“Damn.” The sailor turns as a cab pulls up on Girod Street in New Orleans and the driver door window slides down, “You need a ride?”
“I do cabby. Follow that car,” he excitedly points to the Nissan pulling out of the parking lot onto Fulton Street. See that Nissan 240Z, that’s the one?”
“Hop in Cracker. I been waiting all my life for someone to say that, to quote Gregory Peck, if you know who that is.”
“This tavern is busy and buzzing on a Friday night,” Web says.
“Like a cattle corral in here,” his friend and boss Tower smiles, “maybe a good-looking dame will come in and you can test your recruiting sales skill.”
And through a side door walks a solo middle-aged woman wearing well a purple dress as though summoned by the pair of sailors. She locates herself on the far side of the rectangular bar room and a bar maid takes an order.
“Wow, thar she blows, Web. Check that out will ya,” he says chuckling. The smile turns down suddenly as she is joined by a man. “Uh-oh, now there’s a flashing red light. Her boyfriend maybe? What do ya think?”
The middle-aged man in a suit and loosened neck tie seems to know her. The lady has light brown curly hair cut below the ear bottom but above the shoulder, The M. Pfeiffer look. They briefly hug. A barmaid delivers two draft beers.
At the same time the sailors hear “another beer?” from a barmaid that watches them watching.
“Let’s see if she hangs out,” Tower says. “What if that’s her brother or boss or cousin. Not to mention it’s early. Not to mention it’s Friday. She’s got Web written all over her.”
“You think the fellow is her stockbroker or dentist?” Web asks.
“Do you two want another round or not?” the bar maid says a bit impatiently.
Web, recently inducted into the bachelor brotherhood, enjoys a more flexible liberty than Tower. His wife solidly inhabits with Tower down Audubon Street in a cozy little shotgun double on the edge of the Garden District. The boys measure their glances across the tavern so as not seem unseemly. The couple passes on another round and so do the two sailors.
“Whew, I’m tired Owen. Looking forward to a leisurely weekend. If I hear anyone say how nice this damn purple dress looks again I swear to God I’ll shoot them. Got the Beretta in my purse. You are driving back to Houston?”
“Yep, doesn’t take much of this," he raises his glass of beer, "to get you into trouble. I need to get on I-10W and be eagle eyed and able to dodge all the Friday evening crazies. I got to go. Your sister will skin me alive if I don’t’ get home for the weekend.”
She drains her glass. “Okay thanks for helping start the weekend, this one will get me home. I’m outta here” she smiles and gives Owen a hug. “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”
“Pas de probléme.”
“Goddamn Tower, she drinks beer faster than you, there she goes. I’m gonna check her out. Don’t wait for me too long if I ain’t back,” he heads for the door. He had a longer throw to get to an exit than the purple dress. He carefully but steadily plows through the standing room only patrons who wave their beer glasses and bottles to boisterous conversation. He made the exit. He didn’t see the purple dress or the woman who fills it when outside into the humid New Orleans air on St. Peter Street. Looking both directions he notices moving headlights in a parking lot in the rear. He quickly runs down the sidewalk and arrives only to see a light-colored Nissan 240Z slowly turning out of the parking lot onto Fulton Street. Recognizing the curly mid length M. Pfeiffer hair lighted by a streetlamp his excitement accelerates.
Quickly he got in the backseat of the yellow taxi sedan. “Right place, right time cabby. This is kind of a miracle for me, let me tell you? Yes, I remember that line from an old movie, Arabesque I believe,” says Web as they pull onto Fulton, and begin gaining on the Nissan.
“No need. I'm a miracle all by my damn self, ya know Cracker, a good-looking black girl cabby,” she glances via the rear-view mirror, “how many those you see taxi riding a cute cracker sailor pressed sharp in his uniform.
“You’re black. I didn’t notice.”
“As a cold night with no moon,” she says. “But my stars, oh, do they twinkle and shine like a Queen Latifah.”
Making a turn onto Lafayette Street she catches the Nissan and follows.
“That car carrying a pot of gold, Cooter Brown’s oysters on the half shell maybe or something better? Maybe a cup of Who Dat coffee? How far we going Cracker? Don’t matter none anyway, I just started my shift.”
“The only thing better than anything at least right now, a woman. I need an Elvis song to explain. I’m a recent divorce victim and want to meet a nice lady,” his eyes fastened to the taillights. “I don’t know how far but she’s a local I expect. I just want to meet her.”
“And then what Cracker? Oh wait. I don’t want to know.” she says. Will the Elvis song One night work? What’s your name? You know I’m getting to like you in that uniform and the idea that you would chase a woman without knowing a damn thing about her. You don’t even know her a little bit? What if she’s gay or married or a news reporter? Then what? that’s plum risky. What if she is a politician? Holy nutria, you can’t get much further south than them.”
“My name is Webfoot. But most call me Web. My daddy and momma were drinkers and occasional peyote users and proud Oregonians. My Grandma also an Oregonian and daughter of a covered wagon pioneer has marvelous webs between her toes like a duck. She showed me once. Webfoot, that’s my name although sometimes they call me Webfeet to allow for my other self and ego drift. What’s yours?”
“You are messing with me Cracker,” she says looking to him in the mirror. “What’s your name really, besides Cracker or Webfeet?”
The Nissan turns left on Poydras Street. “Your girl scooting for I-10 West. I’m tight on her tail like a dirty dance.”
“Good, you see the movie The Vanishing Point?”
“What self-respecting taxi, Uber, Lyft or chauffeur driver would not have seen that movie ten times Cracker? Of course, one of my favorites.”
“You are a movie buff. You will enjoy this chase, right? Wow, that’s the best car chase movie ever. And by the way it’s Webster, like Daniel the dictionary. Now, what do your folks call you? Cabby?”
“Okay since we’re getting to know each other then I’ll tell you. My name is Sparkles Azalea Blue like the stars, like the flower, like so many sad songs. And there ain’t much story behind that other than to say my mom loved growing flowers and sent her wishes to the stars sparkling in the sky. The Blue came from a dad man I never got to know and that’s a blue story. Now by God, we are getting to know each other. Just think Cracker you must do it all again when we catch that Nissan.
“You’re not using my name, it’s Web?’
“I don’t like Web, I’m thinking Sugar. You like to hear me call you Sugar? It’s cozy.
“Okay Sparkles, I like Sugar. What I will tell the woman in the purple dress will be easy. Easy breezy. I’ll sing her a song, dance, tell her she is pretty and fresh as a flower blooming in the spring. Pretty as the cabby black girl.
“Whoa Cracker. We be in the deep south. You don’t be coming on too little old black me. But then, I am damn good looking so how could you not? Still, you on the way to surprise this mystery woman jetting down I-10E. You able to dance for seduction like the Rifle bird? I think them birds are black like me though. Them male birds dance a Las Vegas showstopper to find a mate. Sugar, I’m dropping your white ass off and then I’m gone. She's gonna shoot you.”
“You’re not waiting for me? My little song and dance will probably not take two minutes. You take me back and I’ll fall asleep and won’t say a word. I might snore a bar or two. Promise”
“Patterson street in Algiers. Down at the river end. Not far from the Canal Street ferry.”
“I know it.”
“What if we had a cup of coffee at the Dry Dock Cafe or Who Dats later tonight or tomorrow or the next day? How would you feel about that? They have wonderfully delicious alligator soup at the Dry Dock.”
“No kidding.” She catches his eye in the mirror. “Cracker. I’m black and you’re white. This is New Orleans. That’s a damn bad idea that still, I appreciate. In that tavern you were in did you see any black folk in there? No, you didn’t. This woman you’re after, she came out a there and I expect she’s not fond of Lincoln and him winning the Civil War and all. Still a bit of an issue with some down in these parts. I feel progress though. Way better than a hundred year ago.”
“That isn’t me Miss Blue, but I see the progress too.”
“She’s got her blinker on, taking the Bonnabel, Metairie exit. A bit uppity crowd out here, but solid New Orleans citizens at the same time.”
“This is crazy. I must be crazy to do this.”
“Can’t argue with that. Here we go Cracker. Get your poem ready cause it won’t be long now you will be on your knees begging for forgiveness for being so frigging stupid.”
In a moment they were following on the I-10 service road and then turn left on Bonnabel then left again on Metairie Road then bending right on Hollywood.
“We’re close. I wonder if she senses we’re following,” Web says.
“Nah. Just another Friday night commuter going home.”
The Nissan pulls into a driveway on Rosewood Drive. Sparkle pulls the cab to the curb across the street from the driveway. “You’re up Cracker. Twenty dollars got you here.
Web hands her twenty-five. “Wait here please, I’ll be back in less than five. A back haul…back to the city and making the money Sparkles Azalea Blue. Money both ways, eh? That’s good right? And we can settle on a time for that cup of coffee.”
“Ok Sugar. I’ll be interested to see what she do to you when you throw your pitch, dancing like one of them black Rifle birds. You might end up dead weight, a corpse.”
Web turns and walks across the well-lighted street approaching the woman out of her car and almost to the house.
“Good evening, Ma'am.
The lady turns and sees the cab pulling away, “you looking for me? You are following me?”
I am. I saw you leave the tavern, and I couldn’t catch up to you, so I hailed a cab and here I am. Wanted to meet the pretty lady who lives in that nice fitting purple dress.
“I call bullshit on that mister. You wasted your time, and I would ask that you get back in the cab you came in, but that train left the station,” she nods towards the street.
Web turns to see the cab taillights disappear around a corner. “That’s not good. Damn. She was going to wait for me.”
“I’m going into my house. I’ll give you a short two minutes to disappear before I call the police. Better get walking.”
When Web turns, he sees a small handgun barrel pointed towards his belly. “Don’t shoot me Miss just because I thought you were pretty.”
“Two minutes and you already wasted thirty seconds.”
He backs slowly out of the driveway into the street his hands high above his head.. Headlights appear at a corner and suddenly the yellow cab pulls up and the window comes down. “Looking for a ride Sugar? I’ll give ya one. Hop in.”
Sparkles pulls away with Web safely in the back seat. “That went well,” Sparkles says.
“Went well and now I’m “sparkling”. Hey, how about that coffee?”