The Red Satin Pantyhose: New Orleans Ghost Story
New Orleans lawyer invesitgates the mysterious, brutal murders of local prostitutes. But the path to conviction leads to some very strange places. Ghost story written by Nick Zegarac.
NOTE: Adult content, may not be suitable for the kids.
Behold Robert Hollibraugh the third; a Louisiana Southern Baptist and a no-nonsense lawyer. He’s fifty-two, has a wife, Maddy – whom he married out of college and has adored ever since – and two near perfect children; Casey – in her senior year at Columbia, and Joel who just made all American at Georgia Tech while carrying a grade point average that would make any dad proud. On the surface, life is good. It all makes for a very pretty picture.
But like all great men of some means and stature, Mr. Robert Hollibraugh possesses a general weakness in his character – seemingly harmless – an indiscretion from the not so distant past, you might say, that is about to place him on the uncomfortable side of the law.
It was the evening of this past July 4th when Robert’s world began to unravel. A national holiday – day of rest – for most. But for Robert Hollibraugh, it’s just another quiet evening at home with Maddy and the kids. Oh, and Judge Harper – kindly Uncle Amos to Casey and Joel, whose also bringing his wife, June to play a few rounds of gin rummy while he and Robert discuss the latest case Bob’s just won.
The defendant, Alejandro Mordega was accused by an overzealous prosecution of a string of homicides involving under aged prostitutes in New Orleans. But in his own research on the case, Robert quietly discovered that the latest of the dead hookers, Joleen Smothers was also sweating up the sheets with a Samoan drug dealer named Da-vide Ukoko, whom she may or may not have been able to pay off in time to spare herself a toe tag at the county morgue.
Perhaps even Da-vide wasn’t to blame. Joleen’s mutilated remains showed signs of rape and torture. Maybe Da-vide’s competition was just sending him a message for moving into their neighborhood. Either way, Alejandro Mordega was nowhere near the train yards on the night Joleen’s body was discovered. At least so Robert’s investigation had stated, and the unflappable testimony of another working girl on the witness stand, Freesia Malente, who had been most convincing to the jury. After the trial Freesia had showed Robert a thing or two about gratitude on her own terms.
Now, to some of you more puritan folk, still suckling your middle class morality, this might seem a gross miscarriage of marital injustice. After all, Maddy Hollibraugh has been an exemplary wife who’s made Robert’s world run like clockwork. Therefore, at the very least, badinage with a hooker seems in very bad taste. But for Robert – especially after nearly three weeks of testimony and staring at pictures of severely mutilated and badly decomposed prostitutes splayed in the most horrendous positions, staring at one as supple, firm and alive as Freesia Malente was just like bringing a pot of coffee to a boil. Blowing off some steam and residual stress left over from the trial was necessary before Robert could go home and be civil to Maddy.
Maddy…what a treasure he had found in her; a flaxen haired, doll faced kitten with a mind and body that had aged as gracefully as her temperament. She truly cared for him and he most certainly still cared for her. And anyway, it was over now. Freesia was a distant memory as Robert stood before the full length mirror in their bedroom, straightening his tie.
“I can’t wait to see what June’s done with her hair,” said Maddy from the powder room.
For months she had been reading the fashion magazines about this new colour – ‘Autumn Sunrise’. But tonight, it would make its debut atop June’s clever head.
“Oh?” said Robert playfully, “Where’s she been dipping it this time?”
“Don’t be vulgar, dear,” Maddy replied, coming to her husband’s aid with a wink and a smile, “Not that you ever could.”
Little did she know.
Robert observed as her nimble fingers effortlessly worked through the difficult knot to produce a very tight crease.
“Fine thing,” teased Robert, “When someone whose never worn a tie in their life can fix one better than someone who hasn’t taken it off since he started wearing long pants! Say? Where’s my coat?”
“Where you left it,” explained Maddy, gingerly running her fingers across and down both her husband’s shoulders, while nodding toward the back of the chair closest to their upstairs window.
“I’m going down to put on the coffee,” Maddy said.
“Right you are, my dear ol’ wife.”
“Well, you just keep the ‘old’ part to yourself tonight. Besides, a woman never likes to be reminded of her age.”
“But what is age to a gal as timeless as yourself,” replied Robert.
The mood had suddenly become romantic.
“Now, that’s a thought you can hold onto until after we’ve put this party to bed.”
But as Robert approached the open window his eyes caught a flash of cheap red satin on the other side, all too familiar to him, and a wave of that perfumed cocoa skinned arm still wearing far too much gaudy costume jewelry.
“Bobby,” a voice whispered in the night, “You come down here and speak to me?”
“Oh no,” Robert found himself whispering out loud.
It was Freesia Malente, standing on the other side of his wrought iron gate that separated their front yard from the road. What could she possibly be thinking? And how could he explain her to Maddy? Or Amos, who was sure to arrive at any minute and remember her clearly from the trial.
“What do you want?” Robert called out.
But again, Freesia just waved her hand for him to come to her.
“Bobby Hollibraugh,” she cooed, “You come to me.”
“Not now,” said Robert, his teeth gritted together.
His stern tone and vague promise seemed to appease her. That and the flash of car lights coming down the heavily treed avenue, their halogen beams suddenly making her appear almost translucent. Freesia Malente turned away from the Hollibraugh’s front gate, clicked her black heels together and bolted for the back alley.
Amos and June arrived a few minutes later, and it was a tie whether the severe shine off his bald pate or that fiery crop of wiry hair atop hers was more of a distraction throughout the evening. Although Robert tried not to stare at this obvious bottle job, he quite simply could not contain his fascination.
“I’m not at all sure that I like this colour,” said June without looking up from her handful of cards.
She knew where his eyes were gawking.
It was their third game of gin rummy this evening. She had lost the first two – badly. But now June Harper was beginning to think that perhaps her deviant new hair colour had something to do with it; that somehow the distraction was not merely outward, but also creating inner havoc with her own concentration.
“I think it’s striking,” replied Maddy, “Bob never likes me to change anything about myself. But one of these days I’m going to come home a blonde and upset the whole house.”
“Oh mother,” said Casey from her rather languid stretch across the length of a nearby loveseat.
She had been texting her boyfriend Sam to come before nine-thirty and take her out for a ride.
“Oh nothing, my dear,” said Maddy quietly, “You’re still young and untouched by the spectre of gray. But once you have been there’s no going back and you either do what you’re Aunt June did or become spinsterish looking like me. There’s no in between.”
Maddy now turned her attention to Amos.
“Judge?” she emphatically declared, “I need a ruling. What do you think of your wife’s new hair?”
The telephone in the front hall began to ring.
“Saved by the bell,” Robert declared, slapping Amos on his shoulders.
“I’ll get it,” said Casey, bounding from her chair.
Detecting the enthusiasm in Casey’s step, June nodded in the direction of the hall with a half smile.
“It must be love,” she said.
“All I can say is it better not be long distance!” replied Maddy.
But as the foursome was enjoying a good chuckle, Casey returned with an almost forlorn expression.
“Dad,” she said, slumping back onto the loveseat, “It’s for you.”
“Oh,” said Robert, placing his cards face down on the table before getting up from his chair, “Now don’t you go discussing anything relevant like lipstick or girdles before I get back.”
But as he rounded the corner of the front foyer and took his seat on the small cushioned chair set out to receive calls a queer heart sinking feeling suddenly overcame him.
“Hello?” said Robert.
“Bobby Hollibraugh,” a familiar voice cooed through the receiver, “You come out here and you speak to me.”
“Now listen,” said Robert sternly, “I don’t know what you want but it can’t be important enough for you to come to my house and start harassing me on the telephone. Now, if you’ve something to say, then you come to my office first thing Monday morning and we’ll settle this like two adults. Do you understand me?…Hello?”
But there was no one on the other end of the line just now.
“Bob?” Maddy called out to him, “Bob? Who is it, dear?”
“Uh…” he muttered, hanging up the receiver in the hall and returning to their card game, “Oh, nobody. Just a case.”
“Case indeed,” said Amos, “You ladies have no idea that greatness is in your midst.”
“That’s all fine and well,” said June in a matter of fact tone, “Now, if you can stop tooting your own horn long enough to play some cards maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to win at least one hand.”
“Me?” chuckled Amos, “I was talking about Bob. Best damn bit of lawyering I ever saw in my twenty some odd years on the bench.”
“I always knew my husband was brilliant,” agreed Maddy, “You’re preaching to the choir, Amos.”
“Course it also helps if the police aren’t very bright,” suggested Robert.
All through the trial he had harboured a particular contempt for one Officer Gene Dockerty, an overzealous rookie who had found seven of the thirteen prostitutes in the rail yards and thereafter had begun to speculate that the crimes were not only committed by the same felon, but that that man and Robert’s client were one in the same. Yet, the evidence to convict Alejandro Mordega of even jaywalking, much less pre-meditated murder, had been slim to nil.
“I’m telling you,” Amos went on, “Even when it looked like everything was going to hell and a hand basket, this boy went down to the back of the tracks and found some floozy over there…what was her name, Bob?”
He was still distracted by the phone call he had just received.
“That slut that pulled your tuckus out of the fire…what was her name?”
“Do we have to call her a slut?” insisted Robert.
The story had suddenly become quite personal to him.
“Well,” said Amos unapologetically, “I mean, what was she anyway? Girl like that. Flashing herself like a searchlight to any lost ship on the horizon. Well?”
“Well,” Robert began, struggling to keep his own feelings about Freesia Malente closer to his chest than his playing cards, “I don’t know. Yes. Alright. She sold herself. That much is true. But maybe she didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
“Oh Bob,” said June with a sarcastic huff, “What am I hearing? A hooker’s manifesto? Young ladies of the night, don’t get a real job at McDonalds. Turn tricks instead. The hours are better and you can do a crossword on your stomach if you get bored.”
“That’s enough!” snapped Robert.
“Maybe, but Uncle Sam is the only man who isn’t getting his kicks in with those girls, if you know what I mean,” added Casey.
“That is quite enough out of you, young lady,” Robert sternly replied, “Go to your room.”
And now his heart was on his sleeve. If only he hadn’t lived such an exemplary life up to this moment he might have blown his cover entirely. But as it was, his ruffled feathers drew curious glances all around the table.
“My room?” said Casey disbelievingly, “You haven’t sent me there since I dipped my pigtails in India Ink when I was eleven.”
The hush that followed was even more unnerving.
“Casey,” Robert began, “Honey, I’m sorry. Everybody. I didn’t mean…it’s just…well, if you heard the things I did during trial…I mean about how these women were butchered by some madman…well…it just didn’t make for very good bedtime reading, that’s all.”
“Quite right. They’re human beings,” he added, patting Robert on his shoulder, “They didn’t deserve what they got…but neither did your client and you proved it. Hell of a bit of lawyering if I do say so myself…and I do indeed!”
With that snap appraisal, everyone settled into more congenial banter for the remainder of the night. At a quarter to ten Sam telephoned to say he was feeling under the weather and would not be coming over that evening, leaving Casey mildly perturbed and slightly despondent.
“Now I think I will go to my room,” she chimed in after hanging up the telephone.
“Don’t let it get you down, dear,” said June, “Men are a disappointment from time to time. As women, we just have to get used to it.”
The party disbanded at eleven-thirty. Maddy said her goodbyes at the front door, before clearing away the sullied drinking glasses and flatware from the table. But Robert elected to follow Amos and June out to their car. Their words that had made him sullen earlier in the evening continued to cling to his memory even as he now cleverly masked their true impact from his dear friends.
Robert stood near the curb, taking into his lungs the cool night air with a renewed vigour. He could have slept on the front porch tonight, gazing up at the cloudless sky full of twinkling stars. If Maddy ever found out about Freesia Malante he had no doubt she would second the move herself.
It was only after Amos and June’s car had safely driven a half a block down the quiet street that Robert noticed the front door to his own garage wide open. Suddenly, the engine to his car parked inside roared to life. A second later, the blinding glare of his high beams hit him full in the face. The car lunged forward to the edge of the drive. If he had not jumped out of the way, he surely would have been hit.
From the driver’s seat, Freesia Malante stared coldly back at him, her wide eyes full of hate.
“Get in,” she commanded.
“Where are we going?” asked Robert.
“I said, get in!” she replied, gunning the engine with one foot while her other firmly rested on the brake.
“Okay,” said Robert, hurrying around to the passenger side.
He was barely inside and reaching for his seatbelt when Freesia stepped on the gas, peeling out of the driveway and barreling down the open road.
“You want to get a ticket?” Robert asked.
But she was deadly silent and quite alert, her eyes scanning the road in all directions for any hint of oncoming traffic. At this late hour there was none.
“Where are we going?” insisted Robert.
But again, she offered him no reply.
“Oh, good,” said Robert sarcastically, “I always wanted to go there. Tell me, is the food any good?”
Freesia drove Robert’s car like a racing pro through the dark streets. The car careened back and forth on its shocks, every once in a while giving Robert a distinct indication that they just might turn over, only to have Freesia regain control and continue mercilessly right straight through the center of town.
And now, Robert began to get a clearer picture of where they were heading. They were fast approaching the abandoned rail yards where the bodies of thirteen prostitutes had been found severely mutilated.
“Oh, so that’s it,” Robert began, “Look. I don’t know what you’re up to, but it’s a little late to be playing games.”
Freesia turned into the rail yard and brought Robert’s car to a screeching halt near the old water tower. She threw open the driver’s side door, pulled the keys from the ignition and sprinted away, leaving Robert as startled and as confused as ever.
“Come to me, Bobby!” Freesia shouted as she ran from the abandoned vehicle, until only the sight of her red pantyhose was still reflected in the waning beams of his head lamps.
A low lying fog had begun to creep upon the earth. In another few moments there would be nothing visible of her at all.
“Wait!” hollered Robert.
He was suddenly acutely aware that she still had his car keys.
He burst from the car like a badly out of shape marathon runner attempting to relive his glory days on the track. Still in his soft soled dress shoes he was ill equipped for the necessary traction to cover a lot of ground quickly.
“Freesia! Wait! Where are you?”
But Freesia Malente had vanished. Running blindly into the fog, Robert’s left toe suddenly caught on something half buried in the gravel. He toppled to the ground in a most unglamorous middle-aged sprawl, his chest and chin plowing into the oily black earth. The wind had been knocked out of him.
Lying for a moment or two to regain his composure, Robert finally rolled over onto his back and looked up to see what had impaired his pursuit. Not more than a few feet away lay Freesia Malente, her throat slit from ear to ear, her red pantyhose down around her knees and her mini-skirt pulled half way up around her stomach. She looked like all the rest he had seen in the black and white police photographs at trial, brutally raped and sodomized by a wild animal on two legs.
“Oh no,” stammered Robert, approaching her on all fours to get a better look.
What had he done? He had set a serial killer free. But that killer was not here now. Nor, judging by Freesia’s rigor, had he been anywhere near the rail yards for several hours, possibly even longer.
And then it struck him. Freesia Malente had been dead before his party. She hadn’t wanted him to return to her for more favours by the hour. She had been trying to warn him of his own crime against humanity.
“Hold it,” a male voice called out from behind.
There was no need to turn around to see who it was. That voice was as familiar to Robert as his own. It was Gene Dockerty, the same police officer who had investigated the original murders in the rail yards. Only this time it was Robert Hollibraugh who was going to pay for the crime of murder. In death, Freesia Malente had seen to that. She was still firmly clutching Robert’s shiny car keys in her cold dead hand.
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9 Responses to “The Red Satin Pantyhose: New Orleans Ghost Story”
Like a Southern Twilight Zone. Nice use of symbols: red, card games… Enjoyed this one very much. Thank you.
It is quite good, WJ. Like the Twilight Zone reference!
Good stuff. I love hearing stuff about my home turf.
Really had me hooked,it had the feel of a Night Gallery episode I loved watching as a little kid.Anybody remember it?
Sure, we remember it!
The story structure was good and built-up to the climax was very good but the ending needs to be reworked as many questions about the main character remains unanswered. The best part of this story was that it managed to hold the reader’s attention till the end.
Love this story. Truely edge of seat until the end reading. Brilliant work!
I like the story but I am so confused. I don’t get who did what. I THINK the cop killed the hookers including Freesia. But why is he framing the lawyer for Freesia’s murder….stories like this are very irritating. I have read it and re read it and still don’t get it. Who did what?
What Night Gallery episode? The only one I remember is the one about the crazy selfish broad that wanted to SEE and bought the eyes of a poor guy who needed to pay off a gambling debt. The eyes only worked for seconds before she went blind again…she deserved to be tortured and killed in my opinion. That was, I believe, the very first episode of Night Gallery. Which one are you referring to?