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A Message from Leon

Next year the Bouchercon Mystery Writers Conference will be held in New Orleans. This piece makes me nostalgic for something that hasn't happened yet.

It's good work if you can get it.

A Message from Leon by Tom Andes




In the Shamrock Bar on Magazine Street in New Orleans, 1998, Leon Hayes handed Jack Gardner a thick wad of bills, several thousand dollars, in banded hundreds.

“You get the rest when the job is done.” Leon grinned, showing off a mouthful of gold teeth. Someone was trying to buy Leon’s mother’s house, and Leon intended to send that person a message. Leon’s mother owed the city twenty-eight thousand dollars in back taxes. Gardner came cheaper than that.
           
Gardner shoved the money in his pocket.
           
Without saying anything, he nodded and stood, their eyes following him as he walked across the room.
           
He yanked the door open and walked down Magazine.
           
A block and a half down the street, he climbed the stairs and unlocked the door to his room. He opened the last can of cat food and scooped some into the dish. When she appeared at the window, the cat purred, her tail making a black question mark while she rubbed against Gardner’s leg.
           
Two nights later, Davidoff, the realtor, emerged from the new pizza place, Café Angeli, which had opened last month on that rapidly changing strip, wearing a white linen suit, a panama hat, and a pink shirt that matched his complexion. He laughed with friends on the corner.
           
Termites swarmed the streetlights, bumping the glass globes. A cockroach scuttled across the sidewalk. Gardner loitered under a balcony, chewing a toothpick. Wiping sweat from his eyes, he touched the heel of the Beretta.
           
Gardner’s footsteps rang out on the cobblestones. Ahead of him, Davidoff increased his pace.

“Hey, buddy, you got a light?” Gardner called after the other man.

Davidoff peered over his shoulder. When his eyes met Gardner’s, his face relaxed. He felt his coat pockets, and produced a book of matches.

In the flare of the match, catching a whiff of sulfur, Gardner studied Davidoff’s eyes. Florid with drink, twenty-five pounds overweight, the realtor might have been anywhere between thirty-five and fifty.
           
“Can you spare a cigarette?” Licking his lips, Davidoff eyed the pack of Viceroys in Gardner’s hand.
           
Gardner shrugged, not taking his eyes off the other man. “Sure.” He extended the pack.
Davidoff helped himself to one of Gardner’s cigarettes. With trembling hands, he struck a match, letting it fall to the sidewalk. He struck another. It took him three tries to light the cigarette, Gardner fixated on him the entire time.
           
“Doc says I should quit, but I figure one can’t hurt, right?” Davidoff giggled, hiccupping smoke, looking at Gardner, as though Gardner might contradict the doctor’s advice.
           
Gardner didn’t say anything.
           
“You live around here?” Davidoff asked.

“I live around.” Gardner flicked his cigarette butt at the curb. “You know Leon Hayes, white guy with gold teeth?”
           
Sweat filmed Davidoff’s forehead.
           
“Yeah, Leon, right? I’m selling his mother’s house. I mean, I’m representing the people who are buying it.” He gestured down the street, in the direction of the Irish Channel shotgun where Leon’s mother had lived since 1940.
           
Gardner drew the Beretta. “This is a message from Leon,” he said.
           
The first shot took off half of Davidoff’s face.
           
The second shot lodged itself in his brainpan.
           
Two more slugs pumped into Davidoff’s belly.
           
Gardner put a fifth shot between the realtor’s eyes.
           
The smell of cordite lingered in the humid air. The night seemed silent, sound muffled. A barge horn echoed over the river. Sirens shrilled, cop cars headed somewhere else.
           
Gardner tucked the Beretta in his pocket. He walked up the street to meet Leon and pick up the rest of his money.

*

From a payphone, Gardner ordered delivery. He was famished. In his room above the Rendezvous Tavern, he counted his cash. The cat sat on her haunches, watching him. On the bed, the Beretta lay next to a suitcase packed with Gardner’s other set of clothes.
           
Gardner opened the dorm fridge, only food left a carton of orange juice and a can of cat food. He opened the can and scooped some more food into the cat’s dish, hoping the take-out would get there soon. The cat purred, rubbing his hand.

When the knock came, he tucked the pistol into the waistband of his trousers, and opened the door to find himself staring at a man in a green suit. His hat was pulled down over his eyes.
           
The cat leapt for the window.

“I have a message from Leon,” the man said.

Tom Andes has published fiction in Witness, Natural Bridge, News from the Republic of Letters, Mystery Weekly, the Akashic Books Mondays Are Murder Flash Fiction Blog, Best American Mystery Stories 2012, and elsewhere. His essays and reviews have appeared in publications including the Los Angeles Review of Books and The Rumpus. He lives in New Orleans and can be found here: @thomaseandes.