City of Spirits

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It’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans, an escaped hit man on the loose and seeking revenge. French Quarter P.I. Wyatt Thomas has other problems – a wealthy new client with a beautiful twin daughter for who he falls hard. His client is part of a forbidden love triangle, and Wyatt’s budding romance takes an ugly turn when he uncovers a dark family secret.

                                                                  Chapter One

rattled the roof on Ron Bernard’s house. Awakened with a start, he watched the
lightning show with sleepy eyes as rain, and gusting wind whistled through an open
window, whipping his wife’s flowered curtains. When his fading dream had
vanished into the darkness, he got out of
bed and shut the window with a thud.

Grabbing a pack of cigarettes, he started to light
one up but thought better of it. Relaxing against the bedpost, he jumped when
his wife touched his arm.

“Damn it, Angelica! You scared me half to death,” he

“It ain’t Katrina, just a little storm out over the
Gulf. Come back to sleep.”

He stroked his young wife’s hair, muted brown amid
lightning flashing through the window, and then kissed her forehead.

“I’m okay. Go back to sleep. I need some coffee.”

“You mean coffee and a

“Just coffee,” he said.

She didn’t see him hide the cigarettes behind his
back as he grabbed his robe from the four-poster bed and walked down the hall
to the kitchen. Coffee in the pot on the stove was cold. It didn’t matter as he
filled his mug, lacing it with vodka from a flask he kept in the robe.

The alarm in his head wouldn’t stop ringing. When
nicotine and coffee laced with vodka failed to calm him, he took one of the
pills Doc Brown had given him for the problem. The phone rang, startling him
again, and he answered quickly so as not to arouse Angelica. He immediately
recognized the throaty voice of
Marshal Terrance Blake.

“What’s up?”

“Trouble for me, money for you,” Blake said. “We got
goods heading your way. Meet us in twenty minutes at the chopper pad.”

Blake’s voice faded and was gone before Bernard had
a chance to respond. It didn’t matter. Now there was a job to do, and no need
waking Angelica to tell her about it. He’d leave a note beside the bed and call
her from the boat in the morning. His deceased wife, married to a sea captain
for twenty years, would have understood. His new bride might not.

He grabbed his Navy pea coat before heading out the
door, into a driving rain peppering the hood of his old Army truck. His hands
were finally steady when he turned the ignition and slammed the clunky gearshift
into gear. Reaching the chopper pad, he didn’t have long to wait.

Gulf wind continued lashing trees as a moving light
appeared through thick cloud cover and strobelike flashes of lightning. The rain was mostly gone when the Government
helicopter landed near the dock in a flurry of flying debris.

Hours of darkness remained as five men exited the
chopper, one a prisoner dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit. He was handcuffed,
with a belly chain and leg irons
attached, armed guards in camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests surrounding
him. Blake climbed into the cab of Bernard’s truck as guards and prisoner
scurried into its canvas-covered truck bed.

“Last time you had this
many guards, we were transporting ten prisoners. I thought all your
transports were dangerous.”

Blake’s gap-toothed smile revealed a mouth filled
with gold and silver, his own eyes as
dark as Bernard’s.

“Yeah, well you don’t drive a railroad spike with a
tack hammer.”

“He’s that dangerous?”

“If you look up the word in the dictionary you’ll
see his picture beside it.”

“What’d he do?”

“Kills people,” was Blake’s terse answer.

Down a muddy road from the chopper pad, they reached
the little town’s boat harbor. High seas crashed over the breakwater rocking
boats docked at the marina. Bernard’s boat, the Clancy Jane, lay moored at the
end of the pier. He watched as guards jumped from the back of the truck and
escorted the prisoner toward it.

“Take him below,” Blake ordered. Turning to Bernard,
he said, “Now get us up the river to New Orleans.”

The haunting cry of a bayou loon sounded from across the bay as Blake left Bernard standing on
the dock. He followed them aboard, going
to the driver’s cabin, cranked the boat’s massive diesels and started checking gauges.

The storm had moved back into the Gulf, occasional
flashes lighting up the southern sky as Bernard piloted the old crew boat
through the maze of marshes, swamps, and river passes. The wake of the sleek
boat rippled the bank, cluttered with flood debris, turtles, and an occasional
gator plunging into the brown water.

Bernard loved the Clancy Jane, still the fastest
crew boat plying the Gulf of Mexico, and worth every penny he’d saved so long
to buy. Only Angelica knew how much.

They reached the Mississippi River before dawn. Near
Southwest Pass, the narrowest part of the river passage to New Orleans, hazy
sunlight poked up through an early morning mist. Pelicans, rising upward in an
explosion of beating wings, took flight in the wake of the passing craft.
Bernard didn’t notice.

“What’s the hurry?” he finally asked. “New Orleans
isn’t going anyplace.”

Blake didn’t take his eyes off the pinks and reds
blemishing disappearing darkness.

“Keep your foot in it. We got important people
waiting with bated breath for our cargo.”

“If we crash this baby, they’ll still be waiting

“I’m expecting you to get us there in one piece.”

The boat’s hull bounced as the three guards wrestled
the prisoner on deck, giving Bernard a close look at him for the first time.
Their eyes locked for a moment.

The large man with short-cropped hair stared up at
him, his strange, gray eyes looking as menacing as the scorpion tattoo on his
forearm. While two men watched, their rifles ready, the third guard attached
the prisoner’s belly chain to a metal restraint.

“Jesus! That’s one big dude. Why are they bringing
him on deck?”

“It’s way too rough down there, and this tub doesn’t
have seat belts.”

Ignoring the slight to his boat, Bernard asked,
“Who’d you say he is?”

“I didn’t, but he’s Jacque Leguerre, former mob assassin. If he got the chance, he’d take us
all out and never bat an eye.”

“Why’s he so important?”

“He’s set to testify against his former bosses and
has a price on his head.”

“You could have just choppered him to New Orleans.”

“We thought about it. Local crime seems to know our
every move, and you don’t have to say ‘dirty cop’ when you’re talking about the
N.O.P.D. Only a handful of people knows
we’re bringing him up the river. No one else will know until we have him locked
up in New Orleans.”

The wake of a passing boat caused the Clancy Jane’s
bow to rise out of the water again, driving one of the guards to his knees.

“You can’t keep me locked here,” the prisoner said. “If this tub sinks, I won’t have a

One of the guards, a big man with a crooked nose,
responded harshly.

“Shut your mouth. You got no say in what’s happening

“At least put the keys where I can get to them if I
need to.”

The bent-nosed guard rattled the keys attached to
his belt. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Forget about it. You’re not going

Blake monitored the conversation with his headset as
Captain Bernard watched with interest.

“What’s all the commotion down there?”

“Our prisoner’s whining about a little choppy
water,” Blake said.

“Your men need to put on their life jackets if
they’re going to stay on deck. They wouldn’t last thirty seconds in the river
with its currents and undertows.”

Blake nodded and spoke into his microphone. “Jones,
you, and your men get your life jackets on.”

“What about the prisoner?” the man asked.

“What about him?”

“We’ll have to take his cuffs off to get the jacket
on him.”

“Then forget it,” Blake said.

Captain Bernard glanced at him. “You know you’re
breaking the law.”

“I am the law.”

The boat bounced again as it hit another wake, water
splashing over the bank into a reed pond, sending a flock of ducks skyward.

“Then at least unhook him.”

Blake mumbled something to himself, grabbing the
railing for support as the boat topped another large wave.

“Detach the prisoner from the restraint. Stay ready.
Just don’t kill him.”

Bernard watched as Blake’s men reacted to his
orders. He wanted to call Angelica. The river much too choppy, he couldn’t take
a chance on removing his hands from the wheel. Blake wouldn’t understand

Swirling fog had formed a sheer curtain over the
river as the Clancy Jane and another boat entered Southwest Pass simultaneously
from different directions. Before either captain could react, it was already
too late.

The boats collided, the impact knocking Blake and
Bernard off their feet, banging them against the rear wall of the cabin. Both
mortally damaged boats began to sink; two of the guards on deck washed
overboard and were quickly sucked under.

Thrown to the deck by the impact, Jacque Leguerre
grabbed the metal restraint as water rushed over the bow. The guard with the
keys somehow managed to hold onto the railing, until the current finally
dislodged him. As he swirled across the deck, struggling to keep his head above
water, Leguerre snagged him, wrapping his leg irons around his neck, and
pulling him toward him.

Grasping the flailing man, Leguerre dived into the
river before suction of the sinking boat could pull them under. Racing to find
the keys on the guard’s belt, he unhooked the life vest that had precariously
kept them both afloat. Ignoring the guard’s cries, he ripped his arms and hands
out of the vest, and then pushed him away.

As undercurrents sucked the struggling man’s head
below the river’s swirling surface, Leguerre detached his cuffs, belly chain,
and leg irons. Free of his shackles, he held on to the life vest, stroking
toward the nearest bank, praying the river’s deadly currents wouldn’t drag him
under as it had the others.

*     *

Finding her husband’s note, Angelica called his
phone to assure him his recurring nightmare had no real meaning. His recorded
message, answered on the first ring, was the last time she heard his voice.

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Eric Wilder