Funny, that a concerned friend would ask me to come and look at a couple of dead bodies in an effort to cheer me up. Maybe not cheer me up, exactly; maybe Honey wanted to distract me, get my mind engaged in something other than bruising guilt over having recently killed a guy in my fight-cage ring. That it had been unintended, during what was supposed to have been a friendly sparring session, was of no solace to the dead fighter. But unlike my dead mixed-martial-arts opponent, the two dead men here in a grubby parking lot surrounded by CSI techs and crime-scene tape were both very intentionally dead, most likely at the hands of a third party, despite New Orleans Police Homicide Detective Honey Baybee’s assertion that this was a probable murder/suicide.
The black guy, the one in the high-gloss white Mercedes S550 with fancy rims, was thirty-ish and had the kind of GQ looks that suggested a certain pampering, and I’m not talking about by Mama.
“Pretty Boy here was definitely killed in the car,” I told my friend Honey. “Nice manicure.”
“Ty Parks,” said Honey, wearing latex gloves as she rifled through the guy’s wallet. “Same address as the other victim. Gay lovers, I figure.”
I’d seen bloodier car interiors, but I wouldn’t want the cleanup job. “Plays havoc with the resale value.”
“New headliner, new seats. Pull the pieces of skull out of the leather trim. Still, you run a CARFAX on this vehicle, what will come up? ‘Never been in an accident, but a guy got his brains blown out in the passenger seat.’ Is that a selling point?”
Honey knew how to ignore me better than most. I think she took comfort from the fact that I was being my usual wiseass self. Since I didn’t want her worrying, I worked hard to generate my customary patter and mask my deep funk while pretending nothing was wrong with me. But there was a lot wrong with me, and it was only partially due to the fact that my adopted city was still largely in ruins, one year after a Cat 5 hurricane had nearly wiped us out.
“They both worked at Michoud. Both stiffs.”
“Security clearances?” I asked.
“Not sure. They do secret stuff at Michoud?”
“It’s a federal facility, part of NASA. They’re known as being the external tank people for the space shuttles, not exactly hush-hush work, but who knows what all goes on out there.” I checked out Ty’s gold diamond ring, thick gold chain bracelet, Kenneth Cole brogues. “This guy is pretty tricked out for a civil servant punching a clock.”
“So is his buddy. Del Breaux. Fifty-three years old.”
I’d been leaning into the front-seat area and backed off to straighten up. “Sugar daddy, you think?” I used the sleeve of my Polo shirt to mop the sweat that had beaded up on my forehead. At 8:19 in the morning it was already ninety degrees with a humidity to match. It’s why the smart tourists stayed away in summer; tourists staying away was maybe the only good thing about August in the Delta. We were still shaded here in the parking lot, otherwise the corpses might be puffier than Paul Prudhomme after a night of binge drinking tequila shooters.
“Breaux has some sort of business downtown. On Poydras.” Honey read from a business card extracted from a second wallet. Breaux’s personal effects—keys, cell phone, cigarette case—were secured in plastic evidence bags. “Breaux Enterprises. One Shell Square. Forty-ninth floor.”
I glanced over at Breaux, an older white male sprawled supine about twenty-five feet away, getting photographed by a squirrelly crime-scene tech who kept whispering, “Say cheese,” before each snap.
“Forty-ninth floor is almost the penthouse. That’s some pricey high-rise real estate.” I circled the car, checking for abnormalities. “This is a brand-new, hundred-thousand-dollar ride. Let me guess; it’s registered to Breaux Enterprises.”
Honey nodded. “Leased.”
“Luxury, fine German engineering, and a look that says to everybody else, ‘I’ve got it, you don’t, so kiss my ass.’” I checked out the Michoud decal on the driver’s side of the windshield. “So Mister Breaux works at Michoud, but he’s also a business tycoon?”
“Does anyone in New Orleans not have a scam on the side?”
“Speaking of that … you sure the chief okayed me being here?” Chief Pointer and I had a long history, none of it good, dating back to when I had been an NOPD cop. I’d been doing pretty well as a private investigator since resigning from the department almost exactly a year ago, but I couldn’t imagine the chief wanted any part of me.
“He agreed you act as an unpaid consultant. Attached to the Homicide Section. To me, specifically. I made him put it in writing. Said you’d never believe me if he didn’t.” Honey handed me a signed sheet on the chief’s letterhead.
I scanned the document authorizing me to assist Honey. “This from the guy who’d like to sauté my liver with some onions?”
“You read the papers. He’s fighting for his job. We’re the murder capital of the planet. He’s the scapegoat. He knows you’re good. And he loves the nice headlines I’ve brought the department. We deliver a couple of high-profile arrests? He might make it to the end of the year. Keep the letter. You’ll need it.”
“I can’t believe you went all the way to Pointer to get me aboard,” I said, crossing toward the body of Del Breaux.
“The average homicide dick is working twenty-three cases. I’m lucky. I only have seventeen murders on my plate,” she said, following, as she made a notation in her pocket notebook.
Honey wasn’t the kind of friend who ever asked for much, so when she called me this morning and asked for my help, almost pleading with me, there was no way I could refuse her. I’d assumed she was pretending to need my assistance because she felt concerned about me. But now, as I looked at the corpses, I couldn’t be sure about that; this was a rather sophisticated crime scene. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. I simply had to spring myself from a self-imposed isolation and come out to help her if I could, regardless of her motivations. That was fine, even though I would prefer to be buried in my couch, feeling sorry for myself and avoiding all contact with the outside world.
Actually, I’d do just about anything for Honey, but since Chief Pointer had personally derailed my career as an NOPD cop, solving murders to help prolong his reign was almost too much to bear. Especially on a brutally hot hurricane season morning, with Del Breaux lying in a thickening pool of blood and other fluids, the flies already starting to tuck in.
“Well, detective, I’ll give you my best shot. Maybe we can grab some good press. The gay angle will help. And you got a double murder here; this is no murder/suicide. The Times-Picayune gives double murders more ink.”
“How d’you figure this for a two-bagger?”
“If this was murder/suicide, then it’d be a crime of passion. Rich old Mister Del here is not going to drive his high-priced ride over to Shit Street for a love-life meltdown. And I don’t buy the idea that he shoots his squeeze in the car then gets out and walks over here. To do what, deliver a soliloquy to the wall? To get a better cell signal? And look around; I don’t see much in the way of lights or security cams here.”
“That’s not unusual in this city.”
“Granted, but this would make a good place for a secret meet,” I said, slipping on a pair of latex gloves. “We’re surrounded by two-story brick walls with no windows.”
The bodies had been found by two location scouts on contract to a Hollywood film production. I hadn’t asked, but I wondered if the movie script had called for a gritty place to shoot a drug buy. We stood on crumbling black asphalt in a boxed-in rear parking lot to a defunct bakery warehouse in a neighborhood where it was easier to find crack than a loaf of bread.
The city was full of such locales, but this parking lot could make a list of Top Ten Scuzzy Places: rusted-out car bodies sat useless with nothing valuable left to strip; rats rooted through piles of stale and fresh garbage; a bloodstained mattress soggy from recent rains smelled of mildew and worse; thousands of broken glass shards from cheap booze bottles speckled the faded blacktop; third-rate, busted-up furniture teetered in piles where it had been arbitrarily dumped; and the caustic stench of urine insistently impinged on the sense of smell like an itch that wouldn’t go away.
If those film boys hadn’t stumbled on the crime scene and called it in to PD, I figured the friendly locals would have already helped themselves to little things like the car, wallets, cell phones, jewelry, and maybe even the shoes of the deceased.
“Crack dealers work the corner, but I don’t think we’re looking at a drug buy gone bad,” I told Honey. “These boys weren’t crackheads; they were too in love with themselves for that.”
“I had uniforms talk to those dealers. But you know how that goes.”
“‘Don’t know nuthin’; ummm, didn’t see nuthin’,” I said, using my best thug impression, then squatted down next to the second corpse, who had a better blond dye job than a lot of Uptown ladies I’d known carnally. A 9mm Steyr M9 sat inches from the outstretched right hand. Like Ty Parks—the stiff in the car—Del Breaux’s appearance just screamed well-heeled metrosexual: his IWC watch had to be worth close to ten grand. Its gold face matched the gold color of his handmade linen shirt, and I doubted that was an accident. He probably had expensive watches with different face colors to match different outfits. I checked his Armani belt, Mizani raw silk slacks. I gingerly checked out the Bally loafers, then moved up the body. Breaux’s hands were soft; skin maybe a little too tight around the eyes for a guy in his fifties, unless you’ve been under the scalpel. Whatever the case, Breaux and Parks were simply immaculately dressed, in what I guess they call “casual chic.”
For me casual chic was a pair of pressed, khaki-colored 5.11 Tactical pants with hidden, inside-the-waist pouches for black anodized handcuffs, my subcompact Glock 36, and an extra magazine. Not to mention the extra cargo pockets to accommodate the knives I always carried, plus all the electronic gadgets. I was a gadget guy, pure and simple. I liked tools and having them handy.
Which meant my concealed digital video cam was recording everything I said, saw, and heard. I’d found memory to be too fallible and impeachable, especially in court.
Hunches stand on shaky legal footing as well, but I’d come to honor them. And I suddenly had the nagging suspicion that a guy like Del Breaux wouldn’t own a scratched-up, Steyr M9, kind of a clunky-looking, poor man’s Glock. The Steyr is a perfectly fine weapon, mind you, sold at a nice price point; I’d shot one at a range. But the M9 didn’t strike me as being fancy enough for this guy. He’d have some pricey SIG SAUER or HK or any number of other semiauto handguns that cost three or more times what the Steyr went for, and that held a haughtier cachet. Again, just a hunch, but since I’d already concluded Mr. Del was murdered, the gun probably would prove to be untraceable.
Honey bowed her head slightly as she rubbed her eyes. Murder/suicide was a neat and tidy package, but now, if I were correct, she was looking at having nineteen homicides on her plate. She looked tired most of the time since leaving the joy of eight-hour shifts as a patrol officer and joining homicide, where she was on call 24/7. Eighteen-hour days were now the rule, not that she could get any kind of a normal night’s sleep. Her thirty-year-old baby blue eyes had lost some sparkle, and her freckly skin was paler than normal. But she still had the sexiest blond French braid in the state—she wore it that way in case she got called out for a SWAT op—and kept the same slightly muscular but still feminine physique. I was happy for her because her career was taking off, but I missed all the time we used to spend together.
“Not sure I see this as a double murder,” she said. “You saw the temple entry wound? Triangular tears to the skin. Soot. Seared skin. He shoved the barrel right against his head.”
“To me it means the killers were smart enough to fake the suicide right.”
“That’s pretty up close and personal.”
“Exactly. But have you studied our victims, the way they’re put together?”
“They’re well dressed.”
“It’s a little bit more than that. They’re meticulous about their looks. A guy with a two-hundred-dollar dye job, monogrammed custom-made shirt, silver cigarette case, and designer socks is not going to leave the homestead wearing badly scuffed Swiss loafers. Freshly scuffed, I might add. On the heels. I’ll bet you forensics will find microscopic pieces of black asphalt from this parking lot embedded in the abrasions.”
Honey bent down and checked out the heels of his shoes. “How did I miss that?”
“You would have caught it. I’m just a second brain, that’s all. Breaux died right on this spot. He either stepped out of the car or they pulled him out. Then they dragged him over here, scraping his shoes along the way. The shooters wanted to separate him and Ty Parks.”
“More than one shooter, huh?”
“Got to be. Breaux has soft hands, but he’s a big guy. And buff. Probably a workout fanatic. Got to look good for the young lover.”
“So you think two, maybe three killers?”
“Breaux’s house is over in Broadmoor. But something tells me we should check his office first. After I finish up with the coroner.”
“This is your case,” I said, pulling off the latex gloves that made my hands sweat even worse than the rest of me, “so you have to attend the autopsies. But do you want me to beat the bushes in the meantime?”
She ripped a page from her pocket spiral notebook and handed it to me.
“Your to-do list. Check in at the main gate at Michoud. You’ll be meeting with the head of security and Breaux’s supervisor.”
I raised my eyebrows. “They work on the weekend?”
“Government types? Hell no. They’re coming in ’cause they’re worried about something.”
“Maybe Mister Breaux knew some big secrets. What’s this phone number written here?”
“Somebody at that number called Breaux’s cell at twelve fifteen this morning. The last call he ever got.”
I studied the number with interest.
“I’ll call you when the coroner has finished filleting our victims. And don’t forget to call Kendall.”
I flashed a look of complete confusion.
“We were supposed to go to his birthday party.”
“Right.” Kendall Bullard had worked for me on a few cases and had proven to be a shrewd operator and a great street source. An MMA fighter I had coached for many years, Kendall had successfully made the jump to the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Partly because Kendall had become one of the most popular athletes in the city, a number of other serious fighters had asked me to coach them, and the mixed-martial-arts classes I’d been teaching for years at my dojo in the Lower Garden District were now all wait-listed.
“What’s he doing having a brunch party, anyway? Why not have it at night, when people get off work, so it’s easier for them to come?”
Honey gave me a pitying look. “Today is Sunday.”
“You would have caught it. I’m just a second brain, that’s all.”
Honey turned away and went back to work.
She was right to worry about me.
Copyright © 2012 by Ed Kovacs
ED KOVACS has worked for many years as a private security contractor deploying to challenging locations worldwide. He is a member of the Association for Intelligence Officers, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America. When not on a contract, he splits his time between his home in Southeast Asia and his aircraft hangar home at a Southern California airport.