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Authors: Buck Sanders

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“Will you be at this number?”

“The new shipment isn’t here yet. I’ll be on the dock until mid-afternoon. Just keep your eye on the newspaper people. Good-bye.”

He returned to the van, asking his partner, a skinny. unkept leather-clad punk, to tail the woman. He’d watch the other. Grabbing
a walkie-talkie, the punk silently acknowledged the order, and ran across the street to a Kentucky Fried Chicken take-out.

Eddie insisted upon taking Wilma to an early lunch, but she preferred going back to the hotel alone. “I have to write a follow-up
to the Parfrey article.” she said, again discouraging Eddie’s advances. “We can meet for supper later.”

Walking the nine blocks back to the La Grange Hotel,

she stopped twice to notice a tall, gangly street kid keeping a block’s distance, moving at her pace. She took a convoluted
path, over sidestreets and including a ten-minute rest on a sidewalk bench, but the punk still followed her. She made a call
to Eddie at a pay phone, suspecting that he might have an unwanted pursuer. No answer. Keeping cool and not making the punk
aware that she saw him, Wilma moved quickly to the hotel.

In the lobby, she doubled back through a foyer, past the main desk, to spy on the punk. He did not enter the hotel, but instead
sprinted to a parked Chevy van and leapt in an open side door. The vehicle peeled rubber, heading toward the wharves at breakneck
speed… Turning down Bourbon Street, it disappeared in a cloud of exhaust.

The heat wave made Wilma very uncomfortable and sweaty, so she headed back to her room for a shower. She dropped some of her
clothes on the floor and draped others over a yellow sofa; while her underwear dotted a path to the bathroom door.

The bathroom door was closed and the shower head spraying noisily when an intruder picked her lock and entered her suite.
He promptly knocked over a decorative vase, but Wilma couldn’t hear it crack apart on the rug.

He deposited the broken vase in the kitchen sink and stole into the adjoining pantry. Kneeling behind a set of cheesy, gold-braided
curtains, he smiled maliciously.

7

“You wanna tell me where yo’ from, motherfucker?” This line accompanied a swift boot in the groin, sending Ben Slayton’s lower
abdomen into convulsions.

The pimp stepped back, letting his rat-faced buddy take his turn with the honky trash, pulverizing his stomach and chest with
a succession of blows. Slayton, wind knocked out and head spinning in agony, collapsed to the floor of the two-room apartment.

“I don’t think this shit’s gonna talk,” said Rat-Face, cracking his knuckles.

The pimp took a handful of Slayton’s hair. “He’s out, man.”

“Lemme finish off the motherfucker.” Rat-Face loved to beat up on whitey. “I want to rip out his goddam heart and slap him
in the face with it.”

The pimp let Slayton fall back against the wall. “No, man, we ain’t gettin’ paid to blow away this turkey. Let’s drop’m in
the basement and let him rot.”

Rat-Face hoisted Slayton’s legs in the air, while the pimp, a tall glitter-boy dressed in a three-piece suit, jangling change
in a breast pocket and carrying a blade the size of a machete, held his head.

“Any money on this dude?” Rat-Faced asked.

“1 cleaned’m out. Thirty bucks, hardly worth a shit in a pail.” The pimp kicked open the basement door. Barely conscious,
Slayton smelled the garbage below as they lowered him in.

He could hear his arms and legs twisting down the moldy stairs; he was too close to passing out for any feeling to reach his
mind. The stairs flew past—he did not hear the door close behind him.

“What happened? Slayton whispered, not expecting any reply; he was disoriented, unable to coordinate his muscles, and his
brain was on fire. Landing in a small pile of debris, he could barely move his face out of the. months-old sweepings and refuse.
Breathing slowly, propped up against the bottom steps, Slayton tried to struggle out of the pit of unconsciousness, tried
to stay above the darkness of sleep, or what he interpreted as death closing in.

“Bambi,” he sighed, wondering what became of the frightened young girl he’d left alone with a psychopath in the room directly
overhead. His memory slipped-Bambi who? While searching for an answer, his legs had enough strength to slide him back up the
stairwell. One try, though, pushed him up barely an inch. Settling down into a seat of musty wood and carelessly hammered
nails sticking into his back, Slayton recalled how he ended up in such an unflattering condition on the lower floor of a ramshackle
building on Chicago’s west Side.

The last he could remember was just three days ago, stepping off the plane at O’Hare Field, shaking hands with Special Agent
Parks of the Treasury Department’s Midwest branch. Snow littered the ground as Chicago began a slow recovery from a harsh,
cold winter. The temperatures were well above freezing, but a brittle wind cut through Slayton’s thin coat, filling his lungs
with discomforting, icy air.

“Welcome to Chicagoland,” said Parks as they drove the highway into town. “I only got a day’s notice that you were coming.
Booked you into the Hilton.”

Slayton had other plans. “I’m going to need a room somewhere else, preferably a lot less ritzy.”

“Whatever you say.” Parks was confounded. “Why hole up in a dive when the taxpayers can put you up in style?”

“I’m interested in the locations of all warehouses in the area that might to used to store an incredibly large number of weapons.”

“Okay, I can have that for you by tonight. Where will you stay?”

“Parks, we have to move faster than that. Get the addresses for me within the hour. Can I use this car?”

“Sure. Would you mind telling me what you’re gonna do?”

“I’ll call in three times a day to update my progress. Otherwise, we won’t be in touch. I want to be able to move around without
suspicion. Have you been briefed on my mission?”

“Yeah, but how will I know if you’re in a tight squeeze, to send in the cavalry?”

“If I’m overdue calling in, let’s say by an hour, then send in the search team. I’ll be checking out the list of warehouses
one at a time, undercover.”

Parks weaved through the traffic like a true Chicagoan, missing fenders by inches, slamming on the brakes at the last second
if an accident appeared imminent.

“Hey, slow down,” yelled Slayton, grasping the dashboard. “Let’s make it there without having to take a side trip to the emergency
room.”

At Parks’s office, the computer terminal printed out a six-page compilation of addresses for buildings where arrests for gun-smuggling
were common. Slayton moved into a moderately unkempt hotel on South Clark Street, investigating twelve warehouses in six hours,
casing the neighborhood in hopes of uprooting information. If gun racketeering was happening in that town, Slayton would weed
it out.

Adopting the clothes and mannerisms of a pimp from the South gone to “de Windeh City for Easter Vacation,” Slayton made contacts,
flashed his wad of century bills, and mingled with the street freaks. His name was “Lisle from
Looseeanna,”
and he wanted some action.

“What kind of action?” boomed one uncompromisingly, rough black dude in white alligator shoes, who sported a lisp.

“Pop guns,” said Slayton, laying on a heavy Southern accent. “I’m lookin’ to spend a lotta bread and bring home a lotta goods.”

The dude, called Tiger, moved a bit closer. “What’s your name, man?”

“Lisle Beaudin, from Natchitoches.”

“Natzi-what?”

“Louisiana, brother.”

“I ain’t your fuckin’ brother, white man. You into the opium?”

“Yeah, I feed it to my sister.”

“I know where there’s some good shit for sale. Interested?”

“No, no, I’m into pop guns, man-rifles, hardware.”

“I know what you mean.” Tiger removed his mirror-reflective sunglasses and looked around nervously. “Hey, follow me to where
there’s some
real
score, y’know what I mean?”

They entered a dirty, infested tenement building through an alley door. Inside, past a set of doors with holes punched through
them where two whores were arguing loudly, the lisping black man introduced Slayton to a crude movie set and a pornographic
film in the making. A balding, middle-aged white man shook hands with Tiger.

“Who’s your friend?” The effiminate director looked Slayton over.

“Ah, this is Mr. Lisle from the Deep South,” replied Tiger, grinning an expanse of pearly whites. “He’s in the market for
heaters.”

The director raised his hand in a faggoty flourish. “Oh, boom-boom.” He laughed.

Slayton forced a mild chuckle. “I’m a serious customer,” he said.

The black dude looked at the action proceeding on a mattress—two acne-faced gigolos doing nasty things to a bleached-blond
actress—and commented, “Man, where’s the dog?”

“His big scene is next,” said the director. “You want to wait around? It’ll be far out.”

“Forget it, Jack. Uh, where can I find Charlemagne?”

“Second floor.”

The black dude and Slayton circled around the mini-orgy in the center of the room, passing through another set of doors and
up a carpeted set of stairs. A drunk was sitting halfway up, bending forward and vomiting. With each step the atmosphere grew
more menacing; Slayton could barely visualize the end of a hallway, with two useless whores propped up near the fire escape.

One of them touched Slayton, slurring her words. “Ten dollars ’n’ you can fuck me in the ass, sugar.”

The black dude slapped her aside, splitting her lip and drawing blood. “Move over, scumbag!”

The last room on the left was painted bright pink, decorated with smears of paint on the wooden floor. Three hoods poured
over some newspapers in one corner, their feet propped up on a rickety pine desk. One of them looked up as the two entered.

“Tiger, man,” he said, “I told you never to bring no strangers up here.”

Tiger’s voice
grew
patronizing. “I know, but this motherfucker’s wantin’ to see Charlemagne.”

The other hoods looked up now, checking out the white man in the greasy duds. “What’s you want to see Charlemagne for, honky
asshole?” one of them said.

Slayton extended his right index finger and thumb into the impression of a pistol.

The main hood laughed. “You buyin’?”

Slayton nodded. The two goons on the end were wiry but dumb; the guy in the middle had Slayton worried. His hands were underneath
the desk—he could be holding a weapon. Slayton walked to one side of the room to try to avoid the possible line of fire.

The main hood spoke again, sarcastically. “Tiger get your ass back on the street and rustle up some business, man. Can’t keep
our girls working if you ain’t hawk

Tiger left the room, shutting the door behind him. The two men on the end walked to either side of the Treasury agent. They
smacked of liquor and pot. Joey Case, the black man sitting at the desk, pulled a gun from inside his coat.

“Man,” Case said, waving the pistol, “this is a secret office location. You are not s’posed to be within a thousand miles
of here. Now get the fuck outta my sight ’fore I blow your motherfucking head off.”

Slayton edged past, the two others, concentrating entirely on Case. Leaning over the desk, he slapped his right hand on the
wood and with his left produced a roll of hundred-dollar bills from inside’ his checkered jacket. “Long as I have money, you’ll
do business,” he said, soaking up the stench of alcohol on Case’s breath.

Case snapped his fingers. The two goons took Slayton by the arms and led him to the rear of the office. Case fondled the bills
and said, “We don’t know about no guns.”

“But Charlemagne does,” replied Slayton, playing a hunch.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Case rocked in his chair. “I think you’re a Fed, Mr. Slick, and I’m gonna cut your balls off.” He stuffed
the money in the desk drawer.

Slayton didn’t move until he knew for sure the other two goons were standing next to him and within reach. Then he lashed
out at them, mashing his fist into their teeth, sending them to opposite ends of the room. Case cocked the pistol and took
aim, but Slayton was too fast for him. Wheeling into a karate stance, the white man broke Case’s hand in one kick. The gun
flew into the corner.

One of the goons tried jumping on Slayton, but quickly found himself chewing paint chips off the wall, blood pouring from
his mouth as he slumped into oblivion.

Slayton was beating the crap out of the second thug when Case scurried after the gun. Catching this move out the corner of
his eye, Slayton dropped his prey—who crashed to the floor with a broken arm—and pounced on Case, pulling him over backward
by the hair. Case screamed, and Slayton raised one knee against the pimp’s mouth, chipping off three teeth and turning his
lip into jelly.

Without a scratch on him, Slayton walked back to the middle of the room and tossed a file box on Case. “Now where’s Charlemagne?”
he said.

Case spit out fractured molars. “I don’t know anyone, I don’t know anyone.”

“You’ll talk,” warned Slayton. picking up the desk chair. He proceeded to smash the’ chair down on Case’s agonized frame,
busting a few ribs. “Tell me now, you piece of shit.”

Case cried
uncle.
“Next door in Room Nineteen. Don’t hit me again!” Slayton let him fall. The desk drawer was open and Slayton retrieved his
cash. Joey Case was out cold.

Room 19 was at the end of a grubby corridor on the third floor. The floorboards creaked loudly, giving ample warning to the
room’s occupants. Slayton could make out a vague rustling as he stood at the threshold. Holding Case’s pistol, he raised a
hand to knock, then decided against it.

“Charlemagne?” He sidestepped to the right in the event someone opened fire on him.

No answer.

Then, from inside, a woman’s muffled scream.

Slayton kicked the door in— the lock flew into several pieces. Standing ten feet away, approaching the opening to a very small
bathroom. Gus Charlemagne, a blubber-gut, middle-aged Italian man with small eyes and a five o’clock shadow, stared incredulously
at Slayton, discolored teeth protruding from his open mouth. On a dresser in the corner was a makeshift lamp without a shade,
burning a red-colored bulb. The unmade bed to one side contained a young black woman, tied to the bedposts on her stomach,
completely nude. There were lines of blood on her back.

BOOK: Bayou Brigade
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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