No one called him Buddy. No one called him Kid. No one called him King. They called
him Charles, if they spoke to him at all. That was his given name: Charles, Jr. When the
attendants in their frocks and the doctors in their white coats spoke this name, that’s
what they used.
Though more often than not, he didn’t hear, his mind resting blank and serene place.
Except for those rare momens when lightning would flash, the thunder rumbled, and a
blue luminance glowed along the horizon of his memory. Then the pictures would come
to life: a curve of brass glimmering off hot lights, the wild and hungry faces, then bodies
of midnight black, fair brown, and light coffee writhing in electric animation, as others
stretched all languid on divans draped with shawls embroidered with flowers and vines
and exotic birds. He could hear the crazy dervish dance of the horns, the treble slap of the
guitar, the hollow thump of a bass fiddle, percussion knocking and jangling along, and
behind it all, the shouts of all the drunken dancers.
Go, Kid, go!
How they loved him! Loved the way he prowled the stage, loved the delirious flash of
his eyes under the red lights, loved the fast train he drove through the bell of his horn,
loved the way he filled the night with sound and motion so loud and busy that they’d
They did, though. Yes, they did. Forget. The noise would fade into silence as the light
shifted to a pale midday gray, and he’d find himself alone again.
Passing so unnoticed, all but invisible, he overheard voices that carried secrets, read the stories in curious charades, saw mischief in the
way eyes shifted and lips curled. The patients and their guests and the hospital people didn’t know they were putting on a play for an
audience of one. Much of what he saw and heard was wallpaper and stale air, anyway, foolish words falling down as thin and dry as so
many leaves on an autumn breeze.
Then, later one evening, a name emerged from the noise. His ears perked as the name was a repeated, followed by something about being
gone and not coming back no more. Feeling the gaze of dense black eyes, they stopped talking and turned his way.
Don’t worry about him, the patient said. Man don’t hear nothing. Don’t see nothing. Don’t remember a damn thing.
He did, though. He did. Remember. So he held fast to the name after they’d moved away, and momentarily, he spoke it out: Valentin.
In autumn of 1913, the view from the north side of from the trains pulling into New Orleans’ Union Station was the panorama of Basin
Street, the broadway of the red light district that went by the sobriquet of Storyville.
It was a beehive all through the week, more so on weekends, as train cars disgorged eager customers by the hundreds, as carriages and
touring cars turned the corner to deposit the higher rollers onto the same banquettes.
The kitchens in the grand mansions and the better saloons simmered with heat and motion while bottles and glasses clinked as merrily as
bells. Smoke filled the air of every room, mingling with the aromas of whiskey and cheap perfumes. Walls echoed with music, chatter,
and laughter. Behind it all were sly looks and thin smiles as the chickens were plucked, one after the next.
Storyville was an economy of sin and a good two-thirds of the devil’s wages arrived between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning; and
with the paid services of two thousand prostitutes, the sales of liquor and food, and the take at the gambling tables, “the District”
generated a small fortune every weekend.
Friday nights were raucous with the release of energies that had been pent up through the work week. Saturday morning brought more
business, mostly country lads off the early trains. Late afternoon took a small pause, a collective breath. Men with families rode the
streetcars home to dinner with their wives and children. The rounders who had lolled away the daylight hours with a favored sporting
girl now took their time dressing for the evening’s drinking and gambling, done up in the fines - suits and vests with gold chains - that
those same women had paid for. A straight razor or small pistol and a card of hop or envelope of cocaine disappeared into this pocket or
that. Meanwhile, the day cooks and maids and invisible others who worked backstage at this tawdry carnival got to lay their burdens
down for a few blessed hours.
The sporting women at the better houses usually joined the madam for an early dinner. After which they would bathe, douse their
bodies with powder, perfume, and paint, readying themselves for the first visitors. Because most men chose to appear only at twilight,
the women in the houses liked the autumn and the spring months the best. It was still warm enough to keep it busy and they could get
The women in the Basin Street bordellos could count the number of men they would host on the fingers of one hand. The prettiest of
the octoroons and quadroons might entertain only one fellow all night long, in the manner of the courtesans of Europe. Some especially
well-heeled types might keep a woman on retainer for weeks or months at a time. A lucky, lovely few got to leave for good and become
the livelong mistresses of men of wealth.
That only happened to the doves in the best houses. The deeper into the District, the faster and cheaper the action, until it reached rock
bottom with the Robertson Street crib whores, those filthy, drunken, degenerate sluts who would do anything for a price and mostly in
All the while, the money dropped like steady rain over those scarlet streets until dawn on Sunday, when the last of the men went away
and the whole of the District heaved a long, wearysigh, and all but collapsed.
The madam of the house had gone by many names. Presently, she was using Mary Jane Parker. She had been a fair prostitute until she
lost an eye and some of her scalp in a fight with a jealous, razor-toting rival. Now a madam, she was burdened for life with a patch and a
variety of colorful wigs to hide the wounds of that epic battle. Her rival fared worse, as dead as the fellow who now lay at the precise
center of her fancy parlor floor rug.
The day maid had come barging into her room a little past eight, far too early for Storyville. The girl had been on her way to open the
front door for the couple who did the cleaning and happened to glance into the parlor. She took half-dozen steps forward, then did a
quick back-pedal. Leaving the Negro couple on the gallery, she scurried upstairs, rushed in the room without knocking, and shook the
madam awake. Miss Parker’s good eye flared and she was about to treat the stupid girl a healthy slap when something about a man lying
dead in the parlor broke through the babble. The madam got out of bed, drew on her dressing gown, and went to see.
She stood in the archway and gazed at the body of Mr. Allan DeFoor for a fretful half-minute. He was a small-boned and dapper fellow
of middle-age who sported a delicate mustache, pointed beard, and thin blondish hair cut short. He was dressed in his usual sober three-
piece. In one outstretched hand, he gripped a silver cane at jaunty angle, his dead fingers folded into the crook. The wound was
apparent, a hole directly above his heart, about the size of a .38 caliber slug.
Not a man of wealth or importance, Mr. Defoor had been a regular and a decent spender in his own quiet way. Miss Parker vaguely
recalled some gossip about family money, most of it gone. The victim did not have a reputation for abusing drink or dope and had
always been a gentleman with the girls.
Not that it mattered anymore. Staring up at the chandelier with blue, unblinking eyes, Mr. Alan Defoor appeared calm, as if ending up
dead on her carpet came as no surprise. For her part, the madam was baffled; she had no recollection of seeing the man on the premises
Her first thought was that something had gone wrong, that one of the girls had done the violence. It happened; all she had to do was look
in a mirror to be reminded that sporting women in even the finest bordellos could be vicious. Though Mr. Defoor wasn’t exactly the
type they’d fight over.
Stepping closer to stand over the body, she noticed that the blood that had stained Defoor’s coat, vest, and shirt was dry. Indeed, not a
single drop had splotched her fine rug. In the next stunned instant, she realized that the poor man hadn’t met his end there at all; at least
not in her parlor. He had been killed elsewhere and then dumped there.
After a vexed sight, she called to the maid, who had remained in the foyer, too spooked by the corpse to draw any closer, and sent the
girl upstairs to rouse the rest of the women. It took another ten minutes to get those six sleepy carcasses out of their beds. One by one,
they appeared on the stairwell, grousing curses until they saw the body. Three of them crossed themselves and the others three
“All right, you see Mr. Defoor?” Miss Parker demanded once they were all assembled. “That’s right, he’s dead.” The women just
stared. The madam made an impatient sound. “Come on, now. What happened?”
The women on the stairs looked at each other.
“He wasn’t in at all,” Mary, who was the oldest of the staff, volunteered. “He ain’t been around in maybe a week.” The others
“He --” Miss Parker began, and then stopped, her good eye glaring as she went from one face to the next. She detected nothing devious,
and her thoughts turned to which vile bitch in which other house hated her enough to pull such a macabre stunt. After fuming for a few
moments more, she sent the girls back their rooms, ordering them to stay in unless they were called. No one needed urging.
Once they were gone, Miss Parker beckoned to the maid.
“Run down to Basin Street,” she whispered. “Go to Antonia Gonzales’ and see if they can tell you where to find a Creole name of St.
Cyr.” She said the name the American way using saint, rather than the French sawn-sear. “The one used to work for Tom Anderson.
“You can find him, and tell him I need him here. Right quick.”
The maid gave a hurried nod and bolted, only too happy for the excuse to vacate the premises. After the door slammed behind her,
Miss Parker bent down and folded the carpet over poor Mr. Defoor’s body, then went into her office to call the police.
It took another forty-five minutes for two patrolmen and a detective to arrive on the scene. The coppers milled about, accomplishing
nothing save to drink every drop of coffee in the kitchen. The detective, whose name was Weeks, studied Defoor, examined the wound
in his chest, and questioned the madam, all without much interest. It was no Basin Street mansion.
When Miss Parker pointed out the dried blood, the detective gave an absent shrug. and told her that a wagon would be around later to
pick up the corpse and carry it to the morgue.
It was another two hours, the sun was coming up, and the body was still there and getting
ripe when the maid finally arrived back.
The madam was in a state. “Where in God’s name have you been?”
The girl was all out of breath. “I had to rouse at Miss Gonzales’s, and they, they told me go down to Spain Street. And then I had to
wait for the --”
“Did you find him?”
“Well? What did he say? Is he coming?”
“No, ma’am,” the maid said. “He say to find someone else. He say he don’t do this no more.”