Chapter One: In Search of Indiana Jones
Okay. Let's see...
I'm still not quite sure how I ended up in a pirogue in the bayou in the middle of the night... fighting lizard-men. Or gator-men, maybe. I'm still not sure which. Either way, I'm as surprised by it as the next guy.
I mean, it all started out innocently enough: my girlfriend at the time, Jeanine, had gotten an assignment from the rag she worked for - a tabloid called The Midnight Sun - to track down this missing dude - an archaeologist or something. He'd been on the trail of a snake cult or some-such weirdness when she'd first spoken to him, but he'd suddenly called her and left a cryptic message about having to go into hiding. She'd finally located his hideout and talked her boss into sending her there. To New Orleans. During Mardi Gras. All expenses paid.
So, yeah - when she asked if I'd go with, it was a no-brainer.
Bright and early on Monday morning, we packed up her sparkling new Civic CRX and hit the road. (The Civic was a cute car, but not my style. I prefer something that can handle rougher terrain and take more of a beating. Maybe if Jeanine had been a little more concerned about durability and a little less about cuteness, her car would have survived the trip.) It was a bit of a haul from Arkham to Louisiana, but I was so jazzed about getting a free Mardi Gras vacation that it seemed to fly by.
Now, I was stationed in the south - at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to be precise - for almost a year before I got shipped over to West Berlin.
(Yes, I said West Berlin. The tale I'm telling you now took place in '89. The Wall was still up, and up to just six months earlier, I'd been in Berlin, helping Uncle Sam keep an eye on the Russkies. And don't take me calling them "Russkies" to mean that I have something against 'em. Heck, one of my best friends is an ex-GRU agent. She saved my bacon more than once. I remember this one time outside Cairo - Oh, yeah. Mardi Gras.)
Let's see... where was I? Oh, yeah: Even though I'd been close enough to take a weekend there, I never made it to New Orleans.
And let me tell you something, kid: New Orleans during Mardi Gras is a sight to behold.
The city was absolutely crazy. You could feel the electricity in the air. I'm sure it would have been hard enough on any normal evening to find the flea-bite motel Jeanine's company had booked for her, but in the madness of Mardi Gras, it took us almost an hour. When we'd finally checked in and gotten to the room, I was ready to hit the bed and chill for a couple hours.
But Jeanine wouldn't have it. She wanted to hit the bricks and start looking for the dude. You have to understand something about that girl: she was a five-foot-one spitfire, and she was a complete pit bull, especially when she was on assignment. You didn't want to come between her and a scoop. I imagine that's why she got all the good, expense-paid gigs - because the paper knew she'd stop at nothing to get the story and they'd more than make back the money they laid out.
I didn't argue. I knew that the sooner she found this guy and got the rest of her interview, the sooner we could clock out and join the festivities.
So I grabbed my Auto Mag from my bag and- Huh? What about the gun?
Oh, yeah. I guess some people might question why I was toting around the hand cannon.
It's simple, really: I believe in being prepared. Not Boy Scout prepared - reality prepared. The world's full of crazies and weirdos. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a social misfit, and I get along with people of just about any flavor. It's just that I learned a long time ago that it's better to have a .44 magnum and not need it than to need it and not have it. Plus, I'd heard Jeanine's stories about some of the kooks she'd run into while chasing down her stories. I figured: better safe than sorry.
And yeah, I know Uncle Sam frowns on civvies carrying firearms across state lines and going around with concealed weapons. But, hey, what they don't know won't hurt 'em, right?
Anyhoo, I slipped the pistol from my bag and into my shoulder holster while Jeanine was in the bathroom. She wasn't too fond of me carting around a piece when we were together, but - again - what she didn't know... Besides, who knew why this Indiana Jones knock-off had gone to ground? We could be walking right into a Charlie Foxtrot; when the shots started flying, she'd thank me for having brought it.
Jeanine came out of the bathroom just as I was finishing hiding the piece under my favorite Miskatonic U. windbreaker.
"My informant says Jake's hiding out in a flophouse in the French Quarter," she said as she pulled her mini-cassette recorder from her purse and made sure it was working. "At least, he was, as of yesterday."
"He's not very good at hiding if you tracked him down that easily," I replied.
She jammed her hand on her hip and scowled at me. I didn't know why, at the time. But now that I think back, she probably took it as an insult to her investigative abilities. I really meant it as an insult to the dude.
I picked up her purse from the bed and fished out her car keys, held them up.
"So, I'm driving?"
"No way, Jose!" She snatched the keys back, then the purse. "I didn't let you drive my new baby on the highway coming down here. What makes you think I'm going to let you drive it in a busy city?"
"I could have driven on the way down -"
"Ha! You were sleeping like a baby the whole way. I could've rear-ended a semi and you would've slept through it."
Come to think of it, the fact that I slept most of the way have been another reason why the trip seemed to fly by. I acknowledged this with a grunt, at which point she gave me The Look, spun on her heels, and left me rushing to grab my jacket and catch up.
We didn't speak as we hopped into her car and headed off in search of "Dr. Jones."
It took about an hour to get the couple of miles to the location Jeanine's informant had given her. It was a hoo-doo shop right downtown, pretty close to the heart of the festivities. A half-a-block away, we pulled into a parking space in front of a fire hydrant which - until just before we pulled in - had been occupied by a Honda. I knew this, because while waiting in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, I'd watched the space's previous occupant get towed away. I could still see the flashing orange lights at the intersection up the street when Jeanine shoved the car into "Park."
I was in the process of telling her as much, and was about to make a well-crafted point about it not being a great idea to park in a no-parking zone on one of the busiest nights of the city's year, when I realized that she wasn't looking at me any more. Her eyes had drifted past me.
At this point, I was now not only certain that we'd be trying to hail a cab to get back to the motel, but was a little insulted by her lack of attention and its derailment of a really beautiful rhetorical lecture. So I switched to a lecture about paying attention when someone's talking to you, and common decency.
Jeanine responded by snatching her camera from the back seat and leaping out of the car. I found this totally unacceptable, and began searching for the power window control so I could continue admonishing her as she crossed in front of the car. I couldn't find it in the dim light, but when I saw a camera flash from in front of me, I looked up - and understood her lack of interest in the lame drivel issuing from my pie hole.
She was snapping pictures at several figures that were moving quickly up the street toward us, the camera's flash a staccato of white light. The lead figure was a big guy, clad in a leather jacket and a fedora - think Indiana Jones' and Dolph Lungren's love child. He was running away from several pursuers, a canvas messenger bag clutched in his arms. I had a distinct vision of Indy running from a horde of angry tribesmen, and half-expected to hear the guy shout: "Start the engine!"
But this guy wasn't Indy, and he wasn't being chased by South American tribesmen, He was Jeanine's missing archaeologist or whatever, and he was being chased by a trio of big men in convincing lizard- or gator-man costumes.
At least, I thought they were costumers at the time. But I was about to find out - the hard way - that those weren't costumes.
To be continued in Fred Carter and the Mardi Gras Monster: Start the Engine!
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Learn more about this story: About Fred Carter
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