Bourbon

New Orleans.  It had always been there, just two hours southwest of Poscataw, an inviting playground for my base desires.  It was mid-afternoon and the French Quarter seemed to be putting itself back together, just in time to be torn apart come evening.  Bourbon was ripe with open bars, many of which looked more like convenience stores than anything else.  I gravitated to one of these and eyed the Slurpee machines that lined the back wall.  I chose one drink in particular, an orange concoction called a hurricane, and marveled at the quantity as a bar clerk no older than myself dispensed orange ice into a sculpted plastic container in the shape of a naked woman.  The Quarter was littered with these vessels, discarded in the gutter the night before.  With the liberal liquor laws anyone could drink on the streets without fear of incarceration.  Beverage in hand, I plunged deeper into the Quarter.  Balconies flanked Bourbon on either side.  Most sported ornate ironwork railings.  Hanging potted plants sprouted lush vines that festooned down the railings.  At street level the neon cast flickering messages.  Open doors revealed empty dance floors and few patrons.  A hot dog vendor made his way up the street, straining against the burden of his wheelbarrow-style cart.

I went looking for a quiet place to read but most of the establishments boomed techno or Top 40.  If I’d been thinking straight I would have headed down to the river and found a quiet place along the levy, but Eleanor King had thrown me off my game.  As I moved deeper into the Quarter the techno tattoo intensified.  The facades here showed Topless Teens and Hot Asian Sex, and each establishment had its own doorman.  I had warded off several of these gadflies before being ambushed by a man in a red tuxedo.  He jumped from my blind spot out in front of me to obstruct my path.

‘You want some fun?’  His skin was so worn by tanning that he resembled an aged Italian shoe.

‘No,’ I said.  ‘Just looking for a quiet place to read.’

‘I got a quiet place.’ He handed me a 2×2 scrap of paper with big red letters.

Slick’s Cabaret!  Free Admission!

‘Really I’m not in the mood.’  I tried to hand the scrap back to him but he pretended not to notice.

‘What you in the mood for?  Maybe I help you find it?’  He raised a greased eyebrow.

‘Just some place quiet.  Somewhere I can think.’

‘Slick’s is the place, my friend.  Very quiet.  Very smooooth.’  He planed his hand across the hot air, like running it along a woman’s naked back.

‘No I don’t think so.’

‘Just try it.  You don’t like it, you leave.  What you got to lose?  Better than walking round in the hot, my friend.’  He had a point there.  I’d pitted out my shirt and there was no way to hide the growing wet spot on my shirtfront.

‘Why not,’ I conceded.  Red Tuxedo curled the edge of his mouth and spun into a rehearsed strut that incorporated a feigned limp.  He led me under a glowing marquee: Witness multiple orgasms for only fifty cents.

‘You in for a treat,’ Red Tuxedo said over his shoulder.

The inside was lit in blacklight, so that men’s white shirts were all you saw of the audience.  They all faced a main stage where five naked woman of varying shapes and coloring wound together on a stone pedestal.  A short column stood to either side of the pedestal, and each column supported a bleak marble head.  The heads eyed the orgy pedestal with stoic disapproval.

‘See what I mean?’ Red Tuxedo said, sticking a thumb over his shoulder at the stage.  ‘This shit is magical.’

‘Right.’  I took a seat.  When Red Tuxedo saw he’d get no tip he left to lure others inside.  I sat down at one of the checkerboard tables, facing the stage.  I set my hurricane and the box of letters on the table and scooted my chair in close.  I lifted the lid of the box.  The blacklight caught the white paper, making the letters the most visible thing on the table.  I leafed through the box and found there were five letters total, each written in a meticulous slanted cursive.  King’s words stood out sharply under the black light. There were several letters, dated from July 1962, through the fall of that year, and ending in December of that year.

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