Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chapter One : New Orleans


The Clarion Grand Boutique opens its eclectic doors at the corner of St. Andrew and St. Charles. It is a quick hop on the street car to the garden district, where – at some point past Jackson Avenue – the streets stop being named after saints and instead bear the pedantic if easy to remember names of ordinal numbers. It was along one of these streets, somewhere south of Chestnut that a man slowed his brisk walk. He was middle aged, wearing cargo pants, hiking shoes, and a Henley long sleeved t-shirt pushed up to the elbows. It was early morning, but the April air already hung hot and heavy over New Orleans, and faint sweat rings had begun to appear on the man’s shirt. He stopped in front of a wrought iron gate, and pulled a phone from his pocket. He swiped a few times, his brow knitted in concentration, and then, apparently satisfied, put his phone back in his pocket and approached the gate. The house, like most in the district, was old, beautiful, and a little mysterious, painted a light pink with white gingerbread trim. It was shrouded in pin-oak trees laced with Spanish moss, weeping willows, laurels, several huge tulip trees, myrtle, creeping moss and ivy, and all the scrubby groundcover that flourishes in the hot and humid New Orleans climate. The home had several large pillars in front, and the windows and doors were set far enough back that they were shrouded in gloom. The man pushed the gate open with a stubborn squeal. The air was thick and perfumed, stale with dust, pollen, and the cloying scent of rotting flowers. Baskets of hanging plants hung haphazardly around the cavernous porch; untended for months, the plants were a scorched brittle brown. The front door was a serious thing, constructed of solid oak that had once been part of a trading vessel. The captain who built the house was particularly proud of this bulkhead, since it bore several iron balls that had been fired by pirates. The door was painted with several centuries of faded red laquer, but the paint had been carefully scraped off of the iron balls. The door knocker was in the shape of a gargoyle, a crescent moon hanging from its mouth. The man lifted his hand to grasp it, but as he did, the door swung open. The hall was old, unkempt, and ostentatious. The walls were covered with silk wall-paper with teak wainscoting half way up. The ceiling had ornate crown molding that had been white and gilt, but was now mostly a bone color with grey accents where it needed dusting. The chandelier hung from an ornate plate that must have been five feet across. There was a staircase to the left, and at the end of the hall a door into the living area. The man stepped across the threshold, and was a bit disappointed to find the air inside only slightly cooler than the out of doors. He walked down the hall, pausing to admire two framed prints on the wall. They were parchments, covered with a strange alphabet and odd glyphs. Several dots of gold, about the size of a fingernail, studded the parchments. The man had recovered these parchments in southeast Asia following the upheaval in Afghanistan. They were many miles away from their point of origin near the Amu Darya, and were unlikely to ever return. It had been a profitable adventure.

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