Ash Wednesday
A Burleigh Drummond Story of New Orleans
by Kent Westmoreland

.......Meeting a potential client in a Magazine Street coffeehouse at seven AM was not how I had planned to spend Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras. But the lure of my absurdly high fee roused me from my bed. My hangover came along for company.

.......Richard Dauphin beamed the toothpaste smile that charmed the New Orleans television audience every night at five and ten. "I'm looking for a beautiful, young woman."

......."Aren't we all?" I rolled my cup of dark roast coffee against the pounding spot in my forehead.

.......Dauphin had the courtesy to laugh at my lame joke, a quality I always find ingratiating.

......."I met her at the Rex ball Saturday night and I haven't been able to get in touch with her."

......."Well, the Mardi Gras season ended yesterday, and today is Ash Wednesday. Maybe she spent the last three days caught up in the revelry and plans to spend today repenting from too much fun."

.......He didn't appreciate the humor in that one. "Why aren't you taking me seriously?"

......."A guy tells me he meets a girl. She doesn't return his calls. He wants me to track her down. He sounds like a lazy, well-financed stalker." I paused for effect. "You wouldn't be the first."

.......Dauphin touched the smudge of ash on his forehead and looked like he was considering my words. An automatic denial would have convinced me we had nothing else to discuss. The possible reevaluation of his motives kept me at the table.

......."I'm not a stalker," he finally said. "I'm trying to find out if something unfortunate happened to the woman."

......."Why did you call me?"

......."You're a private investigator."

.......I smiled and recited my standard speech. "I do have a state issued investigator's license. The only phone listing for me is in the White Pages under my name. I don't have an office, so a shingle doesn't hang out front. If you called me you know what I do."

......."When someone in New Orleans needs discreet services, they call you. If they're able to pay your fee, you do it."

......."That's close enough," I said, even though he didn't mention that I tolerate stray dogs and children. "I just wanted to make sure you know what I am. Tell me what happened. The uncensored version."

......."I was at the Rex ball and left the ballroom to smoke a cigarette. A young woman, a redhead, literally runs into me. A woman who looks about forty-eight walks up and tells the redhead to go home, she shouldn't be there. They start arguing. Another young woman, a brunette, joins the argument, but she seemed to be on both sides. I couldn't really understand what they were talking about; too much was out of context. The other two women started dragging the redhead away. I asked the girl if she needed help. The older woman barked it was a family affair. A guy the size of a gorilla appeared, took the redhead from the other two and restrained her. He wasn't wearing a tuxedo, so I assumed he wasn't a guest at the ball. I said maybe I should call the police. The mother, or whatever, told me to mind my own business. All four of them left."

.......If Dauphin hadn't mentioned the tuxedo-less thug I would have gone home and repented of my hangover. But that made the incident sound like something other than a simple family squabble.
"Were all three women in ball gowns?" I asked.

......."Yes and I had noticed the two younger ones earlier. Both very attractive."

......."You didn't use any names, so I assume you don't know these women, but you said you called the redhead."

.......He placed a small blue, sequined bag on the square wooden table. "She dropped her purse; no one noticed. I found a driver's license, credit card and address book. You're not the only person in the White Pages. I called the next day and was told she wasn't available."

......."That could be true."

......."For the next three days?"

......."You're talking about the three days preceding Mardi Gras. Most New Orleaneans would have full dance cards. Especially those who have invitations to Rex."

......."No one offered to take a message," he said.

......."Maybe someone didn't like the sound of your voice."

......."I thought of that, so I had a female friend call. She got the same results."

.......I wasn't being skeptical so much as forcing him into a reality check. His steadfast belief in what he had seen perked up my interest.

.......I steepled my fingers. "Most people would have forgotten the incident that night. But four days later, you remember and you care. Why?"

.......For the first time since we met, Dauphin averted his blue eyes; he looked into his cup of coffee. "Because I'm a coward. I really didn't do anything to help that woman. I just stood and mumbled a couple of sentences. I was scared. Do you know why?"

.......I shook my head.

......."A scene would have jeopardized my career. I'm a guy who looks good on TV and can read from a teleprompter without stuttering; those are my only skills. I'm thirty-eight. My blonde hair is fading to gray and falling out. I'm in the twilight of my working years. I was scared if I scuffled with the man that my face would be damaged. I was scared there might be a scandal and I'd loose my job. I'm heading over the hill in a small market. If I lose my job, I don't have many options." He touched the ash on his forehead again. "If something has happened to that woman it's because I'm a coward."

......."You got an address for this woman?"

* * * * *

.......Nina Walmsley lived two blocks off St. Charles Avenue in a vanilla-white antebellum mansion on prestigious State Street. The contents of her purse told me that. I wanted more information so I thumbed through her address book. I saw I was acquainted with several of her friends. I phoned a few and took advantage of New Orleans' best source of information -- gossip.

.......Nina's father had died six weeks before; her mother had been dead for five years. After her father's death, she had become reclusive but had been adjusting. Nina still lived in the family home with her stepmother and stepsister. Nina and her stepmother had spent the past three years as rivals for her father's affection, and his death widened the chasm. Nina's relationship with her stepsister bounced from friend to foe, mostly due to the stepmother's intervention. I suspected they were the two women Dauphin saw. No one I talked to had seen the incident that Dauphin witnessed. None of her friends had talked to her since the Rex ball, but they didn't seem concerned.

.......I rang the Walmsley doorbell with the fervor of a bill collector. No one answered.

.......Instinct and experience told me to use the direct approach. If Nina were safe and sound, the stepmother and stepsister should be willing to talk freely to me, and I would be free to take three Advil and go to bed. If Dauphin's suspicions had any validity, Advil and coffee would be the plan.

.......I gave the doorbell a second annoying ring. Brisk, light footsteps pattered inside. The door opened, and in the doorway stood a woman about twenty-five years old. Thick black hair fell past her shoulders. Her eyes were brown saucers. Her skin was olive and flawless. Her white Polo shirt and chino shorts flaunted the goddess-like structure of her body. Even the ash on her forehead was beautiful.

.......She leaned in the doorway and flashed a pixie smile. "Something I can do for you?"

......."I'm looking for Nina Walmsley. I have her purse and I'm here to return it."

.......The smile evaporated and her relaxed posture stiffened. Her voice remained effervescent, but adopted a slight quaver. "Are you a friend of Nina's?"

......."I know her when I see her." True enough, I was sure I could recognize her from the driver's license photo.

......."Come in. You can talk to my mother."

.......I stepped through the fourteen-foot doorway into the jade marble foyer. She motioned me to follow her down the hallway. That was when I saw her only physical flaw, scars on her wrists. The scars ran parallel with her veins; when she had cut her wrists she hadn't done it for show.

......."I'm Carmen, Nina's... stepsister."

......."I'm Burleigh Drummond."

.......We turned into a living room with a twenty-foot ceiling. The furniture in the room was chrome and leather, very stylish. On the chrome and glass coffee table was an open book, Victims and Victimizers, Their Relationships. An open bottle of red wine stood on the bar.

......."Have a seat. Would you like something to drink?"

......."Whatever you're having."

......."Shiraz, it's an Australian red."

.......The sex kittens of the fifties would have envied her sashay to the chrome and leather bar.

.......Ten AM is normally a little early for drinks. But I wasn't about to decline an offer to spend time drinking and chatting with the lovely Carmen. Besides she seemed willing to talk about Nina , so I expected to have the rest of the day off.

.......She approached me with two full wineglasses. I stood to take a glass. She handed me a large glass; our fingers touched. I was feeling a mutual attraction in progress.

......."I'll get my mother." Carmen left the room. She placed her wineglass on the table, a promise she would return.

.......Minutes later, the clopping of heavy footsteps echoed on the hardwood of the hallway. A tall woman materialized in the arched doorway but didn't come into the room. Her tan pants and baby blue blouse were pressed with military precision. She appeared to be in her late forties, like the woman Dauphin had seen with Nina. Though attractive, her features were sharp and harsh like a demented harlequin.

......."I'm Suzanne Walmsley." Her shrill voice sounded like a young macaw learning to squawk.

.......I rose to greet her and introduced myself.

......."What can I do for you, Mr. Drummond?" She remained in the archway.

......."I'm here to return a handbag that belongs to your daughter Nina."

......."Stepdaughter. She's not here." Walmsley held out her hand. "I'll take the bag. Thank you very much. You're very chivalrous. Few young men would make the effort. I'll make sure my stepdaughter sends you a thank you note." She didn't even attempt to sound sincere.

.......When someone is antagonistic, my modus operandi is to become charming and folksy.

.......I broke out my most amiable smile. "I would like to give the purse to her personally."

......."She is not here now, but I will give it to her when I see her."

......."When will that be?" I asked in my best aw shucks voice.

......."My stepdaughter will be twenty-five years old next week, a grown woman. She has no need to tell me where she goes or when she will return."

......."Please ask her to call me when you talk to her. I'm in the phone book."

.......Carmen giggled around the corner. Without looking toward her daughter, Walmsley barked: "I told you to go upstairs." Walmsley fixed her death ray stare on me. "Carmen thought she was clever when she let you in the house."

.......The time to be charming and folksy was over.

......."Would you like to know where the purse was found?" My smile transformed to a smirk.

......."I know what you are, Mr. Drummond. Sequined handbags aren't the usual kind of bag you drop off. And you always do it for somebody else."

......."Did I say anything about sequins?"

.......She cawed: "My stepdaughter's whereabouts are not your business."

......."That's what I told the group of concerned citizens who hired me." OK, I was embellishing, but she didn't know. "But your nasty reluctance to answer benign questions makes me wonder what you're hiding. So, I'm going to make it my business and give it priority one."

......."You need to talk to my attorney," she said as if attorneys intimidate me.

......."My pleasure. What's his name?"

* * * * *

.......Leonard Roose's office imitated the look of old money. A plate glass window overlooked Canal Street from twenty-six stories, giving a slightly askew view of the French Quarter. Mahogany molding garnished the three jade walls. A thick Persian rug covered the bleached wooden floor. The furnishings were all antique. Nothing needed repair; that was where his charade went wrong. Old money doesn't repair anything; they're not trying to convince you of anything.

.......Roose and I had done business in the past. He had hired me to make sure the witness in a vehicular manslaughter case wouldn't testify. If the witness couldn't testify, Roose's client would go unpunished for running down a six-year-old. I drove the witness to court. Roose foolishly believed me when I said the situation was beyond my control.

......."Our meeting will have to be quick, Burr." Roose glanced at an angel clock on his Louis XV desk. "I have a lunch appointment with an important client."

......."Theodore Walmsley was an important client, wasn't he?" I commandeered the Queen Anne chair in front of his desk. He didn't appear delighted.

......."An important client of the firm, though I primarily handled his personal business. I still am handling the distribution of his estate." He looked over his reading glasses. "I understand you met Ted's widow this morning, which is why you're here."

.......I nodded and waited for him to continue.

......."As you apparently suspect, Nina is missing. She disappeared late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. We're not sure. Nina's reaction to her father's death was extreme. Initially, she became depressed and withdrawn. Within two weeks her behavior became erratic and occasionally violent. Amphetamines were found in her room. Suzanne asked Nina to see a doctor; she refused. Suzanne brought a doctor to the house. The doctor spoke with Nina and said she exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia."

......."How valid is a home diagnosis?"

......."Like you, I'm not a psychiatrist, so I can't make that determination."

.......Roose was sharp; he knew I wouldn't argue that point.

......."The erratic behavior surfaced again at the ball. Suzanne felt it best to get Nina away from the ball and back home. Carmen helped her."

......."The two women were able to handle Nina without any help?"

......."One of the ball's security guards helped them get her to their car. The next morning she was gone. At this point we don't want to involve the police because that would involve the media. You of all people should know how the uptown crowd hates any hint of scandal." He tightened his bow-tie. "Two detective agencies are looking for her."

......."Which agencies?"

......."You know I can't I can't disclose that, Burr. No more than you can tell me who hired you." Another smart response.

.......Roose's story had sounded like one a defense attorney would tell to instill reasonable doubt in a jury. Every sentence plausible and practiced. Didn't mean the story was false. Most likely it wasn't true.

.......I stood and dropped the sequined handbag on his desk. "Thanks, Lenny. I'll tell my clients they have nothing to worry about."

......."Thank you. I'll let you know what happens. Off the record, of course."

......."Of course." I turned at the door. "You're Catholic, aren't you?"


.......I tapped my forehead. "Where's your ash?

* * * * *

.......While waiting for the elevator outside of Roose's office, I ruminated on my inadequacies. Not only had I failed to obtain useful information from Roose, I had allowed him to patronize me by saying he'd keep me apprised of his dubious search for Nina. I wondered if I was losing my ability to manipulate others.

.......The elevator bell chimed its arrival and the polished metal door creaked open. Fluorescent light bathed Suzanne Walmsley, making her skin appear banshee-white. When she spotted me her thin, dry lips pursed until they retreated inside her mouth.

.......I glanced at my watch. "Almost noon. Here to oversee the far-reaching search for your missing stepdaughter or just a casual lunch with Lenny the barrister?" If you can't be clever, be petty.

.......Ever the lady, she rammed me with her shoulder when she vaulted from the elevator car. Though I'm not sure why, I said: "Send my regards to Carmen."

.......Walmsley turned on her heels and jutted a gnarled finger toward me. "My daughter has nothing to say to you."

.......Now, I dabble in dime-store psychology and Walmsley's comment suggested something to me. Maybe Carmen did have something to say to me and maybe mommy-dearest didn't want me to hear it. Perhaps I wasn't losing my manipulative touch after all.

* * * * *

.......Carmen answered the phone on the sixth ring. She mumbled something that could have been "hello" or as easily "bring on the empty horses." I identified myself.

.......She slurred some more words and then the receiver banged against something. Because none of this sounded good, I liberally interpreted her utterance as "Come over right now and don't bother to knock."

.......I punched the accelerator of my Porsche 911 and severely exceeded city speed limits. In less than four minutes, I was jiggling doorknobs at the house on State Street. One in the back turned freely.

.......Carmen was in what I presumed to be her bedroom. Curled into the fetal position, her body quivered like a kitten trapped in a cold, winter rain. Her trembling toes tapped a photo of her and Nina.

.......I sat beside her and I called her name. She answered to her knees. I turned her head toward me. The area around her eyes was black and blue. Her lips were swollen; coagulated blood spotted her chin.

.......Without looking at me she said: "She made me do it; I didn't want to do it."

......."Who beat you?" Though finding Nina was my ultimate goal, my immediate objective was to help Carmen. She appeared to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

......."My mother."

.......I asked her why.

......."Because I want to tell you everything."

.......I began to kiss her bruised eyes; I wanted to make her pain go away.

.......I cradled Carmen in my arms. "I'll protect you from your mother. Just tell me that's what you want."

......."I can stay with you?" Her brown eyes pleaded.

......."I'll take you where you can get help. I won't abandon you; I'll be there for you." As foreign as my words sounded to me, I meant every one.

......."Please take me away." She squeezed like she was hanging from an airplane without a parachute.

......."Tell me where Nina is."

......."Where uptown boys and girls go when they've been bad?"

* * * * *

.......Cypress Island Clinic is a luxury asylum where the local gentry deposit their unruly children to be cured of problems like alcohol, drugs and adolescence. However, the management will take patients from other age groups for the right price. I know because I helped a client commit his thirty-five year old grandson for being complicit, but not chargeable, in a young woman's murder. This patient was my Trojan Horse for entry onto the grounds.

.......The CIC's landscaped grounds and tennis courts made it resemble a country club more than a mental health care facility. The electrified stone fence topped with small razor-sharp spikes delicately reminded me that the joint was a velvet prison.

.......I chatted with the Trojan Horse by the pool until I saw the head of security making his rounds. I asked him to walk me to the administrative office, where I had an appointment with Dr. Benjamin Moloney, the head of CIC. On the way I asked about his family. The guard told me his oldest son was trying to get a scholarship to Tulane University. As we neared Moloney's office, I mentioned I had some connections at the college and I would make some positive comments about his son. The guard was thanking me and shaking my hand as Moloney opened his door to greet me. The pudgy doctor and I went into his office.

......."Did you find Mr. Marcovi's condition acceptable?" He sat behind his glass desk. A large picture window behind him looked over the Mississippi River.

......."He was more lucid and talkative than last time I was here," I lied. Marcovi's words were discombobulated fragments that sounded like they were delivered on the backs of snails.

......."Really? His reports say he is barely intelligible." He straightened his ill-fitting toupee.

......."He might be faking it during sessions to keep his drug dosage down. Could I look through those reports?"

......."Those files are confidential," Moloney burdened his voice with faux respectability.

......."But I am his grandfather's agent in this matter. I'm sure he would be appreciative." Marcovi's grandfather was one of the richest, most powerful men in Louisiana.

......."If it will accommodate his grandfather, an exception can be made." Moloney held out his hand like a bellman, but I'm sure the gesture was at a subconscious level.

......."I'll see him tonight and be sure to mention your willingness to cooperate."

.......He rocked in his chair and picked up his phone. "I'll have the files brought to us now."

......."I'm on my way out. I can stop by the file room and save you the trouble."

......."I can't leave you alone with the file."

......."Walk with me. We can talk about Marcovi's treatment."

.......The doctor agreed and we made small talk on the way to the file room.

.......I thumbed though Marcovi's file while looking for the cabinet drawer that held the W files.

......."You said Marcovi was lucid and talkative. What did he talk about?"

......."Talked about things that go on here." I saw the cabinet labeled V ­ Z and handed Moloney the Marcovi file.

.......He opened the file and pulled a Mont Blanc pen from his jacket. "What kind of things?"

......."He talked about false imprisonment." I slid the V ­ Z drawer open. I located and removed the Nina Walmsley file before Moloney could speak.

......."What the hell are you doing?" he said in a whispered shout. A man with a clear conscience wouldn't have whispered.

......."Taking a look at Nina Walmsley's file."

.......He reached for the file; I jerked it from his reach. "That's not all. She and the file are leaving with me."

......."You're insane."

.......I restrained my impulse to comment on his unintentional irony.

.......He looked toward his belt at a paging device. I punched him in the chest; when he stumbled backwards I pulled the pager.

......."Don't think you could stop me even if you did page security. Your head of security is working for me and is well aware of what's happened and why I'm here. He's not going to risk jail time for aiding kidnapping and false imprisonment. Secondly, you know Marcus Marcovi is waiting for me to report to him. I don't show up, he'll send somebody looking for me." There was absolutely no truth to either one of those statements.

......."That's why the head of security was thanking you. You paid him off." If Moloney bought that well executed lie, I was sure he fell for the second. "All the proper paperwork is in the file. I've done nothing wrong. I'll call the police."

.......I pulled my digital phone from my jacket. "The call's on me."

.......He didn't reach for the phone.

......."Take me to Nina. Now."

.......Moloney led me to the female patients' wing and took me to Nina's room. The ten-by-ten room was painted a serene blue; painted wrought-iron bars blocked the windows. Nina sat in a chair mesmerized by a rerun of My Three Sons.

......."What drug do you have her on?" I asked.

......."Paxserene, it's a mild anti-psychotic drug," he mumbled to the floor.

.......Just like her license said, she was five-three and weighed about a hundred pounds. The effects of the drug had apparently bleached her vibrant red hair and peach complexion to a fragile orange.

......."Nina, my name is Burleigh Drummond. I'm taking you out of here."

......."I don't want to go home, " she said to William Demarest as Uncle Charley.

......."I'm taking you where you'll be safe." I lifted her from the chair; she was able to walk.

.......When we got to my car I put Nina in the passenger's seat of my car and walked to Moloney. I stuck my face in his. "I saw in the file that you're the doctor who made the at home diagnosis of schizophrenia and recommended commitment."

......."Everything I did is perfectly legal."

.......I rammed my knee into his crotch and stepped back. When he doubled over I pulled off his toupee and tossed it in my car. "Then you shouldn't be scared to report me for assault and theft."

* * * * *

.......I called Richard Dauphin just as the five o'clock news broadcast was about to start. He told his co-anchor to start without him; I respected the gesture. I told him what had happened to Nina, where I found her, and where she was at that moment.

......."Nina's stepmother had her committed? I don't understand. Why would she do that?" he said.

.......Combining Roose's summation, details from Carmen and my knowledge of how New Orleans gears turn, I answered Dauphin.

......."When Theodore Walmsley's first wife died, he rewrote his will. Nina was his only child. If he died before she was twenty-five, the estate would be held in trust until her twenty-fifth birthday. The administrator of the estate was Leonard Roose, who handled Mr. Walmsley's personal business."

......."I understand so far."

......."Mr. Walmsley didn't rewrite the will when he remarried. I don't know why. Maybe he never got around to it. Maybe he had bad vibes about the second wife. Under Napoleonic Code she's only entitled to half of the assets and income accumulated during their three years of marriage. A few hundred thousand out of an estate worth about eleven million."

......."That's a major difference."

......."Walmsley died less than two months before Nina's twenty-fifth birthday. Roose told the widow Walmsley about the will and they concocted a plan to control the estate. I'm not sure who approached whom. But the plan was to have Nina declared incompetent before her birthday, then control could be passed to her stepmother by the administrator. The home diagnosis of schizophrenia and staged altercation at the ball were ploys to circumvent Nina's rights under Napoleonic Code."

......."But since you freed her everything is all right? Her estate is safe?" Dauphin said.

......."Not exactly. I didn't have the authority to take her from CIC, so legally I've kidnapped her. I have to find an agreeable judge before Moloney can find Roose or Walmsley."

* * * * *

.......Agreeable judge ­ the New Orleans dictionary defines that as a judge who is easily bribed or blackmailed. I asked William Johnson to meet me in a private room at the Bombay Club.

.......Judge Johnson posed in a brown leather wingback chair. On the dark paneled wall behind him hung a portrait of Winston Churchill during the Boer War.

......."So you want me to issue a court order saying that young Ms. Walmsley's commitment papers are invalid because Dr. Moloney's examination had no legal standing."

......."Well, that's the concept. You know the legal terms and machinations much better than I do."

......."I don't think anyone understands machinations better than you, my boy." Judge Johnson laughed.

......."You also want some restraining orders to keep Suzanne Walmsley away from her daughter and stepdaughter. I know Suzanne; she's a horrid woman. I can easily believe what you've told me. I could call my clerk and have the paperwork done before you and I drive to my chamber. But..." His honor took a long sip of his vodka Martini.

......."Why should you care?"


......."I'd split my fee with you, but I'm not charging on this case."

......."Pro bono from you? Surely this is a first." He ate the olive from his drink. "I hated pro bono when I practiced law; I wouldn't do it unless absolutely forced."

......."I have a friend who covers the political beat for the Times-Picayune. At election time, she could provide positive press about you and negative press about your opponents."

.......Judge Johnson smiled like the Mona Lisa on payday. "Burr, you know I'll have no problem getting reelected."

......."True enough. Here's a second offer. An article about how you occasionally trade suspended sentences in exchange for favors."

......."And this would affect me how?" His honor didn't really seem concerned.

......."The article wouldn't keep you from getting reelected, and it probably wouldn't even get you censured. But do you want your grandchildren to know to you spend time in sleazy Tulane Avenue motels with teenage hustlers?"

......."May I use your phone? My clerk needs to get started on that paperwork."

* * * * *

.......No street musicians played acoustic blues or saxophone jazz. No palm readers predicted handsome strangers or vacations in exotic lands. Even the Three-Card Monte dealers had packed up and gone home. Ash Wednesday is a rare silent day in Jackson Square.

.......The shadow of St. Louis Cathedral concealed me as I moved toward the Pontabla Apartment Building. I knocked on the door of the second story apartment where Carmen told me her mother and Roose often rendezvoused. Roose asked: "Who is it?"

.......I twanged my voice and said: "NOPSI man. Got reports of gas leaks in the building. Got to check all the apartments."

......."OK, wait a minute."

.......Two dead bolts clicked and the knob turned. When the door began to open, I kicked it; Roose fell to the hardwood floor.

......."I can't believe you fell for that. Don't you assholes ever go to the movies?" I entered the apartment.

.......I started to tell Roose how ridiculous he looked lying on the floor in leopard-skin Speedo's, but I hoped he already knew.

......."Leave or I'll call the police." Suzanne Walmsley stuck her face in mine.

.......I shook my index finger. "That's what Dr. Moloney said, too. But when I offered him my phone, he declined."

......."I knew that little fuck-up Carmen would do something stupid. Wait till I get my hands on her," she screeched.

.......I swung my arm and hit Walmsley's jaw with the bottom of my fist. I didn't realize what I had done until I saw her prone on the floor. She spat a bloody tooth across the floor.

......."I saw what you did to Carmen. You go near her and you get twenty-five years of payback in as many minutes."

......."Why are you here?" Roose crawled on his belly like a reptile to his co-conspirator.

......."Ash Wednesday is your day to repent." I pulled papers from my jacket and dropped them on Roose and Walmsley. "Lenny, you'll recognize these legal documents. A court order saying you're no longer the administrator of the Walmsley estate. Restraining orders forbidding both of you to go within five hundred yards of Nina, Carmen and the house on State Street."

.......Walmsley started to say something, but my stare cut her off.

......."Lenny, I'll be at your office tomorrow to explain all this to your partners. You know you how the big firms hate any hint of scandal."

.......I knelt and put my face against Walmsley's. "I'm very serious about you keeping away from Carmen." I flicked the bloody tooth toward her. "Keep this as a reminder."

* * * * *

.......Nina's friends gave her party for her twenty-fifth birthday. She circulated through the hotel's ballroom, smiling and talking. Her skin and hair had returned to their vibrant, peach-like state, but her eyes lacked any true sparkle. She didn't look happy enough for a woman who just inherited eleven million dollars.

.......When I entered the party, she walked across the room to greet me.

......."I want to thank you for all that you did," Nina said.

......."I'm not the one you should thank."

......."You mean Carmen. It took a lot of courage for Carmen to defy her mother and help me. I'm taking care of her. She's my sister now."

.......Carmen had suffered a mental breakdown and would be institutionalized across Lake Ponchartrain until she became well.

......."I'm glad you feel that way about Carmen, but there's someone else you should thank."

......."Who do you mean?"

.......Richard Dauphin walked into the room; he was my guest. I tilted my head toward him. "Richard convinced me to look for you. Otherwise I would have spent the day in bed."

.......A gentle radiance returned color to her emerald eyes. "I've always thought he was cute and I love his voice."

.......I took her elbow. "Let me introduce you."

.......Once introduced, Nina and Richard seemed to forget about me.

.......I left the party and drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. I had a promise to keep.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Kent Westmoreland
This story is also available on Kindle.

Kent Westmoreland drifted into New Orleans several years ago and immediately immersed himself in the dark underbelly of the city. He has been known to hang out with wise guys, con men, cops, and the occasional local blueblood. His associations with these unsavory types are the basis for his Burleigh Drummond fiction. His Drummond short stories have appeared in the magazines Blue Murder and Tangled Web and in the anthologies Best of Blue Murder and Fire to Fly.

The first Burleigh Drummond novel, Baronne Street, featuring his private eye, Burleigh Drummond, was published in 2010.

Kent's web site is at

Photo: O'Neil De Noux

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