Bad Town For A Pretty Face: New Orleans, Chapter One

It’s finally here! The very first chapter of our Bad Town sequel! Let me know what you think!

“Oh my god Colette, stop crowding me with these beignets. I’m not doing it.” She said, and on the other side of the small kitchen table Colette took a pointedly massive bite of her pastry and set it back down on her plate as she licked the powdered sugar off her deeply purple matte lips.

“I bought them. The plan was a nice breakfast. The plan wasn’t fruit salad.” She grabbed a beignet from the styrofoam package she’d brought them in and tried to forcibly place it in Fia’s bowl. When she leaned forward the cross around her neck glinted from the sun streaming in through the small window of the breakfast nook.

“I’m not in the mood, it’s too heavy for me.” She protested by throwing a grape at her friend and hit her forehead dead center. Colette responded with a quietly convincing look, so she scowled with no real heat behind it. “Half.”

“Atta girl, Fia.” Colette ripped the pastry in two and took the slightly smaller portion for herself in a puff of powdered sugar that spotted her draping black dress. Fia took a small bite and envied her a little; Colette was a beautiful plus-sized girl, confident behind her Havana twists and stacks of silver rings whilst Fia drowned in the tee that served as her pajamas and never craved the food she needed to avoid being as terribly spindly as she already was. “Throwing fruit. Unbelievable girl, ya really acted your age on that one.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I’m fourteen, that’s when most girls start their professional food fight careers.” She puffed out her chest and Colette gave her a charming grin. Before she could give a likely amiable reply the doorbell rang, a deep chime that echoed around the small mansion. The house was old and the walls thin enough that it was loud even from the distance from the front door through the kitchen to the breakfast nook.

“Ugh.” Colette said elegantly, and began to stand.

“Don’t worry, darlings.” An authoritative yet warm voice called out distantly from the top of the stairs. “I’ll answer it.”

Fia looked up at her mother in admiration; she stood with her back straight and chin high, with big hair, sharp features and warm honey skin. She descended the staircase in a light pink silk bathrobe, its cuffs and collar capped in matching faux fur. Across from her, Colette rather self consciously wiped up the excessive amounts of powdered sugar all over the table with her napkin and dusted her hands of it as Fia’s mother reached the door.

“Verene Beaumarchais?” A man asked, and Fia looked over to see a pair of officers each clad in a navy uniform.

“They’re here for you.” Colette muttered to her, and Fia giggled and took another bite of her beignet. “Stop laughing, you’re going to fucking jail Fee.”

“I swear officer, it was one grape!” She pleaded, and Colette snorted. She heard her mother thanking the police in a somber tone, and when she looked over her expression was full of sorrow. There was a lump in her throat as Verene shut the door, a sudden curious dread in her heart as to what news would be so terrible that some uniforms had to deliver it. Verene walked over to them with a devastated expression, and Colette went quiet and straightened. She looked to them for a long beat, silent save for Fia’s thumping heart, then broke into a massive smile.

“Bad news, girls.” She said as Fia felt her impending heart attack fade away. “My husband’s dead.”

“Oh no!” Colette yelled as a cheer, and Fia let out a wordless sound of exclamation. “My condolences to the widow!”

“Thank you. I don’t know how my heart will go on.” Verene clutched her chest dramatically and laughed. “Apparently it’s a real bloodbath. Colette call the girls, let’s meet at the crime scene.”

“Ooh, can I come?” Fia hopped up and down in excitement. “Please mom?”

“Hmm. Did you take your enzyme pills?” She asked, and Fia nodded firmly. “Finish your breakfast while I change and I’ll meet you in the car.”

“Yay! We’re gonna see my step-dad’s corpse!” She stuffed the beignet into her mouth as Colette pulled out her phone and Verene stepped away with a sly, affectionate grin.

Once Fia finished off her fruit she bounded up the stairs to her room next to Colette’s – she’d been taken in years ago, but not adopted as a baby like Fia had been. That was an obvious fact for everyone who had eyes; her copper skin was nothing like Verene’s, all smattered in freckles especially heavy on her hooked nose, not that she minded. ‘My pretty girl,’ her mother used to whisper when she brushed her long, coarse hair each night as a child, ‘my great heiress.’ She changed into a basketball jersey, skinny jeans and sneakers and went to the garage, where she found Colette already waiting next to the sky blue ’72 Mercedes.

“Got the feeling she’d prefer this one over, well –” Colette jerked a thumb towards the ’61 Jaguar that belonged to the now late Mr. Beaumarchais: or at least, that’s what the girls called him in a falsely grandiose voice. He’d rather egotistically kept his name when he married the Beaumarchais bride who would very obviously keep hers.

“Oh, I’m keeping his ride.” Verene called out as she entered the garage. She hadn’t bothered with black for the occasion, instead donned a mint shift dress and a dusty lavender fur coat. Her amethyst Tory Burch bag and Ferragamo shoes tied the look together as she pulled out her keys and put on an enormous pair of sunglasses. They made their way across town with Colette in control of the radio and Fia laughed as she sang along to everything she knew – she even got Verene to join in on a Donna Summer tune. The radio was eventually turned down when they arrived at the scene, where three squad cars and a coroner’s van were parked on the muddy, empty lot of a construction zone.

Verene parked at the side of the road and the trio walked over to the entrance of a future strip mall where police tape blocked their path. She gave a nearby officer a look comparable to a scolding and he took it down whilst Fia fought from beaming. When her mother raised her chin, he told her to follow him in a voice shaky with fear – fear of the best and baddest woman in New Orleans. They walked in a line behind him until Verene halted suddenly and audibly hissed.

“Honey, you might not want to look.” She warned, but of course that only excited her further.

“Ooh, are there guts?” She stepped forward to get a better look, then squealed in delight when she fully took in the carnage. Her step-father was lying face down (though she imagined there wasn’t much of it left) in the mud with a massive hole in the back of his skull; all around the area forensics was working to pick up bits of scalp and brain and blond hair.

“Wow.” Colette said, and for a moment it seemed like she couldn’t find any other words before she finally found something poignant enough for the occasion. “He got wrecked.”

“Indeed.” Verene responded simply with a feral joy in her voice, then turned to the officer who’d led them over. “I thank you kindly, dear, but I’d like a moment with my family to mourn our loss.”

Colette snorted as the officer nodded and scurried away. As Fia watched him go, she saw two familiar figures approach the entrance.

“Mom, girls are here.” She said, and Verene looked to the women and waved them over. The police saw this and let them pass without incident, all too deep in Verene’s pocket to object. The pair were obviously deep in conversation from their wild hand movements, and Fia caught a snippet as they neared.

“And I told him boy, if you mispronounce my name again the date is over. Tea, like a cup of tea. On, like turning on a light. E, like the damn letter. Teonnie. Simple.” Teonnie complained as she treaded carefully through the mud. Her shoes were patent leather purple flats, the same shade as her stylish dress, the pristine nails on her long fingers, the long, high quality wig she insisted she couldn’t live without, and the glittering eyeshadow that shone against the cool undertones of her umber skin. She often got in these moods and claimed she could only be satisfied by coordination – Fia personally adored the view of her colorful friend. Next to her, the other girl sighed.

“‘On, like how you won’t be turning me on tonight.’ Men.” She said, normally quiet but not enough to ever restrain a scoff, and smiled cordially as they reached the trio. “No wonder this one’s got a bullet in his skull.”

Lakhela was holding the hem of her tribal patterned, rust colored skirt to keep it out of the mud, the pattern intricate as the Ghana braids on her head. When she looked down at the body she smiled that wide smile of hers, the brilliant one that complimented the glow of her deep brown skin. Verene stepped forward and her smile was replaced with a more strict expression, the girl loyal to a tee.

“Morning, ladies.” She gave everyone a coy smile. “You may notice there’s been an incident.”

“Not sure that’s the right word.” Lakhela said with a raised brow. “Teonnie tripping on the way to my car and almost face-planting? I’d sooner call that an incident.”

“My life flashed before my eyes.” She crossed her arms. “All for some nasty dead guy.”

“Now now, ladies.” Verene raised a hand patiently, and they paused in their bickering. “We’re barely here for the ‘dead guy.’ I’ve summoned you all to ask who’s given me this wonderful early birthday gift.”

Fia looked around and was surprised to see the rest do the same as they all tried to figure out who murdered him. After a silent moment, Verene coaxed them further.

“Come on ladies, I’m not mad. In fact, I’m thrilled!” She said with a smile. “He got boring months ago, and far too clingy as trophy husbands go. So tell me, which of you spared me the trouble of killing him off?”

“Colette?” Teonnie asked, but Colette shook her head. As the group’s intimidator she would be the first they’d point fingers at, but Fia knew last night had been Sunday and Colette insisted that she didn’t murder people on the holy day unless it was really necessary. Fia maybe wondered about the word ‘necessary,’ especially after Colette stabbed that one guy for asking her where her coven was, but she politely kept that to herself.

“Fia you didn’t have a hand in this, did you?” Verene asked sternly, so then it was her turn to shake her head.

“That would’ve been really cool, but no.” She spoke honestly, and Verene studied her with that cunning look of hers. “I assumed you did it.”

“No, I was waiting for a more convenient time. Did no one here murder my husband, then?” She asked the group, a bit put-out, and they all glanced at each other one last time before shaking their heads or simply shrugging. Then she hummed to herself thoughtfully, and from the way her brows furrowed Fia knew something was wrong. “If no one here shot him as a gift, this may have been malicious.”

“Malicious? You think he messed with someone he shouldn’t have?” Teonnie asked, then gave the corpse a look of disdain. “I know he was kind of power hungry, but who’d be brave enough to kill the great Verene Beaumarchais’ boy toy?”

“An idiot.” Colette suggested simply. “A miser waiting on a debt. An out-of-towner who didn’t know any better. The list is longer than I’d care to consider.”

“Great. So the jackass got himself in trouble.” Verene kicked his stiff, pale arm and frowned. “And I was so happy for the lovely gift.”

“That would’ve been such a good idea.” Teonnie mourned, and Fia was a bit disappointed that she hadn’t thought of it before someone else got to him. Lakhela only studied the corpse idly.

“What do we do from here, boss? Investigate or leave it be? Technically they did you a service.” Lakhela pointed out with a raised brow, and Verene pursed her lips as she stared down at the corpse. Fia did the same – he must have been sitting out half the night because his wrists were already stiff and there were birds walking around looking for a little bite to eat.

“Whoever ‘they’ are, they thought they could murder my husband right under my nose.” She said scornfully. “That won’t do.”

“But we don’t even like him.” Fia pointed out. “He was so annoying, all he ever did was reach for power and use the blender way late at night.”

“Made one hell of a protein shake.” Teonnie mournfully shook her head. “Dibs on his powder, he bought the expensive stuff.”

“Fia, please, there are things you need to know if you’re going to rule my empire when I retire wealthy.” Verene said austerely. “After all, one day all of this will be yours.”

“Everything the light touches.” Colette said with a devilish grin, not for the first time, and Verene pointedly ignored her as Fia gulped.

“You can’t let people presume to walk on you. We can’t imply weakness.” She said firmly, and Fia put on a pained smile and nodded. “So we’re going to find out who did this and have a talk with them.”

“I’m guessing Colette’ll be the one ‘talking.’” Lakhela said, with a pair of air quotes for good measure. Colette looked dangerously intrigued at that, but Verene waved a hand in dismissal.

“Maybe. If they had a genuinely good reason we might negotiate some form of payment or surrender. It would be more serious if they’d done something I’d cared about.” Verene said, and Fia understood that well enough. “I’ll play it by ear. There are no hard and fast rules to keeping your reputation.”

Fia thought there were a fair few, actually, all of her mother’s invention. Be just affable enough to gain respect, hold it in an iron grip, stay proud and the world could never really hurt you: it seemed to her Verene’s personality was the very thing to study to achieve greatness, though of course she tried her best to listen to the little lessons she often gave her, and went on every errand and mission with nothing but contentment.

“I think we should split up.” Verene announced after a moment of thought. “Colette, we have need of your persuasiveness. Go around the regular crowd and fish for suspicious activity.”

“Gladly.” She bowed her head, and Verene continued with a pleased little grin.

“Fia, I want you to take – hm, let’s say Lakhela – yes, take Lakhela and search the area for security cameras. Access their footage by whatever means necessary.” She ordered, and Fia was pleased to play a role. “I’d like to see if whoever did this was foolish enough to show their face.”

“That’s what we’re hoping for.” Lakhela said as she looked up at nearby buildings for cameras on corners. Teonnie looked expectant, and Verene addressed her next.

“Teonnie, you’ll come with me. The hubby kept his files and more expensive assets under my protection.” Verene informed her. “We’ll need to check on where it’s hidden and see if anything was taken or tampered with.”

“Thank god you’re the one stuck with the paperwork.” Lakhela said, and Teonnie gave her a snide grin though they all knew she was the only one besides Verene even remotely suited to it. “C’mon Fee, let’s get some recordings.”

“Meet back at the house later, okay?” Verene asked, and when they all nodded she turned to her daughter. “I’ll see you later sweetheart.”

“See you later mom.” She waved her off as she returned to her car with Teonnie, who trudged through the mud with obvious displeasure. Colette walked away, close enough to people the crew routinely worked with, and Lakhela inspected the construction work that had been abandoned for the day thanks to the body at their feet. “I’ll ask an officer if there are cameras at the site.”

“I doubt it, but it’s worth a shot.” Lakhela said. “And yeah, you should be the one to bring it up because you’re adorable.”

Fia blushed and approached a man on the other side of the lot who wasn’t clad in navy and had the brusque look of a detective. He eyed her warily – even a tough guy had reason to worry about a fourteen year old girl when she was the daughter of New Orleans’ premiere crime boss. She smiled sweetly, well aware of her ability to make adults coo from her young appearance.

“Good morning, sir. My mother was wondering if there are any security cameras on the lot?” She asked kindly, but he was quick to shake his head.

“Had officers scour the place and I called the construction group, but nah, they don’t have anything. Bum rap.” He sipped his coffee and she decided he wasn’t going to be of any more help. As she turned away, he called out to her. “Hey, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” She called back, maybe a bit too chipper, and knew he was fighting a look of horrified amusement as the officers her mother bribed often did.

Despite the detective’s words, she and Lakhela explored the construction zone and hunted for cameras as people in white jumpsuits collected bits of her step-father’s head and brains behind them. At one point Lakhela grabbed her firmly by the shoulders and made her stare intently at a slab of concrete; she didn’t figure out until she was finally freed that the corpse had been stuffed into a body bag and wheeled away by coroners, much to her dismay.

“I bet it would’ve looked horrific! Aw, I wanted to see his face all torn apart.” She whined and kicked at a nearby rock.

“Trust me Fia, I saw more than enough to know it wasn’t for your eyes.” Lakhela replied staunchly, and Fia groaned. “You really wouldn’t have wanted to see it honey: he didn’t have a nose anymore, there were teeth everywhere, it was grizzly.”

“What? I totally would’ve wanted to see that!” She complained, but after she kicked another rock she sighed and the pair moved on.

They went to the businesses across the corner the lot was on, all small and most locally owned; a bakery, a convenience store, a boutique, a thrift shop, a few other locales. When the people behind the registers saw just who was walking into their shops they rushed to grab the owners, which gave Fia an odd emotion, something that made her feel brave and boisterous. She knew it was all her mother’s influence and Lakhela’s own sinister reputation, she’d done nothing to earn any fear yet, but it gave her some encouragement for the short future she wanted, to walk in her mother’s footsteps as long as she realistically could.

Most handed over tapes without question and some only showed them what they’d recorded in-store. Those the pair viewed immediately showed nothing, all at the wrong angle or just too dark to make anything out, but they tried to exhibit some hope for the remainder of the tapes. When they left the last store in the area and Lakhela looked around for traffic cameras, Fia made an observation with a frown.

“This whole neighborhood is right on the edge of business and residential. Limited cameras and limited witnesses.” She said, brow furrowed, and Lakhela nodded sagely.

“I don’t think there are traffic cams here.” She said slowly, deep in thought. “They’re usually reserved for places where people break the law or as a safety precaution for kids in busy areas. This corner’s not quite either.”

“Which means whoever chose this place to commit a murder was either very smart or very lucky.” Fia hummed in annoyance. “This isn’t good.”

“It could very well be a fluke.” Lakhela assured her, but there was half a frown on her face that screamed otherwise. “Come on, let’s go back to your place and look over the footage we gathered.”

“I get the feeling a huge portion of our day will be dedicated to tracking down a VHS player.” Fia mused, and Lakhela gave her a comically desolate look.

“You have no idea what that looks like, do you?” She asked, and Fia giggled.

“Why would I? It’s outdated technology.” She said, and Lakhela nodded at that and looked distant, probably reminiscent about a Blockbuster Fia had never been to. She sighed despite herself, and Lakhela took a deep breath and straightened.

“Don’t worry about it just yet, okay?” She asked, and Fia nodded. “We just have to hope that Verene and Teonnie are having better luck.”

“Okay.” She said just to keep the mood up, and summoned a little smile. “Let’s go home.”

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