Garden District Gothic
The city of New Orleans was rocked to its very shaky foundations when the body of six-year-old beauty queen Delilah Metoyer was found, strangled, in the carriage house behind her family’s Garden District mansion. The crime was never solved, and the Metoyer family shattered in the aftermath of the crime. Thirty years later, Delilah’s brother asks Scotty to finally find his sister’s killer…putting Scotty and his friends and family into the crosshairs of a vicious killer.
You know you live in New Orleans when you leave your house on a hot Saturday morning in August for drinks wearing a red dress.
It was well over ninety degrees, and the humidity had tipped the heat index up to about 110, maybe 105 in the shade. The hordes of men and women in red dresses were waving handheld fans furiously as sweat ran down their bodies. Everywhere you looked, there were crowds of people in red, sweating but somehow, despite the ridiculous heat, having a good time. I could feel the heat from the pavement through my red-and-white saddle shoes, and was glad I’d decided wearing hose would be a bad idea. The thick red socks I was wearing were hot enough, thank you, and were soaked through. They were new, so were probably dyeing my ankles, calves and feet pink. But it was for charity, I kept reminding myself as I greeted friends and people-whose-names-I-couldn’t-remember-but-whose-faces-looked-familiar, as we worked our way up and down and around the Quarter.
Finally, I had enough around noon and decided to call it a day.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life, and I grew up in Alabama,” my sort-of-nephew, Taylor Wheeler, said in his soft accent, wiping sweat from his forehead as we trudged down Governor Nicholls Street on our way home.
“It hasn’t been this hot in a while,” I replied, trying really hard not to laugh. I’d been forcing down giggles pretty much all day since he came galloping down the back steps the way he always does and I got my first look at his outfit. “But the last few summers have been mild—this is normal for August, usually.” It was true—everyone in town was complaining about the heat like it was something unusual. But we hadn’t had our usual hellish summer weather in a couple of years.
Last summer had not only been mild but dry, with little humidity and practically no rain—which was unheard of. Usually it rains every day around three in the summer, when the humidity has gotten so thick it turns to rain.
“I don’t even want to think about how much sweat is in my butt crack,” he complained, waving the fan he picked up somewhere furiously, trying to create a breeze.
I gave up trying to fight it and just gave in to the laughter.
Taylor is even taller than his biological uncle, my longtime partner Frank. Frank is six two, but while Taylor claims he’s only six four—I think he’s taller. He’s definitely more than two inches taller than Frank. He’s very self-conscious about being so tall, always slouching so he seems shorter. The slouching drives me crazy. I’m constantly telling him to stand up straight and to work on his postue, to embrace being tall since there’s no changing it.
It’s not working so far.
He’s also maybe one hundred and seventy pounds tops—despite eating everything in sight, he never seems to gains any weight. Also like his uncle Frank, he has a high metabolism. Long and lean, with enormous hands and feet, he looked absolutely ridiculous in the University of Alabama cheerleading uniform he’d bought on-line for the Red Dress Run. The top was intended to be a midriff shirt, but he was so tall it looked like a red and white sports bra with Bama written in script across his chest. The pleated red-and-white skirt barely covered his ass. He hadn’t shaved his legs or arms or stomach, either, so almost all the exposed, golden-tanned skin was covered with white-gold hair that glistened in the sun with sweat.
Taylor hadn’t originally wanted to do the Red Dress Run, an annual event that raises money for local New Orleans charities. Everyone who participates pays a registration fee and of course, you have to wear a red dress. There’s alcohol, food, great music and everyone has a really good time.
When I originally asked him if he wanted to do the Red Dress Run, he looked at me like I’d lost my mind or had heatstroke or something. “I have to wear a red dress?” he gave me that oh-so-typical teenaged eye roll I was getting to know far too well. “Why would anyone want to do that? In public? And it’s not Halloween?”
“New Orleans has a fine tradition of men wearing drag at all times of the year. Not just Fat Tuesday or Halloween,” my mom replied before I could splutter out something that would have only made him more resistant. “It’s for fun, Taylor, you know what that is, don’t you? You don’t live in Alabama any more, Taylor. Loosen up.”
I smothered a laugh as his face turned beet red.
Leave it to Mom. She knew how to handle him far better than I ever would.
It didn’t hurt that he worshiped her.
And that was all it took. Once he decided he was going to do it, he dove in head first. “My dress is a secret,” he said when I asked him if he wanted to go dress shopping with me. “You won’t see it till that day. I want it to be a surprise.”
I couldn’t have been prouder. New Orleans was good for him, as I knew it would be. He was adapting very quickly. Soon he’d out-local the natives.
So, I went shopping for my dress all by myself in the unbearable heat of a July afternoon. Colin was out of the country on another job for who knew how long, and Frank would be wrestling in Jacksonville the Friday night before the Red Dress Run, and there was no way he could get back on Saturday in time unless he drove all night. My best friend David was making his dress—he and some friends were doing a group costume, spoofing those reality shows about rich, botoxed shrieking women by going as the Grande Dames of Chalmette. I liked the idea, but I can’t sew so that was out. I didn’t find anything I liked in the shops on Decatur Street, so I moved on to Magazine Street in Uptown. At a consignment store I found a gorgeous red Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress that required just the tiniest little bit of alteration, and the store had a seamstress there on site. All in all, it was a steal at $60, which included the tailoring.