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Two lifelong friends are about to discover the hard side of life in The Big Easy after a heinous crime is committed . . .
The Secret of Newberry
1950s New Orleans couldn’t be sweeter for Ivory “Bones” Arcineaux and Hampton Bynote. Friends since meeting at an illegal gambling house outside Newberry, Louisiana, they indulge themselves with all the fine women, good food, and wild nights they can handle. All seems good in N’awlins-especially for Hampton, who plans to make a clean break from riotous living after falling for the woman of his dreams, classy Magnolia Holiday. But the love of a good woman may not be enough to pull Hampton from the brink of disaster when his pal Bones murders a white city councilman during a simple robbery gone wrong.
Now with the local police and FBI hot on their trails, Hampton and Bones must decide whether friendship is worth losing their freedom-and possibly their lives.
“McGlothin creates a sizzling slice of life in 1947 . . . He weaves convincing historical elements into a fast-moving caper.” — Publishers Weekly on Ms. Etta’s Fast House
PRAISE FOR VICTOR MCGLOTHIN AND HIS NOVELS
"Steamy… McGlothin unravels at a relentless pace a sexy story… a shocker of a conclusion… Eric Jerome Dickey, watch out."
"A page-turner… McGlothin should be applauded for writing a sequel that stands on its own."
"A fast-paced novel that takes readers through twists, turns, and mouth-hanging events… I recommend this book to everyone."
"Unforgettable… McGlothin has given Autumn Leaves a life of its own, with a compelling story line and a strong depiction of the trials and triumphs of interesting and appealing characters… He immediately draws the readers into the depths of his characters' emotions."
"An absolute page-turner… intriguing and thought-provoking."
—Kimberla Lawson Roby, bestselling
author of Too Much of a Good Thing
"A very moving story with plenty of drama, heart-pounding action, and seriously emotional scenes."
—RT Book Reviews
WHAT'S A WOMAN TO DO?
"Engrossing and entertaining."
"A fast-paced, soulful, dramatic story."
"A talented storyteller with a knack for telling a convincing story, McGlothin manages to weave an entertaining story that may indeed ring true to many readers… [a] new and refreshing voice in the world of contemporary African-American fiction."
"Four stars… a superb, true-to-life book. With a masterfully created plot, it explores the turbulent lives of three courageous women… offers a gripping emotional glimpse into the dark world of the unknown."
—RT Book Reviews
ALSO AVAILABLE FROM VICTOR MCGLOTHIN
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Victor McGlothin
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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First eBook Edition: June 2010
Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
A special thanks to Karen Thomas, Latoya C. Smith,
and Carol Mackey—Three queens of New York.
GIN AND GAMBLIN'
In the early spring of 1955, money sprang up from the ground for those who knew where to dig. Lively music commingled with cheerful chatter and cigarette smoke in the sprawling antebellum plantation home called Twin Cedars. The tables were hot and the beer was cold at Rudolf's illegal gambling house, which was reeling in more money than his family's cotton crops ever did. Six nights a week, the eight-bedroom gaming station in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, was open for business. Locals fluttered in, most of them from New Orleans. The allure of chance and fast times attracted blue bloods steeped in old money and pretenders who didn't belong. Odds were always with the house. Only fools bet otherwise.
It was nearly half past midnight when Ivory "Bones" Arcineaux's winning streak turned on him like a woman he'd done wrong. He'd had his heart set on breaking the bank when he stepped through the door in a dapper white tuxedo jacket and a fistful of money. Before Bones knew it, the wheels of misfortune relieved him of his wishful wad along with any chance of draining the bank. Nearly empty pockets relieved him of any hope to break even.
"Blackjack dammit!" Bones cursed, saliva gathering at the corners of his mouth. He tossed his fifth shot of gin down the back of his throat then wiped his sweaty forehead with a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket. "I'm goddamned due for a goddamned blackjack! Dealer, you ain't worth a two-bit hooker and a dry hump!" Bones yelped, shaking his finger at the card shuffler. Despite how badly the gambler wanted to believe he was entitled to the Twin Cedars brand of entertainment, he wasn't.
"Hey, pal," a man's voice whispered sternly. "Take it down a notch."
"Get lost!" Bones snarled before discovering the bouncer with the soft voice was twice his size.
Two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle grimaced irritably. "That's it, pal, I warned you!"
"Oh, oh… hold on now," Bones grunted repentantly. He stumbled from the table with both hands raised then scooted out onto the broad cement veranda fearing a sound thumping. At age twenty-three, Bones didn't appreciate the thought of getting reprimanded like an unruly child. Embarrassed to the point of making a stupid move, he clenched his teeth. "You wouldn't be doing this if I had a silver spoon hanging out of my ass," he griped. The bouncer looked through him as if his words didn't warrant a response.
After a fleeting thought to pick a fight sailed past, Bones sneered at the gargantuan man as he casually strolled back inside the mansion. "If you wasn't such a big hairy ape, I'd give you a run for your money," Bones ranted hastily, once his adversary was gone. "And if you wasn't…" he began to say, until something odd beckoned him to take notice. Bones witnessed a black man in a red valet jacket, the same man who'd been casing the joint through the window, sliding in and out of parked cars on the side lawn. While he didn't consider a black valet with unlimited access to the white customers' automobiles all that unusual, the way he went about it was. Bones studied him, rambling through one glove box after the next. He didn't seem to be taking anything. Instead, the valet appeared to be jotting notes on a small tablet. "Hey, you! Hey! What gives, Slick?" Bones inquired with a healthy dose of suspicion. He was surprised when the black man, about his age, looked up nervously then gazed back with a blank expression. "Hey, come over here," Bones ordered. "Come on, I ain't gonna make trouble for you."
The lanky, dark-skinned man huffed as if bothered by Bones's demand as much as by his presence. "Yessuh," the valet answered, obviously annoyed by the interruption. Reluctantly, he sauntered closer to the elevated cement porch, pushing the small tablet he'd been scribbling on into his back pocket. After sizing up the dapper fellow on the veranda, the valet was sure of a few things right off. One, the bossy white man swaying on that porch was drunk. Two, he didn't try to conceal his suspicions of foul play. And three, his attempt at bullying the Negro failed miserably. While staring at Bones without trepidation, the car attendant's eyes wandered over him vigilantly. Bones's pasty skin and rusty red hair had the valet pondering a thought he dared not voice, just in case his assumptions were wrong. The gambler's outfit was stylishly tailored and his two-tone shoes appeared to be handmade. However, in the pale moonlight, the valet couldn't conclude with any degree of certainty whether the man who'd stopped him from carrying on with his business at hand was colored and passing for white or a white man with the worst head of cantankerous hair in Louisiana. Before he could mull it over any further, the wind seemed to howl out loud.
Suddenly, the nearby bushes rustled. The white man on the veranda staggered to the edge of it and peered out into the distance. His bloodshot eyes widened when he couldn't believe what they saw. "Oh, man, it's a raid!" he griped, then dove into the back of a brand-new turquoise Chevrolet convertible. "Grab baits, the jig is up!" Bones shouted. When a swarm of dark-suited federal agents ascended on the mansion like ants at a church picnic, he slouched down on the bench seat to hide. "Are you lame in the head, man? Git to gittin' so we don't get pinched with the rest of these suckers."
"Sounds good to me," the valet answered back. He swiftly leapt into the driver's seat, snatched a set of keys from the sun visor, and nervously started up the engine. As the government agents cast a dragnet to snare the houseguests, the colored man mashed down the gas pedal. The fancy car kicked gravel in every direction. Clouds of thick dust rose into the night air as the whitewall tires spun furiously. Within seconds, that flashy convertible glided across the neatly manicured lawn like it was skating on ice. Agents hollered and sputtered when the car fishtailed, heading toward the back of the estate.
"Git gone, boy! Git gone!" Bones cheered. "Whoo-hoo!"
Bones's getaway driver dodged a bevy of police cars moving in to surround the parking lot. He sped through the back pasture and onto a farm road, praying the lawmen were too busy rounding up Rudolph's high-toned crowd to chase down a nobody Negro and his liquored-up passenger. When it appeared the coast was clear, the rattled wheelman flicked a wicked glance over his right shoulder. His heart pounded like a deep bass drum while the man in the backseat cackled riotously.
"Hey!" the driver yelled. "I'm glad one of us thinks almost getting nabbed is a hoot. Seeing as how this here was your idea, you mind telling me where we going?"
Bones eased back against the leather upholstery to catch his breath. "Huh? Oh, home, James," he replied with a hearty yawn. "Make a left at the next fork and then keep on the back roads for about six miles. When you come to the bayou, take the bridge toward town. Wake me up when we hit Canal Street."
Studying the rearview mirror, the valet frowned angrily. "That rusty-headed skinflint sure do bark out orders like a white man," he said under his breath. "I'll grant him that."
For three miles, the brand-new convertible floated along the dusty unpaved pathway. Dense fog began to rise from the marsh as the Chevrolet rounded the bend. The colored man stopped the automobile to survey a crusty patch of southern Louisiana he hadn't set eyes on before. He raised himself up to sit on the top of the front bench seat. Herds of mossy trees cast a canopy over the road, stifling their path. Other than the high-beam lights shining straight ahead, pitch-blackness seemed to be closing in. Bullfrogs bellowed in the distance. Crickets chirped insistently. The scene was eerily unnerving, even for a backwoods country boy. When the driver considered turning the automobile around, he glanced at the passenger, who was asleep, stretched out, and snoring like a three-hundred-pound baritone. "I can't see up ahead through this swamp gas, mistah," he admitted wearily. "This can't be the way you told me and I can't hardly make out the road or nothing."
"Stop bothering me now," Bones mumbled slovenly. "Just keep straight and make a left. Hurry up. Be quick about it. I'm hungry and…" he added before falling off to sleep again.
The valet shook his head. His eyes darted back and forth across the field of uncertainty stretched out in front of him. "This some bullshit," he smarted back, "got me out here in the middle of nowhere. I'd be a might better off going to jail." He grunted and huffed, easing his skinny butt back down into the front seat. "Hell, I might as well go on up yonder another mile or so, but you got to wake up, mistah. Mistah?" he called out again, only to be answered by another chorus of snores and snorts.
Against his better judgment, the colored driver followed Bones's instructions to the letter. He kept on up the road then took the first left he came to. It wasn't long before he realized that was his second mistake; agreeing to go along with the irritating gambler was the first. "Ohhh, mistah? Missstaaah!" he yelled, clutching the steering wheel with both hands as the shiny convertible sailed off a wooden embankment. The Chevrolet splashed nosefirst into a shallow pond.
Bones slammed against the floorboard with a powerful thud. His eyes flew open wildly. He craned his neck to peek over the rise of the back passenger-side door. "What's the matter with you?" he complained irritably. "You done wrecked this fine classy car, and we ain't even close to Canal Street."
"Sorry I tore up your car, mistah," the driver apologized halfheartedly.
"This wasn't none of my car," Bones quickly informed him.
"Good, 'cause I wasn't really sorry."
Bones panned the area cautiously. "You could've kept it dry, though."
The black man casually untied his shoes then began to roll up his pant legs. "Oomph, tell me something I don't know. You was the one who talked us both right into the middle of the damned swamp. It was you who got us dumped waist-deep in gator piss."
"Yeah, but it was me who got us both out of those feds' mitts, too, remember that?" Bones fussed.
"Yep, I do, and that's why I'm willing to let it pass. Seeing as how I ain't locked up in no parish jail tonight coupled with the simple fact that this here ain't none of my damned expensive anchor parked in the water, I'm in a frame of mind to call it even."
Bones shot a stinging glare at him before the man's audacity forced a smile onto his thin lips. "Huh! Call it even?" he bellowed. "You're some kind of different pal, some kind of different, indeed."
"We'd better get out of this tuna can," the valet reasoned as he balled up his red jacket and flung it farther out into the water. He sighed when he heard it splash.
Finding it a peculiar way to shed his uniform, Bones questioned, "What'd you do that for?"
"To distract the alligators whilst I make a run for it," he answered, dipping one leg into the pond. "They's out there and they's onto us by now."
After Bones watched his chauffeur's quick jaunt toward the shore, he gulped then pulled a black long-barreled pistol from his belt. "Hey, fella, wait up!" Bones pleaded anxiously. "I'm allergic to alligators."
Both men tramped down the dirt farm road en route to New Orleans and away from the stalled Chevy. Bones didn't happen to see any bayou wildlife to speak of, but that didn't stop him from following closely behind this headstrong Negro he was growing fond of. "Hey, fella, what's your handle?"
"What's your name?" Bones cackled.
"Name's Hampton Bynote," he answered rapidly with a tinge of French dripping from his tongue when he said it.
"A tough guy like you must have a street handle," Bones concluded. "So, what do they call you?"
"They call me who I am. Hampton Bynote," he answered again, failing to understand why he had been asked the same question twice.
"Okay, Hampton. That last name of yours, how you spell it, case I want to look you up later?"
"B-y-n-o-t-e. They say that there t near the end is silent."
"They're right," the white man agreed. "That there t don't say nothing at all. Where you from, Hampton Bynote? Wait, let me guess. Tremé, Backatown, Marigny?" Bones mentioned three of the four major neighborhoods where most blacks had settled in New Orleans.
Confused by his companion's compulsion to chitchat, Hampton cut his eyes sharply. " 'Round about Newberry," he offered cautiously.
Bones's smile returned when he heard that. He was familiar with the small farming community about fifteen miles west of town. "Yeah, I knew they grew tall cane in Newberry, but now I see they raise high-minded jigs with a keen sense of swagger, too." He hadn't noticed that Hampton was carrying two fists then. "Ahh, that's it. Swagger, that suits you down to that t that don't make a peep," Bones announced with a great deal of pride. "My friend Swagger. How'd that sound to you?"
Hampton continued his lengthy stride in damp trousers, broken-in leather shoes, and squishy cotton socks. "How'd you feel about this jig thumping you down to the dirt?" he answered sharply.
"I'm sorry, I meant no offense. I thought we're friends or at least on the mend," Bones said, smooth and regretfullike. "What you say we forget it and let bygones be bygones?"
"Don't matter to me. I don't plan on setting eyes on you no more after tonight. I'm done with you, mistah. Ever since you called on me, feels like I stepped in quicksand."
"No, no, don't say that, Swagger. No way," Bones fussed. "I found you and I'm keeping you, as a friend, I mean. There's a ton of money to be made in Nawlins. I'm all but certain that my know-how put together with the tablet in your back pocket can help fetch us a pile of it."
"All but certain, huh?" Hampton questioned. "I ain't been all but certain about a damned thing since you dove into the back of that Chevy and started sparking loud for me to burn out of that lot. Only thing I do know is some kind of different fits you like a pair of broke-in shoes."
"Who, me?" said Bones, shrugging his narrow shoulders. "No, I'm as regular as rain. Ivory's the name, Ivory Arcineaux."
Hampton eyed the man curiously then smirked. "I knew a fella once with the same name. What, a tough guy like you got no street handle?" he chided, using the same reasoning thrown at him earlier.
"Bones," he said quickly, as if being quizzed. "People who know me best call me Bones."
"Bones, now that suits you right fine." Hampton nodded assuredly because of the man's fair complexion. "Answer this for me, Bones. See, something I've been figuring on hadn't added up since the minute you hollered down at me from that veranda back at Twin Cedars."
Bones grinned knowingly. "Go ahead, shoot."
Hampton stopped on a dime. "Like I was saying, I've been stuck on it so I hope you don't take no offense. Can't say I ever seen many men quite such as yourself. My question being… is you colored or is you white, 'cause I can't rightly factor out either account."
With a thorough appreciation for Hampton's unabridged candor, Bones laughed before answering. "Swagger, the honest truth is, I've always found myself caught somewhere between the two."
Considering the man's answer carefully, Hampton nodded again, only slower than before. "Well, ain't that something, you and me got the same problem," he replied, guessing how the man's unusual complexion must have drawn considerable unwarranted attention his way as well. Hampton extended his hand to seal their acquaintance. "I don't like people trying to tie me down to what they think I ought to be, neither. Glad to know you, Bones. Glad to know you."
Bones gripped Hampton's palm then quickly dipped into a moneymaking proposition. "All right then, it's like this. We hit a few of those spots you have written down in that book of yours before they get sprung from the clink in the morning. We split everything down the middle, minus my expenses, of course."
Hampton had no idea what expenses were, but it sounded close enough to even so he agreed with a heavy disclaimer. "It's a deal, but just in case you all breath and britches I'ma need you to hear me clear. If you ever crawfish on a caper we pull together, white man or not, it's gonna get real gritty between us."
Bones swallowed hard. He understood how deadly serious the Negro was so he took him at his word. "All right, and you can expect the same in return. Agreed?"
The morning sun peeked over the Mississippi River when Bones pulled his car onto the soft shoulder of the dirt road leading back to the Twin Cedars Casino. He didn't have to explain why it wouldn't bode well to be seen giving a black man a lift in his car that early in the morning. Besides, Bones was aptly concerned about being publicly connected to his new protégé in the presence of other white people, on general principle, not to mention their unlawful business association. After he and Hampton had robbed three of the homes on the list using the car registrations he'd gathered the night before, Bones yearned for a familiar bed to crawl into with his share of their score, plus expenses, of course. Hampton agreed to take his cut in loose cash and silk handkerchiefs he'd stumbled on during the second heist. Bones had no problem with fencing the lion's share of their loot with a number of shady pawnshop owners near the French Quarter. Since Hampton wasn't allowed to transact that sort of business with the unscrupulous white men dealing in fencing stolen goods, he didn't care how much money his new partner received for his bag of diamond rings and assorted fancy jewelry. Cash in hand was his perfect idea of a sure thing. He waved good-bye to Bones with a wad of folding money. In one night, Hampton came into enough of it for two months' rent if he had half a mind to sit on it awhile. However, a swollen knot of greenbacks had a way of burning a hole in his pocket.
Hampton climbed into his secondhand jalopy parked at the rear of the mansion. He stretched his long arms then yawned toward the sky. Bones left a trail of dust down the winding road toward the city. Hampton frowned, wishing he was headed that way as well. The one thing stopping him was the phone call he'd received from his sister, Pearl Lee, demanding he make his way out to see her as soon as he was able. There was something she had to tell him, something that needed to be said in person. Hampton pulled onto the same road Bones traveled along, only he was driving off in the opposite direction to a place he despised almost as much as he cherished it, the Delacroix Plantation he once called home.
During the fifteen-mile drive along the scenic Terrebonne Bayou road, Hampton's mind traveled back in time to an era when his entire family shared a one-room shack and his life was in an incomparable and continual state of bliss. He felt good about seeing his folks when racing along the bayou. Hordes of mighty oak and moss trees lined the waterway where he'd spent countless hours swimming as a rambunctious child. Before learning that his father had been crushed to death in a sugar mill accident, Hampton imagined running just as wild as the Terrebonne. As a twelve-year-old youth, suddenly fatherless and alarmingly fearless, he couldn't manage to sit still for the time it took to catch his breath. In the midst of a difficult time deep in the tumultuous South, his mother's unrivaled love kept a roof over his head. A brutal attack at the hands of the only white man he ever truly respected kept Hampton's chest swelled with hate. Like a moth drawn to a flame, he often returned to visit his family and to a constant reminder why he had to leave them when he did.
Hampton maneuvered his rusty old blue clunker down a farm road separating mountainous two-story homes with monumental columns, extending from the ground upward of forty feet, supporting vast sprawling roofs and broad piazzas surrounding the entire second floor. He hadn't once taken the time to notice the magnificent splendor along the corridor of mansions because, although a mere stone's throw from the former slave village where he'd lived for most of his life, they weren't ever a part of his world. Palatial homes, black servants, and wealthy white landowners lording over them wasn't nearly as picturesque from the inside looking out. The Delacroix estate wasn't any exception.
Hampton always got a knot in the pit of his stomach when he soared over the wooden bayou bridge leading to the five-hundred-acre plantation where Spanish moss draped over trees nearest the water, flowers bloomed in the gardens of the eight-room mansion, and calm winds sighed ever so gently. The scenery changed severely as Hampton traveled a quarter mile past the main house. Rows of old one-room shacks in poor condition greeted him. Then unrelenting poverty turned a blind eye.
Hampton pulled behind a large cargo truck with an assortment of household furnishings tied onto it. Suddenly, the truck began to roll back toward him. Hampton leaned on the horn. "Hey, man, watch it!" he yelled from the driver's-side window. He wiped his brow when the truck jerked forward, then he squinted at the dust-covered license plate. "South Carolina?" Hampton mouthed quietly. "Oomph, they must be lost." Hampton drove onto the grass beside the monstrous vehicle loaded with stained mattresses, bed frames, end tables, and chairs stacked nearly one story high. The driver was a colored man who appeared to have fallen asleep at the controls. A small child sat on his lap wrestling with the steering wheel. He didn't pay any attention to the man parked on the lawn. The boy was too busy pretending. "Hey, mistah!" Hampton yelled, hoping to wake the older man too tired to keep his eyes open. "Hey! You lost? Hey!"
Eventually, the truck driver shook off the sleep he'd longed for in order to investigate what all the noise was about. "Yeah, what is it?" he shouted back.
Hampton crawled out of his car then walked to the front of the truck. A closer look revealed that the narrow-faced man had not only packed everything his family owned, he'd loaded up the family, too. It appeared that the man had uprooted his wife and four children, all the shade of coffee beans and flat worn-out from their journey. "Seems to me you's lost," Hampton told him. "You's a might far from South Carolina, too. Take a wrong turn?"
The fellow shot a cautious stare at the young man standing near everything he held dear. He noted Hampton seemed to have an easy way about him, but his clothes were meant to be worn within the city limits. "What makes you think I'm misguided?"
"Well, most folk who pick up and haul down here from the Carolinas are usually bound for Nawlins. That's another dozen miles or so." Hampton almost smiled when the little boy on his papa's lap sneered at him with his tongue poking out. "Nice youngun you got there."
"Don't mind him, he don't cotton to strangers much," answered the father.
After considering how he might have felt after being on the road for days on end, a bright smile burst through Hampton's lips. "Can't say I blame him," he admitted. "I'd be glad to point you back to the main road if you like."
- On Sale
- Jun 21, 2010
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Hachette Book Group