To the dogs I’ve loved for their life spent with me,
I will remember them for the rest of mine.
Lancey’s Restaurant and Bar is one that many in the neighborhood couldn’t afford to frequent. This was not the place to celebrate anything ordinary. Lancey’s hosted an influential crowd whose New Orleanian blood ran the shade of blue specific to the privileged class.
The clientele included the political elite of the city. Mirrors on the dining room walls allowed patrons to observe every person at every table discreetly. A former mayor eating with several council members was a regular. Their caricatures appeared on the walls over the mirrors along with the famous and infamous New Orleans had to offer. Some were leaders in the community while others’ malfeasance left them waiting for indictments or verdicts.
I’ve known Judge Frances Whitmer since grade school. He made no secret about wanting his caricature on Lancey’s wall. He used or abused anyone he thought could help make it happen. After the local news rag published their Annual Best of New Orleans list with Whit as Best New Orleans Judge of the Year, he was sure his face would soon look down into the room. Hence the reason for today’s celebration.
My name is Brandy Alexander, and no, it’s not a stage name nor am I an exotic dancer or stripper on Bourbon Street. I work in an unglamorous fraud detection unit at a major telecom firm in downtown New Orleans. My gift, or claim to fame, is I can find discrepancies in patterns—from numbers to just about everything.
The traffic from my office on Poydras to Lancey’s uptown took twenty minutes via Tchoupitoulas Street, a direct route along the river with only a few traffic lights. Jiff Heinkel, a criminal attorney is the man I am now dating. He is also a friend of Whit’s, and was waiting for me to join him in the bar.
Those considered the inner circle and long-standing friends of Whit who worked to get him elected just two short years ago, packed the bar area. At thirty-five, he already had made a name for himself as a brilliant trial lawyer for the prosecution. But he wanted the power and prestige only sitting on the bench would give him. He’d run for judge in New Orleans Parish Criminal Court and won.
Whit sat at the bar holding court with his campaign manager and Jiff. When Jiff saw me, he motioned to the bartender. A drink materialized for me by the time I squeezed my way past those vying for an audience with his honor. As I kissed Jiff hello, I felt a tug on my shoulder-length blonde hair from Whit trying to get my attention.
“Well, if it isn’t Miss Brandy Alexander,” Whit’s said in his normal voice, which could be heard over jackhammers busting up concrete. He was at least a foot taller than almost everyone, except NBA players, which helped his booming voice travel, a fact he was oblivious to. My dad once described Whit’s six foot-seven height as a long drink of water. “If you’re ever gonna give me a kiss on the lips, this is the day to do it,” his voice bellowed over the din in the bar. His eyes darted over the crowd taking in those arriving, leaving or just watching, “I’m really popular today.”
“Never gonna happen,” I said leaning into Jiff. I nodded to Whit’s campaign manager, Justine—soon to be wife number four. She had a perpetual stoic expression on her face that never showed a hint of emotion. Could it be Whit’s attraction to Justine had to do with her name? It wouldn’t surprise me since he named his dog, Justice.
“Get over here, we’re saving a seat just for you, baby. That alone deserves a kiss,” he boomed over me until I gave him a peck on the cheek in greeting.
Justine was the love interest du jour. She started as his campaign manager and had been elevated to his law clerk. Her job consisted of getting him to meetings on time, home after celebrating, like tonight, or after the endless political dinner parties on his agenda. I imagined her driving skills were not the only thing Whit appreciated about her. She was Chinese, smart and twenty something. Add a facial expression that made it impossible to know what she was thinking, plus she was tall, brunette and wore expensive clothes that showed off her dynamite figure.
Tonight, she wore a body-hugging sheath in a nude color which made her appear, well…nude. While Justine and I are the same height, 5’9”, I’m blonde and have what many consider a great figure. Men didn’t walk into walls looking over their shoulder at me, like they did staring at Justine’s exotic beauty.
Justine decided it was time to go. As she ushered Whit by the elbow to the door, he boomed, “Don’t stay out late, all of you. Monday is a school night. There’s a long week ahead of us.”
He glad-handed all his pals who showed up to celebrate with him on the way out. I spotted August Randolph and Pierre LeBlanc, two of Whit’s golfing buddies with serious looks on their faces as Whit pushed past them. They both left moments after Whit and Justine.
There were quite a few friends and colleagues who only showed up to stay in his good graces. Whit had a big mouth and would broadcast anything he thought would make someone uncomfortable under the guise of a joke. Many did not find him amusing.
Jiff and I stayed awhile and finished our drinks. When we started to leave, I noticed Whit’s jacket on the back of my chair. I picked it up and checked the pockets to make sure he didn’t leave his wallet or keys in one. I found a cellophane-wrapped praline in a side pocket. It was from his run for office and said ‘Whitmer for Judge’ on the wrapper.
“I’ll drop it off to him,” I said to Jiff as we made our way out the door. “It’s on my way home.” Jiff put his arm around my shoulders and even with four-inch heels, he towered over me by three inches.
“Brandy, it’ll take you an hour,” Jiff said rolling his eyes. “Getting past the security gate and in the front door adds fifteen minutes to your stop. Gracefully avoiding an invitation to have yet another celebratory drink, will require a couple of white lies and a lot more time.” He kissed me good night and added, “Try not to get sucked in. I’ll call you later.”
I waited in the driveway for the gates to open after I punched in the security code of Whit’s home. He’s been using the same code since high school—007. I was about to call his cell when I noticed the gate was already open and the front door ajar by several inches. Something was off. If nothing else, Whit’s dog, Justice should be running around barking in the yard. Then I saw the security system had not automatically closed and locked the iron gate.
When I got to the massive leaded glass front door, I pushed it open with the back of my hand far enough to step inside. The security panel appeared to be disarmed. Typically, it would blink displaying the green light if armed.
I had the feeling of being watched which made me look up to the top of the stairs. Claudette, the judge’s second and third ex-wife—Whit married her, divorced her, remarried her, then re-divorced her, was standing with her hands on her hips staring down at me.
“Claudette, what are you doing here? You scared me half to death,” I said while my hand flew to my chest. The staircase in the grand center hallway started at the end of the first two rooms. The landing set it back two more rooms overlooking the beveled glass front doors and marble foyer.
“I could ask you da same thing,” she said in her unmistakable “y’at” accent indicative of native New Orleanians.
“I stopped by to drop off Whit’s jacket. He left it at the restaurant,” I said and held up my arm with the jacket draped over it by way of proof. “When I got here both the gate and front door were open and the security system isn’t on.” I said. “Did you disarm it?”
“I came in da kitchen and went up da back stairs,” Claudette said. “He was probably drunk when he got home and forgot to lock up or set the alarm when he left to take Justice for a walk.”
“Whit’s not here?” I asked and noticed the doors to his study just off the foyer were closed. That’s odd, I thought. I’ve never seen that door closed in all the years I’ve been coming to this house.
“His office door is closed,” I said. “Don’t you think that’s odd?”
“Whit is odd,” she said. “I’m here for my son’s tuition money he’s supposed to have sent me a week ago. Whit is always late sending it. I want to get it and leave before he gets back.” Claudette had a fiery temper and once she revved it up, it was hard to throttle down.
“Was Justice here?” I asked. “Did you see or hear him when you came in the back?” I asked wondering if Justice ran out the front door and gate.
“Some watchdog. You’d think he’d at least bark at me. Dat dog never liked me,” she said turning to go to one of the upstairs rooms.
“Wait,” I said a little too loudly, but it made Claudette stop.
“Whit is probably stumbling around da neighborhood taking his precious Justice for a stroll,” she snarled.
“So, you haven’t seen Whit or Justice?” I asked. A cold feeling crawled up my back. Whit never left the alarm off when he wasn’t home. All of us knew the code and just let ourselves in if he was expecting us. He only turned it off if he was home and let someone in.
“How many times I gotta tell you dat?” she snapped and puffed out a breath.
Claudette stood at the top of the stairs while I opened the massive office doors that were normally left pocketed into the wall on either side.
“Whit!” I gasped when I saw him face down on the floor in a pool of blood. His hands were tied behind his back. I didn’t need to touch him to know he was dead.
Copyright © 2019, Colleen Mooney all Editions eBook and Print Edition.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Edited by Margo Johnson.