Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality
One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!
Crime du Jour #30: Vandalism
ONE ORDINARY DAY, WITH SUITCASE
Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans is a necropolis, a city of the dead. Although the homes of the dead are smaller, they are better built than the homes of the living, and less likely to succumb to flooding. The Pontchartrain Expressway runs through the necropolis, dividing it into Greenwood Cemetery to the east, and Metairie Cemetery to the west. In front of Greenwood along City Park Avenue, there are a few monuments, with the Confederate Tomb visible just as you get off the nearest bus stop. During Katrina, many of the gravestones had toppled, and you could still see the high-water marks stained onto the stone. But there was less damage there than in many of the neighborhoods.
I carried with me one black, hard-sided, 29-inch rolling suitcase, the kind that’s taller than it is wide. It was dingy and had a scannable airport tag around the handle, as if I’d been flying. I was wearing a business suit and carried a briefcase-slash-laptop bag. I reeked of Wild Turkey, which I sneaked sips from as I rode.
At the corner stop, the bus driver offered to help me with the suitcase. I laughed off the offer, saying that I might be drunk but I wasn’t that drunk. An old woman with a squat oxygen tank got off the bus alongside me, totally ignored by the driver. The driver was white, as was I. The old woman was black.
It had just rained and smelled fresh and invigorating, but with an underlying smell of rot and damp. The bus had left behind the perfume of diesel fuel. All that was missing from the nostalgic, nightmarish scents of Katrina was the smell of rotten flesh, bloated and floating, to take me back to 2005.
I left the old woman behind, passed the front gates, and kept rolling, the wheels thumping heavily and wetly on the ridges of the sidewalk. I turned at Canal Boulevard and kept rolling. The city had not gone to sleep, not quite yet. I soon reached the Greenwood Funeral Home, where the fence was only thigh-high. I boosted the suitcase over it, then worked my way into the cemetery. The wet, rolling wheels echoed on the old cement road, loud to my ears but undoubtedly lost in the echo of cars running along the expressway. I had long since marked out the particular tomb I wanted, which had been erected in 1890 and featured a fully mortised lock plate behind the antique marble door. Weeks ago, I had tested the lock with a discreet little skeleton key and some WD-40, and was able to turn the lock silently, in full daylight. That night, the lock opened smoothly. I unzipped the suitcase, disgorged it of my victim, and locked the tomb up again, nice and tight. Then I returned the way I had come, wheels rolling more lightly through the puddles this time. The security cameras would not be checked unless there was a disturbance reported later, which there wouldn’t be. The security guard at the funeral home was higher than a kite.
I turned onto City Park Avenue and walked back to the bus stop. As I walked, I heard a low hissing sound. A light glowed at the front of the Confederate Monument on the corner. In the distance a police siren made a soft “whoop-whoop,” almost of surprise, and my ears pricked up.
I kept walking with an unhurried pace, letting myself stumble from time to time: making noise.
The light snapped off, the hissing stopped, and someone grunted out a curse, then, “Almost!”
Almost what? I wondered.
The streetlight caught several dark shapes moving at the base of the tomb.
The soldier atop the monument had been defaced, or rather beheaded. The rest of him had been painted neon green, with an additional application of what appeared to be pink feathers. Paint fumes bit at my nose. On the base of the statue were letters, which I could not read then but later proved to be “HEADLESS MOTHERFU.”
The old woman waited there at the head-high, wrought-iron fence opposite the bus stop, sans oxygen tank.
A shadowed form scampered away from the tomb, hissing, “They’re coming!” then boosted itself halfway up the fence, improbably hefting the heavy oxygen tank, along with enough tubes and attachments to turn it into something else entirely, at the woman, who caught it but struggled to lower it to the sidewalk.
“The bag too!” she hissed, but the dark shape had disappeared across the lawn, into the rows of tombs.
I jogged over to help the old woman untangle herself. The oxygen tank appeared to be rigged up as a sandblaster, all the better to etch marble and granite with. It was dusted with dark grit.
I bent over, unscrewed the various tubes, shoved them into my suitcase, and wiped the tank down with a clean towel just as the bright lights of the bus pulled up alongside us: the last bus of the night. Wordlessly, the old woman attached a clear tube from tank to nostrils. I helped ther onto the bus, then struggled after her with my bags in tow, again refusing help. It was the same driver.
He ignored the old woman, asking me, “She kick you out of the house?”
“She called me a–a motherfucker,” I said, with the dignified tones of a longtime drunk. The bus driver laughed, waited until I’d sat down, then pulled away from the curb.
The old woman was still on her feet, and I heard the oxygen tank clank against one of the seats as we sped up under the streetlights. He must have had selective vision.
He hadn’t even noticed a green-and-pink feathered statue.
I got off along Metairie Road, stole a Honda sedan out of someone’s driveway, and went home to Colorado, keeping the key and the sandblaster gun as souvenirs.
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