Episode Six – Voodoo Is Hokum – Unless the Doll Is Dressed Exactly Like You!
Chapter 7 – If There Are Ghosts, Where Better Than in a Cemetery in New Orleans?
Manning and his girlfriend, Shirley, are in New Orleans, where Jefferson is on location. Manning heard from an operative in Chicago that William Jaymes, with a “y,” was in fact trying to pass himself off as Laura’s father. And Manning was working for him to discover her murderer. What next?
Shirley and Paul were at the filming location in one of New Orleans’ most famous cemeteries. Paul looked at a tomb nearby. A bundle of clothes in the shadows was leaning up against its marble door. As he walked over, the “bundle” coalesced into a figure. The figure of a man. Looking at him, Paul realized they weren’t going back to LA in the morning. The dead man in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 was one of his clients.
Mario Palucci’s Mediterranean tan was a dozen shades lighter. His eyes were open and, as the doctors say, fixed and dilated. Most of the blood in his body was now pooling in the street. For the first time since we arrived, the cemetery was completely quiet. No one said a word, and then everyone turned and looked at Dickey Jefferson.
“What?” he yelled. Perhaps Jefferson had forgotten that he had threatened Palucci not 24 hours earlier. I walked over to him.
“We know you didn’t do it,” I told him. “You were surrounded by 50 people on the crew when it happened. But ...”
“But what?” Jefferson said.
“But you did threaten him, and that’s what the police are going with.”
“Come on, Manning, I need your help. Get me out of this.”
I had just lost a client, of sorts, and now this smarmy guy wanted to hire me. I walked back to Shirley. She was looking out across the cemetery, trying to ignore the body 20 feet in front of her. She had her arms wrapped around her body like she was freezing. When I walked up, she began to tremble and threw herself into my arms.
“Oh, Paul. I know Mario was a crook, but he was alive just yesterday, and now ...”
I told her that Jefferson wanted me to straighten it out with the New Orleans police so he could keep his shooting schedule.
“What are you going to do?”
“Well, my client, William James, or Jaymes with a ‘y’, turns out to have lied to me, and my other client is dead, so I guess any conflict of interest is out the window. I can call Bill Vose at the LAPD and see if he knows anyone here that I can talk to.”
A quick call to Vose got the name of Henri Lebec, a lieutenant on the NOPD homicide squad. Bill said he would call Lebec and clear the way a bit.
Ten minutes later, the locals arrived in force to handle the murder of one Mario Palucci. And 10 minutes after that, a tall, handsome black man, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, gold cuff links, a tie that cost more than my wardrobe, and black wing tips, walked into the center of the investigation.
“I’m Henri Lebec. Is there someone here named Paul Manning?”
“Ah, Mr. Manning. I got a call from Bill Vose, and he told me you could be a real pain in the ass, but that you were honest and that whatever you said would mostly be the truth.” Lebec smiled.
Ah, good old Bill. Couldn’t wait to poke me in the eye.
“He also said you were the best investigator he had ever known, and if I needed any help, you were definitely the guy.”
I can always depend on good old Bill.
“So what happened?”
I took the next half hour filling Lebec in on everything that had happened since I met Laura Jefferson five days ago at the Brown Derby in Hollywood. He was particularly interested in the connection with her ersatz father, William James, or Jaymes. He wanted my contact in Chicago who had run ‘Jaymes’ down.
Lebec’s accent was definitely from “the islands.” Think Jamaica. His words were precise.
“I know you want to clear the film’s director, Jefferson. We in New Orleans make a lot of money when films are shot here. So we are on your team. As it stands now, I can see no reason Jefferson can’t continue his filming, as long as he doesn’t leave the jurisdiction without my permission.”
“You might also want to know that this film’s star, Leticia Jones, is my sister,” Lebec added with a smile.
Wow, I wonder if he would be so quick to let Dickey Jefferson off the hook if he knew how much time Leticia spent with him getting “motivated.”
“I can see by the look on your face that you know about Leticia and Jefferson. So do I,” Lebec said. “I am a realist, Mr. Paul Manning. I know how Hollywood works. I got over my concerns some time ago.”
Wow, this guy sure knew the lay of the land. I wondered if he
also knew where the bodies were buried, not to run too many pat phrases together.
Shirley and I walked back to our hotel, the St. James. We would definitely be staying in New Orleans until the filming returned to Hollywood and the sound stages where they were going to shoot
“You remember what Leticia said about voodoo and the spirits not wanting this film completed,” Shirley said. “Maybe she was right.”
“Voodoo, shmoodoo. You saw the tape recorder that was making the sounds in the cemetery. There was nothing supernatural about it at all. And certainly no ghost put the knife into Palucci’s back. It was murder, pure and simple.”
I noted that Lebec didn’t actually ask for my help, but he didn’t tell me to bug out, either. I guessed I should begin thinking about how to approach this case with its murder victims, both of whom were my clients.
Jefferson was in the clear so far – he had no reason to kill Laura, and I was looking at him when Palucci took the knife in the back.
The unknown here seemed to be Mr. William Jaymes, with a “y.” Tomorrow, I should locate the man with the two last names and see what he is all about. I was pretty sure he was in New Orleans, and my guess was that my old buddy, Larry Jorday – whom we saw cozy with Palucci on the train from LA to New Orleans, and who introduced me to William “Jaymes” – would know where he was.
I stopped in the hotel lobby and called the number I had for Jorday and told his answering service that I wanted to see him first thing tomorrow at the Café Du Monde in the French Market. I was pretty sure Jorday would get the message.
Shirley and I walked down the alleyway to our hotel suite that used to be a stable. I was feeling pretty good about things, when Shirley screamed and grabbed me around the neck and put her face into my chest. She was breathing in gasps.
I looked over her shoulder, and a cold sweat broke out on my forehead. Shirley was in my arms and I couldn’t move. There was a voodoo doll halfway down the door to our suite. It was in a hangman’s noose and dressed exactly like me.
To be continued ...