Episode Six – Parking Goes to the Movies
But Where is the “Voodoo Princess?”
PI Paul Manning’s almost client, Laura Jefferson, was dead; his actual client, her father William James, had asked him to kill a man (then recanted); and all that was within 24 hours. Manning was now sitting in his office across from his almost client’s obviously mob-connected fiancé, Mario Palucci.
We went silently back to the compartment and pulled the blinds over the window. Shirley sat down next to me, and we spoke in low tones.
“That was Mario Palucci.”
“I thought so. But what was he doing with Larry?”
“Larry is at the center of this. He contacted me after Palucci introduced Laura to him. That’s what got this case rolling. The real question is, ‘Doesn’t Palucci trust me to do what he asked me to do, even though I’m not going to follow his instructions and finger the guilty party until he is in jail?’ I work for Laura’s father, not for Palucci.”
“Maybe Palucci is a better judge of character than you think. He believes you will be ethical and moral, and he will not be able to avenge Laura’s death. So, he is here keeping an eye on you.”
“Sure, but how did he know we were on the train?”
“I don’t think he does,” Shirley said. “I think he took the train thinking you would fly and have a day or so to get the goods on Laura’s ex, ‘Dickey.’
I knew there was a reason I loved her – she was smart. And most probably right in this case. Now all we had to do was stay in the compartment, order food in, and keep out of Palucci’s way. Hmmmm, what could we do for a day and a half? I reached across Shirley and turned off the light.
When the Sunset Limited arrived in New Orleans, we waited so we would be the last ones off the train. There was a mule-drawn carriage at the station. We loaded up and headed for the St. James Hotel.
Yes, it was a mule. The driver told us that it was too hot and humid in New Orleans for horses, so they used mules. They were strong and could stand the climate. Ours seemed up to the task, and in a few minutes we crossed Poydras Street into the French Quarter, or as they say in New Orleans, the Vieux Carré.
Our hotel was perfect. It was in an old row house with a covered alley beside it. Turns out the alley was a driveway that had been used to get the horses and carriages to the stable connected in the back.
Our room was the renovated stable. We had a beautiful living room, bath, bedroom and a courtyard that was open to the sky. It was appointed in 17th-century antiques. Shirley, you done good.
While she got settled, I asked around and found that Jefferson’s movie company was shooting “Voodoo Princess” near Jackson Square. We decided to walk over.
Once you get away from the bars and tourist traps of Bourbon Street, the Vieux Carré is old, beautiful and very French. The buildings are brick, with balconies surrounded by wrought iron, and the roofs are slate. There are window boxes and flowers everywhere. We strolled past shops and restaurants, some of whose names you would know; others, more interesting, we might explore later.
There was no missing the “shoot.” Trucks were everywhere; power cables snaked through the streets. There were people in costume, out of costume, cute girls wearing shorts and halter tops carrying clipboards. I always thought that movies had about three times as many people on the set as they needed, but what do I know? They did finally get a movie shot. They must know what they are doing.
We asked for Dickey Jefferson, and were told that the director was in conference with the female lead. Shirley told me that was Sandra Robins, an up-and-coming actress, much as Laura was when she was married to Jefferson. I asked one of the grips how long the conference would last, and he laughed and said, “As long as it takes Dickey to ‘motivate’ her. “Motivate” was in air brackets.
Shirley snorted. She looked at me and her glare communicated her definition of motivate. She had told me that Dickey had a reputation of sleeping with the woman who was closest at hand. He was known as a “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with” kind of guy.
We walked over to the Café du Monde and ordered coffee and beignets. The grip, whose name was Charlie, joined us.
The levee that keeps New Orleans from being part of the Mississippi River is adjacent to the Café du Monde. We sat on a bench and watched the traffic on the river that drained half of the continent. Its surface is about 12 feet above Jackson Square, and because of the way it curves, the Mississippi is actually running south to north. Life in New Orleans is at the mercy of Old Man River.
We arrived back on the set as Dickey was coming out of his star’s trailer. He was smoothing his hair as I walked up and introduced myself.
“What do you want with me?”
“I have been hired to find who killed your ex and thought I would start with you.”
“Why me? I haven’t seen Laura for over two years.”
“Well, that’s not exactly true, now is it? We know that she was down here three weeks ago and that you spoke to her and the conversation was heated.”
A cup of coffee with a movie set grip can get you a lot of information.
“How did you know that?” Jefferson asked.
“We also know that Laura is the owner of the screenplay for “Voodoo Princess” and that she had not released it to be shot. She owned this movie, and it became yours when she died. That, my director friend, makes you a very prime suspect.”
At that moment, one crazed Mario Palucci jumped out from behind the trailer, grabbed Jefferson and threw him against a nearby wall.
“You did it, you bastard. You killed Laura. And you are going to pay.”
Palucci pulled out a .38 and pointed it at Dickey Jefferson’s head.
To be continued.