I broke a large icicle from the railing and stepped off the porch onto Claiborne Street. A speeding carriage drenched my boots with freezing slush. February was one of the coldest months in New Orleans, but no one had seen ice like this. Although the year was just beginning, 1899 seemed cursed.
I was investigating the city’s eighth murder in two months. Correction: possible murder. A working girl in the District named Peaches. No one had heard from her for days, and the talk in the brothels hinted she was the tragic victim of a jealous lover. But these girls thrive on fantasy. I needed proof.
The interview at her mother’s house revealed nothing. From what I could understand through the thick Haitian accent, the distraught woman hadn’t seen her daughter in nearly a week. A small altar to Baron Samedi sparkled violet with candles as I left.
I crunched along the six blocks to Cirque House where Peaches had a room. The house had one of the worst reputations in the red light district. Not many men I knew had been inside—only those on the force who derived pleasure from the most brutal aspects of our work. The kind that roughed up the girls we arrested or “accidentally” killed a criminal before trial.
But Peaches was the police chief’s favorite. With skin like creamy café au lait that tasted even sweeter, he would tell us. I promised him I’d find out what happened to her.
When I rang the bell at Cirque House, the madam pulled me inside. “Come out of the cold, honey! We’ve got a warm reception in every bedroom.” I tried to explain I wasn’t a customer. But she hushed my protests and said: “Now relax and tell me what you’re after.”
“I’m looking for Peaches,” I began slowly. “Does she still work here?”
“Why of course! I’ll make sure she’s not occupied.” The madam winked and retreated.
As I lounged on the arm of a velvet settee, a tiny gray maid wandered in. I asked if she had noticed anything unusual at the house. She said she only cooked meals for the working girls and cleaned the bedrooms “you know…after.” When I mentioned Peaches, the maid’s eyes showed white and she scurried off without another word.
The madam returned and led me down a draped hallway to a cold, dark room. Heavy perfume stifled me as I entered. A body was lying on the bed. Horrified, I backed out and grabbed the madam.
“Now don’t fidget,” she purred. “Peaches brought in some of our best customers. She had a visitor booked almost every hour the day it happened, so there’s no telling who killed her. Funny thing is, the gentlemen who visited afterwards never complained. Must have been an irresistible temptation. And who am I to judge a man’s soul if their money’s good?”
She stared hard at me. “So you going to have a turn or aren’t you? Her next guest is waiting.”
FlashFlood is brought to you by National Flash-Fiction Day UK, happening this year on 27th June 2015.
In the build up to the day we have now launched our Micro-Fiction Competition (stories up to 100 words) and also our annual Anthology (stories up to 500 words). So if you have enjoyed FlashFlood, why not send us your stories?
“She’s not dead, you know,” a voice beside me says. The woman sharing the park bench in Kensington Palace Gardens has been observing me write on the back of a postcard. Years have passed since that immeasurable worldwide torrent of grief. Even so less than fifteen minutes ago, I’d found myself unable to walk past that famous face on a display of vintage cards at a Bayswater Road stall. “Diana’s not dead.” The woman shifts on her thighs and re-settles herself on the bench, a faint unidentifiable smell exuding from her dirty grey overcoat. Really, I can’t help myself when it comes to Diana. You have had to be around in her time to understand the mesmerising effect she had on people. “Oh?” “She wasn’t in that coffin.” “Oh?’ Despite myself, I am intrigued. The woman eyes me steadily, holding me fast with her gaze. “No. She’s in a mental institution.” The tone is matter of fact. “Under lock and key. They’ve kept it from everyone.” She gives me time to consider this, turning her attention to a m…
The little dog is tethered in the sun. From a distance, she has a rough coat. But when I’m close enough to stroke her, inside the pool of her reflection on the slow-baked sand, she is soft. You tell me not to touch. “Fleas, Simon,” you say. I drag your case up the hill. So many clothes. All from the cheap shop so you can justify their number, their casual disposability. I hoped you would spend all week in your white swimming costume. But you want changes, multiple changes. The room disappoints you. The humming fridge disturbs your sleep. The toilet gasps and gurgles. The ceiling fan struggles to stir air thicker than Brown Windsor soup. “I can’t breathe,” you say. The little dog cries all night. You burn on the beach, so you stay in the room. You smother your skin with cream, but refuse to let me baste you. I buy you more lotion—"Too watery, too melon scented"—from the shabby shop. Down the hill, up the hill. You want stifado in a carton. Down to the jaded restaurant, up again. Yo…