I killed Frankie Costello. My friends accepted the lie when I told them I couldn’t find him the night of the murder. My account was further validated when no one found him after that night. No one found him because I tossed his body from the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Eastern New Orleans. The Green Bridge, as locals know it, was perhaps once a jade color but had faded to a dull gray.
Disposing of Frankie was easy. He was hardly five feet five inches tall, and he weighed a mere one hundred and fifty pounds. It was part of the reason he victimized women, women like Giselle, which got him into the ugly predicament with me.
Frankie was well respected in the criminal community. He had a lot of money and dangerous associates. Associates like myself. The old adage of keeping one’s friends close and enemies closer was wise advice, and it was the reason I associated with Frankie. He owned the club where Giselle danced, and he pimped his girls for extra money.
Giselle stopped working for him once I’d arrived on scene. I’d put her in my show, as a dancer and back up singer. She was very talented but not formally trained. In her late teens, she became involved with an older man who promised to put her on stage. He’d failed to mention that the stage had a pole. He was also an associate of Frankie Costello’s, and he sold his products out of the club. He and Giselle were married for a short time before he suffered a fatal overdose. Frankie took over his business.
Giselle’s late husband had introduced her to the finest heroin imported by the Persian market, and she was responsible for getting me hooked on the stuff. It’s why Giselle was at the club with Frankie that night, the night Oscar and Felicia found her hunched and sobbing on my porch swing with the dark purple blemish they’d originally attributed to my own unruly and violent temper.
I didn’t like dealing with Frankie because he was a weasel, and he had more than one cop in his pocket. Giselle and I were desperate on the aforementioned evening because the DEA made a major bust at the port earlier in the month. Frankie was the only person in the city with anything.
Giselle went to the club alone. There was an altercation between her and Frankie over money he believed she owed him. Giselle, being the outspoken Creole woman she was, responded to Frankie’s accusation with outrage. Their shouting match quickly became physical.
She arrived back at my house in tears with a rosy and swollen cheek and a bruised eye. Felicia and Oscar came upon her crying on my front porch and then presented her to me. My reaction eliminated any thought they had of my being responsible. It did, however, raise fears that I would overreact.
After I saw what he’d done, I went to the club and interrupted Frankie’s card game. I pulled him into the alley and beat him into unconsciousness. I hog-tied him before dropping his body into the trunk of my car. I drove from his French Quarter club to New Orleans East, and dumped him from the bridge. Maybe I overreacted.
I drove the interstate for hours. Partly because I’d already formulated my lie, that I’d searched all night but hadn’t found Frankie. I was so shaken, though, I was afraid my guilt would betray me. I hadn’t taken a life in eons. Those years felt like part of a past life, intangible and surreal as a fuzzy nightmare. I’d brought the nightmare back to the forefront of my consciousness in vivid color and 3-D.
My cell phone rang nonstop for the first hour, and after I failed to answer, it stopped. When the darkness began to fade and the sky became light again, I decided to turn around and make my way home. On the way I stopped for coffee and to stretch my legs.
My hands shook as I poured sugar into my cup. No one but me was sitting at the counter.. The bored, tired waitress paid me little attention. It was twelve hours since I’d shot up, and my brain and body were suffering.
My phone rang again. Felicia’s number. I contemplated answering, but I was distracted by a voice. I turned on my stool, and there stood a young woman beside me. She was wearing my band’s last tour t-shirt. I thought she wanted an autograph or something, but I was dizzy and my brain wasn’t absorbing everything she was saying. I scribbled my name on a napkin and pushed it toward her as I stood from the stool. The young lady remarked on my sallow and ashen appearance, and I mumbled something about lack of sleep and malnutrition – common maladies of life on the road. My phone rang again as I was walking out of the diner, the young lady trailing behind me.
“Someone’s really trying to find you,” she remarked. “Your phone’s been ringing for like ten minutes.”
“Yes, finding someone. Right,” I said. She’d given me an idea.
She looked at me with a confused expression.
“Thank you,” I said to her as I got into my car.
Again my phone rang. Giselle calling.
“Yes?” I answered.
“Victor!” Giselle exclaimed. “Where have you been? Please come home.” She sobbed into the phone.
“I’ll be home soon.” Hearing her cry hurt me.
“Did you do it? Did you kill Frankie?” she asked.
I remained silent.
“Victor!” she shouted.
“No,” I said. “I haven’t found him.”
“Tell me the truth,” she sobbed.
“I’m going to look in one last place then I am coming home,” I said.
“Just come home,” she pleaded.
“Soon,” I replied.
We all knew a guy called Romeo who lived downtown. When I say we all knew him, I am referring to Giselle, Frankie’s crew, the police, and myself. I don’t know why they called him Romeo, but his real name was Antoine. His cousin knew people who knew people, and although he wasn’t always guaranteed to have the brown stuff, he was always guaranteed to have an ample supply of fine white stuff. Anything was better than anguish. Since Romeo was an associate of Frankie’s, I was able to further develop my lie. I arrived at Romeo’s apartment about an hour and a half after leaving the diner. I knocked on the door and prepared for my performance.
“Victor? I didn’t expect to see you. I was expecting Frankie,” Romeo said, opening the door.
“When did you speak to Frankie?” I asked, concerned that it was after I’d last spoken to him.
“Last night. He was supposed to be coming for a pick up but he didn’t show,” Romeo replied as we walked into the apartment.
“I’ve been looking for him all night, too. I was hoping you knew where to find him,” I said.
“Fernando heard some guy went and pulled him out of his card game, then he didn’t come back,” Romeo stated.
“Oh,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Somebody said it was you,” Romeo added.
“Ha!” I exclaimed. “I fucking wish!”
“Why what happened?” asked Romeo.
“This!” I thrust my cell phone toward Romeo to show him a photo of Giselle’s battered face. I’d taken the photo earlier so that I could show it to Frankie before I killed him. I wanted it to be the last thing he saw.
“Oh wow,” said Romeo, taking the phone from me to get a better look. “Frankie did that?”
“Yes,” I answered while taking my phone back from him. “And if I find him, I am going to return the favor.”
“Frankie has a lot of enemies,” Romeo said. “Seems someone beat you to him.”
“Yes,” I said absent-mindedly as I was still looking at the photo of Giselle. “Seems so.”
“Hey man, you okay?” Romeo disturbed my concentration.
“Actually, I was hoping you could help me out,” I answered.
“Sorry, brother, I don’t have anything,” he replied.
“What about the white stuff?” I asked.
“I’d love to help but I don’t have enough supply right now to…” his voice trailed off when I produced a fistfull of cash. “In that case, how much you need?”
“However much I can get with this,” I said and placed the cash on his coffee table.
Oscar confronted me as soon as I arrived home. I’d pulled into the driveway, through the gate, and around to the back of the house. He was sitting at one of the round, metal tables under the patio beside the pool. I could tell he’d been up all night.
I walked to the table and pulled out a chair to sit beside him. Then I removed a pack of cigarettes from my pocket, took one out, and lit it. Oscar was seething.
“What did you do with him,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked as I dipped the ashes off of my cigarette into a wide, round ashtray fabricated from green agate.
“Don’t play stupid with me, Victor,” Oscar replied.
“Firstly, if you are referring to Frankie Costello, I did nothing with him,” I said.
“No,” I answered. “I searched all night for Frankie, but I didn’t find him.” I was nervous because Oscar could detect deceit. He always knew when I was dishonest.
“You didn’t murder Frankie Costello?” he asked.
“I certainly wanted to! But no, I couldn’t find him.”
Oscar seemed to relax. We sat in silence for several minutes. I finished my cigarette and stood to leave.
“Victor, wait,” said Oscar as I turned to walk away.
“What is it now?” I asked.
“You really were doing so well for a while, and I really hoped that . . .” he trailed off.
“Hoped that what? I was a reformed man?” I scoffed.
“I guess you’re right,” he said. “I was a fool to think I could make a righteous man out of a murderer.”
Oscar looked to me for a response, but I gave none.
“I always thought I was gaining your respect and by having your respect you would be honest with me and at least afford me that courtesy,” he said.
It was hard to look at him. I owed him so much; I owed him my life. I knew I was wrong to deceive him.
“You can go now if you’ve nothing more to say,” said Oscar with disappointment, as if he’d been expecting deeper conversation.. He stood and replaced his chair.
My brain was consumed by images from the night he’d put my life before his own, my rival’s blade to my throat. Oscar’s own weapon reflecting shards of moonlight. I knew I was wrong to deceive him. I owed him so much.
“Wait,” I said.
Oscar turned back around.
“I’ve more to say,” I said, as I sat down and lit another cigarette.