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
......."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
......."You're a private
.......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
......."You're talking about
the three days preceding Mardi Gras. Most New Orleaneans would
have full dance cards. Especially those who have invitations
......."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
......."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
.......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
......."I'm Carmen, Nina's...
......."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?"
......."Shiraz, it's an
.......The sex kittens of the
fifties would have envied her sashay to the chrome and leather
.......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
......."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
......."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."
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.
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
......."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
.......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
* * * * *
.......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
was an important client, wasn't he?" I commandeered the
Queen Anne chair in front of his desk. He didn't appear
......."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
......."How valid is a home
......."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
......."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."
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
.......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
......."Tell me where Nina
......."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
......."Did you find Mr.
Marcovi's condition acceptable?" He sat behind his glass
desk. A large picture window behind him looked over the Mississippi
......."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
......."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
......."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
......."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
......."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."
.......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
......."Take me to Nina.
.......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
......."What drug do you
have her on?" I asked.
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
.......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
......."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.
had her committed? I don't understand. Why would she do that?"
.......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
......."I understand so
......."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
......."But since you freed
her everything is all right? Her estate is safe?" Dauphin
......."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."
* * * * *
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
......."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
......."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
......."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
......."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."
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 http://www.KentWestmoreland.com.
Photo: O'Neil De Noux