran her prints and discovered that she had been arrested in New Orleans about five years ago when she was a teenager and charged with prostitution and selling heroin. After her conviction, she was deported back to Poland, but somehow managed to find her way back to New Orleans again. She’s been keeping under the radar—until now.”

Vente zoomed the camera in to get a closer look at the wound. “I wonder if she knew what happened.”

“I’m sure she didn’t feel a thing. I’d bet she went into an instant, painless coma. Wouldn’t have known what hit her. The bullet severed her spinal cord and pretty well tore apart her spine right here,” she pointed with a gloved hand to the large hole left by the bullet. “I’m surprised we didn’t see an exit wound. A shot at such close range usually creates one. It seems as if the bullet inexplicably took a turn down her spine into her lungs.”

Dr. Cox pulled down the sheet and pointed to a tattoo that was about four inches below the woman’s navel. It was of a small rope tied with a knot in the middle.

“That’s a strange tattoo,” Vente said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like it before.”

“I think they call it wezel moj. Knot of Mine. It’s Polish.”

“The what?”

“It means you belong to someone. One of the big organized crime groups in Poland used this extensively on their girls. Keeps the other guys from pilfering your stuff.”

“How do you know that?”

“Spent my early years in the Army. At Landstuhl, in Germany. Did my ER and coroner training there. We saw our fair share of murdered girls with this tattoo. It’s pretty well know there. And there were others. This was just one.”

Vente looked at her incredulously. “The things you know.”

She held up a pill bottle to the glass that contained a small earring. “I found this pierced to one of her labial lips. It’s engraved on the inside with the capital letters BB.”

“BB? Why would a woman do that?”

“Good question. Could be like the tattoo. Another mark of ownership. Although, this is New Orleans. I see all sorts of stuff in here. People pierce just about every part of their body.”

Putting the pill bottle down, she and her assistant transferred the body from the gurney to the autopsy table.

“I’ve never understood why some people think that wearing an earring there enhances sexual pleasure. All I can think was that it may get caught on something and rip. Or cause an infection. Also, why do the ladies these days think they need to have all their pubic hair waxed off—like she does here?” she said, pointing at the woman. “It makes her look like a little girl. You’re not into that sort of thing, are you?”

“No comment. Sometimes I think there’s too much information.”

“I think it’s fascinating. But then I’ve always been interested in what people do to their own or other people’s anatomy.” She looked at him sideways and asked, “Are you going to stick around to watch us open her up?”

“Not this one, thanks.”

“Seen enough?”

“Yes. More than enough.”

She reached for a large scalpel and looking at the interns gathered around the table, began the autopsy, explaining each step as they eagerly watched this young women’s body become teaching material for med school students.

Vente walked back out to the lobby and into the real world full of people talking, radios playing and life going on as normal. He stepped outside, taking a deep breath to clear his head of morgue smell. He fished out his phone and called the station.

“Are we still on for the briefing this morning?” he asked Landrieu’s assistant.

“Yes, detective. You better get in soon though. I think she’s ready to start.”

“I’ll be right there, Cindy. I’m just leaving the Coroner’s office. If the traffic holds, I’ll see you in about ten minutes.”

When he entered the station, Landrieu saw him and with her phone in her ear, motioned for him to come to her office. It was right off the lobby and its glass walls let her see who came and went, a fact that none of the officers had gotten used to. Standing in her doorway, he stopped while she finished up a call barking out orders for the crime lab. She pointed at him to come in.


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