Last Fair Deal Gone Down (A Nick Travers Short)

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Book: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (A Nick Travers Short) by Ace Atkins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ace Atkins
 
    I’VE ALWAYS BEEN one to keep an eye open during a church prayer—not because of my lack of faith in God but because of my lack of faith in people. What I learned by watching was that others were doing the same. People mistrust people. Each of us pulses with our own agenda. In New Orleans, and particularly, in the French Quarter, those agendas cross frequently.
    That night I was in my own house of worship—JoJo’s Blues Bar, with both eyes closed tight as I chased a shot of Jack with a cold Dixie. Fats’ band banged out the last few chords of “Blue Monday,” his lazy sax matching my own black mood. Each drink softened that black mood into brown melancholy.
    A cold December drizzle rained outside. Cold droplets fell a muted pink along the window lit by JoJo’s neon sign, only a few regulars in the bar with ragged fedoras pulled low. JoJo’s niece Keesha, the only waitress on duty, tapped her foot slowly to Fats’ music. While she smoked, she read the Bible by dim candlelight.
    “Keesha, how ‘bout another Dixie?”
    “You know where they’re at.”
    And I guess I did. JoJo was my best friend and this was my second home. I took off my trench coat and old scarf and walked behind the bar. Pushing up my shirt sleeve, I reached into the slushy ice bin and grabbed a beer. My hand instantly went numb.
    “Who’s closing up?” I asked.
    “Felix,” she answered, stuck somewhere in the middle of Corinthians. “JoJo and Loretta went to Baton Rouge.”
    The set finished and the sparse crowd clapped. Most of them were old men like JoJo who had frequented this place since the early sixties. JoJo’s was the only decent blues bar in a city dominated by jazz. “A little Delta on the Bayou,” is what said the sign outside read.
    Fats pulled up a stool next to me. His face grayed under the tiny Christmas lights strung over the bar’s mirror. I looked across at both of our reflections and tilted my head.
    He said my name dully back to me.
    “How ya been, Fats?”
    “ Hmm .”
    “You know why JoJo’s in Baton Rouge?” I asked, for lack of anything better.
    “Naw.” Fats shifted in his seat and coughed, politely turning his head away. He looked over at Keesha with her head close to the Bible.
    “What? You got religion now or somethin’?”
    “Seek and ye shall find,” Keesha said, blowing smoke in his face.
“ Hmm ,” Fats said. “Ain’t that some shit?”
    Someone opened the two rickety Creole doors and a cold breeze rushed in off Conti. A horse-drawn tourist carriage clopped by with a guide pointing out famous sites. Fats popped a handful of salted peanuts into his mouth, shell and all.
    “You hungry, Fats?”
    He looked at my face for the first time, right in the eyes. “Yeah, I could eat.”
    Fats was known for gambling or drinking away his weekly profits every Friday. He usually lived on Loretta’s leftover gumbo or handouts from JoJo.
    We walked over a few blocks to the Cafe Du Monde. I asked for a couple orders of beignets and two large café au laits. A Vietnamese waiter set down the square donuts covered in powered sugar, and within a minute, Fats ate them all.
    “Hungry?”
    His coffee sat empty before him. I ordered another round for him.
Fats didn’t say a word. He leaned an arm on the iron railing and looked across the street at St. Louis Cathedral. Or maybe he was looking at the bronze statue of Andrew Jackson. I’ve always liked to think it was the church, with the spotlight beams illuminating the simple high cross.
    “Is it the track?”
    “Naw.” He laughed.
    “You need help?”
    “No,” Fats said. “What I got, pod’na, is a fair deal. Just like Robert Johnson said, ‘Last Fair Deal Goin’ Down.’ You know about Johnson?”
    “Sure.”
    “He sure played a weird guitar. I’ve always tried to make my sax do that. But it just ain’t the same.”
    “What’s the deal, Fats?”
    He laughed again and shook his head. He looked up. “You ever been in love, Nick?”
    “Every

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