IN THE CITY OF FALLING STARS
For the last few days Maurice Delahoussaye had been thinking of ways to kill Michael. He’d considered poisoning him, planting a bomb in his car, stabbing him, pushing him off an overpass, drowning him, electrocuting him, slitting his throat, even setting him on fire. When he finally decided that shooting him was the best option, Maurice climbed into his car and drove to New Orleans East, toward a dilapidated Six Flags amusement park on the edge of the city.
It was almost noon when he arrived. He parked the car, grabbed the mannequin from the backseat and closed the door behind him. Beneath a scorched July sky, he dragged the mannequin through a field choked with weeds, past empty beer cans, twisted pieces of rusted corrugated metal, gutted air conditioners plucked clean of copper tubing, until he came to a sagging barbed-wire fence that surrounded the park. Before tossing the mannequin over the fence, he adjusted the dust mask he was wearing and slipped through a ragged hole near the bottom. Since the abandoned amusement park was on the outskirts of New Orleans, and fairly desolate ever since the storm, he figured it was the perfect place for target practice.
Once inside the actual park, he walked past the rusted, graffitied remnants of rides, past a row of dead trees, branches tangled with cottony pink blossoms of insulation, past a large statue of a clown’s head and a pale carousel horse lying on its side in the sun. The wide concrete walkway that snaked through the park was littered with the rusted skeletons of awnings, ragged strips of canvas snapping in the wind. He walked past an aluminum Six Flags sign splattered with rusty bullet holes, past a dinosaur head with a caved-in skull, until he came to the old Under the Sea roller coaster. The ground around the entrance was strewn with shards of broken glass and dirty needles, the archway painted bright blue with a statue of a mermaid affixed to the side of the building. The mermaid had fat red lips, a seashell covered each of her breasts, and the silver scales of her fishtail had peeled off. Her hands and stomach were clumped with bird shit, and her nose was missing.
Near a weedy slab of cracked concrete, Maurice found an overturned claw machine with a pile of waterlogged stuffed animals spilling out the side. He propped the mannequin against the rusted machine, grabbed the box of shells from his pocket, loaded the gun and walked thirty or so feet from the mannequin to a mound of rain-eaten dirt surrounded by a patch of dead weeds. He pulled a bottle of Maalox from his pocket, pulled down the dust mask he was wearing so that it was dangling around his neck and took a swig from the bottle. As he did, his head filled with static, and a tingling sensation climbed up his backbone and crawled into his skull. He thought about what the priest had told him a few days earlier, about how Joan of Arc and Constantine had been enlightened by God, how they’d heard the holy voices of saints, even had visions of angels.
I’m a soldier, Maurice thought, a soldier of the Lord. As he stood there, a frenzy of static-filled visions flashed in the back of his brain—a glowing heart tangled in flames and thorns, stars falling from the sky like rain, the black cries of a baby mingled with a melee of bloody screams—all swarming around in his brain like a crackling burst of signals bouncing off a satellite dish. He took another swig of Maalox, imagining the ulcers bleeding in his gut, his insides sacred and glowing. He put the bottle of Maalox in his pocket, adjusted the dust mask so that it was covering his mouth and raised the pistol, aiming it at the mannequin’s nose. “Blessed be the Lord,” he mumbled, the words buzzing behind the mask, “for He commands the angels to guard me in all my ways.” Maurice held the pistol steady, with an unwavering determination that he hadn’t felt in years, took a deep breath, squinted his eyes, and pulled the trigger.