There are looters and then there are looters. Some people see any power outage -- or playoff game -- as an opportunity to smash some windows and upgrade their TV. Those people, everybody wants you to shoot on site. Still seems like a serious overreaction to me, but your mileage may be an asshole.
When the power outage goes on for four days and you’re stranded on your roof because your house is tits deep in the blackest water this side of the River Styx… well, then looting starts to sound a lot like surviving.
Which is why I’m so pissed that the city’s called off rescue operations in favor of having us chase looters around all goddamned day. It’s Thursday, September 1st, and most of the city is underwater. Thousands cling to their roofs, waiting for rescue, and those are the lucky ones. Too many others are trapped in their attics, unable to swim or smash their way out.
Meanwhile, I’m chasing looters. Every time I think I got one pinned down, they wriggle free like a raccoon down a storm drain. I spot one of them taking a smoke break outside a church in Gentily. I bear down on him like Zeus’ fucking thunderbolt, by which I mean slowly and loudly in a borrowed fishing boat. By the time I’ve scuttled my mighty vessel on the church steps, he’s already fled inside. I draw my service weapon and follow him, shouting something cliche like “Stop in the name of the Laaaaw!”
My eyes are still adjusting, so I barely register the dozen or so refugees laid out on pews, not to mention the voodoo shrine on the altar, before the smoker blindsides me with a hooligan tool. He swings down, knocking the gun outta my hands, then hooks the back of my knee and pulls my leg out from under me. I go down faster than local property values.
He hovers over me, ready to split my skull. The rest of the looters join him, five or six them. I’m trapped in a fence of filthy clothes and haggard eyes. I try to sit up, but a stylish sandal with a two-inch heel pushes me back down onto the damp floor. The pale redhead on the other end of that footwear looms over me and purses her lips.
In an Irish brogue, she asks the room, “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?!”
After much debate, they settle on the obvious short-term solution and tie me up behind the altar. The smoker wants to, “slit my throat and float me down the street with the other corpses.” Fortunately, others aren’t so keen on killing cops, or killing out of convenience, or just killing at all.
The redhead looks to be their leader, but she’s playing coy. “It just seems like a waste. We have so little right now. There’s gotta be something she can do for us.” A few minutes later, she reminds them that they’re low on painkillers.
“I bet the feds got some stashed at their concentration camp,” Smoker chimes in. He must mean the Superdome. “Let’s make her tell us where it is!” The redhead thinks it’s a great idea.
They file over to my corner and look down at me like I’m a pet who’s made a mess on the rug. “What’s in it for me?” I growl.
Red shakes her head and tsks at me. “Don’t think about it like that, Officer... Barbarouss. We gotta know we can trust you, if we’re gonna let you go, so how about you help us plan a crime and do some good in the process? That’ll make you an accessory and we’ll have some mutual blackmail to keep everybody honest. Wadaya say?”
So, I told them. Don’t get all high and mighty! The feds weren’t doing any better than this Irish chick and her thieves. Maybe a little worse, actually. I probably woulda told them if they’d just asked nicely.
As soon as her merry miscreants leave, Red unties me. “Bridgit,” she introduces herself and extends a hand.
“Marion,” I respond while she helps me up.
She smiles. “I think I knew your grandmother.”
“Really?” She looks younger than me, which means she couldn’t have been more than a teenager when gran passed. “Did you hate her? Most people who knew her hated her.”
“Not at all! I respected her. She really knew her shit, just didn’t have much patience for faith or gods, even her own.”
“But you, you’re all about religion,” I venture, looking at the altar.
To one side, Saint Peter tramples serpents on the side of a votive candle. It casts its light on a carton of brown eggs and a single, white flower. They’re all positioned over a veve; I assume it’s for Damballah. The people lying restlessly on the pews can use all the healing mojo they can get.
A Roman soldier stands guard on the other side of the altar. “Saint Expedite removes obstacles,” Bridgit tells me, having followed my gaze. “Did you know that he invited himself to New Orleans? Back in the Spanish days, a church had a bunch of statues shipped here from Europe. When they arrived, there was one more package than expected. The extra statue had no label, save the word “Expedite” stamped on its crate, so the locals named him Saint Expedite and associated him with Baron Samedi. This is his town.”
“You’re making fun of me,” I look at her cockeyed. She feigns confusion. “Well, these offerings are for Legba, not Samedi, and I think that’s Legba’s veve under there. Also, Saint Expeditus is a real thing. He has active cults outside New Orleans and they all tell that exact same story.”
She gives me a slow clap. “Bravo. I expected you to spot the veve, but you know your minor saints, too. And you’re not shy about it,” she adds,” but the voodoo is legit. Expedite is associated with Legba in his role as remover of obstacles and that’s what we need right now.” She waves me over to a rickety card table where it looks like she’s doing arts and crafts. “Come here. You can help me remove some obstacles.”
She’s making mojo bags, voodoo luck charms. Tourist trinkets. “You’re making fun of me again.”
“I would never!” Bridgit puts her hand in front of her mouth, eyes wide, then smiles and laughs. “But seriously, sit your ass down and help me with this. I ain’t got all day.”
She’s mixing dirt with ginger root and mustard seeds. “What’s that?” I ask, pointing to a plastic sandwich bag near the jar of dirt.
“Raccoon fur.” Called it. “And this is dirt from the footprint of a burglar who was never caught. Now sit! Got your handcuffs?”
I have to check, because it’s been that kinda week, but they’re right where I left them. “Yup.”
“Take ‘em out.” She hands me some tools. “Broken links from a cop’s handcuffs would really makes these babies sing.” I stare daggers at her, but she just keeps mixing her dirt and filling her mojo bags until I give up and start hacking.
“You know, Marion, making gris-gris for good luck takes real skill. Don’t get me wrong, your grandmother was a pro, but she never challenged herself. I thought that woman would never meet a problem she couldn’t curse.”
“Statistics. There’s more ways a situation can go wrong than go right. Same reason it’s easier to break something than put it back together.”
“I meant, did my gramma ever meet a problem she couldn’t curse?”
“She’s dead, ain’t she?” Bridgit chuckles her little, Irish chuckle. I don’t find my dead gramma that funny. I pointedly hammer on my hardware for a few minutes.
“You realize I’d never be convicted as an accessory before the fact,” I tell her with some lingering attitude, “not under these circumstances.
“You mean the volunteer work or the polite conversation?”
“Being assaulted and taken hostage by looters and their Irish lunatic. Those circumstances.”
She looks hurt, so I feel a little better. “Yes, well… you’d do best to let the rest of them continue thinking otherwise. I’m sure you’ll be shocked, but they don’t trust cops. If they don’t think you’re in this as deep as they are, they’ll kill you. And is that your medical opinion?”
“It’s my legal opinion.”
“No, about me being a lunatic.” Wow. I really did hurt her feelings.
“What else am I supposed to think?” I ask, trying to soften the blow. “You’re impersonating a voodoo goddess to control a gang of criminals.”
“So that I can run a refugee camp in a disaster area,” she amends.
“Then you admit you’re just _impersonating_ a goddess?”
“Oh, no,” she suddenly locks eyes with me. “I _am_ Maman Brigitte. I’m using that gang of criminals to answer the prayers of my faithful. If that makes me a lunatic, you should at least admit that it makes me a competent lunatic.”
The mood lightens after that. I manage to break off enough chain links for all of Bridgit’s gris-gris by the time the looters get back. Smoker slams several bottles of prescription painkillers down on the table and crows, “Guess what you’re an accessory to!”
“Yep. You really got my balls in a paint mixer,” I agree.
He gives me a look. “Uh, but ain’t you a lady?”
“It’s a figure of speech.” I stand and shake his hand before he can catch up. “Great working with you all.” Then, to Bridgit, “Am I free to go?”
“Free as a summer breeze,” she chuckles again and shakes my hand. “We’ll even let you keep your boat.”
The looters look crestfallen. My gaze drifts past them to the men, women, and children lying in the pews. I don’t let go of Bridgit’s hand and it starts getting weird. “What’s the matter,” she asks. “We can keep the boat, if you don’t want it.”
“Oh, I’m damn well keeping the boat,” I address the entire church, “but it’s not due back for a few hours. What else can I do to help?”
(Image modified and cropped from a photo by Virginia Postrel - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushroom_hat#/media/File:Amy_Alkon_in_hat.jpg)