An hour after turning onto Highway 90 Biggy was crossing the Crescent City Connection into New Orleans. He remembered nothing about the city from his field trip over twenty years before. He knew New Orleans was the home of the Saints, that they played in the Superdome, that the French Quarter was the place to go to party and find loose women, and that there was supposed to be lots of good music, although, in Biggy’s opinion, it would be hard to beat the ubiquitous Cajun music played all over Lafourche and the surrounding Parishes. He also remembered that Jake had used the words ‘up in Riverbend’ when he was describing the bar he ran. He figured somebody would be able to tell him where Riverbend was when he got to town.
He hadn’t gotten all the way to the opposite side of the long, confusing bridge when he saw the sign for the exit onto something called Tchoupitoulas. Biggy took it. The long exit ramp took him back under the highway. Traffic lanes ran in all directions above and below him. He eventually came down onto Tchoupitoulas. The best he could figure, the river was on his left and he was going generally west. Before long the street split into two one-way streets and he found himself on Religious Street. A half mile or so later this street ended and Biggy had to turn right. He had no idea where he was. There was nothing around but warehouses and industrial buildings. He drove for a few minutes until he found a bar. Time for a beer and some directions.
When the bartender set a cold Jax in front of Biggy he asked him if he knew what Riverbend was.
“Riverbend is an area in uptown where St. Charles and Carrollton Avenues come together.” the bartender said.
“Can you tell me how to get there?” Biggy asked.
“Sure.” the man said. “It’s easy. A block down the street is Jackson Ave. Turn right, toward the Lake. When you get to St. Charles turn left and keep going as far as you can and you’ll be at Riverbend. You can’t miss St. Charles because that’s where the streetcar runs.”
“Thanks.” Biggy took a long draw from the bottle of Jax and waited while the bartender helped another customer at the other end of the bar. When he came back down Biggy’s way Biggy asked, “I’m looking for a friend of mine. Name’s Jake Parrow? I haven’t seen him in a few years but he said he runs a bar in Riverbend. Ever heard of him?”
“Naw.” the man said, still thinking. “Wait, I may know the place you’re talkin’ bout. Right at the end of St. Charles, on past Carrollton, at the intersection with Leake Avenue that runs along the levee, there’s a joint named Jake’s Place. Don’t actually know who runs it but I guess it could be the fellow you’re lookin’ for.”
– Page 10 –
“Thanks a bunch.” Biggy said, turning up his Jax and draining it before getting off his stool. He followed the man’s directions, driving out St. Charles to the end just like the man said and sure enough there on the right was Jake’s Place. Biggy parked his truck in the gravel lot at the side of the building and went in. Before the door closed behind him he got a glimpse of Jake Parrow standing behind the bar in an otherwise empty room. Once the door closed the only light was from several neon beer signs and a small reading lamp next to a cash register. As his eyes began to adjust to the dim light he realized that Jake had recognized him.
“Well I’ll be goddamned. Never thought I’d see Biggy Bigeaux in New Orleans. What brings you here, Big Un?” Jake asked as he reached down into a cooler and came up with a cold bottle of Jax that he opened and set on the bar.
“You.” Biggy replied, taking a seat on the stool with the beer in front of it. “Remember that time you came back to Golden Meadow? How long ago was it. Four, five years ago? You said if I came to New Orleans you could get me a job. I wanted to see if that still holds.”
Jake didn’t comment on Biggy’s recollection of his going back to Golden Meadow. He didn’t want to think about it.
In the minute or so that the frosty cold bottle of Jax had been sitting on the bar it had already formed a little puddle and was sliding away from Biggy. He caught it before it slid completely out of his reach and upended it. The super cold liquid felt good running down his throat. The condensate dripped from the bottle down the front of his T-shirt. When he set the bottle back on the bar it was empty. Jake pointed at it and Biggy nodded his head. A moment later another full one had taken its place.
“What about your mama? Thought you had to stay in Lafourche to take care of her.”
“She died.” Biggy said.
“Just died? Just like that?”
“Yep. I got home from my garbage route day before yesterday and found her in her old chair on the back corner of the deck of the boat. Coroner said it was heart disease or complications from diabetes and he was sure enough of that that he just went ahead and gave me a death certificate without any further investigation.”
“How’d you get her buried so fast? Didn’t they have to embalm her?”
– Page 11 –
Biggy smiled. “Well, the coroner told me to call the funeral home but I didn’t wanna pay for no funeral. Nobody would of come but me noways. So I sorta buried her myself.”
This was getting interesting. Jake asked, “You ‘sorta’ buried her yourself?” Jake emphasized the word ‘sorta’. “Where?”
“In the bayou.”
“In the bayou?”
Without thinking what he was saying, Biggy gave Jake the complete details of stealing concrete blocks, jacking up Mama’s chair and sliding her body and her chair off in the bayou.”
“You’re still the same old Biggy you were back when, ain’t you, Big Un.”
Biggy smiled. “Why would I change?”
“So, how did you find my place here?”
“Luck, mostly. I got off the highway just after I crossed the bridge, got lost for awhile, found a bar to stop in and have a cold one. I told the bartender I knew a Jake Parrow who said he run a bar in New Orleans at a place called Riverbend and asked him if he’d ever heard of you. He hadn’t but knew there was a Jake’s Place in Riverbend so he told me how to get here. “
“Which bridge did you come across?”
“The Mississippi River bridge.”
Jake chuckled. “There’s more than one. Which way did you drive to get here?”
Biggy turned around on his stool and looked at the front door to get his bearings before pointing back in the direction down St. Charles. “That way.”
“So you drove along St. Charles Avenue to here?”
“Yeah. I was close to it when I stopped a while ago.”
Another man came in and headed down the bar to Biggy’s right. With his eyes fully adjusted now, Biggy could see that the bar was L shaped. Half of it was along the wall starting at a doorway in the back corner of the room. Biggy was sitting where he could see straight down the back side of the bar into the kitchen twelve or fifteen feet from where Biggy sat. Right in front of him the bar made a turn away from the wall to Biggy’s left and extended, double sided now, out into the room another fifteen or twenty feet. Stools ran from where Biggy sat, around the end of the bar and back down the other side clear back to the door.
Jake said, “Afternoon, Sam.” and without another word stepped to the cooler and took out a Budweiser before stepping to the other end of the bar where Sam sat.
“Doin’ okay this afternoon?” Jake asked.
– Page 12 –
“Doin’ fine. Just waitin’ for the rush to start. Talkin’ to Biggy back there. He’s an old friend from Lafourche. Just got into town.”
“Don’t say. He’s a big un alright. Name fits.” Sam said and took a long pull at his beer.
“Yeah. Matter of fact, that’s what I used to call him.” Jake answered as he came back down the bar to where Biggy was sitting.
“So, you need a job?
“Uh-huh. Need a place to stay, too.”
“Got’ny money?” he asked Biggy.
“A little.” Biggy said.
Jake sized Biggy up. He had no doubt he could trust him. Hell, they’d raised seven kinds of hell together going all the way back to junior high. Were even together for three months in juvvy when they were in the eighth grade. Got caught in a stolen car. And if Biggy didn’t trust Jake he never would have told him the story about how he disposed of his Mama. Jake needed someone he could trust who could move around the city without attracting attention. Biggy’s size would attract attention and he might be recognized but no one would think anything about him. He’d just be another one of the numerous cajuns who were always coming to the city from outlying parishes. Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, Lafourche, even Jefferson had its share of them who came in, spent a little time in the city and drifted back home again. Nobody gave them a second glance. Biggy would do for Jake’s little job.
“What would you think about helping out in a little side business I got goin’ on.”
“Side business? Not strictly legit, you mean?”
Biggy had said this rather loudly and Jake pushed the air down in front of him to indicate he should speak more softly.
“You don’t have to announce it to the world, you know. But, you may be right. I’m not sayin’ one way or the other.” Jake said in a low voice that made it hard to hear him. Biggy looked down the bar to where Sam sat. Sam was paying no attention to Biggy and Jake. “I got a little distribution business goin’. No heavy shit, just a little coke and weed. Every few months a cousin of mine named Rufus comes in with a shipment. Rufus is from Cutoff and he’s five or six years older than us. You might remember him, though. Name familiar?”
– Page 13 –
“What’s his last name?”
“Rufus Donelon.” Biggy said, thinking. “Naw, don’t remember no Donelon. Must of left before I got old enough to know him.”
“Didn’t think you would. Anyway, Rufus brings me some product from South America. My partner and I cut it up into smaller packages and take it to a few bartenders around town to redistribute to their known customers. We’re very careful about who we sell to and they, in turn, keep close tabs on their clientele. I’m not trying to corner the market and don’t really want to expand much but word spreads in this business, especially in this city, and so my business has grown over the last few years. I have about twenty-five customers now. It’s enough to bring me in a few thou a year. Right now I have to make all the deliveries myself, or arrange for a pickup here, but I don’t like doing that.
“My partner is a retired whore. Name’s Peggy. I bought this place from her about a year ago. Well, most of it anyway. We’re still partners, but I own about seventy percent and she has agreed to sell me the rest as soon as I get the money. She’s ready to retire completely as soon as she can. She hasn’t been directly involved in my side business but she knows about it. When she decided to get out of the business of running a stable of girls, she bought this place. I think that was over ten years ago. Then she bought a house not far from here and then a few more that were already subbed into apartments so she has some rental income comin’ in. She comes in here about every night and occasionally fills in behind the bar when I have to go out to make drops. She complains if that happens too often. Would you be interested in making some of the drops for me?”
“Whadda you mean am I interested? My only backup plan if you had no job for me was to go back to emptying garbage cans.” Biggy said. “So can you help me with a place to stay, too?”
“I just tole ya Peggy, Peggy Hamerschmidt, owns some rental units. They’re all clustered together just a few blocks from here. She’s got three or four houses cut up into apartments and one actual apartment building. Not sure how many apartments she has altogether. A dozen or more, likely. Enough to pay down her mortgages and leave her somethin’ to live on. Old whores don’t get
Social Security you know. Anyway, she happened to mention last week that she had a little basement apartment for rent. Two hundred a month. Think you might be interested?”
“Might be.” Biggy said. “How much you gonna pay me if I come to work for you?”
“Hadn’t thought about it.” Jake said. About that time three more customers came in the door. He said to Biggy. “Let me take care of these fella’s and I’ll be back.” Jake knew them all and knew what they drank.
– Page 14 –
As he got the beers, he thought about how much he took in on his distribution business. Lately he’d been raking in around ten thousand a month gross and his profit was fifty percent. He reckoned he could pay Biggy at least sixteen hundred of that. Even a little more if he had to. He wondered how much Biggy had made driving a garbage truck. Couldn’t be much and when he was working for the Parish there would be taxes to pay. In Jake’s business there were no taxes.
When he got back down the bar he asked Biggy, “How much you make drivin’ that truck and emptying all them garbage cans?”
“Ten an hour.” Biggy answered without even thinking.
Jake turned around and picked up a small calculator from beside the cash register. He punched some buttons and then looked back up at Biggy.
“I think I could match something close to your take home pay. I figure the most you take home is about twenty, twenty-one thou a year. Sound about right?”
Biggy had no idea. He’d never been good at arithmetic, even when he was still in school. When he got his W-2 every year he took it straight to H&R Block and they calculated how much his tax refund would be and then gave him half of it in cash. The check, when it came, came directly to them. Biggy usually got enough back to go on a couple of benders and make one or two trips up to the Bide-A-Wee before the money ran out.
“So you’re sayin’ you’d pay me twenty thousand a year just to make deliveries for you?”
“Yeah. Something like that.” Jake punched some more buttons on the calculator. “Let’s see. Fifty-two weeks divided into twenty thou comes out to three hundred eighty-four and some odd cents per week. I’ll round that up to an even four hundred with another fifty a week for expenses.
“Sound okay to you?”
“Absolutely.” Biggy said. It was all he could do to keep a straight face.
“And I’ll even sweeten the deal. I’ll throw in all the Jax you can drink on top of that. And remember. It’s a cash business. No taxes to fool with.”
Biggy didn’t even have to think about it. “When do I start, Boss?”
– Page 15 –
Jake chuckled. “Not so fast, big guy. Let’s get you settled in a place to stay first. You hungry?”
When was Biggy not hungry. It dawned on him he had grabbed a breakfast sandwich from Mickey D’s that morning but hadn’t had anything to eat since. “Does a gator eat egrets?” he asked. “Whatda’ you think?”
“I’ll bet you could eat a po-boy. Especially if I was buyin’.
“Oyster?” Biggy said or rather asked. “Dressed?”
Jake chuckled again. “Okay. Looks like we got a deal. I don’t make food here but I take orders and get ’em delivered from down the street. Have to have at least five orders before they’ll deliver but that won’t take long. My regulars are starting to stream in now. There’ll probably be several deliveries before the night’s over. Peggy’ll be here between four-thirty and five. I’ll introduce you when she gets here. Meanwhile, why don’t you move back over here on this other side by the register. It’ll be easier to talk.”
A steady stream of customers had begun to filter in so Jake was quite busy but every time Biggy finished a Jax another would appear in front of him within a minute or two. A little after four Jake came over and verified Biggy wanted an oyster po-boy, dressed. The po-boy, a long sandwich on a light crusty French loaf, was ubiquitous in south Louisiana and all along the Gulf Coast. Poboys came in many varieties but pretty much everybody offered shrimp, oyster, fish, roast beef and ham. The seafood was fried, of course. And the type of fish used varied by season and locale. Some places made a sloppy roast beef with pan drippings on it and some of the fancier places had even more exotic choices but shrimp, oyster, fish, roast beef and ham were standards. A dressed po-boy came with shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle, mayonnaise and ketchup or, on the fried seafood varieties, cocktail sauce.
Jake picked up the phone by the cash register and dialed a number. After a minute he said. “Merle, Jake here. I got my first order for the afternoon.” He hesitated and then said. “Two oyster, one fish, two shrimp and one roast beef.” Another hesitation. “Yeah, that’s right. And two bags of chips. Wait.” Jake looked at Biggy. “You want chips?”
“Sure” Biggy said.
Jake spoke into the phone again. “Make that three bags of chips. Got it?” Jake hesitated a minute before saying, “Yeah, all of ’em dressed except the roast beef. Make that one with lettuce and mayo only.” He hesitsted again. “Okay, Merle, see you in a bit.” Merle ran a little seafood market about a mile up the road. He sold po-boys to go only and would deliver to people he knew if they ordered at least five at a time and then only if they were within a mile or so of his shop.
As he hung up the phone, Jake announced to the bar. “Sandwiches’ll be here in about twenty minutes.” There was a half-hearted cheer.
– Page 16 –
Just as Jake turned to walk back down the bar, checking bottles on the way to see who was ready for another, the door opened. He had moved around the bar as Jake had asked and the bright light almost blinded him. When the door had closed and his eyes had recovered, a tall woman was coming around the end of the bar. It wasn’t her height that caught Biggy’s eye but how skinny she was. Skinny by Biggy’s standards, anyway. Her breasts weren’t those of a skinny woman though. Biggy noticed them the first thing and found her very curious. He guessed her to be about fifty but she was all dolled up and could have easily been ten years older. In fact, she was sixty-two.
The woman started down the bar slapping men on the back and calling each by name.
“How’s it hangin’ this afternoon, Wilbur.” she said to the man sitting on the second stool to Biggy’s right.
“It’s listing a little to port, Peggy. Wanna have a look.” Wilbur said, making a gesture as if to turn around and unzip his pants.
“Nooo.” the woman said, chuckling. “Keep that thing in your pants. I’ve seen enough of em for a lifetime. And you know that you old fool.” She said, slapping him on the butt this time.
Wilbur laughed under his breath as Peggy continued down the bar joking and kibitzing with everyone there and by this time there were at least thirty people in the place with more coming in all the time. She came all the way round the end of the bar until she got to where Biggy sat on the inside of the L next to the cash register. She sized him up, deciding he was certainly sizable, and sat down on the second stool to Biggy’s right. Peggy hoped that was enough distance to muffle the pungent odor coming from the big man.
Jake set a martini glass containing a bright orange concoction in front of her. It even had an orange slice floating on the top of it. Biggy had no idea what it was.
Peggy acknowledged her drink but otherwise didn’t say anything to Jake. A few minutes later a man appeared at the kitchen door with a cardboard beer flat stacked with po-boys. Jake brought it back up the bar. He placed a white butcher paper wrapped sandwich, marked ‘oyster’ in wax pencil, in front of Biggy along with a bag of Zapp’s potato chips. He walked on along the bar holding up sandwiches as he went, calling out what each one was. A hand would reach out and
Jake would place the sandwich in it, ask if the person had chips and if the answer was yes follow the sandwich with a bag. He’d already added the cost of the sandwiches to each man’s bar tab.
Jake was very busy at the bar for half an hour. When he finally got a break he came over to where Peggy sat. Pointing at Biggy he said, “Peggy, this stinky mountain of a man sitting here next to you is Biggy Bigeaux. Biggy, this is Peggy Hamerschmidt, my partner.”
Biggy nodded his head and said, “Pleased to meet ya’, ma’am.”
Peggy looked at Biggy and then back at Jake. “Your description fits, anyway.”
– Page 17 –
Jake chuckled. “Biggy and me were friends way back in junior high school before I left Lafourche. We were even guests of the Juvenile Justice system for a few months once, weren’t we Biggy?”
“Yep.” Biggy said, wondering why Jake was telling this to Peggy.
“Uh-huh.” was all Peggy said.
“Jake’s Mama just died down in Lafourche Parish. He’ll have to tell you about her funeral sometime. It’s quite interesting. He came to New Orleans thinkin’ he might be able to find a job. I thought I might use him in my little side operation. But he needs a place to stay. Could you help with that?”
“Maybe. We’ll have to talk.” Peggy said, and turned to Biggy. “So, you’re lookin’ for a place to crash?”
“I got a little apartment, basement like, in my main building at Pearl and Fern. Think you might want it?”
“Is it furnished?”
“Yeah. That’s what I tell people anyway. There’s a mattress on what passes for a bed and a place to rest your ass. Few things in the kitchen. And a toilet.”
“Can I go look at it?”
“You got wheels?”
“Got an old truck outside.”
“Come on then, we’ll go over there.”
“Wait. I need to pay for my beers and sandwich.”
Jake turned around from where he was ringing up somebody’s tab at the cash register. “You don’t owe me nothin’. It’s on the house. Remember what I tol ya I’d do if you come to work for me and you are gonna come to work for me, aren’t you?”
“Guess so. Thanks.” Biggy said and followed Peggy out the door.
When they got in the truck, Peggy noticed the distinct odor of rotten garbage that was even stronger than the scent emanating from the man himself.
– Page 18 –
“Whew.” she said, hanging her head out the window. What you been haulin’ in this thing?”
Biggy smiled. “Jake didn’t mention I been a garbage man all my life. Managed to get myself a real bath and some new clothes before comin’ to the city but didn’t think about cleanin’ out the old truck.”
“Shit.” Peggy said. “I’m glad we ain’t got far to go.” She pointed to the street in front of them. “Turn that way on Leake there.” indicating he should turn left.
Leake Avenue ran parallel to the river levee. They were going towards downtown and the levee was on their right. After just a couple of blocks Peggy had him turn left and then almost immediately back to the right. They had gone only half a block when she gestured for him to turn into a small parking lot. The streets here had no curbs. They looked like streets on the backroads of Lafourche except they were covered with a thin layer of cracked blacktop.
As Peggy was getting out she pointed to a three story gray stucco building. “That’s the building. The vacant apartment is in that bottom left corner in the basement. Come on.” she said, opening a gate in the tall board fence. Biggy had to hurry to keep up with her.
As was typical all over New Orleans and the rest of South Louisiana the word basement referred to a semi-subterranean space beneath a building. If one dug down more than about three feet anywhere in the city water would fill up the hole almost immediately. It was the reason that burials in the city were above ground in concrete vaults. Two steps in a little concrete well led down into the apartment.
When Peggy opened the door a musty smell emanated from the dark space within. Biggy could see nothing until Peggy turned on a light and even then Biggy couldn’t see anything clearly for the naked light bulb hanging on a wire in the ceiling couldn’t have been more than forty watts. Straight ahead in the center of the back wall of the room was an alcove with a platform built up about two feet from the floor. Biggy remembered Peggy saying it had a mattress and ‘sort of a bed’. The three sided alcove was just big enough for an old full size mattress that lay on top of the platform. To the left of the alcove was a door leading to the kitchen. To the right was a shower stall with a curtain covering it and next to that, in the corner, a toilet and lavatory in a tiny water closet. Biggy looked at the shower and wondered whether he would even be able to squeeze his bulk into it although he supposed it would be better than jumping in the bayou.
The only real window in the whole apartment was in the kitchen although the door had glass panes in the top half covered by café curtains.
Peggy asked. “Do you have any soap, or towels, or bedsheets?”
Biggy said, “I bought a couple of towels and some soap at Walmart in Thibodeaux before I left Lafourche but I didn’t get any sheets.”
– Page 19 –
“I’ll go up to the house in a minute and see if I got some old ones you can use until you get some for yourself. What do you think. You want the place?”
Biggy looked around. It was about a hundred percent better than the old houseboat. Cleaner, too. “Sure. I guess. How much?”
“Since you’re a friend of Jake’s and apparently are going to be working for him, I’ll let you have it for two hundred a month. That includes your electric, gas and even your TV cable. I charge everybody else for providing basic cable but I’ll throw it in for you for free.”
Biggy’s eyes had finally adjusted to the feeble light. He noticed that there was an upholstered chair along the wall outside the water closet and a side table with a small lamp on it. On the other side, closest to the kitchen, was a little dinette table with metal legs and a Formica top. There were three chairs. Nothing matched. The seat in one of the chairs had a slash down the middle. Stuffing was protruding from it. A small television set was on one end of the dinette table.
“Get your stuff out of your truck. I’ll be right back.” Peggy said, stepping back outside and starting across the lawn. A well-worn path led to a house on the other side of the lawn. Biggy followed her out but then veered off to the gate and got the gym bag with the clothes and other items he had purchased the afternoon before at Walmart.
He went back inside and began to inspect the kitchen. He tried to look out the window but could see very little through the grimy glass. It looked as if the house next door was near enough he could touch it, or would have been able to if the window could have been raised, but it had long been painted shut. An old air conditioning unit was mounted at the top of the window. As Biggy looked around he could see no real source of heat although there was an old vent in the wall opposite the kitchen. It would be months before he would need to think about heat, anyway. He just hoped the old air conditioner worked.
Five minutes later Peggy was back with the bedsheets and an old blanket. “Sorry,” she said as she came inside, “I don’t have an extra pillow. You’ll have to use your gym bag or something until you can get one. There’s a Stein Mart on Tchoupitoulas a couple of miles from here. We’ll tell you how
to find it tomorrow.” She handed Biggy a single bare key. “Here’s the key to the place. When can you get me the money for the first month’s rent?”
“I got it but not on me. Can I give it to you in the morning?”
“Yeah. How about takin’ me back to the bar now.” As she said that Peggy was already starting out the door expecting Biggy to follow.
– Page 20 –
As they drove back the quarter mile to Jake’s Place the sun was just setting over the river. It was the height of happy hour and the parking lot was full. Peggy had Biggy drop her off by the front door before he started driving around looking for a spot where he could park. He ended up parking almost a block away on the river side of Leake but there were plenty others parked between the street and the railroad so Biggy figured it must be alright. Back inside, the bar was packed. All of the stools were taken and people were standing three or four deep around the bar. Peggy was sitting on the stool at the end of the bar closest to the kitchen. Jake was slinging beers as fast as he could draw them from the tap, or grabbing long necks out of the cooler, but by the time Biggy got to the end of the bar where Peggy sat Jake already had a cold Jax sitting there.
Biggy finished his beer and decided he would go back to the apartment. It was the first place he had ever had to call home except the houseboat. He was sort of excited about it. Besides, his entire life’s savings were still in a coffee can under the seat of his pickup and he was worried about it being stolen. He had to find someplace to hide it.
When he told Jake he was leaving Jake said. “Okay, Big Un, why don’t you come over to Peggy’s about ten in the morning. It’s one of my mornings to have coffee with her. We’ll all talk more then.”
Biggy had watched Peggy walk over to get his sheets so he knew where her house was.
“Okay. Night, Peggy.”
“Night, Big Un.” Peggy said. It hadn’t taken her long to pick up on Jake’s nickname for Biggy.
When Biggy got back to the parking lot behind the apartment he reached under the seat and pulled out the Community Coffee can with his money. He had had enough forethought to drop it into a plastic Wal-Mart bag before leaving the houseboat the afternoon before so it wasn’t obvious what he was carrying. Inside, he went to the kitchen and looked around for a place to stash the money. His eyes landed on the drawer under the oven. He tugged on it and it reluctantly opened, making a god awful screeching sound as it did. Biggy thought, “Perfect.”
Inside the little drawer, that had likely not been opened in years, Biggy found an old skillet with petrified grease in it. The skillet sat atop a rusted cookie sheet.
Biggy took the money out of the coffee can. He counted out four hundred dollars in twenties and slipped them into his pocket. He hoped there would be money coming in well before he needed any more from his stash. He lifted the cookie sheet and skillet together out of the drawer and put them on the stove. He found a roll of paper towels. He held the roll over the cookie sheet and determined two of the towels would just about cover it. He tore off four towels, doubling them and laying them carefully in the center of the drawer. He covered the towels with stacks of bills, making sure the edges of the stacks didn’t come beyond the edges of the towels. Then he lay another double layer of towels on top, making a money sandwich. He very carefully replaced the cookie sheet and skillet. No traces of paper towel were visible. It wasn’t obvious that the cookie sheet had been picked up in years. Satisfied that his money was at least temporarily safe, he put the empty coffee can up in a cabinet and went back into the other room.
– Page 21 –
He sat down in the upholstered chair and turned on the lamp. Some previous tenant had left a copy of a James Lee Burke paperback laying on the small side table. Biggy couldn’t read well, but he could get along. The cover of the book intrigued him. He flipped it over and read the back cover. The words “New Iberia Parish” and “Louisiana bayou” caught his eye right away. He read on, “The restless specters wait in the shadows for Cajun cop Dave Robicheaux – as he hunts a serial butcher who is preying on the less-than-innocent young …”. He turned it back over and looked again at the title, “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead”. He opened it and began to read the first real book he had ever read in his life, ignoring the television that was on the table a few feet in front of him.
He hadn’t made it through the first chapter before he was falling asleep. He realized that even though he hadn’t done that much today, especially by the standards of a man who normally spent his days slinging garbage cans, he was pretty tired. He quickly put the sheets on the bed, rolled the blanket up to use as a pillow, turned the lights out and was asleep within ten minutes.
– Page 22 –