by Denis Gray


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It is June 1925, the dawning of a new, spectacular riverboat season, and “Noble Prince’s Red-Hot Rhythm Band” is set to play “hot jazz” on the Mississippi!

Walter Von Bulow, the owner of the Morning Queen, has recently discovered Lucinda “Lucky” Martinson. Lucky’s a talented young jazz singer. Von Bulow hires her in the year 1925, to sing in Prince’s band. But she’s in New Orleans for other reasons: Lucky Martinson’s on a personal “quest” to reconcile her past. Lucky’s left Harlem and her boyfriend Tolliver Williams—a fellow jazz musician Lucky’s in love with. She’s put her personal and professional life at risk in traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana to unbury truths and lies. Lucky’s sucked further into New Orleans’s network of mystery and intrigue once she uncovers these family secrets in a historical city where voodoo and superstition co-exist, and can destroy the people you love.

Noble Prince nurtures Lucky’s singing ambitions, but Victor Malreaux—a young, dynamic trumpet player in the Prince band —nurtures her soul. Victor falls in love with Lucky. But Victor Malreaux as well as Noble Prince are in for a rude awakening from Lucky Martinson; each for different reasons.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450241731
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/19/2010
Pages: 660
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.33(d)

First Chapter


By Denis Gray

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Denis Gray
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-4173-1

Chapter One

The year of June 21, 1923.

"Noble, I just came down to remind you-"

"Mr. Von Holz, Mr. Von Holz ... pardon me, sir, but, but-"

"I saw him when he boarded the boat, Mr. Landers, and-"

"And he's at it again, sir. Johnny Redd Durham, Mr. Von Holz!"

"Hell, Mr. Landers, why haven't I just banned him from the tables? Done that damned favor for myself!"

Frank Landers, a man as thin as a handrail and as tall as a steamboat's smokestack, had stopped dead away in his tracks; he was standing before Walter Von Holz almost at attention with sweat on top his brow that was visible and a frustration eating away in him that seemed practically palpable.

"So Johnny Redd needs my personal attention tonight, does he, Mr. Landers?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Von Holz-immediately, sir!"

"Sorry about this, uh, Noble. This unexpected, uh ... this interruption of ours."

"Noble ...," Frank Landers said in acknowledging Noble Prince.

"Mr. Landers," Noble replied.

"But if I don't get up there, make my presence felt, no telling what hell Johnny Redd'll raise before the night's out!"

"He needs a stiff arm, uh, dose of the law, uh, it's what he needs, sir. If you should ask, uh, bother to ask me for my-"

"Come along, Mr. Landers. Come along. Hell, 'cause this ain't gonna be pretty-a pretty damned sight for anybody to see."

Von Holz and Landers sped off in tandem, passing one ship room's cabin door after another, until they were well away from Noble Prince.

"Never is a pretty sight," Noble Prince said, laughing under his breath. "Whenever it comes to dealing with Johnny Redd and his shenanigans."

"Oh, oh, uh, by the way, Noble, that new trumpet player's name is Victor Malreaux. Why, I came down in the first place. To remind you. Ten o'clock in the morning, he's due on deck. On board the Queen."

"Sure, Mr. Von Holz. Sure thing, sir. I'll see that he's taken care of."

"Thanks, Noble."

Von Holz and Landers were on the riverboat's third deck, one deck below the Texas deck.

"Claims Fork's been cheating him, Mr. Von Holz. Two out of three hands they've played tonight."


"Poker, sir."

"His game," Von Holz said. "Hell, what else."


"Damn, if Johnny Redd ain't raising a helluva ruckus. Doesn't sound like the boy's swearing to the saints!"

"Yelling, hollering, and screaming-but it's not all, Mr. Von Holz, that's not all, sir: Johnny Redd's got a knife!"

"A knife?"

"Pulled it out his boot. Back of his boot, sir. Then pulled it on Fork. A bowie knife!"

"Why, why, that's a new trick for him!"

"Yes, sir-it is!"

"Then I'd better get to my office and get my-"

"I already told Eddie to get it for you, Mr. Von Holz. Retrieve it from your office, Mr. Von Holz."

"Good. That was good. Quick thinking on your part, Mr. Landers. Excellent. Excellent."

Walter Von Holz was a big man in width, but not tall in stature. He was squat, weighing well over two hundred pounds and was well-known in New Orleans's rougher districts, circles, for his brawling tactics and bad temper well before becoming principal owner of the Von Holz Shipping Line, before his company began running riverboats up and down the Mississippi River. During his heyday, in his prime, he'd tangled with many a tough customer in and around Orleans Parish, getting the better of most of them, earning a reputation, he thought, deserving of his fierce combative skills-letting all comers know he'd get down and dirty with any of them, scrap with any of them, on any beaten-down sawdust barroom floor they saw fit to choose, in Orleans Parish, at the drop of a hat if riled up like a mean alley cat.

"Mr. Von-"

"Thanks, Eddie!" Von Holz said, snatching the Winchester out from Eddie Johnson's hands.

The gambling casino's French doors blew apart.

"Put the knife down! Drop it now, Johnny Redd. Now!"

"Not till I get my gotdamned money back, Mr. Von Holz, I ain't. Fork here, just stole from me. The, the hell with you and him!"

Johnny Redd was red eyed and sweating profusely. The huge bowie knife was pointing at Fork Lincoln's trim gut.

Walter Von Holz stepped back out onto the ship's deck, then fired a round out the rifle and into the misty midevening ocean air.

Frank Landers had covered his ears with his hands.

"The next one's for you, Johnny Redd. I've already fired one bullet out the chamber!"

Frank Landers's hands uncovered his ears.

"I don't give a damn how many bullets you-"

Stepping back inside the gambling casino, Walter Von Holz stood on the highly polished maple-wood floor, lowered the Winchester rifle, then took dead aim at Johnny Redd from, roughly, fifteen yards away.

It was when the gamblers gathered around the gaming tables, scattered like wild geese, in all diverse directions.

"Where do you want the bullet, Johnny Redd? Tell me? Where, Johnny Redd!?"

"Hell, Mr. Von Holz, you wouldn't shoot a-"

"Try me, Johnny Redd. Just try me!"


"Oh ... damn, dammit ... okay, okay, Mr. Von Holz. All ... all right. Y-you don't gotta go an' get itchy-fingered an' all with that damned rifle of yours, on account ... I-"

"Just put the knife on, down on the table. Easy ... nice and easy. Nice and easy does it." Pause. "For we can settle this thing between us, the two of us, like men, Johnny Redd. Two Southern gentlemen of fine distinction and good upbringing."

Johnny Redd (who was tall and gangly) looked down at Fork Lincoln (who was at least a foot shorter than him), with one more nasty shot of anger, then tamely laid the bowie knife down next to a few cards scattered facedown across the gaming table, and a crooked stack of red and white dotted poker chips.

"You're all crooks. All of y'all are gotdamned crooks on the Morning Queen. Ain't a one of you honest."

"Now is that a nice thing to say, Johnny Redd? Especially about me and the Morning Queen? Since I know, in your heart, you don't mean it. Not a word you just spoke."

"Like hell I don't, Mr. Von Holz. Like hell ... 'cause it seems every time I step on board this gotdamned boat, I get me a short hand. Get rooked. And it's Fork here that's doing it. Playing dirty hands."

Fork Lincoln trembled like Johnny Redd Durham still had the bowie knife in his big hand; it wasn't lying atop the card table by the cards and chips but was still in Johnny Redd's hand gesturing menacingly at him.


"How about three nights ago, Johnny Redd? Then?"

"Three nights ago ... uh ..."

"When you took the house for a thousand dollars?" Von Holz said. "Came out the boat's bank?"

"Uh ... oh, that ..."

"Don't tell me you forgot, or have you spent it all by now? Let it fly to the wind?"

Everyone laughed at Von Holz's remark-everyone, that is, but Johnny Redd and Frank Landers.

Johnny Redd shuffled in his boots. "Oh, that. That. My luck was with me that night. I guess," he said, scratching his head through the big Stetson hat he was wearing, then agitatedly snatching if off his head-began scratching more forcefully at the mangy, dirty blond hair.

"But it don't change nothing, a gotdamned thing tonight!" he said, mashing the Stetson hat back down on his head with his hand.

Von Holz had relaxed with the rifle. In fact, the butt handle was on the floor, the rifle pointing upward at the ceiling, Von Holz's hand gripping its barrel.

"And so, what happened tonight, Johnny Redd-between you and Fork here? Let's get to that. Explain that to me."

"He's a gotdamned cheat!"

"Talk sense, man. Talk sense. Not horse sense!" Von Holz said angrily, suddenly losing his calm, unruffled demeanor.

"Gotdammit, Mr. Von Holz, the boy been laying the bottom stock!"

("Laying the bottom stock" simply meant Johnny Redd Durham was accusing Fork Lincoln of palming cards and dealing them from the bottom of the card deck.)

"He's lying, Mr. Von Holz. Johnny Redd's lying!"

"Of course he is, Fork. Of course he is. You're the best dealer I've got on any of my boats running the river. Been with me twelve years now." Pause. "It's bad enough you attend church on Sunday. Don't miss a one."

Everybody laughed, including Frank Landers this time.

"I want my gotdamned money!"

"You'll get nothing!"

"Gotdammit, I want my money!"

It was when Johnny Redd snatched the knife off the table, and Walter Von Holz's grip was released from the rifle, and the rifle fell backward, hitting the floor, discharging, the bullet, shattering a back window, all hell breaking loose, as Walter Von Holz charged Johnny Redd, tackling him around his waist from behind, wrestling him atop the card table, then both rolling off onto the maple-wood floor, Johnny Redd's long wiry frame taking the brunt of the hit to the floor, Von Holz wrestling with the hand with the knife, jerking it and jerking it until the knife jerked clean out Johnny Redd's hand, then slid harmlessly across the floor.

Now Von Holz, with all his meat and heft, straddled Durham, locking Durham's body in place on the floor. He had his right fist balled, aimed at Durham's red-bearded face.

Durham's tan-colored Stetson was knocked off his head during the skirmish.

"Eddie, get Seth and Clem up here. Right away!"

"Yes, sir!"

"I ain't going to the brig!"

"Shut up. You'll go where I tell you. You're not pulling a knife on my ship or at any of my dealers and get away with it!"

Clem was short and muscular, and Seth, tall and muscular.

"Them nigras better not touch me. Put their dirty, filthy black hands on me!"

"They'll touch you all right, Johnny Redd. If they've gotta drag you by the back of that scruffy neck of yours to the brig to do so!"

Von Holz nodded at Seth, who stepped forward.

It was when Von Holz stood, freeing Durham, and Durham, realizing this, began scrambling, but Seth grabbed his long, wiry leg, Durham looking queerly up at him.

"Get your gotdamned filthy, nigra hands off-"

And Seth began pulling Durham to him, and it was when Clem, lightning quick, slipped his arms up under Durham's armpits, then clamped his arms to his chest. By this time, Seth had the other leg and Johnny Redd no longer could kick, only thing he could do was scream, and he was at the top of his lungs, his face reddening more, calling Walter Von Holz every nasty, vile, disgusting name under God's sun as Seth and Clem carted him away and for the brig (on lower deck) and through the wide-open French doors.

"Don't forget this," Walter Von Holz said. "Johnny Redd's hat!" Von Holz said, picking up the big hat off the floor and flinging it toward the doors.

Every one of the casino's customers howled.

"You all right, Fork?" Von Holz asked, turning to Fork Lincoln, patting him on his back.

"Yes, fine, Mr. Von Holz. Fine, sir."

But you could still see Fork Lincoln's nerves had yet to settle.

"That was quite a scare, though," Von Holz said generously.

Eddie Johnson picked up the Winchester from off the floor.

"Johnny Redd's never pulled a stunt like this before in all these years of gambling aboard the Queen."

The other gaming tables had sprung back into action, and the cardplayers who'd been at Fork Lincoln's table, Von Holz noticed, were eager to do the same, gamble-so it seemed.

"You are sure you're okay, Fork?" Von Holz whispered into Fork's ear. "Ready to get back into action. Ain't just saying-"

"No, sir. I'm fine now, Mr. Von Holz."

Fork stretched both arms out, and both his delicate small hands remained steady, without any hint or sign of a shake or hindrance in them.

"Haha. I'd say so too, Fork. Haha. Say so too. Hand's steady as a surgeon's," Von Holz said admiringly. "Could perform heart surgery, could you?"

"Haha. Yes, sir. Ain't a reason to think I can't. Not at all, sir. Not with these hands of mine, right now."

Von Holz wheeled around to the knot of clustered men.

"The table's back open, gentlemen. Ready for action."

This triggered a big cheer from the men.

"Fork's back in business!"

This elicited another huge cheer.

Everyone seemed satisfied, especially Walter Von Holz.

"I guess that's it, Mr. Landers ..."

"Yes, it is," Landers said with a glint of pride in his voice. "Yes it is, sir," he said more assertively.

Von Holz was going to get back to his office but let Eddie Johnson, who was toting the rifle, continue toting it anyway.

"I'll have the pane of glass replaced in the morning, Mr. Von Holz," Landers said, pointing his finger to the shattered glass. "But I'll go get Mollie or one of her girls to clean it up, sir. For the immediate time being, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Landers."

"Excuse me, sir."

Von Holz nodded his head.

And then Frank Landers glanced around the gambling casino, took what seemed a deep, personally satisfying breath, then walked off to find the Negro girl Mollie or some other Negro girl, chambermaid, on the boat.

Von Holz, himself glanced around the casino and saw things were back to normal, there being the customary flow of activity at the gaming tables where every known game of chance one could possibly name was being played: poker, twenty-one or blackjack, faro, old sledge, or three-card monte, a shell game off in the far corner, where the two tall brocaded gold Italian mirrors hung side by side.

It appeared as if Johnny Redd Durham was history now, Von Holz thought.

"A mere speck," Von Holz said chuckling. "No bigger than a speck."

He never gambled, not even before he got into the riverboat business, bought the business with the combined money of his and his father's-someone else who was quite a successful businessman, but who'd made his money in the manufacture of farm machinery, who actually made a huge killing. But gambling was never in his blood. In fact, gambling wasn't in any of the Von Holz's blood. Leo Von Holz, his father, was an alcoholic, and like his father, his two older brothers, Leo Jr. and Heinrich Von Holz, eventually became too. His mother, Heilwig, was in an asylum, a mental institution, and was still very much alive.

He was a man who knew pain and compassion. He'd seen the other side of life but tried not to dwell on such things, for he knew it would only sink him, and his father, before he died, was dead set against him running a steamboat business, wanted all his boys to be like him-only he jumped ship!

He was out on the ship's deck, looking out onto the dark waters, the only light shining off the waters being the ship's lights that created, practically, an incandescent glow.

Von Holz struck a match and lit a stogie.

"Mmmm ..."

He needed a break, he thought, after Johnny Redd's foolishness.

Hell, would I have shot Johnny Redd? Add to my fame in the parishes? Haha. Maybe. No, no telling.

He'd never shot a man, but kept the rifle aboard the ship just in case things got out of hand like tonight's wild adventure. But till tonight, he'd never threatened to shoot a man, so that's what made the Johnny Redd Durham incident different. But Durham wasn't going to harm Fork Lincoln, for he looked out, protected his people, no matter what position they held, job they did aboard the Morning Queen.

Von Holz took two more puffs on the stogie and now was drifting silently down to the ship's second deck, for he'd just heard Noble Prince strike up the band, Noble Prince's Red-Hot Rhythm Band.

Entering the grand ballroom for him was always like entering paradise, and he'd done all he could do to make it look it, from the striking chandeliers, to the impeccably detailed floors. He'd contracted artisans, Italians and Germans and Frenchmen from the old country, the old stock, to sculpt and mold and put together a ballroom rivaling the interior of an Italian or French or German opera house. And for him, the ballroom always felt operatic because of its marvelous attention to detail. You felt swallowed up in it as if in a Roman Catholic cathedral or Jonah's whale, something gladdening his heart in knowing he cared so much about culture, nice things, sensible things; that he appreciated beauty, creating ostensibly a shrine on the waters-certainly something his father had never done, no matter the number of factories he owned.

"Mr. Von Holz."

"Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons," Von Holz said cheerily.

He'd deposited the stogie in the Mississippi River.


Excerpted from Lucky by Denis Gray Copyright © 2010 by Denis Gray. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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