A Jonathon Stone Mystery Novel
Federal Agent Jonathon Stone travels to the back streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans to find the truth. Was J.B. Purdue, a Cajun gun for hire, one of the shooters in Dealey Plaza the day JFK was assassinated or was he just blowing smoke?
Here is an excerpt:
French Quarter, New Orleans
It was about seven now and time to revisit the French Quarter. I had an idea that Purdue had put in my head. I checked my notes from our interview and there it was. I jotted the name down on a small pad of paper and headed out the door of my room.
I took the hotel elevator to the main floor and walked to the bellman’s station.
“I need directions. I am driving alone and I want some sort of idea where I am going before I start. I need to find a place called the Bayou Bar,” I said, rechecking my note.
“I’m not familiar with that one. Do you know about where it is located?”
“It’s supposed to be right off Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.”
The bellman shook his head. “That’s a new one. Let me check my French Quarter directory.” He turned several pages and started running his finger down a list of names.
He stopped abruptly as a porter passed. “Roland. Do you know where the Bayou Bar is in the Quarter?”
The porter got a big smile on his face. “Oh, yeah. That’s Papa Jonray’s place. It’s on Bayou Road near the freeway. Best crawfish gumbo in town.”
The bellman returned to his list. “Here it is. Jonray’s Bayou Bar. This says it’s in the nine hundred block of Governor Nichollis Street.”
“That is the old Bayou Road. I think it is called Bayou when you cross the freeway,” the porter said as he turned and continued carting a large load of luggage toward the front door. “Y’all have a good time ya hear?”
“Everyone down here seems to say y’all every other word,” I said to myself as I headed out the front of the hotel.
I left the Hilton and headed toward the French Quarter. It was crowded again tonight even though there was a light rain falling. I drove through the narrow streets, dodging streetcars and jaywalkers. I watched the throng of people and tried to relax.
What was Purdue trying to tell me? “One of the shooters in Dallas,” he had said. Was he trying to tell me he was involved in the assassination there? Had Mother Nature uncovered a tale of truth that had escaped everybody for years?
Maneuvering through the area, I could see the devastation that Katrina had done. Many of the buildings where still boarded up and some had large warning letters painted on their outside walls. While others were just shells of the former structures. You could tell things were just like they were right after Katrina. This was definitely the other side of the tracks. It seemed like it was a long way from Bourbon Street but it was only a few blocks away.
It was Friday night and the crowd was already gathering in the area. It seemed like every night was a busy night down here. It took a while to find the place because I had to manage the crowd and all the one-way streets in the area but finally I was there.
I could see a bar ahead on the right. That’s it. A large wooden sign hung over the front door. It read, Jonray’s Bayou Bar. Most of the letters were either faded or peeled off but this looked like the right place. I parked the car and walked toward the bar.
It was a typical building for the French Quarter with a second story porch protected by a black iron railing. The bar was located on a corner with large open windows facing both of the streets. Large wooden hurricane shutters were leaning against the outside wall of the bar. I guess someone puts them back in place when they close up or there is a hurricane.
I could hear the jukebox playing loudly a song that I didn’t recognize. Well I am here; I might as well give it a try. If Purdue could handle this, I think I could, especially with my Beretta strapped to my leg.
For not being a mainstream bar there sure were a lot of people. I was lucky enough to get the last seat at the end of the bar. This smoke filled bar had survived Katrina but just barely. I could smell several different odors but I had a hard time deciding what they were. The swirl of an old ceiling fan tried to move the smoke from the bar area out the open windows but that wasn’t working well.
The tile on the floor was warped and you could see a watermark about a foot up the wall. I tried to adjust my stool but it seemed that one of the legs was a little shorter than the other. Maybe that’s why it was available. I guess all newcomers got this one.
I could see the bartender at the other end of the bar. The bar was filled with whiskeys and gins and such and a row of burning candles lined the shelf above the bottles. The wall behind me was lined with small tables for two and from where I was sitting it looked like they were all full.
“Hi, darlin’. What can I get y’all?” the bartender asked.
“I’d like a cold bottle of Bud,” I said with emphases on the cold.
“Do you want a cold mug?” she asked as she turned without waiting for the answer and opened the cooler behind her. A second later she plopped the bottle and a frosty mug on the bar in front of me.
“There you go,” the bartender said as she poured my beer and at the same time giving me the once over. “What’s your name, darlin’?”
“My name is Jon.”
“You look like a John,” she said, motioning with her head to the other end of the bar where two ladies of the night were pounding shots.
“You’re a stranger in these parts. What brings y’all down to the Quarter? Looking for a good time?”
“Actually, a good friend of mine pointed me down here,” I said, referring to the porter at the hotel. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
“What is your name?” I asked her.
“My name is Connie but my friends call me CJ.”
“Can I call you CJ?”
“That depends. Are y’all going to be my friend?” she said, raising her left eyebrow. “I’ll be right back. That damn Leon is still bothering the ladies at the other end.”Connie or CJ was a large redhead probably in her fifties, I would guess. CJ had very large boobs that she was not too bashful to display. Her white low-cut blouse seemed to be for the customer’s benefit. She likely was a very attractive lady in her day but I am sure that was a
different story. She was wearing tight black pants that created a little stomach pouch that hung over a tight gold belt with a silver chain. CJ would look right at home on the back of a Harley.
“Sorry about that. That damn Leon is always trying to get something for nothing. What do y’all do for a living, Jon?”
“I am a salesman.”
“Oh, a traveling salesman. I have heard about guys like you,” she said with a laugh.
CJ had a necklace around her neck that separated two half hidden tattoos. Let’s just call them the left tattoo and the right tattoo. On her arm was another tattoo. I guess my sightseeing got her attention.
“Y’all like tattoos,” she asked looking down the front of her blouse.
“I was admiring the one on your arm,” I said.
“Sure you were,” CJ returned with a big smile. She moved closer to the bar and put her right arm up so I could see it. The tattoo was a skull with half its mouth missing and a snake coiled around the bottom.
“That’s different. I haven’t seen one like that before.”
“That’s because you are not from around here. The Cajuns, who have the spirit, know this tattoo.”
“This looks like fun,” I said, looking around the bar.
“The people that come in here are all Quarter Rats. Most of them have been comin’ in here for years. We never close, you know. Christ, when we had Katrina we just kept right on rolling.”
Well that answered the question about who was in charge of the shutters.
“The health board tried to close us down because we had no running water. Good ol’ Rayray just had us flush the toilets with draft beer,” she said laughing.
“Who is Rayray?” I asked.
“He is Papa Jonray’s son. He owns the place now. Papa Jonray passed a couple years ago. Rayray is not here tonight. He is down on the gambling boat shaking them bones, you know.”
“You were fortunate to survive Katrina. It looks like a lot of businesses didn’t make it.”
“Rayray was bound and determined to keep Papa’s place going. He got ahold of one of them swamp boats, you know. Twice a day he would take that boat up above the levees and get ice and supplies. There are a lot of people down here who owe him big time. Papa Jonray was the same way.”
“That sounds quite impressive,” I said.
“We had a great time,” she said. “People were sitting on the bar with their backs to me with their feet on the stools to keep them out of the water. We had a full house every day, you know. People would row up in their boats and everyone would yell in comin’ and a little wave would come through the door over there. Several people stayed here all night because their place was gone. They would sleep in them booths over there.”
It takes something to have a good time during a disaster.
“When Papa Jonray built this place he knew the power of the River, being an old river boat captain and all, so he built this place five feet or so above the street. He would say if the tombs and graves in Saint Louis Cemetery are above the ground there is a reason.”
A guy down the bar started banging his glass on the bar for service.
“Julian was one of them,” she said as he banged his glass again.
CJ’s eyes got narrow and she turned and headed toward him. I thought I could see smoke coming from her ears.
“Damn it, Julian, if you don’t want me to throw your ass out, you better settle down,” she said loudly.
“I thought you were going to talk to the guy down at the other end all night,” Julian returned.
“You are done Julian,” she said as she picked up his empty glass. “Get out.”
She dropped his glass in the wash bin and headed back to me.
“That damn Julian. He’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll kiss and make up. He was a little jealous, I think.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“The more beer he drinks the more he feels like he owns the place. He is a pretty nice guy when he is sober but that’s not too often. He thinks because I bend over in front of him and show him a little skin when I wash the glasses that I am his.”
“That is hard to believe,” I said as I took another look at her low cut blouse.
“This place was built during World War II when all the sailors were in town,” CJ continued. “Boy, did the good times roll back then.”
It was time to play my cards.
“You know the reason I really wanted to check this place out was my dad’s old marine buddy used to talk about this place all the time. Maybe you remember him? His name was J.B. Purdue.”
CJ’s expression changed immediately. It was like I had brought back a memory.
“Good ol’ Jean,” she said. “I understand he is dead or something. Anyway we haven’t seen him around here in a long time.”
“So you know him?”
“Know him. Back in the day, darlin’, he and I were an item, you know, but it didn’t last very long. Oh maybe six or eight months, I guess. Then one night he grabbed some young honey and our deal was over.”
She looked down at the bar and I thought I could see a tear.
“Jean and I had some good times. He was a strange dude. He would just disappear for a while and then he was back. With him you never knew what was going on.”
I needed her to continue. Maybe there was something here.
“He was a real rounder. Jean liked big jugs,” she said as she put her hands underneath hers and boosted them up.
I smiled and gave them a look of approval.
“Memories. Jean was like a guy that had just got out of the joint after doing a hard five. It was like all night long and he was twenty years older than me.”
She continued. “He never stuck with anyone very long. It was like he would just change overnight. I bet if you wrote all his girlfriend’s names on the bathroom wall you would fill up one side anyway.”
“Mr. Purdue served with my dad in the Korean War,” I lied to her.
“Yeah. He was a regular way back then. I have been here over thirty years and he was already a fixture when I started. Jean sure was a storyteller. Boy, could he come up with some shit. Y’all know like stuff you could hardly believe. Crazy stuff. And he would tell it with such a straight face. You just sat there and thought that he could not be making that shit up. He once told a crazy story about going to Guatemala hunting. No one in their right mind is going to go all the way there just to go hunting.”
If she only knew. Knowing him now, I would believe that story.
“He made himself out to be a big game hunter. He was always telling tales of going here and going there. He must have had a good pension from the service because he always had a roll of money. You know lots of money. One time he and I were sitting in here and he pulled ten one hundred dollar bills out of his shirt pocket. He handed me one and said there’s more where that came from darlin’. I told him not to flash that kind of money in here, something might happen to him. Jean told me not to worry; he always had a sidepiece with him. Well I thought he was blowing smoke until I saw him one night with nothing on except a big old gun strapped to his leg. Then I understood.”
I looked at CJ. She was not going to be able to tell me much more than I already knew except to put the idea in my mind that Purdue told wild stories.
“Jean used to go hunting with Papa Jonray over near Lafayette. Yeah, they were real tight. You know I think that was just an excuse. They would bring back pictures but I never saw anything they killed. I think they went over there to drink whiskey and whore around. There is one of their pictures on the wall above the food table,” she said, pointing toward the end of the room.
I bet CJ didn’t have a clue about Purdue’s occupation. If he made the kills, I think he made, he would not be able to stuff and mount his trophies on any wall.
“I got to take care of my dirty dishes. Jon, I get off at four if you’re looking for a good time. Maybe we can hook up after that or are you still eyeing one of them down there? I don’t mind sharing.”
Was she talking about a trio or just shooting the bull?
I got up and walked over to the pictures on the wall. Sure enough there was a picture of Purdue and another guy. Both guys had a rifle in one hand and a can of beer in the other. I am guessing the other one was Jonray. Another thing I noticed was that CJ appeared to be correct. There was no kill in the picture.
CJ returned to my end of the bar. “The two ladies at the end of the bar want to buy us a shot,” she said with a grin. “Tonight’s your night maybe. Y’all have a lot of choices in here. Take old Josephine over there, next to the jukebox. She’ll read your palm for a shot of whiskey. Some say it is the best deal in town.”
“What are we drinking?” I asked.
“That is Cajun Turkey,” she said proudly.
“I have never heard of it.”
“Y’all can only buy it in Louisiana,” she said in a southern drawl.
We both did a shot; compliments of the ladies. Boy is that stuff rot gut.
“Jon, y’all should try some of our home cooking. Miss Jean over there will fix you right up,” she said, pointing to an old black woman with a bandana around her head.
She was putting something into a metal pan. You could hear the meat sizzling against the metal from across the room.
“What do you have?” I asked CJ.
“Tonight we have cracklins, boudin and crawfish gumbo,” she answered.
“I can sure smell the fried peppers.” The smell was so strong it drowned out the smell of the mold and mess. “I got to ask. What are cracklins?”
“They are pork skins fried in Miss Jean’s special batter.”
“And the boudin?”
“They are pig rolls with blacken rice. Y’all got to try the crawfish gumbo, too. It’s a little spicy but y’all will get use to it fast. Help yourself,” she said, motioning to a table covered with a white tablecloth.
“That sounds great,” I said. I got up and walked over to the table where Miss Jean was stirring the gumbo. I smiled and nodded to her. She grinned back showing that half of her front teeth were missing.
I looked at the feast and didn’t know where to start.
Miss Jean pointed at the one of the dishes. “Yo sho’ try the cracklins firs’. Da get yo heart pumping. Don’ you worry nun. Yo know it ain’t da seafood dat makes ya fat, its da batter,” she said with a Cajun chuckle.
I fixed a plate and headed back to the bar.
CJ was waiting for me. “It looks like Miss Jean likes you. That’s good gris-gris. She was Papa Jonray’s cook for over fifty years. He kept her around for her cookin’ and good luck.”
“Good luck?” I asked.
“The way the story goes, Miss Jean’s momma was a religious one. You know a healer. She took good care of Papa Jonray with the remedies and all. Anyway, he liked her because of her people. Her momma had a large following and I guess Papa Jonray though he was in good hands.”
The jukebox was off now. An old black gentleman was in the corner of the room with a banjo and an old wooden box on his lap. He was sitting on an old three-legged stool with what looked like a jug of rum or something good sitting on the floor beside him. I guess he was going to be the entertainment tonight as if I hadn’t already been entertained.
“You will like this if you’re looking for something different. That’s Bo-Daddy,” she said, pointing at the musician. “He going to play that squeeze box. Is there anything you would like to hear?”
I shook my head no.
Bo-Daddy started playing an old, polished, wooden accordion and the sound was definitely Cajun. I had to admit I didn’t understand one word he sang. Each song seemed to get louder and louder. The customers seemed to like the music as they shouted and danced around like a bunch of Indians around a campfire.
“No one knows what his real name is,” CJ said. “He reminded Papa Jonray of Bo Diddley, so the name was hung on him. He will be shuckin’ and shakin’ in a minute.”
I listened to a couple of tunes and tried to picture Purdue hanging out here. I could buy that picture.
I finished my beer and motioned to CJ at the other end of the bar. She walked quickly back. “Jon, y’all sure you don’t want to stick around. We’ll have a good time. These folks will be dancing in the street before the night is over.”
“I’ll have to take a rain check. I have an early plane to catch. Sorry.”
“The next time y’all are in town leave some time for ol’ CJ, you hear,” she said, blowing me a kiss.
I walked over to Miss Jean who was filling the gumbo pot and gave her a ten. She gave me one of her toothless smiles and I nodded. I bet she could tell some stories about this place.
As I left the Bayou Bar, CJ with a harmonica in her mouth, had moved to the other side of the bar and was in a duo with Bo-Daddy. What a great time. And I could just visualize Purdue sitting at the bar telling his wild tales and drinking Captain Morgan.
After today there was some doubt in my mind whether I could trust Purdue.
Enjoy the read. Check out the sample on Amazon.
Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novel: Call Off The Dogs
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