Monday, August 5, 2013

Writing as Lt. Etienne Baptiste, my detective in "A Fair Grounds Mystery"

Lt. Etienne Baptiste from “A Fair Grounds Mystery”:

I’m a veteran of Iraq and of the mean streets of New Orleans.  I’m Etienne Baptiste, a homicide detective with the NOPD. The public and the media malign us.  We are overworked, but the City Council would disagree and constantly want to reduce our budget.  We are underpaid and outgunned; few people disagree with that.  Hell, I can’t complain.  I grew up with a hard-working Creole mother who could everything from elegant wedding dresses to Mari Gras Indian costumes.  My “Mere” was and still is a beautiful woman with mocha skin and high cheekbones.  My white father fell for her like an imploded building when he saw her working in his family’s bakery.  The problem was he had a wife.  Now that I’m older, I can tell that Calvin loved both women in a way, but at one time, I hated Calvin.  My mother remained his mistress, but I knew my brother Al and I were second to his children with his society wife. He gave my mother support, but for a long time, that didn’t lessen my anger.  His goddamned money was nothing more than charity as he fulfilled his lust with my mother.  When I was a kid, I was positive his interest in my mother was only sex; only later did I see the bond they shared. 

Growing up in that old Mid-City house with Mere and Al was idyllic.  We went to Catholic school, and nobody fucked with us. We were skinny kids but tall, wiry.  I thought I was hot shit at basketball, but Al was the best.  Everybody thought he’d go pro, and no one was more shocked than the parish priest when Al entered the seminary. Of course, Al still plays basketball with his CYO kids, and he showed amazing courage during Katrina.  He was with us in the boat when we scoured the city rescuing people.

Life got even better when I met Rita.  When I first saw her on the playground at school, I wasn’t immediately smitten.  After all, we were kids, and she was just some frail little Asian girl.  Al and I often defended her and her siblings against the taunts of students—black and white—who hated the Vietnamese, seeing all of them as enemies.  It was in high school that I realized she was beautiful.  Her almond-shaped eyes penetrated into my soul, and her hair was blacker than ink.

Our families opposed our proposed marriage. My mother, after all, knew the danger of interracial romance, but we married anyway at St. Anselm’s Church.  To their credit, the families came—even Calvin.  He offered me a job in his company, but I turned it down, still seething over his neglect. Instead, I joined the Marines, taking college courses while I served.  Rita had Joseph, the first of our three children, right before I left for Desert Storm. 

Desert Storm—what a shit conflict.  Marines were in the thick of that hellhole for months. I left with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Our unit was ambushed, and I carried two guys to safety even after I took a bullet in the leg.  Sometimes, the damned injury still hurts when I play basketball with Al and Joseph. Oh, what the fuck! We all have shit in life.  Never thought I was a goddamned hero. I just touched the St. Jude medal around my neck and ran to help those guys.  When I finally left the military, I was a lieutenant.  I went back home, took the badge, and enjoyed life with Rita.  We had two more girls and lived the good life. 

Now understand, the New Orleans of the 1960s and 1970s, the NOLA of my youth, was idyllic.  Oh, we had race issues. We had poverty and crime, but crime was negligible to what we have now.  My mentor was Jimmy Landry, a tough Frenchman from the Lower Nine who was hard-living and hard-working, but even Jimmy cracked when his son was killed during an undercover operation.  I’ve seen some shit.  People shot because of drugs. Women beaten to death by pimps.  White collar bad-asses who murder to cover up their oil-soaked deal and back-alley politics. 

My partner now is one of the best.  I joke and tell him I taught him all he knows.  He’s a white guy from North Louisiana who likes boots and jeans.  He’s younger than I am, but like me, he’s a Marine.  He looks like some male model, but I tell him only one of us can be handsome.  I like my suits.  It’s professional, you know.  Duane Morrow and I saw hell in Katrina, but we fought the good fight.  Now, we’re back solving homicides and some of the dirtiest homicides involve greed, sex, and envy.  Shit, the Bible was right about the Deadly Sins.  I keep sane with my family.  I’ve danced with my Vietnamese princess under the oak trees of City Park.  We fry fish on Fridays and eat in the backyard.  In a mad world, we hold onto sanity in our own warm embrace. 

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