Last Fair Deal Gone Down (A Nick Travers Short)

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Authors: Ace Atkins
Saturday night.”
    “No, man. I mean really in love. Where it make you sick jus’ to think you ain’t gonna get no more.”
    “I guess.” I looked at him as he brushed a hand over his gray suit to get off the fallen powdered sugar.
    “Let’s just say I found somethin’, all right, big chief.”
    “That’s where the money went?”
    “Thanks for the eats, Nick.”
    And with that, Fats reached down, grabbed the handle of his battered sax case, patted it like a child and was gone. I sipped on another cafe au lait, warming my hands on the steaming mug.
    Two days later, JoJo called to tell me that Fats was dead.
    The sleet played against the industrial windows of my loft, a 1920s lumber storage, in the Warehouse District on the blackest early afternoon I could remember. Tulane was on Christmas break and instead of teaching blues history, I found extra time to loaf. I was practicing some of Little Walter’s harp licks on my Hohner Special 20 when JoJo buzzed me from Julia Street.
    “I’ve already joined the Moonies,” I said, pressing the button on my intercom. “Fuck off.”
    “Goddammit, open the door.”
    I went to the kitchen portion of the second floor’s open space, lit the stove with a kitchen match, and began to make coffee. I left the sliding metal door ajar and JoJo walked in, tramping his feet and muttering obscenities under his breath.
    “You don’t even know my mother,” I said.
    “I need you to go with me to clear out Fats’ shit. That’s if you want him to have a proper funeral. Man died without a cent. And no family that anyone knows about. Loretta said we should do it.”
    “She’s right.”
    It was a bullet through a clouded mind that killed him. A self-inflicted wound. Or so read the coroner’s report that my friend, Detective Jay Medeaux, shared with me. He told me a pink-haired runaway found Fats’ body on the Riverwalk, his back broken from a final fall onto the jagged rocks lining the Mississippi River.
    All I could imagine was the grayness of those rocks and the grayness of his face among the damp paper bags and broken multi-colored bottles as we climbed the stairs to his apartment. It was on Decatur, not far from the French Market—a sign outside asked for fifty bucks a week.
    The apartment manager met us on the stoop, thumbing through the sports section of the Times-Picayune . Wordless, with an impassive face, he led us to a second-floor efficiency. Hazy white light sprouted through rust-flecked metal blinds onto a rat’s nest of dirty clothes, an empty bottle of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, a rumpled black suit on a bent hanger, a book called The Real Israelites , a juke joint poster, a toothbrush with a box of baking soda, and a pack of sax reeds on an unmade bed.
    No sax.
    “Mmhmm,” JoJo said.
    “It’s not here.”
    “ Mmhmm .”
    “Hey, buddy,” I said to the manager. “Where’s his saxophone?”
    “What’s here is here. I ain’t responsible.”
    “Where’s his goddamned sax?”
    I felt JoJo’s strong hand on my shoulder.
    “Man doesn’t know.”
    The manager bit his lower lip, turned on a heel, and left us. We spent five minutes packing everything in the room into a cardboard box made for Colt 45 malt liquor. I took the rumpled black suit from the hanger, folded it, and handed it to JoJo. He nodded.
    I heaved the box up into the crook of my elbows and walked down a urine-scented staircase. My ears rang, full of Fats’ sax, those deep full notes that bled the man’s life and loss. He never cheated, putting all he was into every note. And now someone had taken the one thing he cared about even more than his own life.
    That afternoon I started searching all around the Quarter. I looked into any painted window using the words MUSIC, PAWN, or ANTIQUE. I learned his sax was a classic made in the forties, a collector’s item that could pay for a dozen caskets and burial plots.
    I found nothing.
    The cool day turned

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