|One Blood by Qwantu Amaru|
New Orleans, LA
During the day, New Orleans’ most famous neighborhood was a tribute to architectural and cultural homogeneity. At night, the French Quarter’s multicultural legacy blurred into an unrecognizable labyrinth; especially in the eyes of the drunk and desperate.
At the moment, Joseph Lafitte was both.
Joseph careened down the dark alley and absentmindedly brushed at the dried blood beneath his nose with his free hand. His tailor-made shirt and pants were drenched with sweat and felt sizes smaller. He was overcome with the sensation that he was running in place, even though he was moving forward at a brisk pace. Until he tripped over a carton some careless individual had placed in his path.
Upon impact with the concrete his cheek flayed open, but he barely felt the sting as his priceless nickel and gold plated antique Colt Navy Revolver clattered away into the darkness, out of reach. Even now, breathing as harshly as he was, he could hear someone behind him. Somehow they managed to stay just out of the range of his sight, but within earshot.
It was the ideal moment for them to pounce, but Joseph would not give in so easily. He pushed himself to his feet, sweeping the ground for his weapon. He located it near a dilapidated doorway. Clutching it once again, he felt his self-control returning.
Then his dead wife called his name.
“Joseph? Joseph, where are you?”
That was all the motivation he needed. He broke into a full gallop but couldn’t outrun what he’d seen back at the hotel, or what he’d just heard.
They are toying with me. Trying to make me doubt my own mind.
This was New Orleans after all. A place with a well-documented history of trickery and alchemic manipulation. He must have drank or eaten something laced with some devilish hallucinogen. For all he knew, his own son—Randy—had given it to him.
Randy still blamed Joseph for the car wreck that took his mother’s life. Joseph had noted the murderous hue in Randy’s eyes after Rita’s funeral, and even though Joseph explained that it was an accident, he knew Randy would never forgive him.
Was this Randy trying to get some sort of revenge?
It didn’t matter. Randy was weak—always had been and always would be. As an only child, he grew up to be softer than cotton—Rita’s doing by babying and spoiling the boy.
Have I underestimated my son?
This thought, along with his first glimpse of light in quite some time, simultaneously assaulted him.
Where am I? And why haven’t they caught up to me yet?
Maybe they want me to go this way.
Joseph glanced down at the revolver that had once been carried by the great Robert E. Lee. He’d show them who had the upper hand; if Randy was behind this, he would soon be joining his mother.
Rather than heading toward the light, Joseph turned left down another dark alleyway. The façade of the building was damp to the touch. Other than his troubled footfalls, there was no sound. Who knew a city nearly bursting at the seams with music could be this eerily silent?
Joseph used the quiet to collect his thoughts.
He’d spent that afternoon as he spent most Saturdays, sipping bourbon and talking shop with other New Orleans power brokers inside the private room in Commander’s Palace. He knew something was wrong as soon as Randy appeared at the doorway, motioning to him.
“We have to leave New Orleans right now, Father,” Randy said in a hushed tone as Joseph entered the hallway.
“What are you talking about, Boy, and why are you whispering?” Joseph replied, a little louder than he needed to.
Randy jerked Joseph’s arm in the direction of the exit, his eyes pleading. “Something bad is going to happen if we don’t leave here right away.”
“No, Son,” Joseph said. “Something bad is going to happen if you don’t remove yourself from my sight this instant!”
And that had been the end of it. Randy left, looking back only once, as if to say, Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.
Joseph returned to his drinks and colleagues. Afterward, he went downtown for a little afternoon rendezvous with a beautiful Creole whore. She came as a recommendation from his regular mistress, Claudette, who was on her cycle, and the girl certainly fit the bill.
He made it back to the hotel just as the sun set and settled down for a drink or three after taking a steaming hot shower. In the comfort of his armchair, in the privacy of his suite, his thoughts returned to Randy. It was Randy’s eighteenth birthday and the boy had been acting oddly ever since he’d arrived in New Orleans two days earlier. In truth, he’d been acting strangely much longer than that.
Joseph would never forget the revulsion he’d experienced when the maid in their Lake City mansion had shown him the pile of bloody rags at the bottom of Randy’s hamper. That disgust tripled once he found out the source of the blood. One night, Joseph waited until Randy exited the bath. The raw pink and black slashes across Randy’s forearms, thighs, chest, and abdomen were all the evidence he needed. Apparently Randy had taken to cutting himself in the wake of his mother’s death.
Randy was barely a teenager and there was only one thing Joseph could think to do to keep from locking the boy up in a sanitarium. He sent him away to a French boarding school and commissioned some distant relatives to keep an eye on him until he graduated. If he survived that long.
This weekend was supposed to be a celebration of sorts. Randy had returned from France a distinguished young man, and Joseph was ready to bury the hatchet.
But what if Randy doesn’t want it buried? What if he wants my entombment and has been patiently waiting all these years to get his revenge?
Joseph grabbed hold of a lamppost to steady himself. A statue of a man on a horse loomed over him. His feet had brought him to Jackson Square.
Surely, nothing bad can get me here, right?
He’d believed the same to be true of his hotel room and that had definitely proven to be false.
Joseph had been cleaning his prized revolver before sleep overtook him. The sound of the door opening brought him back to consciousness. Even though all the lights were still on, his bleary eyes could barely make out the two figures—a young black male and white female—standing in his doorway.
Joseph sat up in his seat. “Who are you? And what the hell are you doing in my room?” His hand quickly found the revolver on the table next to him.
The man and woman looked at each other and Joseph heard a deep male voice in his head say, “Don’t worry, Joseph. It will be ova’ soon.”
He felt the voice’s vibrations in his teeth and jumped to his feet. The young woman reached out to him and he heard her voice in his mind as well. “Don’t fight us, Joseph. It is so much better if you don’t resist.”
Joseph felt wetness below his nose and when his hand came up blood red, he bolted around the woman, out of his room, and out of the hotel.
Now he stood in the shadow of Andrew Jackson’s immortal statue, exhausted and nearing the end of rationality. A sudden thought occurred to him.
Maybe this is all a nightmare. Maybe I’m still sitting in my chair snoring.
He latched onto the idea. Hadn’t he heard recently that the best way to wake from a nightmare was to kill yourself?
Where did I hear that?
Ah yes, now he remembered. The Creole whore had mentioned her grandmother’s secret to waking from a bad dream.
What an odd coincidence...
Joseph stared down at the revolver as if it were some magic talisman. If this were a dream, it was the most vivid of his life. He could feel the breeze from the Mississippi River, the cold bronze of the statue beneath his hand, his sweaty palm wrapped around the hilt of the gun. And he could hear footsteps nearing.
Rita’s voice rang out across the square. “Joseph, I’m here to bring you home.”
His mind showed him an image of what Rita must look like after six years underground. He hadn’t cried at her funeral, but petrified tears streaked down his face as he gritted his teeth.
I have to wake from this dream!
The footsteps were getting louder and closer. He didn’t have much time. To offset his fear and still his shaking hand, he thought of how good it would feel to wake up from this nightmare. He put the gun in his mouth, tasting the salty metallic flavor of the barrel as his mouth filled with saliva.
God, this feels real.
But he knew it wasn’t. He attempted to gaze at the statue of Andrew Jackson riding high on his horse. The statue was gone. As was the rest of Jackson Square. It had been supplanted by that damnable live oak tree in front of his Lake City mansion. He should have chopped that thing down long ago.
Joseph let out an audible sigh of relief.
It is a dream after all.
“It’s time, Joseph,” Rita whispered in his ear.
Knowing what had to be done, Joseph squeezed the trigger.
Author website: http://www.qwantuamaru.com
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