Saturday, April 28, 2012

Night Chill, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 On Vacation

Hotel St. Louis, New Orleans, Louisiana. Among the most interesting sights of the French Quarter in New Orleans are the small, quaint hotels that dot the streets and alleys. Each has a unique style and atmosphere. Many have existed since the early 1800’s, although most have been upgraded, and now provide comforts not often found in the larger hotels, which also abound in the area.
The lobby of the Hotel St. Louis, on Bienville,  is quaint, with its circular waiting room bench, and the photograph albums of weddings and other events held in the hotel. There are tall French doors into the hotel lobby area, and again into a magnificent courtyard area beyond the lobby. The courtyard rises several floors to the sky; bordered by balconies that access the rooms, accessed through an unobtrusive elevator off to the side of the lobby. Tall palm trees cover the outdoor portion of the restaurant, providing light and a quiet, settling ambience.
The desk clerk looked up, as the sound of screeching brakes announced the arrival of the limousine van from the airport. In moments, there were six people coming through the swinging French doors, followed by the clanging of luggage on a two-wheeler.
"I'll leave the luggage here," said the overly large van driver, "Thanks for driving Airport Express," he added, as he walked among the passengers, receiving tips for his efforts. "Enjoy your visit to New Orleans," he continued, as he pushed his way through the door, back to the van.
"An interesting trip, said the first of the passengers to the desk clerk, "Does everybody drive as fast, and swerve through the lanes on the Interstate as this guy does?” The man had a large stature, with broad, muscular arms visible through his short sleeve shirt. The size of his hands spoke volumes about his years of manual labor.
"I'm afraid so," answered the desk clerk, "This is New Orleans. Nothing is normal, quiet, or calm here. Do you have a reservation?" she asked.
"Yes," the man answered, giving his name, and that of his wife. "We are staying for four days. Here for the Longshoreman Convention."
"We have a number of people coming in for that," the clerk responded, "Most stay at the larger hotels, but we still fill up with those that want a bit more elegance and quiet. Welcome to the Hotel St. Louis," she smiled. "You are going to be in room 405," she added. "If you will take the elevator to the fourth floor, your room is around to the right on the back balcony.” She pointed out the location on a map under the glass on the desk.
"It's a smoking room, right?" the man asked.
"Yes, sir," answered the clerk, "It is a smoking room as you requested.” The man nodded, went over to the pile of bags to retrieve his, and then moved toward the elevator.
The clerk signed in the second couple, which wanted to know where Bourbon Street was, since they would be attending a party and parade there later in the evening. The clerk showed them the folded map of the French Quarter that came with their room key, and circled the hotel, and Bourbon Street. They also took their luggage, and headed for the elevators.
A final couple came slowly up to the desk, letting the others get out of the way before they attempted to move. "May I help you?" asked the clerk. "Yes," answered the man, as he stopped at the desk, "I'm Robert Gillespie. I believe we have a reservation for five days. This is my wife Alicia. This customer seemed different from the others. He was tall and lanky, wearing an informal suit with open collar instead of a tie. His accent gave him away as someone from New England, probably Boston or further north.
"Yes, we do, Mr. Gillespie. Your reservation says you want a non-smoking room, one with an interior view. That's odd. Have you been here before? Usually, everybody asks for a view of the French Quarter. We have some beautiful interior rooms on the fifth floor, at the end of the balcony. It really gives you some privacy."
"That will be perfect," answered Gillespie, "We really came here for some quiet time. That may seem odd in the French Quarter, but, we came here ten years ago on our honeymoon, and wanted to come back and enjoy the city."
"I see," answered the clerk, "Let me see," she added, as she looked at her computer screen. "Here it is, Robert Gillespie of Boston. You are staying in the same room you had ten years ago. We recently re-painted it, and upgraded the furnishings since, but it is the same room, and on the fifth floor I hope you enjoy yourselves here in the Quarter.” She handed Gillespie the room packet with the keys and map.
"I'm sure we will. Thank you," said Gillespie as he scooped up the luggage and started for the elevator. The clerk watched as he moved, and was sure she had seen a gun on his hip. She became concerned, and went back to the registration record. There, she saw a flashing line that said Special Instructions. She clicked the mouse on the line, and now saw a box pop up that said, Federal Bureau of Investigation. May be carrying a weapon. Use discretion. At least she knew that she did not have a problem to report, but she wondered what an FBI agent might be doing at the St. Louis. With a shrug of her shoulders, she went back to work, finishing logging in the other four new registrants before she sat down on a stool behind the counter to wait for the next wave of arrivals.

Police Headquarters, New Orleans. "All right, let's settle down," the officer at the podium said to the assembled police officers at morning roll call. "This is going to be a busy week. The dockworkers, among others, are in town this week. That is a big convention, and they like to enjoy themselves. As some of you already know," the officer, continued, "Jimmy Galanto, the head of the local on the docks here died last night, in the French Quarter. The detectives will be all over the place today. Give them what help you can. Expect to see the FBI snooping around as well.” The officer continued with the rest of the morning announcements, but that was the big one, and a number of the officers continued to discuss it as they went to their vehicles to start the shift.
Three officers stood in place at the end of roll. The lieutenant wanted them to remain. As the shift officers filed out, three detectives, and two others the officers did not know came in through the other door. The lieutenant spoke first.
"We asked you three to stay," the lieutenant started, "Because you are being loaned to the detective branch for their investigation on the Galanto murder.” The three looked around, and saw the two other men sitting at a side table.
"Who are they?" asked one of the officers.
"This is Agent O'Neill, and Agent Shaw, from the New Orleans FBI Office. The Longshoreman's Union had been under Federal supervision for a number of years, while they cleaned up their act. The Federal judge here only released the New Orleans local last year from direct supervision. That makes the Galanto killing a local crime. The Feds are here to assist in the investigation, since they know more than we do about the inner workings of the local."
"This is the team, gentlemen," continued the lieutenant, "Three detectives, three officers, and two FBI agents. Find me Galanto's killers, and find out why he died. It's that simple-direct questions, and direct answers."
"Sure lieutenant, will this afternoon be soon enough?" kidded one of the officers.
"Too late," answered the lieutenant, as he started to walk from the room. "Answers—that's what I need for the chief—answers,' said the lieutenant as he closed the door to the squad room behind him.
"OK," offered one of the detectives, "This is where we start.” He walked up to one of the blackboards that surrounded the room, and began to write down what they already knew. In the next half hour, they developed the beginnings of a plan to proceed.

Hotel St. Louis, New Orleans. The small elevator opened to the lobby, allowing Gillespie and his wife to exit. It was a very small elevator, one designed for not more than four people at a time comfortably. Everything about the St. Louis was small-except, that is, the courtyard that rose to the sky through a skylight roof, amidst the balconies providing entry to the rooms. Even the pale yellow color of the walls gave a sense of smallness, and comfort.
"Where would you like to eat this evening, Alicia?" asked Gillespie, as he and his wife entered the lobby.
"Let's try the dining room here, Bob," she responded. "I'm really tired from the traveling; a quiet dinner would be great. We can start sightseeing tomorrow."
"Fine with me, dear," answered Gillespie. He escorted her through the French doors to the courtyard and started across the palm-covered area toward the main entrance of the restaurant. There, they met the maitre'd, standing in the doorway, waiting with his menus in hand.
"Good evening," he said pleasantly, "Will you be dining with us this evening?"
"Yes," answered Gillespie, "I believe we will."
"Wonderful," responded the maitre'd, "I am Pierre, and welcome to The Louis. Let me show you to a table. Do you have a preference?"
"Something quiet," answered Alicia Gillespie.
"Exactly," responded Pierre, "Right this way.” He took them to a corner table, where they could hear the music, but still be out of the main flow of traffic. To one side, Alicia could look out into the courtyard, which seemed even more beautiful as the sun began to sink on the horizon. Pierre seated both, provided each a menu, and motioned for a waiter, who came over to the table quickly.
Gillespie ordered drinks for both he and his wife, and they sat back and listened to the music, played by the small trio in the main part of the restaurant. The waiter gave them time to relax and settle in, before he came over again to take their order.
"Bob, this is wonderful. I'm glad we came," said his wife, as Gillespie sat twirling his wine glass, but listening intently.
"So am I, Alicia. We needed a vacation, and badly. Things have been too stressful over the last year, with case after case giving us too little time to enjoy ourselves. I hoped we could get away. I made it really clear to the Bureau that vacation was next on my agenda.” He took her hand, and held it lightly. “Let’s enjoy ourselves, for once, and not worry about the job. We have seven days to really see New Orleans."
Alicia smiled, and returned the grasp on her hand. "Bob, I hope so. I really do want to think about nothing else but us, at least for a week."
"You have your wish, my dear," responded Gillespie, "Even my personal friend is in the safe in our room. I intend to be just a tourist looking at the sights.” As he finished speaking, the waiter brought the food they had ordered, and began to arrange the table to place the dishes for them.

It was nearly nine when they finished dinner, had dessert and coffee, and a short liqueur. Bob paid the bill with his credit card, and they rose to leave, stopping to thank the maitre'd with a tip for the liqueur he had sent to their table. Then, they strolled through the darkened courtyard, looked up at the darkened sky, and entered the lobby.
"Would you like to walk a few blocks?" asked Robert, "The night is beautiful, and cool. Just the right walking weather."
"No, dear," answered Alicia, "Not tonight. I think I will go up to the room. I'm tired from the trip and the long day. Don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all," answered Robert, "Let me take you to the elevator, so you can go upstairs. I'm going to walk just a bit before I come up as well.” He walked over to the elevator, and kissed his wife on the forehead, as the door opened, and she entered the small elevator cab.
“See you in a little while," he added, as the door closed. Once it did, Robert walked out into Bienville Street, and looked both ways. He spied the sign for the Old Absinthe Bar, and decided he would visit, and sit to watch the people going down Bourbon Street.

Louis Armstrong International Airport, New Orleans. Sliding slowly into a space near the General Aviation Terminal, three men emerged from a dark colored sedan, took their bags from the truck, and started to walk toward an open hanger nearby. Inside the hanger, a small Jet Stream Executive jet waited, with the stairs open and down to receive passengers.
"Are you ready to depart?" asked one of the men, as he entered the small office, when a man waited, drinking coffee.
"Anytime you are, sir," answered the man, "We can be airborne in less than ten minutes, if you all are ready to depart now.” The three men nodded, and carried their bags over to the plane, where the pilot helped them put their bags into a baggage bin on the side of the tail of the plane.
"Board anytime you like," said the pilot, as he started to climb the stairs. "I'll get final clearance for takeoff. There isn't much traffic, this time of day. Should be gone in a few minutes.” The pilot had already completed his pre-flight check, since one of the men had called when they started the trip from downtown. The message had been to prepare for takeoff, since-they weren't staying as planned.
"Has the destination changed?" asked the pilot from the cockpit, as the men boarded the plane.
"No change," answered the man who had previously spoken--the one the others called Amid--we still go to the Azores."
"Roger that," responded the pilot, as he called the tower for clearance.

Hotel St. Louis, New Orleans. The sun the following morning was beautiful as it rose in the early morning sky over New Orleans. Three men entered the lobby of the St. Louis, stopping to look down the street to where the murder had occurred the previous evening, entered the hotel and went straight to the front desk. The first man, a tall, thin man in a light brown jacket, and similar khaki pants, pulled a wallet from his pocket, as he approached the desk.
"Detective Kehane, Ma'am, I need the room number for a Mister Robert Gillespie, please.”
"Sure officer," responded the clerk, "I assume you want Agent Gillespie of the FBI. He is in Room 520. Take the elevator to the fifth floor, turn right, and go half way around the balcony. If you want to call him first, ask the operator for 5520."
"Thanks," answered the police officer, "You have been very helpful.” He walked over to the house phone and picked it up. “5520 please," said the officer. The other two sat on the circular waiting room seat, while the other officer made the call.
"Agent Gillespie, Robert Gillespie?" asked the officer, as Robert answered, and asked what they wanted.
"This is Bob Gillespie," he said, "What can I do for you?"
"This is Detective Kehane of the New Orleans Police Department," the officer said, "We understand that you witnessed a killing last night on Bourbon Street. I would like to spend a few moments with you on that subject, if you don't mind."

"Sure detective," responded Gillespie, "My wife is still sleeping. I'll be right down. Meet you in the restaurant.” Robert dressed, went to the safe for his badge and gun, and slipped out of the room. Ringing for the elevator, he was shortly in the lobby, headed for the restaurant. As soon as he hit the door, he recognized another agent, and went over to the table where he was sure the New Orleans officers were also located.
"Jim, how are you?" said Gillespie, as he extended his hand to the FBI agent he knew sitting at the table. "What brings you out this morning?"
"Bob, this is Detective Paul Kehane, of the New Orleans PD. He is investigating a murder last evening down the street that we understand you witnessed.” He also introduced the other officers at the table.
"I saw some of it, Jim, but I was sitting on the other side of the Old Absinthe Bar when it happened. Good to meet you Detective Kehane," said Gillespie, as he extended his hand to the detective, and shook his hand. "As I said, I saw some men coming up behind another man. Thought that was odd, but then, there was a large crowd moving along. When I heard the woman scream, and saw who was on the ground, I looked around, and saw the same men moving quickly toward a dark sedan, parked on Bienville, the other side of Bourbon from where I was sitting at the time."
"Make? Model? Tag Number?" asked one of the other officers.
"Dark-colored, large sedan. Looked like a town car. Louisiana plates, 46N3122, I believe, officer."
"Good eyes," said Kehane. "We appreciate your observance.” You mentioned that you thought you saw something odd. What was it?
“Well, it just seemed odd to me that three men who had space to move easily around the person in front of them would continue to move up closer instead of moving to the side where there was plenty of space to walk. The crowd was getting larger behind them, but there was still plenty of space to avoid the man in front of them. It was just a fleeting feeling, but I guess that is what you see, even if you are not looking for crime at any particular moment.”
"Rental car," interrupted one of the other officers, "Probably Hertz. Most of their cars start with 46. We'll check it out."
"Who died?" asked Gillespie. "Anybody important?"
"The head of the Longshoreman's Union here, Rich," answered the FBI agent, "That's why we are along for the ride. This local was under Federal trustee supervision until recently. So far, we have no real jurisdiction, but we're helping out, just in case."
"I understand," responded Gillespie, "I intended to call your boss to let him know I was in town on vacation. Guess that's water over the dam. I'll call anyway, though, just to pass the time of day. Haven't spoken to Fred in a while."
"Just one more question, Agent Gillespie, then we can get out of your hair. Two things actually. Your official duty station and what brought you to New Orleans.
"First one is easy," Gillespie answered. "I'm the deputy Agent-in-Charge of the Boston FBI Office. I'm here on vacation. My wife and I honeymooned here ten years ago. We wanted to see New Orleans again."
"Gillespie just finished a major terrorist case in Boston," said the local FBI agent.
"Anything else you need, just call," said Gillespie. "Right now, I think I will have breakfast. Care to join me gentlemen?” They all nodded no thanks.
"We have to go, Bob," said Jim, "Let's get together before you go back to Boston."
"It's a date, but later in the week," answered Gillespie, as the officers rose to leave, while he sat down to have breakfast.

“This is WWLTV, New Orleans,” started the news announcement. “We have a breaking news flash. Jimmie Galanto, the man credited with cleaning up the waterfront and the Longshoreman’s Union here in the Big Easy was apparently brutally murdered in the French Quarter today during a union-organized parade. Witnesses say he was stabbed to death by three people, who have escaped capture by the NOPD.”
“Few facts have emerged so far. Our news anchor, Brad Pennington is on the scene, Brad.”
“This is Brad Pennington outside the Old Absinthe at the corner of Bienville and Bourbon in the French Quarter reporting on a very strange crime this evening. Jimmy Galanto, head of the Longshoreman’s Union, and the man who almost single-handedly cleaned up this local, and managed to get the Feds off its back just last year, is dead.”
“He was the victim of a team of killers, so eye-witnesses say, who stabbed him several times from the back and simply walked away. We have no motive for the crime, and apparently, the NOPD has so suspects either. We looked at video of the crime from one of the restaurants with video cams, and it appears that the team was Arab, or at least Arab looking. One had a red fez, the kind of hat that many Middle-easterners wear, and the other two just looked Arab. The police have now started to get copies of the tapes we have already seen.”
“The suspects drove away in a black town car or  sedan and I have to tell you folks, looked as cool as a cucumber as they committed the act and simply walked away. This is no off-the-wall killing. It has every appearance of being well planned and calculated. Even here in the big Easy, we don’t see this kind of thing very often.”
“More at 6 PM. Brad Pennington for WWLTV News.”

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