Trouble in the Vieux Carré
The key to planting revenge magic in the Vieux Carré is that you have to get in and out before some stupid tourist drunk from Bourbon Street sees you sneaking around. Or worse, a local catches you. Breaking and Entering is only illegal in New Orleans when you’re exiting. Then it’s worth the paperwork, and the chase I’d give them, to try and arrest me. Breaking in usually isn’t an issue because the cops wait for me to leave, pockets full of surprises. Good thing there’s the French Market to palm off the things I steal in the same hour I’ve stolen them.
Tante Opallina Mortisse gave me a task this afternoon. A task and a strict time limit. I have to be in and out in no more than five minutes. She must believe in me. Or I’m being set up by my own damn family. The trip from our house to the Quarter’s going to take at least thirty. I’m in my room deciding between wearing all black or something a little more conspicuous.
“Lucien,” Tante Opal calls from the front room. “Dispoze twa pakètas, souple.”
Tante’s got customers out there, so she can’t come out and say she’s sending me on a hexing mission. Not even in Créole. You never know who’s listening these days. Plus, she never really says anything in English or Créole. Everything’s in how she says it. The way her eyes bore holes in my skull. The way she places a hand on her elbow, tapping it with her finger. She doesn’t want to say “Don’t get caught” because that’s implicit.
“Wi,” I shout back, trying to find my hoodie in the mess I call my room.
Why does she always treat me like I’m an idiot? Of course I understand. I peak into the front room to reply, “Pa gen pwoblem.”
She smiles and shoos me out the door with happy conversation, all the while her eyes are telling me a different story. She’s telling me to keep an eye on the time. The cops are terrified of her, but there’s a limit to how long I can do this without being thrown in jail. Tante’s gift is teasing out the future. She knows which beat cops will be around, and she knows where they’ll be and when. She’s done all the prep work and looked into the exact time I’ll be exiting the house in the Quarter. All is clear. I trust her because she’s only been wrong once in her 64 years.
Only thing Tante Opal ever got wrong was me. I was supposed to be a girl, born with her same gifts, and trained to take over the business in time. Problem is that I was born with a dick and absolutely nothing magical about me. (I could insert a magic dick joke here. I know a few.) Most people think it’s the loas’s way of fucking with her. If my birth hadn’t cost Mama her life, I’d think it was pretty hilarious of the spirit world too.
The point of Voudoun—aside from all that shit sold in shops—is community above all else. No man shall have something that can’t be shared. I told Tante Opal once that it sounded like Communism. Never knew the old lady had it in her when she punched me so hard in the mouth that a tooth came loose. Crazy woman used my tooth in one of her hex bags the next day.
Anyway, she sends me into the upper class homes to blackmail them into supporting those of us living on the fringes. They can afford it. I’m the unpaid muscle. (Sort of.) I mean, I’ve been working out and stuff. Eating like a gator, yet I’m stuck at 5’3” and 98lbs. It works for slipping in and out of open windows. I shouldn’t complain. But it’s never got me a girl’s phone number, a feel up, or even a kiss.
Head held high and hands sunk deep into my pockets, I walk to St. Charles for the streetcar. Quite a few of our past marks lived in the Garden District. A much quieter neighborhood with less possibility for detection. This mark lives in the heart of the Quarter. December brought a deep freeze, so there’s no way I’m walking all the way there. I got time enough to get there, even if Tante Opal gave me a shove out the door. Hissing under her breath that I was cutting it close. She don’t scare me (much). In my left hand, I’m rubbing the stone she gave me years ago. It’s not much to look at, but don’t let that fool you. The most powerful mambo in five hundred years—something even Marie Laveau couldn’t claim—gave it to me for protection.
The streetcar ride is creaky and slow. A bunch of my boys sit on Mama Alvo’s porch. When I wave to them they all give me the two-fingered ward. It used to be funnier when I didn’t actually think they were afraid of me. I give them the one-fingered salute. Everyone shouts a nervous, “We was just playin’ Luci.” They know I hate that nickname.
When I get to Canal, I avoid Bourbon at all costs. It reeks of want and unfulfilled desire. The sidewalks and streets are wet from an earlier rain, which will make it harder to hide my shoeprints in the mark’s house. I stop at St Louis’s Cathedral and enter the front doors (like a saint). Inside, I light a votive candle and pray that St Nicholas will protect my sorry ass. I promise to turn from my life of crime as soon as this job’s done if he does. That last part’s always a lie. (He’s stopped listening to me anyway.)
It’s almost 2PM when I reach the house on Chartes. Tante Opal promised that whoever lived here would be gone until 2:30PM. I’ve got five minutes or less to get and out. Three gris-gris bags, one to be placed on each of the three floors, sit heavy in my pockets. Once the bags are placed, they’ll allow Tante to spy on the owner using her “helpers”. (I call them demons. Not in front of her though.) I hesitate. I forgot to ask if they own a dog. There’s always a dog.
The lock on the side door’s laughably easy to open. I don’t know why I continue to bring my lock picks. A credit card would’ve worked just as well. But lock picks mean I’m legit. Pausing to listen for telltale doggy sounds, I wait in the alcove. Nothing. It’s more silent in here than the LC at midnight.
Placing the first bag is a breeze. I tuck it between two loose slats on the stairs. No way anyone’s gonna find that baby. The second bag is sheer genius, if I do say so myself. I open the cabinet under the sink and tie it behind and above the disposal. Unless you replace the whole mechanism, the bag’s going to be around for a very long time. On this floor I (accidentally) grab a gold watch, a silver ring, and three strands of purplish pearls. The remaining remains cool against my thigh. I know this means Tante hasn’t called her demons yet. A hot bag would mean my ass was in trouble.
I glance at the stolen watch. It reads 2:08. Three minutes longer than I should’ve been inside. I make my way to the second set of stairs that lead to the third floor. (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. My insides feel like they’re swapping places. Terror must be what keeps me alive.) The last bag needs a really good hiding place. If this one’s found, it breaks the connection for all of the bags. Under the bathroom sink up there would be too much like the second floor. (And I don’t like to be predictable.) Racking my brain for something, I hear a door below open. A strange sound like scrape, slide, thump follows. Then a footstep.
A litany of swear words spills from my mouth. I wedge myself into the cherry wood armoire. It’s suddenly hilarious that I’m short enough to fit in with the sweaters and dresses. I start laughing (because crying wouldn’t be manly). I clap my hand and the last gris-gris bag against my mouth. Graveyard dirt and sweat passes my lips. The dirt stops me laughing real quick. My heart’s beating so fast and hard that the wood paneling behind me vibrates the rhythm. (As if I need help being found out. This is isn’t some damn game of Hide-and-Seek.)
The strange noises echo along the first floor. I pray whoever it is will watch television or turn on the stereo speakers and give me some cover to slip out the window and down the ivy trellis. Sweat pours down my face and drips off my chin. It might be near freezing outside, but it’s an oven turned up to “bake this thief’s ass to dust” in here. Heavy sounds on the staircase freeze my hopes of escape without a confrontation. The person’s odd gait sweeps down the hallway and enters the room where I’m hiding. Never in my life have I been this close to being seen or pissing myself. (Today I might have to run for my life in wet jeans.)
Just as the sounds turn to leave the room, a text alert sets my phone ringing. It’s Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”. Forgot to switch it to vibrate before I broke in. The glow from my phone shows the time as 2:15, as I fumble to silence it. Then the door of the armoire swings open and the gris-gris bag against my mouth burns red-hot.
Stay tuned for extra content next week. Return in two weeks for Julie’s No Rules Friday.