~~ New Orleans, Louisiana – Sunday November 1st, 1959 ~~

“What a mess,” Detective Etienne Cheval muttered, surveying the gruesome tableau in front of him. In twelve years on the job, he’d never seen a crime scene like this.

“How many body bags you want, Detective?” asked the medical examiner.

“You tell me, Sam. Think this is all one person?”

“Looks like. I mean, as far as I can tell.”

Etienne chuckled with the graveyard humor only cops could appreciate. “We sure this is human?”

Sam snorted and nodded his head at the nearby workbench. “Yeah, we know that much.”

Etienne looked around the scene and tried not to think about the smell as his stomach roiled. “Well, get started as soon as Tony’s done.”

As if the mention of his name had summoned him, Tony Weaver, the department’s lead crime scene technician, took a photo, briefly lighting the warehouse as his flash bulb gave off its distinctive POP-CLINK, followed by a tiny puff of smoke. He rose from where he had been crouched to get a good angle of a particular body part. “Gonna be a bit, Detective,” Tony said, as he used his handkerchief to remove the now useless flash bulb from the camera and drop it in his bag. “I need more film and bulbs.”

“Okay, let us know when you’re finished.”

“You got it,” Tony replied, and headed out to his truck to reload his camera.

“Detective Cheval!”

Etienne turned to see the captain of the Eighth Precinct standing in the door to the old waterfront warehouse, the muddy Mississippi River flowing past him in the background.

“One second, Captain,” he replied, then turned back to the M.E. “Just… bag everything however you think’s best.”

“Another one?” Captain Landry said, quietly, as Etienne walked over to him.

“No…” Cheval breathed. “This one is nothing like the others.”

“Is she colored?” his Captain asked.

“No, the vic’s white. Also, it’s a male.”

“Really?” Landry looked around at the carnage. “How can you tell?”

“We found his, ah, equipment displayed over there.” He pointed to the nearby workbench where there was a recognizable lump of meat neatly laid out in the center of the tabletop.

“Jesus,” Landry breathed, his face turning a few shade paler. “Well, thanks for taking charge of the scene. You were the first detective to respond.”

“No problem Cap, I–”

Detective!” one of the beat cops helping to search the warehouse yelled from the far side of the building.

“What is it?” Etienne called back.

“I think I got an ID over here.”

“Well, let’s go see who this unlucky bastard was,” Landry said. He and Etienne headed deeper into the gloom of the warehouse, stepping cautiously to avoid disturbing any possible evidence.

They found a uniformed officer near the far wall, squatting next to a pile of metal scraps.

“Whatcha got?” Etienne asked, as he crouched down next to the young man.

The officer wordlessly shone his flashlight on a black leather wallet lying in a spatter of blood, then reached out with a pen to lift the fold of the wallet to reveal the contents.

“Motherfucker!” Landry exclaimed.

Etienne stood, turning away from his captain and the young officer to hide the grim, satisfied smile that came over his face.

~~ Three Weeks Earlier, Sunday October 11th ~~

“This makes three in the last month, doesn’t it?” Etienne said. He was standing in a gloomy alley in the French Quarter, a few blocks off of Bourbon Street, looking down at the body of a young black woman. Her head was bent at an obviously unnatural angle.

“She one of yours?” Detective Sam Ronaldo asked. He’d called Etienne in an attempt to identify the body.

“Yeah. Sally, I think her name is. Was. She’s been busted once that I know of.”

“Well, that’ll make my job easier,” Ronaldo said.

“What do you mean?”

“Ain’t no one from City Hall going to be asking me for updates because a whore got herself killed.”

“Jesus Christ, Sam, she was murdered. She might have a family, she–”

“Cheval, take it easy,” Ronaldo said. “You know I have the highest case clearance in homicide. I’ll do my job. I’m just saying, the brass ain’t gonna be breathing down my neck. Especially seeing as she’s a colored girl.”

“That’s not–”

“I called you to help me ID the vic, not to run my case, Etienne. You’re Vice, not Homicide.”

Etienne gave Ronaldo a hard look, which was returned for a moment. Then Ronaldo’s face softened and he slapped Etienne on the shoulder. “Cheval, you’re a good detective. You’ll get promoted outta Vice soon enough.”

Etienne glared at him. “Who says I want out of Vice?” They held each other’s eyes for a moment, then Etienne gave Ronaldo a rueful grin, who laughed at him. Vice was the first posting any new detective got, and there wasn’t a Vice detective who didn’t want to get promoted out quickly.

“Anyway, thanks for coming out so early on a Sunday. Hope you weren’t out too late last night.

Etienne stifled a yawn. “I was at Tujague’s listening to that horn player they hired last month. The boy can play.”

“I’ll have to check him out.” Ronaldo looked up as the medical examiner pulled up in his meat wagon at the entrance to the alley. “Well, I got to get to it. Tell Flo to save me some grits.”

“Good luck with the case,” Etienne said, before heading out onto the street. He glanced up at the sun coming up over the city skyline, then headed south.

Fifteen minutes later he eased onto a stool at The Clover Diner, the favorite twenty-four-hour greasy spoon of the men of the Eighth Precinct, located on the border between the French Quarter and the Port of New Orleans. He took off his fedora and set it on the counter next to him.

“Hey, Etienne,” said Flo, the waitress behind the counter, as she poured him his usual cup of coffee with chicory. “Early morning or long night?” She was an indeterminate age, somewhere between a hard-ridden thirty, a half-decade younger than himself, and a well-preserved forty-five. Her reddish hair was up in a beehive and she wore the same grey and white waitress uniform that, as far as Etienne could testify to, was the only item of clothing she owned.

Etienne looked down at himself, then pinched the lapels of his tan-colored suit and held them out as if for inspection. “Do I look like I’ve been up all night?”

“Honey, you’re cute, but your style is best described as ‘rumpled’.”

“There’s honest, then there’s cruel, Flo,” he said, with a laugh.

She smiled. “You need to find you a wife to iron for you, honey. I’d volunteer but you’re too high society for me.”

“Shoot, I doubt I’d be able to keep up with a high-class lady such as yo’self,” he said, as he pulled a pack of Camels and his Zippo from his jacket pocket.

Flo didn’t blush. Etienne had been a regular since his days as a beat cop. Their banter was old hat by now. She turned and yelled through the service window to the kitchen, “Two over, hash, B-and-R!

B-and-R, two over with hash, got it,” yelled back Red, the owner, in his usual grouchy tone.

“What if I wanted something different today?” Etienne said with a grin.

“Honey, you’ve had the same breakfast every day for five years. You ever order something else and I’ll drop dead from shock.” Flo went down the counter, refilling coffee and taking a few orders from the regulars as they trickled in for breakfast.

A few minutes later she sat a plate with two eggs and a pile of hash browns alongside a large bowl of red beans and rice in front of him. He stubbed out his second cigarette in the ashtray on the counter, half-smoked, and started liberally dosing his beans and rice with hot sauce.

“So,” Flo said in a hushed voice, leaning over the counter towards him, “I hear there was another one last night.”

Etienne stirred his bowl as he looked around to see if any of the other customers at the counter might be listening. He pitched his voice low. “As usual, you have better sources than half the department. I got called out less than an hour ago on it to make the ID.”

She looked over her shoulder at the kitchen, then whispered, “You know I let some of the gals come in and eat overnight as long as there’s no white folk around.” Flo had worked midnight to ten A.M. at The Clover for as long as he could remember. “Long as they get out before Red gets in at six, it’s not a problem. But I hear things.

“The girls shouldn’t be on the streets in the middle of the night,” he snapped.

“Settle down, honey. You know some girls gotta make a living any way they can.”

“I get that.” He shook himself, then said in a quieter voice, “Just right now…”

“People still gotta eat, even when there’s a monster around,” Flo said. She paused a moment, steeling herself, then asked, “Who was it?”

“I didn’t know her that well. I think she was fairly new. Short little thing with a bob-cut, real dark skin? Think her name was Sally.”

Flo closed her eyes in a silent moment of grief.

“You knew her,” he said.

“She moved here from Opelousas a few months ago. Running from her dad. He was… not a nice man.”

“I’m sorry, Flo. Do you know who she ran with?”

“Alice and Lolly brought her around. They’ve been showing her the ropes. Another new girl too.”

Etienne pulled a tiny spiral notebook out of his jacket and made a note. “New girl got a name?”

“Haven’t caught it yet, but she’s Creole, a light skinned one. Cajun accent too, the real deal.”


Flo gave him a hard look. “I’m only telling you this because I know you ain’t like the rest of ’em, Etienne. I know you want to do fair by these girls, not hassle ’em for a bribe or a freebie. And you’re as likely to bust the johns as the girls.”

He held up his hands placatingly. “I’m wanting to help on this one. Spread the word, I’m not looking to roust anyone right now. I just want this guy caught before he does it again.”

“Alright. I’ll ask around if anyone’s heard or seen anything out of the usual. Now eat your beans ‘n’ ‘rice ‘fore they get cold. If I have to ask Red for another bowl he’ll skin my hide.”

After a long day doing the usual police things that took up his time and getting nowhere while doing them, Etienne found himself strolling down Bourbon Street that evening. His practiced eye soon spotted what he was looking for, and he found a piece of wall to lean against near the corner of an alley leading off the main drag. He lit up a cigarette to pass the time.

Five minutes later, a man emerged from the alley next to him, wrestling with his belt. Etienne eyed him as he finished buckling his pants. The man glared back. “You got a problem, pal?” he growled.

Etienne held open the lapel of his suit coat, showing off the gold detective badge he kept clipped there. “You might if you don’t beat it.”

As the man hurried off, Etienne turned to greet the young woman emerging from the alley, her lipstick smudged at one corner of her mouth.

“Evening, Lolly,” he greeted her.

“Sir,” she said in a resigned voice. She was a petite, young black girl, maybe twenty or twenty-one, in a cocktail dress that was a little too thin for the chilly October evening and a little too revealing for a single woman on the street. The plain, wool wrap she had over her shoulders looked to be keeping her from shivering, however. Her face was far too pretty, her skin too flawless for her to be in her current line of work, in Etienne’s personal opinion. He found himself wondering, not for the first time, what had led her into this life.

“I’m not lookin’ to run anyone tonight. I just want to talk.”

Lolly relaxed a little at that. She glanced around the street. “What can ah do fo’ you, sir?”

“I imagine you heard about Sally.”

The young woman looked down for a moment. When she looked back up her eyes were glistening, but her face was otherwise impassive. “Yes, sir.”

“I heard she was under your wing. Was she with you at all last night?”

“We was together early in the evening, but I got a customer who wanted the full ride. Willing to get a hotel room even. I didn’t get back out until well after midnight and she was off her corner by then.”

“Was anyone else with you? Anyone who might have seen her later on?”

“Alice, or Nanette. Maybe Josephine. Not sure.”

“Josephine, is she new? I heard there’s a Creole girl running with your crowd now.”

“That’s her. She showed up in town about a week ago. Newer than Sally was, even.”

“You seen Alice, Nanette or Josephine tonight?”

“Alice has a cold, pretty sure she’s home in bed. Nanette’s one block over that way. Josephine… I think she might be down towards the East end. She was talking about trolling outside Commander’s Palace, lookin’ for a high-roller. I warned her security don’t take nice to us trying to work there.”


She gave him a look and her southern drawl deepened. “Detective, you’s vice. You know well as I, hookers is plenty welcome around The Commander, long as they white.”

Etienne nodded. “You know Josephine’s last name? Where she’s from?”

“No last name. Where she’s from, I’d hafta guess straight outta the bayou.”

“Okay, thanks Lolly. Do me a favor, try and stay home for a few days.”

She gave a bitter laugh. “Easy enough for you to say, Detective.”

He pulled out his wallet and handed her a twenty. “Just…be safe. Please. At least try to stay where you and the others can keep eyes on each other.”

She looked at the bill in her hand, her eyes wide. “We do what we can, sir, but it’s a solitary job, ya know?”

“I know. Try and be careful.” He turned to go. She caught the sleeve of his coat.

“You know, detective, it’s still early.” She held up the bill, stepped forward and caressed the lapel of his jacket with her other hand. “This would buy you the whole evening if you wanted to spring for a room.”

He gently disengaged her hand. “You’re mighty kind to offer, Lolly. I’m not one of those cops, though.”

“I know that, sir.” She smiled at him, making very cautious-yet-brief eye contact. “Only reason I’d ever offer.”

~~ Four Days Later, Thursday October 15th ~~

Etienne sat at his desk, leafing through a stack of daily patrol reports from the French Quarter. Nothing stood out. He tossed the latest report onto the rather large stack he’d built up and blew out a frustrated breath.

“Any word from that heroin bust down on the docks this weekend?”

He looked up to see Captain Landry standing next to his desk. “Nothing yet. The mope we hooked up for it hasn’t given up his source, which is unusual. I’ll be surprised if he wants to go down for the full weight himself and there’s no way he imported a brick like that alone. Give him another day or two on ice and I bet he changes his tune.”

Landry eyed the pile of reports. “What’s all this?”

“Patrol reports from the Quarter.”

“Uh huh.” Landry picked up one and thumbed through the pages. “You’re not working a murder, are you detective? Ronaldo told me he thinks you’re stepping on his toes.”

“Jesus Christ, I’m not… Captain, there’s four girls that have been murdered now after the night before last!”

“Etienne, I appreciate your concern, but you’re not homicide. I need you focused on vice.” He counted off on his fingers. “Drugs, gambling and prostitution.”

“I’m focused on it, Cap. And right now, these women, who are living and working in my area of responsibility, are not safe. They’re being killed.”

Landry sat on the corner of the desk and lowered his voice. “I get it, but Ronaldo’s connected. I don’t need two of my detectives gunning for each other, and if you get in a pissing match, I’m not going to be able to help you. If push comes to shove the Chief’s office is going to come down on his side. You know well as I do his daddy works at City Hall. Step lightly.”

“It’s not like I’m busting the M.E.’s chops or hassling any of his witnesses or asking to see the case files. I’m just chatting up my sources, looking for any kind of pattern or a lead. If I get anything solid, I’ll turn it over to Ronaldo.”

“Okay,” Landry rose and slapped Etienne’s shoulder. “You’re a good cop, Etienne.”

He watched his commanding officer walk out of the detective bay, then turned to look across the room towards the Homicide bullpen. Ronaldo was at his desk, leafing through the Times-Picayune. Etienne rolled his eyes, picked up his hat, and headed out on the streets.

Hours of walking around the Quarter that evening, chatting up his sources and various women, left Etienne tired and grumpy. Not to mention thirsty.

The one thing he had learned is the white women working the street seemed largely unconcerned. “He ain’t huntin’ us, he huntin’ them colored girls,” Ruby, a streetwalker he’d arrested more times than he could count, had straight-up told him.

He found himself walking over to Decatur Street, to Tujague’s. It was busy, but only for a Tuesday, which meant he still had his pick of several seats at the bar. There was a jazz trio he hadn’t seen before playing in the corner of the room. Setting his hat down on the counter, he slid onto the stool, ordered a whiskey from the bartender, then pulled a cigarette out of his jacket pocket and stuck it in his mouth. He was fumbling for his lighter when a slim, feminine hand held an elegant silver lady’s Zippo up towards his mouth, the flame already reaching for his cigarette. Startled, he turned to find a young woman standing next to him at the bar.

She was slim and willowy, of mixed race, what they called mulatto here in the South. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, with light brown skin and hair the color of mahogany, framing a heart-shaped face and soulful, dark brown eyes. Unlike the current style popular with almost every black woman in the city, her hair wasn’t straightened. It was in its natural state, curly, the clips on either side of her head struggling to hold it back as it cascaded down her back. Her emerald satin dress was perfectly suited to a jazz singer.

“‘Allow me, Cher,” she said, with a smile.

“Thanks,” he said, and leaned forward to light his smoke from her lighter. He looked around the bar to take in the expected hostile stares of the white patrons at the appearance of this beautiful-but-not-the-right-race young woman. Tujague’s, along with almost every other bar in The Quarter, catered to whites only. The only blacks allowed in a nightclub or bar were entertainers, who were expected to use the back door.