Adel Destin rapped his brawl-scarred knuckles on the studio’s ventilated shutters, three sharp blows, then listened past the humming AC unit for any noises inside.
“Just a minute!” came Lou-Ann’s voice.
Adel stepped back, taking in the decayed elegance of the building in front of him, his shirt sticking to his back and shoulders in the moist cotton night. Lou’s studio was set amidst a lush courtyard on the ground floor of a narrow two-story aisle projecting from the rear of the main edifice—the place where the good folks of New Orleans kept their slaves back in the day.
Whoever this property belonged to then, they must have owned a lot of them—slaves, that is—because there was another structure just like it way in the back of the courtyard, only smaller. Why it had been set apart from the rest like that, Adel had no idea. The past was the past, and judging from his own, it was often best forgotten.
The main building faced Rampart Street—the northern edge of the French Quarter—and was where Adel operated King Bolden’s, his bar in the Crescent City. The bar, the building around it, the slaves quarters, he’d inherited the whole goddamn thing four years earlier and couldn’t bring himself to sell it at the time.
Adel lit a cigarette and followed its blue-gray smoke up the spiral metal staircase before him, then scanned the second-floor gallery and wrought-iron parapet all the way back to the door of his own digs. While the entire upper floor had been painstakingly restored by the building’s previous owner—turned into a single grand living space, actually—the outside was left looking rather decrepit, and Adel had started to worry about the overall shape of his property.
As he waited for Lou to open, his gaze lingered on the gallery’s outside fans dozily revolving just below the roof and verdigris gutter. The view was partially obstructed by a giant thicket of banana trees, stock-still in the jasmine-laced air.
Really need to get up there and check the shingles.
Six days earlier the temperature had abruptly shot into the sweltering upper nineties. This was the end of May, typically the last cool month before Louisiana’s oppressing summer. With no relief in sight, the heat wave was spurring renewed talks of global warming and impending disaster, of Nature gathering its strength for one final blow against The Great Babylon of the South. And yes, the sections of levees that had failed with such catastrophic consequences a few years earlier had supposedly been fixed, but what about the rest of the system?
Hurricane Season, mere days away, would not officially end until November 30th.
For almost a week now, normally unflappable New Orleanians went about their business with a wary eye to the sky. Even the Quarter’s colorful assortment of fiends, gutter punks and other tattooed degenerates weren’t immune to the general malaise, scuttering at sundown along the warren of narrow streets like nervous cockroaches—comings and goings Adel had until recently been all too familiar with.
Finally, he heard the deadbolt being pulled back, the knob clicking. The door opened.
“Hey,” he said, stepping forward.
She smiled, silhouetted by soft light inside. She wore a white tank-top and green cotton shorts.
“What’d you do with my dog?”
She laughed brightly. “Took her back upstairs just a little while ago.”
She searched his eyes. “Wanna come in for a night cap?”
“Ah, I don’t know.”
Adel’d had several already.
“Come on,” she grabbed one side of his unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt, drawing him in.
Lou was a shapely, wide-shouldered brunette with sapphire eyes and an accent as thick as her native Florida’s still-water swamps, tits that were something to behold. Not that there was anything sexual between them. On the night they’d met, eleven months earlier, Adel was still spending upwards of a hundred-and-fifty-dollars a day on heroin, a pretty effective alternative to chemical castration. He’d been drug-free three weeks now, his brain gradually remembering that this thing between his legs could be used for something other than pissing.
Lou, however, remained a dedicated lesbian.
She was drinking at the bar one slow night, having just moved to town, mentioned she was looking for a place to rent. Adel had told her about his available studio in the back, showed it to her. She said it would be perfect. A few weeks later she’d asked him for a job. She had some bartending experience from her college days and Adel needed the help. They’d gotten close, and so now Lou also babysat Billie, Adel’s rescue dog. All of this without the risk of any romantic or sexual entanglement—a win-win situation as far as Adel was concerned.
He pulled the door shut behind him as Lou headed for the kitchenette. He examined the small, tidy front room, pausing on the worn open paperback set page-down on the round table against the wall. Reading its title—Charm City.
“There you go.” She stood in front of him, handing him the glasses. “Bottle’s on the coffee table.”
“Putting me to work, huh?”
She sat down on the couch, sliding her ass back. “Make mine a double,” she said, now pulling in her naked legs, Indian-style.
“You got it.”
Adel settled opposite her in the beaten lazyboy, poured the whiskey and sent her drink across the coffee table in a practiced slide. She bent forward to pick it up and they silently toasted one another, took a sip.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish