By Margot Douaihy
In Prince’s trunk was a red leash and a gray duffle bag fraying at the seams, and inside the cheap bag was a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. I knew the make and model because the old man had one.
“Looks like a .40 S and W,” Riveaux announced into her handset. Sweat rolled down her wrists, from under her plastic blue gloves, as she carefully pulled objects from the bag to examine them.
Besides the gun, Riveaux extracted one can of red spray paint, a small pocket knife, one pack of PRINCE cigarettes, three bricks of cash, and one can of kerosene.
“That fuel can looks exactly like the one that’s in our school shed,” I said.
“Everyone with a barbeque has one of those.” Riveaux wasn’t impressed.
Photographs were taken and the items in the trunk were logged by a tall NOPD officer who looked young enough to be one of my students.
“Where’s this kid getting that kind of coin?” Riveaux’s thin eyebrows pinched together as she stared at the money.
“Babysitting and paper routes,” I said.
Riveaux stifled a laugh then spoke in code into her radio. Though the codes were different in New Orleans, from growing up with a cop for a dad, I worked out that Prince had been arrested for giving chase, resisting arrest, the outstanding vandalism charge, and possession of stolen cash and a handgun without a firearms license. Even though Prince was technically an adult at age 18, he needed a license.
Riveaux and I walked over to the other NOPD cruiser, where two officers sat sweating in their steaming vehicle. A noxious cloud of body odor wafted out. Riveaux popped her head in the open window of the passenger side, handed the money to an NOPD colleague, his skinny face contorted in the reflection of her aviator sunglasses.
She peeled her sweaty gloves off and stuffed them in her pocket.
The officer in the passenger seat, with the nameplate Smith, started counting the cash.
“I’ll trace the serial numbers as soon as Smitty’s done,” the other cop, Officer Dixon, said.
Officer Smith’s sunglasses covered most of his face as he quietly counted the one-hundred-dollar bills. His chin sported a five o’clock shadow, stippled with sweat.
“Smitty—how much?” Riveaux asked Officer Smith after two minutes of silence in which I said the Hail Mary twenty times in a row.
“Six thousand dollars.” Officer Smith yawned and handed the money to Dixon to log serial numbers. “Riveaux, who’s that?” Smith stepped out of the police car, stretched, and nodded towards me. “Your intern?” Smith bent down lithely—for a Neanderthal-looking dude, his movements were nimble—and gazed at Dixon, still in the smelly car. “Why does Riveaux always get the girlies? We need some girl power in our division, don’t we, Dix?”
“Class act, you are.” Officer Dixon sighed.
“That’s Sister Holiday,” Riveaux said smugly, “from Saint Sebastian’s School. She agreed to help ID Prince.”
“No way.” Officer Smith howled. “Her? A nun? Nuh uh.” He pointed to my neck tattoos, partially revealed when my scarf loosened. “She looks like the gutter dykes I arrested in the Bywater today. One bitch tried to cut me with a broken bottle.”
“Maybe the Lord should cut you.” I smiled at him.
“You can’t say that! You’re a goddam nun.”
“Didn’t you just say I was a gutter dyke?” I licked my lips, tasted the salty dust and gravel kicked up from the tires. I spat and it landed near Smith’s feet, making him jump back.
“Forget it.” Officer Smith shook his head. “I don’t know what you are, and I don’t want to know.”
“Then get out of my way.” I walked toward him, and he backed up jerkily, tripping in the process, as if I were a rabid swamp rat lurching at his ankle. I dashed to look again at the stash in the trunk.
“Button it, Smitty,” Riveaux said as she walked with me to Prince’s car. “Finish the report.”
“What happens next?” I asked.
“Prince will be booked. The arresting officers will take his details and address.” She looked me up and down. “Want to know what I think?”
“Some part of you likes the chase.”
“Naw. I want to help,” I lied. Of course I liked it. Not only the chase but the violence. Fire slithering back to life after you were sure it was extinguished. I liked digging in the trash. The more disgusting the better. Feeling for clues in slime and filth. Yeah, I wore a scarf and gloves to conceal my tattoos. The tattoos I chose to cover my skin. But I still put my hands where no hands should go. I liked speeding through red lights. Headfirst to the edge. Scraping enough skin to burn, not bleed. It was godly, really. Working a case, the fire of vengeance. I liked the charge in the air when Prince Dempsey spat in my face, cursing blue blazes. Sleuthing was as impossible as it was consequential. Like kissing a married woman. Like a plague of locusts.
As an officer fished out his camera lens to photograph the evidence, I peered into the trunk for another moment. A whip of jealousy seized me. Three years ago, a bottle of spray paint, a knife, fresh smokes, a handgun, and a brick of money were treats I could never have resisted. If self-denial brought you closer to God, I craved a little distance.