Another New Beginning by Gary Ives
Another New Beginning by Gary Ives
It would an understatement to say that Louis Delfin was raised under unusual family circumstances. A transvestite father, an alcoholic Southern Belle mother, each hiding secret lives near Beau Monde, a little delta town south of New Orleans. There they lived comfortably in a large antebellum house Genevieve Delfin inherited, a family estate since Reconstruction. Now safely protected by the property’s oil leases work was unnecessary. Genevieve Delfin, Louis’s mother, had married Pierre on her whim a week after meeting him during her summer in Burgundy where he was the chef at her small hotel. He, handsome though effeminate and some 20 years younger than she, enjoyed a face of perfect unlined skin, cupid bow lips, and pronounced eyelashes which rendered an angelic visage. His mother said that his face had not changed since he was twelve years old. By that twelfth year, Pierre, confused and guilt-ridden, was secretly dressing in his mother’s underwear and dresses. Although he attempted secrecy, the village priest, an addled old fool of nearly 80, had divulged the confused boy’s confession to his housekeeper one morning at breakfast. Soon enough he was taunted for this déviance by illiberal school chums and neighbors. At 15 he was apprenticed to a chef at a distant hotel, eventually replacing his mentor who suffered a fatal heart attack over a kettle of steaming court bullion. Still, he was desperate to get to the United States for a new beginning. The beautiful young chef’s trysts with the American guest opened the opportunity for which he had yearned for years, and he proposed marriage to this impulsive woman the same age as his mother. She was his godsend. Although a professional, well-trained chef, his wife’s wealth relieved him of the need for work. In time he developed contacts in New Orleans and soon Pierre was travelling up to that liberal city to perform Thursdays through Sundays at Les Fenêtres as La Donna Mobilé, one of the city’s premier female impersonators. After Madame Ouvrey, Les Fenêtre’s top star, was found floating in Irish Bayou with a slashed throat, Pierre became the lead act and for this, he was paid handsomely. As a matter of course he was frequently propositioned for sex by the city’s kinky high rollers and certain politicians who preferred their women with cocks. He was not homosexual, however. Revealing to him their peculiar sexual predilections presented exposure to blackmail, but Pierre’s sense of honor and his tact had won respect and friendship from a few of the movers and shakers of the city. He was regarded as a friend by powerful men and under an invisible blanket of protection for which he had not dishonored himself. At home, a usually drunk Mrs. Delfin ignored closets of gowns, hats, wigs, and shoes. If her husband was queer bait, well so be it.
Officially Genevieve was a professional, an on-call consultant, this a sinecure from her brother, the Assistant State Treasurer. This allowed the variance required of a day tippler and nigh time drunk. She saw her true raison d’être as raising Louis, their gifted, sensitive, beautiful son. His brief stint at public school had drawn bullying and teasing to the effeminate stand-offish rich boy. She would home school Louis for a proper education. Latin, Spanish, History, and the arts as well as piano she taught him and taught him very well. From his father, he learned mathematics, French, and culinary artistry. For his fifteenth birthday, Pierre had presented him with a $600 chef’s apron of fine Damascus steel chef’s knives. Louis loved and respected his father; he liked his mother but only when she was sober.
From his earliest years, he was made aware of the need to protect his family’s secrets. Townsfolk were naturally disinclined to friendliness toward the wealthy family they considered snobbish and mighty peculiar. Louis learned early to distract, decoy, and evade prying neighbors and teachers who asked of his family.
At 16 he was accepted at Walsh, a small private college in New Orleans, that garden of delights not so distant from Beau Monde. The new environment stimulated the boy and he felt a surge of independence and identity. Amelia Aleman, a Cajun druggie freshman seduced Louis during his first week at Walsh. He would find that sex was as freely available as the classes were easy. Gays hit on Louis who, while he enjoyed the attentions, easily stayed out of their beds by his natural aloofness. In truth, he rather casually courted such attention for the sense of power he derived. His homoerotic urges were there, but minimal. Sex with women was satisfying, but even with the ladies he simply allowed them to think they were seducing him. In truth he cared nothing for the person. His was a game of control. Generally, he found the students dull, spoiled rich kids looking for cheap thrills and appearing cool to one another while wasting time and their parents’ money.
On weekends and during breaks he worked as an assistant sous chef at a French restaurant, a job his father had arranged for him, and this he enjoyed much more than school. Sometimes he went to Les Fenêtres to see his father perform. He recognized the joy which that secret life provided his father and his audience which loved him. For thirty minutes he saw his father radiate an aura of beauty, bliss, of serenity and a passion bouncing as an image in a mirror back and forth between La Donna Mobilé and an audience held in his thrall. How many people ever discover where such personal joy lies, he wondered. Louis loved and admired his father even more for his courage and skilled artistry. He returned to Beau Monde only over the Christmas holidays when his father was there. The three years had passed quickly. He came to realize that he had reinvented himself and matured strong, confident, and better than others. He had fashioned an identity that rare refined, intelligent people of independent minds would admire, a young man of manners and savoir-faire. The hoi-polloi could go fuck themselves. He would never be bound by their stupid mores and conventions.
The Christmas before graduation that he spent at Beau Monde was a pleasant time of preparing gourmet meals with his dad, singing around the piano, and long walks around Bayou Eau Brun which bordered the Delfin estate connecting with the river. The fog horns and bells of the barges, ships, and riverboats could be heard from their veranda. The river had always fascinated Louis. It was on walks around the bayou that he felt closest to his father. They often conversed in both French and English. Pierre Delfin was an exceedingly patient man and he loved his son more than anything. He checked his emotion when Louis brought forward his strange plan.
The idea of going to sea had percolated during his last semester when his English class had read George Orwell’s essays, Jack London, Joseph Conrad, and Kerouac’s On the Road.
“Well, Louis, that would mean another couple of years at a marine academy. You say you were bored with school.”
“Vraiment mon père, I am thinking I would prefer to sign on as a cook.”
“Not an officer? Non, non, non, my son. Such is not for you. That life is for a commoner, a peasant, some debtor, or fugitive from justice. No place for a young gentleman.”
“I want to experience that.”
“Non!” His father interrupted. “I know what that life is like. You know in France I had to work scrubbing pots and pans, cleaning up messes of others for years before I could even study to become a chef. Sometimes I worked with scum, filthy pigs who did not know to wipe their asses or care for their families. And again, in this country, you know what I do. Yes, I see rare beauty and I am admired but I also see some very low men, some even criminals. That is truly what you want to experience, eh? To be among such people? To prepare their food?”
“It’s the sea I want to experience, but all the other too. I’ve just passed three years with spoiled, hedonistic spawn of the rich; now I want to see the larger side of life. Father, you have always broken with convention to do your thing, and you do it magnificently. Marrying mother, leaving France, your performances, your wisdom. I am so proud of you.”
“And I am proud of you, Louis. Still, I do not want you to do this only for the thought that you might be hurt. Sailors will target your refinement and effeminacy. We both have experienced such prejudice, but at sea there is little respect for the moral and civil protections on land.” Pierre placed his hands-on Louis’s shoulders and kissed his forehead. “Do what you must, my boy, but please stay in touch. I will be the one to tell your mother after you have left.”
“I can take care of myself, father. At Walsh, I have had three years of martial arts training. I may appear weak to some, but believe me, I can kick ass. No sir, I am confident on that point.”
He was back at school at the end of December. The administration arranged a New Year’s Eve party in the school’s commons in hopes of corralling students it knew would use the holiday as an excuse to become roaring drunk. However, very few students stayed long at the party and Louis found himself alone at a table when his English professor, Dr. Dickinson sat down with two drinks.
“You looked lonely, Louis, so I brought you a little cheer.”
“Thank you, Dr. Dickinson, how kind of you. But you know, I don’t think I have ever felt lonely. I don’t even know what it would be like.” He correctly intuited that the loneliness was Dickinson’s, and on a whim, he allowed the good professor to seduce him, or think he was seducing Louis. Within an hour they were in Dr. Dickinson’s bed in his on-campus quarters. My good deed of the year, he thought on his way back to his dorm.
During the spring break of his final year, the administration was shocked by the death of a student. Midway through the week, the Times-Picayune reported that a Walsh student, Amelia Aleman, had been found dead with her throat slashed in a Metairie motel near the airport. A drug deal gone bad, the murderer perhaps fled by air, the paper reported. While the administration was aggrieved by this, especially the bad press for Walsh, students continued partying as though nothing had happened. Amelia who? She wasn’t anybody, was she? Although Amelia had kick-started Louis’s libido, he had considered her trashy and felt no sorrow. But then he felt nothing for the half a dozen other Walsh women he’d slept with. He had other things on his mind.
Six weeks later just before commencement ceremonies, another piece of sadness was announced.
“One of Walsh’s most beloved passed away this morning. We are saddened to say that Dr. Richard Dickinson passed away early this morning, the apparent victim of a stroke.”
The girl seated next to Louis asked, “Did you have Dr. Dickinson?”
“Yes, I did,” he’d replied coolly.
A week later found Louis rising from a bench in the Seafarer’s International Union hall as his name was called up for a slot as cook on the tanker Pallas Athena.
For the next two years, he plied the Caribbean and Atlantic ports. Nothing affects the morale aboard ship as really good or really bad food. His culinary skill gained him respect and special treatment. His table was so unusually well prepared that his captain and bursar gave Louis carte blanche when buying provisions ashore The best cuts of beef, spring lamb, lobster, and crab provided real New Orleans dining for a crew that would frequently do little favors for him. Aboard his ship, he was acknowledged as the best ship’s cook in memory. He loved going to sea where nobody gave a fuck who you were or where you came from as long as you did your job. And didn’t he cook better than his crew had ever experienced? He understood and liked the special treatment he received and the freedom that licentiousness and amorality men of the sea had been enjoying for centuries.
Near the end of his contract, his ship suffered a steering casualty and was kept for three weeks in Fortaleza, Brazil, where he met Janet Kelly, a teacher at the American school. Nights of cooking for her and intense, memorable frolicking and pillow talk, were a welcome break from the sea. Janet was charmed by this adventuresome man who seemed too refined to be a seagoing cook. The midwestern woman was put off by the blatant sexuality of Brazilian men and the two male teachers at school were old and fat. Yes, she had been lonely for some time and easily became clinging and gushing. She boldly suggested that since he had an education he could teach.
“You could even teach here. They’re always looking for male teachers.”
“Well, you know what, Janet, I will give that serious thought.”
He would be paid off at the ship’s next port, Montevideo. Indeed, he had already decided on transitioning to something else and from there he would fly home and spend some time with his father. He planned to discuss finding a spot as an executive chef or perhaps something completely different.
When Janet learned he was leaving his ship, she revved up with anticipation and boldly suggested meeting him in Montevideo or BA.
“I can get leave; I have all kinds of vacation time.”
He knew she had wild, stupid ambition, but humored her.
“A splendid idea. That could be a week of real fun. Buy your ticket tomorrow and plan on meeting the ship next Saturday. We sail in two days. Ships’ arrivals are in the newspaper, you could meet me on the dock!”
Dream on, fuzzy brain, he thought contemptuously. I can do so much better that you, silly woman. After that night he would never again see poor Janet Kelly. However, the idea of teaching, especially teaching on foreign shores did have some appeal. Anybody could learn to teach, and teachers were always needed everywhere, weren’t they? Paramount to the idea was the change and the mobility such a transition would afford. Frequent changes of scenery, status, and opportunities had become his mantra and crucial to Louis. And if he didn’t like teaching, there was always a culinary station in need of a chef. As the song says, “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes.”
Eighteen months later he graduated with a Master’s in English Lit and a Florida Teaching Certificate. However, he had discovered that teaching at overseas schools required two years’ prior experience teaching in the United States.
A teaching certificate required nine weeks of student teaching and he was assigned to Stonewall Jackson High in Pensacola. Upon completion, the principal offered Louis a position. Convenient to visit Beau Monde on long weekends and holidays, he signed on.
The two years in Pensacola dragged on. Beginning teacher pay was so pitiful that he took a part-time job at the junior college teaching evening ESOL classes. Northwest Florida was tiresome with its restaurants where women wore blue jeans, men wore ball caps, stuffing down heaping plates of anything fried. Too much Jesus. Teachers, mostly women, he found to be tight-assed conformists, sexually repressed wage slaves on a treadmill to retirement and oblivion. Halfway through his two years, he thought of flicking it in for a culinary job or even playing in a piano bar, but trips home to Beau Monde and restaurant jaunts into New Orleans with his father offered relief. A life somewhere with foreign coins in his pocket, someplace where people knew how to dress and eat dominated his thoughts when drunk or high. He was so ripe for something to happen, for a new beginning. He yearned for that overseas position, somewhere tropical where women knew how to fuck, and food was picante.
His last ESOL class of immigrants represented seven different countries. Looking over the new students before the start of class he was struck by the beauty of Binh Luc, a Vietnamese girl, sitting with her hands folded on the desk, her eyes downcast. Damn, she was lovely. Fair skin, long fingers, and hair long, black, and as shiny as obsidian, wearing a pastel orange three-quarter sleeve dress that ended just below her knees with a beautiful showing of legs. Quietly she sat, her eyes toward her coffee-colored rope sandals.
To say the young lady’s life had been unusually rough would be an understatement. Her mother and father had escaped Viet Nam with baby Binh by fishing boat. Pirates boarded the boat at sea, raped the women and threw her mother overboard. Binh and her father passed miserable years in a Thai refugee camp until a United Nations Refugee service relocated them in Progresso, Mexico. There Binh matured as her father worked, eventually owning a small shrimp boat. Her teenage years were spent as deckhand, fishmonger, and in the evenings, student of her father, a former math professor in Viet Nam. Through this very rough life, he educated Binh. On two occasions she had fought waterfront thugs bent on raping her. Competing shrimpers cut their nets, and police routinely extorted protection fees in cash and shrimp. With the arrival of a cartel, life became more precarious. Narcos overtook the port by heavy-handed threats and violence. There were fires and killings. When her father failed to return to port one evening, nor the next day, nor the next she knew his boat had been stolen and just as her mother, he had been cast overboard at sea. With $1200 in savings, she made her way by bus to Tampico and for $1000 contracted an old smuggler to carry her to the American gulf coast. Also aboard were two rough men who were to be debarked in Louisiana. The skipper, an old salt of 75, instructed his three passengers to remain below deck for the entire voyage.
Binh Luc, new to America, was keen to refine the English she had already learned in Mexico. She had plans. Among the small Vietnamese community in Pensacola, she found a man from her father’s village, Tan Tran, who had known her father as a boy. Tan took Binh into his family and found work for her in his brother’s fish house. As in every Vietnamese community in America, the people were familiar with the agony of diaspora. Mr. Tran, Mrs. Tran, and Binh’s new sisters welcomed her and each evening helped acculturate Binh to her new country, teaching her new verbs, nouns, and the structure of English. Having learned Thai and Spanish, English came gently to her. Within a month she had enough knowledge to feel comfortable enrolling in an ESL course.
Louis Delfin knew Vietnamese people as traditionally conservative and normally cool towards Americans. He liked a challenge; he’d bide his time and charm this shy kitten. Soon he knew she was very bright, exhibiting an unusual facility with the grammar that so often stymied Asian newcomers. She spoke Spanish well and often helped those native Spanish speakers in class. His attraction to her grew.
Her posture toward Mr. Delfin confirmed the respect for teachers her father had instilled in her. He was helpful, pleasant, and a good teacher who often praised her work, and she maintained the formal deference due him. That he leaned over too close to her at her desk or that he brushed her hand sometimes she pretended to ignore. Perhaps such was an American crudeness. He had no idea of her history. She was naturally guarded when each member of the class was asked to tell a little about his homeland and how he or she came to America. She said simply that she was Tan’s daughter and had come as a baby after that war over there.
By the last weeks of the final semester at Stonewall Jackson and his ESL class, Louis was more than ready to leave the States. He had received an offer from the American School of Lima, Peru, made arrangements with the landlord, terminated his car lease and utilities, and visited Bea Monde one more time. Thoughts of Binh Luc enveloped him whenever he was not working. He planned to seduce her. For the last evening of class, Louis had invited his ESL students to his apartment for a party. He asked that everyone perhaps dress in native attire. For several days in advance of the party, he prepared an assortment of Mexican, Persian, and Chinese dishes. Intent on impressing Binh, a Vietnamese dish, prawns on crispy noodles he set up to prepare in front of the students at the indoor/outdoor party room of his apartment complex. As men in their cultures did not often cook, all were surprised and impressed by Mr. Delfin’s thoughtfulness and his facility with the dishes. Just before leaving, Binh said to him, “I like that you make Mi Xao Tom, Mr. Delfin. I always love that dish.”
“Then I am pleased, Binh. I would like to learn more Vietnamese cooking. Do you think that maybe on Sunday you could come over to help me learn?” Would she rise to the bait?
“I will ask my father, Mr. Delfin. Thank you for party and good night.”
Upon returning home from the party she found the Tran family distraught. “Today some government man came to my brother’s fish house and took away Co Trung. He put her in a van with handcuffs because she got no paper, like you Binh.” Tears rolled down Tan’s cheeks. “You must go away, daughter. If Co Trung tells the government man you are working too, he will come for you. Already this afternoon I bought a bus ticket. On Saturday afternoon the bus leaves for the city of Philadelphia. It’s too far away but is so big you will be safe there. My wife’s brother he got some nail salons and massage store there and he got a place for you. I call him already this afternoon. I’ll give you some money and a letter for brother there. This is too much pain, dear daughter.”
“I am only a small shrimp, second father. I will never forget your kindness and this loving family. Someday I hope I can repay.”
How her heart raced. Pure luck had saved her from the government man and brought her precisely what she wanted with regard to Mr. Delfin. Had she not taken the afternoon off to sew her au dai for the party she would have been arrested with Co Trung. On Saturday morning Tan gave her the bus ticket and an envelope with $200 as they tearfully said their farewells. She walked the mile and a half to Louis Delfin’s apartment complex.
He opened the door surprised and very pleased to see Binh Luc in a white shirt and blue jeans with a backpack.
“Ah, Binh, come in, come in. You have come to show me Vietnamese cooking then? How very sweet.”
“Maybe I come for something better, Mr. Delfin,” she whispered, brushing her hand across her small breasts.
His heart raced. This is exactly what he had hoped and planned for, to do Binh on the eve of his departure for Peru. His ticket for the Sunday flight was on the kitchen table, his bags packed; he was ready.
“Is this what I think, Binh? Are you saying you want to sleep with me? If I am wrong, I apologize, but this is the way of an American girl.”
“Yes, Mr. Delfin, I came here to fuck you.”
He led her to the bedroom.
“Will you turn out the light, please, so I can take off my clothes?”
He turned out the light then excused himself for a moment, returning from the kitchen with an eight-inch boning knife which he tucked behind a pillow. Undressed he slipped beneath the sheets next to Binh. She climbed atop Louis, fondling him, and leaning forward so that her long hair draped over his face as she reached behind her pillow for the Hawkbill knife with which she had killed three men. The instant the tip of the Hawkbill touched Louis Delfin’s neck, the full length of the boning knife plunged through her skin into her kidney. Collapsing, the quivering girl lay atop him and in moments was still. He rolled her onto her back taking a full five minutes to complete the sex act, then rose immensely satisfied and refreshed.
Binh Luc’s last thoughts had been of the four men she had killed. The first two killings had occurred on the docks at Progresso. When the first rapist had strong-armed her from behind, she’d stomped on his toes then spun around and kneed him. As he went down, she grabbed his head under the jaw and from behind and snapped his neck in a quick jerk. Growing up in a Thai refugee camp a girl learned survival skills. After the killing she always carried a small Hawkbill knife, using this on the second would-be rapist, ripping open his jugular as easily as cutting a bunch of grapes. After each of these killings, she felt a surge of ecstasy. Aboard the smuggler’s boat, the two rough men below decks had forced her to give them sex. Afterwards, as they slept, she dispatched each with the blade, expertly clipping their carotids, followed quickly by a twist of the blade into each man’s larynx. With great satisfaction she watched the men die spewing froths of blood as they clutched their gurgling throats trying to scream. After she explained the circumstances to the old skipper, he helped her. He stopped the boat’s engines then tossed the blood-soaked mattresses astern. “Watch this,” he told Binh, as he added half a bucket of chum to the pink water. In minutes two dorsal fins appeared. “Now let’s feed the sharks this garbage.” The deaths delivered a deep and thrilling satisfaction and a full realization of blood lust. The memories played continuously. Mr. Delfin’s pleasant manner had not fooled her. His comportment, the frequent look in his eyes, and his daring to touch her hands were his unknowing invitation to die. How very much she hated men.
Louis Delfin spent the rest of the day first icing down her body then cleaning up and disposing of bloody sheets and Binh’s backpack, finally using his fine knives to dismember Binh Luc in the bathtub. The cooler the flesh the easier the carving. Earlier he had bought the hack saw and black garbage bags and had carried up bricks which had been piled behind the apartment building. At one in the morning he tossed the garbage bags over the railings of the I-10 bridge into Escambia Bay. Crabs and eels would finish the work. “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full,” he chuckled driving back to the apartment. None of the others had been so dangerously pleasurable. That little nick from her knife he hoped would scar, a souvenir of the greatest thrill of his life. This one had been so messy. Well, the one in Fortaleza had been a little gory. Were the police ever to find the body they’d have a hell of a time identifying it without a head or hands. The Cajun tramp, Aleman, left the cleanup for the police and motel people. And poor Dickey Dickinson’s potassium chloride injection left no mess at all. Yes, the next one would nice and clean.
As his flight touched down at Jorge Chavez Airport, he felt exhilarated with the advent of a fresh beginning! In the arrival terminal, Margaret Spooner, headmistress of the American School of Lima, greeted Louis with a pleasant, “Welcome to Peru, Mr. Delfin.”
Copyright Gary Ives 2020