The common area in cell block C3 at the St. Bernard Parish Detention Center was abuzz with activity. Some inmates work out to pass their time, some read, and some gamble. The main currency of gambling was either zoos or whams. Zoos are any type of food sold on commissary that is not sweet i.e. tuna, chicken in a can, and the most popular jail house denomination – the ramen noodle. Two noodles equal one dollar. Whams are M&Ms, honeybuns, hubig pies, etc.
Sports gambling is a constant in any penal facility, but the three most popular gambling games are poker, spades, and booray, which is a form of spade that doesn’t require a partner. At the spades table, jail house fortunes are won or lost by the keen ability to guess what card your partner will play next. When it came to two criminals who could read each other’s minds, no one surpassed Sean Babin and Anthony Estes.
On the street they were innovative brainiac burglars. One of their daring dupes involved Sean, who was the shorter, portly, balding member of the duo, creating a distraction while Estes would climb up into the drop down ceiling of a store. Once the store was closed, Estes, armed with a hydraulic bottle jack and crowbar, would drop down into the manager’s office and pop the safe. Once the money was in hand, Sean would smash in the back door with a sledgehammer and they would be gone before the police arrived.
In another of their creative cons, Sean copied one side of a hundred dollar bill and then within sight of the cashier, appeared to drop it outside. As Sean walked off, the greedy convenience store attendant would run outside to get the money, abandoning the register. Estes, who was inside, would hit the no sale button and clean out the till, passing the irate attendant on his way out.
The same flawless teamwork carried over to their game of spades.
“Hey Homes, someone needs to talk to you upstairs,” Perez interrupted Estes’ game.
“Man, we’re winning right now.”
“It’s kinda important, Homes.” Perez insisted.
“Not important to me, I’m winning. Tell ‘em to come down here.”
“Trigger ain’t coming down.”
The game stopped. Everyone looked at Estes.
Sean replied, “I was tired of ya’ll’s money anyway. Go see what he wants.”
As Anthony got up to go upstairs, Sean handed him a plastic bowl, “And get us some food. I know he’s cooking something up there. Smells like etouffee.”
“You just ate!”
“Is that all you can think about? Food?”
“No, there’s smokes, coffee, gambling, oh yeah, see if he has any murder mysteries. He’s got like two hundred books up there.”
“Why don’t you just come?”
Sean patted a huge laundry bag full of zoos and whams they had won and said, “And trust those degenerate gamblers with our loot? Yeah, right.”
Estes shook his head and headed up the stairs.
“Don’t forget about the murder mysteries! See if he has Suart Woods or James Lee Burk!”
Estes threw the plastic bowl at him, but Sean ducked.
“What’s up, Trigger?”
Trigger was an imposing bald man who brought to mind images of Marlon Brando or a heavy set version of Mr. Clean. The first difference in Trigger’s cell besides the mini fridge and microwave, was the music. The television in the Day Room ran off an FM transmitter, so the only way to hear it was through head phones. But Trigger’s cell had actual music. As Anthony started to bob his head to a chugging guitar riff in the background, he asked, “That’s ‘Crazy Train’, huh? I haven’t heard this song in forever.”
“Looks like you and Sean are cleaning up out there on the spades table.”
Estes’ entire demeanor changed. “Look man, I ain’t no fresh fish, if you brought me up here to shake me down for some of our winnings, it ain’t gonna be that easy.”
“Whoa, calm down. Have me or Perez ever hit you up for anything?” Trigger handed Anthony a coffee cup and said, “Here, have some coffee. Have a seat.”
Estes sat in a folding chair with his back against the bars.
“Look, I got a problem I need your help with.”
“I need to have a talk with one of the kids in the next cell. I believe one of them has some information about a certain business deal gone bad.”
“Look, Trigger, I know I gamble, but I been locked up three years. I ain’t coming back to jail. I’ve been saved. When I leave this time, I plan on being a youth minister. So, I ain’t helping nobody hurt no kids.”
“Estes, calm down. Haw many times we been locked up together? I wouldn’t hurt a kid.”
“Gimme your word.”
“Even if it turns out the Ice Cream Gangsters stole that forty large?”
“I guess you heard about it, too.”
“I think the whole city has.”
“Then yeah, I give you my word. No harm will come to them, even if they stole the money.”
“Ok. Which one do you need to see?”
“The black kid.”
“The D.A,’s kid huh? Do you know something I don’t know?”
“I probably know a lot of things you don’t know.”
“When do you need him?”
“Ten forty-five, before chow,” Estes promised. He picked up a blanket and draped it over the chair. “Tell him to sit on the ground and they won’t see his big dreads on the camera.”
After Estes had a few minutes to brainstorm, Sean appeared before the boys’ cell. “Hey, you with the dreads.”
“Yeah?” Tex asked.
“Trigger wants to see you.”
Spider snapped, “Hey, you might have noticed we are locked in a cell.”
A huge obese man of around 390 pounds they called Big Fred, with a dark, pleasant complexion the color of milk chocolate and a huge contagious smile, stepped up next to Sean.
“This here is Big Fred.”
The boys couldn’t help but smile at Big Fred.
“Look, in ten minutes this door will open and close back, signaling to lock down before chow. Big Fred will be standing in front of the door. Just slip out and behind him. They won’t see you.” Sean spied Buddha reading in a bunk, “Hey is that a murder mystery?”
“Um, no Sir, it is about a badass oceanographer who collects old cars and saves the world.”
“Can I get it when you’re done?”
Tex said, “Hey, will I need to bring my cards?” He held up his tarot deck.
“Sure, it can’t hurt.”
When the doors rocked back, Big Fred took his position. Tex slipped around the wall and sat on the floor in front of the chair so he wouldn’t be seen on camera.
“So you’re A.A. and Bama’s son?”
“Yes, Sir. Did you know my Dad?”
“No. Not personally, but I used to be a bookie. When he pitched that first no-hitter against LSU I think every bookie in the country heard his name. You play baseball?”
“No Sir, I study.”
“Uptown Einstein they call you? So, you going to Tulane like your parents?”
“If my Mom has her way.”
“You don’t sound happy about that.”
“S’Just, I don’t wanna be a lawyer or a baseball player. So why go to Tulane? I want to be a scientist or a parapsychologist and she doesn’t understand.”
“Mom’s usually don’t.”
“So, Mr. Trigger, why all the Mission Impossible stuff? Why didn’t you just come over there, it’s like three feet away.”
“Couple reasons. One, I don’t go out there. The free people run out there. I run in here. It’s a nice arrangement. Two, I don’t want anyone to know our business. So, without further ado, I’ve heard a lot about your divination. Could you read my cards?”
“You gotta pay. It’s part of the magic.”
“I have something better than honeybuns – a favor. Tell me what I need to know and I’ll owe you a favor. Anything within my power to grant, just ask. And my powers extend far beyond this jail.”
Deep in the bowels of the jail, Detective Rogers and Sergeant Parks talked with Mrs. Mandy Spears from the city crime lab. She had a handful of hundred dollar bills in individual plastic bags.
“Well, you’re right about the brown substance. Not only is it blood, but we matched the sample against the Department of Corrections database and it’s Julian Polk’s. Plus, there were some other interesting facts about this money.”
“Maybe.” She held out a piece of paper with a list of ingredients on it. “They all contained a substance used for electronic parts. Some of them contained residue of beer or soda. The rest has contents of mixed drinks, rum and coke, hurricanes, gin.”
“And that means?”
“This money came out of a video poker machine.”
“Half the money in this city has been through a video poker machine!” said Rogers, sarcastically.
“No, I mean, this money JUST came out of a machine. And according to these threads, it went into a red L.L. Bean bag and there it sat until it came into your possession.”
“Surely these kids aren’t the people who stole Joe the Suit’s money.”
“If so, they’d be dead already.”
Tex shuffled the cards and handed them to Trigger. The bald man, who instead of wearing the normal black and white striped inmate jumpsuit was clad in a black and gold Adidas jogging suit, wiped his hands on his windbreaker and took the deck. He cut the cards with his large ring-covered left hand and Tex saw light flicker off the diamonds on a gold watch.
“You’ve had your cards read before.”
Trigger pulled up his sleeve to show an arm tattooed like a pagan gauntlet with a pentagon in the inside.
“Follower of Gerald Gardner?”
“You do study.”
Tex pulled up his own sleeve and among the hundreds of tats on his arm he pointed to a six point star in a circle.
“Invocation circle, nice.”
Tex smiled and began to flip over cards. He laid out one card, then placed another catty-corner on each point. The main card was the object noun and the other cards clarified. As they began to fall, the pictures should begin to fade away and the only thing the magician sees is the story. That’s what makes it divination.
Tex’s clear cappuccino complexion went a shade lighter as he said, “I..I.. Shouldn’t know anything about this. This isn’t my business.”
“Well, they’re right. You are gifted. But I can tell by the look on your face, ya’ll didn’t steal our money.”
“US!? Why would you suspect us? No way, we’d never.”
“Calm down. Since you already know too much, I’ll explain. Just maybe you can help me. Now, I don’t have to tell you…”
“How much danger I’d be in if anyone I knew possessed this information, much less than if I divulged it to anyone else?” Tex interrupted. “No, definitely not, no, nope, I swear on my mother.”
“Well, you said it three times, that’s a word bond. Plus, the vow on your mother is enough for me. We never had this conversation.
“So, before I was arrested in ninety-four, before the new gang laws, only about half the machines in the city were legal. After some shady legal wrangling we struck a deal. We’d make all the machine legal, but we’d get a cut. Of course, this cut is strictly off the books and it’s cash. Every two weeks this backpack makes its way from Orleans Parish to the back room at Gerald’s donut shop where the three New Orleans crime families would divide up the loot.”
“So how did they lose it?”
“We don’t know. The bagman put it in his trunk, then when he got to Gerald’s it was gone.”
“The bagman didn’t take it?”
“Oh, I’m positive. He was questioned vigorously. But you know where the money is, don’t you?”
Tex looked down at the floor, then back at Trigger.
“Yes, Sir, I think I do. At the Lebeoux mansion.”
“Go ahead, tell me.”
Tex swallowed and began, “When we got inside, upstairs in the solarium was a make-shift squat. A little pallet, some clothes, dirty needles, but no vagabond. Well, something happened while we were there and we had to run out. On the way down the stairs George fell through a step. He grabbed a few bills from the hole his foot made, but we had to run again.”
“What were you running from?”
“It’s a long story and I don’t even know if I believe it. But as me and Spider made it out the front door, it slammed shut and George and Buddha couldn’t get out. Out of nowhere Julian runs up and kicks the huge door in. Buddha runs out, but George is in shock or something, so Julian snatches him out through the door.”
“So what happened to Julian?”
“She killed him.”
“Who killed him?”
“Isabella, the ghost girl.”
“Hey, Perez!” Trigger called out.
Trigger explained that the money was probably in the house and Cristobal needed to get on the payphone downstairs and figure out how to check.
“And Tex? Since you’re stuck here until the bars rock back, you might as well tell me the whole story.”