Rushing beside her husband along Pirates Alley, Charles’s wife stubbed the toe of her designer shoe on an uneven, grey paving slate protruding from the pavement.
Her ankle twisted.
“Damn it,” Charles’s wife said.
“Careful,” Charles said. He gripped his wife’s arm.
Suzette bristled and brushed her husband’s hand from her shoulder. “I can manage,thank you,” she said. Charles’s wife was muscular and fit, a regular at the gym.
“A fall,” Charles said, “could ruin your plans, Suzette.” He glanced at his wife’s footwear: thin straps; pointed toes; stiletto heels. Unsuitable choice for an extended walking excursion. “I was worried. You know, a broken leg. Or something.”
“Jesus Christ!” Suzette said. “Stop being your usual morbid self, Charles.” His wife hobbled to the slightly tilted wrought iron lamppost standing in front of a bright, raspberry- sherbet colored building. The red and white sign tacked to the lamppost warned: Church Quiet Zone.
With shaky fingers, Charles swiped a strand of red hair stuck to his sweaty forehead. His wife’s voice, strident, petulant, a red flag signaling this day would not end pleasantly. A huge mistake. Vacationing with Suzette in sultry New Orleans.
Suzette hobbled to the leaning lamppost,supported herself with one hand, and tugged at her shoe with the other.
“Heel’s not broken,” she said. “Thank God.”
“Heel?” Charles asked.
“Of my shoe, idiot.” Suzette held the designer shoe by a thin, blue strap. “Jimmy Choo’s latest. Cost a small fortune, let me tell you.”
Charles dug his fists into the pockets of his white Bermuda shorts. “You don’t have to,” he mumbled under his breath.
The brokerage firm’s phone call last month alerted Charles.
‘Charlie,’ the couple’s financial advisor said, ‘I’ve done the calculations you requested. At the rate Suzette is spending her great-aunt’s inheritance, the principle will be significantly diminished in four years.’
“Your ankle, Suzette. It’s starting to swell,” Charles said. “Maybe we should—-”
“Before I married you, Charles, if you recall, I was a pretty competent emergency room nurse.” Suzette’s fingers lightly pressed her ankle. “Just a slight sprain. No torn ligaments,” she said. “I’ll live.”
Suzette pushed her ballooning foot into the expensive shoe. She winched, and carefully placed her left foot on the uneven pavement.
Charles shook his head and watched his wife clutch her handbag, square her shoulders, and limp towards Chartres Street.
Suzette stopped and turned at the end of the short alleyway. “Well, are you just going to stand there, Charles?” she asked. “The Cathedral tour begins in half an hour.”
Charles longed to explore Pirates alley without a time limit, an agenda, a guide book: browse the bookstore, formerly William Falkner’s house where the famous author penned his first novel; stroll behind St. Louis Cathedral and whisper a prayer in the lush greenery of Saint Anthony’s Garden; chat with the local artists who, arriving at noon, displayed their creations on the fence surrounding the garden.
“Get a move on, slow poke.”
Charles pushed the front of his sandal under the protruding grey slate. Dangerous. A fall could prove fatal.
“Hurry. My God, Charles, at this rate, we’ll never complete the stops on my list before meeting Bruce and Francine for lunch.”
“I’m coming,” Charles said and caught up with his wife.
“By the way, Charles.” Suzette hitched the straps of her large, purple, purse on her shoulder. “I purchasing a memorial brick. For St. Anthony’s Garden walk way. I brought cash with me.”
“How much, Suzette? We need to have a discussion about—-”
“Cost?” Suzette sneered. “You don’t begrudge Great-Aunt Helena a signature brick etched with her name, do you?”
“How much, Suzette?”
Suzette patted her handbag. “Fifteen hundred dollars.”
Charles breathed deeply, swallowed twice, and bit his lip.
Suzette snickered. “Don’t looked so shocked, dear,” she said. “After all, it is my money.”
“Nice morning, folks.” A swarthy man pushed a creaking, rusted shopping cart into Pirates Alley. He grinned and showed broken, yellowed teeth. A scar, like a jagged streak of lightening, marred the man’s hollow left cheek. Wrapped around his head was a red bandanna, and a large gold hoop dangled from one ear.
The rickety cart’s wheels squealed to a halt in front of the couple, and the man plucked a tee shirt from the folded stack in the basket of the cart.
“For charity,” he said and held the red tee-shirt by the sleeves. Help the Survivors was block-printed in black letters on the front. “Lots of folks ain’t recovered from Katrina,” he said. “Cheap, too. Asking fifty dollars for three.”
Suzette fingered the thin, cotton fabric. “Cheap, alright,” she murmured. “These chintzy tees aren’t worth fifty cents.”
“Suzette, for Pete’s sake.” Not smart. Arousing the ire of this rough-looking stranger. Charles handed the vendor his credit card. “It’s for charity, right?”
“Sorry. Cash only.” The vendor pursed his lip and shook his head. The gold hoop earring glittered in the brilliant sunshine. He leered at Suzette. “Might be the lady has cash in that big bag of hers.”
“Money is for the Lord’s work.” Suzette jerked the straps from her shoulder and clutched the purple handbag.
“I’m doing God’s work, too.” The man lunged for Suzette purse.
“Get your filthy hands off my handbag. Call 911, Charles,” Suzette said.
Charles reached for his mobile phone.
Suzette swung her purse whacking the vendor in the face.
“Damn you, lady. I think it’s broken,” he said and dabbled his bloody nose with the red tee shirt.
Suzette’s fingers tightened on the blood-smeared purse.
“Let it go, Suzette.” Charles tugged Suzette’s arm. “Cops are on the way.”
Suzette wrenched free from Charles’s grip and slammed her purse in the man’s face.
The gold clasp on Suzette’s purse cut the man’s lip and split it open.
“You damn bitch!”I won’t forget this, lady. Believe me.” The vendor steered the creaking cart into Chartes Street.
The clink of china and silverware, a mellow tremolo from an alto saxophone melded in the crowded Pirate Alley Café and Old Absinthe House with laughter and boisterous voices.
“I swear, Francine, that man selling tees in Pirated Alley could have been Jean Laffite’s ghost,” Suzette said.
“You don’t say,” said Suzette’s new friend. They had met during a yoga class at the hotel. “The famous New Orleans’s pirate and profiteer?”
Suzette looked across the table at her husband. “He did, didn’t he, Charles?”
“Maybe not a pirate, but, nevertheless, a very dangerous
man.” Charles raised an eyebrow and turned to Francine’s husband seated on his left. “I feel Suzette acted recklessly, Bruce.”
“Now,now, Charles. Your wife’s conduct was admirable.” Bruce
patted Suzette’s hand. “Very brave stance, seems to me. Why let crooks and shysters hoodwink honest folks into giving them money?”
“Brave?” Charles set his drink on a coaster. Suzette’s rash action put their lives in danger.
Suzette smiled. “See there, Charles. Bruce thinks I was brave,” she said. Her hand remained in Bruce’s clasp.
Charles drummed his fingers on the table. The shadowy, half-formed idea skulking on the edge of his consciousness took form, solidified.
Properly executed, today’s events—-if not an accidental stumble, but a deliberate push–could be replayed with different results.
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