The Devil's Muse: A Maureen Coughlin Novel

The Devil's Muse: A Maureen Coughlin Novel

by Bill Loehfelm

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250181671
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Series: Maureen Coughlin Series , #5
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,271,771
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Bill Loehfelm is the author of the critically acclaimed series about the New Orleans Police Department rookie Maureen Coughlin, as well as the stand-alone novels Fresh Kills and Bloodroot. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in several anthologies. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, AC Lambeth, a writer and yoga instructor, and their dog. He plays drums in a rock-’n’-roll band.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

On a misty Thursday night in New Orleans, Officer Maureen Coughlin stood in the middle of St. Charles Avenue, surrounded by fire.

Flames danced around her, throwing their fluid light against the steady darkness, igniting wavy golden glows on the hundreds of damp and screaming faces surrounding her and on the fluttering leaves of the ancient trees forming the canopy that yawned above her. The heat of the passing flames reddened her cheeks. She felt their warmth on her bare throat, and found it soothing. She breathed in the black smoke. A light sweat broke out across her hairline under her knit NOPD cap. She'd been cold for so long before the fire came that she sniffled despite the heat, and the tang of burning fuel stung her nostrils. She felt, for a moment, transported into a ghost story, one where she was the ghost, a blue specter floating weightless in a haunted Victorian parlor, with shades, spirits, and banshees suspended in the night air everywhere around her like the smoke from the fires, drifting to her like the heavy vapor of spilled propane.

Despite the march of the flames, she stayed unmoving in the street, her hands clasped behind her back, her feet spread on the pavement. She curled her toes, gripping the soles of her shoes, grounding herself on the avenue. Masked men danced around her on all sides. They carried the fire. They wore their knit hats and ball caps pulled low. Bandannas and towels covered their faces, only their glowing eyes and shining cheeks exposed. They waved and spun their burning torches in the night air above their heads, strutting, leaping, dancing, dipping their hips, arching their backs as they broke around her, a fluid, flaming wave breaking against a dark, damp rock. Thick drops of fire, like huge burning tears, tumbled from the torches, falling to the damp street, where they sputtered and died.

The people lining the street tossed sprays of coins at the fire- bearers, the flying money flickering like sparks in the light of the flames, the coins pinging and banging off the metal guards of the torches like baby gunshots. The men with the torches dipped and whirled, peeling the coins off the street with the long fingers of one hand, twirling their torches in the other.

They did this, these men, Maureen thought, for miles. She searched her brain for what they were called. One word, a French word, a New Orleans word one of her fellow cops had taught her as the other officers in the Sixth District tried to educate her in time for working her first Mardi Gras.

She found it. Flambeaux. That was it; that's the word. The men who marched with fire to light the parade were called the flambeaux. This was her first night parade that used them. The flambeaux were a superfluous, beloved tradition held over from the holiday's nineteenth-century roots, from when mule-drawn carts pulled the parade floats through the gas-lit streets. She was proud of herself for remembering this detail. She had plenty left to learn, that was for sure, but she was making progress. A tricky city, New Orleans, and she made you earn access to her intimacies.

The flambeaux moved on. The cold returned and thunder came to her now, tremors rolling down the avenue. She could feel the rumbling under her feet. A marching band powering her way, the drum corps beating out a heavy cadence to keep the marchers stepping in time. Those drums. She loved those drums. They were her new favorite thing about Mardi Gras. Even at a distance, now that was power. She would remain at her station in the street for them, too, and let the sound of the thunder envelop her like she had the warmth of the fire. The huge bass drums, carried high on the torsos of the teenage musicians who played them, would surround her after the rest of the band's sections had passed around her. The thick, pounding notes of the drums would vibrate deep in her chest, reaching all the way down to her heart, shaking her skeleton as if her ribs were the prongs of a tuning fork.

*
A few weeks ago, a fellow officer in her New Orleans police district, Louis Cordts, had tried framing what awaited them during the final days of Mardi Gras in terms that Maureen, a native New Yorker and rookie patrol officer working her first Mardi Gras season, might more easily understand:

"Well, imagine, like, a dozen Times Squares in NYC on New Year's Eve all lined up in a row, stacked like boxes one after the other. Okay? But instead of that happening for one night, that party lasts for six days. Now, imagine running big parades through the middle of that crowd every night. Huge parades with hundreds of riders that stretch for miles and take hours to roll. Except for the weekends, when the parades run all day, too. And remember drinking in the street is legal here. And barbecues and crawfish boils on the neutral ground, where the streetcars usually run. And beer kegs. They're okay, too. And tents. And couches. And remember that the riders on the floats throw things for the crowd to catch. Strands of plastic beads. Sometimes they light up. And toys. Stuffed animals, water guns, little Frisbees, it depends ... Oh, and plastic go-cups, and these metal doubloons ... Yeah, some of these floats, when we get to the big parades, like Muses, can have a hundred riders each. And then there's the kids in the crowd, yeah, they sit on top of these ladders with seats on them that their parents put on wheels, and then, oh, speaking of wheels ... have you seen the Rolling Elvii? The Elvis impersonators on motor scooters? They'll come toward the beginning of the parades, them or maybe the Laissez Boys, the guys in the smoking jackets that drive the motorized armchairs. They all usually come before the flambeaux ... the flambeaux? The guys carrying the propane-powered torches? Yeah, like fire torches. Nobody told you about them? What about the Pink Pussyfooters? You heard about the Marching One Hundred, though, right? No? The Purple Knights? Greatest marching band in the world? You sure you've been here almost a whole year?" Maureen had finally thrown her hands up in surrender. "I get it. I get it," she'd said, though she hadn't. She didn't want to tell Cordts he was only scaring her with every bizarre ritual he described.

"What I want to know is, what's our job during all this?" Maureen had asked. "Generally speaking."

"Generally speaking?" Cordts had said. He'd thought for a moment. "On the uptown part of the route where we'll be? Blood and bullets are what we worry about."

Maureen had laughed. "A bit dramatic, that. Don't you think?"

"Simply put," Cordts had continued, "we need to put an end to anything that can result in either of those two things. Preventive measures are best. A good night is when we see neither of those things."

"Oh, that's it?" Maureen had said, grinning at Cordts's attempt to impress her. "Just avoid bullets and blood? Yeah, what could possibly go wrong?"

"The shit you need to respond to," Cordts said, "it's like jazz or porn, trust me, you'll know it when you see it."

Though she'd always considered herself a woman of ample imagination, especially when it came to decadence, she hadn't realized how poorly she'd anticipated what she'd be dealing with until she had witnessed the rolling pageant of elaborately themed floats and costumed walking crews and proud and thunderous marching bands and more for the first time herself on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Thousands of partying parade-goers jammed the wide, live-oak-lined blocks of St. Charles Avenue, which was the city's primary artery for Mardi Gras parades. The crowd stretched for miles in both directions, all of them revved up for Babylon, Chaos, and Muses, the Thursday-night trifecta of Mardi Gras parades kicking off the six-day bacchanal that was the run-up to Fat Tuesday. She'd worked the previous weekend's daytime parades, smaller and gentler undertakings compared with the rolling behemoths that were the super krewes, the first of which was this night's final parade, the Krewe of Muses.

After the first week of parades, she'd learned that when she worked the route sometimes she felt transported and romantic, as she had minutes ago amid the flambeaux or as she did awash in the drums; other times, like when she actually had to get somewhere or accomplish something in the middle of a rolling parade, she felt as if someone had filled the Superdome with people, poured in a million gallons of liquor, shaken the mix up good like a martini in a cocktail shaker, and dumped the contents into the streets of New Orleans. And then done it again ten more times.

*
Now, tonight, the heat of the torches gone by, in the pissing, noncommittal rain made worse by a spring cold snap, half a dozen parades under her belt, her feet and her back already sore, Maureen wasn't sure she understood the phenomenon any better. But at least she could work without her mouth hanging open like a tourist at the spectacle.

Her radio crackled over the sound of the band as the marchers flowed around her. She could only hear bits and pieces of the announcement over the music. She caught something about a disturbance in the crowd along the back of the parade route. She rose up on her toes trying to see the problem, peering as best she could over the heads of the crowd. Nothing yet that she could see. She settled back on her feet and rolled her shoulders, correcting her posture. She had a long night of standing ahead of her. She'd pay attention to the crowd and wait for whatever happened next. No reason to move just yet. If the trouble came to her, then she'd react ...

She glanced at Cordts, one of the two other cops she was stationed with on this part of the route. Cordts, who'd stepped aside to the curb for the passing of the flambeaux, grinned and shrugged at her from a few feet away. He did a lot of that. He hadn't heard the full report either. Their third, Officer Wilburn, had wandered out of sight. He did that every now and again during the parades; he knew a lot of people in the neighborhood, and since he was a police officer, most of them fed him. He didn't like to share. But if they needed him, he probably wasn't too far away.

Maureen reached for her radio mic, thought about asking for more information or a repeat of the report, but the drums only got closer and louder, and the horns exploded into a song and the crowd roared at the rush of music. She clipped her mic back on her shoulder.

She would know the trouble, she figured, when it got to her. It wasn't like her to miss it, and it wasn't very often that trouble passed her by. Didn't take long for it to find her, either. Like beads tossed from a float, she always seemed to catch it as it went flying by, sometimes without even really trying.

CHAPTER 2

"Pardon me, please," Maureen said over and over again, patting backs and shoulders with her gloved hands, gliding her way through the crowd, forcing a smile to her face, careful not to reveal that she was keeping a keen eye on that disturbance she'd now spotted approaching from only three blocks away and rushing closer.

"Stand aside, please," Maureen said, continuing to move through the crowd, syrupy as she could muster. "Stand aside for a minute, if you don't mind. Oh, what a cute baby ... I hope you're old enough to be drinking that ... Just need to get through here ... Love that hat. It lights up? Amazing. Thanks."

She didn't need to hear the radio. She could see somebody charging right at her through the crowd. People leaped and stumbled aside in their efforts to avoid the man. Her first job, she knew, was to intercept this missile, and then to subdue it. From that point the mission became calm, control, and contain, she thought. Calm, control, and contain. And disarm, if necessary.

The parade route crowd was an organism, Maureen had been taught. The NOPD officers stationed along the route functioned as the immune system, the white blood cells, the defense mechanism against chaos and breakdown. Protection against organ failure and death.

*
Maureen moved off the neutral ground, the grassy median dividing St. Charles where the streetcar tracks ran, and into the other side of the avenue. She watched a short, bony, brown-skinned man with an uneven afro sprinting down the middle of the road, the crowd parting around him. He was barefoot, running unaffected by the beads, bottles, beer cans, and other trash in the street. Not only was he shoeless, Maureen noticed, but he wore nothing on the rest of him but hot-pink zebra-print tights and a rapturous, orgasmic smile. As he ran, he smeared his face and bare chest with fistfuls of half- melted blue cotton candy.

Both he and a moving car, a pristine white SUV with tinted windows, arrived simultaneously at the intersection of St. Charles and Seventh Street. The SUV, which really should not have been there in the first place, was thankfully moving slowly, cautious of the abundant drunken foot traffic in the street. It rolled to a stop as the driver leaned hard on the horn. The bony man continued running right at the SUV, oblivious to its size and the blare of its horn, now loudly singing at the sky, "You and I we're gonna live for- evaaaaaaaaah."

He tripped, staggered, stumbled, then, as he regained his footing, startling Maureen, leaped into the air as if propelled from a diving board, launching himself onto the car as if belly flopping into a pool, landing with an audible thunk on the snowy expanse of the hood.

Maureen quickened her pace to a trot as she moved toward the intersection, calling into her radio for the closest officers to join her. The SUV's driver, who Maureen couldn't see behind the dark windows, punished the horn again.

The man remained sprawled facedown on the hood of the car, not moving, his breathing shallow and rapid. He'd smeared the hood and windshield with slimy blue cotton candy.

The driver's-side window rolled down, revealing a young white man, maybe twenty, wearing wraparound shades, a puffy shirt with lace cuffs, and a pirate hat, who sat wide-eyed and openmouthed, panting, his arms extended and his hands tight on the steering wheel. Maureen approached the vehicle, keeping a watchful eye on the man lying spread-eagle across the hood. Maureen wasn't sure he was conscious.

"I didn't hit him," the driver shouted. "I didn't. I swear. He came right at me. Out of nowhere. He's crazy. He's nuts."

"I know," Maureen said. He's high as a motherfucker is what he is, she thought. And so are you, though on something less than the cotton-candy kid here. "I saw. You're fine. I don't want you to worry." She peered into the backseat, didn't see anyone, but the driver had a passenger in the seat beside him. She said to the driver, "Do me a favor, sir, and remove your sunglasses." He didn't. She looked around him at his passenger. "And you, other sir, I need you to put out that cigarette."

"Why?" the passenger asked. "I'm just sitting here smoking. I just lit it. If he didn't do anything and he's driving I certainly didn't do anything as the passenger."

"Well," Maureen said, "let me see. For why, we could go with because that's a joint, and I'm a cop, and I don't want to see or smell that shit while we're dealing with our situation here and if you continue to irritate me I'll call my partners and we'll toss the whole car. Or we could go with because I fucking said so. Pick one, but put it out."

The passenger squinted at her. "Oh, shit, you're a cop. I'm sorry, Officer."

He looked around him, lost for what to do with the smoldering joint in his hand. He looked out the windshield, bouncing in his seat as if he had just then noticed the man draped across the hood. "Oh, shit. Dude, dude, dude, this guy, I bet he took that shit I was telling you about, bro. That zombie shit. They got it down in the Quarter. I'm telling you. I told you that shit was real. We gotta get some. Look at this guy."

"Fuck, dude," the driver snapped, "what is wrong with you?" He snatched the joint from his friend's hand and tossed it over Maureen's shoulder. She watched it tumble through the air and land in the street, where someone walking by stepped on it. "Shit, sorry, Officer."

"Bro, you owe me for that," the passenger whined. "My brother's working in the CBD. I can't get any more tonight."

Maureen focused on the driver. "Sir, your sunglasses?" "What? Oh, yeah." He slid off his shades. Under them he wore an eye patch that Maureen figured for part of the costume.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Devil's Muse"
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Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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The Devil's Muse: A Maureen Coughlin Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
Wow, I really felt like I was actually a part of Mardi Gras reading this book. The author did a great job putting me there. I actually felt the rush, the tensions and just a little claustrophobic. I'm sure that it helped that I had been to Mardi Gras in Galveston. However, this book put me right back there. The characters in this book were very well developed and I grew to like them immediately (well, except for one) and to feel for the pressures of their jobs. Dealing with multiple gunshots in the middle of Mardi Gras and the pressures and issues of having to do their jobs? I felt for these characters. A wonderful story that I just ripped right through, enjoyed the feelings it brought and meeting these characters. Thanks to Farar, Straus & Giroux and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.