I got a lovely note on my Facebook feed about my story in New Orleans Noir, “Annunciation Shotgun.” It’s hard to imagine that the story is now almost ten years old; it was released officially on New Year’s Day, 2007. I think I finished writing the story in the spring of 2006; it was the second part of a short story one-two punch I accomplished that year by also publishing my first story in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in September 2006: “Acts of Contrition.” It was pretty cool, I have to say.
“Acts of Contrition” was a story I originally wrote back in the early 1990’s, after I visited a college friend in my first and so far only trip to Seattle. I really loved the city—I’ve primarily not returned because it’s so far away and I don’t know anyone there—but would love to at some point. The idea for the story came to me while I was out there. The weather was foggy and damp most of the time I was there; the second night I was there was one of those heavy rains that you usually see in movies and TV shows set in Seattle (I’m looking at you, The Killing). My friend’s small apartment had a balcony, and I was out there smoking a cigarette and watching the rain when I noticed, of all things, a young male priest across the street, no umbrella, talking to a young street girl. Why on earth don’t they step into a doorway or under an awning? I wondered, and also wondered what they could possibly be talking about. As I watched, the priest grabbed the girl by the arms, but she broke free and ran away from him, splashing through the water as fast and as hard as she could. He watched her go, and then turned and walked away quickly the other way. I couldn’t get that image out of my mind, and while I waited at the airport on my way home a few days later, I sketched out an idea for a story. I pulled it back out, years later, when Ellery Queen did a Katrina anniversary issue. I was enormously pleased with how easily the story adapted from Seattle to New Orleans, and was even more pleased when the editors at EQMM decided to publish it. (Venus and Blaine, for regular readers of Chanse and Scotty, also make an appearance in the story.)
Help me, Father,” she cried. Her brown eyes were wide open with terror. The rain was falling, drenching them both, soaking her white T-shirt so that it clung to her body. Her dreadlocked hair was dripping with water. The water ran down her face, streaming from her chin as she gripped his arms with her black fingernailed hands. She reached for one of his hands and drew it to the crevice between her breasts. “Please, Father.” She pleaded again. He didn’t pull his hand away from her cold chest. He knew in his heart he should, but somehow he couldn’t. He let it rest there, feeling her frantic heartbeat through her cold wet skin, and closed his eyes. This is a test, he reminded himself, a test. But still he left his hand there, betraying the collar he was wearing, betraying his God. He tried to pray for strength, for guidance, but all he could think about was the feel of her skin beneath his hand. Push her away, reprimand her for her temptation, do something, anything, don’t just stand here with your hands on her…be strong, find strength from your love of God, but don’t just keep standing here…
His hand remained where it was.
And she began to laugh, her lips pulling back into a smile of triumph. Her eyes glowed with triumph.
“Fallen priest, fallen priest.” She chanted between her laughter, “You’re going to hell, aren’t you, Father?”
“Annunciation Shotgun” was one of my first post-Katrina stories. I wrote it while I was writing Murder in the Rue Chartres and working on Love, Bourbon Street: Reflections on New Orleans. It’s hard to imagine now, and maybe even harder to believe, how long the recovery of New Orleans from the flood took. While I was working on this story, some of the work had begun; houses were being gutted or bulldozed, and people were slowly but surely coming back to the city. The house next door to ours was being used to rent out to college students, who would come down for weeks at a time, share the place, and during the day help with the recovery work that was needed—everything from gutting houses to hauling garbage to working relief trucks; the St. Charles streetcar wasn’t operating and the city’s population was still low. We were also starting to experience that weird feeling of being tired of talking about what happened; I was on a massive tour for Mardi Gras Mambo and was being asked the same questions, over and over again. Whenever someone finally made it back from the evacuation and you ran into them that first time—at the grocery store, at the hardware store, or Lowe’s or Home Depot or in a bar or restaurant—there was the obligatory exchange of stories. It’s hard for my mind to grasp, now, what it was like back then, that this thing actually happened, and I lived through it. Our house was being worked on—we were living in the carriage house, hoping and praying for the day we could finally move back into the Lost Apartment, and there was an enormous dumpster out on the street in front of the house, filled with moldy plaster, sheetrock, flooring, insulation—more and more, it seemed, every day.
Writing a noir story, set in the lower Garden District, was almost too perfect. In one of Poppy Z. Brite’s wonderful Liquor trilogy, she mentioned that her gay couple, Ricky and G-man, lived in a shotgun on Constantinople Street. When I read that, I smiled and thought, Constantinople Shotgun would be a great title for a story. So, when I was assigned the Lower Garden District to write about, I decided to set it on Annunciation Street and call it “Annunciation Shotgun.” (It’s still one of my favorite titles.) It was the first time I made my main character a writer (I think), a thriller writer who owns a camelback shotgun house on Annunciation Street, and rents out the other half. The concept of duplex housing, so prevalent in New Orleans, had always been something that has interested me; it’s like having another set of roommates, even though you only share a common wall with them—there’s more familiarity than there would be, say, in an apartment building. I made my character gay, of course, and I decided that the guy who lives in his rental unit was also gay, younger, and incredibly hot. The basic premise, really, comes from one of those things about friends—a good friend is someone you can say “I just killed someone” and they reply, the first thing we have to do is get rid of the body, and the story just kind of went from there.
“I swear I didn’t mean to kill him.”
If ever a person was meant to come with a warning label, it was my tenant, Phillip. He’d been renting the other side of my double shotgun in the lower Garden District for two years now, and while he was a good tenant—always paid his rent on time, never made a lot of noise in the wee hours of the morning, and even ran errands for me from sometimes—chaos always seemed to follow in his wake. He didn’t do it intentionally. He was actually a very sweet guy with a big heart, a great sense of humor, and he was a lot of fun to have around.
Every morning before he went to work, he’d come over for coffee and would fill me in on the latest goings-on in his life. I usually just rolled my eyes and shook my head—there wasn’t much else to do, really. The kind of stuff that would drive me absolutely insane seemed to roll off him like water off a duck. For all his good heart and good intent, somehow things always seem to happen whenever he was around. Bad things. He attracted them like a magnet attracts nails.
I looked from the body on the kitchen floor over to where he was standing by the stove and back again. I knew I should have evicted him after the hurricane, when I had the chance. I don’t need this, I thought. My evening was planned to the second. My new book, the latest (and hopefully biggest selling) suspense thriller from Anthony Andrews was due to my editor in three days. I was finishing up the revisions, and when I was too bleary-eyed to stare at the computer screen any longer, I was going to open a bottle of red wine, smoke some pot, and throw the third season of The Sopranos in the DVD player. A very nice, pleasant quiet evening at home; the kind that made me happy and enabled me to focus on my work. After a long day of staring at the computer until the words start swimming in front of your eyes, there’s nothing quite like some pot and red wine to help shut your mind down and relax. When Phillip called, panic in his voice, demanding that I come over immediately, I’d thought it was a plugged toilet or something else minor but highly annoying. I’d put my computer to sleep and headed over, figuring I could take care of whatever it was and be back at the computer in five minutes, cursing him with every step for interrupting my evening.
A dead body was the last thing I was expecting.
I guess I may have better luck with stories than I thought, huh?
It is a dream of mine to have a short story collection of my crime short stories—maybe through in the few horror stories I’ve done as well.
And now, back to the spice mines.
Here's an athlete: