When a customer blackened one of the girls’ eyes at the Bangkok Spa on Iberville Street in the French Quarter and left without paying, Angela Wong, the proprietress, reached out to Leon Hayes, who put her in touch with Jack Gardner.
Angela met Jack late that Saturday morning at the Shamrock Bar in the Lower Garden District.
“The idiot left this.” Angela handed Gardner a driver’s license.
Gardner noted the address, on Hurst Street. He didn’t say anything.
Leon smoked, sipping his coffee.
“I’ll pay whatever you require.” Angela leaned across the table, a lacquered nail tapping the wood. “I don’t care so much about the money. I want you to teach this kid a lesson.”
And she grinned at Gardner, lipstick staining her yellow teeth.
That afternoon, Gardner rode the streetcar uptown. He disembarked at State, and he walked into the exclusive neighborhood on the riverside of St. Charles Avenue, below Audubon Park. He wore white linen pants, and a loose-fitting purple shirt, also linen, with an undershirt. In the shade of one of the massive oaks that lined those streets, he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket, mopping his brow.
In front of the address that matched the one on the license, an Oldsmobile sported a faded Dole ‘96 bumper sticker. A Toyota Land Cruiser parked in the driveway, a Vanderbilt University decal in its rear window.
Gardner rang the bell.
A college-aged kid wearing gray track shorts and a muscle tee opened the door. “What do you want, buddy? Are you from the Policeman’s Benevolent Association? You looking for a donation?” The kid rolled his eyes. “My dad’s at the office.”
Gardner showed the kid the license. “This yours?”
The kid squinted at the license. Air conditioning billowed from the house. “Where’d you find that?”
“An interested party offered me a lot of money to see that you learn your lesson.”
“Brandt,” a woman called. Gardner glimpsed red hair, a white blouse at the end of the hall. “Who’s at the door?”
“It’s nothing, Mom.” Brandt slipped outside, closing the door behind him. His chest brushed Gardner’s. “You should leave before I have you arrested for trespassing, as well as stealing my wallet.”
“Have it your way. The woman you ripped off said she’d take a thousand dollars, to make it right. The alternative might not look good for you.”
“Get off my porch.”
Gardner lifted his hat. “I’ll be seeing you around.” He crossed the yard. When he reached the sidewalk, Brandt was still watching him.
On the streetcar, Gardner sat in the window. Million dollar homes scrolled past. He looked at the surname on the kid’s license, and he pursed his lips.
“I didn’t realize it was the same Wilson until I paid your son a visit this morning,” Gardner said, when the secretary showed him into the lawyer’s office. On the other side of a mahogany desk, Wilson, the criminal defense attorney, peered at his interlocutor over a brief.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to tell me what this is about, Mister—” he glanced at the business card Gardner had given him—”Gardner. I’m busy. I only agreed to see you because my girl said you had something belonging to my son.”
Gardner tossed the driver’s license on the desk. “Your son left this on the floor of a massage parlor in the French Quarter. He punched a girl in the face.”
Wilson—a diminutive man in his mid-fifties—turned red from the jowls up. “And what do you propose I do about this?”
“The woman who runs the establishment said she’d take a thousand dollars to make things right.”
Wilson rubbed his eyes. A silver band adorned the ring finger of his left hand.
“My son has some hard lessons to learn. All the same, we will not be blackmailed. I’m going to ask you kindly—once—to leave. If I have to ask again, I will call the police.”
Outside, on Camp Street, Gardner lit a cigarette. In the heat, the smoke seemed lethargic, barely twisting away from the spent match he’d dropped on the sidewalk.