Conte, a journal of narrative writing.


These three cops from the old days dropped by while I was drinking coffee and reading The Times-Picayune. They were all wound up about fishing for some specks and reds, or so they claimed. They wanted me to take them out in my Alice D all the way to Alligator Point in Lake Borgne, which is about ten miles away, quite a distance by boat. It was already eleven in the morning and the middle of August at that. Too hot to do anything, especially fish. But they wouldn't take no for an answer, and the fat cop, Birou, put a fifty-dollar bill on the kitchen table. Now money always catches my attention, but I don't think that was the only reason I agreed to take them. No, it had something to do with the heat in the house, which was about 90° already, seemingly hotter inside than outside. But more importantly, I wanted to show these cops something that they couldn't possibly understand without example.

They were already drunk before we left the wharf. They had been taking swig after swig of my special whiskey that I kept for special customers and didn't pay me a dime. A good customer would at least offer to pay, even if I wouldn't take his money. But knowing these cops like I did, it didn't surprise me none. These cops where just old gangsters who didn't know what to do with themselves after the 18th Amendment was repealed. They became cops out of laziness and greed.

They couldn't even get their gear together right. A man who can't handle his own gear isn't even a man, really. They couldn't get their gear together so I had to do it for them. You don't hire a slave for no fifty dollars! But I went ahead without showing too much pain about it. I wanted to prove something to them. I wanted to prove something to myself. I wanted to show them that a man can reconstitute himself, if he can just get his mind right. I wanted them to see that life was more than drinks and whores. I wanted to show them that there's more to life than merely taking and getting. Life, I wanted them to know, had something to do with reform and education, or so I thought, and me and these three cops boarded my Alice D for a day of late fishing.

My Alice D is a beauty! She's a 28-foot cabin cruiser made of the best cypress money can buy. The Alice D was our favorite for the Cuba to New Orleans run. She and my Fisherman's Rest were about all I was able to keep from those prosperous times. I once had two million dollars in cash money but blew it all on suits, guns, boats, whores, wives, and lawyers. Especially lawyers. Most people don't like lawyers and I guess there are some pretty good reasons for not liking lawyers; however I've always liked lawyers and often times they were my only friends. Paid friends, I guess, but what's the difference? In any case, the Feds got most everything of mine after I was sent to Atlanta on a tax evasion charge. The same thing that put Al Capone away. Al Capone wanted me dead. Before I go crazy from the heat and gnats, let's just say that Capone couldn't handle New Orleans right, and that's why we ran the show down here. Although Capone's a Yankee, and I don't much care for Yankees, even Atlanta was too far north for me, and even though Yankees don't amount to much in my book, I have to admit that I was a bit shaken-up when I caught word that Capone wanted me dead. I guess he was jealous about how large our operations were growing down here in New Orleans. But that doesn't matter now. I'm calm and sober and Capone is dying and going insane with syphilis in Florida. Florida! The rotgut of the South! Who knows, maybe he brought himself bad luck by wanting me dead.

In any case, I had these three cops on my boat. Back in the twenties they worked for me. I paid them well to keep other cops away from my home and my boats. Especially the boats, because that's where all the rum was usually kept between pick-up and delivery. I had known these cops for years. That's why I knew I couldn't trust them. Malone, LeBlanc, and Birou, all three of them were nothing but two-bit criminals dressed in blue uniforms. Nothing of the Poet-Warrior or the Noble Criminal in these three. They never ceased to steal from me during all that time when they were supposed to be watching my house and boats. I had treated them as brothers, and they betrayed me as only a brother can, by saying one thing and doing another, stabbing you in the back and twisting the knife slowly. But time makes one stupid and forgiving and that's why we four were on my Alice D heading for Lake Borgne.

We were going through the trestles at the Chef Pass when we came across some dolphins. We don't get many dolphins around here as it is, and these three cops began shooting at them. They hit two. Just two innocent dolphins playing alongside the boat. Now, I've always admired dolphins personally, they being such a rare sight out here and all; besides, they just seem sort of human. In prison, where I read sometimes up to twenty hours a day, I read somewhere that dolphins are sacred animals. A lot like a seagull is a sacred animal.

"What did you do that for?" I said. Birou, the shortest and fattest of the three said, "It doesn't matter, Jeanfreaux. Why are you worried about it? It really doesn't matter why we did it. You are a killer of men, why should you concern yourself with a couple of eel skin fish?"

He was right too. I had killed quite a few men in my day. But that was years ago, and I hadn't shot anyone in a long time. Besides, I did all that when I was young, mostly during Prohibition when killing around these parts was a common practice. And those killings were done with a purpose, either as self-defense or to protect my interest. But the killing of these dolphins was wanton waste, done for no other reason than killing for the sake of killing. Of course, these cops weren't bright enough to make such a distinction. I mean to say, that killing a dolphin is like killing an albatross, and I'm more superstitious than all the sorcerers and witches on Bourbon Street.

Malone, who was a rather lanky fellow who had not a single hair on his head, said, "Jeanfreaux, how about all four of us getting together again? We'll put up shop somewhere, maybe even your place. It'll be like it was during the good old days. You think we came out here to fish? No, we could call the place, your place, The Pleasure Dome. You know, women, cards, drugs, like in the old days. We want you in on this."

"No,"I said.

"Why not?" Malone said.

"Because I'm a religious man now," I said. They laughed. They laughed and sucked down huge gulps of rum taken from my liquor cabinet without asking or paying. Then I said, "Well, maybe not downright religious, but I'm learning."

I was learning. In prison I read the whole dictionary twice. I've forgotten most of the words, but the important thing I learned was not words so much as temperance. I had, to some slow degree, learned how to control myself. I have a horrible temper that at one time served me well; it moved a lot of money for me, but I'm damn near an old man now and I've got to get some brains in me so I can grow old and wise and die well. The best thing I ever did was join the Brotherhood. Let me tell you something, Moral Dogmas of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rites of Freemasonry is a bitch of a book to get through. I don't understand much of what's going on in it, but it's all right; I'm learning; it's teaching me about control.

If I could just stop sweating on the page, I just might get my story told!

One of the cops said, "Jeanfreaux, how many graves have you made in your life?"

I said, "I would prefer not to think about it."

Malone came up from the stern of the boat and put in his two cents, he said, "Listen to Jeanfreaux, ‘I would prefer not to think about it.' What does it matter that you shot all those people? Does it bother you? Since when have you been bothered by anything?"I said, "I don't want to talk about how many graves I've made. Let's talk about how many graves you've made. I know for certain you've got my record beat by at least a dozen. Come on, Malone, let's have it." Malone said nothing and took another sip of rum, my rum!