The place was lit up with stage lights and strobe lamps. It smelt earthy and meaty, like saffron and like sweat.
Viola signaled me to come dance with her. I didn't know how to dance.
"It's easy," she said. "You just do a Waltz step and then some swing-out footwork."
I tried some beginner moves.
"Sailor step and twist around," she demonstrated. I tried to imitate her movement.
I fell flat on my ass.
Viola started laughing. She helped me back on my feet. The performers began to play a slow blues-y song. She pulled me close and we started to slow dance.
"What are three things you like about me?" Viola asked.
"Um— uh…" I paused, "put me on the spot, why don't you?"
She smiled. "Fine. I'll start." Viola tilted back and looked me over from head to toe. "I like that you're tall, I adore your crooked smile, and you're so fucking weird —"
"Your fucking weirdness is compatible with my fucking weirdness. It's a mutual weird that fills these gaps in my freakish life that I didn't even know needed to be filled."
Like being lost in the right direction.
"It's your turn," she insisted.
"I— uh… I like looking at you."
"Aww. How sweet. That better not be all!"
"Just let me finish. Um— I can be myself with you. And I have fun just being beside you doing nothing."
"Okay. Anything else?" She asked.
"I— uh, I've only known you for a little bit, but I feel like you're my best friend."
"What? Was that dumb? That was dumb, wasn't it?"
She pulled me close and whispered in my ear, "moi aussi."
We went and sat over at the bar.
"What are y'all drinking?" Asked the cool-headed, tattooed bartender.
V ordered two mixed drinks. The first one was an orange cocktail garnished with a lemon peel.
"Try this one." She pushed the spirit towards me. It smelt like licorice. I sipped it. It tasted sweet and spicy, like expired flu medication.
"This is horrible!"
Viola giggled. "Yeah, but anyone that drinks it, looks classy as hell."
She swapped the orange cocktail with a tall, curvy glass filled with a red drink served over ice.
"Now try this one."
It was delicious. It was sweet with tropical flavors.
I guzzled down the entire thing.
"My parents never had booze in the house. 'Alcohol is the devil's brew!' Mom would always say."
"If that's true, how come the bible says that Jesus' drank wine at the Last Supper? The first miracle he performed was to turn water into wine."
"Jesus backwards sounds like sausage. Sus-ej." I stupidly explained.
I ordered another red drink.
Two older men were sitting at the bar beside us. They both were very rough looking and noticeably intoxicated. One of the men kept smacking his lips at Viola. His lips were cracked and peeling. He had a deep overbite. His crooked teeth were pronounced.
"Not a chance in hell," Viola bluntly told him.
He was so hammered, he could barely keep his eyes open. The man with him started hollering. He stood up and hurled his drink at the bartender.
"What the fuck is this?" He slurred. "Are you serving me fucking dummy drinks?"
The other man stood up, instantly lost his balance and stumbled into me. I pushed him away and he toppled onto the ground. The other man started yelling, and lunged towards me. Viola grabbed him by his face and squeezed it like it was a beefsteak tomato. I heard a crunch and liquids started to dribble out.
"We have to go!" Viola was up in my face. "Now!" She pulled me through the packed crowd. The music had stopped. Everyone was bemused by all of the commotion.
We ran to a nearby grocery store parking lot. "Did you kill him?" I was wheezing.
"No, but I probably fractured every bone in his face. If he doesn't seek immediate medical attention —"
I was short of breath.
"He was going to hurt you."
I thought about his smushed flesh and his oozing purée. I thought about his blood-curdling cry. I began hyperventilating.
"I don't know if I can do this!" I panicked.
"Relax. Don't worry. Worrying is just a waste of time," Viola held me close for comfort. "You stress out too much over things you can't control."
I grew up in a house where I was told, "worrying pushes you to be the best version of yourself."
"Come on. I want to show you something."
We took public transportation to the sprawling East area of the city. The eastern section lacked iconic charm and character. It was more modern and suburban. Plots of land were empty and many of the buildings and houses were condemned. A lot of the retail chains and restaurants were abandoned and in disrepair.
"What happened here?"
Viola leered at the decay. "Urban rot and Katrina."
We went to a colonial-style home in some modernized subdivision.
"Do you see them?" Viola pointed to a window. A man and woman were seated at a small dining table.
"Twelve years ago a massive grave was unearthed near Biloxi Beach. The bodies of a dozen women were discovered, some being missing persons from Katrina days.
Several of the victims were escorts that offered their service on a classified advertisement website. Girls desperate for cash during the time of the storm."
Viola gazed at the couple dining on roasted chicken and vegetables.
"That's Vesta and Jack Delpit. They believed their daughter, Deborah, was one of the victims. The police refused to investigate because, at the time, they were a department of dysfunction and corruption.
In the seventies, I had a major in anthropology. I checked the medical examiner's office after the bodies were recovered. Deborah had a spiral fracture of the femoral bone shaft from an automobile accident. So did one of the corpses. A bullet penetrated the skull perpendicular to the surface. A round hole with outward fractures formed from the force of the bullet. The weapon used was most likely a glock pistol.
I traced back the footsteps of her life, the last dates where Deborah was and who she was with. She worked as a bartender on Bourbon Street and was dating an Afghanistan war veteran. As a side gig, Deborah would engage in sexual activity for payment.
The boyfriend encouraged her ill repute. He wasn't a suspect because he was arrested for petty theft and simple assault at the time she was reported missing.
I became a regular at the bar where Deborah worked. Pauli Gatzman was the license holder of the establishment. He would frequently stop in to manage the inventory and try to build relationships with clientele. He had — unusual behavior. He would belittle his employees and harass his female customers. I found out that he was a retired police officer and was once considered a pillar of the community by locals; he even received a medal of valor. He also comes from an unstable family with an abusive father and was constantly ridiculed as a child. And it turns out that he was fired from the department for having explicit images of underage women."
"Was he the one?" I asked.
"I left a box on the Delpit's front porch. When they opened it, they weren't panic stricken or scared witless. Instead, Vesta began to sob, but the waterworks were from a pleasure so intense, she was smiling. Jack, he too grinned from ear to ear. They knew. They knew their little girl's death had been avenged."
"So you're like a vigilante?"
"No. I'm just hungry and their blood tastes better than pig's."