Paperback $15.99: Amazon
A mayor gunned down in the street. A killer with amnesia. A dark evil hidden in the swamp.
In a city already simmering with racial conflict, the daring public assassination of its newly elected African American woman mayor lights the fuse.
A killer with no memory of committing the crime brings Raja and Vinny to the Big Easy in the middle of Mardi Gras.
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Clarity was not a familiar state of mind for Susan Richards. She had come to New Orleans on a whim, the modus operandi that she stubbornly refused to recognize as her own. Although Susan claimed proudly that she was a multi-tasker, the evidence was less flattering. A scatterbrain with a cluttered head who couldn’t focus long enough to finish much of anything was much closer to the truth.
Despite having just landed a secure, good-paying job in the PR department of a growing Dallas agro-business, Susan had postponed starting solely because Mardi Gras time in New Orleans was approaching. Susan had not missed Mardi Gras for five years running. For an impulse junkie like Susan, it was the ultimate party scene where she could be herself.
There is nothing that compares to the Big Easy at Mardi Gras time. In a city that 24/7, all year round, embodies good food, good music and let your hair down fun, the spring ritual of Mardi Gras cranks all three to their maximum volume. Even the more decadent emperors of Rome would have been proud. It was just what Susan needed.
However, despite her pagan anticipation of the coming festivities, today Susan felt something strange. As she walked up Lasalle Street, the constant cross-chatter that normally filled her head was oddly silent. Her mind was an empty gray sky dominated by a single dark black cloud, a cloud that issued a single malignant and persistent thought. A thought that on any other day Susan would have found unthinkable and repulsive.
Somehow, today she embraced it.
Inside the mayor’s office two voices rose in argument.
“You don’t have to make this speech outside,” said Jeremy, the mayor’s chief of staff.
“You’re wrong, Jeremy; I most certainly do,” said the mayor.
“There have been death threats. Serious threats.”
“Name one politician who doesn’t get death threats. Please. I am a black woman in the Deep South. Death threats are part of life. And that’s all the more reason I will make this speech.”
“Okay, we can do it televised from inside City Hall. You’ll reach more people with your message.
“You’ve already got me backed up to the front steps. Why do I feel like you are suggesting I ride in the back of the bus?”
“You know that’s not fair. It is my job to advise you. I just think …” Jeremy stopped midsentence, knowing he had no chance of convincing the mayor to change her mind.
The mayor smiled. “That’s what I love about you, Jeremy. You fight the good battle even though you know you cannot win. Come on now, it’s Mardi Gras. Let’s do this.”
The mayor of New Orleans exited the city hall building with Jeremy at her side, the two of them flanked by security guards. She walked toward the top of the steps where the podium was set up looking out over the growing crowd. It was tradition for the mayor to kick off Mardi Gras season. She had originally wanted to give her first significant speech on the grounds of Lee Circle right in front of the empty fifty-foot column where a twenty-foot bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee had, until recently, stood. Every one of her political advisors had warned against making such a bold move. “You’re rubbing salt into raw and painful Southern wounds,” they had said. The former mayor’s removal of the four Confederate monuments had been a controversial and unpopular action to many of Louisiana’s elite. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were popular figures for diehard Southerners, and numerous death threats against the contractors who removed the statues punctuated the pushback and bad blood.
As the first woman mayor of New Orleans, and an African American to boot, Katrina Barbisol was nothing if not contrary. With a name matching that of the worst storm ever to hit New Orleans, the new mayor spelled political disaster to a hard core, decidedly Southern, decidedly white and well-entrenched group. Katrina pushed hard to have her way. However, Jeremy had been able to talk her out of it. In the end it came down to traffic. The expected large crowd for her speech to launch the Mardi Gras celebrations would require closing Lee Circle, and thereby shutting down too many major roads, creating standstill traffic in the middle of tourist season. Here outside City Hall only one block of Perdido Street had been closed, with Duncan Plaza across the way providing plenty of room for the expected overspill of spectators. And overspill there was. The place was packed. As usual, Jeremy was right. The mayor looked over the crowd and smiled.
After turning onto Perdido Street, Susan continued toward City Hall, unable to shake the horrific words that played in her head. Her heart was pounding. Nothing made sense. She had always been a live and let live pacifist. During college she spent her weekends protesting the war in the Middle East by marching in front of the ROTC office on the UCLA campus. She sang anti-war songs with other like-minded students in her group, and proudly waved the sign she herself had painted with the words, Make Love Not War. Not an original thought, but it made the point. Susan remained a dedicated protester right up to the day she caught the eye of a campus stud named Jimbo Jackson who called her bluff. On a whim, she dumped her sign behind the mock-orange bushes that lined the campus administration building and followed Jimbo back to his fraternity house, effectively ending her college protest phase.
Three months later, after reading an article in Cosmo about the virtues of long legs and cheekbones, two things she was blessed with, Susan quit school and grabbed a flight to New York to try modeling. She had been there less than a month when a hotshot Wall Street lawyer spotted her at an upscale martini bar. After dazzling her with his easy generosity, he began a whirlwind romance and courtship that raced to a premature marriage proposal. Naturally, on a whim, Susan accepted. As whims shift direction as easily as the wind, a marriage based on such flimsy footing is a guaranteed failure. Eight months and a quick divorce left her with just enough cash to get far away from New York. Susan picked Dallas because she always thought she looked good in a cowboy hat and boots.
Today, Dallas seemed a million miles away. Susan reached into her purse and felt the cold steel of the Smith and Wesson cradled there. What should have offended her sensibilities and made her recoil, now seemed necessary and important, and she grasped the handle of the weapon firmly and deliberately.
Up ahead, a large throng had gathered at the base of the steps of City Hall. The bodies backed up onto the grass of Duncan Plaza. The city council chairman had just finished running down the list of public projects being planned and worked on for the current year, after which he introduced the mayor. A tall woman in a royal blue pantsuit stepped up to the podium overlooking the gathering. The crowd let out a roar and applauded as Mayor Barbisol held up her hands.
“Thank you…. Thank you. I very much appreciate the support…. Thank you.” The crowd reluctantly quieted and the mayor put down her hands. “As you know we have been lucky once again to make it through the storm season without major trouble. Somebody, please knock on wood.” She made a show of rapping her knuckles on the podium, and the crowd laughed. “Like myself, I know that all of you pray for those who were less fortunate. God knows we can appreciate what they are going through.” A smattering of amens rolled through the crowd. “I have recently sent invitations to my counterparts in Houston, Tampa, Miami and San Juan inviting them to take a much needed break from their recent troubles. I told them that despite their losses and the necessity for rebuilding, they could surely come out better for it, and rise like the phoenix, just as our great city has done.” The crowd roared their approval. “I told them there is no better way to recharge your batteries than to come to New Orleans and help us celebrate Mardi Gras. So without further ado, Laissez les bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll.” The band behind her began playing a rousing Dixieland number and the mayor began shaking the hands of a string of VIPs who were being funneled in her direction.
Susan pressed through the crowd toward the mayor. When she got close she squeezed behind one of the plain clothes security men and popped into the open ten feet in front of the mayor, who had just finished chatting with an elderly couple her chief of staff told her had made a considerable donation to one of her pet city park projects. The mayor turned and smiled at Susan, waving off the security guard who intended to grab her. Susan was a striking woman, well dressed, and the mayor was not one to miss a photo opportunity.
“If you’re new to the city you couldn’t have come at a better time,” said the mayor. “And if you have been here for a while, shame on me for not taking the opportunity to meet you sooner.”
Susan said nothing, having barely registered anything the mayor said. A thick cloud baffled all outside stimuli. The single thought that filled Susan’s mind now shouted, demanding action. “The mayor must die. Kill her.” Without warning and with lightning speed, Susan removed the Smith and Wesson from her purse, aimed it at the mayor’s chest and pulled the trigger four times rapidly in succession. The deed was done before anyone had a chance to move.
Realizing what she had done, Susan looked at the gun in her hand and raised it to her own head, pressing the barrel to her temple. Before she could pull the trigger and end her nightmare, the security guard nearest to her tackled her to the ground.
Paperback $15.99: Amazon