“Brandy, get over here now. There’s a dead guy in one of my guest rooms.” Julia Richard dropped that bomb on me when she called at 5:55 a.m., and then simply hung up.
I arrived at The Canal Street Guest House at 6:20 a.m. on the humid April morning, let myself in downstairs through the kitchen at the rear of the building—I knew the four-digit code on the back door designed for guests to let themselves in after 11 p.m. when Julia locked the front doors—and headed upstairs.
I found Julia standing over a dead man in one of her guest rooms. She looked like she just stepped out of the shower, and was dressed for the day. One might think this her normal appearance, except for her blood-covered hands. The dead guy was nude, facedown, lying diagonally across an antique four-poster bed. One leg of the bed was broken, causing the bed and body to tilt headfirst at a forty-five degree angle. He had a gash in the back of his skull. Blood was everywhere, all over the sheets and the Oriental rug on the floor. Handprints and fingerprints of blood were on the phone, the bedposts and the dead guy. Looking around the room, I couldn’t help but wonder why I would be the first person thought of after witnessing this tableau.
My name is Brandy Alexander and I have lived in New Orleans all my life. My Dad and his rogue brother, Uncle Andrew, thought of my name while in a bar waiting for me to arrive at Baptist Hospital. The more they drank, the more they convinced themselves that a great New Orleans name for a girl with the last name Alexander would be Brandy. So, just like that, my Dad inked it on the birth certificate before my mother had a say, and she has never missed an opportunity to remind me that I have a stripper’s name ever since, like I had something to do with it. My burden in life is a southern, Catholic mother who believes that I am somehow responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world.
“I can’t believe this is happening on the first day I’m open,” Julia whined when I walked in.
“I can’t believe it’s happening at all. Have you called the police or just me?” My stomach was knotting up as I mentally indexed things I touched in the mansion during recent visits here to help Julia.
“No, Brandy, do not call the police,” she said without taking her eyes off the dead guy.
“Who do you want to call? It’s a dead body. What do you think you can do with it? Sneak it over the fence into the cemetery next door? You have to call the police.” I froze in mid-reach for the phone in the room when I again saw that it was covered in bloody fingerprints. “Is this the phone you used to call me?”
“Yes,” she stood in front of it blocking me from picking it up.
“You didn’t kill him, did you?” I started to rub my temples with my index fingers hoping to jumpstart my thinking power.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so? What do you mean?”
“I don’t remember much of last night after we got into this room. He opened a bottle of wine he had brought with him and poured us each a glass. I remember I started feeling frisky, then it’s all a blur.”
“Julia, how much of the wine did you drink? Maybe he slipped you something. Where are the glasses and the bottle?”
“Well, the bottle and the glasses were over there on that tray table or maybe on the dresser, I think. I don’t remember how much of it I drank.”
“Where are they now? Did you bring them downstairs?” I asked, looking around. The bottle and the glasses were not in the room.
“No. I don’t remember moving them.” Julia’s eyes never left the dead guy.
“Where is the wine bottle?” I asked her again.
“I don’t know. I really didn’t want any more to drink but he insisted saying it was a fantastic bottle a friend had given him. I don’t remember much after a few sips of that wine. Oh, God, this is going to ruin my business.” Julia looked deflated. Her normal perfect posture was transformed as her head and shoulders slumped forward like an old woman.
“If you don’t call the police, this is going to ruin your life, along with mine. I’m not going to be an accessory to murder. Don’t touch anything else. I’m guessing these are all your fingerprints in his blood or did you find some here and decided to add yours to the collection?” I asked, still looking around the room. It was as if the room had been ransacked; bedding pulled off at the corners, pillows everywhere, and a suitcase sitting on the luggage rack, its contents spilling onto the floor. Clothes were strewn from one end of the room to the other, a man’s clothes-shirt, pants, underwear, shoes-along with a pair of woman’s black stockings and a black lace garter belt. A worn hard shell guitar case was covered in band decals for a group that played throughout the south called The Levee Men and one “See Rock City” decal. It was unopened on the floor and sat next to the suitcase.
The floor-to-ceiling windows were all the way open and the lace curtains billowed out to the veranda. The windows opened high enough so that I could have ducked my head and walked out onto the balcony. Someone shorter than my 5’8” height could walk in and out like a doorway. I could see the sheer curtains waving around the bistro table and two chairs set up out there. An enormous oak tree covered the entire front of the house and most of the porch, making it feel like you were sitting in a tree house.
“The ones in the blood are mine.” Julia’s words brought my attention back inside. Her eyes were fixed on the body as she spoke to me, “My fingerprints are going to be all over this room. I did the cleaning before this guy checked in.”
“How is it you have blood all over your hands? Is it yours or his?” I asked cautiously.
“I thought he was still alive when I found him. I shook him to try to wake him.”
“You moved the body?” The police were going to love this fact.
“Yes, but I put him back exactly like I found him.”
“Oh boy, with his blood on you, this looks like you did it,” I let slip before I realized the effect it would have on her. She went pale and looked at her hands covered in blood as if she just noticed it. “Did you hear or see anything?”
“Uh, uh.” Julia struggled with an answer.
“It looks like he put up a fight from the condition this room is in. Did you fight this guy off? That bed is going to need serious restoration.” I said, looking at the forty-five degree lean of the antique bedframe. My eyes scanned the room again and stopped on the black lace thong hanging from the chandelier. “Yours?”
“Yes, I guess they are,” Julia answered and went pale.
“You guess they are? Was there a third person in your party?” I crossed my arms and shifted into a more comfortable stance. “Go on.”
“We, uh, were having a good time, uh, and then, uh, the last thing I sort of remember was the bed broke. We just continued with the uh, sex, uh, until, uh,” she trailed off, completely out of “uhs.” Her voice quivered, then her body buckled at the knees causing her shoulders, neck and head to roll. She looked like she was doing a full body impression of the wave that goes around a stadium at a football game. I caught her by the arm to steady her.
I wasn’t going to get any information from her if she kept staring at the guy. I ushered her out of the room.
“I’m guessing the blood rushing to his head is not what killed him.”
“Maybe I did kill him and I just don’t remember. I can’t remember much of anything after we got in bed. I mean, I remember getting frisky, then the bed broke but everything sort of goes black from there. I know we were getting friendly, but I’m not sure we actually did it.”
“Don’t ever say that again, the part where you think you might have killed him, not the part where you’re not sure you did it. Well, don’t say that either. If you killed him, and I don’t think you did, I know you would remember. Do you think you were drugged?
“I don’t know,” she whispered as if she couldn’t find the energy to talk.
“We had better go to the kitchen and call the police. Then I want you to tell me everything you remember from the moment this guy checked in. The police are going to ask you, so it would be good for you to start remembering. I’ll stay with you and help you anyway I can.” This was a cluster if I ever saw one.
Julia had opened a hospitality business in New Orleans. She knew nothing about guest houses or how to manage a hotel and of all places to buy, she chose a former funeral home and crematory on Canal Street. Canal Street, the city’s widest boulevard, runs across the entire city of New Orleans, from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. The streetcar line makes a stop steps away from Julia’s front door. This Victorian, was built in the late 1800s as a private residence, rivaled many of the city’s grand mansions, and later was turned into a funeral home since it was located at the edge of the city limits where people came to bury their loved ones. Now, it is surrounded by cemeteries on two sides, around the corner and across the street. It has a columned portico for its entrance and a Porte cochere. The Porte cochere was formerly the side entrance used to allow horse drawn carriages arriving with passengers. When the building had served as a funeral home this entrance was used to accommodate the coroner’s van dropping off or hearses picking up the dearly, or not so dearly, departed on their very short ride to their final resting place, next door. Julia’s guest house now used this side entrance to shelter guests from rain as they arrived or departed in limousines or taxis.
Julia had been trying to divorce her husband S.J., but they were at a standoff on who was going to pay for the legal fees. This ended when he suddenly died leaving Julia a widow rather than a divorcee. After his death, she’d found suitcases of money he had hidden at a storage facility, presumably trying to keep it out of the divorce settlement. Now it was legally hers. Today, thanks to that money, she was opening the doors at the renovated guest house and this guy had the audacity to die in one of her rooms.
We went downstairs to the kitchen at the rear of the building where I had earlier let myself in. Julia went to the sink and washed the blood off her hands.
The kitchen was a large room and all the appliances were top of the line. Everything was commercial size, a Subzero refrigerator and freezer, a Viking stove, two sets of triple sinks along miles of countertops with enough Carrera marble to rebuild Italy. Julia had done a brilliant job renovating the abandoned mansion, adding modern conveniences along with beautiful, comfortable antiques. The woman had great taste and after finding the cash S.J. had been holding out on her, she had enough money to buy the best. I told Julia to thank God every day her divorce was never finalized.
“The longer we wait to call the police the worse this will get.” I went to the phone on the wall and dialed 9-1-1. I told them the name of the guest house, the address and that there was a dead guy here in one of the guest rooms.
The dispatcher asked if there was anyone hurt or in need of an ambulance.
“Does dead count as hurt?” I asked.
After she paused long enough to convey annoyance or indifference—I mean we are talking about a New Orleans city worker—she said, “That’s a no for an ambulance, then. Don’t let anyone leave. A police car will be there…shortly.” I realized she hung up when I heard the dial tone.
“Start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out, but make it quick, the police will be here shortly.” I did the finger quotes around shortly but Julia wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate sarcasm. “Is anyone else in the building? Other guests, housekeepers, workers?”
“No, no, just him. He told me he came here to play at the Jazz Festival this weekend. He arrived a day early to see some of his favorite New Orleans places before the rest of his band gets in town. Oh God, some of the band members coming in from out of town are suppose to check in later today. What am I going to tell them?”
“Let’s worry about what you are going to tell the police. So, how did you end up in his room?”
“After he checked in, he asked me to call him a cab to go to the French Quarter. Oh God!” Julia started wringing her hands.
“I took him to the Napoleon House where my friend Andy is a bartender. He was working last night and will remember us having drinks till about midnight.”
“Sit down. Take a breath and just tell me everything you know or remember from the beginning. Start with his name.”
Julia sat staring at the wall across from her seat at the kitchen island. I went about finding coffee and putting on a pot. After I prodded Julia a few times to stay calm, collect her thoughts and start at the beginning, she finally looked at me.
When the automatic coffee maker made the swooshing hiss with the three beeps alerting caffeine-addicted individuals, such as myself, that it was ready I poured us each a cup. I found a bottle of Jameson’s in the cabinet hidden behind a pound of Café du Monde coffee and chicory, powdered creamer, and a box of sugar free packets—Julia’s private stash. I added a generous splash of the whiskey to her coffee to help take the edge off her nerves. I was tempted to give myself a splash but it was still a little early and it was a work day for me, even though it didn’t look like I’d be getting much done today.
“His name is Guitarzan.”
“This is no time for jokes.”
“No, he said his friends in the band called him Guitarzan.”
“Is he in the jungle band with Jane and the Monkey?” I asked, trying to make her laugh and lighten the situation at hand. Julia ignored me.
“I have been working non-stop on this place getting it ready to open and I needed a break. After he checked in, he came back downstairs and asked me to call him a cab. He wanted to go to the French Quarter. Then he asked if I’d like to go with him and have a drink, so I said yes.” Julia’s voice was getting shaky again.
“What’s his real name, Julia?” I asked, starting at square one.
“Oh, yeah, his real name is Gervais St. Germain.”
“Guitarzan” was making sense now. “Where did y’all go?”
“I called a cab and we took it to the Napoleon House, like I said. After our drinks, we walked around Jackson Square and I called another cab to bring us back here. I’m guessing we got back here around 1:00 to 1:30 a.m.”
“So, there are two cab drivers out there who saw you with him last night,” I said.
She burst into tears. Through tears and sniffles, she rendered the rest of the evening for me. They’d returned and had a nightcap in the salon. Julia went to his room, to make sure he had enough towels. Who was she kidding? Anyway, one thing led to another and after a night of whoopee she woke up with a killer headache.
“I realized the bed was broken and figured we’d had a real fun night of it. I felt so bad when I woke up, way worse than I should have felt for only having a couple of drinks. I slipped out the bed so I wouldn’t wake him and left his room. I went to shower to help wake myself up. I was in the shower a while and still felt like I couldn’t wake up. After my shower I went downstairs to make him breakfast and prep food for the other guests arriving later that day. When I brought the tray up to his room…I found him…like that. I didn’t know, I didn’t see him like that when I sneaked out of his room earlier. It was still dark.”
She told me she’d dropped the tray of food when she saw all the blood. It was still there, all over the floor, just inside the door.
“That must have been a wild night if you two broke the bed,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess so, even though I don’t remember much after we got into this room,” Julia said.
“So, what did y’all talk about last night? Did he have friends here or was he supposed to meet someone else here, since he came in a day early?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she blubbered.
“Anything else? Can you remember anything else about him?”
“He wore a purple stone, I think was an amethyst, on a black leather cord like a necklace. I didn’t see it on him when I found him this morning and I know he had it on last night when we went out. He said he never took it off.”
“Did he get any messages? Check and see if anyone called looking for him.”
We went into the hallway where the answering machine sat on a leggy, gold leafed antique reception desk. It was blinking and indicated there were new messages. We hit play and the first one was a woman’s voice saying she knew Gervais St. Germain was checking in. She didn’t leave a name but left her number and said, “tell him to call me.” The second caller was a hang up and left no message, but the caller did breathe heavily into the phone for a few seconds.
“That’s the same weirdo who has called here several times and always just hangs up. It’s always from a blocked number,” Julia said after she replayed the messages and wrote down the phone number from the first on a scrap of paper on the desk.
I looked at my watch.
“Where are the police?” she asked. Almost thirty minutes had passed since I phoned.
“You should offer coffee and donuts for all cops in this precinct as part of your marketing. Then, they will keep an eye on the place,” I said. “Or they might show up faster if you call in for help.”
“Now you tell me.”
I love King Cakes and I don’t need to be stressed to eat a whole one by myself, although I would have used that as an excuse this morning. My stomach was doing flips while we waited and I tried to get more information out of Julia. I didn’t relish seeing whoever showed up from the New Orleans Police Department. I was bound to know him or her since my ex boyfriend was a cop. I couldn’t stop craving king cake.
King Cakes are braided cinnamon rolls shaped into an oval covered in purple, green and gold sugared icing—the colors of Mardi Gras. Someone kicks off the season which starts with the Catholic holy day, The Feast of the Epiphany, giving a party with a King Cake. Everyone at the party gets a piece. There is a plastic doll hidden inside and the person who gets the piece with the doll has the obligation to give the next party the following week. The person who gets that hidden doll gives the next party and so on until Fat Tuesday, the day Mardi Gras is over. These cakes can only be found in New Orleans bakeries during the weeks of Mardi Gras season, or until Ash Wednesday, the day Lent starts. They are the energy food that fuels parade goers. The sugar alone gives you enough energy to maintain the grueling pace needed for weeks dedicated to parading, partying and drinking. It is my official food of Carnival. I could have used a piece right now to help me cope with this mess with Julia. Available everywhere during Mardi Gras, one or two bakeries ship them year round, so I can special order one any time my stress-o-meter screams for some of that sugary saboteur to my normally healthy diet. I was thinking about calling to order one.
Two cups of coffee later, another splash of Jameson for Julia, and my craving for King Cake totally unsatisfied, we still waited. It had been over an hour since I called the police.
While we waited, Julia and I discussed more of what had happened and how much she didn’t know about the man who was now dead in her guest room. I told her that when the police arrived she should tell the truth, as much as she could remember, and if she didn’t know something, say she didn’t know it. If, for any reason, they decided to take her in for questioning, I told her to tell them she wanted a lawyer and not to say another thing. I knew her calling me before she called the police was going to be a problem, but I didn’t think it would be a big problem until an unmarked police car, in typical fashion—long after the immediate crises was over—screamed up to the front of the building, lights flashing and brakes screeching as it slammed to a stop. A Ford Crown Vic, the police department’s unmarked car of choice arrived, flashed the blue dashboard light and pinched off a single bloop on the siren by way of announcing themselves. The tinted windows didn’t allow me to see who was inside. No one got out immediately in spite of their arrival at breakneck speed. When the driver and passenger doors finally opened, a male and female officer got out of the car. I knew this was not going to go well. Julia’s chances would have been fine had the first cop on the scene not been my childhood sweetheart and ex-boyfriend, Dante Deedler.
Dante and his new partner.
During the initial aftermath of our breakup, I thought—or was led to believe—that Dante was gay, and that was why our relationship was going nowhere. Local gossip from the old neighborhood where we grew up next door to each other was happy to update me on this recent development…the new partner was also his new girlfriend.
Copyright © 2015 by Colleen Mooney
ISBN Paperback 978 0 99055 27 2 7
ISBN E Book 978 0 990 5527 3 4
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This is a work of fiction. The people, places, and events in Dead & Breakfast are entirely fictional. This story is not intended by the author as a reflection of historical or current fact, nor is the story intended as an accurate representation of past or current events. Any resemblance between the characters in this novel and any or all persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.