Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blood is Thicker than Water: Enter Ulysses Simpson

Ulysses Simpson lounged in an overstuffed chair. New Orleans, he reflected, was much too extravagant for his taste. The hotel rooms where he and Doyle had set up temporary housekeeping had disturbed him in their elegance. Chandeliers and mints left on pillows at bedtime meant nothing to the world’s greatest consulting detective. The sooner he could return to his chambers in London, the better. But that small matter with President Arthur had called him across the Atlantic. It was all Simpson could do, as an American, to help a fellow, but Simpson much preferred the climate of his adopted home where the pea soup fog lent an aura of the sinister to his many mysteries. Well, Doyle had written a phrase like that, he was sure. Poor Doyle, given too much to the romanticism of their profession, when the actual technique of detective work itself was what should be studied.

New Orleans was still insufferable, even after the changes the war had produced. The climate caused its denizens to constantly move in slow motion. Simpson was glad he was not on the society lists, because he could not, would not, stand the company of these belles. Doyle, his younger companion, was less adamant on that front himself. Between entertaining himself at dances and the theater, Doyle did not keep Simpson company, save during afternoon sessions, when Doyle, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, would interview Simpson for his stories. Another reason Simpson wished to return to England was to prevent his partner from ruining his health. Simpson glanced at Doyle, who was absorbed in the morning paper, and shook his head in disapproval. Ah well, at least he was up this early. This was an improvement. Simpson’s attention wandered to the window to survey the listless street below. Perhaps he could send Doyle out today for steamer tickets. Then he spotted a curiosity in the streets and all thoughts of the steamer evaporated.

“Doyle?”

“Yes?” Doyle peeked out from behind his newspaper.

Simpson was framed in the soft light of the window, a tall muscular man of formidable stature. His usually passive eyes danced with the light that told Doyle he had an object that demanded his investigation. “I believe we shall have a visitor,” Simpson announced.

Doyle chuckled. “I can’t imagine how you could tell, old boy. This is a hotel, in a city where it is very fashionable to visit salons. With all the people who come in and out of those downstairs doors, how can you possibly pick out one of those people for us?”

“That woman. The mulatto, dressed in the formerly white, now gray dress. Do you see her?”

Doyle joined Simpson at the window and pulled back the crushed velvet drapes to gain a wider view of the street. “That one?”

“Yes. Now observe her. Do you notice the muddy aspect of her gown, the disheveledness of her attire, the fact that she walks without the hat, gloves, or veils that protect the ladies of fine breeding in this city?”

“Well, obviously,” Doyle explained, “this is not a woman of fine breeding. Perhaps it is one that has fallen on harder times.”

“Not so.” Simpson’s voice laid out his case matter-of-factly. “From even this distance, I can see that the dress is reasonably new and recently marred. Her coiffure is awry, but she has attempted to smooth it back into what looks like the residuals of a very professional job. No, this is not one of the pauvre riche, as they are called. This is a woman of means who has recently seen some difficulty. She’s entering the hotel now. I am sure we shall hear from her shortly, if the management will allow such baggage up the stairs of their hotel.”

In a few moments, the knocker of the chamber rapped loudly. Doyle shrugged his shoulders and conceded the deductional victory to Simpson, who smiled in self-satisfied smugness. A hotel manager smiled an oily smile as Simpson composed himself in the overstuffed chair, and Doyle opened the door. “Gentlemen, a visitor for you.”

The woman from the street stepped majestically into the room. “Which one of you,” she spoke in English tinted with French, “is Monsieur Ulysses Simpson?”

While the manager excused himself, Simpson stepped forward. “I believe you wish to see myself, Madamoiselle.” His penetrating eyes catalogued every aspect of her, head to toe. “Doyle, this woman has wounds you must see to.”

Doyle was not only a chronicler of Simpson’s adventures, he was also a doctor. His eyes went to the woman’s hands, then her back, noticing bruises and dried blood. That was all he needed to see. He hurried to his room to fetch his medical bag.

Simpson indicated a seat to their guest. “You have obviously been in some danger of late, and wish our assistance. Please tell me who has been keeping you prisoner, and why.”

The woman’s eyebrows rose. “How did you know?”

“Obviously your hands, your wounds, your appearance, the way you looked over your shoulder as you approached the hotel. You have escaped some party that felt the need to keep you shackled.”

Doyle arrived with his medical bag and a pan of water. He began to bathe her hands. “Mostly damage about the wrists, Miss. You haven’t broken anything at least. Those scratches on your back are nasty though. Let me dress these and you’ll be as good as new.”

“Thank you Mr. Doyle.” She returned her attention to the detective. “My name is Marie LaVeau. Does that mean anything to you?”

“Have you ever committed a crime?”

“No.”

“Then,” he stood with a sigh, “I shall have to look it up.” Simpson removed a thick volume from the fireplace mantle. He turned some pages, read for a moment, then looked up. “Voodoo queen of New Orleans?” Besides Marie, Doyle started.

“The very same,” Marie replied.

“Pish-posh. A lot of drivel. But still,” he skimmed the rest of the book's passage, “you seem to have some influence over these superstitious New Orleans citizens just the same.”

“Simpson?”

Simpson closed the book abruptly. “Doyle, we aren't going to it again.”

“Why couldn't she manipulate powers, just like the book says? We must never discount the spiritual world.”

“Doyle, I do not ever discount anything. I merely prefer to begin my cases from a concrete basis. Whatever remains after all the coincidences have been explained away, however illogical, is the truth.”

Doyle rolled his eyes. “Yes, Simpson, I know.”

“Then please allow me to continue with our client.” Simpson returned his attention to Marie. “Now why have you come to us?” Simpson settled back in the overstuffed chair, folding his arms.

Marie leaned forward as Doyle tended to the scratches on her back. “A mad woman has attempted to destroy me. She will attempt to destroy you.”

“Why me?”

“She is Madame Lalaurie. Do you remember her?”

Simpson looked pensive. “When a mutilated slave was found in an alley some years ago, I was called in to aid the New Orleans police department in their investigation. The good lady, Madame Lalaurie, turned out to be torturing slaves for her own amusement. We didn't bring her to trial because divine justice took a hand. The citizens of New Orleans stored her house.”

Doyle looked up from his work. “This must've happened before you met me?”

Simpson nodded. “When I was about your age. Miss LaVeau, the Lalauries have returned? Both of them?”

“Yes, and they bear personal grudges—against you for exposing them, and against me, because I—well, my family—was instrumental in their downfall.”

“Ah yes. Your title of voodoo queen is inherited, is it not?”

“From my mother and her mother before.” Doyle mentioned to Marie that he was finished and she sat back up.

“Ah. The family business. Can you tell me,” here he changed his tone of voice to piercing curiosity, “where the Lalauries are presently?”

“My home.”

“That explains the imprisonment. Now,” he said, standing, What prevents us from going there straight away and apprehending them?” Doyle recognized his friend's itch to spring into action.

“Complications,” Marie sighed. “We cannot prove to any police officials this is the same woman. You see, she has not changed her appearance significantly in these last 25 years. She looks as young as Doyle, or myself.”

Simpson was vain enough to notice she'd left him out of the comparison, but he was much older now. He was less concerned with his public image than with validating the woman's claim. “You know I shall have to see this for myself.”

“And so you should. But I think we should deal with the vampires first.”

Doyle practically clapped his hands in glee at the thought of something supernatural, but a stern frown from Simpson stilled him. “There's more to your story than just criminal revenge, isn't there?”

“Yes Mr. Simpson. Madame Lalaurie has brought vampires with her. And she intends to make all of New Orleans vampires. We must prevent an epidemic.”

Simpson's brow furrowed as he tried to fit this improbability into the framework of the scenario. Doyle was beside himself with both terror and glee. He was glad to show Simpson, finally, that the supernatural existed, but now that they had vampires, what would they do with them?

1 comment:

Cat said...

I'm really enjoying this story, Catherine!