Claim the Disappearing: Chapter 9
(I invite you to enjoy this free New Orleans novel, courtesy of the wonder that is the internet, unrolled a teensy bit at a time. If you are just joining us, feel free to return to THE BEGINNING and work your way through.)
The saint cleared his throat, urging me to get on with it. Outside the transom window, a tourist walked by in a tall jester’s hat. I yearned for my Tourist Bingo card (I’d been needing to spy a green/purple/gold jester’s hat.) I won once, the October Tourist Bingo version (Witch Hat Bingo). The Tourist Bingo Krewe gave me a gift certificate to the coffeeshop on Port. I was good at spying hats. It’s okay to claim your talents when the world allows you so few.
I was wearing a hat the night I was attacked, a jaunty fedora that hid one eye, Fay Dunaway style. I should’ve been suspicious when the oldest ad agency in Jackson gave me and my Associate Degree a job. I attributed it to the Mississippi version of affirmative action: “I’ll take White Female Community College Grad for $100, Alex.” Plus, a part of me—shamefully—hoped the firm respected my family’s (very tattered) reputation. My Elfy had been somebody…before she and her ex-felon daughter-in-law became the city’s bat shit crazy old ladies.
When I found myself tussling in the grass, fighting the partner who had championed me since I slid my resume onto his shiny ebony desk, I knew the facts that should have sparked outrage—he was mentoring me; he’d invited me to his house for dinner; he gave me plum assignments that showed he believed in me professionally—would be twisted around and used against me.
I lost the tussle—he had me by at least one hundred and twenty pounds. My face wound up smashed into the grass, my nose filled with the bitter stink of green pecan shells, my pinned arms unable to slap the mosquito steadily drawing blood from my poor cheekbone. I stopped thrashing. The movement might catch a party-goers attention. They wouldn’t call out or run for help, but, so help me God, when the asshole died mysteriously in a face plant on his ebony desk, they would reluctantly go to the police to report their suspicions of what they might have seen officer, under the pecan tree at the firm party. I never wore that fedora again. I did get my justice.
You’re wanting details, I can tell. Maybe a gory story about a late night at the office, a garbage sack for protection from blood spatter, a handy-dandy heavy object, a carefully planned and methodically executed killing. But I’m not into revenge porn.
I kept my job (to pay the rent) and dutifully went to his office when called, even if it was at the end of the working day when everyone else had gone home (because, as I said, it was my job). As he leaned over my proposed draft of a cat food campaign, his arm brushed mine. Instinctively, I used the move I’d learned in every self-defense course I’d ever taken (don’t incessantly teach women self-defense if you don’t want them to use it). I pressed into him and elbowed upward toward his jaw as hard as I could. The blow knocked him against the wall. Except it wasn’t the wall, but bookshelves displaying his do-gooder awards, including the Addy the firm had won for a particularly successful dental hygiene campaign.
All I can figure, my initial shove wobbled the crystal obelisk. My second shove—more emphatic—impaled him against its pointy top. The make-shift dagger entered his back with the squishy noise of sections of sugar cane breaking: a fibrous, juicy sound. I hadn’t touched him, hadn’t touched the obelisk. He looked pretty dead to me, lying crumpled on the floor, but I didn’t check his pulse. I figured if he were alive and survived until the cleaning crew arrived, so be it. He would squeal on me, and I’d take my lumps. But if the Universe wanted him to die, I wasn’t going to involve myself in that. I left for the evening and kept my mouth shut during the hysteria that followed when the terrified partners believed their jealous advertising competitors were out to kill them, ala “Murder, She Wrote.”
These are the three gifts I inherited from the women standing at the bottom of the sweeping staircase.
From Tip-Top in her scratchy jacket belted with a length of frayed rope: a respect for the need to kill.
From Bigmama in her white-collared, flat-chested black dress: imagination without morals.
From Elfy in her girlish hoop skirt with its crinoline petticoat and green daisies: level-headed selfishness.
Three women, all living in the wilds of the new American southwest called Mississippi and all dead on the same Wednesday in 1883.
Gems, everyone of them.
Yet, the sanctimonious St. Claude expects me to pick only one. To choose between these priceless women to journey up the stairs to save and/or confront the Dauphine.
To hell with that.
Until you provide me with evidence the world fights fair with women, I’m not following any man’s made-up rules.
“I’m taking all three women with me,” I said to the quietly listening castle.
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