UNITED STATES—Storyville was the kind of place where it was natural to get hot and excited even in the sharp December chill that blew through New Orleans. Three fashionably tailored figures, trailed by one not so fashionably tailored fourth figure, crept out of the Mansion House hotel to sample from the garden of earthy delights of this concentrated quarter of Dixieland jazz clubs and clubs where you could rent love or potent imitations thereof. Hot trumpets and snare drum spilled onto the steamy streets.
Busty women, packaged in opalescent brocade flashed libidinous looks at men, setting free the imagination of the men wearing silk suits and diamond stickpins.
“New Orleans is shore an odd place,” commented Joe Holly, “naming this den of debauchery after one of its most high-minded citizens.”
“They just have a refined sense of humor,” said the second conspirator, the exiled and future President Miguel Padilla Ortiz.
The third, “Machine-Gun” Kelly towered over the previous two, and made a grunting sound.
“Machine-Gun” was in this crowd because he had a way with guns. He was a regular Paganini with guns, having started in his teens in the Boer War.
The name Storyville stuck from Alderman Story, who had the bright idea, based on the example of other port cities, to outlaw prostitution, and the rowdy pastimes that accompanied it, in all but a limited area New Orleans bound by N. Claiborne, (Northish), Basin (Southish) Canal Street (Westish), St. Louis St., (on the Eastish side) – You see this rectangle of twenty-odd blocks, cradled between Vieux Carre and St. Louis Cemetery to the Northward side; you see this part of the city is built on the grid oriented on the compass rose in the Northwest Southeast axis, instead of a grid laid out on a north-south axis.
It is a quality it shares with Manhattan and an agricultural hamlet in California, Watsonville, laid out by the Spaniards, known for its broccoli as well as being the birthplace of Graydon Miller.
As the three men sauntered through Storyville, the two agents of the Secret Service, practiced the fine art of invisibility and followed the conspirators at a discreet distance.
They had been surveilled for days. It was common knowledge in Washington that these gentlemen were planning a revolution in Bananaland. Joe Holly, the famed soldier of fortune dubbed “the incredible Yanqui” in Bananaland as in Central America, and darling of Sunday supplements that fought over the rights to publish his exploits, made no effort whatsoever to hide what they were doing.
In fact, they took a page from Edgar Allen Poe in “The Purloined Letter” and hid their plotting in extra plain sight. Holly and his two partners trawled New Orleans recruiting from the stoked crowd of ne’er-do-wells ready to leap at the chance and drew from a rich pool of adventurers and seasoned soldiers for hire. They were already frustrated after the previous experiences: one revolution foiled and one got out of the bag under their watch.
Unbeknownst the agents, Joe Holly spotted the hapless gumshoes instantly; they stuck out like two alligators at a crocodile convention.
The man said, walking along Basin St., “I prefer to call it change. Revolution is a brand that promises so much more than it delivers.”
A hobo had a beggarly hand outstretched, “Change, my friend.” If their mission to restore Miguel Padilla Ortiz to the presidency in Bananaland failed, so that Sam Delaney could continue to keep his lands and grow his bananas without export taxes, that was where Sam Delaney would be, right where that hobo was.
Joe Holly, the soldier of fortune and ersatz leader of this little mission, said, “By any other name, change is a way to keep things the same.”
Holly’s old buddy, once and future President Miguel Padilla Ortiz, was flummoxed, Holly’s words poured lemon juice in an open wound, stammered and the surge of blood incited by Storyville, drained from his groin.
He still had his chance to consort with one of the lovelies in Storyville. In the chill night in December, it allowed the four conspirators, “Machine-Gun” Kelly in whom Joe Holly trusted implicitly with shooting them out of the tightest situation they could get into in Bananaland, there was the exiled president returning to power, along with the fourth member of their party, Padilla’s aide-de-camp (you couldn’t be a President without a boy to carry around a portable desk and a folding camp chair), no sir, and that boy had dreams.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.