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 is 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 is unseasonably cool; but the locals have no complaints. They’re in no hurry for hot temperatures and the sweltering humidity that is 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 becomes 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 adjusts her wedding veil. Looking at herself in the floor length mirror she tells 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 tells her. She pulls some bobby pins out of her purse and tries to pin on the cap of the veil so that the pins aren’t showing. “There, that should do it.”

Turning to her sister, Yvonne says, “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 are very lucky, especially after that night at Funky Butt.”

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

She steps back and looks at her image in the mirror. Her dress is a knee-length sleeveless white satin sheathe with white lace over it. It is very low in the back. She asks 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 answers, still adjusting the veil in the mirror.

“Glad to hear it,” Danielle answers and pulls a compact out of her purse to re-apply her cherry-red lipstick. She asks, “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 rifles through her purse, trying to find her cigarettes, and discovers 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 pulls 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 kicks off her heels and stepping up on the chair, forces 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 are 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 laughs. “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 is quiet, lost in her thoughts. “I wish they could have been here. Sometimes I really miss them both. Mom would have loved this, wouldn’t she?”

“Yes, this was 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 wipes away a tear from the corner of her eye as Yvonne wraps her arms around her.

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

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

“Steven,” Yvonne reminds her.

“Yes, Steven! You are 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. Now you’re being morose again. 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 takes a long drag on her French cigarette and grimaces at its strength. “Wow, these are strong,” she says, 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’s a rap on the door and Danielle peeks her head out to see who’s there. The wedding coordinator with a clip board and pencil in hand asks, “Are you two ready to start?”

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

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

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

She turns to her sister and says, “Come on, sis. It’s show time.”

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

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

They follow the coordinator out a rear door and onto Pirates Alley. In full bridal dress, Yvonne makes her way to the front of the church, garnering stares and applause along the way from locals and tourists alike. Smiling and waving, they disappear into the vestibule of the soaring cathedral. On her second time around, Yvonne wants 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 “Summertime” from the musical “Porgy and Bess”.

Yvonne peeks around the door into the church. The pews are full and the sound of hundreds of voices fill the large, cavernous space. She recognizes some of her colleagues and many of Steven’s friends. Although she’s happy so many showed up, she feels nervous and hopes she doesn’t have a panic attack and keel over at the altar. Her hands are sweaty as she grips 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 has worked with him for years and they’ve shared many homicide cases together. She sometimes refers 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 looks very handsome today in his tailored Italian suit and skinny black tie. Danielle fell in love with him at first sight, thinking that he looks like Colin Farrell. She hopes he’ll come alone today and not with the Garden District working girl he seems to fancy.

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

Blushing slightly, Yvonne is caught off guard by his kiss and does her best to be gracious. Smiling, she gives 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 clears her throat, wanting his attention. He turns to see her and shaking her hand, says, “Hello again, Danielle. You look lovely today.”

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

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

“It’s now or never,” she answers and takes his arm. He leads her down the aisle and when she sees her soon-to-be-husband at the altar, she feels warm, high, and euphoric. After all she’s gone through, she is so happy that today she is remarrying the love of her life. She’s been wanting this man for so long and now finally they’re going to make it official. Again.

Steven’s face beams with pride when he sees his beautiful bride walking down the aisle towards him. He looks very handsome in his tuxedo and white dress shirt. Usually, he wears a corduroy jacket that has patches on the elbows, his “teacher’s uniform”, as he calls it. Today, he looks like a movie star. People tell him that he looks like Clive Owen. He thinks he looks like a regular guy—just a Southern teacher at a Catholic high school.

Yvonne fights to hold back tears when she reaches the altar and beams back at her handsome groom. Vente relinquishes her to Steven and steps back down to his seat. The priest comes forward and raising his arms signals for everyone to be seated. A hush comes over the church. In the distance, the sounds of laughter and voices from Jackson Square can be heard. The priest, smiling at Steven and Yvonne, opens his bible and begins, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to witness the union of this man and woman in holy matrimony.” Suddenly, he is interrupted by the sound of a woman screaming in the rear of the church. All eyes are diverted from the altar to the back rows where a woman stands and cries out, “She’s been shot. Oh, my God.”


Chapter Two



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

With Vente close at her heels, Yvonne makes her way to the second to last row where a crowd has gathered around a woman sitting forward with her head resting against the pew. Blood oozes out of a wound in her neck. A woman tries in vain to stem the flow of blood with her small, and now soaked, handkerchief. “Pam! Let me help you,” Yvonne says, as she sits down on the pew beside her next-door neighbor in the Quarter. Pulling off her veil, she wads it up and holds 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 feels the woman’s neck for a pulse.

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you doing? How’s she doing?”

“She’s hanging in there, but barely.”

The lieutenant tells 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 are shut and locked, guarded by well-dressed police officers there for the wedding. They stand scanning the crowd, worried that the shooter might still be there among them. Landrieu steps out into the aisle and tries to get everyone’s attention.

“Okay, listen up, everybody,” she yells 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 goes 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 has to use the restroom, we have a deputy here who will escort you; otherwise please remain seated.”

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

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

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

“Are 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 shake their heads and say nothing.

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

“No. I never saw her before,” a prematurely grey-haired teacher says. “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 echoes.

“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 says, handing out his cards to the group. He tells 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 walks away, a young blonde school teacher whispers to her friends, “I’d like to call him sometime!”

“I wish he’d call me,” the other woman says. They laugh and try not to ogle.

Vente returns to Yvonne and the bloodied woman. “How is she doing?”

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

“Poor thing,” Vente says.

A group of uniformed police stream into the church, gathering at the rear. They look around expectantly, acting is if they’re unsure why they’re there. The lieutenant makes 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 looks 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 nods 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, make sure we get that.”

The officers disperse and make their way down the aisles peppering the guests with questions. The volume of conversations in the cathedral increases as the interviews begin.

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

Turning, she smiles and shakes 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 grimaces at her words. “Oh, my goodness. Well I guess I’ll make 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 sit down on a pew while he carefully arranges 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 points towards the altar towards three officers. Unaware that they are being watched, they lift the altar cloth, peer into the chalice and crawl under the marble altar looking for clues.

“Yes. I see, Father.”

She shouts at them. “Excuse me!”

The three stop instantly at her voice. “That will be enough. Please have some respect!” She directs 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.” Lieutenant Landrieu smiles and, shaking the priest’s hand, stands and walks over to the wounded girl.

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

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

“Do you know her?”

“Yes. Poor thing. Is she dead?”

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


Chapter Three



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

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

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

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

“She didn’t make it.”

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

Yvonne says, “Tell me about it.”

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

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

“From whom?”

“Vente’s friend, Alexandra.”

“Where is she?”

“Over there with Rick.”

The lieutenant walks over to Rick and Alexandra.

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

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

“How did you know her? Was she a friend?”

“Can we speak privately?” she whispers.

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

“Okay. Tell me what you know of 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 answers, trying her best not to be judgmental, fully aware of how helpful to law enforcement some of the working girls in New Orleans have 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 wipes her eyes and tries 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 come and Vente hugs her tighter, looking over at Landrieu.

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

Alexandra nervously nods at her.

“Vente? A word?” the lieutenant asks.

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

“Vente, will you take a statement from Alexandra 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 is at a loss for words. He’s always wanted to lead a murder case and now that it’s a reality, he somehow can’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 smiles.

Just barely turned thirty, Vente comes from a large Italian family who built a fortune in the import/export business. Despite his Sicilian roots, he looks like a cross between Colin Farrell and Clive Owen with intense-looking eyes that are 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 is fiercely loyal to his co-workers. He looks 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 returns to the nave of the church to see how things are progressing and taking out her phone, calls 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 waits for an answer and then adds, “Yes, that’s what I said, Doctor. I’ll see you when you get here.”

Vente returns to Alexandra and takes 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 is dead. It could have been me out there!”

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

Alexandra, is 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 Vente 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 one day 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 cannot keep from going back to those summer days with her so long ago.

She smiles and leans 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 agrees with his suggestion and he calls 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 appears at the vestibule door.

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

“Yes sir,” the officer says.

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


Chapter Four



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

When the coroner arrives, Yvonne is still in her wedding dress which is now streaked with blood. The coroner tries 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 says, shaking her head.

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

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

Lieutenant Landrieu steps over and shakes 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 looks down at the victim and asks, “So, is this our young lady?”

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

Dr. Cox kneels down next to the body and looks 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 show that it was up close and personal. Minute plastic fragments point to an improvised silencer.”

Yvonne says, “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 answers.

Dr. Cox says, “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 says, “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 take their pictures and fully examine the young girl’s body, Dr. Cox asks, “Can we take her now?”

“Yes,” the lieutenant answers.

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

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

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

“But, 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 is an abbreviated version of what they had planned. The solemn words of the priest in the empty church mingle with the noise of Jackson Square just outside the doors.

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

Vente and Danielle look at each other while Steven and Yvonne hold 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 kisses Yvonne, sealing their marriage for the second time. Vente and Danielle clap their hands in congratulations.

After signing the license and making sure the priest is paid, Vente says, “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 says, “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 though it is hard to get romantic when you’re dressed like the bride of Dracula. But thanks. That would be great.”

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

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

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

Danielle takes his hand and says, “Well, okay then. Let’s go,” and pulls him away.

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

“Oh, yeah,” her sister says. “Duh.”

As Yvonne watches them walk away, she tells 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 laughs and says, “I’m sure Danielle is glad, too.”

Yvonne’s place is within walking distance of the cathedral and the sun is about to set as Danielle and Vente make their way there through the quaint French Quarter streets. He asks, “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 flicker on as they pass by. She points out the lights and says, “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 walk by and ask, “Where’s Bourbon Street?”

Danielle points, “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 are out of earshot, Vente says, “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 tells her, referring to the rum drink that everyone who comes to New Orleans thinks they must try at least once; along with purchasing a souvenir glass that is shaped like a hurricane lamp.

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

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

They reach Rampart Street where Yvonne lives in an adobe colored two-story building that has the quintessential Vieux Carre look with its black wrought-iron railings that enhance its beautiful balcony and green shuttered windows. Two huge ferns hang from the ceiling of her balcony.

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

She teases, “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 me 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 asks, “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 goes into Yvonne’s bedroom to get some clothes for her sister while he sits and waits in the living room. She opens her sister’s closet and shakes her head. She and her sister have totally different tastes when it comes to clothing. Danielle prefers the “boho look”, while Yvonne’s clothes are mainly power suits for work or active wear. She needs an ambush make-over while I’m here, Danielle thinks before settling on a grey suit and a white blouse. Stuffing them into a plastic bag, she returns to find Vente leafing through a photo album in the front room.

“Ready?” Danielle asks.

He answers, “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 looks 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 says and stands. “Are we ready?”

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

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

He lets 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 responds.

They turn on Royal and up ahead they can 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 sits across from a crying couple with a baby who looks as peaceful as could be. She feels odd sitting there with a trash bag full of clothes.

After a few minutes, Vente returns to the lobby carrying a large, beautifully wrapped present. He tells 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 asks, offering his arm to Danielle.

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

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

Vente offers his arm as they make their way back to the cathedral.



Chapter Five



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

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

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

Danielle enters and fishes inside her purse for a cigarette. “Want one?”

“Sure, thanks.” Taking a big pull she sits back in her chair and watches 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 says, taking drag on her cigarette.

“I wouldn’t do that at your house. Maybe someone else’s though!” They both laugh. “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 are getting antsy.

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

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

The wedding party makes 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 turn through a small doorway on St Peter, emerging into a shaded courtyard full of banana palms and ferns. A waitress moves from table to table lighting candles as the aroma of shrimp and seafood fills the air. Behind them, the hostess asks, “Would y’all like inside or outside?”

“How about inside? How about here?” Steven asks looking at the group. Everyone agrees and the hostess guides them to a table. The menu has all the traditional New Orleans fare at very reasonable prices. A frequent stop for all of them, the Gumbo Shop has something for every taste. As they usually do, each orders the “Combination Plate” which includes generous portions of shrimp creole, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. When the food is served, they’ll go through the ritual of dividing the plates. Steven likes more jambalaya while Yvonne prefers shrimp creole.

Steven orders two bottles of champagne. After he pours everyone a glass, he stands up and says, “Here’s a toast to my beautiful bride. We love each other so much that we got married twice. And almost didn’t even then! The second time’s the charm and we’re going to make it last this time.”

Everyone in the courtyard overhears his toast and clapping their hands, joins in on the celebration.

He sits down and Vente stands. He says, “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 clap their hands.

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

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

She answers, “A gentleman who just left paid for it.”

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

Danielle says, “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 asks the waitress as she peels 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 asks.

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

As the waitress tops off everyone’s glass, she says, “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 is. This is a nice bottle of bubbly,” Steven says, eyeing the label. “An expensive one too.”

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

“No, we’re good,” Vente says.

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

“So, what should we call you now?” Vente asks 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 reaches under the table and brings forth his beautifully wrapped present to Yvonne. “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?” Yvonne asks admiring the present.

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

Intrigued, she unwraps it and is surprised to find a small antique French clock. Laughing, she says, “Oh, my God. The clock!”

Steven asks 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 put it in the garage so she didn’t have to hear it anymore.”

Danielle says, “It looks very valuable.”

“It is.” He looks at Yvonne and says, “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 feels slightly uncomfortable and tells 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,” Rick says.

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

Danielle boldly asks, “So, Yvonne. What was it like living in Vente’s beautiful house?”

“It was fun!”

“Oooh…” Danielle says. “Do tell.”

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

Steven lifts one eyebrow in high arch.

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

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

Danielle giggles and almost spits out her champagne. “Oh my goodness,” and daintily wipes her lips with a napkin.

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

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

Yvonne tells 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 replies, the table erupting in laughter.

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

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

While he’s gone, Yvonne feels 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 tells 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 returns and abruptly tells them, “I gotta go. The lieutenant has called a meeting.”

“What happened?” Yvonne asks.

“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 like this.”

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

“You’re right. Sorry,” she answers and sits back down.

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

After Steven pays for dinner, Danielle tells 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 comes over and interrupts.

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

Chapter Six



The following morning, Yvonne tiptoes out of bed as Steven sleeps. Taking her phone into the kitchen she calls Landrieu.

“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. Don’t you realize how lucky you are?”

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

“We were able to enlarge the photo of who we think is our shooter from the CCTV footage. It’s also pretty evident the woman is our dead girl. She’s 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 is.”

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

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

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


*******


Vente is at the gym working off the champagne and jambalaya when the Coroner calls. Grabbing his phone, he steps off the treadmill and wipes the sweat off his face.

“Vente,” he answers.

“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 gets that same old feeling he’s always had when coming here. It’s oddly surreal. Amidst the gravity of the office, the staff are friendly and congenial. People are lying dead in the other rooms and everybody acts so normal. He turns down the hall towards a door marked “Dr. Phyllis Cox Coroner”.

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

“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 says. He takes 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’ve created a special room that allows viewing of the autopsy but behind glass. There’s a remote-control camera that allows the detective to zoom in on any part of the body he wishes as well as a microphone to speak with the doctor at any time.

Dr. Cox pulls over a gurney with a body covered in a white sheet. She pulls the sheet back to show the dead woman’s face. Her hair is neatly combed back and she looks as if she’s in a deep, restful sleep. Her skin is without flaws, smooth and young-looking. Dr. Cox turns 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 for 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 zooms 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 points 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 pulls down the sheet and points to a tattoo that’s about four inches below the woman’s navel. It is of a small rope tied with a knot in the middle.

“That’s a strange tattoo,” Vente says. “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 girls with this tattoo that had been murdered. It’s pretty well know there. And there are others. This is just one.”

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

She holds up a pill bottle to the glass containing 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?” Vente asks.

“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.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-33 show above.)