Sunday morning Biggy was at the back door of Peggy’s at nine as he had been instructed. Peggy scrunched up her nose as he walked in. She smelled him almost before she saw him. “There’s something you need to know.” she said. “You must start thinking more about your hygiene. It may have been a moot point when you were driving a garbage truck but not here. Now go back over there and take a good shower. Wash your hair. And for god’s sake, put on deodorant and fresh drawers.”
“I was going to but I didn’t want to be late.” Biggy said in a lame way, trying to defend himself.
“I can wait another half hour.” Jake said. “We’re not in that big of a hurry. Now, git!”
Biggy backed out the door. When he returned half-an-hour later, he didn’t exactly smell like a rose but much better than he had before.
Biggy poured himself some coffee and sat down. Jake asked about Saturday and Biggy reported that he had made both trips as instructed and had no problem finding the clients he was supposed to find. Just for kicks, Jake wanted to know if he had memorized all of them yet. Biggy named eight of the nine he was supposed to know.
Jake looked at Peggy. “It sounds like he’s off to a good start, don’t you think?”
“Sounds like it. We’ll just have to see.”
“That’s right.” Jake said, turning back to face Biggy. “This is the last day of your formal training. You start work tomorrow.”
“Whatever you say, Boss.”
Jake chuckled as he cuffed Biggy on the shoulder and stood up. “Okay, let’s go.”
They walked out to Biggy’s old truck. Once inside, Jake told him to drive to Sophronia’s on Freret, using the map to point out where they were and where Miss Sophronia’s was. “St.Charles to Broadway to Freret. Got it?”
– Page 45 –
Biggy turned left onto Broadway and Jake said. “Miss Sophronia’s is about five blocks down on the right.”
“Jake, you told me on Friday she always insists on being called Miss Sophronia and never Sophie. Do you know where the name Sophronia came from?”
“Miss Sophronia is a character in one of William Faulkner’s novels. Ever heard of him?”
“Can’t say as I have.”
“Well, he’s very famous. He was from Mississippi and, from what I understand, he wrote a lot about north Mississippi and the people who lived there. I’ve never read his books but Miss Sophronia herself said her daddy named her after one of Faulkner’s characters and always insisted that she be called Miss Sophronia and never Sophie although as I told you some of her good friends, myself included, can get away with it from time to time if no one else is around. I’m sure, as time goes on, you’ll find out much more about her.”
By this time they were approaching Freret. Sophronia’s on Freret was a large two-story wooden building that actually faced Broadway. There was a small balcony over the front entrance and a small one foot square sign beside the door simply said ‘Sophronia’s on Freret’. Jake directed Biggy to the small parking area behind the bar. There was space for about three cars. Biggy’s truck barely fit the space left between the Cadillac Coup Deville and the taxicab that were already parked there. Biggy guessed the Caddy must have been from the 60’s.
Jake and Biggy got out and walked up to the rear door. Jake pressed a button on an intercom. A minute later a cheery voice came from the speaker. “Who is it?”
“It’s Jake, Willa Mae. Come let us in.”
“Be there in a jiff.”
A minute later the door opened to reveal a large black woman with her hair tied up in a tignon.
“Well, lord-a-mercy, Jake. How’s the world treatin’ ya. Come on in and have some coffee.”
Jake and Biggy followed the woman through a large storeroom stacked with boxes of food and booze and beer.
Jake said, “Is she down yet?”
– Page 46 –
“Not yet. You know she don’t never come down before ten and it’s still ten minutes shy a ten. Besides, I think she musta had a really late night last night from the looks of this place this mornin’. Jacques and me got here about nine and it was a real mess. Jacques be another hour or more in there just gettin’ us ready to open.”
Biggy wondered if Jacques was the same as the Jacques of Jacques Baptist’s that was on his customer list and made a mental note to ask Jake later.
Willa Mae continued, “She is ‘wake, tho. Hollered down a little bit ago and said she be down in ’bout ten minutes for me to have her eggs ready then.” The woman looked at Biggy. “Who this be?” she asked Jake.
“Oh, sorry, Willa. This is Biggy Bigeaux, an old friend of mine from Lafourche. He’s going to be helping me out from now on. I thought I’d bring him by and introduce him to Miss Sophronia.”
“Well, I be sure she be glad to meet ya’ Mister Biggy.” She looked at Jake. “Ya’ll had any breakfast?”
“Naw.” Jake said.
As Willa Mae poured coffee into two cups, she said, “Well, sit yo’selfs down.” placing the two cups of coffee in front of them. “I’ll just put a few more strips of bacon and some more eggs on this here griddle.” She lay six more strips of bacon beside the three that were already sizzling there and broke six more eggs into the bowl where there were already three. The egg yolks looked like nine huge yellow eyes swimming in a transparent sea. She placed a heavy griddle press on top of the bacon so that it would crisp evenly. Using a paintbrush, she slopped liquid butter onto the other side of the griddle, making a large puddle into which she poured the eggs which began to sizzle and turn brown around the edges. Just as the whites were getting set she used her big metal spatula to separate them into three groups of three and then flip each group over deftly just long enough for the whites to get set.
While they watched Willa Mae cook, Jake explained to Biggy that Willa Mae was Miss Sophronia’s cook and that Jacques Millard was her husband. Jacques drove a cab but brought Willa Mae to work every morning and stayed long enough to clean up the bar before he left in his cab. That answered Biggy’s question without him even having to ask.
About that time, just as Willa Mae was flipping the eggs and bacon onto plates sitting on the shelf in front of the grill, a very large framed, well proportioned, elegant woman came in from the storeroom. She made a very striking figure. Her complexion was the color of cafe au lait. A loud, flowery duster, open in front, billowed out behind her as she walked in. She was wearing a bustier above a pair of men’s pajama bottoms. Nothing matched. Her coal black hair was piled loosely on the top of her head, strands of it spilling out at various angles on all sides.
– Page 47 –
“Jake Parrow, as I live and breathe.” she said as Jake stood up and was almost smothered as she enfolded him in her arms, pressing his face into her very heavy bosoms. “What brings you here on a Sunday?”
As soon as Jake could extricate himself from her grip and get his breath he turned to Biggy.
“Biggy Bigeaux meet the infamous Miss Sophronia O’Mahony.” He turned back to Miss Sophronia, “Sophie, this is Biggy Bigeaux, an old friend of mine from Lafouorche Parish. We went to school together, skipped school together, and generally stayed in trouble together from the time we were about twelve years old until I left to come to New Orleans with my mama when I was seventeen. We even shared an address at the Lafourche Parish Juvenile Detention Center for about six months once after we had stolen a car and taken a joyride.”
Miss Sophronia laughed as she looked at Biggy. “What brings you to New Orleans, Mr. Biggy Bigeaux?”
“Well.” Biggy started, and Jake took over. “Biggy’s mama died just a few days ago and Biggy came to see me about a job right after he buried her in the bayou.”
“That sounds like an interesting story. You’ll have to tell me sometime, Biggy.”
Biggy just stood there. Redfaced.
“I thought I would use him as a runner making drops for me, so beginning this week he’ll be the one coming in with your product.”
“Okay by me.” Miss Sophronia said. “As long as you trust him and obviously you do.”
“Completely.” was all Jake said.
Willa Mae sat the three plates on the table along with a loaf of French bread and a plate with a huge slab of butter on it. “Awright, ya’ll. Set down here and eat these eggs fore they gets cold.”
Jake and Biggy and Miss Sophronia all sat down and dug into their eggs and bacon. Miss Sophronia broke off hunks of the French bread, tossing one onto each of the other plates before getting one for herself. She slathered butter and jam on hers and then extended the butter knife to Jake. Biggy had never had fresher French bread in his life. It felt like it had just come out of the oven and that was actually almost true. It had been delivered along with another fifteen loaves to Willa Mae not thirty minutes before when it was still warm. The bakery was just over on Claiborne Avenue.
Jake and Miss Sophronia chatted about business for a few minutes before Jake said, “Well, we better get going. I know you’ve gotta get the bar restocked before you get ready to open at 11:00 and we’ve got a few more places to go before I go back and open up myself. You’ll be seeing Biggy the next time you need a delivery.”
– Page 48–
Jake stood up and bent down to kiss Miss Sophronia on the cheek. “Okay, hon.” she said mopping up yolk with the last of the French loaf. “It was good to see ya, Jake, and it was good to meet you, Biggy. I look forward to workin’ with ya.”
“Bye.” Biggy said as he and Jake turned to go back through the storeroom and let themselves out.
As they got into the truck Jake explained that most days Miss Sophronia didn’t open until around 3:00 but on Sundays she had her regulars — Well, truth be told, Willa Mae had her regulars. — that came in for lunch.
They went back out to St. Charles and turned towards downtown. Jake told Biggy to go past Jefferson and then watch for Robert Street. He was going to turn right onto Robert so they could go by Prytania Street Pub.
At Robert Street Biggy turned right as instructed. At the end of the second block Jake pointed out Prytania Street Pub. Jake continued to instruct Biggy. They turned left onto Prytania and then right on Upperline. Jake pointed out Zara’s Supermarket on the corner across the street, telling Biggy that Zara’s lived up to it’s name of ‘Lil Giant’ because they stocked all manner of homemade Cajun specialties. Biggy should remember it when he was making deliveries to the Pub or just anytime he wanted to pick something up to take home for supper.
They continued on Upperline towards the river. Biggy found this street very interesting. It started out as a fairly normal, although somewhat narrow, two-way street with cars parallel parked on both sides. By the end of the second block, however, the strip of blacktop was barely wider than one car and there were no curbs, just white crushed oyster shells on either side where the cars were parked. When they met a car coming from the other way, one or the other had to find a spot to pull off to the side while the other passed.
After four or five blocks they had to stop at Magazine Street. Magazine was a narrow, two-lane, two-way street with parallel parking on both sides. Jake said it was like that all the way from the CBD out past Audubon Park. It took a while for them to get a break in the constant traffic before they could cross the street.
Several blocks further on they came to Tchoupitoulas. As they turned left onto Tchoupitoulas Jake pointed to the right and said there was a Steinmart Store and a Winn-Dixie Supermarket a half mile or so in that direction right at the foot of Jefferson. He said the Steinmart would be where Biggy wanted to go to get his pillow and sheets and ice trays. Biggy added, “And a brighter lightbulb for my room.” Jake just chuckled.
At the corner of Cadiz Jake pointed out the Tchoupitoulas Sports Bar, another customer. On the right was a very large Schwegman’s Supermarket.
– Page 49 –
Two blocks further down Tchoupitoulas brought them to the foot of Napoleon Avenue. They turned left. Jake pointed out Tipitina’s on the corner on the right. Tipitina’s was a popular uptown music venue made famous by Professor Longhair.
Jake said, “Turn right when you get to St. Charles. It’ll be the second light. The first one is at Magazine.”
As they approached St. Charles, Jake told Biggy he expected him to point out all the client locations all the way down to Canal Street and Biggy missed only one. He knew there was a client just off Carondelet on Poydras. Couldn’t remember the name but remembered where it was.
At Canal Jake had him drive straight across onto Bourbon. As they entered Bourbon, Biggy noted that the barricade blocking vehicular traffic was absent from the middle of the street where it had been the day before. It was still too early.
They drove straight through the quarter to Esplanade Avenue, another boulevard with a neutral ground. Turning right Jake pointed out Café Alfonse and Papa’s Got Da Blues over on the left, two more clients, before having Biggy turn back into the Faubourg Marigny on Frenchmen Street.
“Remember,” Jake said. “I’m not expecting you to remember the names or locations of all of these places. You’ll start slow. But I did want you to see where all of them were.” They drove along Frenchmen. “This small area is a hotspot for jazz and blues in the evenings. Late at night, almost every night, there’s jazz and blues coming from what seems like every door along this three block stretch. The buildings may look decrepit but some of the best jazz musicians in the world come here to play. If you’re lucky enough to be at Snug Harbor or the Spotted Cat late at night when a jam session gets started there’s no telling who you might see. Don’t worry about making deliveries down here. There are special circumstances associated with them and they will be the last clients that you learn to service.”
Jake directed Biggy to turn left on Royal Street where they could turn back toward Esplanade. At Esplanade they turned left and went back by Café Alfonse and Papa’s Got Da Blues. Then they turned back into the quarter on Decatur street, jogging over onto French Market Place to go by Mabel’s at the Market and Bernadette’s.
Back on Decatur they continued on through the Quarter. Biggy recognized Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral and knew where he was for a moment until they passed them and continued down Decatur. Once across Canal, Decatur became Magazine. As they crossed Canal, Jake pointed out that the very last one of the clients place’s that Biggy had not seen yet was Bobo’s on Canal, a very tiny dive right on Canal Street one block to the right. Jake explained he should have had Biggy walk by it the day before but had forgotten about it himself. He told Biggy they only needed a delivery about once every couple months and it was a small one so it was easy to forget.
– Page 50 –
After they crossed Canal Jake explained that Magazine ran parallel to the river, the same as St. Charles, all the way Uptown so they just stayed on it. Biggy was, of course, familiar with it because he had crossed it on Friday and again two times this morning but hadn’t ever actually driven along it. It was an interesting street The first mile or so from Canal was one way. Even after it switched to two lanes it was still very narrow and had parallel parking on both sides for almost seven miles where it went through Audubon Park and then joined Leake Avenue just a few blocks from Biggy’s Apartment and Jake’s Place. All along the way were eclectic neighborhoods with small shops, restaurants and bars, interspersed with single family shotgun houses and larger houses subdivided into small apartments. Biggy noticed ‘For Rent’ signs all along the way and wondered how expensive they were?
Several times as he drove along, Biggy had to stop and wait for someone to park or to exit a parking place and realized quickly he had to be very careful to watch for someone opening a car door and stepping out into the traffic lane.
They drove through the park where Jake pointed out Audubon Zoo that was at the tip of Audubon Park right at the river. Just past it Magazine turned into Leake Avenue and almost immediately crossed Broadway.
“Did you get some ice cube trays like I told you Friday night?”
“No. Didn’t know you’d want them so quickly.”
“I thought of it because we just crossed Broadway and Steinmart is at the end of Broadway. After I leave you this afternoon, go back to Steinmart and get some. Wash them and make some ice.”
When they got to Jake’s Place, Jake had Biggy pull up to the back door. He ran inside and came back out with a plastic bucket filled with ice. Back at Peggy’s, Jake got out where he had parked his truck at the side of Peggy’s house and left Biggy to circle the block and go back to his apartment, taking the ice with him.
Within a few minutes after Biggy got back to the apartment, Jake walked in the back door carrying a large paper shopping bag, one of those that have handles, from Maison-Blanche.
Over Jack Daniels, with ice this time, Jake provided Biggy with all the details about making drops. “Where’s your backpack?”
Biggy pointed to it where it was propped next to the easy chair.
“Okay.” Jake said. “Take it everywhere you go. You can keep whatever you like in it in addition to that old apron that’s in there. Also, pick up a Times-Picayune every morning first thing. And keep the crossword book in there even if you never work any more of them. The idea is if someone looks in your backpack, it should look like it’s just a utility bag that you carry to and from work.”
– Page 51 –
Jake dumped the contents of his Maison-Blanche bag on the table. There were six packages wrapped in white butcher paper that for all the world looked like po-boy sandwiches. There were even a few grease marks on the outside of them. Jake handed one across the table to Biggy. It had ‘H and C — D’ written on it in wax pencil. “Almost all of the packages you deliver will look like a sandwich, though not all. If this were actually a sandwich it would be a ham and cheese, dressed. Ever customer gets a particular sandwich. I even put a little bar-b-que sauce or ketchup on once in a while. Nobody’ll think a thing about you having three or four of them in your backpack. You could be taking them to meet friends somewhere or, hell, big as you are, they might all just be for your lunch. Or lunch and an afternoon snack.”
Jake pulled a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and handed it to Biggy. “On there is a list showing each business that gets a delivery from this batch, day and time of the delivery, and first name of the customer. Never, ever, leave this apartment with that list and don’t just leave it laying out here on the table. Got it?”
“Aye, aye, Sir.” Biggy said as he saluted. That got him a cuff to the back of the head.
“How will you deliver the ‘sandwiches’ to me?” Biggy put ‘sandwiches’ in air quotes the same way Jake had been doing.
“Remember when I said Peggy knew about my business but didn’t really participate?”
“Well, she does now. I’ll leave the ‘sandwiches’ when I’m having coffee with her in the morning. She has a key to your apartment. She comes and goes over to this building all the time. She’ll always knock to see if you are here but, if not, she’ll let herself in and leave the bag in the refrigerator along with the list of who each is for and when you should make the delivery. Any questions so far?”
“Yeah.” Biggy said. “Do I just walk in and toss the ‘sandwich’ on the bar?”
Jake chuckled. “No. We don’t want to be quite so obvious and there’s always the possibility that the customer has spotted someone he doesn’t trust. When you walk in go to the end of the bar furthest from the door. The customer will determine if the coast is clear. He or she will speak to you before you get all the way to the end of the bar and likely meet you there with your Jax unless she’s real busy. This is her signal that you can deliver her ‘sandwich’ right away. If he pays you no attention when you come in and lets you sit at the bar a minute or two before noticing you it means he suspects something. You’ll have to call him to get your beer. He might or might not call you by name. If that ever happens, drink your beer as usual and leave. No delivery. He’ll make arrangements through me for a new delivery time.
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“As I mentioned, you’ll start meeting customers tomorrow. This batch of ‘sandwiches’ have no product in them. They are dummies. The list covers the entire week. You’re only going out for a visit and to meet the customer but you will be leaving the dummy sandwiches just as if they were for real. I want you to look, and be, completely comfortable before you deliver product. The first place you’ll go is the Oak Pub on Carollton, just a few blocks from Riverbend, at ten tomorrow morning. There’s two or three more places on the list for each of the other days this week. You’re only going to visit places within walking distance of the streetcar this week. You already know where they are. Remember the Oak Pub? You passed it on the streetcar when you went to the end of the line.” Jake didn’t give Biggy time to answer. He was pointing at the first entry on the list. “Client’s name is Max. I’ve already given him your description and he knows you like Jax. Every customer on the list will be the same all week. They will recognize you as soon as you walk in. They’re already familiar with the backpack. If no one in the place recognizes you, our customer is not there.”
As he finished off his Jack Daniels, he reached into his shirt pocket, took out a business card, and handed to Biggy. Biggy looked at it and read ‘Missy Allison, Attorney at Law’. “Keep that in your wallet. If for any reason you are stopped and questioned by the police while you have product with you, be cool. But if they try to search your pack, refuse and call Missy immediately. Don’t call me. She’ll know who you are and that you work for me. That’s all she knows and all she needs to know. She’ll make arrangements to get you released as soon as possible if you are arrested. She’ll take care of you, I guarantee.” Jake said the word guarantee just as the old Cajun Chef Justin Wilson himself had always said it, ‘gar-ON-T’.”
Jake hesitated a minute, his hand on the door knob. “Any questions?”
Biggy thought for a few seconds. “Nope. Nothing I can think of.” And then, before Jake could open the door, he said, “Wait. There is something. Do I get paid for the delivery?”
“Nope.” Jake said. “Customers mail their payment to a mailbox at a private drop that I have rented. There’s no connection between them, the mail drop and me. That’s also how they let me know when to make their next delivery and what to deliver. Even when I’m making the delivery myself, they never discuss their next order with me.”
“Good. I’d just as soon not be having to carry money around.”
“Okay.” Jake said, extending his hand to Biggy. “You’ll do fine. I’ll see you at the bar.”
“Oh, wait.” Biggy called just as Jake was closing the door. “I want to make sure I know how to get to Steinmart. I turn toward the river on Jefferson and go to the end. Is that right?”
“You got it. Don’t worry, it’s a piece of cake. And in no time, you’ll be getting around uptown like a native. Rest of the city? Nothing there you need to know about for now.”
– Page 53 –
Biggy studied the list of places he was to go that week. As he already knew, the first on the list was “Oak Pub, Monday at ten, Max”. Well, that was certainly an easy one. He had no trouble picturing it on the corner of Oak and Carrollton. Next was Napoleon Bar and Grill at one-thirty Monday. He remembered it was two doors down from St. Charles and Napoleon. Then there was Tavern at Lee Circle and Remy’s Patois later Monday afternoon . He would visit Jacques Baptist’s, Clotille’s Tavern and Rex Bar and Grill on Tuesday.
Sunday afternoon Biggy went to Steinmart, bought a pillow, sheets and pillow cases, a hundred watt light bulb and, of course, some ice trays. He also bought three more pairs of drawers and three more tee shirts. When he returned to the apartment, he took another shower with lots of soap and shampoo, lingering, fantasizing about the beautiful girl he had seen the night before until the hot water ran out .
– Page 54 –