Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners by Kristen Houghton is the 3rd book in the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series (Available December 15, 2016).
Cate Harlow's best friend, the lovely “lady of the New York City evening” Melissa Aubrincourt asks Cate and Cate's ex-husband, NYPD Detective Will Benigni to come to New Orleans. Her beloved Tante Anjali, the woman who raised Melissa, has been arrested for murder.
What she doesn't tell Cate is that she needs her to conduct a private investigation into this murder of a notorious voodoo priestess who had been accused of kidnapping girls for a sex trade. As a “gifted person of magic” and powerful voodooienne rival of the murdered woman, Tante Anjali, is the prime suspect. She was found kneeling over the body of the murder victim, Fleur-SalI Cloutier, holding a bloody knife in her hands, yet she swears she did not kill her.
But Anjali Aubrincourt is more than evasive about what really happened the night of the murder. Cate believes she is protecting the real murderer, but who and why? The answer to both may come from an imaginative fairy-like child who believes in magic and a goddess named Sainte Ursule.
While Will works tirelessly with the New Orleans police and legal systems, Cate's own private investigation into the murder takes her into the mystical and frightening heart of New Orleans voodoo magic where the dead and the living co-exist, and a possible connection to witchcraft in her own family.
SUMMER IN NEW ORLEANS is hot and humid.The false cool of the airport doesn’t prepare you for what is waiting outside its electronically geared sliding glass doors. I am standing just inside the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport while Will, my charming ex-husband, is over at baggage retrieving our luggage. Dixie, my friend Melissa’s black standard poodle, is watching the foot traffic go by. Suddenly, he lets out a huge yawn and lies down at my feet. For a dog who just flew in the comfort of first class, with his own seat and specially prepared doggie burgers, he’s a bit out of sorts. He misses the companionship of my two cats, Little Guy and Mouse. I squat down next to him and give him a hug. I miss them, too.
Will struggles toward me with our luggage wearing a stoic look on his handsome face. I sigh and stand up. “Need help? I told you to grab a cart. It’s only two bucks, for God’s sake.”
“Not needed, babe.”
Will sees no reason a healthy NYPD detective like himself can’t handle three suitcases and two carry-ons alone. Besides, he’s notoriously cheap when it comes to the simple things in life that make said life easier. He has no problem spending money on the best Yankees tickets or hiring a personal trainer at his gym, or going to high-priced restaurants and resorts. But he’ll balk at popping two bucks into a machine that will make transporting luggage more comfortable for him…and for me.
I hand him my bottle of water and he pours some into the travel bowl we have for Dixie and then drinks the rest. We’re waiting inside the air-conditioned confines of the airport at the suggestion of my best friend, Melissa Aubrincourt, who has paid for our first-class flights from New York City to New Orleans. “Seriously, you don’t want to stand waiting outside during a NOLA summer,” she had texted me. “I’ll come get you.”
Twenty minutes after receiving her text, I see her walking toward us, waving bejeweled hands in greeting. We step outside and are immediately hit by the heat and humidity she had warned us about. It’s like being smothered by a wet, woolen blanket. Dixie sees Melissa and can barely contain himself.
“Dixie!” As she gets closer I can see that the ordeal that has made this trip necessary for us has taken its toll on her. Though she is as impeccably dressed and groomed as always, her beautiful face looks tired and haggard. Dixie jumps up like a ballet dancer and delicately places his paws on Melissa’s shoulders.
She embraces him, kissing and holding him tight for a few minutes, and then she faces us. “Cate! Will! You cannot imagine how happy I am to see you both! I have a car waiting.”
She beckons to a very large man who has been following at a discreet distance and says in perfect French, “Marlon, se il vous plaît aider détective Benigni avec les sacs.” My eight years of high school and college French serve me well; she’s asking Marlon to help Will with the bags, please. Turning to me, Melissa asks how Dixie liked the flight. Will, having been relieved of his bags by the giant Marlon, says, “Well, since we all flew first class and he had his own seat and food, I think he pretty much liked it.” Melissa smiles at Will and, taking Dixie’s leash, leads us toward a parked town car.
As we step onto the walkway, the heat comes at us in waves that shimmer before our eyes. Two steps forward, and the humidity bathes our faces in sweat. “Jesus! It’s hot,” is Will’s very obvious comment about the weather. Melissa smiles and nods. “This is a NOLA summer, Will. It’s always hot and steamy, which, if I remember correctly, is how Cate says you like it!” That gets a laugh from Will and from me. “Anyway, I’ve got some cool New Orleans lemonade in the car. That means it’s spiked pretty well with gin, so take it slow.”
The air in the car is not subzero as some car ACs are. It’s pleasantly cool, and within a few minutes the sweat evaporates from our faces. Dixie plops himself in the back between Melissa and me and drinks water out of his special bowl while the humans indulge in the NOLA lemonade. Melissa is right; it has one hell of a kick. I rest my head on the comfortable back headrest and look at Melissa. She’s clinging to Dixie as if he were a life preserver and he snuggles against her as if he senses her distress.
“How is your aunt, Melissa?”
“Tante Anjali is well and waiting for us all at home.”
“By the way, we read the police report on the flight down here. It’s pretty damaging to say the least. You texted that you were able to post bail. With this murder charge and all the evidence pointing to Anjali as the murderer, how was that possible?”
“A former…beau of Anjali, a sitting judge, made the bail post very easy for us. Will doesn’t need to go to court, at least not yet.” That’s all she says and I know I’ll have to wait until later to find out all the details. She closes her eyes and lays her head against Dixie.
“They must have had one hell of a hot relationship for the judge to call in favors to help her make bail,” whispers Will to me before we both sit back and totally enjoy the coolness of the car and the intoxicatingly cool New Orleans lemonade.
“Tonight,” says Anjali, “we are feasting atGalatoire’s.” It is almost eight o’clock at night and Will and I have just come downstairs to what Orleanians call the parlor. It is a large room with soft comfortable chairs and loveseats. There are two soft-seated armchairs that are higher from the floor than the rest of the chairs and resemble small thrones. Floor-to-ceiling windows are opened to the late afternoon air. Fabric shutters hang halfway down each window, keeping the sun’s rays out. And the room is cooled by three large palmetto ceiling fans. A beautiful black cat with a white ruff gazes at us calmly from a perch near one of the windows where she can feel the breeze generated by the fans. Anjali gently pets the magnificent creature, whom she calls Minou, French for kitten.
The heat of New Orleans is only lightly felt inside; it’s as if the house where Anjali lives is an oasis from the broiling sun outside. Will and I have both unpacked, had a shower and a short nap, and changed clothes so we feel refreshed. We were told by Melissa to dress casually elegant and so we have. Will is wearing navy slacks, a light-blue dress shirt, and blue deck shoes without socks. I have on a long white linen strapless summer dress made dressier by a pair of lilac high-heeled sandals.
Anjali looks Will up and down in such a frank and appraising manner that he coughs in a self-conscious way. “At Galatoire’s you will love the seafood, cher, the shellfish, yes? Here in New Orleans we like to say our seafood is the best, in the whole world. You do love a good dinner of clams, mussels, shrimp—yes, monsieur?” I look at her in surprise; Will does love shellfish. He’s always looking for good seafood restaurants. It’s his all-time favorite meal. But how did she know this? Maybe Melissa told her.
Marlon brings in a tray with large glasses of mint iced tea and a selection of scones, finger sandwiches, miniature quiches, and pralines. In beautifully accented French, Anjali directs him to leave the tray on a marble-topped table by the windows. I think about how Harry Tuttle would love this and how he would begin asking Anjali how the food is prepared. Remembering all the goodies Myrtle Goldberg Tuttle, Harry’s wife, and my prim and proper secretary, brings to Catherine Harlow,Private Investigations, I make a mental note to get the recipes for him. Good eating at the office! Myrtle and Harry are “on a vacation” at my brownstone taking care of Little Guy and Mouse. Myrtle texted me that Harry is baking up a storm in my small kitchen.
Meeting Melissa’s Tante Anjali was a surprise. The lady is almost sixty but looks much, much younger—virtually wrinkle and sag-free. Anjali is a beautiful woman and she carries herself like a queen. Her dark chestnut hair falls in soft waves past her shoulders and her eyes are a startling deep green framed by dark, long lashes. Like Melissa, she wears diamond and ruby bracelets on both hands with matching earrings. The ring finger of her left hand sports an enormous square-cut yellow diamond tastefully surrounded by smaller white diamonds. On the middle finger of her right hand she wears a type of gold signet ring with a symbol I don’t recognize. Her clothes are soft and flowing with a generous amount of cleavage. Around her neck she wears a gold chain holding a round disk on which I see a sigil and strange squiggles. She is calm and speaks with a charming French-New Orleans accent. Though she looks and acts like a former well-bred convent schoolgirl, there is a dark sensual aura emanating from her. I can see that Will is captivated.
Taking a tall glass of tea, she settles herself onto the throne-like chair and addresses me. “So, Cate, Melissa has told me so much about you, all wonderful and good things. You are brave and strong, yes? And you willingly help others even at risk to your own life. Melissa tells me that you saved a woman from the horrible death of being buried alive.” She shivers a bit. “Such evil in the world for you to fight, my lovely Cate. And you are a good friend to my sweet Melissa. She loves you very much. I am so happy to meet you at last.”
Turning to Will, Anjali once again looks him up and down with a practiced eye, almost as if she is assessing him as a potential lover. Finally, she smiles and says, “A handsome, virile man!” Will smiles a bit uncomfortably at her comment. Anjali looks at me and raises an eyebrow. “You are a fortunate woman, Cate, very fortunate.” Turning her attention again to Will she continues, “Melissa says that you are a police detective and a lawyer. You are a man who loves justice. Hmm. One day, perhaps not now, but one day, you will choose what makes you happiest. And you came to New Orleans with Cate because Melissa asked it of you! I see the good in both of you. You are always welcome in my home.”
Melissa comes into the parlor with Dixie who plops himself respectfully below the cat perch. She is wearing a soft flowing caftan and is as bejeweled as her Tante Anjali. She kisses her aunt and takes a cold tea from the tray. “So,” she begins turning to Anjali, “shall we tell Cate and Will why it was of the utmost importance for them to come here?”
Anjali looks from Will to me then smiles at Melissa. “Of course, chérie. Besides having the absolute pleasure of your company, Melissa has asked you here for your compétence, your
expertise in this matter.” She fingers her bracelets delicately the way I’ve seen Melissa do when she is involved in a serious discussion. Anjali fixes an unwavering gaze on me and I find that I am unable to look away, almost as if I have no power to do so. “Cate, ma chérie, has Melissa told you that I am a sorcière?” Melissa’s aunt is a witch?
Still unable to look away from those crystal clear dark-green eyes, I answer slowly. “No, Anjali, she hasn’t told me that. She only told me that you were…arrested for…murder.”
“Ah, sweet lady, don’t be shy to state the truth of my situation. Yes, I was arrested for the murder of whom some will call my rival in…business. Fleur-Salí Cloutier was murdered, that is a fact. But I tell you that we were never rivals. Fleur-Sali Salí was a voodooienne who dealt in magie noire.” A voodoo priestess who practiced black magic.
“I am sorcière de bon, a good witch. There is a difference. And while I count many voodooiennes among my circle of friends, Fleur-Salí Cloutier was not one of them. The woman was pure evil. I am glad that she is dead but…I did not kill her. “And,” she turns her gaze away from me and I feel a release, a freeing of my will, “I have never dabbled in blackmagic, such as Fleur-Salí did. No, never. And I never will.”
Melissa places a gentle hand on her aunt’s shoulder. “Fleur-Salí was evil as ma tante says but, more evil than you know. It is widely believed that she was involved in human trafficking, slavery, and sex for sale. A horrid woman. There were many who had a reason to kill her but Anjali did not do it.”
Anjali sips her tea delicately and places her glass back on the tray. She rises and thanks us for coming. “Certainly, we will talk about this later but, right now, Melissa and I are going to take you to a place of incredible gastronomic delights. It is eight-thirty and we have reservations for nine. Eh, bien!” She smiles and links arms with Will. “Now, we go to Galatoire’s for a sumptuous supper. Then we stop later at night at Tipitina’s for some music and fun.”
The giant Marlon has dropped us off in front of Galatoire’s, the restaurant in New Orleans made famous in books by Anne Rice, and justly so. Galatoire’s makes you feel as if you have stepped back more than a century and are in 1880s New Orleans. Will and I both agree to let Anjali order for us and we begin with a lime and melon drink that has a distinctive taste of gin. The alcohol creeps up on us and Melissa tells us that we could down two or three before we even notice the effect. After the second one, Will orders large glasses of seltzer with lime for himself and for me. He wants us both to be alert. We need to be able to understand why Anjali is the main suspect in the death of Fleur-Salí Cloutier.
He takes a cop’s stance and looks at Melissa’s aunt. “Anjali, as a detective, I have to ask you some tough questions. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t.”
Anjali looks at him with a slight smile and inclines her head toward Will. “Eh bien, I will answer all questions.”
“All right, then. I need to know exactly what happened and why the New Orleans police believe you are the person who killed this woman, Fleur-Salí Cloutier. What’s the evidence for the arrest? It was substantial enough for them to have taken you into custody.” As a homicide detective, Will is at his best when questioning a possible suspect: confident, tough, fair. He is relentless and seems almost indefatigable when he is interrogating someone.
“The evidence is, as you say, substantial. They found me in the Cloutier garden, standing over the corpse of Fleur-Salí with the bloody knife in my hand. And, mais oui, yes, it was the murder weapon, so they say.” She smiles demurely. “But as I have already said, I didn’t kill her.”
“Anjali, from the little you said back at your house, I got the impression that you and this Fleur-Salí didn’t exactly socialize. You distinctly said that you did not count her as a friend so I have to ask, what were you doing in her garden standing over her body and holding the murder weapon? And by the way, the police report I was able to access before we came down to New Orleans says that the only prints on the knife belong to you.”
He stops talking as the waiter comes over and asks if there is anything else we would like. Anjali orders strong coffee and a tumbler of Grand Marnier for herself and Melissa then turns to us questioningly. “The same, petits?” Will and I decline, settling for cappuccino.
When the waiter leaves, Anjali smiles at Will. “Ah, you have a good memory. Excellent, monsieur. Yes, you are right, we were not friends nor did we socialize unless it was an unavoidable event such as a politician’s party. I am politically astute, monsieur, as was Fleur-Salí. Being seen by those who assume they have power is beneficial. It helps them remember to whom they owe their sudden ascent and who holds the real power.
“But as you say, we were not friends. There is a very good reason for me to have been in Fleur-Salí’s garden but, as I told the police, I will not say why. Saying why I was there would break a confidence and put another person in jeopardy. And so…” She sips the Grand Marnier delicately.
Will leans forward in his chair and addresses her formally, the way some detectives do to show their utmost respect for the person they are interrogating in the hopes that their doing so will elicit more information. “Madame Aubrincourt, as a New York City detective and as a prospective lawyer, I can tell you that if you’re hiding something from the police, or protecting someone who may have committed this murder, the police will find out. Until they do, you yourself can be held for trial on this murder rap. When they find the person you seem to be protecting, you’ll still be in trouble and held either as an accessory or as someone who impeded a serious criminal investigation. Either way, you’ll be arrested again. These charges are serious.”
Anjali smiles and waves to someone across the room. “Ah, yes, Will, I know. Very serious. That is why my beautiful Melissa has asked you both to come down here to help. I have complete confidence that you will be able to clear my name.”
Will sits back and I see the muscles in his cheek tighten. I know that he’s going to bide his time and not question her again tonight. He’ll do some digging into the case on his own, and when he has the necessary facts he’ll question her again. How aggressive he’ll be, I can’t say. Anjali is an enigma, mysterious and sphinx-like. Getting information from her may be a real challenge for Will. I relax, sip my seltzer, and plan how I’m going to begin my own investigation.
I WAKE THE NEXT morning to a warm breeze blowing on my face. I sit up and see the lace draperies surrounding the floor-to-ceiling window moving gently. This is not my bed in NYC. You don’t keep windows open in New York, even second floor windows, unless you have an insane desire to get robbed or worse.
But I’m not in my city. I’m in New Orleans, where keeping windows open seems to be okay. Will is nowhere to be seen but I hear movement coming from the balcony just outside the long window. Getting up and wrapping myself in a towel that’s lying on a chair, I go to investigate.
Will, fully dressed, is standing on the wrought-iron balcony, looking down into the flowered brick yard below. He turns to me. “Hey, baby. You were completely zonked last night. Those melon drinks knocked you out. Want some coffee New Orleans-style? There’s a fresh pot here and real cream.” He gestures to a silver carafe and silver creamer. “Let me make it for you. Anjali’s maid showed me how to do it.”
I watch as he expertly combines the cream and coffee to create a steaming cup of what I have heard Melissa call French Market café. She told me the recipe is a centuries-old New Orleans tradition that traces its origins back to the city’s original French Market, where bold, rich-tasting morning coffee was a daily necessity for the busy inhabitants. I take the cup he hands me, inhale the rich aroma, and take a first sip. This might give my beloved Timothy’s Coffee Emporium in New York City a run for its money. Will looks very cop-pro in a light blue shirt, indigo blue tie, and matching indigo dress slacks. Extremely handsome and hot. He gives me a smile and a seductive wink then looks out toward the street. There’s a look in his eyes that I’ve seen before and know very well. It’s a look of expectation. He’s working a case with a problem and he’s determined to solve it. It’s a puzzle with a million pieces and he wants to put it together. As I’ve said before, my man is relentless when it comes to murder investigations and putting all the minute pieces of a case in order.
I sip my coffee slowly and notice there’s a plate of beignets, another New Orleans breakfast treat. Beignet, Melissa explained to me, is the French term for a fritter made from choux pastry,a light pastry dough. She’s going to give me the recipe so I can hand it over to Harry Tuttle, who will whip it up in his and Myrtle’s kitchen. Looking at the beignets, I can just envision the delicious pastries handmade by Harry that Myrtle will be bringing into the office of Catherine Harlow, Private Investigations. My mouth waters in anticipation, and I grab a beignet then sit down on one of the two overstuffed rattan chairs on the balcony.
“So what’s on the agenda today?” I ask Will before taking a bite of the beignet. He comes to sit next to me, coffee cup in hand.
“Police station. I’ll be making a courtesy call for a friend in need, Madame Anjali Aubrincourt. I’ll let them know why I’m down here and ask them what I can do to help in the case. We’ll play nice but you know as well as I do that no police department in the country is happy to have a cop from another state sticking his nose in and trying to take over. It’s an alpha dog situation; they’ve marked their territory and don’t want another dog pissing on top of it.” He drains his cup. “But they’ll be polite, and I may be able to charm my way into getting some crucial info. What about you?”
“Well, I’m going to the area around the crime scene. See what I hear on the street. I don’t think that I’ll let anyone know that I’m a private investigator. Just some curious tourist who has heard about this crime. It was on all the news media, you know, so I feel relatively sure that I can pull off the touristy thing.”
“Be careful and don’t do anything…foolish…if you do hear something.” He winks at me. “No S & M, Cate.” He’s not talking sexual activity here; he means my gun, Smith & Wesson. It would have been too much hassle to get it through airport security so I left it locked up in a metal box in my bedroom closet. Will doesn’t have his either but he knows he can always get a service revolver from the local police if he really needs one. Cop courtesy. No such thing exists for PIs. Most cops are leery of private investigators. They think that we make their jobs harder. But the truth is that a good PI can get into places where cops can’t. The problem is that we don’t always share our info with the police if it means that we would jeopardize our clients in any way.
I sigh about the “don’t do anything foolish” remark. I know Will is certain that I can take care of myself but he also knows that I do take some unexpected—I call them calculated—risks. I smile and finish the beignet. “I won’t take any chances, I promise. Meet you back here for dinner?”
Will checks his watch and says, “New Orleans seems to feel that an early dinner is somewhere around nine p.m. That’s too late to be walking the streets of New Orleans alone. One of the highest crime rates in the country, babe. I’ll meet you here at five.”
“What time is it now?” Will glances at his watch and says that it’s just after eight. “That’s good. I should be out of here in an hour or so. I’m sure that’ll give me plenty of time to snoop around.”
“Good. Five it is. I’m going downstairs to talk to that maid who was here. She may know something or have heard Anjali and Melissa talking about the crime. Then I’ll head over to police headquarters and play with the boys and girls for a while.”
Getting up and placing his empty cup on the table, he leans over and kisses me sweetly on the lips. “Let’s make it an early night if we can. Okay, babe? This heat is making me want some southern comfort from my northern girl tonight.” I smile. I know what he means. The heat is very seductive, almost an aphrodisiac. Plus, there’s the added element of excitement about having sex in someone else’s house. I watch him leave and sit drinking my coffee and planning my day.
THE CHARMING HOUSES of Esplanade Avenue in the great city of New Orleans are nothing like New York City brownstones. They were probably built in the same era but there’s a distinct difference here in NOLA. The French influence is strong and I feel as if I’m in another country—not exactly France but not the USA either.
The area has an interesting history. In the 1890s, Esplanade Avenue was an important portage route of trade through the Louisiana Bayou, which linked Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. It functioned as a millionaire's row for the Louisiana Creole section of the city; their nineteenth-century mansions majestically still line the street. This area is the very definition of old world charm. There’s an elegance of days gone by about the houses on Esplanade. I almost expect to see a woman in a bustled dress wearing an elaborate hat and carrying a lace parasol exiting from one of these beautiful old homes. All I see, though, is a woman dressed in a golfing outfit carrying her clubs to a group of laughing friends in a waiting car.
The day is hot as I venture forth in search of, exactly what, I don’t even know. I left the house at just after 10:30, before either Melissa or her aunt Anjali had even risen. When I asked where Melissa was so I could tell her my plans for the day, the maid, ZiZi, told me that both Madame and Mademoiselle retired very late last night and are sleeping in. “They had company until the early morning hours,” she says with a shy smile.
Company? Will and I stumbled into bed well after midnight. What company could they have had after we went upstairs? Someone related to the case? The person Anjali doesn’t want involved? Who? I didn’t hear anything, and Will would have mentioned it to me this morning if he had heard something.
“ZiZi, did you tell Detective Benigni about the late-night company?”
“Mais non. There was no need. He didn’t ask to speak with Madame or Mademoiselle.”
Interesting. A game of don’t ask, don’t tell, as in, “He didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.” I’ll have to discreetly ask Melissa later about her late-night company.
Speaking of Melissa, at her suggestion during dinner last night, I have dressed for the daytime heat and humidity notorious this time of year in New Orleans. I have on white cotton slacks, a soft, sleeveless tangerine-colored top, and light-weight white deck shoes. Pulled back hair and much-needed sunglasses finish off what Melissa calls the casual, elegant look. “We are always elegant here, Cate, even in casual, everyday clothes. It’s a way of life for us.” Obviously, my uniform of jeans and a T-shirt won’t cut it as far as elegance goes.
My phone beeps as I’m walking; it’s a message from Will. I check it to find he’s sent me the address of Fleur-Salí Cloutier along with the warning, “Watch your charming ass.” I switch to my Google Maps and find that Madame Cloutier lived on Rue Dumaine, about four blocks from Esplanade. I’ll walk it.
As I saunter through the city blocks I notice subtle and then not-so-subtle changes occurring in the landscape and buildings. Any New Yorker or any visitor to the city where the office of Catherine Harlow, Private Investigations is located knows, walking in New York City can be an interesting look at wealthy and poor all within a few blocks from each other. You are well aware that you can walk from a ritzy, high-rent district into a seedy, run-down area in a matter of less than fifteen minutes. You go from nice upscale areas to places you don’t want to walk in after dark, or even in daylight. It seems to be the same in New Orleans.
Fleur-Salí Cloutier’s neighborhood is severely lacking the gentile, refined air where Anjali Aubrincourt lives. It’s near old railroad tracks, and the area is run-down and a bit scary. Truthfully, it’s the kind of dump favored by street gangs and drug dealers. I find my hand going to the back of my pants where I usually have my gun, but there’s nothing there. I feel very unsafe.
There are a few people hanging around in the morning heat, two older men sitting on the curb who are sharing a wine bottle, the neck protruding out of a paper bag, and several street toughs who eye me suspiciously. The toughs are lounging on the broken steps of an old sad-looking house. Looking at the house numbers, I surmise that the house once occupied by Fleur-Salí Cloutier is at least two blocks away. I make no eye contact and just keep on walking, head up and hands clenched into fists. There’s laughter as I pass by the house and the young men there, and I hear the words, “Yeah, betta keep walkin’ bitch. Get the fuck outta here.”
One of the older men gets halfway up from the curb and walks unsteadily over to me. “Honey? I’m called Alcide. Now don’t be afraid. Ya got any spare change for an ole man? Jus’ a little, honey? I am hungry today.”
I stop walking. The plight of the homeless gets me every time, and I feel badly for the man. He reminds me of Bo, the homeless man I regularly give money to back home. Bo squats in the empty basement of an old building near Catherine Harlow, Private Investigations. Myrtle and I take care of him with money and food, and although he will never agree to go to a city-run shelter, he knows he can trust us if he’s ever in trouble or in need. I dig in my pocket for change and come up with three dollars in quarters, nickels, and dimes. I only carry a phone and my PI license when I’m out on a case. And my Smith & Wesson. Damn it! I feel vulnerable with it. “Here, this is all I’ve got. Sorry.”
“That’s okay, honey,” says the man with a crooked smile taking the coins. “Best get your blessed self outta here right now, though.” He jerks his head ever so slightly toward the old house. “Them boys over there is dangerous. Drugs, ya know? Drugs. Go now, honey.” And without another word he ambles away from me back to his companion on the curb.
“Hey old man!” calls out another voice from the steps. “Bet she won’t want none of your old junk, though.”
I walk a little faster and keep my fists ready for an altercation but after a few more very vulgar comments about my anatomy, their attention is taken by a car pulling up to the house. The boys walk down to the open passenger-side window, and from the corner of my eye I see one of them hand a package to a person inside the car. Must be a customer coming for whatever they’re selling. I move on a little faster, and soon the house is out of sight.
Copyright © 2016 Kristen Houghton.
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Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling novels, including For I Have Sinned and Grave Misgivings. She is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct powers of her own. Houghton is also the author of two non-fiction books and numerous short stories which appear in popular horror anthologies.