Vieux Carré Voodoo

Ah, the fourth Scotty.

I know I’ve told this story about a hundred times, but I think it matters to the entire Scotty canon review thing that I’m doing now, and it kind of does shape the rest of the series. One afternoon when I was heading to work at the old CAN office on Frenchmen Street, I always parked on Kerlerec Street, which was one of the few places in the Marigny neighborhood that wasn’t restricted to two-hour parking and a potential ticket (I didn’t get a parking spot until I went full time). I got out of the car, locked it, and saw some people riding towards me on bicycles. I said good morning and they said good morning back and smiled and kept going. I took a few more steps before realizing that was Brad and Angelina and a couple of the kids! I smiled to myself–one of the things I love most about New Orleans is the regular celebrity sightings–and of course, they lived not far from my office at the time. As I kept walking, some thoughts started riffing in my brain: Brad is blond and not all that tall; Scotty is also blond and not all that tall. Brad and Angelina live essentially right around the corner from Scotty. What if Scotty was walking home one night and when he’s in front of their house someone takes a shot at him, mistaking him for a Brad type actor living in the Quarter? Someone is trying to kill him and since Scotty looks like him, they hire him to get to the bottom of it as well as to run interference?

I really liked the idea–Hollywood South Hustle (keeping the “H” alliteration I was going for when the book was going to be Hurricane Party Hustle)–and when I got home that night I wrote the proposal and first three chapters in a fever…spent a few days refining and polishing it, and submitted it to my Scotty publisher–and they turned it down.

Womp womp.

Around the same time, my Chanse publisher–who had yet to make an offer on the next book in the series–suddenly made an offer but gave me a two month turn around on the book. It was do-able, of course, but I thought I deserved something in return for that insane turnaround and so asked for a two book contract and more money; they were clearly desperate since they agreed to both. And I thought, Hmm, I can just turn that Scotty book into a Chanse book and thus it became Murder in the Rue Ursulines (and it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but that’s a story for another time).

And then one day, I was walking from the parking lot at my old office to where the Gay Easter parade was lining up (my office had a carriage and I rode) and as I walked underneath a balcony I barely avoided getting drenched (those who turn their balconies into lush gardens have to water them, after all, and the excess water has to go somewhere; it’s one of those Quarter hazards we’ve accepted) and in a flash, I thought that very thing–walking under balconies in the Quarter can be hazardous–and then imagined Scotty on his way to the Gay Easter parade to ride on his parents’ business’ float when he gets drenched by someone watering their balcony garden. And just as quickly as I had that thought, I thought of course Scotty would be dressed as a slutty Easter bunny in a white speedo and rabbit ears and tail and then it just got really funny to me. The next morning I wrote that scene, which grew into the first chapter, and since I needed to wrap up the personal story left hanging in the previous book, I ended the chapter with him seeing someone in the crowd he thought was Colin–a thought he quickly dismisses as impossible, and we were off to the races.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even pigeons and palmetto bugs are supposed, by some, to dream. New Orleans, not sane, stood by itself inside its levees, holding darkness within; it had stood there for almost three hundred years and might stand for three hundred more. Within, walls continued to tilt, bricks crumbled sloppily, floors were termite-chewed and doors sometimes shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of New Orleans, and whoever drank there there, drank alone.

Yeah, right. People only drink alone in New Orleans by choice.

My name is Scotty Bradley, and I’m a private dick who works the mean streets of New Orleans. I right wrongs. I help the downtrodden find justice. I punish the guilty. I ferret out crime, and protect the innocent while punishing the guilty. Criminals tremble when they hear my name, and get out of town if they know what’s good for them. Dame Justice may be blind, but I see all too clearly. The helpless come to me when everyone else has failed, when hope is gone, and the night seems darkest. I’ve got a mean right hook and never back down from a fight. I drink my martinis shaken, not stirred—because I like my gin like miscreants who cross my path, bruised and a little battered. I am on a never-ending quest for truth, justice, and preserving the American way of life. I rescue dreams and bring nightmares to an end. Don’t call me a hero, because any one of you would do the same if given the chance. There is no case too small for me to handle, and there is no case so large that it is intimidating. I’ve taken down a corrupt political machine, and would gladly do it again tomorrow. I’ve found lost treasures and stared down the Russian mob. I’ve stared evil in the face until evil blinked and backed away in mortal terror. I have—

Yeah, right. And I have a bridge across the Mississippi for sale, if you’re interested.

My name is really Milton Bradley, like the board game company—my parents have a slightly twisted sense of humor. Scotty is my middle name, but it’s what everyone calls me. I really am a private eye—bonded, and licensed by the state of Louisiana. I was born and raised in New Orleans and have lived here my entire life except for two misspent years at Vanderbilt University up in Nashville. I live on Decatur Street with my partner, Frank Sobieski. We’re business partners, and life partners. We met on a case a couple of years back, and it was pretty much love at first sight. Frank is one of the most gorgeous men I’ve ever seen outside of a porn movie. He’s in his early forties, about six foot two, and when he had hair, it was blond. Now that he’s balding, he shaves it down to a little buzz. He has the most hypnotic blue eyes, a strong chin, and a scar on the right side of his face. He also started lifting weights in his twenties—and there’s not an ounce of fat on his hugely muscled, amazingly defined body.

He also has one of the most amazing butts I’ve ever laid eyes on. Woof!

Well, okay—it was lust at first sight. Love came later.

I love treasure hunts, always have, and have always wanted to write one. One of my favorite series when I was a kid (they’re still actually quite fun to read now) are the Three Investigators series; which was originally called the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series as he introduced each case and sometimes even referred potential clients to the boys. Many of those books were treasure hunts, and those were always my favorite books. One of their adventures, which was also a favorite, was called The Mystery of the Fiery Eye and was loosely based on Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which I read as a teenager and have always remembered fondly. I decided I wanted to do an homage to both books; the treasure everyone is looking for is a stolen, notorious jewel that is very important to a south Asian religious cult, and it’s name was Kali’s Eye, because it was mounted in an enormous statue of her in a temple in a very small, remote south Asian country.

And it was stolen during the Vietnam War, and they’ve been looking for it ever since.

After Scotty gets soaked in his slutty Easter bunny attire, he swears very loudly and the person on the balcony hears him. Turns out to be an old family friend–Scotty wasn’t really paying attention to where he was; his mind was elsewhere as he walked–and gets invited up, so the friend, Doc–he was a professor at University of New Orleans when Scotty’s parents went there–can give him a towel and run his outfit through the dryer quickly. While Scotty is there, Doc gives him an old stuffed toy Scotty had left there years ago, when he was a small child. This strikes Scotty as odd, but he humors Doc and takes the stuffed bunny. When he gets to the parade, his mother is thrilled to see Mr. Bunny, so he gives it to her.

And later, when he is walking home, there are cops at Doc’s. He fell to his death from his balcony, and his apartment was ransacked. Then the new tenant on the top floor of Scotty’s building (he and Colin gave up that apartment after Colin disappeared) wants to hire Scotty and Frank to solve a mystery for him–but soon he, too, is murdered–and also turns out to not be who he had claimed to be. Are these two murders connected, and if so, how?

My absolute favorite part of the book to write was the treasure hunt itself; when Scotty and Frank realize that Doc left clues behind for Scotty to solve and find the missing jewel; which takes them on a trail from the apartment on Decatur Street uptown in the rain. That was so much fun, and of course, when I was polishing the manuscript before turning it in, I had to actually go and follow the trail I’d set out for them to make sure it was accurate and worked and was something someone could actually follow…and of course, it was pouring that day so I did it, like they did, in the pouring rain.

I dedicated the book to my friend Poppy Z. Brite, a writer I’ve long admired and whose friendship I have always cherished. He was always a big fan of the Scotty books, and his support meant the world to me. He was actually the person who convinced me–one drunken night at the House of Blues for a Banned Books Night reading–that I could indeed write another Scotty book, and the boost of confidence was just what I needed to get back to work on this series. (And the Vietnam stuff was a nod to a private joke between us.) And it was, indeed, fun to get back to work on Scotty and produce another book.

And here I am, all these years later, writing another one. Go figure.

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.