From Rampart Street


Chapter One

The moment he turned the corner onto Rampart Street, he knew he was a dead man.

A shadow was moving directly in his path, a phantom in a dark duster, one arm outstretched and
pointing a Navy .45.  He started to say not me! But he only got as far as the first word when the other
hand came up, the palm out, shushing him.

From down past Second Street, he heard a trumpet blowing, a slow run of dirty brass. Jass they called
it. He fixed on that odd word for a moment, seeking escape. Then he was back facing the pistol,
feeling its ghostly touch over twenty feet of space.

It wasn't fair; not after all this time. He had lived for years with the fear that one day someone would
find him. He had paid in sleepless nights. He had seen a shady figure in dark dreams, coming for him
just like this. Though the face was a surprise.

"Say your prayers." The voice was not right, either. Barely a whisper, but carrying in that quiet place.

He was blurting, "Damn your --" when the pistol shouted and the .45 slug caught him under the chin,
snapping his head back and choking off the words in a bloody cough. The shot echoed down Rampart
Street as he staggered and toppled over, clutching at his throat, bleeding his life out into a small pool
that seeped around the cobblestones.

It wasn't fair.

The shadow faded back into the inky New Orleans night, a vagrant, windblown wisp. Across the
street, a curtain opened, hung suspended for a moment, and then closed.

One minute passed in silence. It lingered into a second, then a third. The tiny stream of blood ran to
the gutter, a feast for the flies at the first light of day.

There was a patter of footsteps, rat-quick, from the far side of the street. A crabbed figure
bent over the body, rustling through pockets. A blade flashed on the way to dismembering a
finger and the ring that wrapped it above the knuckle.

Before the job could be done, three men appeared, staggering around the next corner, hooting
drunkenly, the last dregs out of Three Dogs Saloon that had been flushed out onto the street.

In the one-two-three order of a vaudeville routine, they came to a stop. Three mouths dropped and six
bleary eyes swam to over on the body lying in the street and the other form that was bending over it.

One of the drunks, finding his voice, yelled, "Hey, now!"

The crabbed figure jerked back and scrabbled away, a skittering insect. The three fellows slowed to a
series of nervous baby steps as they drew closer. The first one saw the ugly hole in the victim's throat
and said, "Sweet Jesus! Look at that!"

A stunned few seconds passed and then the fellow who had spoken up went stumbling back to the call
box that was mounted on the light post, just down Rampart Street.