Frankie Lewis wasn’t the strangest corpse I’d ever seen. Only in the top 10.
Frankie lay curled fetal on his den floor. Eyes bugged. Mouth smiling. Fingers screening his face and two holes through his chest you could house a Chihuahua in.
“Something’s wrong with this picture,” Homicide Detective Andsell said, frowning on Frankie with disappointment and rubbing his bristle-brush hair.
“Besides me being called in on this?”
“Yeah. Besides that call to Narco. Dispatch got their Frankie Lewises mixed up.”
I shrugged. It happens. Happens about every week with Sergeant Plunkett handling the calls.
I gave the house a once over. Its third-hand furniture was kept in storefront condition.
“Place looks standard issue,” I said.
The Ninth Ward’s funny like that. Outside, houses looked like shacks Mardi Gras decorations went to die in. Inside, most were Salvation Army Martha Stewart.
“The wife, Belle, runs a tight ship.” Andsell angled a thumb at a plump woman in the kitchen, heaped in sadness and hanging her head as she talked to a patrol officer. “She didn’t touch the scene, though.”
“We’re thinking home invasion?”
“We’re thinking something weird’s about Frankie.”
“Okay, okay.” I hunkered for a better look. “Maybe that he’s grinning?”
“That, and,” Andsell pointed, “why’s he covering his face when he got shot in the chest?”
“Posed,” I said. “And you know what else?”
“My Frankie Lewis, the dealer, he’s known as Dirty Harry.” I stood and slid on my shades. “On account of the big-ass .44 Magnum he carries.”
Andsell sailed his hand outside the passenger window and whistled Easy Like Sunday Morning as we cruised for Edith Sampson Playground.
“So why’d Frankie—your Frankie,” I said, “Get posed like that?”
“Who knows? He’s not the strangest death pose I’ve seen.”
Andsell stroked his chin. “Had this one guy spread out in a dentist chair, left at a gas station. Been shot in a gambling den next to a dentist’s, and the shooters broke into the office and tried to use the chair to wheel him to the canal for dumping.”
“But they were too drunk and gave up?”
“Heard this before?”
“No, but this is New Orleans.”
“How about you?”
I turned into the park’s lot. A dozen corner boys leveled sniper-scope stares my way. I gave each a glare from my aviators.
“Had two stiffs posed hugging one another.”
“No, killed by their brother.”
Andsell and I loped through the trees, crossing the park to sneak up on Dirty Harry’s corner. He was quiet until he swigged from his flask.
“I had four stiffs, all cut up and grilled.”
I grimaced. “Shit Parnell and the Grubs pull doesn’t count.”
“Yeah,” Andsell muttered, “I guess that’s cheating.”
Dirty Harry caught sight of us too close to bolt. He slumped his chubby shoulders and scratched at his teardrop tattoo instead.
“Morning, Dirty,” I said. “Keeping out of trouble?”
“For sure, Detective Jurgis,” Dirty said, squeaky pitch making him sound over-inflated.
“How about your gun?” Andsell said.
“I ain’t got no gun.”
“You ain’t got no uncle Frankie anymore either.”
The shock that slapped onto that wide face surprised even me. Dirty went from a knock-off Capone to a bawling fat boy in a blink. He grabbed his doo-rag and wailed like a Greek chorus.
“Uncle Frankie’s dead?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, shuffling, suddenly burdened by a weight of grief.
“Sorry, Other Frankie,” Andsell said. “We think your piece did it.”
“Can’t be,” Frankie whimpered.
“No, he’s really, really dead,” I said. “Just came from his home.”
“Nah, I mean, can’t be my gun. I gave it to Aunt Belle.”
As I slid the hospital bill copies to Belle on her Formica table, she cut the act. Stopped wiping her cheeks. Stopped shaking her shoulders. The frown stayed.
“That mean old motherfucker,” she said, straightening her lace collar.
“Broken arm, twice,” I recited from the hospital records. “Broken nose, three times. Half a dozen pairs of black eyes. I’d say ‘mean’ doesn’t cover what Frankie was.”
Andsell was already getting out cuffs. I held her hand.
“Told him I’d kill him if he tried it again,” Belle turned to Frankie. Her glare could have stapled him to the carpet.
“Honesty is important in relationships,” Andsell said, moving behind her.
I helped her stand. She was still riveted to Frankie.
“Done with now,” I said, knowing it wasn’t, not really. Belle lifted her other hand.
“Let me just look at him a bit longer,” she said.
We all did.
“Why’d you pose him like that?” Andsell said.
“For once in my life,” Belle said, her frown finally hatching a smile, “I wanted him to be the one curled up and begging.”