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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SUSPICIOUS MINDS ~ TEASER!

SUSPICIOUS MINDS ~ TEASER!

ALL ELVIS ALL THE TIME – WELL, MAYBE NOT – CHECK OUT SUSPICIOUS MINDS AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF . . . $2.99 FOR YOUR KINDLE OR NOOK . . .

SUSPICIOUS MINDS ~ PART ONE ~ THE KING IS DEAD ~ 1977

ONE

MARCH 23, 1977 ~ ST. LOUIS CEMETERY NO. 2 ~ NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Even before he turned the black DEA sedan through the cemetery gates, Lew Sutton knew his partner was not going to play ball. Gordon Fontaine hated all drug dealers, but he was obsessed with Zachary Arceneaux. In his bones, Lew could feel trouble brewing. It always did when Gordy was around.

"Are you going to be a good boy?" Lew asked, as he stopped the car next to a curb overrun with crab grass. Worn and discolored headstones tilted at higgledy-piggledy angles all around them.

"If I was going to be good, would I even be here after getting chewed out by our boss for the disturbance I caused last night at the rosary?" Gordy was slumped down on the passenger side of the car with his feet up on the torn and battered dashboard. He wore dark glasses and a loud Mexican guayabera shirt. The shirt hung out over his jeans to hide the gun on his hip. Two toothpicks moved cynically back and forth across his lips. Gordy's version of cool.

Lew laughed quietly. "I thought I was going to have a heart attack when you started trying to haul the body out of the coffin and Arceneaux's goons had to restrain you.

"Yeah, and a fat lot of help you were. I'm telling you that was no cadaver in that coffin. At least it wasn't Arceneaux's cadaver.

"Come on, Gordy," Lew implored. "Arceneaux is dead. You saw the body at the viewing last night. Let it go, man. Don't let him ruin your career from beyond the grave."

Gordy shot upright in his seat. "He ain't dead and you know it. If that body we saw last night was any more waxy, it would have had a wick in it. You saw it yourself – the body was sweating."

"Yeah, yeah. You've told it all to me before," Lew put up a hand to interrupt. "Dead bodies don't sweat, but wax ones do."

"Hey, pal," Gordy said. "Nobody twisted your arm to make you come here today. The director is after my badge not yours. If you want to split and go chase street junkies, just drop me here." Gordy started to get out of the sedan, but Lew reached across with a long fingered claw and grabbed him by the shirt collar.

"Damn it, Gordy. Don't screw with me." Lew hauled Gordy back into the car. "We've been partners for a long time. I wanted to put Arceneaux away as much as you did."

"No way! Nobody wants Arceneaux as bad as me."

"There you go with that present tense stuff again. The man is dead. Gone! Finito! Crossed over to the other side! He's gone for a cruise down the River Styx!"

"In a parallel universe maybe, but not in this world. I'm telling you Zachary Arceneaux is alive! I can feel it."

Lew threw up his hands. "Next, you'll be telling Jimmy Hoffa is still alive."

"Yeah, well, you probably bought all that crap about Paul McCartney being dead. Play Abbey Road backward – 'Paul is dead, Paul is dead.' What a load of crap!"

"Gordy, we saw the body!"

"We saw a body. It wasn't Arceneaux's."

Zachary Arceneaux was known in New Orleans as King Cajun. His organization ran drugs through the Louisiana bayous and swamps with the ease and viciousness of a gator running down its prey. The Mississippi River had become Arceneaux's personal drug artery to the rest of the country.

Arceneaux was a merciless, sadistic taskmaster with a finger in every profitable pie – prostitution, gambling, politicians, real estate, and every other hydra-head of corruption. Drugs, however, were his power base. Anyone who threatened that area of his empire felt the bone crushing bite of King Cajun.

Gordy's father, Max Fontaine, had been one of those caught in Arceneaux's jaws.

Fifteen years ago, Max Fontaine had been the Drug Enforcement Agency's top undercover agent. His job had forced him to be away from home a lot. Since Gordy's mother had died in labor, this meant that Gordy was left with an aging and childless aunt and uncle to raise him. Gordy didn't mind. He idolized his father, and his aunt and uncle were good to him.

As Gordy grew up on stories of his father's exploits, he came to believe Max was invulnerable – a champion who was far more interesting than any comic book superhero.

When Max told his son he was going undercover in the bayous, Gordy figured it was just another routine assignment. Max would be gone for a few months and then return with another batch of thrilling tales. This time, though, things were different. Max didn't come back. When Arceneaux chewed Max up and spat his tattered body out on the shores of the Mississippi, Gordy's future became locked in. Arceneaux was going to be taken down, and Gordy was going to do it.

Trading on his father's old contacts, Gordy joined the Drug Enforcement Agency as soon as he was old enough. His abrasive personality did little to endear him to his DEA peers, but his impressive arrest record kept his career on track.

For the past ten years, he had been playing gator and mouse with his father's old adversary. And just when the mouse had been about to turn the tables, the gator had been declared dead.

Gordy was convinced, however, that the gator was only playing opossum.

"We going to do this, or what?" Gordy asked.

"Yeah, yeah." Lew shook his head and put the car back into gear.

Gordy slumped down in the car seat again and returned his feet to the dashboard. He adjusted his one-way aviator sunglasses and a thin smile ran across his lips.

The DEA sedan moved further into the cemetery.

Around the next bend, the two agents could see a huge crowd of mourners gathered on a grassy knoll. The area was far better tended and much less congested with headstones than the rest of the cemetery. The day was hot and sticky, but the mourners all wore long dark coats.

"Would you look at that," Gordy said. "King Cajun even gets a burial plot in the middle of the ground reserved for families and descendants of the city's founding fathers. It's disgusting."

"Maybe so," Lew said. "But it is appropriate. This city was founded on vice, and Arceneaux's legacy certainly fits in."

There was a long line of black limousines park along the curb below the grave site. Uniformed chauffeurs lounged against bumpers or huddled in small groups. Lew tagged the DEA sedan onto the end of the line. The DEA radio under the dash crackled, and several of the chauffeurs turned in the agent's direction as the sound reached their ears through Gordy's open window. Aside from the clustered chauffeurs, other hard looking men stood in pairs located at strategic points around the area.

"Looks like they're expecting us," Lew told Gordy.

Gordy shrugged. "And why not? After ten years of being Arceneaux's personal pain in the butt, you would have thought we'd earned the right to a front row seat." The twin toothpicks traveled rapidly back and forth across his lips as he spoke.

Lew laughed softly in agreement. "Arceneaux must have been fit to be tied when we took down his last five shipments. He must have taken his organization apart looking for the source."

"We had him, man," Gordy said. "He was going down for the long fall and he knew it. I've waited years to slap the cuffs on him, and when I finally get him bang to rights –" Gordy's voice trailed off with a sound full of choked emotion.

"– Arceneaux up and dies of a heart attack," Lew finished the sentence for his partner. "Damn inconsiderate of him."

"Don't make fun of me, partner. There's no justice if Arceneaux is dead. Death is too good for him. He deserves to be put away in a hell hole of a jail. A place where he could end up as desperate as all the runaways he hooked on junk and then put on the streets to peddle their asses."

The two partners sat and watched the scene in silence for a few minutes. A Catholic priest was intoning low mumbles over the grave.

"How do you want to play this?" Lew asked eventually.

"By ear, my man, by ear." Gordy flipped the toothpicks out of his mouth and put his feet down. "Why don't you start out by getting the license plates off of all the cars in the funeral party? It might be real interesting to see who's who."

"What are you going to do?"

Gordy opened the door on his side of the car and started to slide out. "It's cool," he said. "I'm simply going to go and pay my last respects."

Lew followed Gordy's lead and exited their vehicle.

Physically the two DEA agents couldn't have been more opposite. Lew was tall, slender, and dyspeptic looking – like a constipated Japanese crane. He was all elbows and knees, angles and bones. His casual clothing hung on him like Goodwill castoffs, and his lightweight black jacket did little to hide the bulge of the 9mm automatic he carried in a worn shoulder holster.

By contrast, Gordy was a five foot six inch bantam rooster. He'd only made the DEA's height requirements by taping flesh colored foam wedges under his heels for the entrance physical. He was neat and confident, his full black hair flowing in deep waves across his skull. He was the same age as Lew, thirty-one, but looked ten years younger. It wasn't that Gordy looked all that young, but more the fact that Lew was not aging gracefully.

The two men were a good team because Lew was constantly in awe of Gordy's ability to never be at a loss for what to do or say next. However, Gordy certainly had his share of detractors in the agency – old partners or supervisors who despised his cocky attitude and king-size ego. Whenever the booze began to flow at agency parties, everyone knew who was being talked about when "Walking Small" was mentioned.

While trying to keep one eye on Gordy, Lew took a slim notebook out of his inside jacket pocket and began to write down license numbers with the stub of a pencil.

"What the hell are you doing, buddy?" asked a limo chauffeur when he saw Lew bend down behind one of the cars for a closer look.

Lew flashed his DEA identification toward the man like he was trying to hold a vampire at bay with a silver crucifix.

"Don't you guys ever take the day off?" the chauffeur asked with disdain. "Ain't you got no respect for the dead."

Lew fired back a line he'd picked up from Gordy. "Crawl back under your rock, scumbag, before I book you for filth and ignorance in the presence of a federal officer."

The chauffeur held up his hands in a placating gesture and backed off. He wasn't being paid to handle cop grief. That job was reserved for the hardmen who were dotted around the cemetery.

TWO

On the other side of the grassy knoll, where the mourners had gathered to see Arceneaux put to his final rest, was a higher rise. A small pathway, barely wide enough for a car, led to the top of the second rise and then down again on the other side. At the crest, a lone limousine sat overlooking the funeral ceremony.

In the rear seat of the limo, a dark man close to fifty years old sat on the bench seat staring intently out of the side window. He had a face like a bowl full of elbows, all knots and cheekbones. He wore an expensive blue pin-striped suit with a white carnation attached to the stylishly narrow lapel.

Across from the dark man, one of the two men sitting on the limo's jump seats eyed the older man surreptitiously. He figured the price of the silk tie tucked into the pin-striped suit would equal about a month's worth of his own GS-12 government salary.

"I told you he would be here," the dark man said in a gravel voice. He pointed out the bulletproof glass of the window to where Gordy was advancing on the funeral party. "He's going to interrupt the best part. You told me he had been controlled. I want him stopped. Now!"

The young man who had been figuring the price of the tie grabbed a two-way radio from the floor below him and began to talk rapidly into it.

Two of the hardmen near the grave each put a hand to their ear, looked around with slitted eyes, spotted Gordy and began moving toward him.

Gordy saw them coming and slowed his advance.

"You're out of here, Fontaine," the first hardman said as he approached Gordy.

"You and what two armies?" Gordy asked with a cocky smile slapped across his face.

"These two," the hardman said. With his right hand he pulled back his sport coat to reveal a gun in a shoulder holster. "Army number one," he said. With his left had he fished out and flashed a set of credentials. "And army number two."

Gordy squinted at the government pasteboard and the crackerjack prize badge the hardman was showing. "The FBI?" Gordy said in mock awe.

"I'm Agent Jordan," said the hardman. "And this is Agent Lambert." He indicated the second hardman who had moved up behind him. "We've been told to escort you from the area."

Gordy shook his head thoughtfully. "What in the hell are FBI agents doing playing security guards at a drug king's funeral? Has the world gone mad? Now, I know there's something fishy going on. And I'm going to prove it!"

Catching the agents off guard, Gordy faked a move to his left and then dodged back to his right. When Jordan reached out to grab him, Gordy kicked the FBI agent hard in the shin and then savagely pushed him backward into Lambert.

Jordan, who was sarcastically nicknamed "Lucky" because everything always seemed to happen to him, cried out as both agents crashed to the ground in a tangled heap. Showing a clean pair of heels, Gordy ran past them and started up the grassy knoll to where the casket was being lowered.

Lew Sutton looked up from his license gathering when he heard Jordan's shout. He saw Gordy running away from the two men who were sprawled on the ground, and he knew his partner had really blown things wide open this time. When he noticed a half dozen of the other hardmen in the area converging on Gordy, Lew also started running in the same direction. Gordy was his partner, and come hell or high water, you never let your partner hang in the wind.

Shoving his way through the startled mourners at the grave side, Gordy stopped beside the small winch that was lowering the casket. "Federal officer," he said, waving his DEA credentials over his head with one hand while trying to find the off switch for the winch with the other. "I want this coffin opened, and I want it opened now!"

"Please," said the shocked priest. "This is a funeral. Show some respect in the presence of God."

"Listen, padre," Gordy said, turning toward the priest. "God wouldn't waste his time showing up at a funeral for Zachary Arceneaux. This piece of dog excrement you think you're burying isn't worth pissing on. But don't worry about it because Arceneaux isn't even in this fancy box."

The coffin was suspended over the grave by two nylon lowering bands controlled by the winch. After securing the winch, Gordy stepped over to the coffin and knelt down on the edge of the turf next to it.

The burial box was an ornately worked piece of art. Fashioned from hand rubbed teak, it was bejeweled with intricate Sterling silver handles and overlays. Gordy reached out and began to unscrew the silver angel-shaped wing nuts that secured the lid. The mourners at the grave side began to wail and moan. None of them, however, wanted to interfere with the madman in their midst.

"Please stop," the priest implored again. Anger at Gordy's blasphemy suffused his face with color. Swirling his robes around him, he grabbed Gordy's shoulder and tried to pull him away from the coffin.

Gordy, knowing he didn't have much time, turned from his efforts to undo the coffin lid, pulled his gun off his hip and pointed it at the priest. "Back off, padre. This is the last time I'm going to tell you."

Shocked beyond belief, the priest backed away. Gordy returned to his precarious balancing act over the coffin and began unscrewing angels again. They seemed to be multiplying.

Looking around him, the priest spotted the quick release button on the winch. Placing his hand together, he closed his eyes and quickly mumbled the final lines of the grave side service. "Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. May this body be received into the loving arms of our heavenly and most merciful Father. Amen." The priest's voice rose loudly as he intoned the final word.

"Amen!" responded the mourners in unison.

Gordy was removing the last of the angel-shaped wing nuts, leaning fully across the coffin lid to do it, when the priest hit the winch's quick release button. Gordy and the coffin disappeared into the grave like a spooked rabbit down a hole.

The muffled thump of the coffin as it hit the dirt six feet below acted like a signal to the mourners. As if a switch had been thrown, the grave side onlookers suddenly energized, shucking off their long black coats to reveal beautiful multi¬colored clothing beneath.

Brass instruments appeared as if by magic, and the sounds of cool Bourbon Street jazz pierced the shimmering heat of the day. A drum picked up a back beat and the mourners began to dance. Moving their sinewy bodies to the fast paced music the close packed revelers hugged each other in celebration of the dead's departure for a higher plane – a tradition older than jazz itself.

In their enthusiasm, several brightly clad women hindered the progress of the dark suited FBI agents, who were attempting to converge on Gordy, by sweeping them into the dance. The agents tried to get clear, but it was like swimming against a red tide.

Inside the open grave, the lid of the coffin had bounced clear and was resting upright on one edge. Gordy hadn't been so lucky. He was lying half-on and half-off the exposed corpse. Blinded by swirling dust and earth, he pushed out a hand for leverage and found his fingers sliding across the wax on the corpse's face. He yelled out in horror as the features of Zachary Arceneaux were wiped away to reveal the dead face of another man underneath. The corpse wasn't Arceneaux's, but it was still a body, a dead one, and Gordy wanted to get as far away from it as possible.

Fumbling for his gun, which had bounced away from him when he was dropped into the grave, Gordy stood up sputtering and swearing. Even standing on the corpse with his weight crushing the brittle bones beneath him, his head barely rose above the level of the grave mouth. He grabbed the sides of the grave to pull himself out, but the loose earth kept falling in on him.

Finally, using the lid of the coffin for a boost, Gordy rolled out onto the cemetery turf. All around him, the legs of dancers swirled and kicked to the beat of the jazz that filled the air.

*

"I want him dead! do you hear me? Kill him!" The dark man in the back seat of the limo was screaming at the two FBI agents sitting across from him on the jump seats.

The smoke black window separating the front seat from the rear of the limo slid silently down. Senior FBI Agent Dwayne Bowman sat on the passenger side of the front seat next to the liveried driver. Bowman was wearing a ten year old suit that had been out of style since he'd purchased it at a J.C. Penney's two-for-one clearance sale. In his thirty-five year career with the bureau this was the most distasteful assignment he'd ever pulled. He turned in his seat to look into the back of the limo.

"The FBI is not in the habit of murdering other federal law enforcement officers, Arceneaux. If you ask me, this whole scenario of indulging your whim to attend your own funeral is a stupid waste of taxpayer's money. You're a scuz-bucket of the first order, and should be treated as such."

Arceneaux turned his piercing blue eyes on the older agent. "Nobody talks to me that way. You will pay for your insolence."
"I'm not one of your flunkies, Arceneaux." Bowman was unfazed even though his younger counterparts had turned pale under their tans. "You came to us, remember." He pointed a thick, scarred thumb in the direction of the debacle by the grave side. "Gordon Fontaine may have the personality of an exhibit at a proctologist's convention, but he's a hell of a cop. He destroyed your empire almost single-handedly, forced you into a corner, and survived your assassination attempts long enough to convince a Grand Jury to indict you." Bowman chuckled ruefully. "You had two choices," he continued. "Go to jail, or turn State's evidence. So, you came to the FBI because you couldn't stand the thought of going to the DEA and having Fontaine gloating over you every time you turned around. If you ask me, though, the witness protection program is too good for you. We should have told you to go pound sand instead of setting up this elaborate con-job."

Arceneaux was on a slow boil. "Your superiors seem to think the information I can provide them with is worth the effort. I'm sure they will greatly frown on your attitude. I will make sure that they squash you like a bug, little man."

"What are they going to do to me?" Bowman asked. "Delegate me to assignments where I have to protect sheep-dip like you?" He brought out and lighted a thin cigar, blowing smoke in Arceneaux's direction. "What you don't understand is that me and the Bureau director have a lot in common. We're both as high as we're going to go on this job. I'd never make a good area supervisor anyway. I couldn't take the operations."

"Operations?" queried one of the younger agents in surprise. He hoped to be promoted in the very near future.

"Didn't they tell you in the academy at Quantico?" Bowman asked seriously. "Before anyone can become an area supervisor they have to have their spine sucked out. And if you get promoted any higher then you have to have a plate glass window installed in your stomach so you can see where you're going with your head up your ass." Bowman broke out in peals of laughter.

*

Gordy felt a hand grab at the back of his neck. He rolled away and kicked out catching Agent 'Lucky' Jordan on the shin again.

"Look for yourself," Gordy yelled at Jordan. "That isn't Arceneaux in the coffin!"

Other FBI agents had surrounded the grave mouth. They were all facing outward in an effort to keep back the reporters and photographers who had come to cover the funeral.

The revelers who had been so mournful at the start of the funeral were forming themselves into a conga line. Hanging onto each other, they began to wind their way through the headstones and out of the cemetery to continue the wake elsewhere.

"You're under arrest, Fontaine," Jordan said. He was still bent over rubbing his shin. "You're going to lose your badge behind this."

"Arceneaux is not dead!" Gordy screamed at the man. Several other agents began to move toward him. Gordy began rapidly backing away from the grave and started up the second grassy knoll toward the limo. Jordan and the others began to chase him.

Seeing the limo at the top of the second knoll, things suddenly became clear for Gordy. Instinctively, he knew Arceneaux was inside the long, black vehicle, and with speed born of desperation, he picked up his pace.

In the front of the limo, Bowman saw Gordy coming and spoke rapidly to the driver. "Get us clear of here."

Arceneaux watched as Gordy ran toward the vehicle. All his anger toward the DEA agent welled up inside of him. Fontaine may have won another round, but Arceneaux was far from taking a ten count. With the cunning instincts that had kept him alive for years in the middle of the drug wars, Arceneaux decided to make sure Gordy wouldn't be around for the next round.

Depressing the electric window button with a finger from his left hand, Arceneaux snaked out his right hand and snatched the revolver out of the holster of the young agent nearest to him.

Gordy saw the limo's window slide down to reveal the face of the man he'd hated for so long. He saw the gun in Arceneaux's hand as it stuck its ugly snout out of the window and spat fire. Stone splinters exploded from a headstone directly in front of Gordy, but before he could react he was tackled from behind as the gun fired again.

"Stay down," Lew Sutton shouted at his partner, his hands wrapped around Gordy's knees. Though he appeared long, lean, and awkward, Lew Sutton could run like the wind. He'd passed Jordan, Lambert, and the other agents in pursuit of Gordy like they were running in quicksand.

Another hand appeared in the window of the limo to grab at the gun, but not before it fired again. The shot went wide of Gordy and Lew, but 'Lucky' Jordan stumbled and fell as the projectile slammed into his thigh.

"You've got to give it up, Gordy," Lew said.

"Lew," Gordy was desperate, "Arceneaux is in that limo." He pointed at the rapidly disappearing vehicle.

"You need help, Gordy," Lew said. "Arceneaux is dead."

"Lew, they're going to put me away for this. You have to help me."

Lew looked at the rapidly approached FBI agents. One of their own had gone down and it was clear they thought Gordy had fired the shots. Hadn't they seen the gun in the limo window? "Please, Lew?"

Lew released Gordy's legs, and the two men stood up. Lew had his back to the onrushing agents. "One chance," he said to his partner. "Punch me and run. And God go with you, buddy."

Gordy didn't hesitate. He delivered a roundhouse punch to Lew's jaw that sent the skinny man reeling down the hill.

"Strike!" Gordy yelled in triumph as Lew crashed into the FBI agents, knocking them to the ground like a scene from a Keystone Kops' movie.

Gordy hit his afterburners and began running for his life.

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