Please join me in welcoming the amazing and talented Lynn Lorenz to the blog today!
So….gay noir romance, huh?
Exactly. This month (January 20th) the PAX offerings from Amber Allure will feature 5 novellas all set in the dark underbellies of the world.
Not sure what Noir means?
Think a gay Sam Spade. Maltese Falcon. Sunset Blvd. Chinatown.
Now, think 1916 New Orleans. World War I is on. Musicians like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton are perfecting jazz. Ladies are wearing short skirts, cutting their hair short, drinking, and dancing. Gentlemen look for sport of all types.
The most infamous red light district of all is Storyville — a small area just outside the French Quarter known for it’s high and low class bordellos. Some as grand as any mansion on St. Charles Ave and some as low as shanty shacks, but all of them noted in the notorious Blue Book.
Think Yellow pages for whores. That’s right. No gentleman of the time in New Orleans did without his handy Blue Book, listing every address, every whore, her talents and her prices for the Storyville district. Most of the houses had names, so I gave mine names too, The Pleasure Palace, The Brown Pelican, and The Big 50.
Where better to set my Noir? When I signed up for it, I didn’t even have to think…duh! It was a no-brainer. Storyville. So once I’d done a little research, I knew I wanted my two heroes immersed in the district, and I wanted one to be a cop and the other to be a jazz piano player.
Officer Max O’Rouke is big and Irish. He has dreams of moving off the streets and up to detective. He also has dreams of Tommy LeBarre, the piano player at The Pleasure Palace. But loving Tommy could ruin his career and land him in prison doing hard labor. And if Max’s suspicions are right, someone is trying to kill Tommy.
Dark, seedy, dangerous. Storyville.
New Orleans, 1916
I’d been a cop walking a beat since I was nineteen. Nothing I ever wanted to do but be a cop. I’m Irish. It was cop, fireman, or bartender, but my dad was a cop, so, there you have it.
I’d been assigned to Storyville since I was twenty-seven, almost three years ago. In all that time, I’d gone with the flow, like the flotsam and jetsam in the muddy waters of the river running past this city headed to the gulf. If my captain said no busts in Storyville, I’d lay off. If he said go break some heads, I’d swing my baton.
Like a good cop. It’s all I’d ever wanted.
Until I stepped through the doors of The Pleasure Palace and caught sight of Tommy LeBarre playing that beat-up upright piano. I’d never wanted anyone so much. And I knew wanting him was so far out of line, so far over the edge of fucked up, that if I ever crossed that line, there’d be no turning back. Not for me.
Not for a good cop.
So I stuffed my want down deep. Kept listening to Tommy play that piano—jazz they called it—through the open windows of the Palace. Kept pushing him outta my head, and outta my cock and my balls, where the want for him was so bad it hurt.
And kept walking my beat.
“I heard there’s talk about shutting Storyville down,” I told James Stoli, my wop patrol partner, as we strolled down Basin Street.
That’s right—an Italian and an Irishman. We made quite a pair. Both of us were second generation. His parents could barely speak English, and if you count the thick Irish accent, neither did mine. New Orleans was changing; it was no longer just French and Spanish. Immigrants were moving in, changing neighborhoods, like the Irish Channel down around Magazine Street, where my parents lived.
His family lived off Esplanade behind the Vieux Carre. Lots of Italians there.
So, you see, James and I had more in common than you might think, us two cops on this beat.
All around us, Storyville came to life, rising out of the dusk. We passed old Joe at the top of his ladder lighting the streetlamp and raised our batons to him. He nodded as he swung the glass door shut.
“Never. Too many of the hoi-poloi have Blue Books.” James tapped his chest pocket where he kept his own copy of that little book describing Storyville’s most talented ladies of the night. Used to call them soiled doves, but here in Storyville, these doves were more like peacocks and their houses no cheap saloons, but well decorated salons where New Orleans’ rich and famous played.
The door to the Brown Pelican opened, and a woman stepped outside. She pulled a dark red flowered dressing gown around her, lit a cigarette, and inhaled deeply. “Hi, boys,” she drawled. Her whiskey-roughened voice and southern accent could excite even the most straight-laced men.
James answered, “’Evening, Miss Lavidia.” He doffed his hat to her. It worked on him, not me, but I gave her a polite nod.
“Coming ’round later?”
He gave me a quick look, then said, “Sure. Tell Miss Victoria I’ll be by after my shift.” Not for the first time I wondered if I should say something about James’ fancy for Miss Victoria, a mulatto whore he’d fallen for hard.
We all knew nothing could come of it, but that didn’t stop James from giving it to her every chance he got. For a fee. Miss Victoria might have liked James, but she was still a whore and still charged him, just like all the others.
Another thing James and I had in common. We were both in love with the wrong person.
Miss Lavidia winked, finished her cigarette, and then stubbed it out on the cement steps of the large house. Ever since the Chicago fire, people were more careful.
James puffed up and twirled his baton on its leather strap. I hated when he did that—made him look like pompous ass. Not that he wasn’t, but I had to walk next to him.
Old Joe had carried his ladder on to the next lamp on the street.
Across the street, at The Pleasure Palace, music floated out of the open windows. My mouth went dry and my cock took notice. Tommy had started playing early.
My partner caught my frown. “Don’t you like jazz?” James asked.
“Not really. Why?”
“Nothing.” He walked on, keeping up with my longer strides. “It’s just that whenever we pass the Palace, and the music is playing, you get…so…tense.”
For a second, fear coursed through me. Had James figured it out? Had I let my guard down? Had he seen something in me? Something between me and Tommy?
“Well, it makes me nervous. I like a nice slow waltz,” I lied. In truth, I liked jazz. Especially what came out of one particular piano. However, I didn’t want James in on that. Even if he was my partner, even if I knew about his love for a whore, I didn’t trust him enough to tell him my darkest secret.
I glanced over at the Palace. Tommy would be sitting, hunched over the keyboard, his foot working the pedals of the old black upright, his slim, strong fingers dancing over the ivories, lost in making that music.
Last time I was in there on a routine call, he looked up at me, smiled, and I about lost control. “Hi ya, Max!” He didn’t even stop playing to talk to me. “Bust any heads today?” He always asked me that. Every time. I always said, “Not yet.”
Then I’d get the hell outta there before I said something more.
I fixed my gaze on the street in front of me, determined I’d not go in there tonight. Not without cause. Too many visits and it’d be suspicious. And I didn’t want anyone asking me questions I didn’t have the answers to. Or the wrong answers.
So we kept walking.
As the sun set, both horse drawn wagons and those new pickup trucks jostled for positions in front of the rows of houses lining each side of Basin. Deliverymen and houseboys of all colors carried barrels of beer and crates of hooch into the houses. Negro maids, dressed in black uniforms with white aprons and little white lace caps, stood on the stoops, and ordered them about, pointing and shouting. Old gray-haired Negro men with push brooms and buckets of soapy water cleaned the banquettes in front of the houses of the filth from the previous night and day.
In just a few hours, Basin Street and the rest of Storyville would come to life. Carriages and automobiles carrying New Orleans’ finest gentlemen, dressed in black tuxedos and white gloves, would arrive. They’d descend from their vehicles and enter whichever house they’d chosen to spend the evening in, being entertained by New Orleans’ finest whores.
And James and I, two of New Orleans’ police force, would just keep walking our beat, making sure those fine upstanding citizens were safe and no trouble broke out on the street. Or occasionally we’d be called into the houses to remove some gentleman too deep in his cups and safely escort him home or to his club to sleep it off.
No one got arrested. Not anyone of standing, if you get my drift.
Storyville paid a lot to city hall for protection, and in return, city hall told the force to turn a blind eye. Everyone knew it. It was no secret. Even the newspapers reported on who’d been seen where and with whom. Just like on the society pages of the Picayune.
Frankly, I didn’t give a damn one way or the other. I wasn’t ever going to find myself in one of the houses looking for a good time. I didn’t have the money, first. Second, women were not where I found my pleasure, and third, Storyville wasn’t where I’d go to find it.
There were dark alleys and sloe-eyed, coffee-skinned young men on Rampart Street. Boys who’d let a man do just about anything for the right price. I knew. I’d been.
Being caught on Rampart Street would end my career as a copper and my hopes of making detective one day. I only went when the need drove me and that wasn’t often these days. I didn’t have much, but I still had my dreams.
I stole another look at the Palace over my shoulder. I squashed the foolish thought that tonight we might be called in there and I’d catch a glimpse of Tommy, his blond hair, parted in the middle, falling into his face and covering those thick glasses he wore, playing on that piano and my soul.
Find Lynn’s books about New Orleans at Amber Allure http://www.amberquill.com/AmberAllure/
Hearts of New Orleans series of novellas about gay men in love in a timeless city, through all its ups and downs.
Check out her listing on her website…
Amber Allure PAX blog — check it out for contests and chats with authors!
Or contact Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org