Chandler dragged his walk-on bag down the seemingly endless corridor of the arrivals hub at Baton Rouge international. Outside the parked aircraft were shimmering silver blobs in the heat. He wasn’t geared up for the heat and the crumpled white linen suit he’d opted for made him feel like a badly dressed tourist, a situation he realised was a reality as he looked around at his fellow passengers.
The plastic wheels on his case had long ago given up their vow of silence and drew irritated glances as they shrieked their welcome to everyone within earshot. The airport was all steel and glass and the centrepiece of Banyan trees in the arrival hall was impressive. He wondered if they were there to remind the arriving passengers what a tree looked like if they had spent their lives surrounded by skyscrapers.
They’d been diverted from New Orleans to Baton Rouge after hitting a particularilly violent storm on the way over and quite a few passengers bore evidence of the in flight menu on their clothes. The security man flicked a look at his passport, back to his face and then to the passport. He tapped some keys on the computer and studied the picture again.
Chandler wondered if there was some sort of pattern to their lagubrious process or if they really were being thorough. The man threw a distdainful look at Chandler’s suit. He almost expected him to stamp his passport with a note about the coffee stain on his leg…an unfortunate result of the small child behind him practising football with his seat back as his lunch had arrived. He’d selected a dish with the word Cajun in it, and instantly regretted it. Blackened shrimp, Po Boy style the menu had listed helpfully.
The security man reluctantly handed back his passport. Nodded him though. It wasn’t the effusive welcome from a fellow lawman he’d been expecting, and he was sure most of his stateside experience was going to mirror that feeling.
He stood in the arrivals hall and looked around. There was some sort of commotion going on. A group of protestors with placards jostled with airport security. Slogans were scrawled across the pieces of card they held aloft “Save our wildlife, Don’t put oil before wildlife, Vote Governor Blackburn for jobs.” One of the protestors, a teenager with a freckled face wore a ratty alligator costume. Chandler looked over at a group of security men surrounding a slick looking man with black hair and silver sideburns. Wearing a $10,000 immaculately tailored Huntsman suit and gleaming Church shoes. He looked as if he’d stepped straight out of a catalogue.
He certainly looked like somebody who was going to have less trouble with security than Chandler. The security men cleared a path as he was hustled through the lounge. Some girls cheered as he swept past, while others booed. A smooth looking FBI agent came over leading two white hounds. The Man made a fuss of them, as they headed towards the exit.
Chandler spotted the tall figure with the open face from across the hall. His physical presence stood out amongst the throng of bustling passengers. Duke had a sort of slow moving tranquility that surrounded him wherever he went, as if he’d brought the speed of the wetlands with him. His face lit up with a smile as he recognised Chandler and headed towards him. He looked him up and down. “That’s an interesting look.” Chandler shook his head. “ I thought Americans didn’t do irony?” Duke laughed. “Irony? Hell I was going with pity.”
He made no move to take Chandler’s bag as they headed towards the exit. “What’s going on?” Chandler nodded towards the circus surrounding the man. “Senator Blackburn, he ain’t too popular with the preservation groups.” The protestor dressed as an alligator was now waving a placard that read “Stop polluting our wildlife.” He suddenly made a run towards the senator pursued by two overweight airport security guards.
Darting past Chandler and jumping over his bag. Chandler nudged the case forwards with his foot. The security guards crashed into it and ended up in a heap on the floor. The freckled faced protestor shot Chandler a look of thanks and raced out of the exit. Duke glanced at him, not sure if his friend had orchestrated the whole thing.
Chandler kept a straight face. “Alligators are a protected species.” Duke smiled. “Not around here.” Chandler watched as the FBI agent led the two hounds out onto the concourse. “Nice dogs.” Duke sniffed. “They’re Argentinian Dogos, apparently. Kind of pretentious, don’t ya think?” Chandler smiled at Duke’s slow southern drawl. A black escalade swept up to the curb as they watched. “He looks like a man that’s going places.” Duke’s eyes fixed on the Governor as he climbed into the escalade. “Maybe…how was your flight?”
Chandler tried to smooth a crease from the rumpled jacket of his suit, which now looked even more ridiculous in the harsh glare of the sun. He gave up and slid out of the sweat sodden rag it had become. “Okay I guess, thanks for putting me up by the way. With the diversion and the reservations being screwed up it was all a bit of a mess.” Duke stopped alongside a battered Buick, a Skylark custom convertible badly parked at the curb. Duke put his case in the trunk. Slammed the lid. “No problem.”
Duke climbed behind the wheel. Chandler slid into the passenger seat. “I’ve never been in an Airstream before.” Duke grunted as he fumbled with the ignition key, finally got it in. “S’like a tin dog house. A friend gave me a loan of it after Katrina turned my house into a damn canoe. I’ve booked you into a hotel downtown for the first night, thought you might like to get a good nights sleep. Once you settle in you can move to my place, maybe sample some of my legendary Gumbo” Chandler smiled. “Legendary for all the right reasons I hope? “
Duke fumbled for the keys. “You crack me up. We on expenses?” Chandler remembered the stand up fight he’d had with Harris before finally managing to settle on a co-funded research trip out to Louisiana. “Of course” Duke grinned. “Well let’s go celebrate with a damn fine meal at The Court of Two Sisters” Chandler forced a smile. This was going to cost him an arm and a leg. “Sounds great.”
Duke churned the starter. The motor eventually wheezed into life, a lot of tired but willing horses under the hood. They pulled away from the curb. A horn blared behind them. The escalade swept past. Blackburn flicked Duke a look through the back window. Duke shook his head. “Asshole”, he mumbled something Chandler couldn’t pick up and they pulled away belching smoke from the rumbling exhaust.
Chandler watched the escalade head off. “Friend of yours?” Duke grunted. “Wannabe Senator, thinks he owns everything.” Chandler senses there was more to this story but decided to let it go for the time being. “Well he does own two rather nice dogs.” Duke shook his head and floored the accelerator.
The Court Of Two Sisters restaurant was a favourite venue for visitors to New Orleans. It had a large outside courtyard with a wrought iron trelliswork draped with pink Bougainvillea which provided a blaze of colour and kept the hot sun at bay during the summer months. A waiter passed carrying a large tray laden with fresh lobster and bowls of their famous turtle soup. But what made it a special place for duke was the Jazz quartet that filled the air with it’s atmospheric music.
At the table next to them a waiter prepared a flambé dish. Flames leapt into the air, bathing the diners faces in an orange light. Chandler tensed. Rubbed at the old scarring on his wrist. A reflex action that he’d never quite managed to control. Duke noted it, but said nothing. He already knew the story and didn’t need to bring up the past.
The waiter cleared their plates and slid another bottle of wine into the bucket on a stand next to the table. Duke filled their glasses. “Full?” Chandler patted his distended stomach, a consequence of air travel and the large portions of fish he’d put away. “Never been fuller...sorry to miss your legendary Gumbo though.” Duke chuckled. “Don’t you fret none...you’ll be getting a chance to try it soon.” Chandler took a sip of the wine. “So what do we know about the bodies?” Duke put his glass down. “Swamp mud did us some favours there…”
Chandler held up a hand. “If I can quote you... With a fully submerged body, anaerobic conditions will halt decay, and the presence of a polysaccharide ...Sphagnum, reacts with the digestive enzymes of putrefying bacteria, immobilising them and further inhibiting decay...” He smiled at Duke, pleased with himself. He prided himself on his memory, and even after a mind numbing journey in the cramped economy seats and a bottle of wine felt confident in his recall.
“I am impressed...not many people manage to stay awake at my lectures, never mind remember what I’ve said...” Chandler smiled. “There was a murder case recently in Cheshire where they found a body in a suspects garden, that was so well preserved he confessed to killing his wife...” He took another drink. “Turned out the body was from the second century AD...the peat soil had preserved it...”
Duke nodded. “Well from all the stuff we’ve found from the coach, and the letters, it looks like these folk are late nineteenth century...” Chandler grew more animated. As far as he was concerned this trip was shaping up well and he was looking forwards to force feeding Harris humble pie with a large fork.
“The letters must have been posted between after 1892 because the stamps were first issued in that year. Duke grew thoughtful. “1893 was when the great October storm hit Louisiana...they could have been caught up in that...” Chandler nodded. The wine was catching up on him and all he could think about was how nice it would be to slide into a nice soft bed. “Maybe. But who were they?”