Nothing is what it seems in New Orleans, but this murder was one for the books . . . two books to be exact; a missing set of William Blake rarities—and street-smart detective Neal Rafferty has been hired to find them.
Instead, what he finds is the body of a rare book dealer and a growing list of females—each with a pretty good reason to do him in. There’s his all too ready to confess wife, his unhappy, illegitimate daughter, and the beautiful, sensual Catherine—a woman who’s a lot easier to love than she is to believe.
What does a tough private eye do when he finds himself falling for the prime suspect in a murder case? The answers, and the truth, may be hiding in the steamy streets and sleazy bars of New Orleans, and Rafferty’s got to choose the right one . . . choose between a truth he can live with and one he could end up dying for.
About the Author
Wiltz has written for the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She has been a writer-in-residence and adjunct professor at both Tulane and Loyola Universities.
Chris Wiltz, a native of New Orleans, is the author of five novels, including The Killing Circle, A Diamond Before You Die, and The Emerald Lizard, all set in New Orleans and featuring Irish Channel detective Neal Rafferty. Her novel The Glass House was praised by the New York Times as “unflinchingly honest” and a book that “needs to be read on both sides of Convent Street.” Shoot the Money, her most recent fiction, is an edgy “sisters in crime” novel reminiscent of Thelma and Louise. The Last Madam, her biography of French Quarter legend Norma Wallace, is under option for film.
Wiltz has written for the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She has been a writer-in-residence and adjunct professor at both Tulane and Loyola Universities.
Read an Excerpt
The Killing Circle
By Chris Wiltz
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2012 Christine Wiltz
All rights reserved.
Fathers and Sons
Whenever the old man pops a beer at seven in the morning, things are off to a bad start.
Every once in a while I get what is a sort of homesickness and run over to my parents' house in the Irish Channel for breakfast. My mother and Mrs. Tim, her next-door neighbor, had already finished hosing down their steps and galleries, since even at this hour the day promised to be a typical New Orleans scorcher. It's this early morning Channel bustling I miss. Children born in the suburbs remember summer days and the sounds of lawn mowers. The sounds of my childhood are hoses on the verandas.
The front door on my parents' side of the double was open but the screen was latched. As I went around to the back, I could hear the kids, my sister's kids, screeching through the shotgun rooms. Reenie, who lives with her husband in the other half of the double, had probably gone back to bed. I sympathize with the old man for having to take noise at this pitch so early in the morning. And this was August, the third month of no school, so undoubtedly he was under a lot of pressure. For that matter, he could have been on his way to the refrigerator, but I think it was the sight of me in the kitchen doorway that set him in the direction of the beer.
He was running around in his U-shirt and shorts and he grunted when he saw me.
My mother, on the other hand, was glad to see me. She immediately started pouring coffee, frying more bacon, and catching me up on the family news. Reenie was pregnant with her third, but according to my mother's logic, this was okay, since Michael had passed his test and was now a full-fledged sergeant in the New Orleans Police Department. It was out before she could stop it. The old man came alive.
"Yeah, ain't that somethin', Neal? Just think, you could be a lieutenant by now," he said. My mother rolled her eyes heavenward. I knew she was praying. I wished I had gone to the Hummingbird for breakfast.
"That's somethin', alright, Dad. Good for Michael."
He was all puffed up. "Yeah. Came in right up at the top of the class. Third, wasn't it, Mama?" Ma nodded and put breakfast on the table.
"So how's Reenie feeling?" I asked. The old man wouldn't be diverted, but all I needed was enough time to bolt breakfast before he started in earnest.
Ma was quick. "Oh, the poor darlin', Neal. She's just as sick as can be every mornin'. She waits until I finish up with breakfast and then comes over for soda crackers and Coke. The smell of bacon frying makes her sick somethin' awful. But she's thrilled, Neal. And the kids are, too. They can't wait for the baby to come."
We chitchatted the subject to death, but the old man was ready. The first pause and he jumped in with both feet.
"I went and talked to the Captain, Neal." This sounded ominous. "He agrees with me that now that Angelesi's out and the whole thing is forgotten, you could get reinstated with no problem."
This was new territory. I had expected the usual reminiscing about the good ole days, his twenty-five years with the NOPD, the best years of his life, the lead-in to how I had ruined mine by messing with politicians like Angelesi and having to resign from the force before the Captain was forced to fire me.
He went on. "He wants you to come back, Neal."
Ma must have known this was coming because she had cleared out. I listened to the ironing board squeak in the next room as she ironed her doilies while I tried to think of something to say that wouldn't get him riled.
"I like the Captain, Dad. I'm glad he doesn't think too badly of me."
"Badly of you?" He smiled broadly. "He says you were a top-notch cop. Says it must run in the family." Well, cops, anyway, certainly run in this family. My grandfather was a cop and his sons, my father and his brother, were cops. Both of Ma's brothers were cops and my sister married a cop. "He wants to talk to you. Whadaya say we go down there this morning? Together."
What I would like about getting reinstated on the force would be getting reinstated as a son. I hated to end the first real friendliness the old man had showed me in over three years.
"Dad, I don't want to go back. I don't want to be reinstated."
He blew up. "I knew it. I knew it. Didn't I tell you, Mama?" he yelled. "You know what's the matter with you, Neal? You're just a goddamn stubborn jackass, that's what. Whadaya think? You gonna make a fortune bein' a private eye? You think you gonna get women? No, no not you. I could understand reasons like that. But you. You got these goddamn crazy ideas about changing the world or somethin'."
"If I wanted to change the world, I'd get reinstated."
I shouldn't have said that. He went from riled to furious. The kids, who had been running up and down the stairs to the camelback of the house, became a major source of irritation.
"Get those goddamn kids off those stairs," he bellowed. "Where the hell is Maureen?" He ran off raving toward the front of the house, Ma right after him.
The back door opened and Michael swaggered in, gun in holster, nightstick dangling. He was just coming off night duty.
"What's going on?" he said jovially. "Is the family at war again? How you doin', Brother Neal? How's business? If things get rough, call the cops. You know the number." The Channel is teeming with good-natured guys like my brother-in-law.
"Just fine, Sarge, just fine on both counts."
"So you heard. I guess the old man told you." For some reason Michael thinks our family problems are hilarious.
"The first thing he said. Before good morning."
Michael laughed. "Yeah, he's proud as hell. Reminds him of the good ole days."
The good ole days. I thought I'd feel better down at the office.CHAPTER 2
The Luck of the Irish—I Play Pool and Get a Case
I was glad to get away from the familiar treeless streets and the hard, exposing glare of the Channel. Without the blue uniform on I was a stranger and suspect. My own father didn't recognize me. Proud man that he is, why won't he understand that I can't go back to the NOPD? I took a lot of abuse when I suggested that Angelesi was responsible for Myra Ledet's murder. The old man was wrong saying I wanted to change the world. I had been in love with Myra since I had met her, and I knew from the beginning that she was sleeping with Angelesi, too. It drove me crazy sometimes, but he could pay her more.
So what if Angelesi has finally taken a fall? I would like to forget the whole thing, but I can't. And there's not a damn thing I can do about any of it.
The office looked good to me while I was over at the old man's, but when I got there and took a look at the spotted glass and my toothbrush sitting on a sink behind a folding screen, I knew I'd be better off at Curly's.
Curly's is a dive on the scruffiest block in the Central Business District, an eight-minute walk from my office in the Jesuit Fathers' building. The other advantage to Curly's is that it's open twenty-four hours a day, and although from the outside it looks like it's boarded up, under the ragged and sooty fight bills announcing Christian competition at St. Mary's gym in the Channel there is always some shark on the premises waiting to bleed five for his skills.
The regular shark at Curly's was Murphy Zeringue. I couldn't remember when I hadn't known Murphy. We'd gone through St. Alphonsus, then Redemptorist together, skipping out at any chance from under the scrutiny of the nuns so we could go over to Acy's and eat po' boys while we watched the big guys play pool. From them we learned how to handle a cue stick, and from then on Murphy's interests had not developed much. During the day he was always downtown at Curly's shaking down as many fives as possible so he could head uptown to Grady's in the Channel and play for higher stakes at night.
Murphy called over to me as I got a bottle of beer from the bar. "Hey, Neal, you in for a game of cutthroat?"
I watched while Murphy and a guy I'd never seen before finished up a lukewarm bout of eight ball. The guy was big though his muscles had gone to flab. There was something peculiar about his looks. His brown hair was too short for his big face and tiny, half-inch bangs edged his forehead. He looked like a forty-year-old Boy Scout recruit, but he smelled of bourbon. In that state he was no match for the Murph, which meant that one of us had an easy five coming. The idea of leaning over a cue stick for the rest of the day became more appealing.
Murphy's laugh cut into the sound of clicking balls and a five disappeared into his pocket. He stood there looking both pleased and sorry he'd won, that laugh a demoralizing one when the heat was on and you weren't. His buddy, with a face as smooth and lifeless as the piece of dull metal shading the bulb over the pool table, seemed to be taking it all as a matter of course, so we racked up, eliminating smalltalk like introductions. The fellow probably wouldn't be around long enough for me to remember his name anyway. He stuck through two more games, though, before he got agitated and called it quits, by which time Murph and I were each five ahead. He muttered obscenities when he paid off the last time. I was glad to see him go.
"Who's the Boy Scout?" I asked Murphy.
Murphy liked that one. "Good ID, Neal. Wrong jerk. He's a real screwball, but an easy five."
Murphy and I set ourselves up with plenty of beer and settled into the real cutthroat stuff. Playing with Murphy is always cutthroat, whether or not that's the game, since he won't play for low stakes with anyone he knows well. It was understood we raised to twenty. But I felt hot. Before I knew it the day was passing the way a day ought to pass and a certain twenty-dollar bill kept passing, too. After a few games Murphy stopped laughing—which meant he had something important on his mind. As he racked the triangle of balls into line for the third time and still didn't find the right spot, he said, "Say, Neal, what say we put some real action into this game." He looked up from the triangle. "Fifty." A flash of smile replaced his stony gaze.
"You're on, Murph."
He laughed his peculiar laugh, expecting it to have its usual effect. But I had played pool with him enough times to know I had the edge, since he had raised the stakes on his own round to win and had changed the game to business.
He found the right spot with no trouble and came around the table to break, hitching his pants up on his thin frame.
It was a beaut. Two solids sunk just as neat as could be on opposite sides of the table. If I hadn't known better I'd have whistled in admiration. The only shot he had was a long and difficult cut to the right pocket at the other end, but if he made it he would be set up to clean me. He lengthened his already long face by moving his jaw down. His eyes settled on the cue ball and he poked it nice and easy. It traveled to a perfect slice but it had been just a shade too soft. The ball went right to the edge and stopped.
"Holy shit," he whispered. This was as much rage as Murphy ever displayed and it was always quickly replaced by that laugh. He couldn't shake me now, though. It wasn't the prettiest setup I'd ever had, but I felt more than up to tackling it. I leaned into the cue stick and leveraged Murphy's ruin.
The first one was easy, the second one harder. The third raised perspiration on my upper lip. I was beading down on the arrangement so hard I didn't hear the footsteps behind me or feel the vibration they set off in the loose floorboards.
"Hello, Neal." There was only one owner for that voice. The perfect courtroom voice.
"Hello, Maurice," I said without looking up. I knew exactly how he would be standing, weight evenly centered on his heels, his arms hanging purposefully at his side, one clutching a black satchel, not a briefcase, a satchel. Hell, a schoolbag. And he would be dressed the same way he had dressed all the years I had known him, probably since he was five. The three-piece black Western-cut suit, the white shirt, the black tie, the exact measure of gold watch chain showing, his black cowboy boots symmetrically scuffed. His alert, intelligent eyes would be staring out of his boyish face from behind slightly lopsided glasses, not missing a thing.
Maurice and I had met while I was still a fledgling patrolman and he was a law student. We were from different sides of the track and as opposite as the parts of town we came from. The son of a wealthy lawyer, he grew up in the Garden District, although his family was considered nouveau riche by the people whose families had inhabited the area for generations. The Garden District is directly across Magazine Street from the Irish Channel, their boundaries making them appear to be mirror images of each other. There the similarity ends. The money, the mansions, and the gentility are in the cool and shady Garden District. In the Channel, the shotguns and doubles are separated by alleyways and the people are tough. A lot of the city's cops come from the Channel, which should give you some idea about the place. Its big claim to fame is that John L. Sullivan trained for his fight with Jim Corbett here, but that isn't actually true. The confusion is a result, no doubt, of Sullivan's having been an Irishman. Something about the way Maurice and I grew up, though, must have given our personalities similar boundaries and we became friends immediately. It had never occurred to me to be anything but a cop and it had never occurred to Maurice to be anything but a lawyer. By the time he was thirty he'd been to the Supreme Court twice and by the time he was thirty-five he was considered the best hot-shot lawyer in town. By the time I was thirty-five, I was starting over, my career as a hot-shot cop finished. It was Maurice who finally convinced me I'd never get anything on Angelesi. He also told me I shouldn't waste my years of training and experience and gave me my first case.
I took low aim at the cue ball, hit, and pulled back fast. It did its work precisely and came back to the spot I wanted.
"Nice," said Maurice, drowning out Murphy's laugh with his highest compliment.
The next shots were a piece of cake so I indulged in some conversation.
"Glad you dropped by, Maurice."
"I am not 'dropping by.' I was looking for you." He was emphasizing urgency, not making a judgment on how I keep my office hours.
"How'd you find me?"
"I considered hiring the Pinkertons, but then I remembered," he paused, "this place." Maurice is not very fond of being anywhere other than a courtroom or a law office.
"Just keeping the concentration sharp with a little luncheon relaxation." I glanced up to see one of his eyebrows making its way down from a considerable height of forehead.
"I've got an interesting one if you're available." There was no double meaning attached.
"I don't exactly have an abundance of time, Maurice," I said, sizing up the eight ball. Murphy was beginning to show signs of strain.
"That's too bad. A client of mine is having some trouble, but I'm not ready yet to begin proceedings. I advised him that it should be investigated first." His enunciation was concise. If the most respected and feared lawyer in the city thought the matter wasn't ready yet for his talents, then it was bound to be interesting indeed.
"Anyone I know?" I asked. Murphy quit looking like a beaten dog.
"I'm sure," he started loudly. Then he lowered his voice, which is hard for Maurice to do. "I'm sure you've heard of him." He stopped to let me chew on that a while.
I called my pocket.
"I was hoping you'd see him in my office this afternoon."
"No doubt you advised him I'd be there." The eight ball traversed the length of the table and came right back to thud in the pocket. I turned to face Maurice. "Who is he?"
Maurice clenched his teeth slightly to keep the sound in. "Carter Fleming. And yes I told him you'd be there at two o'clock." He cleared his throat loudly. "Hell, Neal, half the police force is on overtime parking detail for lack of anything better to do. Business can't be that good."
"Make it two-thirty." Maurice knows that I'm a man of principle.
"Good." He turned and strode out of the bar.
Carter Fleming, huh? The Times-Picayune society editor had dubbed him a leading citizen, but in spite of that endorsement, he really was one—and from an old family that still had its money. But while other uptown socialites were turning their bank presidents into carnival kings, Carter Fleming was out buying up their banks.
Murphy was busy picking his ear up from my side of the table, but if I know how to read a face, he hadn't picked up as much information as he would have liked.
Excerpted from The Killing Circle by Chris Wiltz. Copyright © 2012 Christine Wiltz. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. Fathers and Sons,
2. The Luck of the Irish—I Play Pool and Get a Case,
3. One for the Books,
4. The Question of Class,
5. A Different Kind of Luck,
6. Hands Off,
7. A Liar Will Steal, a Thief Will Murder,
8. Rafferty on Location,
9. Family Connections,
10. My Son, My Son,
11. Old Friends Getting Together,
12. The Man with the Mallet,
14. Chase Manhattan Jones,
15. More About Fathers and Sons,
16. What Was Stanley Garber Thinking?,
17. Still on My Case,
18. Another Try with the Old Man,
19. William Blake Finds a Good Home,
20. Somebody Don't Like Me,
22. I Want to See Catherine,
23. We Have Dinner,
24. After Dinner,
25. The Scam,
26. A Bourbon Drinker,
27. What Murphy Said,
28. Getting Warm,
29. The Milton McDermotts,
30. The Dead Aunt,
31. The Bartender,
32. Lights Out,
33. One Way to Convince Louie,
34. How to Take a Life,
35. Deathbed Wish,