Jonas Beauregard Batiste Francois Toussaint had been born with rarefied tastes, he told folks. (He’d also been born with the Caul, but more on that later.) He had a passion for the finer pleasures in life. “I’m a gen-u-wine Epicurean, boss,” he’d say. Most principal of life’s pleasures for him were fine food (sweets in particular) and good liquor, the Blues, and beautiful women (not necessarily in that order). These passions, almost obsessions, and the latter one in particular, were to blame for everything that came later, if you asked Saint about it. More specific and to the point, it was a skirt and cowboy boots. Everything that followed, all the horror, bloodshed, the insane adventure, even his death—all of it came about because of that outfit, the skirt and boots.
For her part, Arly would chalk the whole thing up to destiny. (Or Destiny, capital D.) But Saint didn’t believe in that shit. Or didn’t want to. (More on that later, too.)
“How do you do it?” Roth had asked him while on the airplane, somewhere over Mississippi.
“Do what, boss?”
Saint, sitting in one of the swivel chairs in the plane’s upholstered cabin, had propped his feet up on the glass-topped table (this latter bolted to the cabin floor) and offered only a shrug.
“Why did you want Kiersten’s ring?” Roth had pressed. “Is that supposed to help, somehow?”
Saint had sighed and waded in. “It’s like this, boss. You know how they keep those bloodhounds at the prison, in case somebody makes a run for it? ‘Fore they turn ‘em loose, they first give ’em somethin’ belongin’ to the escapee, so the dogs can get the scent. That’s what this here ring is doin’, helpin’ me pick up the scent.”
“You believe that? You claim to have some magical ability…?”
“It’s like instinct, boss. I would’n call it magic. My Grammaw, she was a gen-u-wine back-country Hoodoo woman. Now she could work up some magic, they say. I reckon I get my intuition from her. I don’ know. I’ve jus’ always been good at huntin’ things down, be they animals or people.”
“Where do you plan to start, then, once we’re there?”
“It’s jus’ like with a bloodhound, boss. You’ve got ta’ let ’em run ’round a little bit, try ta’ pick up the scent. Somebody disappears, for whatever reason, there’s always somebody that knows somethin’ ’bout it, always. You poke ’round long enough, ask the right questions, sooner or later you’re gon’ chance upon a lead.”
“I’ll arrange for whatever you need,” Roth had promised. “I do still have some of my connections as Governor, professional courtesies and whatnot. And I have an old friend in the area who’s already involved in the case, in an indirect manner. He’s promised to help.”
“Not another one a’ those Kool-Aid drinkers, is it, boss? One a’ those ‘Elect’ loons?”
“No, no. He’s a lawyer, runs a firm.”
Which is how Saint had found his way, later that afternoon, to the offices of Paulson and Finch—and the beginning of his troubles. Paulson and Finch, based out of a restored warehouse turned office building in downtown Atlanta, G. A. The place where Saint’s intuition had first failed him. Or perhaps it had been overridden by his aforementioned passions. In any case, had he known what would lead from it, he never would have stepped foot through the doors of Paulson and Finch.
Or maybe he would have. Being Beauregard Saint, it was hard to tell.
The little man introduced to Saint as Charlie Paulson had a much firmer handshake than Saint would have expected. Just a little over five feet tall, his Georgia twang as prominent as Saint’s Cajun drawl, and an obvious homosexual—(Obvious to Saint, anyway; Saint wondered how Paulson felt about his “good friend’s” affiliation with the Elect.)—Paulson had ushered them into his spacious office of chocolate-brown brick walls, beige shag carpeting and African violets (about a dozen of them) in clay flower pots.
“Gary, I’m just so sorry to hear about little Kiersten,” Paulson had said, sinking into the oversized leather chair behind his desk. “You know I just couldn’t believe it was her. When I heard the name, I said, no way! That can’t be Gary Roth’s grandbaby! What are the odds? Oh, Gary, I want you to know I’ve been prayin’ for her ever since. I just know she’s gonna be found, alive and kickin’.” Then: “Who’s this?” as Paulson had looked at Saint over the top of his glasses.
“I’ve, um, hired Mr. Saint, here, to help us locate Kiersten. He’s something of a professional.”
“Oh, good. And I’ve been makin’ some calls, Gary, I want you to know. Your name still opens a lotta doors in this town.”
“I appreciate it, Charlie.”
“I’m loanin’ you one of my boys, too. One of the best I’ve got. Believe me, he knows how to grease some wheels. He’s gonna serve as your personal escort and assistant, all expense on me, for as long as you need him.”
Paulson had pressed a button on the intercom on his desktop. “Margie, send Pete in here, please, darlin’.”
“You puttin’ together a band, boss?” Saint had asked, before the skirt and boots had walked into his life. “Too many trackers tend ta’ pollute the trail.”
“Oh, Pete won’t get in your way none,” Paulson had assured. “Right the opposite. He’s been involved in this from the get-go. He’s the man I put on the job back when the Tribe first filed suit against Patterson an’ his bunch. I had no idea at the time Patterson was a friend of yours, Gary.”
“I hardly knew him,” Roth had replied. “Only through the organization.”
“The cult, you mean,” Saint had goaded. “The one that hates queers, right?”
“When I knew him he was involved only in charity work,” Roth had tried to explain.
“I reckon he gave up on all that when he found them Bigfoot bones,” Paulson had said, before the knock at his office door. “Come in!” he’d chirped.
And then and there, Saint’s problems had started. Not because Pete Corelli had walked into the office, but because Arly Youngblood had been with him, and she’d been wearing a skirt with cowboy boots.
“Oooo-weee!” Saint had said, standing. He’d taken Arly’s hand, bowed and, before she could pull it away, kissed it. “My name is Beauregard Saint, at your service.” He’d ignored Pete Corelli.
It just so happened that a skirt with boots was Saint’s favorite look on a woman. It drove him crazy. And since he’d spent the last three years locked away from the company of beautiful women and had, with Ginger (nee’ Melanie) only started to make up for such deprivation—(“You can’t get all healthy again after three years a’ starvation with jus’ one meal,” Saint would later say.)—the boots-and-skirt combination hit him harder than it might have otherwise. That, and Arly Youngblood (who had yet to introduce herself) was not just any girl. She was damn pretty.
And the damn boots even had fringe on them.
“This is Pete Corelli,” Paulson had said.
“So you’re gon’ be helpin’ me out, chere?” Saint had said to Arly.
“The fella here in the ponytail works for Governor Roth,” Paulson had explained.
“I’m the one who’s going to be assisting you,” Corelli had said, in a not-at-all friendly manner. He hadn’t liked the way Saint looked. Or looked at Arly. “Ms. Youngblood is not involved.”
Which brought Saint to his current precipice, the moment where he started down the slope. And Saint, instead of balking, jumped with both feet. Damn that outfit, he would say later.
“New requirement, boss,” Saint said, turning to Roth.
“In addition ta’ the pardon an’ the paycheck,” Saint said, “I want this one, here, as my personal assistant.”
“Well, now, I don’t think…” Paulson began.
“I told you,” Corelli said, “I’m the one…”
“Mr. Saint,” Roth started to protest.
“I’ll do it,” Arly said.