Crescent City Creeps #6

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One Hell of a Party

Shelby sat crouched in the bushes as she had done for almost a year now. Every night, since last November, she’d skulk down dark old lanes, darting from shadow to shadow in an effort see her idol at work; the cat burglar Le Bec. Shelby would sneak into theaters during the day, napping and dreaming along with her screen heroes. When she grew up she was going to be Robin Hood.

“Maid Marian is for girls who went to school,” she would think.

But no character played by Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks could hold a candle to Le Bec. Le Bec had the advantage of being real. Shelby would sit, unseen and observe, learning.

Tonight, Le Bec sat crouched on the the ledge of a third storey window. The house belonged to the Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Tulane, Giles Parker. Le Bec had overheard a conversation Parker was having at a recent social gathering to celebrate the re-election of Verne Sturgis to the Louisiana Circuit Court of Appeals. The exchange concerned the relocation of an artifact of great power to Parker’s house. Le Bec remembered Parker sounding reluctant, but was eventually brow beaten by Judge Sturgis who seemed keen to have it relocated from his home.

“We drew the lots, Parker. It’s your turn to house the Jade Peregrine,” Sturgis growled. Continue reading

Crescent City Creeps #4

Children of the Revolution

Randal charged toward Shelby and Delareux swinging an immense boulder of a fist. The chain he was leashed to snapped taut and yanked Randal back. His fist passed in front of Delareux’s face, hitting him with a foul smelling breeze. A goblin leapt, grabbed onto Randal and scaled his torso. It began fiddling with the latch that restrained the beast. Randal grabbed the goblin and flung its crumpled corpse into the frenzied crowd. Randal roared. The combination of powerful lungs and a diminutive head made his roar sound like a foghorn. The low, gurgling undertone vibrated the wooden supports. Delareux saw the glare of the torchlights in the windows swaying in rhythm. The whole building shook.

“Time for you to use that heater, Mr. Delareux,” Shelby quavered.

“I could empty it into him and it would just tick him off,” Delareux grumbled.

Another goblin inched toward Randal with an unbent clothes hanger and jabbed at the latch. Randal grabbed the clothes hanger and skewered his would be liberator. Randal howled, the warehouse rattled.

“This could take all night,” Delareux muttered. “Kid, snatch the torch from the little one.”

Shelby grabbed a torch from a juvenile goblin cheering at the edge of the crowd. She handed it to Delareux, with the tenacious whelp still dangling. Delareux took the torch and the goblin skipped up his arm, onto his head and began chewing on his hat. Shelby grabbed it and lobbed it into the mob. Delareux took out a flask and emptied the contents onto a wooden ceiling support. He produced another flask and handed it to Shelby who did the same to another.

“Take a few steps toward the door. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the cave in,” Delareux held the torch to the beam and it flared up and took hold. He did the same to the support Shelby had soaked. The goblins seemed to take delight as a rolling roar of approval rippled through the mob. “In a few seconds it’s gonna be every goblin for itself, so just run for it and we’ll be fine. Mr. Palazzo’s office is right across the street. Got his name plastered all over it. Can’t miss it.”

Shelby nodded and grinned, “If only somebody would pay me to do this.”

“Tell me about it,” Delareux drew his pistol and fired at Randal. The first shot hit a goblin who had just about opened the latch on Randal’s leash. The next shot hit Randal on his bloated belly. The bullet struck and sounded like slapping one’s hand in a barrel of fish. It caused a ripple like a pebble in a pond, but otherwise left him unharmed. While Randal paused to cogitate what was happening, another bullet struck him on the shoulder, to similar effect. Randal put all the pieces together and let out a harrowing bellow that could be felt in the floor. The now blackened support beams were crackling and dotted with embers and glowing splinters. The vibrations from Randal’s tantrum caused the beams to start compressing where they were burning, shooting black splinters. They began to buckle and the low whine of rubbing metal overpowered the clamouring of the rabble. They hushed and the whine was heard again as half the warehouse began to tumble in on itself, pulling the other half along.

Delareux and Shelby ran as a mass of goblins stampeded toward the door. In the front office Delareux grabbed a crate of Grigori’s Ichor. As they ran through the warehouse yard a soft rumble was heard and the ground felt like it was beating. The rumble became a roar and the beating became a pummeling. Shelby looked back and saw a tidal wave of sprinting goblins.

“Just keep running,” Delareux shouted back, “They’re in survival mode. Too scared to notice or care.”

The wave of goblins overtook and broke around them. The goblins scattered into the shadows. Shelby and Delareux slowed to a trot and headed to Toli’s office. They could hear the phone ringing. Shelby picked the lock and Delareux entered and answered the phone.

“This is Delareux.”

“Delareux,” said the voice of Toli, “Where are you?”

“I’m in your office.”

“I didn’t call my office.”

“No, you called me and I’m in your office.”

“Okay, just listen. I spoke with Danvers and he gave me some pretty useful information.”

“I have some useful information as well and it comes with a nice helping of I-told-you-so.”

“Delareux, how did you get in? I thought I locked…” Toli entered and saw Shelby, “Of course. And now a fourth grade cat burglar has inexplicably woven itself into my life. Delareux, what’s with the I-told-you-so?”

“Goblins. I told you you had a goblin infestation, but you weren’t listening.”

“We were almost trampled by a herd of them,” Shelby added.

“You said you had useful information,” said Toli glaring at Delareux.

Delareux pointed at the crate sitting on Toli’s desk. Toli read the note.

“Grigori,” Toli softened, “Now that is interesting. Detective Danvers told me a story about an old case involving a Russian fellow named ‘Mad Grigori’ who passed through with a wandering caravan of performers. He was hawking some sort of snake oil. Thing was, it made people berserk. An angry mob drowned him in the swamp and left his body to the alligators. Not long after that, Andronikov shows up.”

“Wait, are you saying Dr. Andronikov is behind this?” Shelby protested, “He’s always been there for us. Helping.”

“Of course,” Toli replied, “To show what a gracious man he was to all the community. But mostly to ingratiate himself into the high society circles he’s wormed himself into. They love a good heartwarmer; elderly doctor treats the orphans out of the kindness of his heart. Add to that a bit of a reputation as a miracle worker. He can brew this stuff up, who knows what else he can mix up. Conveniently makes himself available to examine not only Mad Grigori’s concoction, but also this one.”

“But why?” asked Shelby.

“I haven’t the foggiest,” Toli sighed.

“Says it’s a test batch,” Delareux added, “Up this point it’s been an experiment.”

“Why experiment on us?” Shelby asked.

“What better test subjects than trusting orphans?” Toli replied.

“Crazy. This is crazy,” Shelby said, shaking her head.

“A lot of pieces fit, kid,” Delareux muttered.

“Except motive,” Toli added, “ And we don’t know this Mad Grigori and Andronikov are even related. We need more info.”

“What do ya wanna do?” Delareux muttered, “Break into his house?”

Toli stared at the floor and rubbed his chin, “I can’t believe I’m entertaining this suggestion. Trespassing. Possible larceny. Any evidence we found would be inadmissible.”

“Build a lead backward. Or me and Shelby can put our ears to the street. But it would take time we might not have. I don’t know how it all fits, the junk that turns people into berserkers or Mad Grigori and Andronikov. Not to mention a goblin infestation that’s forming political factions handing out said murder hooch. But that’s a lot of bad things tangling together.”

Toli dragged out a quiet sigh, “Tomorrow night. When Andronikov is at Fanny’s,” he looked at Shelby, “Maybe we can put your dubious skills to a constructive purpose.”

“You want me to help you break into the doc’s house?” Shelby asked, “Why should I?”

“Because, if this is all a misunderstanding you’ll have vindicated your beloved doctor.” Toli replied, “But if it’s true, do you really want him tending to your friends and giving them that drug?”

Shelby glowered at Toli and Delareux, “Okay, but only because I’m going to prove both you guys wrong.”

The following night they met in front of Andronikov’s house. It was Autumn and the street and house were dark. Andronikov was out taking his nightly constitutional. They slipped into the shadows of the trees that lined the side of his house. Shelby jumped into a tree, sprung onto a vine-strangled trellis and scampered to a second floor window sill. She slid open the sash and slipped in.

“The top windows are always unlocked even if there’s lots of stuff around them to climb,” Shelby called poking her head out the window.

“We don’t need a dissertation on the tricks of the trade, just run down and open the back door,” Toli replied in a raspy whisper.

Once inside they searched the house from ground floor to attic and found nothing that a strange, old doctor wouldn’t have. There were trinkets everywhere, relics from tsarist Russia. They found nothing that implicated him in being anything more than a dull fellow who tended to swamp himself in nostalgia.

Delareux lit a match and held it to his cigarette. The flame wobbled and flapped, then it was out. He put his hand up and waved it around. He could feel a breeze rushing through a seam in the wall paneling. He tapped the wall around the seam until the hollow thumping of wood paneling attached to a frame changed to no thump at all, just his finger hitting the surface. He pressed his palms on the panel and pushed up and down, side to side. The panel came loose and behind it was a steel door with a lever along side.

“Come take a look at this,” Delareux called.

“Looks like something from a Flash Gordon short,” Shelby said.

Delareux pulled the lever and the door slid open with a deep hum and the hiss of steel brushing against rubber. A iron staircase spiraled downward.

The bottom emptied into a small room crammed with tables and benches covered in devices of twisted brass and glass. Flasks and beakers lined the shelves that covered every wall except one. On that were hung two portraits, full length paintings of people, a man on the left and woman on the right, dressed in royal finery, painted in an Edwardian style.

“Tzar Nicholas the second,” Toli said examining the paintings, “And Alexandra.”

“You know who they are?” asked Shelby.

“I remember them from the newspapers when I was younger. The February Revolution. It was compelling reading. I see which side our Andronikov backed.”

Delareux found a small box on one of the tables. Inside were volumes of letters. All were either to or from, Tsar Nicholas or Alexandra in correspondence with a man named Grigori.

“Good lord,” Toli gasped.

“Andronikov is Grigori,” Delareux said, “I think that settles that thread.”

“But this fellow Grigori, corresponding with Nicholas and Alexandra. You don’t think that’s…”

“Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin,” a voice rumbled from behind them.

Toli and Delareux turned around and saw the erstwhile Andronikov pointing a gun.

“At your service,” Rasputin said, tipping his head.

Crescent City Creeps #2

Toli sat drumming his fingers up the sides of his sweaty glass of water. His eyes scanned the crowd around him, “The detective is waiting, Mr. Delareux,” he was jostled by a passing patron, “And you said you needed to stop by your office.”

“This is my office,” Delareux replied, circling the names of horses in the newspaper. He waved to the bandleader.

The bandleader, Ben Zoodu, was a pale, gaunt man who stood in front of a handful of musicians, shoved into the corner. A violin, a trombone, a tuba, an accordion and a monstrous percussion contraption. He swirled a baton in the air in front of him, lolling his head and eyes back as he swayed in arrhythmic patterns, supporting himself on the back of chair with his free hand. The band seemed oblivious to his gesticulating as they weaved a brisk, atonal swing.

When Ben saw Delareux wave, he sliced his baton through the air and the band stopped as one. Ben’s previous ecstasy was replaced with placidity as he guided his baton in languid arcs. The band began to pulse and so arose a dirge, but in a major key. Toli’s fingers stopped. He leaned into his chair and stared at Ben’s baton as it cut liquid shapes into the air. Delareux nodded to Ben. Ben eschewed the support of the chair long enough to tap the side of his nose.

“Well,” Delareux said standing, “I have some calls to make.”

“Okay,” Toli said without moving his gaze.

Delareux walked through a set of double doors into the kitchen.

“What’s the word, Millie,” he said to the large woman, elbows deep in suds, leaned over a sink scrubbing a steel plate. Millie stood and towered over Delareux like barn silo. She folded her arms and scowled down at Delareux.

“What are you here to give me the willies about this time, Tomcat?” she growled.

“How do you like goblins?” Delareux asked.

Millie erupted in howls of laughter, “I swear, Tom. I think you like getting yourself neck deep in that devil stuff.”

“The devil’s a piker,” Delareux puffed, “Believe me, I’d trade my thumbs not to get mixed up these cases.”

“I know you’re not just here for the whiskey and gumbo,” Millie said, “What can I do for ya?”

“You seen Shelby around?”

“It’s your lucky night. She’s right out back. Cleaning the rubes out.”

Delareux thanked Mille and returned to the bar room to retrieve Toli. By this time the entirety of the patronage was gazing at Ben and his orchestra. Delareux grabbed Toli by the arm and lifted him. Toli complied.

“We’re leaving,” Delareux said to Toli.

“Really? I was just getting comfortable,” Toli said in a mimicry of a protest.

“Yeah, I just gotta talk to somebody,” Delareux said leading Toli toward the kitchen doors.

“I thought the door was over there,” Toli mumbled.

“No, that’s just a space where there isn’t wall,” he replied pushing Toli through the kitchen to the back door, “Millie, this is Ana something Palazzo. Palazzo, this is Millie. She owns the La Moufette Coquine.”

“Nice to meet you,” Millie grinned as Delareux and Toli disappeared out the back.

“What’s La Moufette Coquine,” Toli slurred.”

“The place we were just in,” Delareux replied.

Delareux closed the heavy back door and the music was locked away. Toli shook his head and looked around.

“Why did you take me out through the kitchen?” Toli asked, “Why did I follow you through the kitchen? And that lady.”

Toli opened the door and music drifted out again. He stuck his head in a stared at Millie.

“Yes?” Millie looked at Toli askance.

Toli squinted his eyes as if he was trying to remember something.

“Oh, ah,” he began, “Nice to meet you.”

Toli’s stare drifted as Delareux pulled him back outside and shut the door. Toli snapped his head. He pointed at the door and looked at Delareux.

“Another time,” Delareux said waving his hand, “I have to talk to my contact then we can see the other detective if that will make you feel better.”

“Who are we waiting for, Delareux?” Toli snapped, “There aren’t many places I’d rather not be more than an alley, behind what is literally a hole in the wall bar, waiting for one of your, I’m sure, nefarious associates.”

“See that girl over there taking those bums for every dime? That’s Shelby.”

“That street urchin? She’s all of about nine years old, what could you possibly have to discuss?”

“She’s my eyes and ears. And I think she’s 12.”

Toli rolled his eyes and looked at his watch.

“The detective was expecting us an hour and half ago,” Toli griped, “She’s standing right there, why are we waiting?”

“She’s on a hot streak,” Delareux replied, “Can’t mess with good juju.”

“How about I meet you there?” Toli sighed.

“You want this case solved or solved right?”

“I just want it out of my hair.”

Dice clacked.

“Cough it up, bums,” Shelby laughed aloud, “I took you guys fair and square.”

The group of crouching men stood up grumbling and slapping their hats on their heads. Shelby trotted over to Delareux.

“Shel, this is Ana…Mr. Palazzo,” Delareux said, “He’s my client.”

“Since when?” Toli barked.

“Since you gave me fifteen bucks,” Delareux replied. Shelby perked up and looked at Toli.

“Yes, I hired you to drive a truck,” Toli protested.

“I’ve never been hired to do what I was hired to do.”

“What?”

Delareux started patting his pockets. Unable to located what he was looking for he reached into Toli’s jacket pocket and pulled out the syringe the had found earlier.

“Does this look like anything to you,” said Toli show Shelby the syringe.

Shelby looked at the syringe and her eyes widened.

“What do you know about it?” asked Delareux.

Shelby took a long look at Toli and said, “What’s it worth to you?”

“What?” Toli looked between Delareux and Shelby.

Shelby locked her eyes on Toli. Delareux motioned for Toli to go along.

“How much do you want, you wretched creature?” Toli groaned.

“A dollar?” replied Shelby.

“I don’t really feel like dealing with this anymore,” Toli buttoned up his jacket, “Good day, Mr. Delareux.

Delareux intensified his previous gesture. Toli grunted and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.

“A quarter,” Toli said, pulling a quarter out of his pocket and holding it up.

“Three quarters,” Shelby continued her gaze.

“Two,” Toli said pulling another quarter from his pocket.

Shelby squinted and grabbed the quarters.

“We saw some older kid had one full of yellow stuff, but it was sparkly, like gold,” Shelby began, “We thought he was just another junkie going to pass out under the bridge, but a few minutes later he went nuts started wrecking stuff and running after people in the street. He even flipped over a delivery van with his bare hands.”

“That could have been your van, Palazzo,” Delareux said, patting Toli on the shoulder.

“With you driving? I could never be so lucky,” Toli said then turned to Shelby, “What did you do with the syringe?”

Shelby looked at Delareux and he nodded.

“I took it to the Doctor,” Shelby said.

“Doctor whom?” Toli asked.

“Doctor Andronikov,” she replied, “He sees the Bourbon Street Irregulars for free.”

“Who on Earth are the Bourbon Street Irregulars?”

“My gang.”

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“They’re my information network,” Delareux chimed.

“You encourage this?” Toli protested.

“Here ya go, Shel,” Delareux said handing Shelby five dollars, “Don’t go too far. I might still need you on this.”

“Sure thing, Delareux,” Shelby said and leapt to the top of a dumpster, onto the fire escape and disappeared onto the rooftops.

“How much of my money does that urchin have?” Toli grumbled.

“It’s part of my overhead,” Delareux responded.

“I didn’t hire you as a detective,” Toli barked.

“You might not think that now,” he said.

“Well, we, or I, should be getting to the police station. The detective is waiting.”

“We have a few hours before the good doctor makes his nightly visit to Fanny’s.”

“Do I need to ask what Fanny’s is?”

“Fanny Alexander’s. A brothel with an upper class clientele. He’s a regular.”

“Good. Just where I hoped I’d end up today,” Toli sighed.

“You don’t gotta go,” Delareux said.

“No,” Toli said looking at the syringe, “I’m curious to meet this Doctor Andronikov.”

“We have a few hours before the good doctor makes his nightly visit,” Delareux offered.

“We shouldn’t keep the detective waiting any longer.”

Ed Danvers looked like a minotaur with a buzz cut and about the size of the door he opened to let Toli and Delareux into his office. He wore red suspenders that screamed against a rumpled white shirt, a few buttons stretched to accommodate a nascent pot belly. Toli walked in and held out his hand. Danvers grabbed it and gave two sharp flicks. Delareux slumped in a chair by the door and stared at his tarot cards.

“Anatoly Palazzo,” said Toli, recovering from the handshake.

“Detective Ed Danvers,” said Ed, “Sit.”

“This is…,” Toli said as he sat.

“I know who this is,” Danvers growled, “If you want my advice, stay as far away from him as possible.”

“I’ve been trying to do that all day,” said Toli, “It’s not as easy as you make it sound.”

“Let’s get down to brass tacks, Palazzo,” Ed started, “I’m investigating a case that took me down to around your warehouses.”

“Those, that I believe you are referring to, are not owned or used by me,” Toli explained.

“What makes you an expert on what I’m referring to?” Danvers squinted at Toli.

“Well,” Toli gulped, “We went down to my employee said he saw you. And we had ourselves…a little…look around.”

Ed drove his squint toward Delareux whose face was behind a card. Delareux slowly turned the card around to face Ed. The card showed a skeleton wielding a sickle over a large scorpion. At the bottom was clearly lettered ‘Death.’

“Is that supposed to scare me, Delareux?” Ed grumbled.

“I’m a scorpio,” Delareux sang.

“Really? Last time you were a Virgo,” Ed performed a hybrid of a cough and a derisive chuckle.

“Then I was,” Delareux went back to scanning his cards, “Now I’m a scorpio. I’m not going to fit in the man’s box.”

Ed shook his head and squinted back at Toli, “You didn’t give him any money, did ya?”

Toli’s face went blank.

“I pity you, my friend,” Ed frowned.

“Here,” Toli produced the syringe. Ed leaned back in his chair regarding the syringe, “We found this.”

“I’m going to need to take that as evidence.”

“Of course, detective.”

Delareux made a disapproving grunt.

“Now, Mr. Palazzo,” Ed leaned toward Toli, “You want my advice? Go home, be happy, let the police handle this. And for the love of Jove, stay the hell away from that misfit.”

Ed looked at Delareux, “And I better not be bumping into you, Delareux. Stay out of it.”

“Than don’t bump into me,” Delareux sprung from his seat and opened the door.

“Thank you very much, detective,” Toli began to offer his hand, but just waved, “And I’ll very much heed your advice. Certainly.”

“Stay. Away. From. Him,” Danvers called as Toli and Delareux walked away.

Once out of sight, Toli pulled Delareux aside and leaned in, “So,” Toli confided, “What time is Doctor Andronikov due at his usual haunt?”