I Like ‘Em Pretty
N’awlins Exotica, Book 1
by Michael Mandrake
eBook ISBN: 9781301667444
New Orleans is supposed to be the big easy. One night changes everything for Frankie Choteau.
New Orleans, Louisiana 8:47 P.M.
“Damn!” Francois Choteau yelled at the top of his lungs. His favorite coffee cup—the one that read ‘My job is to find the killer’—slipped from his tight grip. It was his mother’s last gift to him before her passing. She always knew exactly what to get him for Christmas.
“Ah, Frankie, can’t you do anything without dropping stuff? Ya klutz!” Kenina Porter rushed to his side. She bumped him with her large frame as she attempted to assist him in the cleanup.
“Damn, woman, you’re dressing kind of sexy these days. Who you going after?” Frankie noticed the low-cut black blouse underneath the same color blazer showed ample pale cleavage.
“Someone who works here with me and claims to play for the other team.” Kenina wrinkled her lips. Her nasally New York accent came out whenever something angered her. “You’re lucky this didn’t break into a million pieces, Frankie. Your mama might’ve came out of the grave haunting your ass!”
Frankie grinned and tilted his head to the side. “You’re right about that, Kenie. My mama always gave me grief about having butta fingers. Wasn’t really my fault, though. It’s hot as hell in this mother! My hands feel like they been drenched in water!” Frankie wiped his brow and sighed. The air conditioner was running full blast, but it didn’t seem to do a thing about the summer heat in New Orleans. Temps in the low hundreds and high humidity made living in the Big Easy practically unbearable.
“Yeah, it is, but you still drinking hot coffee.” She grimaced and shook her head. “Not even iced, Frankie!” She dropped paper towels on the floor and smeared them over the spilled beverage. While toeing the rags with her heel, she handed Frankie his most prized possession.
Frankie set it inside his desk, out of harm’s way. “I got to, baby. It’s the only thing keeping me awake. We been working on this fucking Metairie murder case nonstop for over a month with no damn leads. Nobody’s talking so we can bring these fuckers to justice.”
“Nope.” Kenina nodded and knelt to pick up the trash from the floor. “Be more careful with your drink next time, man. Leslie just scrubbed these floors, and you know she’ll curse you out in her native tongue if she finds out you spilled something.”
“Yeah, I know.” Frankie rubbed the nape of his neck, attempting to get out the kinks. Homicide cases were piling up quicker than detectives could keep count, especially since the precinct was located in the middle of a crime hotbed. Due to the amount of work and the low pay, most detectives moved on to another line of investigation or left altogether, but not Frankie and his partner Kenina, who’d started at the police academy together. They’d been through thick and thin for the past ten years. Frankie considered the redheaded vixen to be his best friend, his girlfriend, and at times the momma he didn’t have. Kenina Porter showed more loyalty than any man he’d ever had and he’d always stick by her side.
“Well, yeah, you know, but…” She stood with her hands on her hips. “You still aren’t being all that careful.”
“I was, woman!” Frankie frowned in her direction and propped his feet up on the corner of his desk. “You right, you right, I’m a klutz but I’ll have you know, I’m tired as hell, ain’t fucked anyone in over three months and, on top of that, I’m not getting a lot of sleep!”
“Shhh!” Kenina glanced from left to right and scolded him for being so loud. “What the fuck’s wrong with you, Frankie! You wanna get found out? You can’t say shit without people calling you on it in this department.”
Frankie waved his hand. “I know, Kenie, I’m just…” Frankie leaned back and blew raspberries. His head slipped down from the top of the chair and tears welled up in his eyes. “I’m so tired of hiding, babe. It’s hard being…” Frankie mouthed gay. “And not able to tell the people you work with.”
“Well, you could, but it might be more trouble than it’s worth. I don’t mind keeping up the charade for you, love. You know you my boy and I’d do anything for you!” Kenina sat on the edge of the desk and stroked his shoulder.
“I appreciate that, Kenie, I really do. Too bad you ain’t got the right equipment, woman, because I’d date you for real!”
“Mhmm, I got it all here for you. You just got a thing for dick more than pussy. That’s on you, though. I ain’t mad at ya.”
Frankie dabbed the corners of his eyes with his shirt sleeve. His smile turned into a frown. “It ain’t a thing, girl. It’s my fucking life! You sound like them fucks in forensics, making fun of that cop who transferred here from San Fran last year. That boy didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell because they gave him so much grief!”
“Yep, and you noticed he went right back where he came from because they ragged on him so bad. Look, honey, I don’t mean anything by it, I just… well, damn, I don’t get it, that’s all, but to each his or her own. I don’t hold it against you, but when you make comments about my boobs—”
“I asked who you were dressing up for, that’s all. I wasn’t making any comments about your boobs. Not today, anyway. You got a nice rack, I’m only complimenting you. It doesn’t mean I wanna sleep with you. Besides, we’re like sister and brother, anyway.” Frankie shifted around and glanced at all the folders on his desk. Cold cases with no leads, lots of dead ends he couldn’t even begin to tie together; mostly gang crimes and random killings in the quarter. The same old, same old but they still needed solving.
“Uh huh…” Kenina slid off the desk top and backed away slowly in the other direction. “Brother and sister, my ass. You know I’d fuck the shit out of you and not worry about what happens next. You’re just my type, Frankie, always have been but…” Trying to tempt him, she gave her breasts a quick tug.
“But I don’t like girls, not sexually, anyhow. Never have, Kenie. I know someday you’ll find Mr. Right, some guy who’ll wanna be all you need. I just ain’t the one.” Frankie bit his lip and grabbed the first couple of folders on his desk. He needed something to distract him from this uncomfortable conversation that he seemed to have with Kenie at least once a damn month.
To turn his attention away from her, he gawked at the victim of a shooting in Kenner about four weeks ago. Another random act of violence for him and Kenina to solve but, again, no witnesses, no solid leads on the case they could use to bring in a suspect. At times, he wished he didn’t want to work in homicide but he loved the excitement it brought to his life.
Besides, it kept him from home, which at this point was the loneliest place on planet earth. Though the newly renovated house on the east end was his pride and joy, with no one there waiting on him, it didn’t hold the same appeal.
* * * *
Shots rang out in the darkness, causing dogs in this normally quiet part of the Garden District to howl. Within this small community inside of New Orleans, violence was truly a rarity.
“Bob… ohh, shi—” Kajika Fortier stared at the slumped, pale body in front of him and tears fell from his eyes. Clothed in only a white robe, he backed up and leaned against the wall to keep from fainting. A chill shot up his back, making his teeth chatter. He slid downward, still mesmerized by the sight of his lover with the gun in his hand and the single gunshot wound to the head. “I could’ve helped you, Bob! H−how could you? I thought you—” Tightness increased in his chest and he punched it once to calm himself. His clammy hands stuck to the floor and dry mouth prevented him from thinking coherently. Beads of sweat trickled down the side of his head.
“What the—oh shit, I need to call the fucking cops!” Kajika fumbled inside the housecoat pocket, searching for his cell. His eyes were still affixed to the wound, to the blood seeping from Bob’s head, staining his silver hair. “Jesus Bob, what the hell? I swear—” He feverishly punched the digits on the phone —911. “Um, uh, hello? Yeah, um, I… my… oh shit, please help! My fucking boyfriend… uh fiancée… is dead! Yeah, um, we had a fight and damn, he pulled the trigger! I swear I did nothing wrong, ma’am! Can you hurry over here, puleeze? This shit’s freaking me out!” Kajika’s hands shook and he bit his lip while he waited for the operator to say she’d dispatch an ambulance and the police. “Yeah, it sure looks like he’s dead. With a single bullet to the head? Well, I don’t know, what do you think? I’m pretty sure he’s singing with the angels right now, honey!”
Is he dead? Well shit, looks that way to me!
“Can you just send help, please? He’s dead and I can’t be in here with him right now. It’s just creepy…his eyes are open and ughh… just hurry!” Kajika pulled the receiver away from his ear and brought his knees up to his chest. “Yes, 613 Garden Way—in the District! Uh huh, I won’t touch anything, and tell them just to bust in. I’m not sure I can move right now!”
“Do you need medical attention?” The voice on the other end spoke and attempted to calm Kajika’s nerves.
“I don’t think so. Just get the police here. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep a wink after tonight. Yeah, all right! Hurry!” Kajika dropped the phone, not bothering to push the disconnect button. His heart continually thumped in his chest as he watched Bob, his lover, slumped over in the chair, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple. What the hell would he do now? No one to love and care for him with Bob gone. Going back home to the small town of Gore, Oklahoma—where being gay wasn’t accepted— was out of the question.
If I leave, they’ll think I did it. If I stay, they’ll still think I did it. Either way I’m screwed. Kajika wiped his face of sweat and tears, attempting to plan his next move. What would that be with no Bob there to be his voice of reason? The old man had a positive thought for just about every damn thing, and a propensity to play with weapons. At times, he liked to pretend he was raping Kajika at gunpoint and, in order to keep him happy, Kajika went along with it. After all, he loved Bob Kales because he took care of him like the father he’d never had. No one else was around to do that, anyhow.
“Ah Bob, damn…” Kajika pounded the hardwood with the bottom of his wound fist and gritted his teeth. “What was your deal, ya sick fuck? You could be so sweet and, at the same time, a man with some heavy issues. Still, I— I wasn’t leaving you…I never would. You’re all I got!” In obvious shock and emotionally drained, he glanced away from the ugly sight less than ten feet away, grimacing and blinking back tears. His heart wouldn’t stop racing. “I loved you, Bob. You’re the only one who saw something in me other than the stripper persona, you know? I mean, I love what I do but, sometimes, I just want to be me and you allowed me to do that.” Kajika toyed with his own moist strands. Irritated with the strays that fell into his line of vision, he ran a hand over the top of his scalp and flung the rest over his shoulders. “I’ll miss ya, Bob… I really will. I hope when I die I’ll join ya in Heaven, buddy.”
Kajika took one more look at the blood-drenched face; the grey eyes bore a hole into his soul, making him wince.
Why the fuck did it have to end like this, Bob?
* * * *
“Fucking hell! Another homicide to add to the long list!” Frankie shifted gears in the El Camino used as a police car and turned on the siren. “That’s like the third one this week, ain’t it?”
“Yep.” Kenina nodded and stared blankly out the front window.
Frankie had noticed her change in demeanor since their conversation; he blinked once before turning his attention back to the road. “You got the particulars, Kenie?”
“Yeah. Sampson says white male in his upper fifties with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. There’s a witness, a younger man who claims to be the deceased’s fiancée.”
“Really? Is Sampson sure about it being self-inflicted?”
“Well, that’s our job to find out, right? I mean we are in Homicide,” she snapped.
Frankie’s jaws clenched. “Look, gal, don’t get your thong all up in a bunch, I just asked the question. Just because it appears to be done by the dead person don’t mean shit!”
“It’s just an observation by the man on the beat, all right? I think he’s experienced enough to make that judgment.”
“Nah, I don’t think so, chère.” Frankie shook his head and made a left on Vine. He slowed the car when a small crowd of onlookers came into view. “Shit, what took them so long to call? Channel Eight’s already here.”
“I dunno, I guess we’ll find out when we talk to Sampson, hmm?” Her emerald green gaze met his and she cocked an eyebrow.
Frankie pursed his lips and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, we will. We’ll talk later, babe. I know our little chat is bugging you.”
“Yeah, it is, but nothing I can’t handle.” Kenina shoved the door open then slammed it behind her.
“Shit.” Frankie could only shake his head and get out of the vehicle to follow his partner. Right now, they’d have to put their regular feelings aside to tackle this new case that just popped up out of nowhere.
And I thought this would be a quiet night!
As they made their way through the throng of people, they flashed their badges, both yelling, Homicide, on their way. Frankie stopped a moment and glanced at the mansion. It looked like one of the plantation houses his granny talked about in her old southern tales. “Hmph, nice. And what happened here?” Why, all of a sudden, had the crime in New Orleans reached the well-to-do part of town, too? Normally, most of them occurred in the inner city or around the Quarter. Robberies and assaults around the Louie Cemetery, murders closer to the Dome in downtown Nola.
Rarely did violence happen in the Garden District. So, if they stayed with that assumption, this could very well be a suicide, but Frankie kept his first thought—things didn’t always look as easy as they seemed.
Frankie yanked at the police tape. He allowed his partner Kenina to go under first.
“Thanks,” she said dryly and headed up the white stairs and through the open door.
Frankie didn’t respond. Instead, he kept his eyes peeled for any clues and took out his notebook. Once the two of them made it inside, Officer Ted Sampson and his partner, David Mulroney came into view. One of them was asking a young man something while the other was busy taking notes.
“Hey, Sampson, Mulroney. What you got so far?” Kenina nodded toward the man they were questioning.
Frankie, however, stopped dead in his tracks. The sounds of people outside, the snaps of the camera, and any other noises fell on deaf ears. Who is this? No way was he checking out the witness in a Homicide case, but his cock betrayed him and told Frankie otherwise.
Long silky black hair, a narrowed face with high cheekbones, a perfect nose, and slim lips. And those eyes—beautiful wild brown eyes, flowing lashes, just like a chick. God, was he pretty! The man’s flesh was a perfect sun-kissed bronze, and even though the rest was covered with a white terry cloth robe, Frankie could tell he worked out regularly.
“This man here says he and his older boyfriend had a fight and the victim pulled the trigger. I guess this would be a suicide.”
“Maybe.” Kenina strolled closer to the young man and nodded in his direction. “Detective Kenina Porter, New Orleans Homicide.” She showed her police badge. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Kajika… Kajika Fortier.” The witness’ voice cracked; he sounded understandably shaken. His hands trembled and his face was wet from tears. Right then, Frankie wished he could just stroke his head and hold him, tell him everything would be okay.
“Pretty name, Kajika. I like that a lot. You mind if we ask you a couple of questions? I know it’s been a rough night for you, honey, but we need to make sure we get all the facts straight.”
Pretty name for a beautiful man. Frankie couldn’t stop gawking but he had to or Sampson and Mulroney would notice the attention he was paying to the guy. He dropped his gaze to the notebook and listened intently as Kenina questioned Kajika.
“Here’s some notes we already took, man.” Mulroney patted Frankie’s back as he passed by. “We’ll go and see if we can gather up any information from the people outside. See if they heard or saw anything.” Sampson followed close behind his partner and Frankie only grunted to let them know he heard. If he didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought the two men were romantically linked, but their constant homophobic jokes at the station told him otherwise.
“Kajika, this is my partner, Detective Francois Choteau. We’ll go easy on you this evening since this has been so traumatic.”
Frankie locked eyes with the beauty and moistened his lips.
Goddamn, he’s even hotter up close!